The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Fight for Petrograd


By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Coinmissar for Military and Naval Affairs to the soldiers of the Northern Army defending the approaches to Petrograd, February 11, 1919, No.79, Yamburg

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

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Comrade soldiers, commanders, commissars!

Having been instructed to visit your front by the Council of People’s Commissars, I greet all the honourable, staunch and brave warriors of your army!

I greet you in the name of the soldiers of the Southern front, which has struck a mortal blow at Krasnov’s bands and is now triumphantly approaching Rostov and Novocherkassk!

I greet you in the name of the troops of the Ukrainian army, who have liberated Kharkov, Poltava, Yekaterinoslav, Chernigov, Kiev and Yelizavetgrad!

I greet you in the name of the troops of the Eastern front, who, after clearing the Volga, have set about clearing the Urals, and who, after taking Orenburg, have linked Soviet Russia again with Soviet Turkestan!

I greet you in the name of the troops of the Western front, who have freed Latvia, Lithuania and Byclorussia from the German White-Guard yoke!

Comrades! It is only on the sector held by your army that Soviet Russia has, with surprise, observed setbacks in recent times. Instead of advancing and liberating the workers and peasants, as befits revolutionary troops, you have until now been retreating. [76]

Why is this?

Is our enemy so strong?

No, our enemy is few in numbers. You are incomparably more numerous. If you have retreated and enabled the insolent enemy to take town after town, the blame for this lies in the insufficient staunchness of your own ranks.

I know that in your army there were not only individual soldiers but also whole regiments that fought honourably and courageously. They will all be singled out and rewarded. Their names will be uttered with respect all over Soviet Russia. I order the commanders and commissars of all units to compile a careful record of all the soldiers who have distinguished them selves, and to forward this through the proper channels so that they may be rewarded.

But there have also been among you many unconscious, cowardly and even dishonourable soldiers, many self-seekers who, in the moment of danger, have thought not of the working people, not of their comrades-in-arms, but only of themselves, of their own skins. These self-seekers have brought disintegration into the Red regiments and have often incited them to retreat in shameful fashion. These self-seekers have often deserted and have incited waverers to desert. Such conduct has made your army the weakest and most helpless of the numerous armies of the Soviet Republic.

An end must now be put to this. The Red regiments must not retreat. There can be no desertion from the ranks of the revolutionary forces. The cause for which you fight is the greatest, most sacred cause in the world: you are defending the workers’ and peasants’ revolution from the onslaught of hateful bands of landlords and bourgeois, who enjoy the support of Anglo-French imperialism.

Your army guards the approaches to Red Petrograd. The Estonian and Finnish White Guards are already boasting that they will capture this great centre of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution. It shall not be! Your army must pull itself together and rise to the level of the other, the best, the victorious armies of the Soviet Republic. I warn the commanders and commissars that failure to carry out military orders will place a terrible responsibility first and foremost upon them.

The best soldiers must support the commanders and help them to use an iron hand in dealing with the cowards and self-seekers. Not a single crime must be left unpunished. At the same time, not a single feat of arms must be left unrewarded.

The Revolutionary Military Field Tribunal must ruthlessly punish all those soldiers who betray their brothers in battle.

Honour and glory to the brave, conscious soldiers!
Death to self-seekers, deserters and traitors!
Long live the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army!


76. The reference is to the defeats suffered by units of the Seventh Army which, advancing steadily into the interior of Estonia, and having fallen into disorder through loss of contact with their bases, encountered fresh White-Guard forces in the Reval area and by the middle of February had been pushed back to the line of the river Narova and Lake Peipus. The basic nucleus of the enemy consisted of Estonian units together with the ‘Northern Corps’ commanded by Colonel Dzerozhinsky. This corps had begun to form In the Pskov area already during the German occupation, with material aid and encouragement from the German command. By the terms of the treaty of Brest the Germans were obliged to evacuate this am, and they decided to hand over responsibility for ‘the guardianship of order’ to the White-Guard organisations, who had recruiting offices all along the Baltic coast. After the German revolution and the Red Army’s advance, this ‘Northern Corps’ had withdrawn, much battered, behind the Estonian frontier, and began reorganising under the leadership of the Estonian commander-in-chief, Laidoner. Encouraged by this success, the White Guards took Narva and Valk [Valk (in Estonian, Vaiga) is on the border between Estonia and Latvia, on the Pskov-Riga line.] and threatened Pskov. These events were the last military actions of the winter period.

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006