The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

I. The Red Army’s Offensive
towards the Ukraine and the Don (January-May 15, 1919)
[For a succinct account of the fighting on the Southern front in this period, see: Kenez, Peter: Civil War in South Russia, 1919-1920 (1977).]

A Severe Purge Is Necessary

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

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The Ukraine is being liberated. Our Southern armies are advancing with outstanding success towards the Don. [43] More and more regions are being opened up for the Soviet power. Fresh millions of workers and peasants, men and women, are being drawn into the socialist revolution. But at the same time we observe again, in new places, those diseases of youth or infancy that we have already experienced. Tens and hundreds of sinister elements, adventurers of all sorts, are attaching themselves to the revolution. The gigantic upheaval which is now taking place in the Ukraine is opening up many crevices in the old building, and out of these crevices are crawling, like cockroaches, parasites upon society who are trying to exploit the inexperience of the revolutionary masses and make a career for themselves out of the people’s blood.

This has always happened, in all revolutions. It happened in the October revolution in Petrograd and Moscow. Sharpers, secret police agents and semi-agents, Ensign Shneurs [Lieutenant Vladimir Shneur, of the 9th Kiev Hussar Regiment, was the leader of the group of envoys sent by the Bolsheviks in November 1917 to open negotiations with the German Army for an armistice. In December he began negotiations on behalf of the Soviet authorities with the General Headquarters of the Russian Army with a view to obtaining a peaceful surrender by the latter to the new regime. A few days later, however, his promising career was cut short by the accusation that he had been an agent of the Tsarist secret police.], suddenly took on Bolshevik colouring, shouted louder than anybody, demanded the bloodiest measures against the bourgeoisie, thrust themselves forward, and frequently obtained fairly responsible Soviet posts. In those posts they naturally showed themselves to be what they had been before, namely, scoundrels. They engaged in blackmail, extortion and looting. Not only petty-bourgeois philistines but also consider able numbers of workers were horrified and angered when they saw what was done by these representatives of the Soviet power. Slanderers and enemies of the working classes gloated and whooped for joy: ‘There are your commissars for you!’

Months elapsed before the Soviet power shook off these parasites and spongers who had overgrown it like weeds, protecting themselves with Soviet colouring. Some of them have been shot, others are in prison, a third category have fled and hidden themselves once more in the crevices. These last, however, have not given up hope. The Ukrainian upheaval has brought them fresh courage. There the successful revolts of the working masses are chasing out of their comfortable seats the landlords, the capitalists, the policemen, the journalists and the other servants of the bourgeois state. Executives are needed here, there and everywhere. We have not got a lot of knowledgeable, experienced and businesslike people. Tremendous powers are latent in the working class, but they are still hidden under a bushel – only work that has yet to be done will reveal them and bring them to the surface. In the meantime we often have to make do with whatever is at hand. And from all corners of Russia adventurers are flying towards the flame of the Ukrainian revolution. The minor ones among them become active at uyezd level, while the major figures set their caps at ‘state-wide’ roles.

The Anarchists of Kursk have addressed a solemn appeal to all ‘the imprisoned and chained’ to ‘join in the banquet of life’. Needless to say, the jailbirds are already, even without the courteous appeal from the Anarchist windbags, well-prepared to warm their thieving hands at the bonfire of the Workers’ Revolution.

The so-called Left SRs creep around the back streets and call on the Red Army men to revolt against the Soviet power. Some questionable ‘Maximalists’ are levying tribute from the population of Valuiki uyezd, trying to extract the ‘maximum’ profit from the revolution. Sakharov, the former commander of the Volchansk regiment, who has kept himself for the time being ‘within bounds’, has now, when the smell of cooking is wafted from the Ukraine, deserted his post and rushed off in search of higher positions and the benefits associated therewith. And, at the same time, the Kharkov organ of the Left SRs, Borba, is appealing, through Karelin and other collaborators in the July revolt, for ‘unity’ of all Soviet parties within the bosom of the revolutionary government of the Ukraine. The SR gentlemen have apparently not yet taken a firm decision on whether to support Sakharov against the Soviet power or else graciously to accept portfolios in the name of ‘unity of the socialist front’.

The adventurer has broken out. This fact cannot in any way be interpreted as an argument against the moral force of the Workers’ Revolution. The waters of the spring flood sweep along not only great ships but also the carcasses of dead dogs. Adventurers, big and small, are only the filthy scum on the crest of great events. The scum will disappear, the conquests of the socialist revolution will remain.

From this, however, it does not follow that adventurers, careerists and run-of-the-mill crooks are not harmful to us. On the contrary, they are at present the worst enemies of our cause. This fact can be verified in big things and small. With what joy did the inhabitants of Valuiki uyezd welcome their liberation!

And then, a few days later, with what bitter bewilderment did the citizens look around them when bandits rained down upon them a storm of demands for contributions together with sense less, unjust shootings.

Our Communist comrades, who had behind them the experience of Soviet Great Russia, dealt quickly with these invading burglars of the revolution. The heavy hand of revolutionary repression at once struck down the Maximalists, Anarchists, Left SRs and ordinary criminal adventurers. Order was established without delay in Valuiki uyezd, and the liberated workers and peasants recognised their Soviet power once more. But Sakharov is still larding it in Volchansk: having been proclaimed an outlaw, he is well aware that he has nothing to lose.

There are quite a few such Sakharovs in the Ukrainian guerrilla detachments, and they are now trying to attach themselves to the Ukrainian Soviet Government. We can have no doubt that the Government of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Ukraine will act, in a wider arena, just as the Communists of Valuiki acted, and will bring down a heavy fist of repression upon the reckless heads of these adventurers, political speculators and bandits.

We have to judge political groups and individuals on their recent past. After the October Revolution the Anarchists fanned dens of thieves in Moscow, Petrograd and other cities and held whole districts of the revolutionary capitals under siege. After the Soviet power had passed its iron broom over them, hardly any traces were left of this criminal masquerade. The Left SRs revolted in July, tried to raise a revolt on the Eastern front, and incited half-drunk Red Army men to mutiny at Lgov. They are carrying on unbridled Black-Hundred agitation in the back-streets of Moscow and Petrograd while at the same time, in the sickly-sweet voice of Karelin, they wail about the need for unity of the Ukrainian Soviet front.

We do not need their pious words. We know them by their foul deeds. The magnificent upsurge of the workers’ and peas ants’ revolt in the Ukraine is the best guarantee that Soviet power will grow stronger there not just daily but hourly. To that end we need no dubious and ephemeral allies, and no long trains composed of adventurers, but a firm and clear position on the part of the Communist Party and a strict regime of revolutionary discipline. Whereas we needed months, after October, to purge the sinister upstarts and intriguers, the Ukrainian Soviet power, rich in our experience, will need only weeks in order to drive importunate allies of the criminal Left-SR brand into crevices from which it would be best for them never to come out again.

January 9, 1919, Valuiki
En Route, No.21



43. The fighting on the Southern Front at the end of 1918 (see notes 103 and 105 to Volume 1) proceeded uninterruptedly with varying success. The line of the front, which altered very little, ran, broadly speaking, close to the border of the Don region. This situation continued until the beginning of our offensive of April 4, 1919. At that time an agreement existed between Krasnov and General Denikin, made under pressure from the Allies, by which the Don Army formed part of the Armed Forces of South Russia, of which Denikin was commander-in-chief. At the beginning of January, Denilcin issued an order for the transfer from the Caucasian-Caspian Front of units of General Wrangel’s Caucasian Volunteer Army, which had been made available thanks to their victories over the Eleventh and Twelfth Red Armies. Our forces on the Southern Front at the beginning of January consisted of units of the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Thirteenth Armies, which had been formed from Ukrainian revolutionary units (the former group of Comrade Kozhevnikov). The armies of the Southern Front began their successful offensive for liquidating the enemy’s Voronezh group on January 8, 1919. By January 21 the Whites’ Don Army was retreating rapidly, offering resistance only on the roads leading into the Donbas. On the right flank of the Southern front Ukrainian units were operating; quickly overcoming the insignificant resistance of the Petlyurists, they had by January 20 reached the line Kruty, Poltava-Sinelnikovot (Map 2).

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006