The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


II. Commanders and Commissars


On the problem of acts of treachery in the Red Army

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

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Our torpedo-boat Karl Liebknecht has captured in the Caspian Sea a steamer on which the well-known Black-Hundred murderer General Grishin-Almazov [A.N. Grishin-Ahnazov served with Kolchak in Siberia, then transferred to the Southern front, where he acted as governor of Odessa on Denikin’s behalf.] was taking a letter from Denikin to Kolchak. Grishin-Almazov shot himself. His steamer and its crew were taken into custody. The documents captured will be published within a few days. In his letter to Kolchak Denikin writes, among other things, that there is no hope of aid from the Allies in the form of troops, since the Allies themselves are now on the eve of just such ‘miraculous events’ as we have experienced – that is, they are on the brink of proletarian revolution. Even Denikin has been obliged to understand and admit that. The French, British and Italian bourgeoisies no longer possess any armed forces. The robbers of the Entente scuttled shamefully out of Odessa and Sebastopol. After that, they launched a campaign against Petrograd, and promised in all their newspapers and broadcasts that the Northern proletarian capital would fall within a few days. But Petrograd stands. The Petrograd front is comparably sounder than it was a month ago, and the Anglo-French bands have been compelled to reveal their military impotence before the whole world.

But this does not mean that the imperialists are giving up. No, they are putting to work all the resources they possess, in order to save themselves and to crush us. They are exciting the imperialist appetites of the Polish, Romanian, Lettish, Estonian and Finnish bourgeoisies, so as to set them on the Soviet federation. At the same time they are not only helping the Russian bourgeoisie and rural kulaks to create their own army but are trying with all their might to introduce corruption and treachery into the ranks of the Soviet regiments.

The Anglo-French imperialists are using to this end individual members of the Russian commanding personnel.

The officers of the old Tsarist army were split by the revolu non into three pans. One part, under the banner of Kornilov, Kaledin, Krasnov, Denikin and Kolchak, rose in arms openly against the Russian workers and peasants, and sold Russia successively to the Germans and the French and British. At the opposite pole to them was the group of officers, awakened for the first time by the events of revolution, who sensed the great truth of the working class and honestly and sincerely took their places in its army. Thousands of former officers have given their lives heroically, without name or fame, in the ranks along with the proletarian and peasant soldiers. Finally, there was a third, large group in the middle, frightened and worried men, who drew their heads in and tried to hide from the great events. When the Soviet forces are victorious, when the flame of revolution bursts forth in other countries this middle group of officers starts to lean towards the Soviet power, either from sentiment or from calculation, and marks itself off in every way from the supporters of Denikin and Kolchak. When the wave – of revolution momentarily subsides, when, under the combined onslaught of our foes, the Red Army momentarily retreats, the spineless, idea-less and cowardly section of the offi ers looks with fear in the direction of Denikin’s bludgeon, and produces from its midst a fresh lot of deserters and traitors.

To this is to be added the work accomplished by Anglo-French and Japano-American gold.

’I buy everything,’ said gold: ‘I seize everything,’ said steel But the Allies’ steel hangs powerlessly in the air, for the workers’ hand, itself armed with steel, will not allow any more blows to be struck at the working masses of Russia. But the Anglo-French predators have accumulated a lot of stolen gold. They are now prepared to give away a considerable amount of their booty if only they can thereby capture the Petrograd they hate, and then Red Moscow, and strangle workers’ and peasants’ Russia. The bourgeoisie of the Entente countries possess natural agents in the shape of Russia’s former landlords, capitalists, counter-revolutionary generals and officials. They have their own organisation, their own system of communica tions. Under the blows of fate, the counter-revolutionary elements in Russia have in the past year made considerable progress in conspiratorial, underground work. They often infiltrate our regiments in the guise of Red Army men, and carry on corrupting agitation there, relying on the kulak elements.

But the principal efforts of the Kolchakite and Denikinite agents of foreign imperialism are directed at the commanders of the Red Army. Partial and temporary setbacks on the Western and Southern fronts have created favourable soil for traitors’ work. Without political views, the so-called ‘non-Party’ officer, unable to keep his bearings amid great events, soon loses his nerve and, when he sees that we have suffered defeat on this or that sector of the front, and hears of defeats on other sectors, he easily draws the conclusion that all is lost. Or it would be more correct to say that this conclusion is suggested to him by hired provocateurs. They whisper in his ear: ‘If you want to save yourself, cross over to the side of Denikin and Kolchak. There is great strength there, with help from the Entente countries: there is food and gold.’

On the Western front, where the Anglo-French imperialists are operating more zealously than anywhere else, through the Baltic ports, there have been a few cases recently of treachery by commanders. Commanders of regiments or battalions have handed over their units to the enemy, taking advantage of the soldiers’ lack of consciousness or of their difficult military situation.

On the other hand, those paid agents who still remain among us exploit such cases of treachery in order to inspire the Red Army men with distrust and hostility towards the entire commanding apparatus. On the right they say: ‘Officers, go over to Denikin, Kolchak, Mannerheim and Hailer.’ On the left they whisper: ‘Red Army men, is it worth your while to shed your blood when you are being betrayed by your commanders?’ [The Polish General Hailer commanded a Polish force fighting against the Germans in France during the World War which returned to Poland after the Armistice and fought against the Bolsheviks.] All the imperialist armies are now breaking up and decom posing. The Red Army alone is holding together and growing, despite partial setbacks. We see this not only from the example of Russia but also from the experience of Hungary, where, after a series of defeats, the armed proletariat has thrown back its enemies and is pressing them even harder. But the imperialists, unwilling to surrender, are striving with all their strength to infect with the poison of their putrefaction the young organism of the Red Army. Vain efforts!

Of course the treachery of particular commanders does subs tantial damage to the army. But these cases cannot seriously shake its might. The military apparatus created by the working class is flexible and tough enough to cope with the last convul sion of the dying beast. Treachery will be crushed by the united forces of the soldiers, the commissars and the commanders themselves.

Those who are concerned first and foremost in this matter are the overwhelming majority of the honourable commanders.

This majority, who already have so many services to the Soviet country to their credit, will not allow isolated scoundrels to drive their poisoned splinters into the body of our army and spread panicky suspicion of the commanding apparatus as a whole. Shoulder to shoulder with the commissars, our commanders will expel from their midst the wretched hirelings and traitors.

The extensive influx of Communists into the army must at once raise the level of its consciousness. And in the last resort it is on the consciousness of the workers and the advanced peasants that all the intrigues of our enemies have been and will continue to be broken.

Agents of imperialism are trying to disintegrate our army. ‘Closer to the Red Army masses!’ shall be our answer. We must send, not only from the centre but also from the departments and administrations of the fronts, armies and divisions, the best workers we have, tempered Communist proletarians, into the lower levels of the army, the regiments, battalions and companies, those basic cells of the revolutionary army.

Strain every nerve, dig deeper, tighten up – that is our programme of action!

A commander with an enthusiastic attitude to his work will be devoted to the army, and will not be bought. A commander who is indifferent and careless is either a traitor or a candidate for treachery. He must be cast out ruthlessly.

The commissar is the political leader and inspirer of a regiment. The soldiers and commanders are his responsibility. He watches over the interests of the workers’ revolution. And if a commissar is not like that, he must be removed at once.

The Communist cells must be checked and purged again and again in the light of experience in the struggle.

This has been our road up to now. This it will remain in the future as well. We shall merely redouble our efforts now that temporary setbacks on two fronts are causing fresh outbreaks of treachery.

If the imperialists’ brigand steel has not destroyed us, neither shall we be destroyed by the treachery of Anglo-French gold. [1]

June 17, 1919
‘En Route’, No.54


1. Trotsky’s metaphor is taken from a poem by Pushkin:

’Everything is mine,’ said gold;
‘Everything is mine,’ said steel.
‘I buy everything,’ said gold;
‘I seize everything,’ said steel.

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Last updated on: 18.12.2006