The War with Poland

Order No.213

By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic to the Commissars and Commanders of the Western Front, May 9, 1920, No.213

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

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The Western front was for a long time a passive front. Operations were confined to actions by reconnaissance units, and the initiative lay predominantly with the Poles.

The passivity of the Western front had a harmful effect on the morale of units and even of commanders and commissars.

At the present time the Western front is the most important front of the Republic. Its importance far exceeds that of the Eastern and Southern fronts, at the height of our operations against Kolchak and Denikin. On the Western front the fate of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples is being decided.

Yet the change in the morale of the Western front which is needed for complete and final victory has not yet been achieved. A large number of young Red Army men have joined the units there who have not yet been battle-hardened, who have not yet become accustomed to military discipline, and far from all of whom appreciate the significance of our war with the Poland of the gentry.

The commissars and commanders must understand that they now face tasks which are incomparably more serious and responsible than those of a month or two ago.

I. An indispensable condition for the success of every measure (agitational, educational, organisational or penal) taken with a view to ensuring the combat-capacity of the units of the Western front is proper organisation in the field of supply.

The Western front is now at the centre of the whole country’s attention. There are grounds for hoping that the front will be guaranteed everything necessary, as regards both artillery and engineering supplies and also clothing and food. The supply apparatus must be given particular attention by commanders and commissars. Workers with initiative and resource must be put in charge of the supply organs, men who will not act formally but will show foresight, combining the forces and resources available to them, especially as regards transport, so that boots, bread and bullets may reach the soldiers in good time.

Especially important is it to watch out that those in the rear do not profit at the expense of the fighting men. It is necessary, overcoming all obstacles, to see to it that supplies get to the front line, especially during an offensive.

The supply organs must be prepared for no easy and brief campaign but for a prolonged and stubborn struggle.

The Red Army man must be fed, clothed, shod and washed [Frequent and thorough washing had become vitally important owing to the epidemic of typhus, carried by lice.] – this is now demanded by the whole country, which looks with love towards the Western front.

II. Agitation must be conducted better. Every Red Army man, even the most backward, must think over all the steps that were taken by the Soviet Government in order to avoid war, and must clearly understand and feel that the entire responsibility for the bloody conflict lies, wholly and exclusively, upon the Polish bourgeois gentry. The forces sent from the centre must be utilised and distributed intelligently. In each platoon, section and squad there must be a Communist (who may even be only a young one, provided he is devoted to the cause) who will keep an eye on the morale of those fellow-fighters nearest to him, explain to them the tasks and aims of the war, and who, in case of perplexity, will approach the commissar of his unit or some other responsible political workers, for elucidation. Without such internal, unofficial, day-by-day and hour-by-hour agitation, carried on cheek-by-jowl, under all conditions of the combat situation, official agitation alone, effected through articles and speeches, will not bring the necessary results.

III. The conduct of Communists in the Red Army has decisive significance for the morale and the combat-capacity of units. It is therefore necessary to distribute Communists correctly, to guide them attentively and to keep careful check on their work. On the Western front there are a lot of Communists who, as has been said, have grown used to the passivity of the front and who sometimes fail to notice symptoms of disintegration. On the other hand, there are many young Communists on the Western front who have not yet been tested in army work. These young Communists must at once be placed under a proper regime, that is, a regime of strict assiduity and high responsibility imposed on every Communist at the front. The new comrades must realise straight away that they are joining the ranks of the front at a moment when they are called upon to make the maximum effort and show wholehearted self-sacrifice.

The Revolutionary War Councils and Political Departments of armies, the commissars and Political Departments of divisions, the commissars of brigades and regiments, must carefully check up on the behaviour of all Communists subordinate to them with respect to combat functions, after every fresh battle ordeal, ruthlessly eliminating those who have shown a lack of resolution and meting out stern punishment to selfseekers.

It is a Communist’s duty not merely to fight selfsacrificingly but also to encourage in every way, and, where necessary, to compel others to fight.

IV. Commanders must concentrate their efforts on preparing for battle the units and replacements continuously arriving from the centre. Reconnaissance must be raised to the proper level of efficiency. In accordance with the nature of the struggle as a war of manoeuvre, the Red Army men must be trained by every means to show initiative, resourcefulness, enterprise and flexibility. Every commander, however modest his position, must be filled with the thought that upon his behaviour depends the fate of the Russian people, and must set himself the aim of making his unit a model in every respect.

V. The war may prove to be stubborn and protracted. If it does, enormous importance will attach to the holding units, which alone can provide fully suitable replacements for the active forces. It is the holding units of the front and of the armies that complete the preparatory military training of the Red Army man, bring him into the atmosphere of life in the front-line, and get him ready for the tasks which he has to perform, for the dangers which he will encounter. Consequently holding units must be surrounded with special attention. Material living conditions in them must be made as favourable as possible. Their whole time must be occupied with military training, political instruction, sport, the practice of skills, and games. The permanent staff of holding units must consist of exprienced workers who are used to detecting the mood of Red Army men and taking steps in good time to remove all misunderstandings.

VI. The prolonged passivity of the Western front and the peace talks held with Poland engendered in many Red Army men and in the local population an insufficiently serious attitude to military duty. Hence a considerable development of evasion of military service, and even of outright desertion in the zone adjoining the front. A complete and radical change must now be brought about where this is concerned. During the next three weeks, failure to turn up for service, absence without leave and desertion must be eradicated. The front and rear Commissions for Combating Desertion, the Special Sections, the local organs of the Cheka, the Political Departments, the local Party organisations, the military authorities in the field and in the rear will take concerted action to this end, working out in each area a definite plan of campaign, which will include, on the one hand, extensive agitation, and, on the other, round-ups, arrests, confiscation of property and shooting of the worst of the deserters.

VII. The organisation of battle-police detachments is one of the most important tasks for commanders and commissars. Every large military formation must have behind it a network of battle-police detachments, which may be thin but must be firm and trustworthy, managed skilfully and in a centralised way in accordance with the operational tasks of the given formation. Ease and impunity of desertion can corrode the best of units. The young soldier who tries to escape from the enemy’s fire, which he has come under for the first time, must encounter a firm hand that masterfully sends him back with a warning of the stern punishment awaiting all who violate their military duty. A self-seeker who takes to his heels must find himself facing a revolver, or running upon a bayonet.

Battle-police units must be headed by workers with a firm will and tried courage. The head of all the battle-police units in a division must be directly subordinate to the commander and commissar of the division, and the head of all the battle-police units in an army to that army’s Revolutionary War Council.

VIII. The work of the Revolutionary Military Tribunals must be brought really into line with the stern seriousness of the whole situation.

After our victories on the Eastern, Northern and Southern fronts and alter the Entente had begun negotiations with us, when it could seem that the epoch of intense armed struggle had been left behind us, the All-Russia Central Executive Committee abolished the practice of executions by shooting, so far as the rear was concerned. This abolition was also reflected at the front, where, in accordance with the more favourable situation, a milder regime was introduced.

It is necessary that the new, radical change in the situation shall be clearly realised by all leading workers of the Western front, and, in the first place, by the Revolutionary Military Tribunals. The mortal danger which again hangs over workers’ and peasants’ Russia brings with it inevitable danger of death to all who do not carry out their military duty. Commissars and commanders who fail to show sufficient courage, firmness and assiduity will be subject to the severest punishment. Egoistic, self-seeking elements in the army must be convinced by experience that death awaits in the rear whosoever tries, treacherously to escape from it at the front.

Sentences must be so formulated as to serve an agitational purpose, and must be published as widely as possible.

IX. The Polish command possesses a ramified spy network in the area of the Western front and the zone adjacent to the front. This consists primarily of bourgeois-gentry and petty-bourgeois chauvinist elements of Polish nationality, but also of mercenary scoundrels of other nationalities. Numerous Polish spies have made their way into the Soviet service, and are active not only on the railways and in Soviet civil institutions, but also in the ranks of the Red Army. Thorough and persistent struggle against Polish espionage is a necessary component of our military task. We must inculcate in the Red Army man the measures of particular caution to be observed when talking with strangers who show an interest in military operations.

Commissars and commanders, and, following them, all conscious Red Army men, must give every assistance to the Special Section, as the organ of struggle against spying by the Polish gentry and counter-revolutionary provocation in our ranks.

The Western front needs shaking up, from top to bottom. Slovenliness, sluggishness, lack of foresight, and, even more so, cowardice and self-seeking, must be burnt out with a red-hot iron.

The most severe measures for establishing revolutionary military order are justified, because they bring victory nearer, and thereby reduce the number of needless sacrifices.

The socialist republic orders you to be victorious: let everyone do his duty.

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Last updated on: 26.12.2006