Erich Wollenberg’s

The Red Army


The Birth Of The Red Army

Chapter One (cont'd)

The Red Guards

The Red Guards in Russia had a long revolutionary tradition. As far back as the revolutionary days of 1906 the Russian working classes formed their own fighting units in the factories, whereupon the victorious counterrevolution discovered that one of its chief tasks would have to be the disarmament of the workers and the destruction of these units. But the workers re-established their defence forces or ‘Red Guards’ during the February Revolution of 1917.

The development of these Red Guards was at first hindered by the fact that the Soviets were still dominated by the influence of the Menshevists and Social Revolutionaries. These parties were of opinion that the Revolution must not be allowed to destroy the framework of bourgeois democracy, for they feared that in view of Russia’s backwardness and the general international situation any transformation of the democratic into a socialist revolution was bound to be disastrous. They thought this would lead to a reactionary movement and the ultimate victory of the militarist-monarchist counter-revolutionaries.

On February 28, 1917, the general meeting of the Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets was led in a first flush of enthusiasm to vote for the establishment of a ‘workers’ militia.’ But several days later, on March 7, the executive committee of the Soviets suspended this resolution, and issued a decree whereby the workers’ militia was compelled to amalgamate with the ordinary citizen militia. The enforcement of this decree assured to the bourgeoisie the control of the unified militia, and the separate militia of the workers ceased to exist as an independent class organization of the proletariat.

The military organization of the Bolshevists, which had hitherto been mainly employed in work amongst the troops, was now quickly transformed into a directing centre for the activities of the workers’ militia or Red Guards. The first period of the Red Guards’ illegal existence is described by M. G. Fleer, a prominent member of the Petrograd military organization:

“The Red Guard organizations which were not in close contact with the party, such for example, as the armed workers’ units in the factories, were comparatively easy to camouflage, for they needed only to play the part of factory militia formations officially entrusted with the task of defending the factory buildings. These legal duties gave the workers’ militia scope for much activity. We must not forget that the factories were glad to pay for the maintenance of this factory militia before becoming aware of its real nature, since they felt themselves safer under the protection of their ‘own’ workers than under that of the citizen militia, which could not enforce any authority over the factory hands. The proletarian factory militias soon became a general and inevitable phenomenon in the factories of Petrograd, Moscow, and all other centres of Russian industry.”

All the attempts made by the Provisional Government to disarm the workers failed, and led only to a rapid decrease of the influence wielded in the factories by the Right Social Revolutionaries and Menshevists who supported these efforts. Consequently the Soviet of the Viborg quarter of Petrograd, which was, so to speak, the workers’ stronghold, unanimously decided at the end of April to press for the formation of separate Red Guard units, deeming this to be an indispensable task of the proletariat. A similar resolution was passed by the General Council of Petrograd Factory Workers which the Bolshevist military organization had called into existence. Both these bodies defined the aims and objects of the Red Guard as the following:

Defence of the gains of the Revolution (gains made by the working classes, according to the definition of the Viborg Soviet) and defence against counter-revolutionary plots (by the ruling classes, in the words of the Viborg Soviet).

The Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviet News, the Executive Committee’s official organ, on April 28, opposed the Viborg resolution in a leading article, and implored the workers “not to tread this dangerous path which threatened to break the unity of the revolutionary front.” It characterized the Red Guard as a wedge driven between the revolutionary proletariat and the army, hinting that such an organization would give the enemy only too good an opportunity to persuade the soldiers that the workers were arming against them.

The situation underwent no radical change until the time of the Kornilov putsch. After the suppression of the Petrograd July revolt the military reactionaries breathed more freely. The Provisional Government had issued warrants for the arrest of the Bolshevist leaders on account of their participation in the revolt; Lenin and Zinoviev were in hiding in Finland, whilst Trotsky and Kamenev were in prison. The working classes were in a state of depression.

Then, one day towards the end of August, General Kornilov, Commander-in-Chief at the front, marched on Petrograd, with the intention of overthrowing Kerensky’s Provisional Government and establishing a military dictatorship as a transition stage to the restoration of the monarchy. Events followed one another at a breathless pace.

The Provisional Government was compelled to seek help from the workers. The Red Guard emerged from the twilight of its semi-legality and was armed. The entire defence of Petrograd and the immediate fight against Kornilov were almost exclusively in its hands. On August 28 a session of the Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates decreed the immediate establishment of a Workers’ Militia and the registration of all revolutionary workers for the armed defence of the capital.

Within a few days 25,000 workers enrolled in the militia. The Red Guards, who were known in Petrograd as the Workers’ Militia, became the official armed force of the Petrograd Soviet, in which the Bolshevists had now obtained a majority. The leadership of this Petrograd Soviet was then in the hands of the Bolshevist representative, L. D. Trotsky, who had acted as its vice-president as far back as the revolutionary years 1905-6.

The Red Guards then gave themselves a constitution of a purely military nature, which divided them into decads, corporals’ squads, companies, etc., along with special technical units, such as dynamiters, cyclists, telegraphists, machine-gunners, artillerymen, and so on. The smallest fighting unit of the Red Guard was the decad, which consisted of 13 men. Four decads formed a corporal’s squad (53 men), three corporals’ squads a company (160 men), three companies a battalion, consisting of 480 men, plus technical units which made the total strength from 500 to 600; all the battalions of a district formed the district division, which, if numerous enough, was subdivided into regiments. After the Korniov putsch the Red Guards in Moscow and the other Russian industrial centres were legalized and armed by the same procedure as in Petrograd.

The Red Guard made feverish preparations for an armed insurrection. Podvoisky, who served on its staff, writes as follows:

“When the Kornilov adventure was over, our next task was to see that the arms remained in the hands of the workers and so create an armed force which we could use to seize the reins of government. In the military organization of the Bolshevists we found cadres of instructors, whom we employed in the factories. Thus a close, purposeful military network, built up by us according to plan, came into existence. The further growth of the proletariat’s armed forces compelled us to initiate courses of instruction, in which our comrades who had served as non-commissioned officers could extend their military knowledge and prepare themselves to work as instructors.”

But the Kerensky Government did not suspend operations against the Red Guard, that is, against armed class organizations of the proletariat, when the Kornilov danger was over. On September 5 the military Governor-General of Petrograd issued an order requiring all firearms to be registered by September 30. The Red Guard took no notice of this order, and on September 21 Nikitin, the Menshevist Minister of the Interior, issued the following decree:

“The Red Guard organizations are to be kept under permanent observation. After consultation with the Commander-in-Chief, measures will be taken to disarm the Red Guard in view of their liability to undertake criminal activities. The registration of arms is to be undertaken by the militia.[i.e., the citizen police.] The regulations dealing with the carrying of arms are to be examined, and a bill must be brought in to tighten up the penalties for unauthorized carrying of arms.”

The Menshevists carried on a violent propaganda campaign for the purpose of playing off the regular troops against the armed workers. At a general meeting of the Soviets of soldiers’ delegates held in Moscow on October 5 they handed in a resolution which, after referring to the great services rendered by the army to the Revolution, went on to state that “as a class army the Red Guard is a danger to the cause of the Revolution; since we now possess a revolutionary army, it is harmful because it forms an opposition to the national army, thus dividing the forces of democracy and giving the enemies of the Revolution opportunity to sow discord between one part of it and another, which must undoubtedly lead to the weakening of revolutionary democracy as a whole.”

This resolution was not passed, but the soldiers’ delegates, who had remained in office ever since the February Revolution, took up an attitude hostile to the Red Guard and sabotaged the work of arming them. The rank and file of the army were of a different opinion, however, as we may see from the following soldiers’ resolution, issued in the Social Democrat of October 12:

“Do not believe those liars who tell you that the creation of the Red Guard means a campaign against the soldiers. Nothing must be allowed to separate the soldiers from the workmen. They must stand together.”

In the October fighting the Red Guards and revolutionary units of the regular army amalgamated for the time to form an armed force that could act homogeneously on behalf of the proletarian revolt. When the revolutionary soldiers went back to their units after the victory and there demobilized themselves in order to return to their factories or villages, they left the Red Guard to act as armed defence forces for the factories and so constitute the picked troops of the Revolution. The fighting value of the various Red Guard formations was by no means uniform, as it depended on the strength of their Bolshevist cadres, the extent to which they were permeated with experienced soldiers from the front, and the personal and military qualities of the men they elected as leaders.

The principle of the election of officers was universally established. From the standpoint of military qualifications, this was bound to affect the efficiency of the units to a greater or less degree. The Red Guardsmen set less store by the standard of military capacity in their commanders than by the soundness of their political views, and were, indeed, often moved to vote for candidates who enjoyed universal popularity. This often led to currying favour and to demagogic tricks and intrigues.

The Red Guards were equal to their task of defending the new Soviet régime until the counter-revolutionaries coalesced and sent properly organized troops against them. But the Guards, mainly drawn from the towns and industrial centres, were found wanting as a defence for the dictatorship of the proletariat when called upon to face attacks by White armies consisting of regulars. Yet, as the Historical Section of the War Academy notes, they acted in the first months of the Civil War as “the shield of the Russian proletariat against the enemy operations of foreign and native counter-revolutionaries. Using them as a basis, the Soviet régime began to build up its armed forces, and the first fighting formations of the Red Army were grouped round the Red Guard divisions.”

Guerilla Warfare

While the Red Guards were in process of formation in the industrial centres, another force of unique character came into existence spontaneously in the steppe lands. This was the guerillas or bands of armed peasants who formed units to defend the land they had won in the October Revolution. The special character of Russian guerilla warfare was determined by the following factors:

The immense size of Russia and her comparatively scanty population; the defective system of transport and communication, which underwent further degeneration in the course of foreign and civil war; the lack of reliable contact with the capital; the extraordinary diversity of social structure, culture, density of population and national composition in the peasantry, and finally the diverse nature of the country, i.e. steppes, mountains and taiga (Siberian virgin forest).

Speaking generally, we find that the guerilla movement assumed two widely contrasted aspects, represented respectively by the Ukrainian guerillas, among whom the influence of the individualistic wealthier peasants predominated, and the Siberian guerillas, who manifested the peasant-proletarian disciplined character of the movement. Naturally the line dividing these two opposites was by no means a territorial one; indeed, both these guerilla manifestations often existed side by side, and were often closely woven with one another in the same band.

The greater organizational capacity and better discipline of the Siberian bands was to some extent due to social conditions, but mainly to the immense distances of the Siberian steppes and taiga, which force men to depend one upon another and to afford mutual assistance in the battle against Nature. Moreover, for more than a century Siberia had been the land to which the Tsars banished political opponents who were inconvenient to them; for generations these exiles had contrived to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the entire Siberian population, including the peasantry, to an extraordinarily high level. We may follow the development of one of these Siberian guerilla bands, typical of many others, in the writings of Ilyukov, who organized and led the guerillas of Sutshan:

“The workers alone came forward as defenders of the Revolution during the period of the landing of the army of intervention at Vladivostok and the operations against the Czechoslovak legionaries. The majority of the broad masses of peasantry remained inactive. The revolutionary forces of the peasantry did not develop until four or five months later, i.e. at a time when all Siberia and the Far East was in the hands of the White Guards. Uncurbed reaction took possession of the towns, but when the counter-revolutionaries established their power by fire and sword, the peasantry gradually began to fathom the true significance of the events which were taking place.

“The rule of the Whites revealed itself as an excellent means for revolutionizing, in the course of a few months, not only the villages, but also the petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia of the towns. The peasants of the Sutshan district assembled and formed a ‘Committee to organize revolutionary resistance to the counterrevolutionaries and interventionists.’ Ilyukov was elected president. Soon further bands were formed in neighbouring villages.

“The committee proposed to occupy the whole of the Sutshan valley and establish contact with the Sutshan coal-mines and railway in order to form further workers’ organizations there; but the subsequent course of events gave them no chance to complete their plans. The news from the front was ever more favourable for the Whites, while the Red Guard retreated and suffered one defeat after another. We were compelled to begin an immediate offensive in order to divert as many of the enemy’s forces as possible to ourselves and away from the Ural front.

“None of us then believed that our revolt would lead to an immediate seizure of power. On the contrary, we all prepared for a long, weary, obstinate war, which could not assume the character of regular warfare, but must be fought out as afranc-tireur campaign, the kind of war which was the easiest for us to wage and which would nevertheless hit the enemy at his most vulnerable points. On December 21 the leaders of the various fighting formations held a conference at the village of Frolovka, and decided to start the revolt immediately and to impose taxes on the wealthy peasants in order to secure the sinews of war.”

At first the guerilla bands provisioned themselves from the food they found in the villages, but in course of time they established their rule over compact areas of guerilla territory which made them independent of the ‘peasants’ larders’ by opening up more or less constant sources of supply from the forest revenues, from the territory they occupied, and from the taxes laid on the wealthy peasants.

The Siberian guerilla bands worked in close touch with the workers of the towns, from whom they received financial assistance. They envisaged their task as the disorganization and destruction of the enemy’s lines of communication. They did incalculable damage to Admiral Koichak and prepared the ultimate victory of the Red Army. Many guerilla bands even took the initiative in organizing the workers for the revolutionary conflict. The ‘Staff of the Revolutionary Guerilla Bands of the Sutshan Valley,’ for instance, issued on February 2, 1919, the following appeal to the workers of Vladivostok:

“Workers and comrades! A conflagration which must spread to all honourable workers and a revolt of the oppressed masses have broken out in Sutshan like the mighty blaze that may arise from the striking of a single match. This revolutionary flame, which has burnt up the whole of the outworn world of yesterday that stood in its path, has also caught the peasantry. The spirit of revolution, kept down by centuries of oppression and by the landed proprietors and capitalists, has lived and thrived among the peasantry. To us, worker comrades! Join our army! Rise up to fight for the Revolution of Workers and Peasants! Long live the World Revolution! Long live the power of the Soviets!”

This appeal glows with the pathos which generations of banished revolutionaries, beginning with the Decabrists and ending with the Narodniks and Bolshevists, had the strength of the Siberian guerilla bands lay in their intimate knowledge of the taiga, but neither courage nor numerical superiority availed them when involved in open warfare against well-trained, well-armed opponents. When guerilla bands with a total strength of about 30,000 men quitted the shelter of the virgin forest in the spring of 1920 and advanced against the towns of the Ainur district, they fell victims to a Japanese onslaught on the night of April 4-5. They were unkble to withstand forces they outnumbered by three to one when fighting on unaccustomed terrain.

It is only natural therefore that we should find gratitude to the sheltering taiga running like a red thread through countless songs of these guerilla bands:

“Sombre Taiga, danger-ridden, Massed, impenetrable trees! Yet we rebels, safely hidden In thy glades, found rest and ease.

Life and liberty we owe thee, Strength to fight another day. So our gratitude we’ll show thee In the homage of this lay.”

In addition to the revolutionary-proletarian guerillas, there were other bands in Siberia in which the influence of the wealthier peasants predominated. There were, in fact, guerilla bands in which many shades of opinion were represented, including those typical of the Ukraine, and eventually destined to become a source of serious danger to the Proletarian Revolution there.

The Ukraine was the only area in European Russia in which guerilla warfare developed into a mass manifestation and assumed dimensions unparalleled in history. On the other hand, the guerilla movement north and east of the Volga proceeded on lines very similar to those which characterized it in Siberia. When these bands acted independently, they did excellent work, but they were unable to fit into the framework of a regular army, in which there was constant friction between them and the other troops. K. Yeremeyev, who organized the first corps of Red Volunteers when commanding the Petrograd military district in the autumn of 1918, has given us the following account of his experiences with guerilla bands:

“The sailors belonging to the Baltic Fleet and several guerilla contingents preceded the 1st Corps to the front. The guerilla bands contained pugnacious, enthusiastic men who could not endure all the preliminary operations and wanted to go into action at once. We certainly had a lot of trouble with them at the front. They often upset all our plans and arrangements; they never conformed to any general scheme, but just trusted to their own inspiration. The “Wolf Pack” band did specially good work; it was commanded by a sailor, and consisted entirely of sailors, soldiers and workmen. An anarchist band also distinguished itself; it was not a particularly large one-barely two hundred men, but a very compact body, firmly knit together by the reckless courage of all its members. Both these bands were recalled from the front and placed at my immediate disposal; we sent them to Finland, where Whites and Germans were advancing against us. Almost all the members of both bands met their deaths there, but they fought valiantly and inflicted great losses on the Whites.”

The thickly populated Ukraine, with its ancient culture and its class and racial antagonisms, was the birthplace of the anarchist guerilla bands. that were hostile to any form of centralization. But the chief characteristic of the Ukrainian guerillas was their fickleness. Sometimes they allied themselves with the Red Army, but at any moment they were liable to declare their neutrality or to go over to the Whites. Lenin has left us the following commentary on the guerilla warfare in the Ukraine, which I quote from a speech he made in the Moscow Soviet on July 4, 1919:

“The original guerilla bands in the Ukraine were brought into existence by the very insufficient classconsciousness there, the general inefficiency and lack of organization, and the disorganization caused by Petliura. The peasants simply took up arms, chose an ataman (captain) and instituted a government of their own there and then. They paid no heed to any central power, and each Ukrainian ataman thought he could solve all his country’s problems without bothering about events in the capital. We must dread the guerilla movement, the arbitrary behaviour of the individual bands and their disobedience to authority; we must dread them like fire, for they will lead to our destruction.”

When the French and Greek troops of the army of intervention in Southern Russia occupied the Black Sea ports, the guerilla chief Grigoriev attacked them and forced them to evacuate these towns in precipitate haste. But shortly afterwards Grigoriev started a revolt against the Soviet authority which shook the Red Army’s entire southern front. The largest Ukrainian guerilla band, which was commanded by Makhno, then formed a military alliance with the Red Army against General Denikin.

Though Makhno’s guerillas played a decisive part in the defeat of Denikin, it was not long before Makhno turned against the Red Army. The result of the ancient national hatred of the oppressors from Great Russia was that the Ukrainian peasants preferred to be under the leadership of their ‘own’ peasant farmers, large and small, rather than to take orders from the Ukrainian proletariat, which ‘had made common cause with Great Russia.’ A still more cogent reason for the fickleness of the Ukrainian guerilla bands was the rigorous way in which all agricultural produce was requisitioned for the needs of the Red Army.

In addition to the political guerilla movement in the Ukraine, we may note the development of a unique form of banditry, which was in part complementary to it. A veritable army of deserters from both the hosts opposing one another in civil warfare gathered together in the woods and formed a kind of third party, which they called the ‘Greens,’ taking their name from the colour of the woods that sheltered them. Bands of these Greens instituted plundering expeditions in order to procure the supplies they needed, thus contributing largely to the general disorganization and prejudice against the political guerilla movement.

The great majority of the Greens, however, were merely the result and expression of the peasantry’s fickleness. When at length the peasants were moved by their experience of both Reds and Whites to come in on the side of the Soviet Government, the deserters emerged from their woods and joined the Red Army of their own accord.

Trotsky often attended mass meetings of these men, whom he addressed as “Deserter Comrades.” In the summer of 1919, a report made to the Moscow Soviet on the change of front that was becoming noticeable in the ranks of the Green deserter bands, said:

“Trotsky has travelled through many districts in which we formerly strove against the deserters in vain. He has spoken at their meetings, where he found among them at least 10,000 men who had been easily intimidated or all too easily defeated by the bourgeoisie. He told me of the change that had taken place in these men’s views, which is indeed indescribable. Some commissaries say that we are being veritably swamped by the stream of former deserters now pouring into the Red Army.”

The days of successful guerilla warfare came to an end when the Civil War exchanged small operations for large ones on entrenched fronts. “The guerilla movement,” wrote Trotsky in 1923 in a work on the Red Army, “was a necessary and adequate weapon in the first period of the Civil War. The fight against the counter-revolution, which had not yet found itself and could put no compact armed masses into the field, was waged with the assistance of small, independent bodies of troops. This kind of warfare demanded self-sacrifice, initiative and independence. But as the war grew in scope, it gradually came to need proper organization and discipline. The guerilla movement then began to turn its negative pole towards the Revolution.”

The transfer of the guerilla bands to the regular Red Army was attended with considerable difficulties. A number of bands which refused to conform to the central Soviet authority were forcibly liquidated. Among them was the Ukrainian guerilla army commanded by ‘Papa Makhno.’ But other guerilla bands, including those led by Chapayev and Budyonny, gradually took their places in the Red Army’s ranks, after much vacillation and resistance. There was, indeed, a temporary and intermediate stage of ‘regular guerillas,’ in which guerilla bands fought side by side with the Red Army formations, under a common leader and with a unified plan of operations.

The suppression of the guerilla movement was rendered all the more difficult by the fact that guerilla tendencies began to manifest themselves inside the Red Army, even infecting Communists, especially those of peasant origin; many old soldiers and non-commissioned officers also succumbed to them.

Among the Communists who introduced guerilla tendencies into the Red Army was Klim Voroshilov, the Bolshevist of 1905 and Tsarist volunteer in the Great War. Under his leadership a special group came into existence in the Red Army, known as the N.C.O. Clique, because it was composed almost entirely of former noncommissioned officers. Their opposition to the centralized army authorities, and more especially to the employment of military specialists, often took extreme forms, such as a decision to ignore all commands issued by former Tsarist officers.

This decision was their answer to the appointment of the young Lieutenant of the Tsarist Guards, Tuchachevsky, to the command of the First Red Army. On June 2, 1918, by order of the Revolutionary Council of War and the Soviet Government, he proclaimed the mobilization of all former officers, who were thus called up for service with the Red Army. Loud threats to shoot the ‘Guards Officer’ were uttered by members of Voroshilov’s clique, whereupon Trotsky issued an order, countersigned by Lenin, to the effect that insubordination against officers appointed by the Revolutionary Council of War would be punished with the utmost severity.

Although the guerilla tendencies of the N.C.O. clique were no longer manifested so openly, opposition to Lenin’s and Trotsky’s conception of the Red Army did not cease. The points at issue may be summarized as follows

(1) The supporters of the guerilla point of view opposed compulsory military service and favoured the voluntary system.

(2) They were against the appointment of officers and in favour of their election.

(3) They were against the appointment of Tsarist officers and in favour of the principle that all army orders should be discussed and approved by the troops before being carried out.

The following standpoint was also supported in theory by Voroshilov and his friends:

A centralized army is the institution of an imperialist state. The Revolution must live up to itself by abolishing once and for all trench warfare and the centralized army. Small irregular operations are the true tactics of the revolution.

The fundamental error of the adherents of guerilla warfare was that they carried their ‘theory of revolutionary warfare’ to the pitch of trying to apply their organizational forms and fighting tactics to situations entirely different from those which had rendered them necessary, or at any rate inevitable, for armed proletarian units at a certain stage in the development of the class war.

The Construction of the New Army

On January 12, 1918, the Council of People’s Commissars issued a decree concerning the ‘formation of the socialist army,’ which was to be ‘built up from below on the principles of election of officers and mutual comradely discipline and respect.’ The purpose of this army was defined as follows:

“The old army functioned- as an instrument for the oppression of the workers by the bourgeoisie. With the transfer of state authority to the workers and exploited classes there arose a need for a new army, to serve as a bulwark for the Soviet régime at the present time, a groundwork for the replacement in the near future of the standing army by the armed force of the people, and a basis for the Socialist Revolution in Europe.”

For the moment this decree existed merely on paper. The first formations of the Red Army were not raised until February 23, 1918, when the forces of German imperialism were marching on Petrograd, so that this date may be termed the birthday of the Red Army of Workmen and Peasants. At the same time the Central Comittee of the Bolshevist Party and the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets passed resolutions appointing L. Trotsky People’s Commissar for War and entrusting him with the task of organizing and directing the armed forces of the dictatorship of the proletariat at the moment of the new Soviet Government’s greatest danger.

The voluntary principle was for the moment allowed to remain. Conscription could not be applied until the ideological and organizational conditions essential for its enforcement had crystallized. These were: (1) A change of mood in the peasantry, who were indescribably war-weary. (2) The creation of administrative machinery in the capital and provinces to deal with the men called to the colours.

On April 22 the Soviet Government published a decree providing for ‘universal military training.’ This training was to take place in the factories and other places of production, and generally outside working hours. Volunteers were under an obligation to serve for six months.

On May 10 the Red Volunteer Army numbered 306,000 men. 34,000 of the 50,000 Red Guards were taken into the new army, while the other volunteers were drawn mainly from the men of the old army and fleet.

On June 12 the Soviet Union mobilized the first five classes (1892-7) in fifty-one districts of the Volga area, the western area of European Russia, and Siberia, i.e. in all districts immediately menaced by internal or external counter-revolutionaries. At the end of July 1918, two classes were successfully mobilized in Moscow and Petrograd. In July, the Fifth Soviet Congress approved this mobilization as an emergency measure, and accepted the conscription plan brought forward by the Council of People’s Commissars. But until well into 1919 this compulsory mobilization was supplemented by appeals to members of various social organizations to enlist for voluntary service.

Thus we find appeals from the factory managements to the workers, from the Poor Peasants’ Committees to the Peasants, and from the Trade Unions and the Communist Party to their members. These last were more or less of a compulsory nature, since refusal to respond implied expulsion from the bodies whose authority backed up the appeals. Up to October 1, 1919, about 180,000 members of the Party enlisted, while 75 per cent of the refusals to serve came from the peasantry.

There were also figures which revealed desertions of 5 to 7 per cent of the troops at the front. The total number of deserters during the winter of 1919-20 was 2,846,000, of whom 1,543,000 returned to duty voluntarily when the Soviet Government guaranteed them immunity from punishment.

Only a part of the men called to the colours could be armed; the personnel registers of the Red Army were therefore divided into the two categories of ‘eaters’ and ‘fighters.’ The figures of the Red Army for its first two years were:

End of 1918600,000 ‘eaters’
Feb. 1, 1919 1,000,000 ‘eaters’
Jan. 1, 19203,000,000 ‘eaters’
Oct. 1, 19205,498,000 ‘eaters’

But at the period when its numbers were greatest, i.e. in the autumn of 1920, the Red Army did not possess more than 400,000-500,000 rifles and swords. The unarmed men did not belong to the ‘Labour Army’ which was raised in 1919 after the liquidation of several fronts, but were drafted into units allotted to the formations in which the armed men served. In October, 1920, the 5,490,000 ‘eaters’ were distributed as follows:

2,600,000 in the districts under military control
159,000 in the Labour Army
391,000 in the Reserve Army 1,780,000 at the front.

The remainder, amounting to half a million, were assigned to office, guard, railway and transport duties. When the Polish front came into existence in the same year, it absorbed only 150,000 ‘fighters’ to 600,000 ‘eaters,’ so that there were four soldiers behind every one in the front line.

This disproportion between the armed and unarmed men in the Red Army was mainly due to the complete breakdown of industry and agriculture, the enormous transport distances, and the fight against banditry, which necessitated the retention of military formations-even if unarmed or only semi-armed-to occupy and patrol the hinterland and turn it into a supply basis for the army.

The forces at the front were almost entirely selfsupporting. In view of the breakdown of the transport system this state of things was a necessity, but it served to accentuate the differences between workers and peasants, and that unfortunately at the most vulnerable spots, i.e. immediately behind the fronts and on the lines of communication, which generally extended to a length of over 200 kilometres. This fact that the Red Army was compelled to live on the country was one of the causes of the extreme vacillations among the peasantry and their independent guerilla bands.

The troops at the front were not merely self-supporting in the matter of rations, and partially, indeed, in the matter of equipment, but they also found it necessary to organize and build up their formations in the front area, where to a certain extent they were self-supporting in the matter of the man-power needed to fill the gaps in their ranks. This creation of a revolutionary army practically ‘under enemy fire’ is depicted most vividly by S. I. Gussev in his work, The Lessons of the Civil War:

“Time no longer permitted us to raise formations anywhere in the hinterland. All volunteers and conscripts were of necessity allotted to the troops at the front, especially at the beginning of the Civil War. Battalions swelled into regiments; weak regiments were amalgamated, divisions were formed of single regiments. At the front we did not merely fight battles; we had to undertake terrific organizational work there as well. Behind the front line special reserve armies came into existence, and were assigned the task of giving military and political training to the man-power drawn from the hinterland. Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the Red Army (which indeed distinguishes it from ill former armies) was the fact that two-thirds of its regular troops were raised, or at least finally equipped, directly by the front command and not by the All-Russian Military Centre in the hinterland.

“The work of the General Staff was limited to mobilization and the collection of statistics. Despite every effort, the attempt to raise a Red Army by means of powerful central administrative machinery broke down at the very beginning. The reverse took place, for the Red Army was raised by absolutely decentralized machinery. Individual formations came into existence in local sectors of the front, and then gradually amalgamated to form a centralized army. The creation of the Red Army by means of powerful centralized machinery is therefore impossible, because this powerful centre does not exist. The military machine of a proletarian state is always weak at the beginning. It is disastrous to try to carry out centralization unless you possess a powerful centre.”

For this reason, says Trotsky, “all regiments were in themselves living improvisations, and the army as a whole was one also. For our task of constructing the Red Army we had to exploit Red Guard formations and regiments of the Tsarist Army, peasant leaders and Tsarist generals. In fact, we created the army out of all the historical materials at our disposal, and did our work from the point of view of a proletarian state fighting for its existence, consolidation and development.”

The multifarious elements characteristic of the first phase of the armed forces of the revolution-multifarious in respect of their military organization, form of armament, and fighting methods, and multiform in respect of their nationalities and ideologies-were welded together in the melting-pot of the four years of civil war and the Polish campaign into a homogeneous Red Army of workers and peasants.