Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute


Chapter VI

OVERTHROWN by the October Socialist Revolution, the Russian landlords and capitalists began to conspire with the capitalists of other countries for the organization of military intervention against the Soviet Republic, with the aim of defeating the workers and peasants, overthrowing the Soviet regime and once again fastening the chains of slavery on the country. Civil war broke out, accompanied by military intervention. The Soviet Government proclaimed the Socialist fatherland in danger and called upon the people to rise in its defence. The Bolshevik Party rallied the workers and peasants for a patriotic war to defend the country from foreign invaders and the bourgeois and landlord Whiteguards.

In the spring of 1918, the British and French imperialists instigated a revolt of the Czechoslovak Corps (formed of prisoners of war from the Austro-Hungarian army), which, after the conclusion of peace with Germany, was making its way to France via Siberia.

The revolt of the Czechoslovaks, which was timed to coincide with revolts engineered by Whiteguards and Socialist-Revolutionaries in twenty-three cities on the Volga, a revolt of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries in Moscow, and a landing of British troops in Murmansk, unleashed all the force of counter-revolution. The moment was a highly critical one. The country had only just extricated itself from the imperialist war. The misrule of the capitalists and landlords had brought the country to the verge of disaster. The workers in Moscow and Petrograd were receiving a bare two ounces of bread a day. The republic was cut off from the granaries of the Ukraine and Siberia. The southeast, the Volga region and the North Caucasus, were the only areas from which gram could be obtained, and the road to them lay by way of the Volga, through Tsaritsyn. To save the revolution it was imperative to get grain. Lenin appealed to the workers of Petrograd to organize expeditions into the countryside to help the poor peasants against the grain profiteers, kulaks and usurers. Stalin left for the South, invested by the Central Committee with extraordinary powers to superintend the mobilization of supplies in the south of Russia.

On June 6, 1918, Stalin arrived in Tsaritsyn with a detachment of workers. Combining as he did the talents of a political leader with those of a military strategist, Stalin at once realized the importance of Tsaritsyn, as the point at which the counterrrevolutionary forces were likely to deliver their main attack. The capture of Tsaritsyn would have cut off the republic from its last sources of grain supply and from the oil of Baku, and would have enabled the counter-revolutionaries in the Don region to join forces with Kolchak and the Czechoslovaks for a general advance on Moscow. Tsaritsyn had to be retained at all costs. After clearing the city of Whiteguard plotters with a stern hand and dispatching substantial supplies of food to the starving capitals, Stalin turned his whole attention to the defence of Tsaritsyn. He ruthlessly broke down the resistance of the counter-revolutionary military experts appointed and supported by Trotsky, and took swift and vigorous measures to reorganize the scattered detachments and to expedite the arrival from the Donbas of Voroshilov’s units, which subsequently formed the nucleus of the Tenth Army. Thanks to Stalin’s iron will and masterly foresight, Tsaritsyn was saved and the Whites were prevented from breaking through to Moscow.

The epic defence of Tsaritsyn coincided with the debacle of German imperialism in the Ukraine. In November 1918, revolution broke out in Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Central Committee commissioned Stalin to organize the Ukrainian Front and assist the Ukrainian workers and peasants. Twenty leading Party workers from the Tenth Army, headed by Comrade Voroshilov, were placed at his disposal. At the end of November the Ukrainian insurrectionary troops advanced against Petlura and the Germans and liberated Kharkov. Minsk, in the West, was also liberated. Stalin performed inestimable service in the liberation of the Western regions and the formation of the Byelorussian Republic.

On November 30, 1918, a Council of Workers’ and Peasants’ Defence was set up, headed by Lenin, to direct the entire work of defence, both at the front and in the rear, and to mobilize the industries, the transport system and all the resources of the country. Stalin was appointed to the Council as the representative of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, and virtually acted as Lenin’s deputy.

At the end of 1918 the situation on the Eastern Front had become catastrophic. Kolchak’s army was hastening to join forces with the British troops that were advancing from the North. Acting in the name of the Council of Defence, Lenin demanded that steps be taken to improve the situation at Perm. He proposed that Stalin and Dzerzhinsky be appointed by the Central Committee for this purpose. Arrived at the Perm Front, Stalin acted swiftly and drastically, and soon had the situation in hand. In the South, at Tsaritsyn, his iron will had prevented the counter-revolutionaries of the Don from joining forces with the counter-revolutionaries of the Urals and the Volga. In the North, he frustrated the attempt of the forces of intervention to form a junction with the Czechs and Kolchak. Cut off from his allies in the South and in the North, Kolchak was soon in full retreat before the Red forces.

Returning from the Eastern Front, Stalin addressed himself to the task of organizing the State Control, and, in March 1919, on Lenin’s nomination, was appointed People’s Commissar of the State Control, which body was later reorganized into the People’s Commissariat of Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection. In this post he remained until April 1922, performing inestimable service in the cause of enlisting the working people in the work of administering the state.

In May 1919, General Yudenich, with the support of the Finnish Whites and of Estonian troops, started a swift advance on Petrograd, with the aim of diverting the Red forces from Kolchak. This offensive was supported by a British naval squadron. A mutiny of the forts of Krasnaya Gorka and Seraya Loshad was engineered in the rear of the Red Army. The Red front wavered, and the enemy broke through to the very gates of Petrograd.

The Central Committee chose Stalin to organize the repulse of the Whites. Communists poured to the front. Stalin soon restored order, making short work of enemies and traitors in the armed forces. The mutinous forts were captured by a combined blow from land and sea, and the White troops were hurled back. The threat to Petrograd was removed. The plans of the Entente to capture that city were frustrated. Yudenich was routed, the remnants of his army taking refuge in Estonia.

In the summer of 1919, Stalin went to Smolensk, on the Western Front, to organize the resistance to the Polish offensive.

Beaten in this first campaign, the Entente, after having crushed the Soviets in Bavaria, Hungary, Estonia and Latvia, launched a new campaign in the autumn of 1919, enlisting, besides their own and White troops, the armies of the small states bordering on Russia. Winston Churchill, then British Secretary for War, referred to this attempt as “the campaign of fourteen states.”

While the Red Army was engaged in routing Kolchak in the East, Denikin seized the Donetz Basin and invaded the Ukraine along a broad front. Trotsky’s treacherous activities had disorganized the Southern Front, and the Red forces sustained defeat after defeat. Acting in support of Denikin, the Polish Whites captured Minsk. Yudenich launched a new offensive against Petrograd, while Kolchak tried to make a stand on the Tobol. Never had the enemy been within such close reach of the Soviet capital. The Donetz capitalists even offered a reward of a million rubles to the first White regiment to enter Moscow.

In face of this White offensive, Lenin issued an impassioned appeal on behalf of the Central Committee to all the Party organizations. “All for the fight against Denikin!” was his cry.

Mass reinforcements and munitions were rushed to the Southern Front. But a leader was needed to weld together the hundreds of thousands of men, to cement them by a single will and hurl them against the enemy. The Central Committee sent Stalin to organize victory on the Southern Front.

Chaos, consternation and a total lack of strategical plan was what this military leader of the revolution found when he arrived at the front. He at once set about clearing the staffs of Trotsky’s discredited placemen and demanded that Trotsky be not allowed under any circumstances to interfere in the affairs of the front. He scrapped the old plan, a criminally impracticable scheme to break through Denikin’s line by an advance from the Voliga (Tsaritsyn) to Novorossiisk, and drew up a plan of his own, which was a piece of masterly strategy. He proposed that the main blow be struck at Denikin from the Voronezh area through Kharkov, the Donetz Basin, and Rostov, so as to split the counter-revolutionary army in two. This plan would ensure the rapid advance of the Red Army, as the line of march lay through proletarian centres where the population was in open sympathy with the Red Army and impatiently awaiting its arrival, and where there was an extensive network of railways which would enable the troops to receive all necessary supplies. At the same time this plan would free the Donbas, with its coal fields—which would be a valuable source of the fuel the country so sorely needed and a reservoir of revolutionary forces.

Stalin’s plan was approved by the Central Committee.

Stalin left nothing undone to ensure victory. He intently followed the operations, correcting mistakes as they arose, selected the commanders and political commissars, and imbued them with his own fighting spirit. Under his direction, instructions for regimental commissars on the Southern Front were drawn up, in which their duties were defined in the following striking words:

“The regimental commissar is the political and moral leader of his regiment, the first to defend its material and spiritual interests. While the regimental commander is the head of the regiment, the commissar is its father and its souls.”1

Thanks to Stalin’s plan, Denikin was completely routed. It was on Stalin’s initiative that the glorious First Mounted Army was formed, which, commanded by Budyonny, Voroshilov and Shchadenko and supported by the other armies on the Southern Front, gave the coup de grâce to Denikin’s armies.

In the brief respite that the Soviet Republic received after the defeat of Denikin, Lenin placed Stalin in charge of restoring the war-devastated economy of the Ukraine. In February and March 1920 he headed the Council of the Ukrainian labour army and led the fight for coal. At this moment “coal is just as important for Russia as the victory over Denikin was,”2 he said, in an address to the labour army in March 1920. And under Stalin’s guidance the Ukrainian Bolsheviks registered substantial achievements in supplying the country with fuel and improving the work of the railways.

In May 1920, the Central Committee commissioned Stalin to the South-Western Front against the Polish Whites, who formed the spearhead of the third Entente campaign against the Soviet Republic. Here Stalin took part in directing the operations that broke the Polish Front and led to the liberation of Kiev and the advance of the Soviet troops to Lvov. In the same year Stalin organized the defence of the southern Ukraine against Wrangel, and outlined a plan for the destruction of his forces. Stalin’s recommendations formed the basis of Frunze’s plan of operations, which ended in Wrangel’s utter defeat.

Through all these years of civil war Lenin and Stalin worked in the closest collaboration. Together they built up and strengthened the Red Army. Lenin conferred with Stalin on all major questions of Soviet policy and on military strategy and tactics. When Stalin was in remote parts of the country fulfilling important political and military missions assigned to him by Lenin, they kept up a constant correspondence by letters, notes and telegrams. Stalin kept Lenin systematically informed of the situation at the fronts. In his letters and telegrams he gave masterly analyses of the military situation. lie invariably turned to Lenin for assistance and support whenever conditions at the front became particularly precarious. Lenin was always extremely attentive to Stalin’s requests. He kept him constantly informed of developments and shared with him political news. Stalin was Lenin’s chief mainstay in the organization and direction of the defence of the Soviet Republic.

During the Civil War the Central Committee of the Party, and Lenin personally, sent Stalin to the most important fronts, wherever the threat to the revolution was most imminent. Stalin was a member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic and of the Revolutionary Military Councils of the Western, Southern and South-Western Fronts. Wherever, for various reasons, the Red Army found itself in mortal danger, wherever the advance of the armies of counter-revolution and intervention threatened the very existence of the Soviet regime, there Stalin was sent to take the situation in hand. “Wherever alarm and panic might at any moment develop into helplessness and catastrophe,” writes Voroshilov, “there Comrade Stalin was always sure to appear.”3

And wherever he went, Stalin would organize the Party rank and file -and the worker masses, and firmly take the reins of leadership into his hands. With the help of the masses, he would ruthlessly crush all sabotage, suppress with an iron hand the conspiracies of traitors and spies in the rear and at the front. By his personal example, by his selfless labour and clear revolutionary perspective, he would rouse the fighting spirit and revolutionary enthusiasm of the workers and peasants and of the Red Army men, radically and swiftly improving the efficiency of the army and turning imminent defeat into brilliant victory.

He saw through and foiled the most artful and insidious strategic plans of the enemy, confounding their military “science,” “art” and training.

Stalin’s services in the Civil War received special recognition in a decision adopted by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, on Lenin’s motion, on November 27, 1919, awarding him the Order of the Red Banner.

It was the Bolshevik Party, headed by Lenin and Stalin, that created the Red Army—the first Red Army in the world, the army of the emancipated workers and peasants, of the brotherhood of the peoples of the Soviet country, an army trained in the spirit of internationalism. Lenin and Stalin it was who, with other outstanding leaders of the Bolshevik Party, directed the defence of the country.

It was Stalin who directly inspired and organized the major victories of the Red Army. Wherever the destinies of the revolution were being decided in battle, there the Party sent Stalin. It was he who drew up the chief strategical plans and who directed the decisive military operations. At Tsaritsyn and Perm, at Petrograd and in the operations against Denikin, in the West against the Polish gentry and in the South against Wrangel, everywhere Stalin’s iron will and strategical genius ensured victory for the revolution. It was he who trained and directed the military commissars, without whom, as Lenin said, there would have been no Red Army.

With Stalin’s name are linked the most glorious victories of the Red Army.



1.  Pravda, No. 344, December 14, 1939 (Editorial “Military Commissars”).

2.  Proletarian Revolution, No. 3, 1940, p. 164.

3.  K. E. Voroshilov, Stalin and the Red Army, p. 6, Moscow, 1942.

Next: Chapter VII