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

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The second anniversary of the Soviet order is approaching, and this second anniversary finds us in the midst of a ferocious civil war. However, the past year has not gone for nothing: it has taught everyone who it is that is fighting and for what – the historical significance of the Soviet power, To everyone who is not blind, this year has shown that the Soviet power is no accidental and temporary happening, but the outcome of profound historical necessity.

The overwhelming majority of the regular officers of the old army entered the Soviet epoch without knowing even the ABC of socialism. It is not to be wondered at if the first period of Soviet power brought very great confusion into the minds of these officers. The privileged and titled top ranks of the officer corps made skilful use of this confusion so as to draw the broad, democratic mass of the officers into White-Guard conspiracies, revolts and so on, making them, like the peasants they conscripted, the cannon-fodder of counter-revolution.

The hostility and suspicion felt by the masses towards the regular officers was a natural consequence of the previous epoch, when every officer, regardless of his personal origin or political sympathies, had objectively, as an officer, to serve as a tool in the hands of the privileged classes. The regular officers could and can overcome this hostility and suspicion towards them in only one way: by taking their stand unquestioningly on the ground of the revolution that has been made, recognising sincerely, honestly and finally that there can be no return to the old order, and devoting their powers and their knowledge to the cause of the struggle for the independence of our new workers’ and peasants’ Russia, which is striving for the country’s comp lete rebirth. This process is being hindered, however, by old associations and old prejudices which are artificially kept alive by the political agents of the bourgeoisie. The result has been that officers have been drawn into a number of adventures, conspiracies, and revolts, and many hundreds and thousands of them have gone to senseless deaths.

True, at the same time, a very considerable number of regular officers have broken away from the White-Guard camp and are serving on Soviet territory, in Soviet institutions – principally in the Red Army. However, this section of the officers, too, lack clarity and understanding in their attitude to the Soviet order, and far from all of them show the necessary honesty and straightforwardness. A substantial share of the blame for this is rooted in the officers’ failure to grasp the meaning of the revolution which has taken place and the prospects which it opens up.

The officers, like many other categories of the intelligentsia, did not at first take the trouble to understand the meaning of Soviet power, because they regarded it as ephemeral. It would not be pointless to re-read today the bourgeois newspapers of 1917-1918, with their continual prophecies of the inevitable and proximate downfall of the Soviet power. The offensive of Krasnov and Kerensky against Petrograd in October 1917, the revolt led by Kaledin, Alekseyev, Dutov and Krasnov, the offensive by the Germans after the first negotiations at Brest, the revolt of the Czechoslovaks, the Anglo-French occupation of the Murman coast and Archangel, the Japanese landing at Vladivostok, Romania’s attacks, the Yaroslavl rising, the Anglo-French landing on the Black Sea coast – all of these events, and many more, provided grounds for ever renewed, persistent forecasts of the near and certain collapse of the Soviet regime. And yet, during this period, how many changes took place, ‘how many governments, not to speak of ministries, fell in other countries. The Soviet power not only stood firm amid this maelstrom of world events, it even became incomparably stronger than before.

Two years ago we began with small volunteer detachments, today we have a mighty army; two years ago we were opposed by mighty imperialist armies, but, since then, the German and Austro-Hungarian armies have left the stage, and the British and French armies are not only being demobilised, they are being disrupted internally, undermined by the spirit of revolt. Not for nothing did Denikin write to Kolchak that ‘Britain and France have caught Russia’s disease’.

Finally, in the most recent period, the prophecies of impending downfall of the Soviet power became especially frequent, owing to the difficult situation at the fronts. Only a few weeks ago, the Southern front presented very great danger for us. The forces of the Polish bourgeoisie were advancing from the west through Smolensk and Mogilev towards Moscow. In the East our advance into Siberia had been halted and we had begun to be pushed back. Petrograd was threatened with mortal danger by Yudenich ... These successes were achieved by our enemies thanks to the tireless work of British gold and British weapons. Thrown against us was everything that could be mobilised by means of bribery, lies, hounding and terror. But it was enough for the working masses to sense the terrible danger, for forces to be found that sufficed to give the enemy a decisive rebuff. At present we are advancing in the South: Yudenich has been hurled back from Petrograd: in the East we are continuing to harry and beat Kolchak: in the North the British have themselves abandoned the Archangel territory. We are emerging victorious from the great duel with the combined forces of militarism. Those who forecast our death have themselves either perished or will soon do so. But we are alive and growing stronger.

Thus, the Soviet order is no temporary or accidental and transitory phenomenon. The bourgeois order of militarism, free trade and wage-labour seemed to the diehard serfowners when it first arose to be something accidental and ephemeral. But it was the serfowners who perished and the bourgeois order that developed. So is it today with the Soviet, communist order. It has come to take over from the bourgeois order. It is smash ing all obstacles in its path. Whoever is unwilling to march in step with it will be cast aside, crushed and annihilated. Their Serene Highnesses the Princes Lieven and their like, and adventurers like Kolchak and Denikin, dreaming of a crown, cannot, of course, reconcile themselves to the new order, just as the serfowners could not reconcile themeselves to the emancipation of the peasantry. [The Lievens were a family of ‘Baltic barons’ who were prominent in the diplomatic, administrative and military services of Tsardom. Prince A.P. Lieven commanded White forces which fought in Latvia and then, as part of Yudenich’s army, on the Petrograd front.] But the mass of the officers, the ordinary workers among them, can and must reconcile themselves to the Soviet regime. To do this they need only realise that this regime is an immutable and long-lasting fact of history, that they will have to live, work and bring up their children within the setting that it provides.

One of the simplest and at the same time most powerful factors repelling the officers from the Soviet regime is the hardship of their material existence: ceaseless difficulties with housing, food, fuel, means of communication and so on. The Soviet order seems to them, owing to these circumstances, to be an order of meagreness and poverty, bordering on beggary. Actually, this is the greatest of delusions. The ruined state of all Russia was our inheritance from Tsardom and the War. This devastation was worsened by the civil war, that is, by the new attacks made against us by bourgeois agents who wanted to turn back the wheel of history. Present-day Communism, unlike the primitive Christian sort, does not in the least signify levelling-down into poverty. On the contrary, the development of the Communist order presupposes a powerful growth of the productive forces of industry and agriculture, of technology and science, of art in all its forms. Hunger rations and cold dwellings are not Communism but a calamity brought upon us by the crimes of world imperialism. The Soviet order is trying to ensure plenty, warmth and comfort for everyone. Is this practicable? Of course it is. Give us two years of peaceful labour, of the concentration of all our powers, all our energy, all our enthusiasm, not upon civil war, but upon economic creative work, and we shall, with our combined forces, not only heal the gaping wounds of the national organism but also effect a mighty advance in all directions.

Autumn 1919.
From the archives

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Last updated on: 23.12.2006