The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

II. Denikin’s Offensive (May 15-August 1919)



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

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We have learned, in the course of our struggle, not to take fright at partial setbacks. That is a great and important thing to have learnt. In the first period, local Soviet institutions easily gave way to panic, and if some small town fell, a wave of alarm swept over a wide area. We now know, from experience, that if we momentarily lose some locality to the enemies of the working people, we shall eventually recover it and advance further.

Nevertheless, we have suffered too many partial setbacks, that is, setbacks that could have been avoided by vigilance and self-control. We do not always have enough of those qualities. When our affairs are going well and the Red regiments are advancing, throwing back the enemy, the leaders too easily become complacent, and think that henceforth everything is going to go swimmingly, of its own accord.

This is a very great delusion. The cause of the proletarian struggle never advances ‘of its own accord’. It calls for the greatest energy, vigilance, staunchness and pressure lii all directions.

A regiment is hard to create, but it can sometimes be weakened and made to crumble in a few minutes. The same applies to the divisions and armies of an entire front.

When things take a bad turn at the front, and the enemy starts to press us hard, our side always shows, not depression and breakdown, but elan. Commanders and commissars pull themselves and their units together, and the rear comes to the aid of the front with feverish activity: the armies rally and quickly go over to the offensive.

A phase of victories begins. Then, as often as not, we see a decline in vigilance and pressure. We are too easily satisfied with the partial successes we achieve. Too much is left to chance.

All this is at present applicable to the Southern front. A tour of the armies on this front has convinced me, without leaving the slightest doubt, that the chief burden of responsibility for the recent hitch and the partial setbacks on the Southern front lies with the organisational apparatus of the front itself.

Too many people are working in a slipshod manner. Instead of calculating and foreseeing where to send supplies so that they become available at the right moment to the units for which they were intended, Messrs bureaucrats of both pre-Soviet and Soviet vintages work mechanically, that is, to no purpose, without taking account of what is happening in neighbouring departments. Delays not only of hours but of whole days and weeks result from bureaucratic lack of foresight. And this is the cause of our setbacks.

After a few successes, commanders and commissars often start to rest on their laurels. Training is not carried out in units that have been pulled back into reserve. Regulations are not observed. They fail to take even the needful precautionary measures in an area lying 20-30 versts from the front. As soon as a firm military regime slackens and fades in the units, disintegration sets in: the scoundrels desert and the middle peasants lose heart.

The country is now giving us everything it can: not only its possessions but also its best Sons. We must utilise what is given to us, to the very last thread. Not one drop of blood to many, and not one cartridge too many must be expended. Economy in time, economy in materiel, and economy in manpower! And, to ensure this, we must shake up the whole apparatus, kick out the blind bureaucrats, send the tired ones back to the rear, check and check again on the measures taken on the spot!

More foresight, more system, more persistence and self-control, comrade commanders and coninlissars, and, in par ticular, supply officers and transport officers!

Southern front, pull yourself together!

May 26, 1919
En Route, No.49

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Last updated on: 21.12.2006