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

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We are advancing and beating Yudenich. It is clear now to the youngest soldier of the Seventh Army that we are stronger than the White-Guard bands.

And yet, only a few days ago, some units of the Seventh Army retreated at extraordinary speed before Yudenich’s troops. For what reason? From panic. Taken by surprise owing to the carelessness of many commanders and commissars, these Red Army units did not manage either to stand their ground, or to look around them, or to grasp what the situation really was: they fell back.

A big role in this momentary panic was played by tanks. Few were harmed by them, few even saw them. But the mere word ‘tank’ produced a fearful impression on many simpletons. This was exploited by traitors, agents of Yudenich, and they filled the young Red Army units with fear of tanks. ‘There are tanks on our left’, ‘There are tanks on our right’, ‘Tanks have appeared in our rear’ ... It was enough to set such a rumour afoot for a mass retreat to begin.

Fear of tanks is a senseless fear. A tank is merely a metal wagon constructed in a certain way and in which machine-guns and cannon are transported. A tank possesses no special means of killing people. It operates by means of machine-gun and artillery fire. A machine-gun or a cannon on a tank is no different from a machine-gun or a cannon anywhere else.

A tank is a vehicle made of metal. The special feature of this vehicle is that it can move across ditches. But on the Petrograd front there are many excellent highways along which an armoured car can move just as well as a tank. And a tank is just as incapable of crossing rivers and marshes as an armoured car is.

Tanks play a big role in positional warfare. In that type of warfare, where soldiers sit motionless in trenches on a particular sector of the front, tanks, which are capable of crawling across trenches, can do a lot of damage. All that is needed is for them to act all at once, in great masses, in tens and hundreds. But in our field warfare two or three tanks cannot play any serious role.

Whence, then, such fear in face of tanks? It is due to their novelty. People are often frightened by something they have never seen before. And not only people, but animals as well. Which of us has not seen how, in the countryside, a horse takes fright when it sees a motor-car? When it beholds the wondrous machine, the horse starts to whinny, it eyes become bloodshot, it rears up, presses its hindquarters on the cart it is drawing; forces the cart to one side, and often tips it into the ditch, injuring itself in doing so.

The senseless fear shown in face of tanks is in no way better than the horse’s fear of the motor car. A few individuals may have been killed by the tanks, but tens and hundreds have lost their lives through fear of them, because frightened men run away without seeing anything, and the enemy shoots such fugitives down at his discretion.

Tanks are now being produced in our Petrograd factories. Some of our tanks are already operating at the front, and operating no worse than the British ones. But, in them selves, tanks, whether British or our own, cannot decide the issue. Everything depends on living men, on their courage, consciousness, firmness and devotion to the cause of the working class. A brave, resolute unit can use any weapon. To panicky, that is, easily frightened soldiers no weapon will give any advantage: they will simply surrender their rifles, machine-guns or tanks to the enemy.

Comrade Red Army man! When a sudden, senseless fear clutches your heart at the word ‘tank’, just remember the horse frightened by the motor car – remember it and feel ashamed. After all, man has been given a different brain and a different heart from those of a horse.

Panic is the mother of all calamities. For this reason the enemy does everything he can to induce panic. If, during a battle, somebody starts to scare you with various bogeys, especially with tanks, know that he is a provocateur, a hireling of Yudenich, who wants to win by means of baseness because he cannot win by force.

Red Army man, remember that we are bigger, that we are stronger, that our cause is just. Remember that in Yudenich’s ranks men are fighting who are physically no stronger than you are, and who are mentally weaker. If only you will remember how strong you are and, once and for all, expel base panic from your ranks, you will become invincible. Then we shall soon put an end to the struggle, in the North and in the South. After crushing the enemy, we shall all return to our homes, in town and village, return to peaceful labour.

October 25, 1919
En Route, No.101

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Last updated on: 23.12.2006