Banditry and Famine

Speeches and Articles

This Must Be Stopped

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

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On September 7, at 6 o’clock in the morning, between the stations of Fastov and Kozhanka [1][2], a food train was wrecked as a result of the rails having been dismantled by one of the Petlyurist bands which are being systematically unleashed on to the territory of the Ukraine from across the Polish and Romanian frontiers. The train was carrying food for the workers of the Donets Basin – about 44,000 poods of that rye which is now so precious to us. Everything perished in the wreck – the locomotive, the trucks, the grain – and a considerable number of people as well. Over a stretch of tens of sazhens, fragments of planks, metal, grain, muscles and blood were mingled with the earth.

The Petlyurists started out as a party of nationalistic petty-bourgeois democrats. In proportion as they lost their footing among the lower orders of the working people, they became transformed into armed detachments of the kulaks. But this phase, too, has now ended. Numerous detachments, often amounting to several thousands of fighting men, have now been smashed, destroyed, crushed. The leaders and their staffs have long since gone across the nearest frontier and joined the army staffs of neighbouring states. There have remained in Right-bank Ukraine only gangs of insignificant size, useless for any sort of military operations, and these have reduced their treacherous activity to what is called ‘wrecking’ espionage on behalf of foreign bourgeois-landlord governments. The idealist Petlyurists have recoiled from this work of Cain and presented themselves in repentant mood at the camp of the Soviet power. Only corrupt garbage is left in the gangs. Their animators, organisers and instructors sit behind the nearest frontier-line. Thence they send the gangs arms and replacements, thither the gangs withdraw to rest, and thence they again set forth to commit their disgusting and senseless crimes.

This tactic, the destruction of our railway lines in order to doom the population to famine, was attempted on a large scale in 1918 by the French envoy, Noulens. He would like to put his hand to this work again today, but Paris is far away, and Noulens cannot reach the Soviet frontier. Kishinev and Lvov are closer. Bands set out from there which are paid with French money: from there our peace and our labour are being dis-rupted.

To the protests of our diplomats the governments of the neighbouring states reply with hypocritical amazement or with references to the revolutionary activity of the Communist International. But no expressions of amazement by these ministers can alter the fact that the Romanian and Polish army staffs are directly guiding the brigandage carried on by the bands of Petlyura, Savinkov and others. This activity, its methods and its organisation, have been established in full detail by the testimony of dozens of the most responsible agents of Romania and Poland among Russian and Ukrainian White-Guard officers who have, in their time, held high positions.

Reference to the Communist International also constitutes disgraceful hypocrisy. Of course we regard this as a fraternal organisation, of course we give it hospitality. But it is an inter-national organisation. It exists in all countries. Only wretched idiots could suppose that such a movement could be artificially evoked or artificially sustained.

What comparison can there be between the Communist International, the worldwide organisation of the working class, and the armed bands of Savinkov and Petlyura, created specially to carry out sabotage in the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia?

‘What crudely cynical hypocrisy! We are here concerned not With the ‘ideological’ centres of the Russian counter-revolution, not with the newspapers and committees of the monarchist, SR and other varieties of counter-revolution which swarm in the cities of Romania and Poland. This is not what we are talking about. We understand the close ties between the expelled Russian landlords and usurers and the landlords and usurers of Poland and Romania, and we take account of them, just as we do not deny our own close ideological ties with the working people of Romania and Poland. But, after all, the existence of such ties is something far removed from sending armed bands over the frontier. While not cherishing the slightest sympathy with the landlord-capitalist order in Poland, we nevertheless intend strictly to observe the terms of the treaty we signed with Poland, because we want peace. While not cherishing the slightest sympathy with the boyarciocoi [3] order in Romania, we are willing, nevertheless, to make an agreement with it and intend to honour such an agreement. But we see our neighbours constantly playing with fire. They are not at war with us. They merely chuck a handful of lighted tow from time to time onto the roof of our house. And they are amazed when we get angry.

The entire world is talking about aid to starving Russia. Some do so hypocritically, others sincerely. But even those who are hypocritical testify by their hypocrisy that it is impossible to remain indifferent in the face of such frightful calamities. And so, while from America and Britain, from Norway and Germany, modest freights of foodstuffs are coming to us, for the purpose of mitigating, if only a little, the torment of hunger suffered by our peasant and proletarian families, bands despatched from Poland and Romania are setting fire to our food-depots, killing dozens of workers engaged in the collection of food, and wrecking food trains

This cannot be tolerated. This must be stopped. If, of course, we were to suppose that our neighbours have decided to have a fight with us at whatever cost, then there would be nothing to do but get ready to hit back. But such a conclusion would be incorrect. Actually, there is in both places more light-mindedness than serious planning. Backed by the French imperialists, who risk very little by this, the adventurers of Poland and Romania are playing with fire.

There can be no doubt that the latest notes from our diplomats will impel the overwhelming majority not only of the working people of Poland and Romania, but even of the bourgeoisie as well, to remind the adventuristic elements in these countries, firmly and decisively, that playing with fire is a dangerous game, and that it must be stopped.

September 16, 1921, No.206


1. For more detail on this, see page 376, Order No. 265, September 18 [sic], 1921, by the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic.

2. Fastov is about 60km south-west of Kiev, on the line to Vinnitsa, and Kozhanka about 20km farther on. – Brian Pearce

[3] ‘Ciocoi’ is the Romanian word for an upstart, a parvenu, and was used for rich men of non-noble origin. – Brian Pearce

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006