Marx-Engels | Lenin | Stalin | Home Page
TROTSKY, STALIN AND THE RED ARMY - CIVIL WAR IN THE USSRIntroduction
In Trotsky Against the Bolsheviks , Communist League & Alliance have examined the earlier history of Trotsky methodically. However, until now, we have not dealt with the myths surrounding Trotsky in the Civil War. These are however of Homeric proportions, and Marxist-Leninists should be familiar with a rebuttal. This the first of a two-part article, where we will start by examining the structure and the command of the Red Army up to 1919; a later article will specifically discuss the USSR-Polish war of 1920, and the Trotsky version of “export of revolution”.
A common perception amongst progressives is that Trotsky “saved” the revolution, indeed “made” the revolution, during the Civil War following the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks. Largely because Trotsky “made” the new Red Army. This is certainly the view of those like Trotsky himself. Trotsky presents himself as being guarded from Stalin’s ruthless attacks, by Lenin. According to Trotsky for example:“Stalin stayed in Tsarityn for a few months ..Lenin watched the conflict develop with alarm. … He knew Stalin better than I did, and obviously suspected that the stubbornness of Tsartisyn was being secretly staged by Stalin”;Trotsky, Lev “My Life”; New York; 1970; p. 441.At the same time according to Trotsky, Lenin really was just very distant from the details of the Civil War and could not have known what was needed – were it not for the all-informed Trotsky:“Lenin was too much absorbed .. to make trips to the front. I stayed at the fronts most of the time… After half an hour talk with me, our mutual understandings and complete solidarity were restored… a few days later.. Lenin was making a speech… “When Comrade Trotsky informed me that in our military department the offices are numbered in tens of thousands, I gained a proper understanding of what constitutes the secret sue of our enemy.. of how to build communism out of the bricks that the capitalists had gathered to use against us”;
Ibid; p,. 446-7.Naturally his followers such as Erich Wollenberg and more recently, Tony Cliff echo Trotsky, writing for example that:“ Trotsky’s building of the Red Army is rightly considered a gigantic achievement. By combining contradictory elements he produced a mighty army out of a void…in the train Trotsky demonstrated how the sword and the pen could act together in complete harmony…“
Cliff, T; Trotsky 1917-1923 - The Sword of the Revolution; London; 1990; p. 11, 95;However, these Heroic Myths are simply not consistent with the facts.
It is telling for instance, that when from Trotsky writes a long memo to the Central Committee, where Trotsky is urging on his own plans for the Southern Frontier as follows:“13. The division of the southern front into a south-eastern and a southern one consolidates organizationally the fundamental strategic mistake. At present between the commander in chief and the two southern groups there no longer stands one person responsible for the southern front…14. Despite the formal release of the commander in chief from the obligations of the original plan, the de facto situation remains such that even essential changes (the transfer of Budenny’s corps, the movement of the army to the west etc) are evaluated in the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Military Tribunal as “assaults” on the basic plan and implemented with extreme delay…. Conclusion .. It is essential to realise the actual extent of the danger. It is essential to order the commander in chief to take steps that will really save Tula from perdition”Lenin would simply write on this above memo as follows:“Nothing but bad nerves; - was not discussed at the plenum; it is strange to raise it now”;
Memo Trotsky to Central Committee dated 1st October 1919; In: Edited, Pipes R; The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive; New Haven; 1996; p. 73.It is very telling that the editor of these new files from the archives writes:“Trotsky’s note to the Central Committee holds interest for two reasons. First it shows how little familiarity Trotsky had with the operational plans of the Red Army, which he nominally headed. Written less than two months before the Red Army would decisively defeat General Denikin (and save Tula) it reveals that Trotsky either was unaware of the actual preparing for the Soviet counter-offensive or misunderstood them. Second Lenin’s cavalier dismissal of this advice indicates that he did not hold Trotsky’s military abilities in high esteem”;
Ibid; p. 69-70Both Lenin’s Collected Works for this period, and the papers known as the “Trotsky Papers 1917-1922”, [“The Trotsky Papers 1917-1922”; Ed J.M.Meijer; 1971; The Hague] show a further wealth of detail that Lenin was very well aware of events in the Civil war. It is evident that he was frequently directing Trotsky in numerous ways; or asking for very specific details that are only consistent with a deep understanding of the situation.
Finally, it is evident that Lenin was frequently consulting Stalin, and even urging him to intervene in areas where Trotsky’s command was failing. Resorting to Stalin to pull Trotsky’s military chestnuts out of the fire, became a habit of Lenin.
One basic later ideological position of Trotsky’s was that without socialism in other countries, the “Socialism in One Country” of the USSR would fail. This mistake of Trotsky’s has its roots early on, when he espoused the “permanent Revolution” . Rather than just leading ultimately to a serious error, it lead to serious errors in the immediate post 1917 era. This is exemplified in Trotsky’s ultra-leftist error at Brest-Litovsk, and in his conduct of the Polish Campaign.
Part One of this article follows, and will deal with the setting up of the Red Army, the struggles over the treachery Ex-Tsarist generals and the early stages of the Civil War, up to the Eight Party
Congress in March 1919. We will take the story from there to the Polish campaigns of 1920, to Part Two of this article in the next issue of Alliance Quarterly.
See in association with this article, some relevant texts of Stalin at: http://www.allianceML.com/STALIN-TXT/JVSCIVILWAR.html
Beginnings of the Red Army
When the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Bolshevik party overthrew the Provisional Government in Petrograd on the 8th November 1917, they set up the Council of Peoples Commissars (Sovnarkom). Recognising its debt to the soldiers and sailors, they struck a Committee on Army and Naval Affairs. The seizure of power could never have taken place without the army and navy militants who:“Prepared by the Bolsheviks, carried out fighting orders with precision and fought side by side with Red Guards. The navy did not lag behind the army. Since Kronstadt was a stronghold of the Bolshevik Party, and has long since refused to recognise the authority of the Provisional Government. The cruiser Aurora trained its guns on the Winter Palace, and on October 25th their thunder ushered in a new era, the year of the Great Socialist Revolution”;
Editors: A Commission of the CC of the CPSU(B); “A Short History of the Communist Party Soviet Union (Bolsheviks)”; Moscow; 1939; p.208.Already on the 8th October, the Second Congress of Soviets had adopted the Decree on Peace:“The congress called on the belligerent countries to conclude an immediate armistice for a period of not less than three months to permit negotiations for peace.”
“Short History CPSU(B)”; Ibid; p. 209.On the 10 November Lenin signed an order to demobilize the Imperial Army – until then still at war with Germany in the First World War. The army was 12 million strong, and Mikhail Kedrov oversaw the demobilization as deputy Army Commissar. By mid December Sovnarkom’s Appeal for Peace had not received any answer from the remaining warring nations. It was also clear the counter-revolutionaries were organising military forces. The Congress of Demobilization was still taking place, when Army Commissar Nikolai Podvoiskii , the first Narkomvoen (i.e. Commissar for Military & Naval Affairs – until March 13th 1918 when at his own request he stepped down from this post – Footnote no.3; Ibid; Meijer; p. 7) discussed with the Bolsheviks party Military Organisation the formation of a new army.
Initially Kedrov argued for an army based purely on industrial workers and peasants who had “proven loyalty” to the Bolshevik Party. But finally a proposal was agreed to that the army would be made up of “the labouring classes, workers and peasants with a firm proletarian core”; Cited von Hagen, Mark: “Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship. The Red Army & The Soviet socialist state 1917-1930”; Ithaca 1990; p.9.
But by January 1918, mass desertions from the army were rife, and soldiers committees were unilaterally dissolving units. Soldiers seized arms and went home. Luckily, since 1917, the soviets had been organising Red Guards and militias. It was these that had seized State Power for the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Bolsheviks, when they overthrew the Provisional Government. It was also these Red Guards that defended Petrograd on November 10th 1917, from the counter-revolution led by General Petr Krasnov and former minister-president Alexsandr Kerensky.
Engels had advocated a militia-like army, while the Paris Commune of 1870 had actually put this into practice. These examples inspired militia leaders like Valentin Trifonov who advocated that the Red Guards become formally, a peoples’ militia, as the backbone of the army. On January 15th, Sovnarkom struck the All-Russian Collegium to Organise a Worker-Peasant Red Army, which declared in the “Declaration of the Rights of the Laboring and Exploited”, the arming of all labourers and the formation of a socialist red army of workers and peasants. Guided by the movement from below, the army was envisaged as being a volunteer army from below:“Like everything in our revolution, the formation of a socialist army cannot await instructions from above. It must be formed from below, by the people themselves; therefore all organisations – factory and volost’ committees, local party organisations, trade unions, local soviets, and all Red Guard staff – immediately must set themselves to the task of organising the Socialist Army”;Cited von Hagen; Ibid p.21-22.The general model was of the Paris Commune and its fully volunteer army. The soldiers committees, rejecting any question of an officer leadership, discarded all traces of an officer layer. All military courts had been abolished by Sovnarkom in November, and replaced by comrade courts (tovarish-cheskie sudy). Also on December 1, 197, the Petrograd Military District abolished all ranks and insignia, and privileges for officers, and started the election of officers. It is on the face of it, surprising then that some 8,000 generals and officers of the Imperial army would wish to volunteer to serve the Soviet state. These officers were received with great suspicion, and the term “military specialists” pointed out their expertise, without drawing attention to their prior allegiances. In order to create a new ‘communist’ officer corps, Sovnarkom initiated courses for Red Commanders in December. By end of 1918, there were 13,000 red commanders through the state.
The first test of the new state defence forces came in Estonia, in 1918 at Narva – when the German army battled with the Red Guards. In the absence of central professional leadership, and the refusal of the Red Guards to accept any orders unless given by elected commanders, the rout was inevitable. Immediately after this, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was finally signed, and the Red Army was under pressure to adopt professional standards.
Brest-Litovsk and the Left Opposition
The objective situation of the fledgling socialist state was precarious. It was necessary to ensure that the unilaterally declared Peace proclaimed by the USSR, was accepted by the foreign warring armies:
“But the position of the Soviet Government could not be deemed fully secure as long as Russia was in a state of war with Germany and Austria. In order finally to consolidate the Soviet power, the war had to be ended. … The Soviet Government called upon "all the belligerent peoples and their governments to start immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace." But the "allies" -- Great Britain and France -- refused to accept the proposal of the Soviet Government. .. The Soviet Government, in compliance with the will of the Soviets, decided to start negotiations with Germany and Austria. The negotiations began on December 3 in Brest-Litovsk. On December 5 an armistice was signed. … It became clear in the course of the negotiations that the German imperialists were out to seize huge portions of the territory of the former tsarist empire, and to turn Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic countries into dependencies of Germany. To continue the war under such conditions would have meant staking the very existence of the new-born Soviet Republic. The working class and the peasantry were confronted with the necessity of accepting onerous terms of peace, of retreating before the most dangerous marauder of the time -- German imperialism -- in order to secure a respite in which to strengthen the Soviet power and to create a new army, the Red Army, which would be able to defend the country from enemy attack.“"Short History of the CPSU(B)": Ibid; p.215;Lenin’s proposal to sign an armistice with Germany and Austria, provoked a storm of antagonism of Ultra-Leftists in alliance with Russian ultra-nationalists. The opposition united under the name of the “Left Communists”, and was led by Trotsky:“All the counter-revolutionaries, from the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries to the most arrant Whiteguards, conducted a frenzied campaign against the conclusion of peace. Their policy was clear: they wanted to wreck the peace negotiations, provoke a German offensive and thus imperil the still weak Soviet power and endanger the gains of the workers and peasants. Their allies in this sinister scheme were Trotsky and his accomplice Bukharin, the latter, together with Radek and Pyatakov, heading a group which was hostile to the Party but camouflaged itself under the name of "Left Communists." Trotsky and the group of "Left Communists" began a fierce struggle within the Party against Lenin, demanding the continuation of the war. These people were clearly playing into the hands of the German imperialists and the counter-revolutionaries within the country, for they were working to expose the young Soviet Republic, which had not yet any army, to the blows of German imperialism.““Short History of the CPSUB“; Ibid; p.216.Trotsky, in disobeying the Central Committee’s instructions, provoked a crisis by refusing to sign the treaty, while the German imperialists used this provocation as an excuse to storm deeper into USSR territory:“On February 10, 1918, the peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk were broken off. Although Lenin and Stalin, in the name of the Central Committee of the Party, had insisted that peace be signed, Trotsky, who was chairman of the Soviet delegation at Brest-Litovsk, treacherously violated the direct instructions of the Bolshevik Party. He announced that the Soviet Republic refused to conclude peace on the terms proposed by Germany. At the same time he informed the Germans that the Soviet Republic would not fight and would continue to demobilize the army….The German government broke the armistice and assumed the offensive. The remnants of our old army crumbled and scattered before the onslaught of the German troops. The Germans advanced swiftly, seizing enormous territory and threatening Petrograd. German imperialism invaded the Soviet land with the object of overthrowing the Soviet power and converting our country into its colony. The ruins of the old tsarist army could not withstand the armed hosts of German imperialism, and steadily retreated under their blows.”“Short History of the CPSUB“; Ibid; p. 216.
Fortunately the rally of the Red Army at Narva, was able to “check” the advance. This then became known as the “birthday of the Red Army”:“The Soviet Government issued the call -- "The Socialist fatherland is in danger!" And in response the working class energetically began to form regiments of the Red Army. The young detachments of the new army -- the army of the revolutionary people -- heroically resisted the German marauders who were armed to the teeth. At Narva and Pskov the German invaders met with a resolute repulse. Their advance on Petrograd was checked. February 23 -- the day the forces of German imperialism were repulsed -- is regarded as the birthday of the Red Army.”Short History of the CPSUB“; Ibid p. 217.
As a consequence of the actions of the USSR delegate to the talks, Trotsky, the USSR was in an even more serious situation than before:“On February 18, 1918, the Central Committee of the Party had approved Lenin's proposal to send a telegram to the German government offering to conclude an immediate peace. But in order to secure more advantageous terms, the Germans continued to advance, and only on February 22 did the German government express its willingness to sign peace. The terms were now far more onerous than those originally proposed. Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov had to wage a stubborn fight on the Central Committee against Trotsky, Bukharin and the other Trotskyites before they secured a decision in favour of the conclusion of peace. Bukharin and Trotsky, Lenin declared, "actually helped the German imperialists and hindered the growth and development of the revolution in Germany." (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXII, p. 307.) On February 23, the Central Committee decided to accept the terms of the German Command and to sign the peace treaty. The treachery of Trotsky and Bukharin cost the Soviet Republic dearly. Latvia, Estonia, not to mention Poland, passed into German hands; the Ukraine was severed from the Soviet Republic and converted into a vassal of the German state. The Soviet Republic undertook to pay an indemnity to the Germans.”“Short History of the CPSUB“; p. 217.Because of the controversy with the Left Opposition, Lenin insisted that the decision to sign a Peace Accord be brought back for the approval or otherwise of the Seventh Party Congress:“In order that the Party might pronounce its final decision on the question of peace the Seventh Party Congress was summoned. the congress opened on March 6, 1918. This was the first congress held after our Party had taken power. It was attended by 46 delegates with vote and 58 delegates with voice but no vote, representing 145,000 Party members…. reporting at this congress on the Brest-Litovsk Peace, Lenin said that ". . . the severe crisis which our Party is now experiencing, owing to the formation of a Left opposition within it, is one of the gravest crises the Russian revolution has experienced." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VII, pp. 293-94.). The resolution submitted by Lenin on the subject of the Brest-Litovsk Peace was adopted by 30 votes against 12, with 4 abstentions…. .On the day following the adoption of this resolution, Lenin wrote an article entitled "A Distressful Peace," in which he said: "Intolerably severe are the terms of peace. Nevertheless, history will claim its own. . . . Let us set to work to organize, organize and organize. Despite all trials, the future is ours."(Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXII, p. 288.)”“Short History of the CPSUB“; Ibid; p.218.Obviously, the treaty was a retreat. But was it needed, and what was the result of signing the Brest-Litovsk Treaty?“The Peace of Brest-Litovsk gave the Party a respite in which to consolidate the Soviet power and to organize the economic life of the country. The peace made it possible to take advantage of the conflicts within the imperialist camp (the war of Austria and Germany with the Entente, which was still in progress) to disintegrate the forces of the enemy, to organize a Soviet economic system and to create a Red Army. The peace made it possible for the proletariat to retain the support of the peasantry and to accumulate strength for the defeat of the Whiteguard generals in the Civil War.”“Short History of the CPSUB“; Ibid; p. 219.
First Steps to a Professional Red Army
In the wake of this enforced “respite”, Sovnarkom began to reorganize the army.“The Narva defeat marked the first retreat from the principles of the commune in matters of defense.”Von Hagen M; ”Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship”; Ibid; p. 64.As part of the re-organisation, Lev Trotsky was appointed as commander in chief of the army, in place of the collegium. He was therefore the second Bolshevik Commissar for war, following Podvoiskii as discussed above.
Given the dearth of trained communist commanders, Trotsky moved to ensure that Sovnarkom would approve the recruitment of former Tsarist officers. Undoubtedly this was correct. What was incorrect was the lack of supervision and the favouring of these element over the political cadre. Inevitably, this was going to cause conflict with the soldiers committees. Trotsky had to appeal to the All Russian Central Executive Committee (VtsIK), who stated that all commanders in the Red Army would be only appointed by higher-ranking commanders. But even this compromise was still resisted, and elected commanders were still in position up to 1919. In a compromise known as “dual command” (dvoenachalie), each commander had to have a political equivalent – the commissar, and each order had to be signed by both. It was now that the All-Russian Bureau of Military Commissars (Vsebiurvoenkom) identified the soldiers committees as an obstacle in ensuring authority in the army, and moves were taken to disband them.
General Forces Ranged against the Bolsheviks Internally and Externally
Great Britain Serbia France China Japan Finland Germany Greece Italy Poland USA Rumania Czechoslovakia Turkey.“By the summer of 1919, without declaration of war, the armed forces of fourteen states had invaded the territory of Soviet Russia. The countries involved were:
Fighting side by side with the anti-Soviet invaders were the counter-revolutionary White armies led by former Czarist generals striving to restore the feudal aristocracy which the Russian people had overthrown”; Sayers M & Kahn AE; The Great Conspiracy”; Boston; 1946; p.79.The overthrown landowning classes were in conspiracy with the West for the defeat of the Bolsheviks:“Overthrown by the October Socialist Revolution, the Russian landlords and capitalist began to conspire with the capitalists of other countries for the organisation of military intervention against the Land of the Soviet…. 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 against the foreign invaders and the bourgeois and landlord Whiteguards”.Alexandrov GF et al: “Joseph Stalin – A Short Biography”; Moscow 1952; p.59.Following the end of the First World War, various regiments inside Russian territory were left stranded. The Czech regiment was on its way to their home in trains. But the provocation of Trotsky enlisting them into the Red Army, and their prior contacts with the Western imperial agents sparked some of the first shots of the Civil War. The conspiracy was shown clearly by the timing of the assaults:“The revolt of the Czechoslovaks, .. was timed to coincide with the revolts engineered by White Guards and Socialist-Revolutionaries in 23 cities on the Volga, a revolt of the Left SR in Moscow, and a landing of the British troops in Murmansk”;Alexandrov Ibid; p. 59-60.“Thus, already in the first half of 1918, two definite forces took shape that were prepared to embark upon the overthrow of the Soviet power, namely, the foreign imperialists of the Entente and the counter-revolutionaries at home. . . The conditions of the struggle against the Soviet power dictated a union of the two anti-Soviet forces, foreign and domestic. And this union was effected in the first half of 1918. . . . The imperialists of Great Britain, France, Japan and America started their military intervention without any declaration of war, although the intervention was a war, a war against Russia, and the worst kind of war at that.These "civilized" marauders secretly and stealthily made their way to Russian shores and landed their troops on Russia's territory. . . The British and French landed troops in the north, occupied Archangel and Murmansk, supported a local Whiteguard revolt, overthrew the Soviets and set up a White "Government of North Russia." The Japanese landed troops in Vladivostok, seized the Maritime Province, dispersed the Soviets and supported the Whiteguard rebels, who subsequently restored the bourgeois system.In the North Caucasus, Generals Kornilov, Alexeyev and Denikin, with the support of the British and French, formed a Whiteguard "Volunteer Army," raised a revolt of the upper classes of the Cossacks and started hostilities against the Soviets. On the Don, Generals Krasnov and Mamontov, with the secret support of the German imperialists (the Germans hesitated to support them openly owing to the peace treaty between Germany and Russia), raised a revolt of Don Cossacks, occupied the Don region and started hostilities against the Soviets. In the Middle Volga region and in Siberia, the British and French instigated a revolt of the Czechoslovak Corps. This corps, which consisted of prisoners of war, had received permission from the Soviet Government to return home through Siberia and the Far East. But on the way it was used by the Socialist-Revolutionaries and by the British and French for a revolt against the Soviet Government. The revolt of the corps served as a signal for a revolt of the kulaks in the Volga region and in Siberia, and of the workers of the Votkinsk and Izhevsk Works, who were under the influence of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. A Whiteguard-Socialist-Revolutionary government was set up in the Volga region, in Samara, and a Whiteguard government of Siberia, in Omsk.““Short History of the CPSU(B)”; p. 226.Three Fronts faced the Bolsheviks, and at the same time there were three major periods of the Civil War:“The war was fought across three main fronts - the eastern, the southern and the northwestern. It can also be roughly split into three periods. The first period lasted from the Revolution until the Armistice. The conflict began with dissenting Russian groups, the main force was the newly formed Volunteer Army in the Don region which was joined later by the Czecho-Slovak Legion in Siberia. In the east there were also two anti-Bolshevik administrations, Komuch in Samara and the nationalist Siberian government centred in Omsk. Most of the fighting in this first period was sporadic, involving only small groups amid a fluid and rapidly shifting strategic scene. The main antagonists were the Czecho-Slovaks, known simply as the Czech Legion, and the pro-Bolshevik Latvians.The final period of the conflict was the extended defeat of the White forces in the Crimea. Petr Nikolaevich Wrangel had gathered the remnants of the armies of Denikin and they had fortified their positions in the Crimea. With the Red Army fighting in Poland in the Polish-Soviet war from 1919 (or even earlier) the Whites held their positions until that struggle was over. When the full force of the Red Army was turned on them they were soon overwhelmed, and the remaining troops were evacuated to Constantinople in November 1920.”http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Russian-Civil-WarAll of these military threats, forced further steps towards a professional army, and on April 22 1918, VtsIK decreed an obligatory military training for all workers and peasants.“The party proclaimed the country an armed camp and placed its economic cultural and political life on a war footing. The Soviet Government announced that “the socialist fatherland is in danger”, and called upon the people to rise in its defence. Lenin issued the slogan , “All for the front!” – and hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants volunteered for service in the Red Army and left for the front.”“Short History USSR”; Ibid; p. 228.Von Hagen confirms these figures, citing some 500,000 new recruits and over 700,000 citizens trained by The Universal Military Training Demonstration (Vsevobuch) (ibid p. 36).
Vsevobuch was led by L.E.Mar’iasin. It retained the model of a volunteer militia rather than a regular army. But as the Civil War erupted in the East – foreign troops had landed in Vladivostok and in the North – the anti-Bolshevik risings stirred VtsIK into conscription. This was a difficult task however, in a war weary peasantry, and even proletariat. As food crises developed in the countryside, mutinies were more frequent.
As this crisis developed, VtsIK realised that the political commissar was the vital element, to solving of the army morale crisis. The first All-Russian Congress of Commissars in June, emphasised this saying it:“declared the commissar to be the direct representative of Soviet power and as such, an inviolable person. Any insult or other act of violence against a commissar while he was executing his official responsibility was equivalent to “the most serious crime against the Soviet regime”. The commissars demanded control over all comrades’ courts and the “cultural enlightenment life” of the army”;Von Hagen Ibid p. 32.Led by Nikolaii Podvoiskii, the Vesbiurvoenkom and Vsevobuch were instrumental in exerting this new authority of the commisars. The Fifth Congress of Soviets took place in July 1918 – amidst the Moscow uprising led by the Left Social Revolutionaries. Fortunately this revolt was soon suppressed. Consistent with the themes of labour discipline put for the by Lenin in his article, “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government”, the Congress moved to reaffirm the new principles of the Red Army:“Obligatory service, centralized demonstration and an end to local autonomy and arbitrary makeshift structures, the recruitment of military specialists; the death penalty for traitors, and the creation of a cohort of Red Commanders eventually to replace the (tsarist) military specialists, and the prominent status of commissars”;von Hagen Ibid p. 34.It was during this period that what became known as “war Communism came into effect. This was the introduction of the grain monopoly and several other industries. The term emphasises the linkage between the political actions of the Bolsheviks and the war conditions embraced by the White counter-revolutionaries:“The Soviet Government introduced War Communism. It took under its control the middle-sized and small industries, in addition to large-scale industry, so as to accumulate goods for the supply of the army and the agricultural population. It introduced a state monopoly of the grain trade, prohibited private trading in grain and established the surplus-appropriation system, under which all surplus produce in the hands of the peasants was to be registered and acquired by the state at fixed prices, so as to accumulate stores of grain for the provisioning of the army and the workers. Lastly, it introduced universal labour service for all classes. By making physical labour compulsory for the bourgeoisie and thus releasing workers for other duties of greater importance to the front, the Party was giving practical effect to the principle".“Short History of the CPSU(B); Ibid; p.229.These directly military steps at the congress were largely favoured by Trotsky. However the seeds of later conflicts lay in his tendency to favour the former Tsarist officers, rather than the commissar. Trotsky’s leadership of the army was still facing much opposition.
Trotsky as War Commissar
The major opposition to Trotsky’s leadership revolved around his espousal of the ex-Tsarist military specialists, and his attacks on the commissars for their questioning of these specialists’ authority. His credibility was not helped by the treachery of ex-Tsarist General Mikhail Murav’ev:“In July the commander of the Western Front Murav’ev, raised a mutiny against Soviet power under the banner of solidarity with the recent Left SR uprising in Moscow. Murav’ev had already been arrested once for abusing his authority; Trotsky had arranged not only his release but his promotion to command of the Eastern Front. Murav’ev was killed resisting his second arrest… Iokaim Vatsetis the hero of the Latvian infantry division that had just put down the Left SR uprising in Moscow [of July 6-7 1918 –ed], rushed off to Simbirsk to replace Murav’ev and reorganize the Eastern Front. Vatsetis arrived at HQ to find bureaucratic chaos… Vatsetis accused the Supreme Military Council – namely, Trotsky and Chief of Staff Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich – of reducing Soviet Russia to a state of “utter defenselessness”.Von Hagen Ibid; p. 37.Trotsky’s response to his decline in credibility did not endear him to the commissars. Trotsky accused the commissars of eroding a military discipline. He attracted more criticism when he ordered the shooting of Commissar Panteleev in 1918:“Trotsky’s authority declined markedly in the wake of the Murav’ev incident. He sought to deflect criticism from himself and the military specialists by blaming the commissars for the army’s poor performance; but he won the lasting enmity of the commissars after he ordered the court-martial and shooting of one of their number. Commissar Panteleev, for desertion. Though he had warned all commissars a few weeks earlier that they would be the first persons shot if their units retreated without authorisation, still the first execution sent shock waves through the ranks. Trotsky quickly developed a reputation as a commander who placed military expediency over political reliability and who listened too much to the military specialists who surrounded him in increasing numbers.” Von Hagen; Ibid; p. 37.In fact, although Trotsky prided himself on setting discipline, it was only after Vatsetis arrived in the Eastern Front that several field tribunals were set up, that tried cases of sabotage and treason (von Hagen Ibid; p. 37). Even then, the Cheka special investigations forces [All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combat of Counter-Revolution and Sabotage], and the introduction of the death penalty were needed to defeat the White forces:“The treachery of some military specialists and the frequently poor morale and fighting ability of the conscripts prevented the Red Army from halting the White advance during the summer months. The introduction of the death penalty and the field tribunals and the special detachments of the Cheka began to turn the tide.”Von Hagen Ibid; p. 38.Even as late as August 15th, Trotsky was finding it necessary to reassure Lenin that:“I consider it necessary to confirm once again that our troops are good ones and fighting with a will… as regards our organisation we have effected a great improvement… (but) the command apparatus is weak. Hence mishaps, and on occasion, panic retreats for no reason etc”;Message Trotsky to Lenin; In Meijer Ibid; p. 81.In spite of this reassurance, Lenin was sending messages the next day insisting that Skljanski (Trotsky’s second in command) attack “malpractice and criminal acts” in the army (Meijer Ibid; p. 83); and on the 18th August that Lenin was:“astonished and alarmed at the slowing down of the operation against Kazan’. What is particularly bad is the report of our having the fullest possible opportunity of destroying the enemy with your artillery”;Message Lenin to Trotsky; in Meijer Ibid; p. 91.Repetitively, the charge was brought against Trotsky by numerous commissars and Red Commanders, that he favoured in a blind manner the old Tsarist ex-generals. After an article in Pravda on this by a amber of the Central Executive Committee A.Kamenskij, Trotsky was even more defensive. Kamenskij was a Trotskyite, and thus no ‘hay’ can be made of any putative ‘Stalinist’ attempt to undermine him here. (See Letter to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party by Trotsky of December 25th 1918; in Miejer Ibid; p. 205-209; & footnote no.1).
It was in a desperate climate, with losses on many fronts, that the Central Committee began the call up of large numbers of Communist Party members, and only now in September:“For the first time the Red troops halted the White advance. The Central Committee credited the September victories to the energetic organising efforts undertaken by the Party members sent to the front as commissars, commanders and rank and file Red Army men”:Ibid p. 3.Even by September, the situation remained tense. the Soviet Government decreed martial law for the whole country. And although the Eastern fronts were succeeding, almost immediately the South erupted under the White armies of General Anton Denikin.
Now, 1,134,356 men were called up in the largest recruitment of the entire Civil War, between October and December 1918.
Stalin’s Mission to Southern Front at Tsaritsyn
Before Stalin was sent South, he had already drawn attention to the inaction in the East, and especially the attempt of the Germans to capture Certovo Station, controlling supply lines to Rostov. On the Sovnarkom’s initiative, Stalin was put in charge of the capture of Certkovo (Meijer J.M. Editor & Annotator, “The Trotsky Papers 1917-1922”; Hague 1964; p. 43). Given the evidence of serious deficiencies of the Eastern command under Trotsky, the Southern Front was created by the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic with its’ own revolutionary military council:“which included one military specialist, the former general Pavel Sytin, and three commissars J.V.Stalin, Kliment Voroshilov and Sergei Minin. Almost at once conflicts erupted between the military specialists and the commissars”;von Hagen Ibid p. 39.“At the end of May Sovnarkom had put Stalin in overall charge of supply in the South of Russia and had given him extraordinary powers”;Meijer J.M; Ibid; footnote No 1 p. 49.The context of this contentious mission (both then and now) is important to grasp. Tsaritsyn (later named Stalingrad) was a gateway to two granaries for the USSR state, the Ukraine and Siberia:“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 Southwest , the Volga region, and the North Caucasus , was the only area from which grain could still be obtained, and the road to them lay by way of the Volga, through Tsaritsyn. Only by procuring grain could the revolution be saved. … Stalin left for the South invested by the CC with extraordinary power to direct the mobilisation of food supplies in the South.. On June 6, 1918, Stalin arrived in Tsaritsyn…. The capture of Tsaritisyn would have cut off the republic from its last sources of grain supply and from the oil of Baku, and would have enabled the Whites to link the counter-revolutionaries in the Don region with Kolchak and the Czechoslovak counter-revolution for a general advance on Moscow”;Alexandrov Ibid; pp. 60-61.“The German imperialists did their utmost to isolate, weaken and destroy Soviet Russia. They snatched from it the Ukraine -- true, it was in accordance with a "treaty" with the Whiteguard Ukrainian Rada (Council) -- brought in their troops at the request of the Rada and began mercilessly to rob and oppress the Ukrainian people, forbidding them to maintain any connections whatever with Soviet Russia. They severed Transcaucasia from Soviet Russia, sent German and Turkish troops there at the request of the Georgian and Azerbaidjan nationalists and began to play the masters in Tiflis and in Baku. They supplied, not openly, it is true, abundant arms and provisions to General Krasnov, who had raised a revolt against the Soviet Government on the Don. Soviet Russia was thus cut off from her principal sources of food, raw material and fuel. …..”Short History CPSU(B) p.227-8However the aim of the White General Krasnov to cut off Moscow from the rear was not fulfilled:“Although the country was in a difficult position, and the young Red Army was not yet consolidated, the measures of defence adopted soon yielded their first fruits. General Krasnov was forced back from Tsaritsyn, whose capture he had regarded as certain, and driven beyond the River Don. General Denikin's operations were localized within a small area in the North Caucasus, while General Kornilov was killed in action against the Red Army. The Czechoslovaks and the Whiteguard-Socialist-Revolutionary bands were ousted from Kazan, Simbirsk and Samara and driven to the Urals. A revolt in Yaroslavl headed by the Whiteguard Savinkov and organized by Lockhart, chief of the British Mission in Moscow, was suppressed, and Lockhart himself arrested. The Socialist-Revolutionaries, who had assassinated Comrades Uritsky and Volodarsky and had made a villainous attempt on the life of Lenin, were subjected to a Red terror in retaliation for their White terror against the Bolsheviks, and were completely routed in every important city in Central Russia.”“Short History CPSU(B)”; Ibid; p.227-8; 228-229.In a separate web appendix, we publish the full correspondence of Stalin with Lenin on the situation in Tsaritsyn ; but here we will only cite the extent to which Stalin’s involvement in Tsaristyn was driven by the matter of disruption and plain disorder, hampering supplies back to the rear:“Arrived in Tsaristyn on the 6th. Despite the confusion in every sphere of economic life, order can be established.In Tsaritsyn, Astrakhan and Saratov the grain monopolies and fixed process were abolished by the Soviets, and there is chaos and profiteering. Have secured the introduction of rationing and fixed prices in Tsaritsyn. The same must be done in Astrakhan and Saratov, otherwise all grain will flow away though this profiteering channels. Let the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commisars also demand that these Soviets put an end to profiteering. Rail transport is dislocated owing to the efforts of the multiplicity of collegiums and revolutionary committees. I have been obliged to appoint special commisars; they are already establishing order despite the protests of the collegiums. The commissars are discovering heaps of locomotive in places there they did not suspect their existence. Investigation has shown that eight or more trains a day can be sent by the Tsartisy-Povorino-Balshov-Kozlov-Ryazan-Moscow line. Am now accumulating train in Tsaritsyn. Within a week we shall proclaim a “Grain Week” and shall dispatch to Moscow right away about one million poods..”; ]Stalin JV: Telegram to V.I.Lenin; Dated June 7th, 1918; In “Works”; Volume 4; p. 118-119; Moscow 1953.Stalin complained of Trotsky’s management directly to Lenin:“Comrade Lenin, Just a few words.1) If Trotsky is going to hand out credentials right & left without thinking – to Trifnov (Don Region); to Avtonomv (Kuban region); to Koppe (Stavropol), to members of the French Mission (who deserve to be arrested), etc – it may be safely said that within a month everything here in the North Caucasus will go to pieces, and we shall lose this region altogether. Trotsky is behaving in the same way Antonov did at one time. Knock it into his head that he must make no appointments without the knowledge of the local people, otherwise the result will be to discredit the Soviet power.2) If you don’t let us have the aeroplanes & airmen, armoured cars & 6 inch guns, the Tsaritsyn Front will be lost for a long time;3) There is plenty of grain in the South, but to get we need a smoothly working machine which does not meet with obstacles from troop trains army commanders & so on. More, the military must assist the food agents. The food question is naturally bound up with the military question. For the good of the work, I need military powers. I have already written about this, but have had no reply. Very well, in that case I shall myself without any formalities, dismiss army commanders and commissars who are ruing the work. The interest of this work dictate this, and of course, not having a paper from Trotsky is not going to deter me”.July 10th: Stalin JV: Letter to V.I.Lenin; in Works Volume 4; Ibid p. 123.By dint of correcting the imbalance towards "military experts”, Stalin turned the situation:“One favourable factor on the Tsaritsyn-Gashun Front is the complete elimination of the muddle due to the detachment principle, and the timely removal of the so-called experts (staunch supporters either of the Cossacks or of the British & French) have made it possible to win the sympathy of the military units and establish iron discipline in them”;Letter to Lenin dated August 4th 1918; Works Stalin; Ibid; p. 126.By September 6th the offensive for Tsaritsyn was successful (Stalin 'Works'; Volume 7 Telegram to Council of Peoples Commissars; Volume 4; p. 131.
That it was after the arrival of Stalin, that matters were turned around is acknowledged in Trotsky’s own papers, albeit indirectly. On June 7, Stalin informed Lenin and Christian Rakovskji, an “unrepentant Trotskyite” [Meijer Ibid footnote 6; p.49] from Caricyn (Tsaristyn), that Batajsk had been captured had been captured. Rakovskji wrote to Trotsky informing him of this, and that Sytin had already confirmed that the situation just one day after Stalin’s arrival, was untenable:“The sole line of communication of the these troops with Great-Russia, and that a circuitous one, across the Caspian Sea to Astrachan’ cannot even be regarded as satisfactory”;Message to Trotsky 7th June 1918; Meijer Ibid; p. 47.Stalin had found it necessary to stay in Tsaritsyn for some time, until by September 1918 the Front was secure. By this time, Stalin had been interviewed by Iszvestia on September 21 1918, and said:“First of all Comrade Stalin said, two gratifying facts should be noted: One is the promotion to administrative posts in the rear area of working men with an ability not only for agitating in favour of a Soviet power, but also for the building the state on a new, communist basis; the second is the appearance of a new corps of commanders consisting of officers promoted from the ranks who have had practical experience in the imperialist war, and who enjoy the full confidence of the Red Army men….”Stalin JV: “The Southern Front. Izvestia Interview”; September 21 1918; Volume 4; Ibid; p. 133-5.There is little doubt that Trotsky’s management of that Front had been clearly exposed.
Trotsky now insisted upon Stalin’s recall by threatening Vorsohilov’s court martial on October 4, 1918 (Trotsky “My Life”; p.443; Note Trotsky to Lenin 4.10.1918; in Meijer Ibid; p. 135-137). In fact as Meijer (Footnote no. 2; Ibid p. 136) makes clear, Trotsky’s action was precipitated by a telegram from Voroshilov and Stalin to Lenin on 3rd October complaining of Trotsky’s work.
Trotsky’s’ charges were that after Stalin’s arrival, Trotsky’s commands from the centre (Trotsky “My Life”; Ibid p. 442). On Trotsky’s promptings, the Orgburo and the RSVR supported Sytin and removed Stalin. However by the time of his recall, Stalin had both secured Tsaritsyn and formed the nucleus of the Tenth army under Voroshilov. Alexandrov points out that he achieved this by:“Ruthlessly breaking down the resistance of the counter-revolutionary military experts appointed and supported by Trotsky, and taking swift and vigorous measures to reorganize the scattered detachments”;Ibid; p. 61.Sytin was left in charge, until in October was removed from the command of the Southern Front (Meijer Ibid; p. 48). In the month of October, Stalin’s speeches on the Southern Front were given prominence in both Iszvestia and Pravda. These are reprinted on the Alliance web-pages [ ].
However there were further repercussions. Upon Stalin’s return to Moscow, he met with Lenin and Sverdlow, and reported further victories in the Tsaristyn area. Stalin pointed out to them that he had persuaded Vosroshilov and Minin to stay on, subject strictly to the central command. Further, in a letter from either Lenin or Sverdlov – it is stated:“(Stalin) would like very much to work on the Southern Front; he expresses great apprehension that people whose knowledge of this Front is poor may commit errors, of which he cite numerous examples. … He is not putting any stipulation about the removal of Sytin and Mechonosin… In informing you Lev Davydyc, … I ask you to think them over and let me have a reply, as to whether you agree to talk matters over with Stalin personally, and secondly, whether you consider it possible under specific circumstances to put aside former differences and range to work together with as Stalin so much desires”;Attributed by different sources to either Lenin or Sverdlow: Communication to Trotsky 23.10.1918; In Meijer Ibid; p. 159-161.Trotsky had no choice but to accede to Lenin’s obvious pressure to meet Stalin. However, Stalin did not return to the Southern Front. Instead his next military mission was his appointment to the Defense Council on November 30th, and then a special mission to investigate military failures in Perm’.
In the meantime, Voroshilov wrote urgently to Lenin complaining of the inability to obtain small arms and shells (See Telegram to Trotsky from Lenin 24 October 1918) to which Trotsky cavalierly replied that the “Crisis” was due to the “incredible, completely rabid expenditure of ammunition” at Tsartisyn (See Telegram Trotsky to Lenin 25 October 1918; Meijer Ibid; p. 163).
Typically of Trotsky, after he ridicules legitimate grievances, he then “discovers” the problem for himself, as instanced in a lengthy analysis of the problem [Memorandum to Lenin; copied to Krasin and Serpuchov; November 29, 1918; In Meijer Ibid; p. 187-191; p. 193]. The systemic problem of which Vosroshilov was complaining, was due to the small scale of the factories responsible, and the hostility of their former owners.
It is clear that the military commisars, and the Red Commanders had become ever more frustrated with the military leadership. This comes across loudly from the note of A.Egorov (Chairman of the Higher Credentials Commision of the Peoples Commissariat for Military Affairs), as early as 20th August 1918 to Lenin and Trotsky, where he chastises the command in rather simple and blunt terms, as though in a nursery school, as follows:“Practical military art and so the theory of it, bases itself wholly on the experience of the past… the necessity and the feasibility of a single command for directing warfare, in a word that the military leader must be given full power has been demonstrated by long experience.. Only a single uniform purpose can direct operations… the military axioms indicated above .. fail to find application in the military operations of the armies of the Republic.. A survey of all the operations in progress on the various fronts indicates that they contain no definite, uniform conception or purpose”;Egorov A to Lenin, cced Trotsky: Meijer Ibid; p. 90-97.
The Food Shortage
Morale fell drastically. Even many party members, as well as regular soldiers, now deserted, and Trotsky ordered summary executions of these soldiers and the arrest of all rural soviet chairmen in whose jurisdiction deserters were found (von Hagen; Ibid p. 46).
The problem of desertions was eased as the army men were given concessions: tax relief to the families of Red Army men and provision of free apartments to their families.
But as the Sixth Congress of Soviets in November 1918, turned more determinedly back to the peasant masses, these problems reversed. For many of the problems, had their roots in food shortages and privation in both the countryside and correspondingly the army. Illustrating the extent of this crisis are Lenin’s “Theses On The Current Situation”, of 26 May 1918. Again the seriousness of Stalin’s intervention at Tsaritsyn in June, is highlighted by an appreciation of the situation.
The Theses start by announcing the transformation of the Commissariat of War into the Commisariat for War and Food. The theses go on to outline a clear policy of a general martial law, and a stiffened army discipline, and call-ups to the army, and good relations with the peasantry:
“1) The Commissariat for War to be converted into a Commissariat for War and Food - i.e., 9/10 of the work of the Commissariat for War to be concentrated on re-organising the army for the war for grain and on waging this war - for three months: June-August.2) Martial law to be declared throughout the country during this period.3) The army to be mobilised, selecting its sound elements, and 19-year-olds to be called up, at any rate in certain regions, for systematic military operations to fight for, win, collect and transport grain and fuel.4) Shooting for indiscipline to be introduced.5) The success of detachments to be measured by success in obtaining grain and by practical results in collecting grain surpluses.6) The tasks of the military campaign should be formulated as follows:a) the collection of stocks of grain for feeding the population;b) ditto-for three months' food reserve for war;c) safeguarding stocks of coal, collecting them and increasing output.7) The detachments of the active army (active against kulaks, etc.) to consist of from one-third to one-half (in each detachment) of workers and poor peasants of the famine-stricken gubernias.8) Each detachment to be issued two kinds of instruction:a) ideological-political, on the importance of victory over famine and the kulaks, on the dictatorship of the proletariat as the working people's power;b) military-organisational, on the internal organisation of the detachments, on discipline, on control and written documents of control for each operation, etc.9) A collective liability of the whole detachment to be introduced, for example the threat of shooting every tenth man-for each case of plunder.10) All means of transport belonging to rich persons in the towns to be mobilised for work In transporting grain; well-to-do classes to be mobilised to act as clerks and stewards.11) If signs of demoralisation of the detachments become threateningly frequent, the "sick" detachments to be sent back after a month, i.e., exchanged, to the place from which they came, for report and "treatment".12) The following to be adopted both in the Council of People's Commissars and In the Central Executive Committee:(a) declaration that the country is in a state of grave danger as regards food;(b) martial law;(c) mobilisation of the army, together with its re-organisation as mentioned above, for the campaign for grain;(d) in each uyezd and volost with grain surpluses, immediate compilation of a list of rich owners of land (kulaks), grain traders, etc., making them personally responsible for the collection of all grain surpluses;(e) the appointment to each military detachment-at the rate of at least one out of approximately ten men- of persons with a party recommendation of the R.C.P., the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries or the trade unions.13) In implementing the grain monopoly the most vigorous measures for assistance to the rural poor to be made obligatory without shrinking from any financial sacrifices, and measures for free distribution among them of part of the grain surpluses collected from the kulaks, side by side with ruthless suppression of kulaks who withhold grain surpluses.”Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pages 406-407.
Continued Professional Development of the Army – Partisans or Guerillas
After Lenin’s Theses of May, clearer signs of ensuring the solidarity of the peasants appeared. Rural soviets were being urged now to mend relations with the poor and middle peasants. Army units composed only of poor peasants were now formed. Steadily the ‘militarization’ – or professionalisation of the army proceeded.
The conflicts between commissars and military specialists were numerous in 1918, as in 1918 75% of the Red Army commanders were from the old army. Another layer of authority was the Cheka, which again blurred clear lines of authority. Further divisions at rank-and-file level also now erupted as the party recruits, who insisted on reporting to their own communist party cells in the local party and armies. The commissars were being cramped on two sides now – from the Military specialists at one end, and form the other end separate Party organisations. At the same time elements of the party members were ‘lording’ it over the other recruits.
The old Red Guard militias had slowly evolved into another voluntarist model, of the rural partisans or guerrillas. These also maintained elections of commanders and anti-authoritarian principles, and represented in a sense the peasant based self-defence units as central authority had broken down in many parts.
At first, while these partisans were fighting against the German and Austrian occupying forces, or against the Whites of hetman Petlurya in Ukraine, several commanders and some commissars (including Voroshilov, Stalin, and Budyenni) had initially supported them. But as these partisans resisted attempts to integrate into the Red army, and proved unreliable in joint actions, and moreover appointed SR and anarchist political advisers, matters changed. A strong anarchist, rural petit-bourgeois element with some forces led by Nestor Makhno, proved further illustrations of the need for discipline.“The partisans were very similar to the Red Guards. In this sense the rural partisan forces were inspired by the larger revolutionary repudiation of super ordinate authority which had brought the Bolsheviks to power in 1917; indeed, at first several Red commanders and some commissars including such influential ones as Voroshilov, Stalin & Budennyi defined the partisans as truly revolutionary fighting forces. As long as the partisans were waging their struggle against the German & Austrian occupation forces in 1918 or against the hetman’s regime in the Ukraine, especially when the red Army was still organising its first units, the Soviet Government welcomed their aid, even if it already looked on their practices with some misgivings. By late 1918 and early 1919, the attitude of the center had changed decisively…. The partisans were resisting all attempts to integrate them into the Red Army’s forces.”von Hagen, Mark: “Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship. The Red Army & The Soviet socialist state 1917-1930”; Ithaca 1990; p.52-3.Disaster at Perm – and Stalin’s Mission to Perm
Trotsky does not contest that Stalin and the head of the Cheka – Felix Djersinksi - were ordered to the Front to investigate shortcomings of the army. Ass Lenin put it:“The news from Perm’ area is extremely alarming. Perm’ is in danger…… Perm is in a dangerous position. I consider it essential that reinforcements be dispatched….”Lenin To Trotsky; in Meijer Ibid; 13th December 1918; 14th December 1918; Pages 195; 197).By the December 31 1918, Lenin was writing as follows:“A number of Party reports have come in form the Perm’ area about the catastrophic state of the army and about drunkenness. I am forwarding them to you. You are asked to go there. I had thought of sending Stalin; I am afraid that Smilga will be lenient with Lasevic who, it is said, is also drinking and is not fit state to restore order. Telegraph your opinion”;Telegram to Trotsky & Kozlov; In Meijer Ibid; p. 229.Trotsky had no option but to accede to Stalin’s mission, while trying to defend Lasevic with another promotion:“I entirely share your apprehension as to the excessive softness of the comrade who has left. I agree to the journey of Stalin with full authority from the Party and the Military Revolutionary Council of the Republic, for the purpose of restoring order, purging the commissar personnel and severely punishing offenders. I recommend that Lasevic be appointed Member of the Military Revolutionary Council on the Northern Front..” Telegram Trotsky to Lenin: January 1, 1919; in Meijer Ibid; p. 229-31.“The investigation has begun. We shall keep you regularly informed of its progress. Meanwhile.. one urgent need of the Third Army.. The fact is that of the Third Army (more than 30,000 men), there remain only about 11,000 weary and battered soldiers who can scarcely contain the enemy’s onslaught. The troops sent by the Commander-in-chief are unreliable, in part even hostile, and require thorough sifting. To save the remnants of the Third Army and to prevent a swift enemy advance on Vyatka (according to all reports from the command of the front and the Third Army this is very real danger) it is absolutely essential urgently to transfer at least three thoroughly reliable regiments from Russia and place them at the disposal of the army commander. We urgently request you to exert pressure on the appropriate military authorities to this end.”;Stalin JV & Dzerzhinsky F: Letter to V.I.Lenin From the Eastern Front”; January 5th 1919. Works; Volume 4; 190-193.From this time on, increasingly there are concerns being raised by Lenin, at Trotsky's management:“I am very disturbed as to whether you have not got absorbed in the Ukraine to the detriment of the over-all strategic task on which Vecetis insists and which consists in launching a rapid, determined, and general offensive against Krasnov. I am afraid that we are behindhand with this and that the latest success of Krasnsov’s forces are Caricyn (Tsaritsyn) will result again in our putting off our offensive and letting the moment slip by”:Telegram Lenin to Trotsky; 3 January 191; in Meijer Ibid; p. 237.Although Trotsky defended his Ukraine actions, and blamed “Stalin’s protection of the Tsaritsyn trend the most dangerous sort of ulcer, worse than any act of perfidy or treachery on the part of the military specialists” [January 11th 1919 Telegram to Lenin: In Meijer Ibid; p. 251), Lenin cannot have been overly impressed with this.
For because by January 31 1919, Felix Dzerzhinsky (Head of the Cheka) & Stalin had provided a very detailed exposure of the fall of Perm’ [Stalin’s Works Volume 4; Report to Lenin; Ibid; pp194-199; & Report to Comrade Lenin by the Commission of the party CC and the Council of Defence on the reasons for the fall of Perm in December 1918: p 202-232. [See web-site of Alliance reprint at ].
In brief the main findings were that:“Disaster was inevitable… apparent by end of November, when the enemy.. surrounded the Third Army… and launched a fierce attack on Khusva. .. The morale and efficiency of the army were deplorable owing to the weariness of the units, .. there were no reserves whatever. The rear was totally insecure ( a series of demolitions of the railway track in the rear of the army). The food supply of the army was haphazard and uncertain (at the most difficult moment, when a furious assault was launched against the 29th division, its units were in action for five days literally without bread or other food).Although it occupied a flank position , the Third army was not secured against envelopment form the North.. As to the extreme right flank, the neighbouring army, the Second, being immobilized by a vague directive form the Commander-in-chief (Trotsky-ed) .. and compelled to remain immobile for 10 days, was not in a position to render timely support to the Third Army by advancing at the most crucial moment before the surrender of Khushva (close of November)……… in 20 days, the army in its disorderly retreat retreated more than 300 versts… losing in this period 18,000 men, scores of guns and hundreds of machine guns…….Strictly speaking it was not a retreat still less could it be called an organised withdrawal of units to new positions; it was an absolutely disorderly flight of an utterly routed and completely demoralized army… The noisy laments of the Revolutionary Military Councils and Third Army HQ that the disaster was a “surprise only prove that these institutions were out of touch with the army, had no inkling of the fatal significance of the events at Khusha and Lysva and were incapable of directing the army’s actions”;The Commission: Stalin & Dzerzhinsky; Report to Comrade Lenin by the Commission of the Party CC and the Council of defence On the Reasons for the Fall of Perm’ in December 1918; in “works”; Volume 4; Ibid; p. 202-232.Following this clear instance of Stalin’s military analytical superiority, Lenin again proposes to resort to Stalin’s help over this period in a number of different fronts. There had been a long series of problems related to food shortages to the army, and sabotage of the rail links ensuring food distribution, at each crisis point Lenin got rapidly involved:
“ 29.1.1920; To Military Council of the 5th Army – Smirnov:Pjakes reports that there is manifest sabotage on the part of the railway workers. The Omsk railway works , which employ 3,000 workers, have produced no locomotives and four railway wagons in the space of a month: there are suspicions of sabotage by the Izevsk workers; I am surprised that you are putting up with this and do not punish sabotage with shooting; also the delay over the transfer here of locomotives is manifest sabotage; please take the most resolute measures.Lenin “.Meijer Ibid: Volume 2: number 444 of documents; pp 21-22.And shortly thereafter Lenin upbraids Trotsky as follows:“ 1.2.1920;Lenin to TrotskyThe situation with regard to railway transport is quite catastrophic; Grain supplies no longer get through. Genuine emergency measures are required to save the situation. For a period of 2 months, measures of the following kind must be put into force….1. The individual bread ration is to be reduced for those not engaged on transport work; & increased for those engaged on it;2. Three quarters of the senior Party workers fro all departments except the Commissariats of Supply and of Military Affairs, are to be drafted to railway transport…”Chairman of the Council of Defence V. Ulyanov Lenin.”Meijer, Ibid; Volume 2; Document 445; p. 23.In response to emergency crisises, Lenin again turned to … Stalin:“3-4 February 1920;The CC considers it essential in order to save the situation that you should go at once to the right flank of the Caucasus Front via Debal’cevo where Sorin is at the moment. At the same time, you must take urgent measures to transfer substantial reinforcements and Party workers from the Southwestern Front. In order to put matters on a proper footing you will be made a member of the Military Revolutionary Council of the Caucasus Front while continuing at the same time to belong to the Military Revolutionary Council of the South-Western Front.Lenin, Trotsky;”Document 446. Meijer Ibid; Volume 2; pp26-27.In reply to this, Stalin [then in Kursk] tried to argue that:“my profound conviction is that my journey would not bring about any change in the situation; that it is not journeys by individuals that are needed but the transfer of cavalry reserves, the Southwest being without them”;Document 447; In Meijer Ibid; p, 27.Lenin agreed provided:“ that the next weeks, you concentrate all your attention and energy on serving the Caucasus Front, subordinating to it the interests of the South Western Front”;Document 448; Ibid; p.29.Although this has been variously presented by Trotsky as insubordination or even ‘laziness’, it is likely that Stalin was at least unwilling to simply pull Trotsky’s chestnuts out of the fire, and then end up being again side-lined. However the situation in the army was soon to change.
There were later Stalin missions to Petrograd, and to the Crimea, which are dealt with in Part Two of this article.
The Eight Party Congress – The Military Opposition
Many, including Trotsky and Old Bolsheviks like Mikhail Frunze ( a commander on the Eastern Front) had complained of the unruliness of the partisan elements. But this was only one aspect of things going wrong, and Trotsky was under scrutiny. Matters came to a head at the Eight Party Congress of 18 March 1919. It was at this meeting that the lessons of recent defeats would be drawn.
As the Short History of the CPSU(B) puts it, the 8th Congress was a “turning point” in the party, on the question of the peasantry:“The Eighth Congress marked a turning point in the policy of the Party towards the middle peasants. Lenin's report and the decisions of the congress laid down a new line of the Party on this question. The congress demanded that the Party organizations and all Communists should draw a strict distinction and division between the middle peasant and the kulak, and should strive to win the former over to the side of the working class by paying close attention to his needs. The backwardness of the middle peasants had to be overcome by persuasion and not by compulsion and coercion…..The policy adopted by the congress towards the middle peasants, who formed the bulk of the peasantry, played a decisive part in ensuring success in the Civil War against foreign intervention and its Whiteguard henchmen. In the autumn of 1919, when the peasants had to choose between the Soviet power and Denikin, they supported the Soviets, and the proletarian dictatorship was able to vanquish its most dangerous enemy.“Short History of the CPSU(B); Ibid; p. 234-5.The Eighth Party Congress took place in a climate when it was clear that there had been some serious defeats under Trotsky’s Command. The failed defence of the city of Perm was a case in point:“At the end of December the city of Perm fell to Kolchak’s armies and threatened the Boshevik stronghold of Vlatka. .. the response to the military defeat.. the string of failures had emboldened Trotsky’s critics to attack him directly. “von Hagen Ibid; p. 55.The meeting brought to a head all the varying tensions about discipline and of leadership, and was the end of the Paris Commune model for organisation:“The defeat of the Military opposition at the Eight Party Congress was the definitive defeat of the commune model in the Soviet Republic until the end of the Civil War.”von Hagen Ibid; p. 65.At the 8th Party Congress on 18 March 1919, some 403 delegates attended, of whom 40 represented the 31000 party members in the Red Army. Trotsky was ill, but Grigorii Sokol’nikov presented the Theses of the Commissariat – largely drafted by Trotsky. These largely declared the need to eliminate vestiges of volunteer army organising and to tighten discipline. However, his defence on behalf of the military specialists was not well received.
At the Congress, the so-called Military opposition took shape. Vladimir Smirnov presented their theses:“The Military opposition contended that the commissars deserved more than a narrow control function, because they already had more combat experience than many military specialists”;von Hagen Ibid; p. 59.The peasant question was closely tied to the building of the Red Army. That serious discontented was being voiced by the Military Opposition was clear:“The problems connected with the building up of the Red Army held a special place in the deliberations of the congress, where the so-called "Military Opposition" appeared in the field. This "Military Opposition" comprised quite a number of former members of the now shattered group of "Left Communists"; but it also included some Party workers who had never participated in any opposition, but were dissatisfied with the way Trotsky was conducting the affairs of the army. The majority of the delegates from the army were distinctly hostile to Trotsky; they resented his veneration for the military experts of the old tsarist army, some of whom were betraying us outright in the Civil War, and his arrogant and hostile attitude towards the old Bolshevik cadres in the army.Instances of Trotsky's "practices" were cited at the congress. For example, he had attempted to shoot a number of prominent army Communists serving at the front, just because they had incurred his displeasure. This was directly playing into the hands of the enemy. It was only the intervention of the Central Committee and the protests of military men that saved the lives of these comrades. But while fighting Trotsky's distortions of the military policy of the Party, the "Military Opposition" held incorrect views on a number of points concerning the building up of the army. Lenin and Stalin vigorously came out against the "Military Opposition," because the latter defended the survivals of the guerrilla spirit and resisted the creation of a regular Red Army, the utilization of the military experts of the old army and the establishment of that iron discipline without which no army can be a real army".
Short History of the CPSU(B); Ibid; p. 235.The Congress Military policies decided, were essentially two-fold:
Firstly correcting the work of Trotsky and calling for professional change – this was a rebuke of Trotsky;And Secondly, rejecting the leftist path of the Military opposition:“While rejecting a number of proposals made by the "Military Opposition," the congress dealt a blow at Trotsky by demanding an improvement in the work of the central military institutions and the enhancement of the role of the Communists in the army.”Short History CPSU(B); Ibid; p. 235.The Central Committee struck a special committee of three Central Committee members (Stalin, Grigori Zinoviev and the military commissar of the Petrograd labour Commune Boris Pozern) and two members of the Military Opposition (Emel’ian Iaroslovaskii and G.I. Safarov). As far as Stalin’s participation at both the Congress, and the special meeting is concerned, on March 21, 1919 – Stalin had vigorously opposed the continued vestiges of ‘volunteerism’, that were reflected in Smirnov’s espousal of a volunteer army:
“All the questions touched upon here boil down to one: is Russia to have, or not to have, a strictly disciplined regular army?
Six months ago, after the collapse of the old, tsarist army, we had a new, a volunteer army, an army which was badly organized, which had a collective control, and which did not always obey orders. This was at a time when an Entente offensive was looming. The army was made up principally, if not exclusively, of workers. Because of the lack of discipline in this volunteer army, because it did not always obey orders, because of the disorganization in the control of the army, we sustained defeats and surrendered Kazan to the enemy, while Krasnov was successfully advancing from the South. . . . The facts show that a volunteer army cannot stand the test of criticism, that we shall not be able to defend our Republic unless we create another army, a regular army, one infused with the spirit of discipline, possessing a competent political department and able and ready to rise at the first command and march against the enemy.
I must say that those non-working-class elements -- the peasants -- who constitute the majority in our army will not voluntarily fight for socialism. A whole number of facts bear this out. The series of mutinies in the rear and at the fronts, the series of excesses at the fronts show that the non-proletarian elements comprising the majority of our army are not disposed to fight for communism voluntarily. Hence our task is to re-educate these elements, infusing them with a spirit of iron discipline, to get them to follow the lead of the proletariat at the front as well as in the rear, to compel them to fight for our common socialist cause, and, in the course of the war, to complete the building of a real regular army, which is alone capable of defending the country.
That is how the question stands.
. . . Either we create a real workers' and peasants' army, a strictly disciplined regular army, and defend the Republic, or we do not, and in that event our cause will be lost.. . . Smirnov's project is unacceptable, because it can only undermine discipline in the army and make it impossible to build a regular army. “
J. V. Stalin, Excerpt From A Speech On The Military Question Delivered At The Eighth Congress Of The R.C.P.(B.). Works; Vol. 4, pp. 258-59. Moscow, 1953;or at http://www.marx2mao.org//Stalin/SPQ19.html
It cannot be denied by even the most vigorous admirer of Trotsky, that Trotsky had been rebuked. For, in his papers is found an extract of the Minutes of the Meeting of the CC of the RCP held on 25th March 1919, where Trotsky is instructed to meet on a monthly basis with party workers:
“Comrade Zinoviev announced that the Military Section of the Congress had succeeded in attaining unanimity, thanks to our having made a concession of a kind, and adopted resolutions which it was decided not to make public at the Congress, namely:1) On the reorganization of the All Russian General Staff;2) On Field HQ;3) On an obligatory monthly conference between Comrade Trotsky and Party workers.Cmde Zinoviev considered that the Congress had , by token of its entire line of conduct on the military question, administered a serious caution and that, in consequence of this, it was inadmissible that all its direction should be treated with insufficient heed, and that, for this reason, it was essential for Comrade Lenin to talk things over with Comrade Trotsky… . .
The Meeting Decided that:A written approach be made to Comrade Trotsky, this is to be in 3 sections:1) Comrade Zinoviev statement;2) The unpublished resolutions together with an explanation as to why they constitute the expression of the genuine wishes of the Congress;3) The resolution of the Political Buro of the CC”;Minutes of Meeting of the CC, RCP (Bolsheviks); new convocation held on 25th March 1919: Present Comrades, Lenin, Zinoviev, Krestinskji, Bukharin, Stalin, Tomski, Kamenev, Dzerinskji, Beleborodov, Muranov, Evdokimo, Serebrjakov, Stasova.In Meijer Ibid; p. 319-321.
Typically of Trotsky, a rather long-winded reply that attempts to exculpate himself form any criticism followed, with imputations of psychological disease to Voroshilov, in March (undated) [In Meijer Ibid; p. 325-335].
Conclusions Part One
We will argue that the Homeric Myth of the Super Hero of the Civil War – not the first – but the Second Commissar of war – had been already somewhat dented by these above facts. We will return to the matter in examining the drive of the Red Army to Poland.
It may be asked here, did Comrade Trotsky finally accept the critique offered by the CC of the RCP?It will appear not, when we move forward.It could also be asked, did Comrade Stalin defer to the military experts, following this period? It appears not:“Following the capture of Krasnaya Gorka, Seraya Losad has been taken. Their guns are in perfect order. A rapid check of all the forts and fortresses is under way.Naval experts assert that the capture of Krasnaya Gorka form the sea runs counter to naval science. I can deplore so-called science. The swift capture of Gorka was due to the grossest interference in the operations by me and civilians generally, even to the point of counter-manding orders on land and sea and imposing our own.
I consider it my duty to declare that I shall continue to act in this way in future, despite all my reverence for science”;
Stalin Telegram to V.I. Lenin: June 16trh 1919; Volume 4 Ibid; p. 271.