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 must finish with Denikin at all costs before winter comes. A winter campaign, a burdensome campaign, would demand great sacrifices in blood and materiel. We must do all that we can to avoid a winter campaign. There is only one way to ensure this: doubling and trebling the vigour we throw into our campaigns in the summer and autumn. We must put three riflemen where now stands only one, and five cavalrymen where now a single trooper sits astride his horse. This is perfectly possible. We are not short of men. The mobilisation of 19-year-olds and a section of the 18 year olds, together with the influx of peasants who previously failed to present themselves for call-up, means that we have a mighty, almost inexhaustible source of reinforcements for our army.

But this, by itself, is not enough.

We need commanders. The men we need are available in large numbers in various civilian posts, and have hitherto been carefully preserved from mobilisation by various Soviet institutions. The decree of the Defence Council directs commanders to the place where they ought to be – the front. From now on, any resistance by local authorities, any attempt to keep back or to conceal any valuable, experienced military worker is the worst sort of sabotage.

Besides officers of the old army we need new commanders. We must extend to the maximum the courses for training commanders. Here we most often come up against the question of accommodation. Local Soviet authorities frequently delay for months the opening or the extension of command courses on the pretext that the appropriate buildings are required for cultural purposes. Sometimes they keep their hands in this way on premises of the former Cadet Corps, which would be most suitable for the command courses. It would be hard to stigmatise strongly enough such short-sighted conduct. All cultural tasks now take second or third place in relation to the need to provide the Red Army with the thousand extra commanders it lacks. The shortage of commanders leads as often as not to our having temporarily to surrender to the enemy entire provinces, with all their cultural institutions and enterprises. No-one must presume to forget that Soviet Russia is an armed camp! Local Soviet institutions are now under orders, in the next few weeks, not only to provide the command courses with the most suitable accommodation, but also, generally, to ensure that these courses enjoy conditions, material and spiritual, such that the cadets may work at full stretch.

Supplies are needed. This is a fundamental question. We have to feed, clothe, shoe, equip and arm fresh hundreds of thousands of soldiers. All sources and means of supply must be mobilised and militarised. The country will, of course, suffer as a result. But it will suffer less than it would suffer from a long-drawn-out war. Mobilising a little, arming a little, fighting a little, proceeding ‘by little packets’, as the French say, is the most exhausting way of waging war. Gathering all forces, concentrating resources, focusing energy – that is the only proper way. In the last analysis it is this way that ensures the maximum economy of forces and resources, for it leads to decisive victory in the shortest possible time.

At the centre we have now achieved the necessary concentration of all organs and institutions of army supply. It is necessary that the local institutions fully co-operate with the centre in this respect. Boots, underwear, overcoats – to the front! Make as many overcoats, pairs of boots and sets of underwear as possible. More and more! Lorries, light cars, motor-cycles – to the front! Local Soviet institutions have a lot of horses. The army suffers from a tremendous shortage of them. Horses – to the front! All this will naturally have a serious effect on life and work in the localities. But only for a time. Later on, this will be repaid a hundred fold. We have to finish the war as soon as possible, so as to be able to transfer allour forces and allour resources to economic and cultural work.

War is a harsh and burdensome business. But since we have been forced to wage war, we must do this in the proper way, so as to bring the war to an end as soon as we can. We can’t pay on the instalment system for what war demands of us. We have to act at once, to buy it wholesale. Enough of the policy of ‘little packets’. We must ensure in time the utmost concentration of forces and resources. During this summer and autumn we must finish with Denikin. The first snow of winter must become the shroud of the counter-revolution on the Don and in North Caucasia.

July 16, 1919
Vozy station – Ponyri
[Ponyri is on the Kursk-Orel line, just inside the Ukraine.]
En Route, No.61

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Last updated on: 22.12.2006