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.113

By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs to the 13th Army, June 19 1919, No.113

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

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The Thirteenth Army is at present in a state of utter collapse. The fighting capacity of its units has fallen to the lowest level. Regiments are retreating before an enemy who is numerically weak but has been made insolent by impunity. Cases of ground less panic are constantly occurring. Self-seeking flourishes. If this shameful break-up of the 13th Army, which had in the past serious military achievements to its credit, were to continue, it would threaten the greatest danger to the Southern front and the entire Soviet Republic.

In order to bring about the necessary change in the mood and behaviour of the Thirteenth Army we must clearly understand the reasons for its collapse.

(I) One of the most important reasons for the shameful events through which the Thirteenth Army is now living is the heritage of guerrilla-ism. Many regiments of the Thirteenth Army were formed out of guerrilla detachments. Until then they had no proper organisation. They had hardly any transport. Their supply service was a slapdash affair. Self-supply and, consequently, pillaging, is widely resorted to. Our chief efforts must therefore be focused on the complete elimination of guerrilla-ism.

The units of the Thirteenth Army must be given a proper structure, in conformity with establishments. In the first place, they must be given transport, so that the regiments do not cling to the railways but become capable of mobile operations. The regulations need to be applied, especially the internal regulations and the field service regulations. The regulations are the expression of a rational, purposeful order, which ensures that a military unit possesses fighting capacity and gets the best results from its actions. We must see to it that the regulations are understood, respected and applied in practice.

(II) In connection with this, the question of commanding personnel acquires very great importance. Those commanders who are thoroughly imbued with the guerrilla spirit or who tolerate it, must be called to order or else replaced. We cannot put up with commanders who do not observe the field service regulations, work ‘anyhow’ and rely on ‘maybe’. In an army which is corroded with disorder and indiscipline, the commanding personnel must be the steel lever for effecting a change.

Every military commander is answerable for the lower commanders subordinate to him. Every commander must be subjected individually to the strictest checking on his conduct. Those who are slovenly and sluggish and who connive at disorder are either conscious traitors or capable of becoming traitors when a suitable moment arrives.

In order to purge the Thirteenth Army of elements of panic, treachery and decay, we must, in the first place, purge the commanding personnel of idlers, parasites and traitors. A Red Army commander must be a model of firmness, staunchness and courageous performance of duty towards the working people.

(III) A most decisive role in restoring the army to health must be played by the commissars. Upon the commissar of a regiment depends more than on anyone else the morale and spirit of the regiment. The regiment is the army’s basic unit. The commissar of a division can give general instructions, but only the commissar of a regiment can directly guide the life of the soldier comrades, in training, on the march, in action and in rest.

The commissar does not command. The regimental commander is there to do that. There must be only one commander. But the commissar is the representative of the workers’ and peasants’ powering the regiment. He is the political guide, inspirer and leader of the regiment. He must have a thorough knowledge of all the commanders of his unit, of their strong and weak points. Without himself interfering in the work of the commanders, he must keep an eye on them, to ensure that the commanders are always where they should be. He must check on the commanders’ conduct, and when a commander proves to be unworthy, incapable or unreliable, the commissar must take steps to have him replaced as soon as possible.

The commissar must know the make-up of his regiment – who its best soldiers are and who its worst. The commissar must make it possible for the best soldiers of the regiment to rally round him in the most difficult situations, and must be able with their help to rebuff the self-seekers and change the mood of the waverers. The commissar must be tirelessly vigilant towards the slightest manifestations of discontent, opposition, self-seeking or counter-revolutionary agitation, so as to adopt timely measures to remove the causes of legitimate discontent, take the self-seekers in hand, or punish them, and deal ruthlessly with the counter-revolutionaries.

Woe to the commissar who lives by the old axiom: ‘Everything is going all right,’ and makes himself a concealer of the deficiencies of his regiment. A good commissar is the salvation of a regiment, a bad one is its ruin.

The commissar personnel of the Thirteenth Army must be carefully examined on the basis of the experience of recent weeks. The weak and unstable among them must be removed and replaced.

(IV) Immense help to the commissars and commanders in restoring the shattered army can and must be given by the Communist comrades, the members of the Party cells. The Communist soldier is the most conscious, courageous and self-sacrificing soldier. Therefore, he must be a model of discipline and endurance. Communists like this hold together a company, a battalion, a regiment, an army.

But it has to be said that there are Communists and Communists. Since the Communist Party came to power, its ranks have been joined by numerous workers and peasants who lack clear Communist consciousness and the necessary revolutionary tempering. In action, a young, unseasoned Communist of this sort often gets infected by the mood of the unconscious soldiers, he gives way to panic, he himself violates order and thereby offers an example of breakdown to others. Moreover, it often happens that corrupt elements, careerists, worm their way in among the Communists, calculating that the title of Communist will bring them privileges of all kinds. Such pseudo-Communists are the worst thorn in the army’s flesh. Abscesses form around them. If the army is to be restored to health, the Communist cells will first have to be purged. The purges must be undertaken, jointly with the commissars, by the most conscious and energetic members of the cells themselves. There must be a very strict checking on how all the members of the Party cells, and all the sympathisers, behaved during the recent retreats: did they help the commissars, did they stop the runaways, did they kill the provocateurs – or did they themselves yield to senseless panic and become a source of disintegration? The Party does not need a Communist who launches into discussions when what is wanted is to fight. It would be better to have fewer Communists in a cell, provided they were reliable firm comrades who would remain at their posts at a difficult moment.

V) The Red Army is united by the lofty idea of struggle for the rights and interests of the oppressed. But the idea alone is not enough. Firm revolutionary military order is needed. Everyone must answer for his own actions. Not everyone can be a hero, but everyone is obliged to do his duty as a soldier to whom the working people have entrusted a rifle. Whoever evades the performance of his duty must be punished. There must be no impunity in the army. A commissar or a commander who connives at a negligent attitude to duties, especially on the part of commanding personnel, is worthless: by such conduct he protects slovenliness and self-seeking. Irresponsibility is the death of an army. A great deal of such irresponsibility still remains in the Thirteenth Army, as a heritage from the guerrilla epoch. Makhnovite agitators did much to introduce licentiousness and hooliganism into the regiments of the Thirteenth Army. We must now deal with those phenomena with redoubled severity. Not a single offence, and still less any crime, must go unpunished. The commissar and the commander are armed with disciplinary regulations for punishing minor offences. The army has the Revolutionary Tribunal for punishing crimes. Self seekers, counter-revolutionaries, deserters, Makhnovites must be eradicated – then the better elements will lift their heads and restore the regiments to health.

The Thirteenth Army will not dare to lose any time. Every hour is precious. The work of restoration must be carried through in the next fortnight. This will require the greatest concentration of physical and moral forces. I do not doubt that these forces will be found. Other armies, too, have known periods of decline and decomposition, and they have all emerged stronger from the test. It is now the Thirteenth Army’s turn.

Commanders, commissars, Communists of the Thirteenth Army! The Soviet Republic orders you: expel disintegration and decay from the ranks of your army, imbue your regiments with the spirit of self-sacrifice, and within two weeks take your rightful place on the sector of the Soviet front assigned to you.

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Last updated on: 22.12.2006