The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

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


Report to the Plenum of the Kharkov Soviet of Workers’, Cossacks’ and Peasants’ Deputies, June 14, 1919
[Given here in abridged form. – L.T.]

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

* * *

Kharkov is in Immediate Danger

I am obliged to withdraw the statement I made to representatives of the press a few days ago, when I said that Kharkov was not in danger from the military standpoint.

I must now make a serious correction of that statement. The situation is a great deal more alarming than I supposed, basing myself on the information then available. What I am saying cannot, of course, be interpreted as expressing a mood of panic, or be taken as a basis for panicky feelings or conclusions.

In the military sphere we must maintain a policy of frank ness, for our military strength depends, to the extent of three-quarters in every concrete instance, and to the extent of four quarters on the scale of history as a whole, upon the energy, consciousness and activity of the best, advanced elements of the working class.

And in order to bring about the necessary turn on the Southern front – and this we shall do! – we need to say clearly, for everyone to hear, that the situation is bad.

The Makhno Movement

The army which is operating on the Donets front originated as a guerrilla force. It was subjected to considerable reorganisation, and that produced very valuable and positive results.

This army advanced on the Donets Basin in a planned and systematic way. But during the past week a sharp change took place in it, a relapse, a resurgence of former illness which had been only partly overcome.

Makhno’s detachments showed to the full that they were incapable of defending the most important sectors of the Southern front. At the first push from the enemy, they uncovered the right flank of the army which stood directly between Kharkov and Denikin’s forces. But the main thing, which had grievous consequences, was Makhnovism.

Imagine two armies side by side. In one of them the soldier is called upon to fight in the name of great ideas, and order is maintained: in the other, nothing is demanded of the soldier – he is told, whatever you take is yours. This second army is Makhno’s. The ranks of this army are full of ignorant, backward elements to whom the principles of Makhnovism are dear.

The fame of the land of Gulyay-Polye, where nothing is demanded of the soldier and there is no discipline, spread far and wide. But now has come the sobering-up: among Makhno’s detachments, among the more conscious section of the workers’ and peasants’, a significant turn has begun.

We have reliable information that in the last few days a cry of protest has been raised among the Makhnovites, against the chaos and outrages which led to sheep-like panic and treacherous abandonment of the front.

They are already demanding to go over to the regime of the regular forces.

We had hardly managed to rout Grigoriyev’s gang when Gulyay-Polye announced the convening of a congress of five uyezds, the task of which was to be the overthrow of the existing power of the workers and peasants. Makhno renounced his command and proceeded to organise an independent rebel army.

These experiments were taking place on the front against Denikin, in a country which had just been shaken by Grigoriyev’s mutiny, a country that was an armed camp, and the central command announced that the congress of June 15 would not be allowed.

When this order was reinforced by a concentration of the troops fighting against Denikin, ready to turn their weapons against Makhno, the latter sent a telegram saying that he was a revolutionary and that he would surrender his brigade, or his division, to whomsoever we appointed to take it over.

But Makhnovism has not been liquidated with the liquidation of Makhno: it has its roots in the ignorant masses.

The Fight Against Makhnovism

The more ignorant and corrupt elements saw the opportunity to run amok. This was a mood typical of kulak plunderers.

Turning to the measures taken for eradicating Makhnovism in the ranks of the army and restoring its capacity to fight, it must be mentioned that two paths lead to this result: organised ideological influence, and severe punishment of unwholesome elements.

We must apply ruthless measures not only to our class enemy but also among ourselves, against all those who obstruct the historical path of the working class. The present moment is too crucial for any wavering to be allowed.

Workers of Kharkov, pull yourselves together!

Whereas a week ago there could be disputes about mobilisation, that hour has now passed.

If the mobilisation is not going well enough in Kharkov, because part of the working class here is not on the same class, moral and political level as the workers of Moscow and Petrog rad, the working class of the whole country can appeal to the Kharkov worker – ’pull yourself together’ ...

Kharkov – A Fortified Area

Comrades! We now come to the need to apply in Kharkov the same measures that were taken at the time of Kolchak’s ons laught in Samara, Kazan and Simbirsk.

The time has arrived to convert Kharkov into a fortified region which will fight against the advancing White Guards regardless of whether or not the field armies are holding the line of the front.

The situation at the front became unstable as a result of the breakdown of some field units, for the restoration of whose combat-capacity measures have already been taken. Along with this we need to transform Kharkov into a fortress with a strong working-class garrison and a single, centralised military authority.

The mobilisation carried out in Kharkov will be supervised by us, in the sense that we shall check on how really indispensa ble those Soviet officials are who have been left in their previous posts, and shall see to it that all the rest are put under arms.

At the same time we shall strive very vigorously to restore the field units to their proper state and to replace the tired and disintegrated regiments by ones that are more staunch and reliable.

On the sector of the front formerly held by the Makhnovites we have already succeeded in replacing Makhno’s runaway guerrillas by regular troops.

Everyone To Arms!

Where Kharkov is concerned we must take up a firm position.

Kharkov will be transformed into a fortress under siege by the enemy. We shall establish a strict revolutionary regime in Kharkov.

Everyone to arms!

All honourable and conscious elements in the Kharkov proletariat will at once be drawn into active struggle in the trenches of the fortress. Workers, office-workers and all honest opponents of the naked reaction which is advancing upon us will be mobilised, trained and armed for a decisive fight to the death.

We shall deal with self-seekers and deserters with an iron hand, and we shall make the bourgeoisie undertake the work of trench-digging and fortification.

Before the entire organised proletariat of Kharkov we openly and directly proclaim that cruel danger from Denikin’s bands threatens Red, Soviet Kharkov, but in the same clear and definite way we firmly proclaim that we shall never surrender Kharkov. This we swear before the whole working class of Kharkov.

From the chests of the best honourable sons of the working class we shall create an unbreakable iron cuirass that Denikin will never be able to penetrate. *

* After this report, the following resolution was adopted by the Kharkov Soviet, together with the Soviets of the city’s districts and the leaderships of the trade-unions and factory committees:

(1) Kharkov is under immediate threat of attack by the White bands, who would annihilate all the conquests of the working class and also physically exterminate the proletariat.

(2) Kharkov is in danger, but recognition of this fact must not become a source of panic. This estimate of the situation must form the basis of all the work of the Soviet, Party and trade-union organisations of the working class.

(3) Kharkov must not and will not be surrendered to the enemy. Consequent ly, all forces to the defence of Kharkovl The city and the approaches to it are to be converted into a fortified area. The garrison of the fortified area must be brought up to strength, armed and trained in the shortest possible tIme.

(4) To this end, mobilisation must be broadened and deepened. Exemptions must be reviewed. Dodgers must be rounded up. Those who try to evade service out of ill-will must be severely punished.

(5) The Khrxkov fortified region must be headed by a Revolutionary War Council of the fortified region, consisting of the commandant together wIth two members to be nominated by the Kharkov Soviet. All power is to be concentrated in the hands of this council until the danger to Kharkov has been warded off.

(6) It is the duty of the Revolutionary War Council of the fortified area to establish in Kharkov a regime appropriate to its position as a fortress under direct threat from the enemy.

All honourable and sound elements – to arms! Bourgeois elements – to trench-digging! Counter-revolutionaries – to concentration camps! Severe suppression of all acts disrupting the unity, staunchness and fight ing capacity of the Kharkov fortified area.

(7) Since, at this anxious time, any distraction of the working people’s attention from the direct task of organising a rebuff to the Whites means helping the enemy, all groups which, while hiding behind the flag of supporters of the Soviet power, put forward conditions of one sort or another for undertaking defence of the proletarian fortress, and which carry on agitation in this sense, are to be regarded as traitors to the cause of the workers and peasants and dealt with in accordance with martial law.

One of the most effective methods used by the Makhnovites and by the agents of Denikin, who act in concert in this matter, is the casting of groundless, unjustified suspicion upon commanders, both in the active units and in the rear, and, in particular, in Kharkov itself. In view of the fact that an Extraordinary Military Revolutionary Tribunal, presided over by Comrade Pyatakov, is functioning in the area of the army of the Donets Basin, that is, on all the approaches to Kharkov, every accusation made against commanders, commissars and responsible workers generally is to be submitted to this Tribunal. It is quite obvious that the spreading of vague and obscure accusations against commanders is a treacherous stab in the back for the army and must therefore be stopped by the strictest means.

Since the most important factor in the break-up of our army was Makhnovism, which sought to replace military discipline, firm revolutionary order and proper military training by the arbitrary actions of separate bands, independent of each other, it is necessary to put double and treble energy into the fight against rotten and corrupt kulak pillaging, which comes forward under the banner of Anarcho-Makhnovism. Without concealing the full acuteness of the situation which has been created, and presenting to the workers and peasants the truth as it really is, the representative organ of the Kharkov proletariat, armed with full powers, calls on all the working people to show calm and self-control.


return return

Last updated on: 22.12.2006