The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Eastern Front

Kolchak’s Offensive (March-April 1919)


Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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The setbacks we have suffered on the Eastern front have nothing catastrophic about them. There can be no doubt that the Eastern front will soon revive, pull itself together and resume its victorious advance. Nevertheless, losses such as we have suffered there cannot be called insignificant. It is enough to mention the surrender of Perm and Ufa. [70] The enemy’s forces are substantial, but they are not so large as to account for our defeats and our armies’ retreat on a considerable part of the front. There are undoubtedly internal reasons for our setbacks. And just as the principal causes of our successes have lain in the energy, cohesion, discipline and self-sacrifice of the Communists, so, in this case too, we must seek in the work of the Communists one of the reasons for the setbacks that have befallen us.

In certain institutions of the Eastern front there were concentrations of Communists who saw it as one of their most important tasks to criticise and condemn our military system, passing resolutions to this effect, resolving that decorations are unnecessary, protesting against the internal service regulations, and soon and so forth. This led in its turn to conflicts with those Communists who conscientiously carried out the Party’s policy. These conflicts then resulted in weakening internal relations and discipline, and had most pernicious repercussions in all spheres of work, and consequently in the army’s combat. capacity.

It is necessary now to remind all Party members working at the front, without exception and with all definiteness, that they have been sent here not to criticise the military system but to implement it unanimously under war conditions. The member of the Revolutionary War Council of the Front or of an army, the commissar of a division, a brigade, or a regiment, the worker in a Political Department or the member of a company Communist cell – all these have been delegated by the Party to carry out a definite policy and to see that it is carried out by everybody else. Anyone who does not agree with this policy has no right to act in the name of the Party, abusing its name and authority, for it is in the last analysis a matter of indifference to the Party and to the Soviet Republic who is disrupting the army’s internal relations, its unity and moral authority – a Left SR, or an undisciplined Communist who is misusing his responsible position for a purpose directly opposed to that for which he was sent to the front.

All the organs and institutions of the War Department and all the Party cells of the front constitute not clubs for discussion but military organs, created to serve practical ends and obliged for this purpose to follow paths decided by the Party. He who cannot subordinate his personal disagreement to the need for unanimity, he who indulges in argument, criticism and complaining is thereby violating both military discipline and Party discipline.

The Political Department of an army is an organ of that army’s Revolutionary War Council entrusted with tasks of supervision and education. It can have no independent tasks, no independent methods, other than those laid down and assigned to it by the Revolutionary War Council. The Political Department is unconditionally subordinate to the Revolutionary War Council. An army publication is the press organ of the Revolutionary War Council of that army. Such publications can in no way be turned into a free forum for criticism and condemnation of the established method of building the army. Every soldier of the Red Army must find in his army’s publication a firm guideline that will strengthen his confidence that the Soviet power is doing everything it can to utilise the Red units in the best way in the interests of the working class. Still less permissible is it to denigrate in the military press those institutions and individuals to whom the Soviet power has entrusted this or that responsible task.

It is necessary to begin at the bottom and strictly to check, in all units, the composition of the Communist cells and the regimental commissars. On them depends the combat-capacity of the units, and a unit will retain its combat-capacity only if the Party group in it does not degenerate into a little political club to which everyone brings its grumbles and discontents, but remains the united fighting vanguard of the unit, setting an example of the strictest unconditional discipline to all the other soldiers.

The comrade commissars must be reminded that they are directly answerable, along with the commanders, for the combat-capacity of their units. There have been a number of cases recently on the Eastern front of unprecedented and even shameful retreats by particular regiments. What measures were taken, in all these cases, by the commissars concerned, and where was the Communist cell, what was it doing? After every such retreat a thorough check must be made by the divisional commissar or by the army’s political department on the individuals making up the cell, to ascertain how each of them in particular behaved at the critical moment.

The number of Communists at headquarters and in the political departments must be reduced to the minimum and the most energetic experienced and self-sacrificing workers must be sent directly into the active units. The title of regimental commissar must be exalted higher by appointing the best Communist workers to these positions.

Instead of engaging in gossip and chatter about the medals of the Order of the Red Banner, a feeling must be created such that every Communist soldier will regard it as a matter of revolutionary honour to deserve by his conduct in battle the award of the Order of the Red Banner, as an expression of his revolutionary services to the working class.

An immense amount of time is spent in discussing all kinds of orders and measures. Yet, in war, economy of time is an essential condition for success. It is necessary to suppress completely all pointless, irritating, demoralising discussions. Communists must demonstrate by their own example that an order is an order, and has to be obeyed unconditionally and at once.

Not one single breach of duty and discipline, especially if it be committed by a Communist, must remain unpunished. It is necessary to revive at the front that high moral intensity which characterised all the Communist workers on the Eastern front in the period when the Whites were being swept from the Volga. If, since that time, elements suffering from fatigue have accumulated among the Communists, these must be eliminated and removed. Let anyone occupying a responsible post who feels that he is incapable of acting with all the firmness required by the situation of the Soviet Republic say so openly, instead of giving his fatigue and sluggishness expression in sterile, demoralising criticism.

At its congress the Party checked over the objections expressed in this criticism. By its resolution it reaffirmed the methods which it had laid down as the basis for building the Red Army. These methods have gained us great victories in the past. They will ensure complete victory over Kolchak’s bands if each one of us Communists tolerates no waverings or deviations at his post.

Addressing this letter to Communist comrades, I ask them to render unanimous and heroic support to the Revolutionary War Council of the Eastern Front in its work of restoring the combat-capacity of the Eastern front.

March 24, 1919
En Route, No.27


70. At the end of March the situation on the Eastern front was as follows. After eight months of active struggle against the Czechoslovaks and the People’s Army of the Constituent Assembly, our Red Army had achieved substantial successes on the whole Southern sector of the Eastern Front. The front had advanced from the Volga to the Urals, and at its southern extremity the Soviet Republic had linked up with Turkestan. Only on the Northern sector had the enemy enjoyed success – he had taken Perm after stubborn fighting and was thereby threatening the flank of our Ufa group (the Fifth Army). The situation of our forces had also considerably improved during the winter. What had been unorganised Red Units, operating separately, without any liaison between them, had been transformed into regular armies which successfully overcame difficult geographical conditions and the enemy’s stubborn resistance. By March 1919 big changes had also taken place in the enemy’s camp. The collapse of the Army of the Constituent Assembly before Samara compelled the SR Government established at Samara to take part in a conference at Ufa in which all the counter-revolutionary forces were unified, on a platform of struggle against the Bolsheviks. A Directory was formed, consisting of General Boldyrev, the Cadet Astrov, the Popular-Socialist Chaykovsky, the Siberian nationalist Vologodsky and the SR Avksentiyev. What was left of the Army of the Constituent Assembly was handed over to General Boldyrev. The Directory began to follow an increasingly reactionary policy, and its cabinet was joined by A.V. Kolchak, in the capacity of War Minister. On November 18 1918 the All-Russia Provisional Government broke up. What was left of the Constituent Assembly group, which had moved from Samara to Yekaterinburg,. was arrested and taken to Chelyabinsk, and from there to Ufa. Koichak was unanimously chosen to be ‘Supreme Ruler’ of Russia. From that moment, alongside the crushing of all labour organisations, and endless arrests and executions, energetic work towards the formation of an army went ahead with very close help from the Allies. At the beginning of March, Kolchak, takingadvantage ofthediversion of our forces to other fronts, and without waiting until his own forces had been fully concentrated, began a vigorous offensive towards the Volga with the ultimate aim of taking Moscow. The operational drive of the Whites was split between two directions: towards Vyatka, in order to link up with the Archangel group of the Allies, and towards Samara, in order to link up with Denikin. After concentrating substantial forces against the left flank of the Fifth Army, north of Ufa, Kolchak launched an attack and on March 13 captured that town. Our forces then began to fall back all along the Eastern front. By mid-April, under the enemy’s pressure; our forces were 80 versts from Kazan, 60 versts from Samara and 40 versts from Orenburg. (See Map 5.)

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Last updated on: 23.12.2006