The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Eastern Front

Kolchak’s Offensive (March-April 1919)


Speech at the Joint Session of the Samara Province Executive Committee, Committee of the Russian Communist Party and Representatives of the Trade Unions, April 6, 1919

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

* * *

Comrades, our international and internal situation has again reached a critical moment. There have indeed been a good many critical moments, difficulties, dangers and surprises in the development of our revolution. This revolution does not develop along a straight ascending line, or in a uniform curve, but in zigzags, in a wavy line – though one that rises higher and higher. In general this is the only way that a revolution can develop, being a clash between antagonistic forces. In the struggle between these forces, if they are strong, there will inevitably be bends to this side or that, ups and downs, advances and retreats. But only one of these forces is progressive, leading mankind forward, and that is the force of the working class, as must be revealed with ever-increasing clearness and certainty through all the retreats and advances, general upward movements and general progress. We see this in the development of our workers’ and peasants’ revolution and of the international revolution.

Comrades, we began in October with a stormy rise, and swept away the rule of the landlords and bourgeoisie almost without resistance, but already in that period it was clear to the more experienced representatives of the working class that the October victory was not the final victory, that the bourgeoisie and the possessing classes generally would not give up their inherited positions, privileges and profits without a fight, that they would set everything in motion, heaven and hell, their international connections, their skill in lying and persecuting, armed force (in so far as they possessed it), the power to seduce and to bribe – in short, all the means which the possessing classes have evolved in the course of the centuries and millennia of their rule. And that expectation was confirmed.

Already in January and February our position became critical. We found ourselves between the hammer of German imperialism and the anvil of Anglo-French and American imperialism. At that time the hammer seemed the greater menace, and we had to enter into a forced agreement with Austro-German imperialism by signing the peace of Brest-Litovsk, a treaty of a harshness unprecedented in history up to then: subsequently the peace of Brest-Litovsk was surpassed by the conditions which Britain and France, those great democracies and liberators of nations, imposed upon exhausted and weakened Germany. Many of you, comrades, will probably remember our country’s objective situation and the feelings which then prevailed among the working class in those accursed months after the signing of the Brest-Litovsk peace and before our victories began on the Eastern Front.

From the West we were caught in the iron clutches of German imperialism. Those iron clutches were supported from within by the Russian bourgeoisie and all its servants, while at the same time, these servants and lackeys exploited the fact of the German grip on us to say: ‘There you are, you see, the Soviet power has surrendered Russia to German imperialism.’ And at that same time, at the call and invitation of the Russian bourgeoisie and the parties serving it, a new threat arose in the north-east – the Czechoslovaks. The Volga country was in Immediate danger, and, after the seizure of Archangel, the whole northern coastline as well.

Comrades, I doubt whether any great people ever found itself in such a terrible situation as we were in during March, April, May, June, July and August of last year. It seemed that our last accounts with history had been closed and signed, by German imperialism on the one side and by Anglo-French and Japano-American imperialism on the other. To our triumphant enemies it seemed that revolutionary Russia was a political corpse that would become manure for the fields of another culture, another civilisation, that there would be no independent future for the revolutionary people of Russia. The bourgeoisie and those parties which supported it – and we must never forget this, and must always remind them of it – simply invited the foreign Varangians [The Varangians were Swedish Vikings. According to legend, the dynasty which ruled in Russia from the 9th century till the 17th, the Rurikoviches, were descendants of a Varangian named Rurik whom the men of Novgorod invited to be their prince: ‘Our land is great and fertile, but there is no order in it: come and reign and rule over us.’] to come in and rule over us. They applied to various addresses – to Germany, to Britain, to Japan, to America – depending on which addressee happened to be the nearest. The Ukrainian bourgeoisie and those outraged Russian bourgeois who fled to the Ukraine appealed to the Germans and Austrians. The bourgeoisie and kulaks in our North sought protection from Britain, and in the East they fraternised with the Czechoslovaks who, as we know, were merely the fighting detachment of the French stock-exchange.

And although the Russian bourgeoisie split up at this critical, crucial moment into several sections – that is, it sold the Russian people to different states – it kept its inner unity. At that time it demonstrated to the working masses of the Russian people that patriotism and the interests of the fatherland are nothing but a mask concealing the advantages of profit and privilege, and that every Kolchak, Milyukov, Denikin and Skoropadsky is ready to sell and re-sell Russia three times over (why do I say three times? ten times, a hundred times) just to keep one-tenth of his former privileges and profits.

That was a great school for the working masses of Russia, a great school. And a second such school was our experience with Kolchak here in the East. In so far as the October Revolution was unexpected and unprepared-for ideologically among Russia’s peasantry, especially in the Eastern zone, where the peas ants were better-off, less hungry, and therefore less susceptible to Communist propaganda – in so far as the October revolution was unprepared-for ideologically among the peasantry of the Eastern zone, to that extent the slogan and the idea of the so-called Constituent Assembly met with some response among them for a long time. In the mass, the peasantry is helpless: that is its misfortune. It is scattered, it does not live like the workers, who are concentrated in factories and towns, and so are nearer to universities, schools, education, newspapers and the theatre. However deprived the workers might have been under the capitalist order, they were nevertheless brought into closer contact with the sources of culture, civilisation and enlightenment. The peasantry were scattered in half-a-million villages and hamlets, spread out over the huge expanse of old Tsarist Russia. In each village there were hundreds, or at most, thousands of inhabitants, who were without links with each other and were ideologically helpless. This peasant mass finds it hard to give expression to its strivings, its demands, it staggers from side to side and fails to find a clear programme for itself. This is not the peasantry’s fault, it is a misfortune due to its grievous fate in past times. The peasants were deceived by the monarchy, by the priests of all religions, the bureaucrats of all lands: they were deceived by the bourgeoisie with liberalism and the ideas of democracy. And the peasants were affected from time to time by shocks from within, producing terrible revolutionary outbursts, in which they burnt down the land lord’s property, but then grew tired and submitted again with resignation to the rule of the possessing classes. The history of mankind knows these fearful outbreaks of peasant wrath and, at the same time, of peasant helplessness. The possessing classes, being better educated, always succeeded in the end in bridling the peasants who had reared up against them.

There was a danger that that would happen in our revolution too. If it did not happen, this was only because, for the first time in the history of the world, the peasantry which had risen in revolt was led not by the propertied classes of the towns but by the propertyless class of proletarians. The working class took its place at the head of the peasantry in order to lead it out of its poverty, and to transform its language of anger and suffering into the language of revolutionary ideas, revolutionary slogans – not to deceive the peasantry but to arouse it for the first time in history and emancipate it from hunger and from the old deceptions. But, comrades, this historical turn, this ideological turn was too catastrophic for the mass of the peasants, and it is not surprising if, after escaping from Tsarist barbarism and the oppression of the nobles, from the priests’ prison, after coming out suddenly upon the road of the proletarian socialist revolution, they proved unable always to distinguish friends from enemies. And what a grievous, costly process this is in itself, comrades, especially when it happens in an exhausted country, a country that had experienced a four years’ war and was now suffering the onslaught of world imperialism. Revolution is the birthpangs of a new social order. In coming to birth the infant causes grievous pain to the mother’s organism: but here a new order is being born out of the old, and, naturally, the country’s entire organism is shaken by frightful birthpangs, which are felt by the peasantry and the working class all over the country. But the working class realises that this is a period of transition, that this period of transition will be followed by the absolutely normal development of a new society, which will compensate for all the hardships, burdens and sufferings of this period of transition. It is incomparably more difficult for the peasant to grasp this fact: he feels much more strongly the hardships and calamities of the transition period, when new wounds are superimposed on old wounds, old sores, making them hurt still more, just as, when you take off the fetters which have eaten into a convict’s hands and feet, he feels more pain than when he was peacefully lying down, chained to the wall. At that moment the peasant’s old wounds and sores seemed especially unbearable, and just then the Right SRs and Mensheviks came to him, to say that there was a special way of painlessly solving all problems through a Constituent Assembly, through peaceful universal suffrage. They would be gathered together in one building, called a parliament, there would be a chairman, called Chernov, there would be parties, there would be voting, there would be urns into which ballot papers would be dropped, and according to the way the voting went, so matters would be settled: the land would either be given or not given to the peasant, either the worker would be master in the country or the capitalist would. Everything would be done by voting, in the proper way, without any bloodshed.

The worker knows that such radical questions are not to be settled by voting, by the raising and lowering of the hands and other parliamentary gymnastics, that the possessing classes will not give up their positions without a fight, that these positions can be taken only by force, chest against chest, steel against steel, blood against blood. The worker knows this, but the peasant is confused.

But here in Samara, in the whole Volga country, history carried out a gigantic experiment in clarifying the consciousness of the most backward masses. Here the Government of the Constituent Assembly established its seat – that is, Kolchak, the Dutovites, and that intermediate group of intellectuals who wander about between the landlords and the peasants, the peasants and the workers. And it is this intermediate, good- for-nothing, mediocre group of SRs and Mensheviks that is the bearer of the idea of the Constituent Assembly. Kolchak knows that what counts is material power. Denikin knows that, too, and so do we. They, however, imagine that what counts is the magic of Chernov, Avksentiyev and the other great men of parliamentary democracy. History now performed its experiment. They left us, their Constituent Assembly departed from the working class and the poor peasantry, to join the baggage-train of Kolchak’s and Dutov’s armies, as a non-combatant team which served there as intermediaries between the Black Hundreds and White Guards – black and white are the same over there – on the one hand, and the working masses, on the other. With the slogans of the Constituent Assembly, the ideas of democracy, they helped Kolchak raise an army. Kolchak is an adventurer, a former Tsarist admiral, who tried to get help from the Germans, went over into the service of the Americans, visited New York, obtained his pieces of silver and came back here. He is a pure and simple adventurer without a past and (let us have no doubt about this!) without a future. This adventurer would never have enjoyed any success unless he had gathered around himself the window-dressing of the Constituent Assembly. And when this window-dressing had helped him to form an army, he said to Chernov and Avksentiyev: ‘The slave has done his work, now be off.’ [Trotsky’s phrase is a variation of a well-known sentence in Schiller’s play Fiesco: ‘The Moor has done his work: the Moor can go.’] That was really what happened.

The ‘Constituent-Assembly-ite’ slaves who had done their work ran off in various directions. Avksentiyev went to France and Britain to solicit the aid of European imperialism against us. Chernov, with his co-thinkers, with the entire presidium of the most holy Constituent Assembly knocked at the door of our Soviet house and asked to be let in, for he could not endure to remain any longer in the atmosphere that the Constituent Assembly had created. [71]

And this was a great lesson, comrades, for the most backward and ignorant masses. One could not wish or ask for a better, more graphic lesson, even though it was paid for at a high price. Go now and call on any Russian peasant who has some of his wits about him and ask: ‘Well, what about the Constituent Assembly, are you going to rally to its flag?’ What must be the answer given by a peasant who has followed events in our country even a little? He can only answer: ‘I saw that flag in Samara, I saw in in Yekaterinburg and in Ufa, I saw how Kolchak used that flag for footcloths.’

And so the most authoritative bearers of this flag, the SR gentlemen, sought refuge – where? Why, where the revolution had stood firm, because the working class had not let itself be seduced by the formal, superficial ideas of democracy, but had said that the defence of the revolution is the organised and armed working class which holds power, which mounts its armed guard at every door and says: ‘No entry here for oppressors and scoundrels.’

Thus, comrades, as regards our internal development, we have had ups and downs, advances and retreats, but, by and large, history has worked splendidly for us, destroying all the old superstitions. And we saw the result of this work precisely during the recent peasant revolts that were stirred up by direct agents of Kolchak and supported by the kulaks, but which in some places drew into their whirlpool considerable groups of the middle peasantry – because the peasants feel that life is hard, but cannot always discern the right way out of their difficulties.

During these revolts, what was the slogan put forward by those who took part in them? Whereas at the beginning of the first, the February revolution, they still raised the slogan ‘For the Tsar!’, subsequently that slogan was dropped. They realised that it was not possible to reach any large group with that slogan, and borrowed from the SRs the slogan of the Constituent Assembly. At that time Krasnov, Denikin, all who were only dreaming of restoring the power of the landlords’ autocracy, were for the Constituent Assembly. When they appeared before the people they put on the mask of the Constituent Assembly. Kolchak has exhausted that particular masquerade. Not a trace of it remains. And so, during the recent revolts, here in the rear of the Eastern front, the slogan raised by the counter-revolutionary agitators was not: ‘Long live the Constituent Assembly!’, it was ‘Long live Soviet power!’ – but accompanied by: ‘Down with the Communist Party!’, ‘Down with the foreigners!’, and so on. They did not dare raise the slogan: ‘Down with Soviet power!’ and – I have quite a number of appeals, printed and handwritten, that were circulated by the White Guards in Simbirsk and Kazan provinces – they everywhere counterfeited our slogans and our organisations. They setup their headquarters with a military commissar and a military leader, all proper, just as laid down in the decrees of the Soviet power. The idea of Soviet power must have penetrated deep into the consciousness, the nerves and the skin of the peasant masses if the only way to deceive the peasants and raise them in revolt is to come forward under the banner of Soviet power.

We must draw this lesson from the recent revolts. I reported on this matter the other day to the Moscow Soviet, and there I recalled how, fifty years ago or thereabouts, when our Russian revolutionaries were only an insignificant and feeble handful, and the peasantry was saturated in religious and monarchist superstitions, the Chigirin affair occurred, with as its leading figure our late comrade Stefanovich [Ya.V. Stefanovich died in 1915.], then an inexperienced youngster, who took a very risky step. This group of revolutionaries appealed to the peasants using a forged letter in the name of the Tsar – it was called the ‘golden’ letter, and bore a large gold seal. [72] What did this procedure signify? It signified the extreme weakness of the revolutionaries and the great power of monarchist superstitions among the peasant masses. This step was condemned by all the revolutionaries because, however weak revolutionaries may be, they never have the right to try and ingratiate themselves with the masses by imitating their wrong ideas. Where does the strength of a revolutionary party lie? In the fact that we enlighten and educate the consciousness of the working masses. A revolutionary party never has the right, either in time of success or in time of defeat, either when it is strong or when it is weak, to lie to and deceive the working masses.

That was why the revolutionary party, as I said, condemned this adventure by a group of weak revolutionaries. But, comrades, whereas what we had 50 years ago was a false step taken by a young and weak revolutionary party, today we see before us the last gamble of the winded counter-revolution. It can find no ideological ground under its feet. It is forced to take its stand on our ground.

This is why the Left SRs, who consider themselves to be not a Constituent-Assembly-ite party but a Soviet party, are now serving as cover for the counter-revolution. Just as in the previous period the Right SRs lent, or hired out, the flag of the Constituent Assembly to Kolchak, so now the Left SRs are lending to the same Kolchakite agitators and to all the counter revolutionaries generally a flag that is a sham, a forgery – a counterfeit flag of Soviet power.

In these revolts, then, we recognised our own very great ideological and organisational strength. But at the same time, of course, these revolts were also a sign of our weakness. For they drew into their whirlpool, as I mentioned, not only kulaks but also – we must not deceive ourselves on this point – a certain section of the middle peasantry. This is explicable by the general causes which I have described – by the backwardness of the peasants themselves. But we must not put all the blame on this backwardness, for Marx once said that the peasant has not only prejudices but also good sense,* and one can appeal from the peasant’s prejudices to his good sense, lead him on the basis of experience into the new order of things, so that the peasants really feel that in the working class, its Party, its Soviet apparatus, they have a leader and defender: so that the peasant understands the reason for our requisitions, accepts them as something inevitable which we apply to the rebel peasants, acting so that a double and treble burden is placed on the kulak: that we enter into the internal life of the village and carry out investigations, to ascertain who is better off and who is worse off, so as to make an internal differentiation, a stratification, and try to form the closest friendly ties with the middle peasants. This we need to do for two reasons.

In the first place, in our struggle against enemies, external and internal, until the working class has come to power in Western Europe, until we are unable to rest our left flank on a proletarian dictatorship in Germany, France and other countries, the working class of Russia needs to rest its right flank upon the middle peasant inside Russia. But not only in this period: no, even after the ultimate, inevitable and historically- determined victory of the working class throughout Europe, we shall face in our country the important and immense task of socialising our agriculture, transforming it from the fragmented, backward, muzhzk form of economy into a new, collective, cooperative communist form. How can this greatest This alludes to Marx’s comment on Bonapartism in The Eighteenth Brunmaire of Louis Bonaparte: ‘It represents not the enlightenment but the superstition of the peasant; not his judgement but his prejudice transition in world history be accomplished against the will of the peasantry.’ It cannot be done. In this sphere we need not measures of constraint, of coercion, but educational measures, the exercising of influence, backed by good examples, by incentives – these are the methods by which the organised and enlightened working class will talk with the peasants, with the middle peasants.

And on the Don, comrades, when our regiments came into contact with Cossacks, with Cossacks of the lower strata, as liberators from Krasnov’s rule, these Cossacks asked our Communist commissars: ‘But what will happen next? Are you going to throw everything now into common stock? Are you going to take everything from us and hand it over to the commune?’ Those commissars who had the best understanding of the sense of Communist policy answered them: ‘No, we shall use force only against capitalists, exploiters, landlords and village kulaks, those who exploit the labour of others for profit and speculation in grain. Where the middle peasant is concerned, including the Cossack middle peasant, we shall use methods of ideological influence, that is, we shall encourage the formation of Communist farms. The state will help these farms with agronomical information, scientific, financial and technical aid, and the individual farms will be allowed to try and do better than these Communist farms.’ Then the Cossacks, the doubting Cossacks, saturated with the sentiments of the Small property-owner, said, scratching their heads: ‘Well, that’s not too bad. We’ll see if your commune works well, and, if it does, then we’ll go over to that way of doing things.’

This is the only correct method for the proletariat in power to employ: to see the peasant as an ally and to keep its policy in the countryside entirely to that line. The revolts that happened here in the Volga country gave us a warning, and a warning that is doubly terrible because the proletariat has not yet come to power in the West. Mistakes are always bad, but when we have been strengthened by the victory of the proletariat in the West any mistakes we make will be less dangerous: today they are dangerous indeed, and all the more so because these are not just mistakes but, more often than not, actual crimes. The Soviet power is a ruling power. Power creates opportunities for individuals to obtain all sorts of privileges, to acquire illegal profits and riches, to exercise violence, and in various places some deeply corrupt elements have inevitably attached themselves to the Soviet power. There are, of course, many officials who lived in a certain milieu under the old order, and believed in it, but who saw the new order and came over to our side as honest men who had understood the truth. But there are also very many who under the old order were double-dyed scoundrels, who upheld the old point of view because it was to their advantage to do so, and who are ready under any regime to re-paint them selves in any colour required, to pray to any god – just as in one of the old plays it was said that the old courtier Osterman prayed first to the Russian god, then to the Turkish god, then to the German god, then to all three and – cheated them all.

So, then, comrades, both at the top and at the bottom of the Soviet power elements have attached themselves that are, spiritually speaking, profoundly alien to Communist politics, spiritually and morally alien to the working masses – and, just look for yourselves, here and there in the uyezds and volosts they are behaving towards the peasants in the same way as in the old days the gendarmes and land-captains behaved. [In 1889, as part of a general move to get rid of some of the democratic features of the reforms introduced in the 1860s, the Tsarist Government appointed ‘land-captains’ for the rural areas: usually ex-officers from the landed gentry, these were a kind of official squires whose task was to exercise a general control over all rural institutions.] In some places the peasants, literally in a frenzy, in impotent protest, seized cudgels and pitchforks and in their ideological helplessness tore up railway-lines and destroyed bridges, being incited to do this by counter-revolutionary agitators. Thus, in Kazan province I was shown documents relating to Sengileyevsk uyezd, where the peasants had been subjected to incredible rough treatment by some petty Soviet officials – I say officials, not Soviet executives, who serve the needs of the peasants and explain things, using open violence against the direct enemy, of course, but acting as friends to the peasants whose level of consciousness is low. What we had here was the old Tsarist methods, the old oppression and coercion. And when I had read these documents I asked: ‘What have you done with those men?’ I said: ‘If I were a member of your tribunal I should have assembled the peasants of Sengileyevsk uyezd and summoned, on the one hand, those base agents of Kolchak who had incited them to destroy railway lines, and, on the other, those so-called Soviet scoundrels who, using the name of the Soviet power, had oppressed the peasants, and one and the same firing squad of Red Army men would have shot both lots together.’

Comrades, let us take clear heed of this warning. Let us examine and check our Soviet ranks, let us purge them of all alien elements and make the peasants understand that there is only one way forward for them, namely, to cross, along with the working class, over that difficult pass at the foot of which we are now standing. For while our internal situation is difficult in the hungry months of spring, and will get still more difficult in the summer, and this difficulty will be exploited by all our foes, our international situation is getting better and better, and opens up before us ever brighter and more cheerful prospects.

Comrades, I began by describing the Brest-Litovsk peace as the gravest and darkest page in the history of Soviet power. You probably all remember how all the so-called patriots whooped at our expense, with talk of bribery and treason. Those were frightful weeks and months, when the Soviet power revealed its powerlessness. We had no army – the old army had dispersed, choking our communications and ruining the economy, and there was no new army – and we had to pay the reckoning for the war in which the Tsarist army had suffered a terrible defeat. We had to meet the old promissory notes of the Tsar and of Milyukov. All that came crashing down upon us.

And when we said at that time: ‘Just wait, our day will come. Revolution will break out in Germany, the Kaiser won’t last for ever,’ how they mocked us, those sages who said: ‘you are feeding the Russian people on fables. The snail is coming, it will arrive some time,’ and ‘Before the sun rises, the dew will eat your eyes away.’ They actually said that. Worse still, the German Mensheviks and SRs, the Scheidemanns and Eberts wrote in their papers only ten days before the German revolution began: ‘The Bolsheviks are deliberately deceiving the Russian people with their talk of a revolution in Germany: there will be no revolution here.’ They wrote those lines ten days before the revolution in Germany. Our Russian Mensheviks quoted them and commented on them, referring to their opinion when they wrote about this matter.

Comrades, here too, as with the matter of the Constituent Assembly, history worked splendidly and anticipated all the agreements and all the forecasts both of the charlatans and of scientific socialism. At Brest-Litovsk we were crushed: sitting opposite us were Baron Kühlmann and Count Czernin, representing the Hohenzollerns and the Habsburgs, and, comrades, if only you had seen them as close to as I saw them. However, I should not wish you to undergo for so much as half an hour what we had to suffer when we faced those certificated Excellencies, the diplomatic blockheads of Hohenzollern and Habsburg.

And they, comrades, gazed at us like some noble lady examining an exotic plant.

‘Look,’ they said, ‘just see what has turned up now ... Soviet power. Well, we must hurry up and examine it, for the forecast is that it will be dead by next Thursday week.’

Both Baron Kühlmann and Count Czernin were, of course, highly polished persons: in official talks they merely hinted, but in private conversation they said straight out: ‘You will sign the peace-treaty, but others will carry it out – those who will “take over” from you’ – meaning persons better than you, solid bourgeois rulers: perhaps even the monarchy, those same Romanovs come back again. They were sure of that, and had not doubts about it. And when that insolent Count Mirbach (but let us not speak ill of the dead) came to see me at the War Commissariat – without being invited, of course (this happened in May of last year, when the Czechoslovaks had risen in revolt in the East and the Germans were advancing in the South, the whole of the Ukraine was in their hands, Skoropadsky was still in the saddle and thought himself firmly seated), in that accursed time Count Mirbach asked me, from the height of his grandeur: ‘Well, now, when are you going to say goodbye to Russia?’

Out of my obligation to be polite, I tried to avoid giving a direct answer and replied something like this: ‘Ah well, you know, Count, in our changeable and anxious times there are no stable governments anywhere.’ To which he replied, with all the insolence of a Prussian Junker: ‘No, I’m talking about your government,’ Then, forgetting any obligation to be polite, I threw this back at him: ‘Be sure of this, Count, our government is more robust than are some hereditary governments.’

And, comrades, you ought to have seen Count Mirbach’s face. This took place on that very day when, in hungry Moscow, the counter-revolution was trying to provoke clashes in the streets during the Procession of the Cross: the religious processions were moving past the Kremlin, and Count Mirbach, looking out of the window (our conversation took place on the third floor), repeated: ‘Everywhere, everywhere, they are tottering.’

So, when I told him that our government was more robust than some hereditary governments, he looked on me as a mad man who had forgotten all laws, human and divine.

Much time has passed since that day – not yet a year, to be sure, but what is one year in the history of nations? – and where is Count Mirbach, now? True, he was killed; but where now is the German Kaiser? He is sitting in Holland, locked away somewhere, not daring to show his face in his own country. And Baron Kühlmann and Count Czernin, with whom we sat down there at Brest-Litovsk? And the German monarchy? No trace of it remains. The German army? It has ceased to be, it has fallen to pieces. And the German working class? It is fighting for power.

The Austro-Hungarian monarchy has been smashed, broken up. Where is the Austro-Hunganan Emperor Karl? He is hiding somewhere. Count Czernin? He is hidden away somewhere. But Soviet power exists in Moscow, in Petrograd and in Samara, and everywhere it is a hundred times more stable than it was a year ago.

We were threatened by the clutches of Anglo-French imperialism, and there was a moment when it seemed that those clutches were going to squeeze us to death. After their victory over Germany there were no limits to the omnipotence of the British and the French. Furthermore, the German bourgeoisie itself, along with Hindenburg, eagerly entered the service of France and Britain in order to crush the Bolsheviks. I have here some recent German newspapers, in which they say plainly in editorial articles: ‘In the West, that is, on the frontier between Germany and France, rise walls of concrete and cast iron, in the shape of fortresses: there stand the walls of the old national hatred between France and Germany. But all that is as nothing when compared with the gulf that separates us from the East. With France we must come to an agreement somehow or other, but with the Bolsheviks, with the Soviet power, never. That is a different world-order, those people reject’ – this too is said in so many words – ‘they reject all the foundations of economic life and private property’: and, let us add for ourselves, ‘they’ reject that order which is based on sacred profit. The struggle against Britain and France, the old fortresses of Belfort and Verdun, all that is as nothing compared with the hatred that we inspire in united European capital. This is acknowledged by the German bourgeoisie, crushed, humiliated and plundered, which, even now, writhing beneath the heel of the French and British bourgeoisies, says: ‘And yet you are nearer to me, you are closer akin to me, than that dreadful Soviet Communist republic.’ That is how they feel about us in Germany, in France, in Britain, everywhere.

True, you may say that, when Britain and France proposed that we take a trip to the Princes’ Islands, the Soviet power agreed, and agreed at once, just as at Brest-Litovsk, because we are ready to make use of any opportunity to shorten our front, to win an armistice, a breathing-space, to lighten the burden borne by our Red Army and by all the working people. If we had gone to the Princes’ Islands, it would, of course, have been as we went to Brest-Litovsk, not out of sympathy, respect and trust in relation to Clemenceau, Lloyd-George and that old trans-Atlantic hypocrite Wilson – no, comrades, where that is concerned, Clemenceau, Lloyd-George and Wilson, like the Hohenzollerns and the Habsburgs earlier, do not deceive them selves for one moment, they know that we feel towards them just as they feel towards us. We are bound to them by inner hatred, inner mortal enmity, and any agreement with them is dictated only by cold calculation and is essentially just a temporary truce, after which the struggle will inevitably break out with new force.

Earlier, it seemed that they were out to strangle us, then they invited us to come to the Princes’ Islands, but then they stopped talking about that. Why? Because Kolchak, Denikin, Krasnov and Mannerheim in Finland said to the imperialist stock-exchange: ‘Give us time, give us just the two or three months of spring, and the Soviet power will be crushed, and you won’t have to negotiate with it on the Princes’ Islands.’ To which Lloyd George replied: ‘You promised us that long ago.’ Milyukov was the first to promise it, then there was Kerensky, and Skoropadsky in the Ukraine, and Krasnov: now Krasnov has fled from Rostov and been replaced by Bogayevsky. You all made that promise. Kolchak gave that promise long ago to America. We cannot help you any more with soldiers, our situation in both the North and the South is getting steadily worse. Then Kolchak, Denikin and the others answered: ‘We ask, we beg you to give us just a little time in order to finish off the Soviet power. Don’t start negotiating with it, don’t strengthen its position. We are preparing a great offensive in the spring.’

And this spring offensive has come, we are now experiencing it. Throughout the winter the Allies were supplying money and shells. They did not supply manpower, for they were afraid to get involved too deeply in our affairs, to get bogged down in our Soviet plain, because they realised from Germany’s experience that, while the soldiers of the imperialists enter Russia beneath the tricolour flag of imperialism and tyranny, they leave Soviet Russia beneath the flag of Communism.

They agreed to give guns, money, rifles, pieces of silver, but they are withdrawing their soldiers.

In France the leading newspaper Temps , and in Britain the newspaper with the same name, The Times, say frankly that the French troops are being withdrawn from Odessa because, after the fall of Nikolayev and Kherson, the position of the expeditionary force in Odessa has become too dangerous. That is how they write about it in the European press. I have a telegram here, received today or yesterday, dealing with the situation of the Allied troops in North Russia: I don’t know whether it has been published in the press. ‘America. Wireless message from Paris for Canada. The involuntary alarm which has seized hold of British circles regarding the serious danger of annihilation that threatens the Archangel expedition has merely confirmed the opinion of the American military leaders, expressed many months ago. Fresh striking facts have been added since then, in particular the mutiny of the Finnish troops in Archangel.’

The Americans and the British mobilised, or, rather, recruited Finnish regiments when the Germans occupied Finland, and the British presented themselves as liberators of Finland from German imperialism. Now an American wireless message from Paris speaks openly of a mutiny by Finnish soldiers forming part of the Anglo-American army on our Northern coast: ‘The mutiny of the Finnish soldiers threatens to Cut off our troops’ only line of communication, and the Bolsheviks’ concentration of naval vessels on the Dvina and the Vaga shows that they are ready to attack. Men from Canada form the bulk of the forces in this area. Official sources state that there is not the slightest hope of reinforcing them before the Bolshevik attack begins.’

The London Daily Mail says in a leading article: ‘Responsibiity for the danger lies with the Allies. They sent this Allied army and they refused to withdraw it. This they did quite deliberately, and they completely disregarded the danger threatening the army, despite the warnings from military and naval men. The eyes of the whole world will be turned to them if they fall into the enemy’s hands, for their fate will be a frightful one,’ and so on and so forth. That is an impudent lie, of course. If they fall into our hands we shall treat them as we treated the hundreds, and now probably even thousands, of French, British and Americans whom we have taken prisoner in the Ukraine and in the North. We shall sit them down on a school bench and give them teachers, French and British Communists, and they will make splendid progress.

In the British Parliament a bourgeois deputy recently asked the Minister in the Navy if it was true that a certain Englishman named Price [Morgan Phillips Price worked as a translator for the People’s Commissarint for Foreign Affairs. He left Russia for Germany in December 1918 and worked as the Daily Herald correspondent in Berlin. The parliamentary question mentioned by Trotsky was asked on February 20, 1919: the Government spokesman’s reply was that Price had been editing a paper, The Call, which was circulated among British troops in the Murman territory, inciting them to mutiny. Price’s book My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolunon was published in 1921. When Price was adopted as Labour candidate for Gloucester City in 1922, the chairman of the local Labour Party stated: ‘He is not a Bolshevik and has subscribed to the National Labour Constitution. He was no traitor: he never was within a thousand miles of a British soldier in Russia ... Lots of people believed he would be arrested, but Scotland Yard has no warrant against him ...’] was carrying on criminal Bolshevik agitation on the Murman coast, and if it was true that a British battalion there had mutinied and had to be withdrawn. And the British Navy Minister was obliged to confirm that, yes, this Price, who had previously been a correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, a British democratic newspaper, had, in our Soviet school, become a Communist and had been sent from Moscow to the North, where he conducted a highly successful agitation: also that more than one battalion had mutinied there, and that these troops were going to be brought home. In Odessa two French comrades were shot by the French general for carrying on agitation among the troops. Not for nothing has this French general referred to the excessive harshness of the climate and hastened to take his troops back home.

I might quote from the same German newspaper as before, which says: ‘The Red Army is strong, but it is strong not so much in weapons as in oral propaganda. The Bolsheviks,’ says the paper, ‘are not just the political party which at present rules the Russian state – no, they are world revolutionaries who are putting into practice the principle of state internationalism and who reject in practice the rules of economic life and the concept of private property.’

It goes on: ‘We cannot resist the imposing masses of the Red Army with our Hindenburg Volunteer detachments, and defend our frontier, because the Red Army has at its disposal a colossal power of propaganda, for it mobilises all the discontented everywhere in the world under the banner of Soviet power.’

That is the admission made by this bourgeois paper, the Berliner Tageblatt. It notes the fearful dismay of the ruling classes of the whole world and ends by addressing genuine compliments to the Soviet Government: ‘The clarity and intelligence of the policy of Lenin and Trotsky is equalled by the senselessness and contradictoriness of the policy of the Entente countries. By their policy they are merely pushing Germany into the arms of the Bolsheviks,’ and so on.

There you have the awareness that now prevails in the minds of the possessing classes, the bourgeoisie, ministers, governments, generals of all countries. They see that some sort of mighty elemental force has penetrated the consciousness of the working classes. Everywhere they are engaged in erecting a kind of sanitary cordon which is intended to surround Soviet Russia and to prevent the bacilli of Bolshevism, the microbes of Soviet power, from making their way westward – while at the same time they send expeditions against us, thereby taking the quickest road to infection. The leading press organs record the existence of confusion, helplessness, complete ideological and political prostration. I have quoted The Times and Le Temps, a French paper, and also one published in Berlin: they all complain about the confusion and stupidity of their ruling classes. It was said long ago that when Jupiter wants to destroy someone he first makes him mad. That is understandable – when a class’s position becomes hopeless, it often loses its head.

lam not going to go into those considerations. That is not the point. Wherever history is working for us, for the working class, it urges the working class upward. Wherever history is exposing the whole foundation of rule by the old classes, we shall inevitably succeed. They have been condemned by history. I pointed to this when I said that our international position is getting better with every month, every week and every day that passes. We are getting stronger, they are getting weaker. That is why we are not afraid of a truce. Time is on our side. When the truce expires, we shall be stronger, they will be weaker. Whether there will or will not be a truce I don’t know, but they are withdrawing their forces, and in the North we are successfully advancing. These howls of theirs are not accidental. After the capture of Shenkursk we concentrated fresh forces there, and only yesterday a telegram reported a new leap forward of 18 versts towards Archangel. I have no doubt that this is only the beginning of a new offensive which will bring into our Communist school several thousands of good British and American Communists.

All this testifies to the fact that our international situation is favourable. History has left to our internal enemies their last few weeks, their last month or two months. And they know that if now, in April and May, June or in July, they do not manage to make us lose our footing and fall down on the very threshold of socialism in Europe, they will never manage it. It can happen that a healthy and strong man can slip on a piece of orange-peel and break his neck. That is what they hope for – that the workers’ and peasants’ power, in these difficult circumstances when the revolution in Europe is developing but has not yet won complete victory, when we are being harassed on all sides, when it will, perhaps, be enough for Kolchak and Denikin to break through the front at one point, to frighten, terrorise, demoralise the Red Army, to deceive the middle peasants,raising them in revolt against Soviet power under the slogan of Soviet power, to create confusion and bloodshed – that in these difficult circumstances Soviet power will perish in Russia on the eve of its complete triumph throughout the world.

This is the meaning of Kolchak’s offensive. On all the other fronts the offensive has miscarried. The German Hindenburg battalions have had some success in Latvia and in the West generally, along with the Poles and with the Lettish, Estonian and Lithuanian-Byelorussian White Guards, but the newspapers themselves – I have two of them with me, an East-Prussian one and a Berlin one – say frankly: ‘These are fortuitous and partial successes, we cannot exploit them. If we possess any staunch units at all, we need them now in Berlin, against the Spartacists, not against the Russian Bolsheviks.’

The position on the Western front is being restored. Petlyura’s bands are crawling away and breaking up. They do not frighten us. The Soviet revolution has moved from the Ukraine into Galicia, and Galicia was Petlyura’s rear. This rear is now a conflagration aflame at his back.

There were not many regular Red Army units in the Ukraine. But even before this mighty workers’ and peasants’ revolt broke out, a demoralised enemy retreat had begun which involved not only Grishin-Almazov’s Russian White Guards but also the Anglo-French regular units against which we fought before Berezovka, where we captured a great deal of military booty, including three formidable tanks.

On the Don and in the Donets Basin no offensive was launched against us. There we are continuing our victorious advance into the Don country, which will be continued into Caucasia. Krasnov has been smashed. Denikin will be smashed. In the Donets Basin, where they are concentrating everything they possess, and where we shall seize them in an iron grip, from Mariupol to Taganrog, from Voronezh and Velikoknyazheskaya through Torgovaya to Bataisk and Ros toy, we are grasping them more and more firmly and strongly. The month of the spring thaw will pass, and then our offensive will go forward, following its natural path. We are the stronger there. I do not hide from you the fact that our splendid flotilla lies at the entrance to the Caspian Sea, and it is incomparably more powerful than the enemy’s flotilla.

There remains the East, only the East – the Urals, Siberia, where Kolchak is advancing and we are retreating, where our enemy is enjoying success while we have recently suffered setbacks. Here Kolchak set himself the task of cutting the Volga at any cost before the coming of spring, so as to deprive us of this very important artery. Not so long ago we cleared the White Guards off the Volga and made an honest Soviet river of it. Now the White Guards want once more to dishonour and pollute the Volga and take it away from the workers and peas ants, who need it for transport. If there is a danger threatening the Soviet power, the power of the workers and peasants, it comes from Kolchak’s bands, which were put together through the support given by the SRs and Mensheviks to the idea of the Constituent Assembly.

Kolchak has a substantial rear. There is a rich kulak peasantry in Siberia, and Kolchak relies on them. The worst counter revolutionary elements from the old officer corps have hastened from all parts of the country to join Kolchak. With their aid and that of the kulaks Kolehak is carrying out a quite extensive mobilisation of the peasant masses. He has received the necessary supplies from America, he holds at present a large area of the Urals, he has again taken from us Ufa, which was won with the blood of the workers and peasants, and he is threatening the approaches to Kazan and Samara. Here, comrades, we are faced with the task of the greatest importance for the workers and peasants of the whole country at the present moment: we must at all costs concentrate our best forces on the Eastern front. Kolchak’s success is due to a considerable extent to the fact that we were obliged last autumn and in the early part of the winter, after we had achieved big successes in the East, to remove some strong units from the Eastern front, together with our best workers, and transfer them to the South, against Krasnov, who was threatening, through Voronezh, the heart of Soviet Russia, Moscow.

The job has been three-quarters done in the South. The last quarter will be completed with the forces that are there already. Now, all our reserves, all the forces we have in the form of military units, and all organising and ideological forces, must be directed to the Eastern front. The watchword for Soviet Russia at the present time is: the Urals. We must concentrate all our strength in that direction, we must create shock-regiments through an effort on the part of the workers and peasants, and advance them from the Volga eastward towards the Urals.

The Urals must be ours, just as the Volga country is already ours and also, to a considerable extent, the Don country. The Urals must be ours. We must recover Zlatoust, Yekaterinburg, Perm, we must cut a road for ourselves through Chelyabinsk into Siberia, where the workers and poor peasants await us as their deliverers.

While this is the principal task of the whole Soviet land, here in the East it is doubly and trebly your principal task, Samara comrades. Here you formerly had a powerful nest of White Guards, but now it is a centre of our Red Army. Here are interwoven the routes of three armies of the Eastern front. All attention, all effort must therefore be concentrated on fulfilling the tasks and meeting the needs of the Eastern front. You are the immediate rear, the zone adjoining the front. You must contract your civil Soviet institutions and expand the military ones. Everyone who can be useful at the front must go to the front – as commissars, into the supply organs, into the cells, the regiments, the headquarters. You must give your best workers to the front. The fate of Soviet Russia is now being decided on the Eastern front, and with it the fate of the world revolution as a whole. The world revolution will, of course, not perish, it will continue to advance, but it can be thrown back by a year, or two years, or ten years. We want to enter into that world revolution, basing ourselves on Soviet Russia, as it exists today – on what we prepared through decades of stubborn revolutionary work and struggle, what we conquered in the October days and have defended against all enemies. This Soviet Russia, renewed by the blood of the working people, by their ordeals, we do not want to give up for anything. With our breasts we shall form a shield around it, and no force will break the shield.

Comrades, I hope that I shall have the right to tell them at the front that in the Fifth, Fourth and First Armies and in the Southern group, in Samara, they possess a firm, tempered rear.

Samara comrades, when you were in trouble, when Dutov was making speeches here, perhaps in this very hall, we in Moscow and Petrograd sounded the alarm. We told the workers of Petrograd and Moscow that a knot had been pulled tight on the Volga which it was necessary to cut.., and the hungry, exhausted workers of Petrograd, not complaining about their poor rations, drew in their belts still tighter, took up rifles, and set off to liberate the Volga and your Samara.

Today, comrades, Samara is free, and in Samara there is a strong garrison, a powerful organisation of Soviets, trade unions and factory committees, the flower of Samara’s working class, united by a common idea and steeled by hard trials and all the previous struggle. And now you do not ask the Moscow and Petrograd workers to liberate you, for you are not going to surrender and so you will not need liberating.

At this gathering, united by a single idea and a single will, we declare that all Kolchak’s attempts to cut the Volga are so many efforts of passionate impotence. The Samara Soviet, the Samara garrison, the Samara proletariat, together with our front and with our deep rear, promise and swear that Samara will not be surrendered, and that the Volga will stay an honest Soviet river. [Having successfully sunk several German submarines, Kolchak was in 1917 sent by Russia’s Provisional Government to the USA, to advise the Americans on anti-submarine warfare, On his way back, he learnt of the October Revolution and, realising that Russia would now leave the war, he offered his services to the British Embassy in Tokyo. He was accepted, and set out for Mesopotamia, where an expedition to the Caspian Sea, against the Turks, was being prepared. However, when Kolchak reached Singapore, he was summoned by the anti-Bolshevik Russian Ambassador in Peking to go to Manchuria (where he had served in the Russo-Japanese war) in order to ‘look after Russian interests’ there.]


71. The policy of the Constituent Assembly in Samara, and later in Yekaterinburg, led to the coup d’etat of November 18, which put Kolchak in power. The Constituent Assembly-ites adopted a number of stern resolutions, discussion of which was halted by a small detachment of the 25th Yekaterinburg Mountain Infantry Regiment. On November 19 that detachment arrested all the members of the Assembly, headed by Chernov, and on November20 this congress, placed in heated goods vans, was despatched first to Chelyabinsk, the seat of the Czechoslovak high command, and from thereto Ufa. The SRs who had been ministers under the Directory (Avksentiyev, Zenzinov, Argunov and Rogovsky) were sent under special guard to Harbin and from there to America, after which they were allowed to go wherever they chose. So ended the existence of the Constituent Assembly on Russian territory. Some of the members of the Constituent Assembly came over from Ufa to join us in Soviet Russia.

72. In 1875 Comrade Stefanovich, together with Comrades Bokhanovsky and L. Deutsch (Deich), taking advantage of agrarian disturbances in Chigirin uyezd, Kiev province, decided to try and organise a peasant revolt with the aid of Tsarist manifestos. Stefanovich prepared a false letter, allegedly written by Alexander II and printed on a large sheet of Bristol-board, with a gold seal. Besides this letter Stefanovich circulated, also in the Tsar’s name, the rules of a peasant association called ‘The Secret Band’. An underground organisation was formed on this basis and set to work. For further details see Stefanovich’s own notes, which are included in Thun’s* History of Revolutionary Movements in Russia.

* This book, by Alphons Thun, a German scholar, was published in 1883. A Russian translation appeared in Geneva in 1903.

return return

Last updated on: 23.12.2006