The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


II. Commanders and Commissars


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

* * *

On one of the Ukrainian sectors of the Southern front the commander of an infantry brigade gave an order to the commander of a cavalry regiment that was subordinate to him to despatch a certain number of troopers to a flank. The commander of the cavalry regiment answered: ‘I have no cavalry for you, and you have a whole brigade of infantry.’ This case is characteristic of a system of relations under which serious and lasting victories cannot be won.

The order to despatch the cavalrymen was given in the name of the brigade commander by the chief of staff of the brigade, a former lieutenant-colonel, a modest but conscientious worker. The commander of the cavalry regiment doubtless regards himself as a ‘Communist’, otherwise he would hardly have resolved to give such an insolent answer. In a few places commanders who are Communists (i.e.,pseudo-Communists) consider that everything is permissible to them, especially when they are dealing with non-Communist officers. This disgraceful practice must be extirpated, and the sooner and more ruthlessly the better.

A Communist commander must be a model of discipline. Discipline signifies a certain conscious link and subordination between people who are striving towards a common goal. A regimental commander who, instead of carrying out a battle order, replies insolently to his superior officer will, apart from everything else, never establish the necessary subordination in his own regiment. Wilful persons may frighten, but they are incapable of establishing firm control.

Under the answer given by the commander of the cavalry regiment there was only his own signature. But where was the signature of the commissar? If there had been a good, disciplined commissar in that regiment, he would not only have refused to sign an order so incompatible with proper organisation, he would have demanded that the regimental commander immediately carry out the battle order. Had the regimental commander refused, he would have arrested him on the spot. Evidently, in the present case, the commissar was not available, but the commander of the cavalry regiment, regarding himself as a Communist, did not conform to any regulations and infringed a battle order without even informing the commissar about this.

Perhaps, though, there was no commissar at all in this regiment, since in some places it is thought that commissars are needed only where there are ‘military specialists’. A gross delusion! There ought to be a commissar in every regiment. And supervision of certain commanders who, in words, are ‘extremely revolutionary’, is just as necessary as supervision of doubtful ‘military specialists’.

A Communist commander is always a most precious acquisition for our Red Army. Only he must be a real Communist, that is, a man of duty and discipline from head to foot. However, we still have amongst our officers a considerable number of com manders who demand unquestioning subordination to themselves but are completely insubordinate towards their own immediate superior. Moreover, they justify this either by reference to their Party-mindedness or to some sort of special mandate received from authoritative Soviet officials. Such pseudo-Communists do more harm to the army than the worst traitors from among the White-Guard officers. A traitor causes the army material loss, goes over to the enemy, and that’s all, whereas a pseudo-Communist poisons the consciousness of his unit by criminal demagogy. While failing to obey an order he will brag about his ‘Party-mindedness’, shout about the interests of the revolution, and at the same time treacherously disrupt the co-ordination of military operations.

Not all Makhnovites belong to the Anarchists: some of them wrongly regard themselves as Communists. Makhnovites under a Communist flag are very much more dangerous than under an Anarchist or Left-SR flag.

Only when we have cleansed the Red Army of disorganisers shall we ensure its complete steadfastness in battle.

July 18, 1919
Vorozhba station
[Vorozhba is where the line from Kursk joins the Konotop-Sumy line. ]
En Route, No.64

return return

Last updated on: 23.12.2006