The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

III. The Red Army’s Second Offensive in the Ukraine
(August-December 1919)


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

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The defeat suffered by the Ukrainian armies is a big and serious lesson for us. The Ukrainian revolution triumphed through the mighty pressure of the masses. But the Ukrainian army was formed too slowly. In its construction the principles of regular organisation and firm discipline were not applied – why this was so is another matter.

Now, after the harsh lesson of our rout in the Ukraine, the work has to be begun again almost from scratch. Measures must therefore be taken to ensure that the former mistakes do not recur. Our first task must be to clear the ground of worthless elements.

After the October revolution a lot of rogues (Lieutenant Shneurs, Cornet Pokrovskys [Cornet N.I. Pokrovsky was appointed commandant of the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum following the Bolshevik revolution, but was dismissed soon afterward, for misusing his position.] and suchlike) tried to snuggle up to the new order. They were especially numerous in the pr vinces that were short of men. After the first Soviet regime a vigorous purge began. Rogues, careerists and adventurers were ousted from the centres, and so they crawled away into the provinces, first into the major provincial cities and then from there into the uyezds or, still further, into the zone near the front. As soon as the bounds of the Soviet Republic were extended, all the adventurers or plain criminals who had been ousted by the Soviet power and were being sought for by the appropriate authorities hurled themselves upon the freshly occupied territory with a view to finding prosperity for them selves there, with opportunities to domineer and swagger – until the primitive chaos was overcome and firmer Soviet order established in the new region.

An especially large number of adventurers and political scoundrels were concentrated in the Ukraine, where political regimes changed with extraordinary rapidity, and every one of these regimes left behind it a handful of adventurers. As soon as the Ukraine had been purged of the Skoropadsky regime, the Petlyura regime and the Anglo-French occupation, the crevices of the Soviet apparatus began to be penetrated by thousands of sinister and semi-sinister characters who could not be trusted with a brass farthing, let alone with the building of a state. When Denikin’s successes began to develop, these characters were the first to desert their posts, to evacuate themselves, along with their property, into the deep rear, and to sniff around for new possibilities for a quick and dazzling career.

It was about then that our forces on the Eastern front cleared the Urals and a considerable area of Western Siberia. This time, however, precautionary measures were taken: the Soviet power established a strict cordon protecting the Ural area. A barrier was set up on the roads leading thither and on it was inscribed:

’No access for, crooked adventurers.’

Among this fraternity there were quite a few who lyingly called themselves Communists and had even equipped them selves with Party cards. The Chekas must, of course, ruthlessly fish out those blackmailers who in the Ukraine temporarily succeeded in disguising themselves as Communists, and in their case the reckoning must be doubly severe.

There is a danger that when these crooks who wanted to get into the Urals and Siberia find the gates of Siberia closed to them, they will try to return to the Ukraine and take part in the work of restoring the army of the Ukrainian front. Very vigorous and resolute measures must be adopted to prevent this. The workers sent from the centre must, together with the best, most responsible workers in the Ukraine start a most ruthless purge of all the military trains, and of all the evacuated institutions and units. In the rear immediately adjacent to the Ukraine there are concentrated, along with serious, responsible workers in search of opportunities to apply their powers, also a large number of professional idlers and parasites who are trying once again to attach themselves like leeches to Soviet, and especially army, work in the Ukraine. The Military Tribunals, jointly with the Special Sections, must purge the immediate rear. In order that this may be done, of course, there must be a purge of the Special Sections themselves, which will leave among their members only persons who have been thoroughly tested and who are selflessly devoted to the cause of the revolution.

We shall return to the Ukraine which we have temporarily lost. This time, we shall return with organised military power and we shall establish the authority of the workers and peasants unshakably. But when we set about driving out the Denikinite bandits and thugs we must at once take measures to ensure that plunderers and petty crooks do not enter the Ukraine in the wake of the victorious armies. At the entrance of the Ukraine, which we must liberate, we shall set up a clear and distinct inscription: ‘No entry for adventurists, careerists and rogues!’

September 8, 1919
En Route, No.90

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Last updated on: 22.12.2006