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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The Soviet Ukraine is going through a hard time at present.

The forces of the landlords and of the Polish gentry are pressing the country from all sides. The Ukrainian army is retreating.

The enemy gloats. Some fainthearted friends are giving up.

Let us take a look back. A year ago Soviet Russia was going through times no less difficult than these. August 1918 was the blackest month in the history of the Soviet Republic. The Western zone, the Ukrainian South and Finland were all occupied by the German militarists. The robber forces of the British and French were consolidating their positions in Archangel and Murmansk. Krasnov was in revolt on the Don. On the Volga the banner of revolt had been raised by the Czechoslovak hirelings of France. Together with the White Guards they had seized Samara, Simbirsk and Kazan, and were threatening Saratov, to the South, and Nizhny-Novgorod to the North. They had cut Russia off from the Urals and all Siberia.

What was frightening was not so much these temporary enemy successes as, and a great deal more, the helplessness of the Red Army. Young, inexperienced, barely put together from chance detachments, the Eastern army was retreating all along the line. At the beginning of August Kazan fell, and it seemed that the road to Moscow was open to the Czechoslovaks and White Guards.

But these extreme calamities evoked a more extreme intensification of effort by the workers and the revolutionary peas ants. All honest people in our country realised that what was at stake was the fate of the working people for many years to come. The workers and peasants thrust into the background their own demands, their individual and group interests, their discontent – they all understood that their first duty was to crush the enemy.

Along with this, the army was ensured a sound rear. In August of last year the Russian kulaks, and especially those of the Volga country, felt for the first time the stern hand of Soviet power. An extensive and orderly mobilisation was carded out. Kulaks who fraternised with the White Guards and Czechoslovaks were ruthlessly shot, and their property confiscated for the benefit of the poor peasants and the needs of the Red Army.

Firmer and more courageous workers and peasants were introduced into our weak, unseasoned military units. Unwavering discipline was established. The commanding personnel were ruthlessly purged of traitors and undisciplined ‘atamans’ who knew neither how to command nor how to obey. The month of August was spent in intense, feverish work. The whole country looked to the East with a sinking heart: would we hold the enemy on the Volga, would we throw him back east ward, or would we have to retreat and open broad gates leading to Moscow?

August of last year was thus not only a bad month of disasters and alarms, it was also a time of the greatest intensification of effort, feverish work directed to forming and supplying the Red Soviet regiments.

This work was not done in vain. September reaped what August had sown. On September 10, the forces of the Fifth Army, assisted by units of the Second Army, wrested Kazan from the enemy. Two days later, the neighbouring First Army recovered Simbirsk. These events signified a major turning-point, and have entered forever into the history of the Russian revolution. The Red Army felt strong after these first victories, while the enemy’s morale declined. Since then we have known both defeats and victories. But, on the whole, the Red Army has, during this twelvemonth, greatly extended the boundaries of the Soviet Republic and, what is most important, the workers and peasants of Russia now know well that they are not defenceless.

Last year’s black August has now been repeated for the Ukraine. The country is under enemy pressure from West, East and South. Our Red Ukrainian army is still young and lacks the necessary organisation and tempering in battle. It is still retreating. The enemy is gloating. Friends are asking themselves, anxiously: will the workers’ and peasants’ Ukraine survive?

But for the Ukraine, too, this difficult month is not merely a time of defeat, it is also a time of intense constructive work. Hundreds and thousands of the best, most conscious workers and peasants are entering the Ukraine units. Thousands and tens of thousands of reinforcements are passing through the holding battalions and are there being turned into disciplined drafts. Supplies are beginning to arrive regularly and to be distributed as they should be. And a serious purge has started in the rear. The Soviet power in the Ukraine has taken up a broom of barbed wire with which to sweep the towns and villages clear of White Guards and kulak parasites.

Thus, the Soviet Ukraine is being purged and strengthened from both ends. We are still retreating. But we are gathering strength – the Ukrainian army is consolidating and growing. The Ukraine’s ‘black’ August will be followed by a September of Ukrainian victories.

Do not slacken your efforts and do not lose heart, comrade workers and peasants! The Ukraine shall not fall to the landlord and the Tsar! The Ukraine shall remain forever a proletarian and muzhik land of honest labour.

En Route
August 12, 1919, No.80

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Last updated on: 22.12.2006