The Labour Armies

Who is Ruining Transport?
Who is Destroying the Railways?
Who is Condemning the Population
to Hunger and Every Other Form of Hardship?

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

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Between Vikhrovo and Torbeyevo stations, on the Kazan line [1], our special train buried itself in the snow on the night of February 8, while one of the carriages left the rails. At the previous stations, Zubova-Polyana and Vikhrovo, nobody had warned the train’s commandant about snow-drifts. As a result, the special train was held up for 19 hours. Following it, an hour’s travelling time behind, was a second train with a particular assignment. This train also lost 19 hours. What was the reason?

The reason was the criminal negligence of the railway administration and of the local volost executive committees. The reason was slackness, idleness, sabotage and kulak-type self-seeking.

Let us look at the matter systematically. After a snowstorm at the end of January, work on the sector between Arapovo and Vikhrovo was confined to sending a snow-plough through, whereas what was needed was to get busy with picks, shovels and brooms. After the snow-plough had passed over, a layer of snow remained caked between the rails, in some places four arshins deep. [An arshin is 28 inches.]

Why? The local executive committees had not indented for labour-power. The Drakino volost soviet, the Salazgar village soviet, the Sloimsk volost soviet, the Torbeyevo volost soviet and the Zhukovka volost soviet displayed utter negligence in fulfilling their responsibility for the workers’ and peasants’ transport. Where 50 men were needed they sent five, or else none at all. What do the kulaks of Drakino and Sloinisk care about the hungry workers of Moscow and Petrograd, or about the needs of the workers’ and peasants’ country as a whole?!

However, if they have no conscience, they are nevertheless subject to justice. The Defence Council has placed a 55-verst zone along the railway line under martial law. All crimes against transport will in this zone be punished according to military law. One of the gravest of crimes is the failure of the local soviets to clear the railway track. The Military Tribunal will show the men of Drakino, Salazgar, Sloimsk, Torbeyevo and Zhukovka that the Soviet power does not treat matters as a joke when what is at stake is a question of life and death for the workers, for the hungry peasants. The Revolutionary Military Tribunal will begin its work with the chairman and members of the volost and village soviets. These criminals will be subjected to the maximum punishment. But what was the local railway administration doing? It was either idling or committing sabotage. Viadislavlev, who was in charge of sector No.6, decided that the special train would get through ‘somehow’, and so gave no warning. When Vladislavlev summoned his assistant, Stroganov, and the senior track foreman of the sector, Vlasov, to come to the place where the special train was held up, these two characters refused to come, alleging illness. This was found not to be true. Subsequently, they explained that they had not categorically refused to come, but had felt ‘indisposed’, and Vladislavlev had not insisted.

Vodyanov, the leader of the work-team, arrived with his men only ten hours after the special train had been stopped. The track foreman of the second sector, Seligin, said that he was ill. This, too, was found to be untrue.

Thanks to all these criminals and saboteurs, the special train remained held up in the snow three versts from Torbeyevo station. And what happened? For more than 15 hours not a single representative came along the track from that station to discover why the special train with the particular assignment had failed to arrive for so long. What do the idlers and saboteurs at Torbeyevo station care what happens to trains, or about railway traffic generally?

And what does the Transport Cheka do about it? It practises bureaucratism and spoils paper. The chairman of the Transport Cheka at Sasovo, Perov, summoned the head of the sector and the senior track foreman to ‘present a report on the snowdrifts’. Thereby, the bureaucrat from the Cheka took the transport bureaucrats away from their work in order to submit a useless bureaucratic report. The Sasovo bureaucrat did not know that the village soviet of Salazgar, which is no more than a verst and a half from the place where the snowdrift lies, showed their contempt all through January and February for all the Soviet authorities, the Cheka included: during those months, when they were asked to send out 625 men, they sent a total of 77.

Akimov, the Transport Cheka’s agent at Torbeyevo station, instead of using the power of the militia to compel the Salazgar people to supply the workers needed, busied himself with miserable formalities, actually covering up for the Salazgar saboteurs.

Here the picture of scandalous conduct on the railways opens up before us in its full dimensions. It is certainly not easy to say who is better and who is worse in this matter. The Tambov kulaks do not send labour-power because not one out of many railway saboteurs and several Transport Cheka bureaucrats took the trouble to see to it in time that the necessary few score workers were sent to clear the track.

To appreciate to the full the lack of discipline and insubordination of the persons and institutions above-mentioned, one needs to remember that what were involved in this case were special-assignment trains, which enjoy a whole number of privileges to facilitate their movement. One can imagine how all these Vladislavlevs, Seligins, Stroganovs, Vlasovs, Perovs and Akimovs behave when dealing with ‘ordinary’ goods trains, that is, with trains bringing salt for the peasants or grain for the hungry children of Moscow.

The very best of locomotives and the very best of trucks will not get moving along our rails so long as the railway workers commit sabotage, the kulak executive committees loaf about, and the Chekists connive at all this. We need to clear our lines yard by yard, inch by inch – and not only to free them from snowdrifts but also from layers of low-down sabotage and rotten self-seeking. Martial law over a 50-verst zone along the railways is no laughing matter. All the persons and institutions mentioned here will become convinced of that within a day or two. Everything depends on transport. If transport perishes, the country perishes. But workers’ and peasants’ Russia does not want to perish, and it will not perish. It will condemn all those to perish who are hindering its escape from the clutches of want and hunger.

February 9, 1920 Torbeyevo-Ruzayevka.
‘En Route’, No. 107.


1. The experience here described took place on the railway line from Moscow, via Ryazan and Saransk, to Kazan. Ruzayevka is the junction of this line with the line from Penza, and the other places mentioned lie to the west of it – Torbeyevo being about 90 kilometres distant. At the time, the area was on the border of Penza and Tambov provinces: today some of the places mentioned are in the Mordovian ASSR.

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Last updated on: 28 April 2013