The War with Poland

Speech at a Meeting in the
Murom Railway Workshops

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

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Comrades! In the entire history of mankind there can hardly have been a people who have endured such sufferings as the Russian people during the last few years. Hardly ever in history can a great people have found itself faced with such grim danger of losing for a long time its independence, its hope of free development, as the Russian people has been faced with in these years. The working people of Russia, exhausted by the previous regime and the imperialist war, made heroic efforts to rebuild their life on new principles, to transform our country into one great labour co-operative, so as by common, united, that is, harmonious labour to treat our old wounds and sores and raise the economy and culture, the people’s welfare and the education of our country to a great height.

But at the moment when Russia’s working people were making this attempt, the greatest in history, they were surrounded by enemies, who have allowed us neither rest nor pause right up to this day. The most powerful, rich and predatory bourgeois classes of Britain and France have sent against us one enemy after another. After we had smashed Kolchak, in the East, the White-Guard bands of General Miller in the North, and Denikin, in the South, we hoped that we should be given a respite, that we could get back to peaceful labour, and, first and foremost, revive our transport system. Because, comrades, without transport there can be no Russian nation, in the sense of a single family, united economically and culturally: there are scattered peasants dispersed among their villages, but there is no socialist nation, no industry, no science, no art, no intellectual development, no progress.

If the railways were to collapse it would mean the ruin of Soviet Russia. Consequently, while grasping our rifles and beating off the enemy’s onslaughts, we looked forward with hope and patience to the time when we could devote all our strength to transport, then to our backward economy, and then to the schools, so as to rescue our children from darkness and ignorance. And at the moment when we had begun to transfer all our forces to the economic front, the British and French bourgeoisies set upon us the Polish gentry, the Polish bourgeoisie, led by that traitor to socialism, Pilsudski. So that today our attention is split between transport and the Western front. We cannot revive transport if we do not smash the Polish gentry, and we cannot smash the Polish gentry unless we have transport. Consequently, it is these two tasks that now determine how every honourable person in our country lives, works and devotes his efforts; namely, the struggle against the Polish gentry and the struggle against the ruinous state of transport.

On the Polish front we at first suffered serious defeats: thanks to the suddenness of their attack, the Polish gentry tore from our grasp Volhynia, Podolia and then Kiev as well. In the Smolensk direction danger threatened Gomel and Smolensk, and Pan Pilsudski’s newspapers wrote that the gate to Moscow was open.

Comrades, in that critical moment the Soviet power did what it has always done when the country is faced with major problems. It turned to the working masses, to the workers and peasants, both men and women, and said frankly that the Soviet Republic was threatened with a very great danger, the most terrible of all the dangers there have been because the greedy and voracious Polish gentry, armed by the Anglo-French capitalists, are trying to impose upon our weakened, impoverished and exhausted country the rule of themselves and of their more powerful masters, the British and French, to reduce Russia to slavery, to colonial status, to load her with chains of imperialist oppression and coercion. However weakened our country may be, economically, even now, when we weigh every pound of grain, the working classes, who are creating a new order in their own image and likeness, yet found within themselves reserves of strength, reserves of revolutionary energy, and sent their best sons to the Western front, to serve as replacements and reinforcements.

And the situation on the Western front changed at once. The offensive of the Polish White-Guard forces was halted. Furthermore, we achieved very big successes on the southern sector of the Western front: Kiev was recovered, and we advanced far to the west, towards Rovno and Brest-Litovsk, we recovered Vinnitsa, we took Zhmerinka [Zhmerinka is about 40km. south west of Vinnitsa. – B.P.], and the Polish troops are falling back in ever greater disorder. [1] How was this accomplished? By will-power, by the concentrated effort of the conscious workers, both men and women. It was accomplished because the conscious will of the workers does not work blindly, in the dark, but is armed with science. The Red Army is armed with military science. The Soviet power summoned from the ranks of the former officers all who were honourable and conscious, all who were willing to devote their powers, their knowledge, to the cause of the working people. Thanks to this, and also to the fact that the working class has itself trained up new Red commanders from its own midst and has enlisted all the best and honourable from among the former officers, our command on the Polish front has proved to be incomparably better than the Polish gentry’s command. We dealt the enemy a splendid blow in the Kiev direction. On that front we have broken through with our cavalry, which is already worldfamous. Comrade Budyonny’s army has thrust a sharp wedge into the White Polish ranks, has broken them, has recovered Kiev and is now pursuing the Polish troops which are falling back piecemeal in a far-westerly direction.

Comrades! On our transport front we need to apply the same methods as on our military front: consciousness, discipline and cohesion of the working masses. There were ignorant people, and there were kulaks and counter-revolutionaries disguised as friends, who lamented because the Soviet power and the Red Army was introducing iron discipline, strict order and severe punishments for anyone who violates proper military order. Comrades! If, during these two-and-a-half years, we had not introduced firm, iron discipline into the Red Army, our people would long since have been lying staked out on the ground, with all the vultures of the world tearing at their body. What saved us? Internal cohesion, unity, iron discipline. And if, comrades, we want to restore our transport system, we need to militarise our workshops and depots, not just in words but in commands. We must militarise our bodies and our souls.

What does our workers’ militarisation consist in? In this, that the workers say to each other: ‘Our situation is one of mortal danger. Such a situation calls for extraordinary efforts. We have to devote ourselves wholly to saving the working class of Russia and the working people of the whole world.’ A situation of mortal danger calls for the establishment of an ultra-strict regime, unconditional subordination, unconditional fulfilment of military orders. And is our transport system not faced with mortal danger? Are we now working in normal conditions? Is it now a question merely of raising output by 5 or 10 per cent? Is it just a matter of increasing productivity by one or two pairs of locomotives? No. It is a question of saving our country from the inevitable disaster, the unavoidable ruin which threatens us if we should give in.

In face of ruin we must have discipline, firm, iron discipline! While honour and respect is due to the honest, self-sacrificing worker who devotes himself wholly to work for the common good, because we have no capitalists and work for the people as a whole; while, I say, the honest worker deserves respect and honour, and we must see to it that he enjoys the best conditions, through rewards and bonuses – the self-seeking worker must meet with contempt and punishment! Bonuses to the worker who gives the country more than the average. The normal wage to the worker who makes the average contribution. Punishment to the worker who is lazy and careless.

The workers’ situation is difficult in every respect – as regards food, clothing and footwear. It is more difficult than it has ever been. I should be deceiving you if I were to say that your situation will get better tomorrow. No. Ahead of us lie months of hard struggle before we can lift our country out of its frightful poverty and utter weakness, before we can cease to weigh the bread-ration on a pharmacist’s scales, before the whole country can be adequately fed. The country’s situation demands that we raise the level of the economy despite the shortage of bread. And if we have won victories in the war through moral unity of the working masses and training of the workers in the art of war, together with the enlistment of specialists, then we shall do the same in the sphere of transport: we shall weld the workers together and we shall call upon all the honourable and conscientious specialists, technicians and engineers who are ready to give their powers to serve working people’s Russia, not for the capitalists but to save the country. Such specialists will be welcomed amongst us. And at the same time we shall organise technical and administrative courses for advanced railway workers.

I will go on with my comparison regarding the transport front. We did not beat the Poles at once all along the line. They had more troops than we had. How did we proceed? We concentrated our strength in one place, in a strike-force. This strike-force – Budyonny’s cavalry – broke through the front. At once the torn flanks of the Polish forces began to bend back, fearing that our cavalry would penetrate into their rear. Then we struck at these bent-back flanks. They bent back further and further, and through the gates thus opened our infantry forced their way in and pushed on westward.

In the sphere of the ruinous state of our transport system, too, we need to break through the front, that is, to choose the point that is most convenient for us and aim at this point a stout strike-force directed against ruin. Comrades, the People’s Commissariat for Transport has come to the conclusion, after discussion, that Murom must be one of the points where we shall break through the front of transport ruin. That is why we have come to you. You have excellent workshops here, which will in the next few weeks be strengthened with the necessary equipment. You have skilled workers, and whatever is lacking in this respect we shall endeavour to supply to you. The Murom workshops occupy a very important place in our railway network, and not just in relation to the Kazan line, either. The productivity of the Murom workshops is at present extremely low in comparison with the programme that was drawn up when these workshops were built. At present these workshops are fulfilling only one-third of the programme for which they were established. We must, by means of combined efforts, ensure that the Murom workshops attain 100 per cent output -that is, an average not of ten but of thirty and even more locomotives repaired.

How can we achieve this? By establishing labour order in the workshops, by transferring hither all the workers needed, by strengthening and enlarging the equipment, by precise checking on productivity, and by a proper use of bonuses. Bonuses to the worker who produces more than the average. The normal wage to the worker whose output is average. Finally, a sharp warning to the worker whose attitude to his work is slovenly, and punishment for the one for whom warnings prove insufficient. There is no other way. This is the way recommended by the People’s Commissariat for Transport, hand in hand with the railwaymen’s union. And the workers of Murom, showing their sense of responsibility to the working class, will help us raise the level of the Murom workshops and make them foremost among the railway workshops of the whole country.

We have a programme for reviving transport. It is very simple. We shall begin with the locomotives. At present we have 16,000 locomotives in Russia, of which 10,000 are out of order. No more than 6,000 locomotives are operational. That means that 60 per cent of our locomotives are out of order, in need of repair. We need to attain a situation in which not more than one-fifth of our locomotives are out of order. This is the programme we have set ourselves to fulfil in the next few years. The Murom workshops will play a big part in this programme. The task which has been assigned to you for the time being -repairing ten locomotives a month – will be increased as the necessary means and equipment are made available to you. You must accomplish this task. It can be done only if everyone says to himself that a ‘sick’ locomotive, standing there in that mortuary, is a misfortune not just for the Kazan line but for every working man and every working woman. Because if you are without bread, without footwear, without kerosene, at a time when there are millions of poods of coal in the Kuban [sic] [Something has evidently got lost here – presumably, Trostky referred to coal in the Donbas and grain in the Kuban. – B.P.] and 300,000,000 poods of oil in Baku, this is because we are not able to transport it all. If we could transport these riches, the peasants would have kerosene, we should have petrol and the workers’ homes would have electricity, the peasantry would give leather in exchange for kerosene, we should have bread. The key to all this is the locomotive, and this locomotive is ‘sick’. It must be restored to health. And every working man and every working woman must know that the ‘sickness’ of the locomotive affects every one of them. And so, comrades, if each one of us grasps this idea, we shall overcome not only the Polish landlords but also our more formidable foe – the ruinous state of the economy.

We need to be filled with awareness that everything around us belongs not to the kulaks, not to the capitalists, but to the working people as a whole – that it belongs to us. We shall not tolerate disorder in our economy. We must establish order with a firm hand, so as to be able to take control of the whole economy. We must create labour discipline, in which it will be all for one and one for all, and if we learn to do this – and we must, for otherwise we shall perish – then we shall fulfil our programme for the year, and in five years we shall have brought about a great change, when there will no longer be any shortage of bread and footwear, and we shall create a mighty front against the ignorance which corrodes the mind and spirit of the working people.

When we have dealt with the Polish landlords nd the ruinous state of transport we shall advance in seven-League boots. The accursed heritage we have received from the past – cold, hunger, ignorance, illiteracy – we shall destroy- once and for all. And out of ignorance and poverty, out of filth and disease, we shall raise up a new generation – our children, who will learn to see themselves as the masters of the earth. There will be no sons or daughters of the proletariat, born doomed to slavery, to look up at the children of their oppressors, born to give orders to those condemned to live as slaves. We shall destroy that accursed slavery. We shall raise up a new, freer, more enlightened generation. We summon you to this struggle. To the front against formidable foes, against the Polish gentry! Into battle against the ruinous state of transport! For the future of our children! For the glorious future of our free, working people’s Russia!

June 21, 1920


1. While on the Western front a temporary lull began (see note 24), events on the South-Western front took a considerably more favourable turn for us. On May 25, after a march covering a thousand versts, Comrade Budyonny’s Mounted Army concentrated in the Uman area. [Uman is about half-way between Kiev and Odessa. – B.P.] On May 26 this army, together with the southern group of the 12th Army, began its offensive. Getting quickly into the rear of the enemy’s Kiev group, by June 8 Comrade Budyonny was already before Berdichev and Zhitomir. [Berdichev and Zhitomir are about 180 and 200km. respectively north-west of Uman. – B.P.] The defeats suffered in their rear forced the White Poles quickly to abandon Kiev and Zhitomir and begin a panicky withdrawal westward. On July 4 the Mounted Army captured Rovno, and on July 12 Kamenets-Podolsk (see Map No.2) – S.I. Ventsov.

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Last updated on: 26.12.2006