The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

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

ORDER No.111

By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Commissar for Militaty and Naval Affairs, June 9, 1919, No.111, Kharkov

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

* * *

One of the military workers on the Eastern front has submitted a report in which he requests that he be released from his duties on the grounds that a commissar has been attached to him, and in this fact he sees expressed a lack of confidence in him as a member of the Communist Party.

In connection with this unbecoming report I consider it necessary to issue in printed form an explanation which I have given orally on more than one occasion. The appointment of a commissar never signifies lack of confidence in the commander affected. Commissars carry out extensive independent work of an organisational-political and agitational-educational character in the institutions and units to which they are appointed. Commissars are attached to Communist commanders and in general to all commanders in whom the Soviet power has absolute trust, regardless of whether they are or are not members of the Communist Party.


Transports arrived by rail at Liski station containing wounded men who were in a frightful condition. The trucks were without bedding. Many of the men lay, wounded and sick, without clothes, dressed only in their underwear, which had long remained unchanged: many of them were infectious. There were no medical personnel, no nurses and nobody in charge of the trains. One of the trains containing over 400 wounded and sick Red Army men, stood in the station from early morning until evening, without the men being given anything to eat. It is hard to imagine anything more criminal and shameful!

Of course, we have few doctors. A considerable proportion of them fled to the counter-revolutionary realm of Denikin and Kolchak. Nevertheless, the shortage of doctors does not justify such an outrage as this. Wounded and sick men can be supplied with food even in the absence of medical personnel. To give warning in advance of the arrival of a train carrying wounded, hungry, worn-out soldiers of the Red Army, and to demand that, the local authorities take the measures necessary for supplying food to the sick – that, certainly, is quite feasible. It is clear that the army medical organisation of the Southern front is in a bad state.

But are the local authorities any good? The commandant of Liski station explained that the reason why the sick were left to starve for twelve hours was that the necessary allocations of money had not been made. Foodstuffs were available to the local authority at Liski. But because nobody took the trouble to order meals for the sick and wounded, giving an undertaking to make the appropriate payment, the station commandant and the commander of the evacuation point considered that the only solution to the problem was to let the sick and wounded go hungry for twelve hours. And what about the other Soviet authorities? Didn’t they know? But exactly the same thing had happened at that same station the day before. It might have seemed that an exceptional situation called for exceptional measures. Did the local executive committee, or the railway-workers’ organisation, concern themselves with the matter? Nothing of the kind! Nobody was interested. The wounded men, clad only in their bloodstained underwear, writhed on the dirty floorboards of the trucks, tormented by sickness, hunger and thirst. And nobody brought them anything, because nobody had authorised payment, and so feeding these sick men would threaten to cause a momentary breach of the accounting system. Can one conceive any worse example of obtuse heart lessness and shameless bureaucratism, even in the foulest times of foul Tsardom!

The uselessness of the army medical apparatus, the lack of foresight and inefficiency of the commandants and those in charge of evacuation points, the apathy of the local Soviet lnstitutions, all came together in this case. It is easy to appreciate with what feelings the sick and wounded languished In this place, and the curses they called down on the authorities whose responsibility it was to care for them.

This disgraceful case (which, as I have said, is not unique) must be thoroughly investigated. Criminal unconcern and base apathy must be driven out of the army medical organisation and the organisation of army communications. There is need also for a vigorous shake-up of local Soviet institutions that shut their eyes when, under their very noses, soldiers of the Red Army are suffering and dying, men to whom they owe the security they enjoy.

At any cost we must improve, extend and put to rights the army medical apparatus. And we must show in practice to idlers and saboteurs that an indifferent attitude to wounded and sick Red Army men will be punished by the Soviet Republic in the same way as treason to the socialist fatherland.

June 10, 1919
En Route, No.53

return return

Last updated on: 22.12.2006