The Southern Front

The Fight Against Wrangel

On The Front Against Wrangel

Report to the Moscow Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’, Red Army Men’s and Cossacks’ Deputies, August 17, 1920

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

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Our overall military situation, comrades, is, of course, completely favourable, since on the main front, the front of struggle against White Poland, our Red forces have accomplished the principal part of their task, the task that the working class of Russia set them, namely, to rout the army of White-Guard Poland. True, we are at present held up at the approaches of Warsaw, but this was quite unavoidable, if we consider that since the beginning of the offensive, that is, since July 4 – forty days ago – our forces have advanced 600 versts in the principal direction, which means an average of 15 versts every 24 hours, without a break. Naturally, as a result of this, the army has been stretched out very far from its rear, the heavy units have lagged behind, and so the temporary hitch, the temporary hold-up on the Warsaw front was something that was quite unavoidable. We advanced a distance of 600 versts, and the White Polish army retreated that same distance, while in the deep rear the Polish Government was endeavouring to organise a second volunteer army, composed predominantly, if not exclusively, of elements from the bourgeoisie, students and noblemen’s sons. As the experience of Denikin and Kolchak showed, armies of that sort possess much patriotic feeling and much spite, but not a great deal of military sense, and there can be no doubt that this army will be defeated. And if, temporarily, for a couple of days, our advanced units are held up at the approaches to Warsaw, this circumstance does not affect matters in the least – especially since the Polish front is now split into a military sector and a diplomatic sector, with two centres, one in Warsaw, the other in Minsk.

You know that some very influential Polish gentlemen came to Minsk, those same gentlemen who had, earlier, invited us so insistently to come to Borisov, which was subsequently destroyed by fire. Negotiations for an armistice and for peace with us were postponed through the fault of the Polish Government. This is now a fact known to the whole world – and known not only to the working class of Great Britain but also understood, it seems, pretty fundamentally, by the imperialist government of that country. The peace negotiations have become not only the touchstone on which will be tested the remains of the ill-will – or, more correctly, of the teeth – of the Polish counterrevolution: on this touchstone we shall also test the strength of the friendship that unites France, official France, with official Great Britain. The peace negotiations acquire exceptional importance because the period of enmity and quarrelling between two most important European governments, the British and the French, is taking its course upon an unstable foundation – a stormy workers’ movement.

To judge from the information we have received from various sources, the scale of the remarkable agitation amongst the workers, their interest in and striving for action, is such that Great Britain has never, perhaps, since the time of Chartism, experienced such a period as it is experiencing now, in connection with the Russo-Polish war and the Russo-Polish peace talks. The notes which the British diplomats send us are merely caricature, a reflection, a caricatural shadow, like reflections of light playing on a wall, of the profound events and realities which are now taking place in British life. This means, first and foremost, the influence exercised by the British working class. Whatever Lloyd George and Curzon may say, if there had not been held in London a congress attended by two thousand delegates from all over the country, all our replies, from beginning to end, would have remained unread. [1]

In the presence of such a serious factor as the will of the aroused working class of Great Britain, we can say that our diplomatic activity now enjoys a great basis of support in that country. And some reports say that in France, too, where the situation is more gloomy as regards the state of the labour movement, an upsurge is observable, that the federation of the trade unions of the metal-workers and the building workers has already backed the British Council of Action, proclaiming the need and the duty for them, for their unions and for others to whom they appeal, to bring about a general strike if France will not start negotiations for peace. Thus, our diplomatic position, which results from our military position, has improved because our Red forces stand only 20 versts from Warsaw. It is for this reason that the activity of Comrades Kamenev and Krasin in London has proved so successful.

On the front against Wrangel we cannot boast of success. This was a subordinate, secondary front. Our strategy, the strategy of the revolutionary epoch has taught us this particularly clearly. Our strategy developed in this way, that we went over more and more from a cordon system, the system of keeping a taut rope on all fronts, to a system of strike-forces. In the infancy of our Red Army strategy we tried to place armed Red Army men everywhere all around the Soviet Republic, guarding the approaches to it from every direction. We have now become much stronger, more mobile, more flexible and bolder. We leave open, more often than not, wide, even very wide gates for our enemies to pass through; but at certain points in the most important directions we concentrate very powerful strike-forces, with, behind them, in the appropriate places, substantial reserves – and, when we have allowed the enemy to come a long way in, we hit him on the flanks and in the rear, and sometimes frontally as well, when necessity requires this. But we have entirely abandoned our old, primitive strategy of being equally strong everywhere, on every inch of our borders – which meant, more correctly, being equally weak everywhere. This was the strategy of infancy, and these considerations apply not only to sectors of particular armies and fronts but to the entire front of our Red Army as a whole. In other words, we say this: we have the front against Wrangel in the South and the Polish front in the West – are we to distribute our forces in a cordon, stretched like a taut rope? No. Which front is the more important? That is what we ask, and we decide that the Polish front is the front of life and death for the Soviet Republic. The Wrangel front can become important and significant only when we have achieved victory on the Polish front. Essentially, Wrangel is nothing but the hired guerrilla of the Polish gentry, a detachment hurled into our rear. Consequently, our first task is to rout the Polish army. We left a wide gateway open for Wrangel. We said to ourselves: this Crimean guerrilla who has joined the Ukrainian guerrilla Makhno will advance, perhaps, 100 versts northward, taking Aleksandrovsk, Orekhov [Orekhov is about 30 miles south-east of Aleksandrovsk (Zaporozhye.], Kherson and Yekaterinoslav. It will, of course, be hard for us to lose these places even for a month – this was how we reasoned – but no danger greater than that is entailed. The Polish front will decide, in the full sense of the word, the fate of the Republic, the fate of the revolution. That was why we concentrated our strike-force in the West, leaving outposts over there in the South, to hold up Wrangel’s offensive.

And now we are approaching the diplomatic outcome of the work done by our Red strike-force on the Western front – in Minsk and in London. The moment is now drawing near when we shall have to evaluate the Wrangel front differently. This front now assumes primary importance, especially because, previously, Wrangel’s place d’armes was the Crimea, which was very inconvenient for him, and, if he used it, that was thanks to the support given him not only by the French but also by the British navy, which backed him with all sorts of supplies. Today Wrangel has places d’armes on this side of the Crimean Isthmus, and, with the help of the French navy, he is now trying to transfer his operational base to the eastern shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov – that is, by means of a landing, to break into the Don and Kuban regions, rally counter-revolutionary elements and create out of the Crimean front a Southern front with an important Cossack wing.

While we were able to allow ourselves the luxury of ignoring Wrangel for the time being (and we were obliged to do this), treating him as of secondary importance, now, when he has advanced further, when he has secured a larger base and wider possibilities, we have to say: stop, Wrangel’s front cannot be allowed to develop any further.

If we take the milieu surrounding him and in which he operates, namely, the population of the area concerned, we must say that this population is less favourable to us than the population on the Polish front. Where the regions of Byelorussia and Lithuania were concerned (we have, as yet, no precise information regarding Poland), everywhere that our Red units went they found themselves on home ground, in the sense that they encountered ardent sympathy on the part of the overwhelming majority of the peasant masses. Striking scenes were observed of fraternal welcome by the local inhabitants to the Red Army men and units. In areas where food was in extremely short supply they shared everything they possessed with the Red Army. There, the average daily advance was 15 versts. Fierce battles took place there, with a very high percentage of casualties on our side. There were days when we stood, fought and gave ground. As against that, there were 40 days when we advanced 25-30 versts a day – not only cavalry, but infantry units as well – and in such a situation it was quite impossible to feed the army by means of the regular supply apparatus. So what did the feeding and welfare of the army depend on? Principally, on the local inhabitants, and they saw to this on their own initiative, with the greatest willingness and readiness. Where our territory adjoining the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea is concerned, you know that an important role is played there by the Ukrainian kulaks, who have not yet been worked over – they have not passed through the harsh school of Soviet power exercised by the Committees of the Poor. And General Wrangel finds in these kulaks a reservoir of support and co-operation. Consequently, the rear of the army with which we are combating Wrangel contains a large percentage of sympathisers with Wrangel, and this strengthens his position. We have not yet carried out in that region a purge of counter-revolutionary elements, including the counter-revolutionary officers who are Wrangel’s agents.

If we turn to consider the composition of Wrangel’s army, we must say, first of all, that his principal forces consist of cavalry, drawn not from the Don but from the Kuban: the Kuban Cavalry Division is Wrangel’s chief strike-force. His infantry he has directly inherited from Denikin’s army, and the best units of his forces are the Volunteer Corps, which consists of three divisions – the Drozdovsky, Markov and Kornilov divisions. [2] These are old-established organisations, divisions which fought against us as elements of Denikin’s army. Naturally, they have grown weaker, declined and altered, but they still retain a certain nucleus of men who are hardened, ruthless, filled with savage hatred of the workers’ and peasants’ power, and, finally, a reserve of men who have nothing to lose – and it is just these who constitute the steel frame of General Wrangel’s army. Kuban Cossacks make up his principal cavalry units. They are his shock-troops, his Guards, and they do him great service. Add to this a comparatively favourable milieu. What would happen if Wrangel were to win further successes, if his front were to extend more widely? We know how this process goes, from start to finish. He would resort to bringing his forces up to strength by large-scale conscription of peasants: what he could obtain and get together through volunteering he already possesses – he has hundreds of volunteers, but he needs thousands ... Consequently, his army would swell in size, just as Kolchak’s and Denikin’s armies did. And as it swelled, antagonism would develop within it – that is, the closely welded upper element of officers, bourgeois and kulaks would come into silent internal conflict with the peasant lower ranks, and this conflict would result in the swollen army bursting asunder and breaking up into its component parts. That is what would happen if Wrangel’s army continued to advance successfully. But such a fate for Wrangel’s army would have to be paid for by us with the loss – temporary, but painful in the highest degree – of regions precious to us, the ruin of the economy of the Donets coalfield, the temporary loss of North Caucasia, Grozny and, perhaps, Azerbaijan and Baku.

Comrades, when we look back over the long months we have spent without the Donets Basin and without the oil of Baku, and when we look at our ‘oil-corridor’ from Baku to Astrakhan, which runs on up the Volga, and which is now, in the fullest sense of the word, our hope for restoring the economy, for ensuring that old men and women and children do not die of cold in Moscow – when we look at the past and foresee a danger of its being repeated, we must say now, and with firmness, to the whole country, this shall not be, we shall not surrender to Wrangel’s bandits the regions of the Donets Basin, North Caucasia and Azerbaijan, conquered by us with the blood of tens of thousands of workers.

Comrades, what must be done in order that these regions may not be surrendered? You know that our methods where this is concerned are perfectly clear and precise. First, we must create – or, more correctly, must strengthen and enlarge – our own cavalry, to oppose the enemy’s. You know that we have created a force of cavalry. We have Comrade Budyonny’s mounted army, which has won a well-merited reputation even among the Polish gentry. The French press writes of it in no other way than as ‘the army of General Budyonny’, because the French generals who sit at the Polish army’s headquarters are greatly upset at being beaten in every possible way by this NCO of ours. But, comrades, our army, Budyonny’s mounted army, is still needed over there, in the West, because the task has not yet been completed in that direction; and although, I repeat, we have good support there, we are not going to weaken our Western front by so much as a single bayonet or a single sabre. On the contrary, reinforcement and replacement, together with supply, are proceeding normally on the Western front and will continue to do so until the White-Guard Polish army has been reduced to the size of 50,000 men which we have laid down in our peace terms. We shall then have a substantial armament at our disposal again and shall be able to bring back Budyonny’s army: everything will then be very much simpler. But until that time comes, until peace negotiations have begun, the Polish front will retain its independent importance and the Wrangel front must be sustained by independent measures and not at all at the expense of the Polish front. Therefore, we must create and strengthen a force of cavalry here, in order to oppose Wrangel’s cavalry. The Communists were once given the task of getting on horseback, and many of these Communists, many thousands of them, are today firmly astride their horses, riding in Comrade Budyonny’s army. It is still too early for us to dismount. On the contrary, we need a fresh inflow of Communists who want to be first-class Communists and to test themselves on the Southern front. Cavalry units must be formed, even if they are only small ones, isolated squadrons. They must consist, first and foremost, of volunteers, with a good Communist nucleus, and it must be the most important task of the trade unions to see to this. Everything must be concentrated against General Wrangel’s cavalry, and this task must be carried out everywhere. In the localities we must form squadrons and despatch them to the South. We already have cavalry there, but sending them our squadrons will be like adding salt to this cavalry. We must form our own rear for the Southern front, and every local soviet must take part in constituting this rear. You must detach your best workers from all your soviets and send them to the shores of the Black Sea, to the Kuban, to the Don, so that this rear may be strengthened by agitational work, and, where necessary, also by the application of an iron hand, because we need to strengthen the South, and we have to perform our strengthening work in the Kuban, into which Wrangel is trying to penetrate. Then we must increase production in war industry, which is bound up with the army, and must, first and foremost, give attention to aircraft: Wrangel has an excellent air-force, well-supplied with everything it needs.

You know that we found 28 seaplanes which were destined for Wrangel, who needed them for landing operations – and landing operations on the Don and Kuban coasts are, I repeat, his principal task. We must strengthen our air force and aviation resources on our Southern front. And to do this we must expand our aircraft industry. In other words, comrades, instead of gazing at the brilliant advance of our forces towards Warsaw, instead of comforting our hearts with the magnificent upsurge of the labour movement in the West, in Britain, we must once more concentrate on a hard military task – on the front against Wrangel. We must hold congresses to organise practical work, assemble our executive organs, those of our trade unions and soviets, to discuss in a businesslike way, and every week, or twice weekly, to consider and check on what we are going to do in this matter during the coming weeks: how many volunteers for the front against Wrangel, how many Communists, how many specialist workers who have been working honestly in various branches of government and administration: by how much the productivity of the war-industry factories has been increased through transferring additional labour-power to them, and so on and so forth. The whole art of victory – or, if not all, then nine-tenths of it – consists in paying attention to every detail, to every trifle. In war, as in every serious task, there are no such things as trifles: it is out of trifles that our successes and our setbacks are made. Only through work like this, only through attention to every detail – economic and administrative attention – shall we ensure victory. And here and now I address myself to the presidium of the Moscow Soviet, which must make its voice heard all over Soviet Russia.

In conclusion, I come back to the point that our international situation is very favourable. Poland and Wrangel are the enemy’s two wings. After we broke the power of Poland, France remained. The French Government is the most obdurate, the most backward and (I tell you this in confidence) the most stupid government in the world. Britain is engaged in negotiations with Comrades Kamenev and Krasin, and so we do not want to say anything bad about that country, but we know that the British are old, experienced robbers. Lloyd George knows the whole state of affairs, he knows how he can act at any moment, he studies every situation very well, he possesses subtlety and dexterity, and also flexibility, such as the French Government lacks. The latter consists exclusively of lawyers, a most noxious breed of mankind. They teetered on their hind legs before German imperialism for 45 [sic] years, clinging for support to the Russian Government.

These lawyers remained for 45 years after the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 in a state of permanent trembling. These greedy and cowardly petty-bourgeois, who had been defeated in 1871, bought themselves new possibilities by spending French blood, and thanks to the support of Britain and the United States, and when they had achieved victory they at once went out of their minds and decided that the whole world was under their command. Marshal Foch and Millerand, that wretched renegade from among the ex-Socialists, imagine that they have only to send a force of black-skinned Senegalese somewhere and they can dictate their will to world history.

We have already given a lesson to those lawyers who have got above themselves, to the hirelings of the French stockexchange: we have given Poland a lesson. They said openly: Poland means us, Poland is our left flank. Well, if that is your left flank, all right, take this and sign for it. And they signed.

But, after that, they at once said: we recognise Baron Wrangel, we recognise his government. You know that, in the Crimea, the priests now never call him anything but the pious boyar Peter. He has Peter Von Struve [sic] for his Foreign Minister. And France has immediately adopted this government of the two pious boyars, Peter Wrangel and Peter Struve. That is France’s right flank. We have already disposed of the left flank. The French are acting almost as recommended in the Gospels: after receiving a blow on their left cheek they are offering us their right cheek. [‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also’’ – (Matthew, 5:39)] Today, comrades, we have, of course, no grounds for saying that the fatherland is in danger, as we did say at certain critical moments, for we are too strong for Wrangel to constitute a mortal danger to us. But, having learnt from bitter experience, we do not shut our eyes to a small or middle-sized danger. And Wrangel does constitute a danger, one which yesterday was small, is now trying to become middle-sized, and may, if we stand about gaping, grow into a big danger – if we consider that the French stock-exchange is supporting him with all its resources, trying to make him grow bigger, and is even promising him the help of some forces, about which we as yet have no information. While these forces are preparing to advance overland, where the railway workers will be unwilling to let them proceed, we must speed up our work here, and keep it well in mind that a blow at Wrangel, must be a crushing blow, will at the same time be a splendid blow struck at the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie of France. And, on behalf of the Moscow Soviet and the Moscow proletariat we say to the working class of the entire country: ‘Through Wrangel, France has offered us her right cheek – hit it as hard as you can, and teach her a lesson.’


1. Anglo-Russian negotiations for a trade agreement had begun in London already at the time of the Polish offensive towards Kiev. On our side these negotiations were conducted by Comrade Krasin. They proceeded extremely slowly, their first phase being concluded only on June 6, when an agreement was signed for unrestricted commercial relations, on condition that both parties refrained from hostile acts and agitation.

The Red Army’s victories over the Poles caused the negotiations to speed up, and Comrade Kamenev went to London as head of a special political delegation. The British Government courteously promised full restoration of relations on condition that we at once halted our advance on Warsaw. British military circles, especially the War Minister, Churchill, threatened us with war if we did not fulfil this demand. These threats evoked a unanimous rebuff from the British workers. During the talks in London a conference was held of representatives of the Trades Union Congress, the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party. [4] This conference declared that, in the event of war, the full industrial might of the organised proletariat would be brought to bear to oppose the military adventure. At the centre and in the localities, Councils of Action were formed, in order to take resolute measures, going so far as the calling of a general strike.

2. These divisions were named after White commanders who were killed in 1918, in the early stages of the civil war, and had become legendary heroes of the White cause.

3. There is no note 3.

4. The reference is to the special conference of the British Labour movement held at Central Hall, Westminster, on August 13, 1920, to hear a report from the Council of Action against British intervention in the Russo-Polish war. It was attended by 689 delegates from trade unions and 355 from the Parliamentary Labour Party and constituency organisations.

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Last updated on: 28.4.2007