The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Fight for Petrograd

The Fight for Petrograd

Speech in the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’ and Red Army Men’s Deputies, at the Session of October 19, 1919

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

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First of all I must refer, if only in brief and general terms, to the situation on all of our fronts, so that Petrograd’s position in the general setting of military events may be made clear.

The Northern front was the quietest, and it is still so today. Some events have, however, taken place there, which are wholly to our advantage: the British have evacuated their forces which threatened us from that direction for so long. On the Northern front the British commander-in-chief has been replaced by a Russian, a White Guard, who, in an order to his troops and to the people of the region issued in the last days of last month, calls on them not to give way to panic, on the one hand, while, on the other, he frankly admits that, after the British evacuation of the White Sea coast, the Whites will probably have to leave Archangel and shift their base to the Murman coast. Consequently, we cannot look for any unexpected unpleasantnesses to occur on that sector of the front, although it is certain that the difficulties we have recently experienced on the Petrograd front will make the White Guards on the Northern front more insolent. Comrade Zinoviev mentioned here that we suffered a hitch recently on the Eastern front, which in the last few months had been the most victorious of our fronts. On the front where, during more than two months, our troops advanced about a thousand versts from west to east, a hitch has undoubtedly occurred. It was not the result of any disintegration or breakdown of our units, but, to a considerable extent, the result of a mechanical weakening of the forces, a reduction in their numbers. It is no secret to anyone that we have taken more than one division from the Eastern front to help other fronts, and in particular the Southern front.

In addition, you know that Kolchak suffered a decisive defeat before Perm and before Chelyabinsk, withdrew what remained of his troops into the deep rear, and there re-formed and reorganised them. For a certain period our troops on the Eastern front advanced almost without meeting any resistance, and then, after they had by sheer inertia traversed a thousand versts, they came up against a barrier constituted by the rein forced and strengthened remnants of Kolchak’s forces. Just as an individual who takes a run-up and goes on running from inertia, until, at a certain moment, at a certain point, he encounters a barrier, and then recoils from it, so the army which had been automatically advancing in recent weeks with out meeting any resistance from Kolchak, at a certain stage recoiled to a distance of several dozen versts, and concentrated on the west bank of the Tobol. But, recently, it has brought up its reserves and gone over to the offensive along the whole line of the front. The events which have taken place there in the last few days possess the same decisive significance for the remnants of Kolchak’s army as the great battles before Perm, Yekaterin burg and Chelyabinsk had, in their time, for the main body of that army. We have had reports in the last two or three days of the utter routing of Kolchak’s principal divisions, of our capture from him of dozens of guns, hundreds of machine-guns, and other war booty: we have learnt that the enemy has been smashed and scattered and is retreating in panic, while our forces are advancing triumphantly along the whole line of the front. This means that we have overcome the momentary hitch. In this connection it must be mentioned, to the credit of the Eastern front, that it has got out of this fresh temporary difficulty entirely by means of its own forces, without any support from the other fronts.

On the Southern front the picture is indeed very far from being so favourable as on the Eastern front. Here the fight is much harder, here the enemy is incomparably more numerous, here it is a matter not of tens but of hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides. On the Southern front, as you know, Denikin’s greatest weapon is his plentiful cavalry, drawn from the Don and Kuban. We were unable to counterpose anything of equivalent strength to him, because cavalry has always been, as I have emphasised more than once, the most conservative and reactionary type of arm: the Don, the Kuban, the steppes, the provinces of Astrakhan and Orenburg, the Turgai region, the Ural River region, that is, the most backward parts of the country, are the territory where our own Russian cavalry arose and was trained. The Russian proletarians got on horseback, settled themselves in the saddle, and learnt the art of mounted warfare only after it had become clear to us that in the civil war, in this war which is predominantly one of mobility and man oeuvre, we need to create our own revolutionary cavalry.

We shall create it, and in this matter we shall catch up with and surpass our enemy. But the period during which we were accustoming ourselves to the peculiarities of the Southern front, when we were learning, forming our cavalry, our arms for beating off cavalry attacks – that period was a profoundly painful and difficult one for us. On the Southern front we lost a number of important strong points and extensive territory which provided Denikin with a reservoir from which he could mobilise large masses. However, I entirely concur with Comrade Zinoviev’s conclusion that there, too, a turn has, fundamentally, been accomplished, and not just in the directly military sense. It has been accomplished above all because, despite our previous military defeats on the Southern fronts, our political strength has shown itself there in its full magnitude. During the last six or eight weeks have had on the Southern front two political experiences of gigantic importance: first, the treachery of the Cossack Colonel Mironov, and, second, the cavalry raid by General Mamontov, who broke through at Novokhopersk into Tambov province and overran the provinces of Ryazan, Tula, Voronezh and Kursk. Mamontov had at his disposal about seven thousand sabres, and good commanders. He chose to advance through the richest, most counter-revolutionary parts of the Southern provinces. First of all, he burst into Tambov province – a province with a kulak, counter revolutionary bourgeois element in its villages – and there he raised the banner of revolt (reinforcing his argument with Cossack sabres and lances), the banner of revolt by the kulaks against the Soviet power. In the spring of this year a wave of kulak, and even middle-peasant, revolts rolled over the whole extent of Soviet Russia. It seemed that if ever we had to expect a revolt of the rich kulak peasants of Russia’s southern provinces, it must be now, when a whole cavalry corps, a very serious force, had come to the aid of the kulaks. This cavalry corps was seen by Mamontov and his master Denikin as a crystal to be dropped into the saturated solution of Soviet Russia, a crystal around which the bourgeoisie of town and country would gather, so that counter-revolution would develop in the form of an open revolt of the bourgeoisie and of the urban and rural masses.

And what, in fact, did we see? We saw how Mamontov’s corps, like a comet with a filthy tail of robbery and rape, passed through a series of provinces. Absolutely nowhere did Mamon toy succeed in raising a revolt, even if only a revolt of kulaks opposed to the Soviet power. What is the explanation? It is that the peasants – not only the middle peasants but even the kulaks as well – were confronted with the necessity of openly choosing, in the military sense, between the Soviet power and the power of counter-revolutionary monarchist rule: and both the kulak, passively, and the middle peasant, actively, voted in practice for the Soviet power, withheld support from Mamon toy, and returned without resistance to the fold of the Soviet regime.

Comrades, we have largely passed by this fact without looking at it, without appreciating it sufficiently, and yet this is a fact which points to the colossally enhanced political strength which the Soviet regime has acquired in the countryside by the time of its second anniversary. This was shown by the attitude of the most reactionary stratum of the country’s population, namely, the Cossack middle-peasantry of the Don, to

Mironov’s revolt. Mironov raised the slogans which had been raised, in their time, by the Right SRs, and then by the Left SRs, slogans of democracy and the Constituent Assembly, under the name of so-called people’s soviets: ‘Down with the rule of the Communist Party, down with the Cheka, long live the working masses!’ – slogans that would appeal to the aver age philistine, to the petty-bourgeois in the town and to the middle-peasant, including the Cossack middle peasant. And Mironov enjoyed immense popularity on the Don. The whole struggle, all the revolts of the lower orders against the upper stratum of the Cossacks had taken place there in the form of a duel between the people’s hero Mironov and General Krasnov. This Mironov, to whom we had given the means of forming, arming and supplying troops, raised a revolt with these slogans that were popular with the backward rural masses. He hoped to become master of the situation on the Don within a few weeks, perhaps even days. But what happened? He was rejected by the Don, in the persons of our cavalry corps, of our 23rd Division, which he formerly commanded, and which to a considerable extent, indeed mostly, consists of cavalry. He found no support among the Cossacks, and a few hundred of them, led by a Cossack, surrounded his detachment and captured it and Mironov himself without firing a shot. It cannot be denied that Mironov is sincere. He is a typical representative of the petty-bourgeoisie, of the middle-peasant, petty-bourgeois strata of the Cossacks. Adventurism, open careerism, connected with the interests of the middle strata of the peasantry, are not alien to him, but neither, I repeat, is sincerity. He at once declared that he must bear the responsibility for what had happened, because he had involved the others, whereas his associates abandoned and repudiated him. This Mironov, having learnt from the experience of this rebuff given him by the awakened Cossack community, declared – and his declaration was not the cowardly babbling of a child, but that of a revolutionary who had seen the light, after shedding a number of illusions – that his actions had been profoundly criminal from the political standpoint, that he was now convinced that for the Communist Party to fall would be the greatest of calamities for the cause of the revolution, and he begged only to be allowed, by death in battle, to expiate the crime he had committed. As you know, the Central Executive Committee has granted him his life, and the Soviet power will give him the opportunity in one way or another to expiate his crime and to go down in the history of the struggle on the Don as an honourable fighter. But what is the significance of the fate suffered by his revolt, his prank? It means that, while the Tsarist General Mamonov is unable to raise a revolt of the most counter revolutionary elements in the countryside under the slogans of Russia one and indivisible (how can that be one and indivisible which they are dividing up and selling off?), the slogans of Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Nationality [‘Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality’ were the official principles of Tsardom just as ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ are the official principles of the French Republic.] – while he cannot do that, on the Don we observe an even greater wonder: a petty-bourgeois democrat has proved unable to raise a revolt of the middle-peasant elements among the Cossacks against the rule of the proletariat and the rural poor.

This means that we have become invincible politically, that while the concentrated, armed and organised force of the imperialist generals may fight against us, driving muzhiks and workers with stick and whip into their army, there is among these imperialist generals no party, no group, no flag, around which they could unite, in an ideological, political way, any extensive strata even of the backward middle element in the countryside. Thus, we now stand politically, despite the hunger and ruin, despite the two years of civil war, in a stronger position than ever before, and this not only in the towns, where ever fresh thousands of proletarians are joining our Party, the Communist Party (the Party Week in Moscow, for instance, has brought in over 30,000 new members), not only in the towns but also in the villages, not only among the rural poor but among the middle peasants, and not only in the provinces close to the industrial centre but also in the slow-moving, backward provinces of the South, and even on the Don, where the antagonism between the Don and Kuban people, on the one hand, and Denikin, on the other, gets more and more intense. That apparently huge mountain of Denikin’s might is being increasingly undermined, on the one hand by our blows and, on the other, by internal antagonism – social, political and national. All reports, and the press of the Don and the Kuban, testify that the antagonism between these regions and Denikin has become extremely acute. In the persons of their Cossack kulaks, at the head of a band of middle peasants, the Don and the Kuban defected from the Soviet power, but they had, of course, no thought of marching on Central Russia, no intention of conducting a campaign against Moscow. They were passing through the period which the peasantry of all Russia passed through, when they became disappointed with certain features of the Soviet power and tried to revolt against it ... until the time came when Kolchak and Denikin taught them to see reason.

The turn of the Don and the Kuban has now arrived. There Denikin has, during this year, with all the energy which it cannot be denied he possesses, destroyed all the prejudices of even the backward strata of the Cossacks. We can see that it is inevitable that three-quarters, if not nine-tenths of the Don and Kuban Cossacks will be obliged to turn their front openly against Denikin, and to reach out their hands to us. They will encounter a sympathetic and helpful hand extended from our side. Our policy towards the peasantry in the recent period has been to a considerable degree directed towards getting agreement with the middle-peasants. Even on the Don and the Kuban, which for a certain period served as an unshakeable reservoir of counter-revolution, our policy must be directed in the immediate future towards reaching agreement with the Cossack middle peasants, those who exalted Mironov as a hero, a leader, and who miscarried with that hero. They will have to understand and recognise that salvation for the working Cossacks lies only through agreement with the workers’ and peas ants’ power. All this, comrades, is something that will not happen in twenty-four hours. The work of the Red Army is important, of course, upon it the outcome of the struggledirectly depends – but the work of the Red Army itself depends on the relation between class forces, the political relations of groupings; and, in that sense, the way forces are grouping themselves on the Don and the Kuban could not suit us better.

Comrade Zinoviev mentioned the events in Caucasia. In this connection I cannot refrain from reading to you a fresh piece of news which I received by telegraph, the evening before last, from one of the outstanding workers of Transcaucasia, who has now made his way into Soviet Russia. He is a very well-informed comrade, a native of Caucasia, who, on the basis of his personal observations during the period of more than a year when he was cut off from us, presents a picture of what is happening at present in Caucasia:

’Public opinion throughout Caucasia is focused on the revolt of the mountain peoples of Caucasia – the Daghestanis, Ingushes, Chechens and Kabardians – which began at the end of August. The inspirers and leaders of the revolt are the spiritual leaders [The ‘spiritual leaders’ referred to here were the Moslem mullahs.] of the hillmen, who have always marched with the people and for the people. Apart from a handful of traitors from among the officers, who have sold themselves to Denikin, all sections of the mountain peoples, without help from any quarter but driven to desperation by Denikin’s atrocities, have resolutely refused to pay the contribution imposed on them, or to provide the regiments demanded of them, to fight against the Soviet power. With no arms except rifles and daggers, that is, without machine-guns or artillery, they have hurled themselves into bloody battle against the Cossack officer bands, being resolved either to conquer or to die. Universal enthusiasm, attaining the level of fanaticism, has seized hold even of the women, children and old men, who have taken on all the complex work of bringing supplies to the front and the rebel units, since all the men are under arms. In bullock-carts and on horses, the feeblest of the inhabitants are conveying to the front, for the warriors, everything that they possess in the mountain villages. Victory after victory is inspiring the rebels, who have displayed marvels of heroism, and the immense amount of war booty captured is strengthening their units, providing them with arms, of which the hillmen have very few. In a series of battles the Daghestanis alone have captured more than three million cartridges, sixteen pieces of artillery and several dozen machine-guns. They have annihilated the entire garrison of a mountain stronghold in Daghestan, killing more than 3,000 Cossacks. According to reports received by the White-Guard newspaper Azerbaidzhan, a large-scale battle took place on September 28, before Grozny, between the rebel hillmen and four regiments of Shkuro’s corps which had been specially transferred there from the Soviet front in order to put down the hillmen’s revolt. Very many trophies were taken: 28 guns, 31 machine-guns, 48,000 rifles, a large quantity of ammunition and carts: 800 men were taken prisoner and cut to pieces, and the remnant of the Volunteers retreated to Kizlyar. By October 7, the rebels had cleared Denikin’s men out of their fortified strongpoints and captured the towns of Grozny, Temir-Khan-Shura [Temir-Khan-Shura, in Daghestan, is now called Buinaksk] and Derbent.’

There, comrades, is a picture of the events that are now in progress in Caucasia. A mighty rebellion has broken out in Denikin’s immediate rear. And we read here that he has taken a part of Shkuro’s corps, his best fighting units, from the Soviet front and shifted them down there. Furthermore, Mamontov’s representative has declared in Azerbaidzhan [Azerbaidzhan was ruled at this time by a Moslem nationalist party which, while anti-Bolshevik, was also opposed to Denikin, with his slogan of ‘Russia one and indivisible’, and gave ‘fraternal assistance’ to the hillmen of the Caucasus who were fighting against him.] that if they do not act immediately against the revolt of the hillmen, Denikin will detach another corps from the Soviet front in order to crush all Azerbaidzhan. Thus, our Southern front has had added to it several new Red divisions, which we did not form, or arm, or transfer from other fronts. These are the hillmen, the freedom-loving poor peasants of the mountains who have risen against the insults, oppression and torture inflicted on them by Denikin’s bands, and we say to them: ‘Welcome, comrade hillmen, our new allies, take an honoured place in our Soviet family.’

As regards the Ukraine, I can only support what Comrade Zinoviev said about the enormous political importance of the split and the armed conflict which is now happening between Denikin and Petlyura. Petlyura himself, of course, represents no serious armed force nor is he a serious political figure, but behind him now stand, to a considerable degree, bourgeois Poland and bourgeois Romania, who are arming and supplying Petlyura and backing him against Denikin. Why? Because they fear a victory by Denikin, which would, of course, bring death and destruction to the independent existence of all the small peoples. Denikin has already declared that he does not recognise the independence of Poland but only its autonomy. He has also announced, for example, that he does not recognise the Khokhol [Khokhol is the contemptuous word used by chauvinistic Great-Russians for a Ukrainian. In pre-revolutionary Russia the Ukrainian language did not exist officially: it was merely ‘the Little-Russian dialect’.] language and that the state language in the Ukraine must be Great-Russian. He has already subjected the population not only to material but also to national humiliations, and raised against him the Ukrainian petty-bourgeoisie and the Ukrainian bourgeoisie. In this way he has shaken the social foundation in the Ukraine from which he might have drawn strength both military and socio-political. All this cannot but have its effect on the Western front. Only three or four months ago we might have feared, and the bourgeoisie of the Entente might have hoped, that Denikin was going to link up with the Poles, that is, that the Southern and Western fronts would merge, and they would march together upon Moscow. We can now say, with every justification, that if Denikin does link up with the Poles it will be, mainly, so that they can seize each other by the throat, because they know that they are each other’s mortal enemies.

This has very greatly strengthened our political position on the Western Front. We looked on the Western Front as secondary, while we considered the Southern to be, as before, of first importance. When I spoke of the Western Front as being of secondary importance I had in mind the fact that second-rate military forces were opposing us there. We mentally excluded Petrograd, of course, in that connection, for the sector of the front which includes Petrograd, whether as a fighter or as a city in danger, cannot, in any case, be of secondary importance. We went through a period in which it seemed that Petrograd was protected and safeguarded against all dangers, and some comrades even said, half in jest and half in earnest, that the time had perhaps come to think of moving the Soviet capital back to Petrograd, back to the banks of the Neva. [In March 1918 the seat of government had been moved from Petrograd to Moscow when it was feared that the Germans might occupy Petrograd.] The Finnish bourgeoisie saw themselves compelled to renounce an attack on Petrograd. The Estonian bourgeoisie, fighting against us, found themselves obliged, by the whole course of events, internal and external, to give up the idea of supporting the imperialist drive against Moscow and Petrograd. The Seventh Army, which is fighting here and defending our Red capital, the revolutionary Seventh Army, came up against the frontiers of Finland and Estonia, and it seemed that there was no further task for it to perform. It was marking time, and it became subject to a sort of feeling that its existence was purposeless. Having reached the frontiers of Finland and Estonia, its task seemed to have been accomplished, and (we must not remain silent about this) we took from the Seventh Army’s fronts its best units, its best commanders and its most experienced military-political workers. That, of course, could not but weaken the Seventh Army. But, I say again, what weakened its consciousness most of all was the sense that there were no more important, decisive tasks for it to carry out. This caused the army’s internal regime to slacken.

Comrades, an army is not a natural organism, it is not an organism which is created by production, by economic, industrial labour. The bonds of union that are formed in the village, in the factory – not to speak of the relations formed in the family – are very much more lasting, more natural and organic. The bonds, the relationships, that exist in the army are to a considerable extent felt by every participant, and do in fact- take shape, as artificial relations. None of us tries to get out of working, we know that we shall always work, but we all try to get out of the army, to be finished as soon as possible with war and go over to economic and cultural constructive work. That is why, whenever the pressure of external circumstances ceases or slackens, the internal military regime of the army also slackens: this has been observed also here, in the Seventh Army, which has in recent weeks been considered an army of secondary importance – not because Petrograd is a secondary magnitude (clearly, that is not the case), but because it has seemed that the danger threatening Petrograd has ceased to exist.

To this I would add the negotiations with the Estonians and the Letts. What role was played by these petty-bourgeois envoys from Estonia, whether they were conscious deceivers, provocateurs, agents of Yudenich, or whether they were sup porting Yudenich passively, and to a certain extent actively, under pressure from the Entente, while at the same time trying to find some support on the left, from Soviet Russia – that makes no difference so far as we are concerned. We are not obliged to expatiate on the psychology of the Estonian and Lettish Mensheviks and Cadets; but it is a fact that the role they played was that of the white flag which the more treacherous and perfidious units sometimes hoist in order to deceive the enemy, allow him to come closer, and then drive a knife into his chest, his side or his back. These peace negotiations have hitherto been, so far as Estonia and Latvia are concerned, in the nature of opium, they have been intended to lull the consciousness of a considerable part of the Red Army, to engender in it confidence that the war is drawing to a close on this front, so that then it may be possible to unleash against us the Entente’s guard-dog, Yudenich, and let him tear a lump of flesh from the body of Soviet Russia. At all events, in future, however the negotiations may go, we shall have to be, from the military standpoint, a great deal more cautious, vigilant, careful and mistrustful in our dealings with those petty-bourgeois compromisers who are willing or unwilling agents of the Entente. We must, at the same time, remind ourselves that the time is coming when Estonia and Latvia will have to make up their minds whether they are going to conclude peace with us or to fight against us, for we cannot – just as, where Finland is concerned, we could not tolerate Mannerheim’s policy – we cannot tolerate for long the situation in which these countries, while not fighting against us, do at the same time support Yudenich, Balakhovich, Rodzyanko and Lieven, and from time to time unleash them against us. We want to make peace: it does not matter what our feelings may be towards the bourgeoisie of these countries, we want to make peace in the sober calculation that a bad peace is better than a good quarrel. But we cannot take upon ourselves all the negative aspects of both peace and war. We are obliging our army to mark time before the frontiers of Finland, Estonia and Latvia, we are obliging it to refrain from engaging in open struggle, and at the same time we are allowing the bourgeoisies of these countries to assemble forces behind their frontiers and to hurl them upon us whenever this suits the Entente. This is why our present struggle on the Petrograd Front is not only a matter of repulsing a raid on Red Petrograd, why its task is not merely to exterminate the bands of Yudenich, Rodzyanko and Lieven. No, this struggle must, as it develops in the near future, put the question point-blank to Estonia and Latvia.

I think that, in the course of the period immediately ahead, we shall concentrate here a force sufficiently strong to confront these countries not only with the arguments of reason and of political logic but also with those of real power, to show that on this front we possess adequate strength, that peace with us would not be advantageous to the countries which are now threatened by the notorious Ataman Goltsev. I shall not dwell on this: it is in any case instructive that history has induced Von der Goltz, the former Pasha of Constantinople, to turn himself into a Russian ataman. [Trotsky here confuses Rudiger von der Goltz, the commander of the German forces in the Baltic countries, with Colman von der Goltz, another German gateral, who helped to modernise the Turkish army and commanded Turkish forces against the Russians and the British during the World War. ‘Goltz Pasha’ died in 1916.] Goltsev was given the task of fighting for Russia one and indivisible: one cannot imagine a bigger mockery than that. We were, in our time, accused of making an alliance with the Kaiser, with showing contempt for Russia’s interests, and there was talk of a sacred national hatred of the Germans, as the age-old enemy of the Russian people. Now, history, I repeat, has brought forward a most despicable reactionary, an adventurer who became a convert to Islam, and he is presented as the one who expresses the highest ideology of the Russian bourgeoisie, whether Milyukovite, Denikinite, Kolchakite or any other brand. Von Der Goltz Pasha – there is a proper leader for them: that we can say before the whole people. This again simplifies greatly our political position. The task of the petty-bourgeois democracies in the Western borderlands has become more difficult. Von Der Goltz is not so much a German agent as an agent of the French bourgeois republic. Between the hammer of the Entente, in whose hands Von der Goltz is merely a tool, and the anvil of the Russian and world revolution – that is where the petty-bourgeois democracy of the Western borderlands is placed. The Western front is not a danger to us, but the sector of the Western front, its North Western sector, where Petrograd, wounded but still strong, lives and breathes, that sector of the front is now in danger. Comrades, if I may employ a vulgar comparison, in the game we are playing, in the political, world-wide, historical pack of cards we are dealing, there are a few cards which we cannot allow to be covered. The game may turn out this way or that, but there is a card called Petrograd, a card called Moscow, a card called Tula, where the arms industry is concentrated, and however the great historical game may go that we are playing with the counter-revolution, these three cards cannot and must not be covered.

That is why, comrades, it might be agreed in private conversation that the Soviet power is now so strong that if Petrograd were to be taken, the Soviet power would, of course, still stand, and, later, Petrograd would be recaptured. From the stand point of historical development that is, of course, quite true. But when, instead of being a matter of assumptions, hypotheses and logical conclusions, the fall of Petrograd began to seem a real possibility, when the threat to Petrograd was revealed in the last few days as something really practical, an electric shock ran through the whole country, and above all through the heart of Moscow, through its central institutions, and everyone said:

No! We are fighting in the North, in the East we are chasing Kolchak again, we have opened the gate to Turkestan, we are raising the flag of Soviet power in Asia – an ambassador has come to Moscow from rebellious Afghanistan [The Amir of Afghanistan, encouraged by Soviet Russia, waged the ‘Third Afghan War’ against the British in India in 1919, and secured the ending of British tutelage over his country.], to greet Comrade Lenin in the name of an Asian people oppressed by imperialism: this is a great struggle between two worlds: there may be retreats and advances in this struggle, victories and temporary defeats; but there is one retreat, comrades, which we will never permit ourselves, and that is a retreat eastwards from Petrograd – that retreat shall never happen!

Comrades, what we took from you – and we took too much from you, thereby weakening the north-western front which is close to you – we are now trying, with feverish intensity, to give back, to give back to you both good units and good personnel – commanders and political workers. We are now, after all, firmly enough planted on our feet to be able to do this without serious damage to other fronts. When we from the centre asked you, your representatives and Comrade Zinovi~v, what you need now and in the immediate future, in order to defend Pet rograd, and received your requests, we gave you twice and three times as much as you had asked for. Comrades, reinforcements are on their way along nearly all the lines that now link Petrograd with the rest of the country. These reinforcements will be sufficient to accomplish the task of which I spoke. But, comrades, we are at present going through a very critical period on the Petrograd front. The new reinforcements have not yet been concentrated and deployed, they have not yet taken up their positions. This period involved is measured in days and weeks. Comrade Zinoviev referred here to the imperfect working of the railways. This is imperfect, of course, to some extent through general causes, but also, of course, as everywhere, partly through the ill-will and slovenliness of certain elements in the country. But days are going by while all the necessary forces and resources are being concentrated, days are going by while the weakened units of the Seventh Army are being pulled together, while the administrative apparatus is achieving the required level and strength of tension, firmness and skill. This has happened more than once with our executives on other fronts, and it will happen now on the Petrograd front. But days and hours are passing, and every day and hour now has colossal importance for you, because the front is too close to Petrograd.

On other fronts we were able to say that we would withdraw weakened divisions 15 or 20 versts to the rear and there re-form them, bringing in fresh, strong, sound elements, eliminating useless elements and re-educating them. Here, on the Petrograd front, we cannot allow ourselves this luxury of withdrawing weakened divisions a distance of 15-20 versts into the rear. If they give way, then the White bands – and here we have to do with small but skilful and adroit gangs – may drive a spike into the body of Petrograd. We realise, of course, that they will not take Petrograd; it is, after all, a city of a million people and cannot be carried off in the clutches of a gang of a few thousand men – but they can do harm, inflict damage, cause cruel loss of blood. We had an example not long since: Mamontov did not succeed in capturing either Tambov or Kozlov. He tried to, and he had more forces than these gentlemen have, but he did not capture those places and did not succeed in raising a revolt: he threatened these towns, and killed a large number of workers, men and women, wives of Red Army men, he left devastation, terror and despair in the families of the working people ... They could do that here, too, in this concentration, this reservoir of people which is called Petrograd. That is the danger. You know that we, Communists and representatives of the Soviet power, by virtue of our fundamental policy, do not hide from the broad masses of the people the dangers, the blunders and menaces that lie in wait for us. In that lies our only strength. Always, on any day and at any hour, anyone must be able to go to any tribune, to any public place, and tell the people the truth. This is the essence of Soviet politics, and we must now say from this tribune – you must all say to your electors in the factories, at the workers’ meetings, everywhere that you carry on the struggle for the triumph of the revolution – that Petrograd has never yet faced such danger as today. In other words, although the hand dealt to us in our great revolutionary struggle is generally favourable, our Petrograd card, which is infinitely dear and important to us, is in danger of being covered. For this reason we must insure ourselves doubly: on the one hand, at the front, on the other, in Petrograd itself – that is, we must defend ourselves not only along the nearby line of Dyetskoye Syelo, but also in the organisation which will be created here in the very heart of Petrograd, because, comrades, those who are, perhaps, preparing to descend on Petrograd in a night raid, so as to cut the throats of sleeping workers and their wives and children, must know, and they do already know this, that, with all the shortcomings of which Comrade Zinoviev rightly spoke, Petrograd has worked feverishly and will work in the same way tonight, tomorrow and tomorrow night, and in all the most critical hours facing the city, in order to set to rights and strengthen the city’s internal organisation, so as to make of its districts and sections a series of impregnable forts, which, taken together, will constitute a mighty organisation for the internal defence of Petrograd. [79]

I wrote and I repeat: I am profoundly convinced that, even with the weakening of Petrograd, we are strong enough to crush, to grind into dust, any White-Guard raiders, even if they were to number not three, four or five thousand but even 10,000. This is a huge labyrinth of a city, which covers about a hundred square versts, a city with a million inhabitants, in whose hands, that is in those of its working population, there are mighty means of defence, engineering and artillery resources, and which, finally, possesses Soviet trade-union and Party apparatuses. This city can be made a sheer trap for the White-Guard raiders. Petrograd is not Tambov, Petrograd is not Kozlov: Petrograd is Petrograd. Comrades, in these days, these hours, you must mobilise here, for internal defence, everyone who is not capable of, or cannot be taken away for, participation in the city’s external defence. While the privations and hardships of campaigns and battlefields are too heavy for women to bear, nevertheless, here, in the workers’ districts, in buildings transformed into workers’ fortresses, working women, wives and mothers will be able to wield rifles, revolvers and hand-grenades no less well than men, to defend in the streets, squares and buildings of Petrograd the future of the working class of Russia and of the world. Everything is now being done to give the troops in the field the necessary skill, to make them appreciate that we are not faced with a solid front, that our foe does not consist of serious, weighty units against which one would have to move in a planned way, systematically and methodically – that before us are a few gangs which are inflicting jabs and stabs, and that they must be crushed and destroyed.

The only tactics, the only strategy which is dictated by this war, with its exceptional peculiarities on this front, is to attack and crush. In those cases when a regiment of ours, moved forward by a good commander or commissar, a confident, resolute man, starts to advance, the Whites do not accept battle.

Why not? Because there are too few of them. They are well armed, they have automatic weapons, machine-guns, but there are not enough of them: they are two, four and five times less numerous than we are. When they open up a fusillade by night or at a distance, our men cannot make out how many Whites there are and how many there are of us. But when the moment comes when our men see the Whites and the Whites see our men, then they both realise that the Reds are many, but the Whites are a tiny handful. And that happens every time there is a clash. This is why the Whites systematically avoid direct encounters, hand-to-hand skirmishes, bayonet fights, and try to operate from the flank, from the rear, opening fire from unexpected places, sustaining the impression that they are numerous and powerful. What conclusion are we to draw from this? That our Red Army, our soldiers, must see the Whites and realise how few they are: the Whites must see the Reds and realise how numerous we are. How are we to achieve this? Very simply – by bringing the Whites and the Reds together. How is this to be managed? By leading the Reds forward, by urging, and, if need be, driving them forward. Who can do that? The workers of Petrograd, a strong commissar. For this no grand strategy is needed, it is not necessary to have graduated from the academy, or to dream about forming a solid front – this is not positional warfare, there is no need for an unbroken chain of troops: what is needed is a tough striking force, a firm commissar who will march towards the danger, towards the noise made by the enemy, for wherever we go we shall always be strong and numerous. This simple truth must be taught to our commanders and commissars. The only strategy for today on the Petrograd front is to go forward, to advance. The Whites will retreat, and we shall crush them. We shall pursue this strategy for a few days, and then, the next day or the day after, the psychological turn will take place, the pre-condition for a turn in the military and all other circumstances on this front.

Last night we proved that when the alarm has been sounded, even if only with a certain delay, the proletariat of Petrograd is able to respond, in the persons of its best militant elements. It rose to its feet last night, and if circumstances require this, it will remain at the ready tonight and tomorrow night, in double and even treble strength. There can be no doubt about this, and it is certainly the only guarantee that the White bands will think ten times before they poke their criminal heads in here.

Thus, we clearly appreciate that Petrograd is now in immediate danger. This you must say, of course, while at the same time combating any senseless, panicky rumours. Checking on such rumours through your districts or through the Internal Defence Council, checking on them and punishing ruthlessly those who spread them, at the same time you must, as sharply as possible, make the workers of Petrograd aware that, today and tomorrow, Petrograd is under immediate threat. Within a few days we shall be invincible on this front, thanks to the turn that will take place, and thanks to the troops that are coming up, but today there are still many undefended places in the body of Petrograd. We shall be defended by the strengthening of the front and by organisation inside the city. The Council of People’s Commissars has sent troops here so as to help, on the spot, your central organ and military authorities in their work to strengthen Petrograd.

I shall not hide from you that I came here with a heart full of anxiety ... We have said many times, of course, that Petrograd is an inexhaustible reservoir of workers for our cause and of revolutionary energy, but this inexhaustibility must not be understood in the absolute sense. There is no city in the world, perhaps, that has gone through experiences like Petrograd’s. In the end, sensitivity becomes blunted, nerves get overstrained and give way, like a string that loses its tautness, and people cease to react to danger. If this were to happen to Petrograd now, it would constitute a deadly menace, it would be a great menace not only to Petrograd itself but also to the whole country, for Petrograd is not only a part of the country, it is a barometer, the revolutionary barometer of the Red Soviet Republic. But this is not going to be the case, comrades. Of course Comrade Zinoviev, as is required of a leader of the Petrograd working class and of the working class of the whole country, has mentioned here, quite rightly, the shortcomings, the defects, the faults, the slovenliness and carelessness that exists in various aspects of our organisational preparation. But let me say this: despite the slovenliness and carelessness which are to be observed here and there, nevertheless Petrograd in these gloomy, cold, hungry, anxious October days of bad autumn weather is showing us once again a majestic picture of elan, self-confidence, enthusiasm and heroism. The city which has suffered so much, which has burned internally, which has so often been subjected to dangers, which has never spared itself, which has stripped itself so bare – this Red Petrograd is still what it was, the torchbearer of the revolution, the rock of steel on which we shall build the church of the future. And, backed by the combined forces of the whole country, we shall surrender this Petrograd to no-one.


79. By October 19, when this speech was made in the Petrograd Soviet, the situation at the front had improved considerably. Already by the evening of October 17 the left flank of the Seventh Army was 15 versts from the Nikolai Railway [The Nikolai Railway is the line linking Petrograd with Moscow – named after Tsar Nicholas I, in whose reign it was built.]: the cutting of that line would inevitably make it possible for Yudenich to break through into Petrograd. On October 18 General Rodzyanko gave the First Corps the task of taking the city. Our units acquired greater resilience and staunchness through the shortening of the front and the proximity of their supply centre: instead of continually retreating, the units stood their ground in any convenient position they could find. At the same time, groups of the best Communists were sent to the front, some of the commanders were replaced, the most badly-battered units were withdrawn to the rear and fresh reinforcements brought up, agitation was intensified, and, finally, by Comrade Trotsky’s order, the food-ration was doubled. Comrade Nadezhny was appointed to command the army, while the former commander, Kharlamov, applied himself to forming the Kolpino shock-group.

Despite this preparation, however, the Fifth (Lieven) Division, operating on the left flank of the enemy’s First Corps, continued on October 18-19 to press our units, and took the suburb of Ligovo. The high command and the Petrograd Soviet realised that the Whites might break through into the city itself. Now began energetic preparation for defence from within. The whole city was divided into districts, each headed by special headquarters. The most important points were surrounded with barbed-wire entanglements. A series of positions were selected for guns which were to fire on fixed lines. The canals, public gardens, walls, fences and buildings were fortified, and the entire southern sector of the city was transformed into a solid fortress. Barricades were erected in many streets and squares.

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Last updated on: 23.12.2006