The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

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

Instruction To The Responsible
Workers Of The Fourteenth Army

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

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Our recent serious defeats show that the military and political workers of the 14th Army have not as yet succeeded in coping with the task that confronts them, namely, converting a shat tered army into one that is disciplined and capable of fighting. Additional forces both of political workers and commanders are now being brought into the 14th Army. It is necessary to utilise these forces in a planned way and, on the basis of the grievous lessons we have been taught, to overcome at any cost the shortcomings and defects of the 14th Army.

1. First and foremost there must be the strictest registration of all commanding personnel and all Communists in the army. This work must be begun at once and completed in a week, that is, not later than August 17.

2. The commissar of a division and its political department must carefully check on the commissars of regiments, leaving in post only those who showed firmness and courage during the defeats. Together with the commissars who survive this checking they must check on the Communist cells, eliminating the chance elements from them and bringing into these cells the firm, reliable workers who have been sent into the army. If there are even so few as four or five firm Communists in each company, serving as Red Army men and participating in the company cell, then, given a good commissar, a regiment can quickly be made quite sound.

The cells must always maintain internal liaison and support the commissar in his fight against scoundrelly, counter revolutionary kulak and self-seeking elements. Cell-members must be model Red Army men both on parade and in battle.

3. In the Ukrainian units there are a large number of corrupt kulak elements including many former soldiers of the Tsarist army, who carry on disruptive agitation, have an attitude of kulak hatred towards communism, oppose our work of agitation and organisation, and incite the Red Army men to engage in pogroms and banditry. The Communists serving in army units must keep a very careful eye on harmful elements of this sort and point them out to the commissar, so that the regiment may be quickly cleansed of them and the most guilty of them subjected to ruthless punishment.

If a few dozen self-seekers and kulaks are ejected from a regiment and replaced by a few dozen Communists, the regiment in question can be re-educated within a week or two.

The Special Sections must help the commissars and political departments in their task of cleansing regiments of scoundrels and traitors.

4. We must immediately undertake the formation of battle-police units – at both army and divisional level. Battle-police units must be formed from the best, most reliable Red soldiers, with a substantial quota of Communists. It is especially important to choose for these units commanders who are absolutely reliable – Communists wherever possible. It will be most expedient to organise battle-police units in accordance with the establishments laid down in Order No.220, forming regular sections and platoons, so that, when necessary, the battle-police units may be brought together in battalions and larger formations. [59] The task of the battle-police units is to maintain order in the immediate rear, arrest deserters, exterminate bandits and thugs on the scene of their crimes, prevent panicky retreats, and, when the need arises, show to disordered units an example of firmness and courage.

Until the divisions of the 14th Army have their own reliable battle-police units it will continue to be impossible to establish firm order and discipline in them.

5. At the same time a purge needs to be undertaken, a purge of the commanding personnel. In the Ukrainian units there are still too many Petlyurist, guerrilla and ataman elements such as Bogunsky, Lopatkin and soon. Even the best of these guerrilla commanders still do not understand what an order means and consider disobedience to an order quite a natural thing. Those responsible commissars who, directly or indirectly, connive at wilful conduct on the part of guerrilla commanders, their non-fulfilment of military orders, commit the gravest of crimes against the cause of the working class. Not a single offence committed by commanders against discipline must be left unpunished. Only severe treatment, ruthless penalties for treacherous wilfulness, can teach the Ukrainian commanders that they must give strict obedience to military orders.

6. Every commissar must know precisely the family situation of the commanders in the unit entrusted to him. This is necessary for two reasons: first, so as to help a commander’s family in the event that he is killed in action, and, second, so that members of the family may at once be arrested if the commander should act treacherously.

All information about the family situation of commanders and political workers is to be concentrated in the political department of the army’s Revolutionary War Council.

7. The experience of all armies has shown that it is quite impermissible for servicemen’s families to be living in an area where active units and headquarters are stationed. One cannot allow the attention of commanders, commissars and political workers to be distracted for a single moment by family circumstances. During a retreat, more than at any other time, the army’s responsible workers must think about the unit or the Institution in their charge, and not about evacuating their own families. It is therefore most strictly ordered that within one week the families of all servicemen be removed from the 14th Army area to a distance of not less than fifty versts in the rear. The Revolutionary War Council will, of course, take all measures necessary to ensure that the resettlement of these families is carried out without suffering and will render all aid required for this purpose.

8. The Special Section of the army must recruit for its work only tried and absolutely honest workers, predominantly Party members. The special section is an organ of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and must operate in close co operation with the Political Department and the Tribunal.

9. All the army’s leading institutions – the Revolutionary War Council, the Political Department, the Special Section, the Revolutionary Tribunal – must firmly lay down and apply the rule that not a single crime committed in the army is to be left unpunished. Penalties must, of course, be strictly related to the actual character of the crime or offence committed. The sentences passed must be such that every Red Army man, reading about them in his newspaper, may clearly appreciate their justice and necessity in order that the fighting capacity of the army may be maintained.

Punishment must follow as quickly as possible upon the crime. The Tribunal must therefore hold a sufficient number of assizes and must have at its disposal the number of investigators it needs.

10. Problems of supply are among the most urgent. The soldiers of the 14th Army must be clothed and shod as soon as possible. The necessary quantity of kit has already been provided, and will henceforth continue to be provided. It must be distributed quickly and precisely, records of the kit issued to individuals must be compiled, and strict attention must be paid to ensure that army property is not squandered, sold, lost, or expended in vain. The commissar of a division, together with the supply officer, the supply-service commissar, the chief of staff where possible, the divisional commander (in so far as this does not take him away from urgent operational work) must work out with the utmost care a plan for the most speedy distribution of uniforms, equipment and arms. The divisional commissar must prompt the commissars of regiments to see to it that the officer in charge of the quartermaster’s stores does not hold up the issue of these supplies one day longer than necessary. The Red Army men must see and feel that they are being looked after. At the same time, every case of selling or bartering army property by a Red Army man must be strictly punished.

11. The authority of commanders must be enhanced. The Ukrainian soldiers have seen in the past a number of muddle-headed atamans who led them into the enemy’s line of fire, and a number of traitors who went over to the enemy. And still today, given the slackness and absence of discipline in the units, most power is, more often than not, held by utterly worthless commanders who indulge the worst elements in their units. With the establishment of a firmer regime and more serious supervision, cases of treachery will at once become less frequent, and honourable commanders will be able to lift their heads.

Commissars must support firm and vigorous commanders in every way, not competing with them but proceeding shoulder to shoulder with them in all their work.

12. The army newspaper Ruzhye! (To Arms!) must become really the army’s newspaper, that is, a mirror of the merits and the shortcomings of the army, of its successes and failures. At present it is not yet that. From the agitational standpoint it is well run, but that is not all that is needed for an army news paper. There must be a direct link with every unit. Commissars’ reports must be extensively used. Special correspondents must be sent out and persons despatched on official missions made use of: members of the newspaper’s staff must be sent to travel in the hospital trains and interview the wounded. All manner of disorders must be exposed; merited praise must be rendered to heroes; idlers, cowards and traitors must be branded and denounced. This applies also to the newspapers of particular groups in the army (Krasnaya Zvezda).

13. Distribution of the newspaper and of publications generally must be ensured throughout the whole army. It is not feasible to create an independent apparatus for properly distributing publications. But it is quite possible to make use of all opportunities and occasions for their distribution. Matters must be so organised that not a single person sets out to the front from headquarters, or from the supply administration, or from the political department, without a parcel of publications, to be handed over, against signature, to the commissar of a division, a brigade or a regiment, or to some other responsible individual. The political department of a division, the commissar of a brigade, the commissar of a regiment must all act in just the same way, so that, as a result, our publications find their way continuously by the widest variety of channels, to the Red Army men in the front line. This task can and must be per formed.

14. Of very great importance in the life of our army are the holding units. They are the sources from which the army is reinforced, re-educated and restored to health. For this purpose, holding units must be provided with good conditions in respect of billeting, food and clothing allowances. Men in training must be supplied with bast sandals, so that their boots do not get worn out prematurely. Exercises must be carried out with the strictest precision. Political education in a holding battalion is of first-class importance. A sufficient number of Communists must be introduced among the Red Army men, both the permanent staff and the changing element; these Communists must in no way differ in their living conditions or their work from the rest of the soldiers. An adequate place must be found for physical training, sport and games, so as to counter the harmful influence of barrack conditions.

The principal fault of the responsible workers of the 14th Army is that they have not managed to bring the holding units up to the proper level. This omission must now be made up for. The inclusion in military units of so-called ‘volunteers’ (who are often predatory self-seekers) or of untrained conscripts must be punished as a very serious crime. Regiments must be reinforced only by drafts from holding battalions, into which both conscripts and volunteers are to be sent. In proportion as a regiment receives fresh drafts, its untrained, undisciplined and worn-out elements are to be withdrawn and sent back to the holding battalions for training.

A strong army cannot be created all of a sudden. Plugging the holes and cobbling the rents in the front will not help matters. Transferring particular Communists and Communist detachments to the most threatened places can improve the situation only temporarily. There is only one path to salvation: transform, reorganise and educate the army through persistent, steady work, starting with the basic cell, with the company, and moving up through the battalion, the regiment and the division: arranging proper supply, proper distribution of Communist forces, proper relations between commanders and commissars, and ensuring strict asszduity and absolute conscientiousness in reports. The responsible workers of the 14th Army must immediately set out along this path.

August 9, 1919
From the archives


59. By Order No.220, November 13, 1918, the three-brigade (nine-regiment) establishment for an infantry division was introduced in the Red Army. This establishment was modelled on the Siberian units. A division corresponded to previous infantry corps. These establishments remained in force until the end of the civil war.

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