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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Last autumn Voronezh was in danger. Today that danger has reappeared. And the immediate military threat may now seem to be, in itself, graver than it was last year. What, then, has happened during these months? What has changed? Who has become stronger? Who has become weaker?

Last year, Krasnov’s troops were only the irregular vanguard of other forces that were more powerful and a greater danger to us: Hohenzollern’s hordes and the troops of the Entente. We all understood and said at that time: ‘Let the Red troops retreat for the time being, when Krasnov’s cavalry make a raid, or let them crush them – that’s not the point. A few weeks sooner or later, Soviet forces will beat the Whites. But the outcome of the greatest revolution in the world depends on whether the White Guards of Germany, Britain, France and America are going to come to the aid of our Whites.’

That was where the answer to the real question lay. And that is where the greatest change has taken place.

German militarism has disappeared. Despite its pathetic Constituent Assembly, Germany is in the grip of civil war, which will inevitably bring the proletariat to power. Britain, France and America have won, but their military power is already doomed. We have seen that this is so, at Odessa and in the Crimea, from which the Allied vultures fled, and during the last few days the impotence of Anglo-French militarism has again been confirmed by the fate of Petrograd. The British and French Governments spoke categorically about General Yudenich’s entry into Petrograd in the near future. Already a report had gone out through all Europe and all over the world, saying that Red Petrograd had fallen. The atmosphere on the French stock-exchange became feverish. But Petrograd stood firm. [52] The British and French bourgeoisies proved incapable of helping their Russian allies. America is again withdrawing her forces from Archangel. Kolchak, whom the imperialists of the Entente were going to recognise, has fallen back to the Urals and beyond. The ‘Allies’ are unable to give help there, either. Anglo-French militarism is already no more than a huge card board facade. It has been ravaged internally. It has been gnawed through and through by revolution. Very soon it will collapse, before the eyes of the whole world.

Denikin’s bands that have thrust up from the South are no longer the vanguard of Anglo-French armies: no, they constitute the whole of the army which the counter-revolution is now able to bring against us. Behind Denikin there is nothing but a rear that is hostile to him.

True, during these months the counter-revolution in the South has succeeded in creating a considerable army. Our Southern armies, having beaten Krasnov’s bands, caine up, as they advanced, against a second line – the White-Guard forces of Denikin. During the last few months we have been waging a second campaign in the South. The enemy has renewed his strength while our forces have remained the same. Our principal forces and our attention have been temporarily diverted eastward. Together with this there has been the disintegration of the Ukrainian guerrilla movement and the poison of Makhnovism. Our Southern front has wavered and fallen back towards Tsaritsyn, Balashov and Voronezh.

From all its previous trials the Red Army has emerged stronger than before. The blows now being struck at Kharkov and Yekaterinoslav [The text has ‘Yekaterinodar’, but this evidently is a misprint for Yekaterinoslav (Dnieproperrovsk).] are forcing the Soviet Ukraine to pull itself together: that country is now passing through the same period that we experienced last summer, when the Czechoslovaks seized the Volga country from us, including Kazan. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Ukraine is a source of immense forces, material and human. It has now risen as one man to support the Southern front. Reinforcements are arriving in ever-increasing numbers. After a few weeks there will be a decisive turn on the Southern front. In these transitional weeks all forces and resources must be put at the service of the troops on the Southern front.

The rear must be strengthened. The whole zone adjoining the front must be cleared of deserters. Under the direct threat from the bludgeon of the landlords and generals, millions of peasants in the region of Kursk, Voronezh, Tambov and Saratov are rousing themselves, and are themselves driving deserters into the ranks of the Red forces. Not a single dodger must remain in any village!

The same applies to the commanding personnel. Hundreds and thousands of former officers of the old army are sitting in various Soviet offices. They are hiding themselves, or are being hidden, as ‘indispensables’. If they are at present ‘indispensables’ anywhere, it is in the ranks of the Red Army. An end must now be put to this, the worst sort of legalised desertion.

Kursk, Voronezh, Tambov, Saratov are being transformed into fortified areas. The armed Communists constitute the nucleus of these fortified areas. The Denikinite wave will break against this line of fortifications.

The situation on the Southern front is grave. Let us redouble our efforts – treble them and multiply them tenfold! Let us prepare for Denikin the fate of Kolchak!

June 27, 1919, Voronezh
En Route, No.55


52. On the May offensive by the North-Western Corps against Petrograd see Note 76 in the chapters ahead.

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Last updated on: 22.12.2006