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)


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

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The Southern front is a Cossack front. The Don is a hotbed of counter-revolution. Under the autocracy the Cossacks served as a weapon of tyranny and oppression. Workers’ strikes and peasant disturbances were quelled, first and foremost, by the Cossack whip. Working-class and peasant mothers used the name ‘Cossack’ to frighten their children with. In all the languages of the world the word ‘Cossack’ is pronounced in the same way, and everywhere it stands for oppression and tyranny.

The Tsarist government, and with its backing the Cossack upper circles, artificially kept the Cossack community in isolation, with the Cossacks on one side and all the rest of the Russian people on the other. The chief concern of the Tsarist government was to ensure that the working Cossacks did not become aware of their bond with the workers and peasants. And to a certain extent they succeeded. Even now there are many working Cossacks in the Don region who look on the Cossack nobility as their own people and the Russian workers and peasants as alien to them.

It is this Cossack caste bond between working people and parasites, poor and rich, that constitutes the basis of the counter-revolution on the Don. This is why from the first days of freedom onward, all the aggrieved landlords, manufacturers and officials made their way to the Don country. This is why revolt after revolt has broken out on the Don. And now, when our armies have advanced to the Northern Donets and the Manych, a kulak-Cossack revolt has again broken out in their rear. [46]

It is not only the fate of the Don region and not only the fate of Cossackdom that are being decided on the Don front. The Cossack General Krasnov has gone, and has been replaced by Denikin, who has nothing in common with the Cossacks.

Denikin is trying to form a close link with Kolchak. What is at stake is not the Don but Soviet Russia as a whole. The Cossacks are only a blind and stupid tool in the hands of the monarchist landlords.

This spring and this summer we must flnish with the Southern front for good and all. We must eradicate the counter revolution in the Don country. We must destroy the reactionary bond between the working Cossack and the Cossack land lord. We must annihilate the Cossack landlord. We must make the working Cossack feel that he is not a Cossack but a worker and a peasant. We must unite the Don with the Soviet Russia. We must strain every nerve to put an end to the Southern front.

May 11, 1919
En Route, No.45
[* Chertkovo is on the line from Voronezh to Rostoy-on-Don, near the point where the Ukraine, the Don Region and Voronezh province meet.]


46. For the facts about the kulak revolt on the Don it is necessary to turn back to an earlier period. In the middle of March 1919, in the area of the stanitsas situated on both banks of the Don, in the sector between Kazanskaya and Veshenskaya, a Cossack revolt broke out, having been prepared by the command of the retreating Don Army. The rapidity of our units’ advance, their small numbers, and the unsatisfactory work of the Special Section and the Political Department, together with clumsy acts and mistakes by the authorities in the localities, aroused hostile feelings among the kulaks of the Don country. An expeditionary corps detached from the Ninth Army with the task of liquidating this revolt did not succeed in its task. By the middle of April the rebels numbered 30,000 fighting men, with 27 machine-guns and six cannon. This revolt had a big influence on the course of the operations of the Southern Front against Denikin.

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Last updated on: 23.12.2006