The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Fight for Petrograd


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

* * *

Our task is not only to defend Petrograd but to finish once and for all with the enemy’s North-Western Army. [77]

From this standpoint it would be militarily most to our advantage to let Yudenich’s band get within the walls of the city itself, for Petrograd could without difficulty be turned into a trap for tile White-Guard troops.

Petrograd is not Yamburg or Luga. The northern capital of the workers’ revolution occupies an area of 91 square versts. In Petrograd there are nearly two-score thousand Communists, a substantial garrison, and immense, almost inexhaustible means of defence for use by the sappers and the gunners.

If they broke into this gigantic city, the White-Guards would find they had fallen into a stone labyrinth in which every building would be for them either a riddle, or a threat, or a mortal danger. From which direction should they expect the shot to come? From the window? From the attic? From the basement? From round the corner? From every direction! We have machine-guns, rifles, revolvers, hand-grenades . . . We can cover some streets with barbed-wire entanglements, while leaving others open and turning them into traps. For this purpose all that is needed is for a few thousand men to decide firmly that they will not surrender Petrograd.

What forces has the enemy? Let us suppose that he has 5,000 men, or even 10,000. In the city streets they will be unable to manoeuvre either in compact masses or in extended lines. They will have to break up into small groups and detachments which will lose themselves in the streets and alleyways of Petrograd, without any proper inter-communication, and surrounded by danger at every corner.

The entire apparatus of communication within the city would be wholly in our hands. Occupying a central position, we should operate along radial lines running from the centre to the periphery, aiming each of our blows in the direction of greatest importance for us. The possibility of uninterrupted transfer of troops and the abundance of means of transport would multiply our strength tenfold. Every fighter would feel that behind him was a well-organised base and plentiful mobile reserves.

If the White guards managed even to get sufficiently close to use their artillery, before the arrival of our reinforcements, in that case too they would have gained nothing. An artillery bombardment of Petrograd would, of course, do damage to odd buildings here and there, and kill a certain number of the inhabitants, women and children. But the few thousand Red fighters, stationed behind barbed-wire entanglements and barricades, in basements or in attics, would be subjected to very slight risk in proportion to the total numbers of the population and to the number of shells fired.

Contrariwise, every White Guard who entered the city would be subjected to direct personal danger, for the defenders of Petrograd would shoot him as he advanced, from behind the barricades, from windows, and from around corners.

It would be most difficult of all for the White-Guard cavalry since for each of them his horse would soon become a heavy burden.

Two or three days of street fighting like this would suffice for the invading bands to be transformed into a terrified, hunted herd of cowards who would surrender in groups or as individuals to unarmed passers-by or to women.

The whole heart of the matter lies in not giving up at the first moment. It was said long ago that a great city is a great panic. And there are undoubtedly in Petrograd not a few petty- bourgeois lackey remnants of the old regime, who are without will-power, energy, ideas or courage. This human pulp is, in itself, capable of nothing. But at a critical moment it often swells up strongly, absorbing all the fumes of selfish fear and herd-like panic.

Fortunately for the revolution there are in Petrograd people of a different spirit, a different stamp: the advanced proletarians, and, in the first place, the conscious youth of the working class. Upon these elements rests the internal defence of Petrograd, or, more precisely, the task of exterminating the White-Guard bands if they should burst in to the proletarian capital.

Street battles do, of course, entail the risk of accidental victims and the destruction of cultural treasures. This is one of the reasons why the command in the field has to take all possible measures to prevent the enemy from entering Petrograd. But if the field units do not prove capable of doing this, and leave the way open for the enemy to get into Petrograd itself, this would not in the least mean that the struggle on the Petrograd front was over. On the contrary, the struggle would become more concentrated, more embittered and more resolute. Responsibility for the innocent victims and the senseless destruction would lie wholly with the White bandits. But, at the price of resolute, bold, fierce struggle in the streets of Petrograd we should achieve the complete extermination of the North-Western bands.

Get ready, Petrograd!

More than once have October days been great days in your history. Destiny summons you to write during this October a fresh and perhaps most glorious page in the history of the proletarian struggle.

October 16, 1919
Bologoye-Petrograd[Bologoye is where the line from Pskov joins the Moscow-Petrograd line (the Nikolai Railway).]
'En Route', No. 98


77. The North Western Army of Yudenich was created from the formations mentioned in Note 76. In May 1919, Yudenich’s forerunner, General Rodzyanko, tried to enlarge his place d’armes and by seizing Yamburg and Pskov to increase his resources. On May 14 this corps broke through the Seventh Army’s front between Narva and Gdov, took Yamburg and Pskov, and began a swift advance towards Peterhof, Gatchina and Luga. This first offensive was quickly liquidated, and by the beginning of August, the White Guards had fallen back to their original position. Meanwhile, Rodzyanko, and then Yudenich, continued to build up their forces. The corps became the North-Western Army, which received material aid from the Entente. However, Yudenich was unable to establish good relations with Estonia, whose independence he stubbornly refused to recognise.

return return

Last updated on: 27.12.2006