This third volume of Trotsky’s military writings covers the year 1920 – the year of the war with Poland.

By the end of 1919, the Red Army had beaten back the White Guards on all fronts. British and French imperialism, at first so confident of crushing the October Revolution, were now encountering not only the strength of the Soviet state itself, but the opposition to intervention which it inspired in the working class in the imperialist countries. A cease-fire was even signed with the Polish chief Pilsudski, whom the French intended to spearhead the renewal of their attack.

In the breathing space it had won, the Red Army turned to labour – to form the first Labour Armies to help reconstruct the shattered economy on socialist lines. At its head, Trotsky knew that the respite was only temporary – that there was no question of disarming in the face of the imperialist enemy, but of reorganising the state forces. In three months’ intensive work, important principles were established to guide this work. The Labour Armies would help show the way in establishing the principle of universal labour service – that every citizen of the Soviet Republic capable of work, should put his or her efforts to the service of the workers’ state to supply the basic needs of the masses. The militarisation of labour, Trotsky repeatedly explained, was an unavoidable necessity in the period of transition from the war-torn state of Russian society, to the development of a socialist economy. It was to be accompanied by constant agitation to educate the masses and mobilise them for socialist planning. The Red Army men were to be conscious that they were working to help feed the starving workers of Moscow and Petrograd who had sacrificed so much to supply the fronts, and to help the peasants who had also sent their sons to the army, and who must now be educated to reorganise production according to the needs of the Soviet people as a whole.

This work was interrupted in March with the Polish invasion of the Ukraine. The Bolsheviks responded by setting out to teach the Polish gentry and bourgeois a lesson once and for all. The whole country was mobilised. It was during this campaign that the strength of the Red Army grew to five million. Trotsky organised the whole front.

This campaign differed from the previous phase of the civil war, in that it was not against White Guard bands or direct imperialist intervention; it was against the lackeys of imperialism in the Polish ruling class. In his orders throughout the campaign Trotsky is firm in resisting all chauvinist pressure to wage the war on a national basis. He suspends publication of the paper Voyennoye Dyelo because of its chauvinist attacks on the Polish nation, issues instructions that soldiers taken prisoner are not to be mistreated, and constantly appeals to the Polish workers and peasants to resist Pilsudski and join forces with their Soviet brothers.

By July, the Polish forces were retreating. The Bolshevik leadership decided to pursue Pilsudski’s armies to Warsaw. Behind his public upholding of this line, Trotsky held grave reservations. He opposed Lenin within the Politburo, concerned that the Red Army’s advance would rouse nationalist sentiments among broad sections of the Polish masses, rather than bring them out to greet the Soviet forces as liberators. In the event, the brave efforts of Tukhachevsky’s northern armies were defeated outside Warsaw, while the southern armies under Budyonny, with Stalin as commissar, were too far away to assist. The Red Army withdrew; and Lenin soon supported Trotsky in concluding peace with Poland.

Despite being turned back at Warsaw, Trotsky’s proclamations insisted, the Red Army had secured the Polish front and regained all the conquered territory. It now remained to cleanse the Crimea of Wrangel, whose White Guard forces had seized on the opportunity of the Polish war to create fresh trouble. In the last campaign of this phase of the war, Wrangel’s forces were swept into the sea.

The final section of this volume shows the wide range of Trotsky’s concerns throughout this period. In his military orders he pays constant attention to questions of training and educating the Red Army men, insisting at the same time on proper care and supplies being organised, instilling consciousness that the Red soldiers are fighting for the highest cause, that of the proletarian revolution internationally. Fallen leaders of the proletariat, such as Sverdlov, are honoured; the Communist International, meeting in 1920 in Moscow at its historic Second Congress, sends its greetings through Trotsky. Only with this constant attention to the education and training of the Red Army cadre, and upholding of proletarian internationalism, was it possible to bring the Red Army through the year of the Polish war not only intact and at full fighting strength, but with its banner unspotted.

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006