Friday, August 12, 2005

Trotsky's 'Stalin' - Chapt 9 Civil War



There is a riot at every step as one goes through current historical publications: in Brest-Litovsk Trotsky did not carry out Lenin’s instructions; at the Southern Front Trotsky went against Lenin’s directives; on the Eastern Front Trotsky acted contrary to Lenin’s orders, and so forth and so on. In the first place, it should be pointed out that Lenin could not give me personal directives. Relations in the Party were not like that. We were both members of the Central Committee, which settled all differences of opinion. Whenever there was a disagreement between Lenin and me, and such disagreements occurred more than once, the question was automatically referred to the Politburo of the Central Committee, which made the decision. Hence, strictly speaking, it was never in any way a question of my violating Lenin’s directives. But this is only one aspect of the matter – the formal one. Getting down to essentials, one cannot help asking: was there any sound reason for carrying out the directives of the Lenin had placed at the head of the War Department a person who committed nothing but errors and crimes; at the head of the national economy – Rykov, a “self-confessed” restorer of capitalism and future agent of Fascism; at the head of the Communist International – that future Fascist and traitor, Zinoviev; at the head of the Party’s official newspaper and among the leaders of the Communist International – that future Fascist bandit, Bukharin?

All those who headed the Red Army during the Stalinist period –Tukhachevsky, Yegorov, Bluecher, Budenny, Yakir, Uborevich, Gamarnik, Dybenko, Fed’ko, [Kork, Putna, Feldman, Alksnis, Eidemann, Primakov, and many others]’ –were each in his time advanced to responsible military posts when I was the head of the War Department, in most cases advanced personally by me during my tours of the fronts and during my direct observation of their war work. However bad, therefore, my own leadership was, it was apparently good enough to have selected the best available military leaders, since for more than ten years Stalin could find no one to replace them. True, almost all the Red Army Leaders of the Civil War, all those who subsequently built our army eventually proved to be “traitors” and “spies.” But that does not alter the case. It was they who had defended the revolution and the country. If in 1933 it developed that it was Stalin and not anyone else who had built the Red Army, then it would seem that the responsibility for selecting such a staff of commanders should fall upon him. From this contradiction official historians extricate themselves not without some difficulty, yet with aplomb. The responsibility for the appointment of traitors to commanding positions is placed entirely upon me, while the honor of the victories secured by these very traitors belongs indisputably to Stalin. Today this unique division of the historical function is known to every school boy from a History edited by Stalin himself.

There are two aspects to military work in the epoch of the Civil War. One was to select the necessary workers, to make proper disposition to them, to establish the necessary supervision over the commanding staff, to extirpate the suspects, to exert pressure, to punish. All of these activities of the administrative machine suited Stalin’s talents to perfection. But there was also another side, which had to do with the necessity of improvising an Army out of human raw material, appealing to the hearts of the soldiers and the commanders, arousing their better selves, and inspiring them with confidence in the new leadership. Of this Stalin was utterly incapable. It is impossible, for example, to imagine Stalin appearing under the open sky before a regiment; for that he did not have any qualifications at all. He never addressed himself to the troops with written appeals, evidently not trusting his own seminarist rhetoric. His influence at those sectors of the front where he worked was not significant. It remained impersonal, bureaucratic and policemanlike.

I remember during the Civil War asking a member of the Central Committee, Serebryakov, who at that time was working with Stalin in the Revolutionary Council of War of the Southern Front, whether he could not manage without Stalin for the sake of economizing forces? Serebryakov replied: “No, I cannot exert pressure like Stalin. It is not my specialty.” The ability to “exert pressure” was what Lenin prized so highly in Stalin. The more the state machine for “exerting pressure” gained momentum and the further the spirit of the revolution was removed from this machine, the more confident Stalin felt.

If the front attracted Stalin, it also repelled him. The military machine guaranteed the possibility of issuing orders. But Stalin was not at the head of that machine. At first he headed only one of twenty armies; later he was at the head of one of the five or six fronts. He established severe discipline, held his hand firmly on all the levers, did not tolerate disobedience. At the same time, while at the head of the army, he systematically instigated other to violate the orders of the front. In command of the Southern or Southwestern Front, he violated orders of the Chief Command. In the Tsarist army, in addition to military subordination there existed an unwritten subordination: the Grand Dukes who held one or another commanding or high administrative post often ignored their superior officers and introduced chaos in the administration of the army and navy. I remember remaking to Lenin that Stalin, taking undue advantage of his position as member of the Central Committee of the Party, was introducing the regime of the Grand Dukes in our army. [Ten years later] Voroshilov [glibly admitted in his essay on] Stalin and the Red Army, “Stalin was ready to go counter to any regulation, any subordination.” Gendarmes are recruited from poachers.

Conflicts between the lower and higher orders are in the nature of things. The army is almost always dissatisfied with the front, the front is always agitating against the General Staff, especially when things do not go very happily. What characterized Stalin is that he systematically exploited these frictions and developed them into bitter feuds. Drawing his collaborators into dangerous conflict, Stalin thereby welded them together and placed them in dependence upon himself. Twice he was recalled from the front by direct order of the Central Committee. But at each new turn of events he was again sent out. Notwithstanding repeated opportunities, he acquired no prestige in the Army. However, those military collaborators who were under his command, once having been drawn into the struggle against the Center, remained in the future closely connected with him. The Tsaritsyn group became the nucleus of the Stalinist faction.

Stalin’s role in the Civil War may perhaps be measured best of all by the fact that at the end of it his personal authority had not grown in the least. It could never enter anyone’s head at that time to say or to write that Stalin “saved” the Southern Front or had played an important role on the Eastern Front or even that he had saved Tsaritsyn from falling. In numerous documents, reminiscences and anthologies devoted to the Civil War, Stalin’s name either is not mentioned at all or is mentioned among a lot of other names. Moreover, the Polish War placed on his reputation – at least, in the more well-informed circles of the Party –an ineradicable stain. He evaded participation in the campaign against Wrangel, whether actually because of illness or because of other considerations, it is difficult now to decide. In any event, he emerged from the Civil War as unknown and alien to the masses as he had from the October Revolution.

“At that difficult period, 1918-1920,” write the latest historians, “Comrade Stalin was transferred from one front to the another, to the greatest danger spots of the Revolution.” In 1922 the People’s Commissariat of Education published an “Anthology for Five Years,” made up of fifteen articles, among them one on “Building the Red Army,” and another, “Two years in the Ukraine,” both of them dealing with the Civil War. There is not one word about Stalin in either article. The following year a two-volume anthology entitled, “The Civil War” was published. It consisted of documents and other material on the history of the Red Army. At that time no one was yet interested in giving such an anthology a tendentious character. In the whole anthology there is not one word about Stalin. In the same year, 1923, the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet published a volume of four hundred pages entitled, “Soviet Culture.” In the section devoted to the Army there are numerous portraits under the title, “The Creators of the Red Army.” Stalin is not among them. In the section entitled “The Armed Forces of the Revolution During the First Seven Years of October,” [“October” is synonymous with “October Revolution,” which is her viewed as having begun in 1917, and still continuing – C.M.] Stalin’s name is not even mentioned. Yet this section is illustrated not only with my portrait and those of Budenny and Blucher, but even with Voroshilov’s. And among the Civil War leaders named are not only Antonov-Ovseyenko, Dybenko, Yegorov, Tukhachevsky, Uborevich, Putna, Sharangovich, but many others, almost all of whom were subsequently proclaimed enemies of the people and shot. Of those [mentioned, only] two –Frunze and S. Kamenev – died f natural death [only, no doubt, because they managed to die before the great purge.] And a cloud still hangs over the circumstances of Frunze’s death. Among those mentioned in this volume, as commander of the Baltic Fleets during the Civil War, is Raskolnikov, [who refused to return to the Soviet Union when recalled from his post as Soviet Minister to Bulgaria in 1938, at the time that Stalin’s purge turned upon the diplomatic corps. After writing an open letter of accusation against Stalin, he died suddenly under mysterious circumstances, apparently poisoned.]

Voroshilov contends nonchalantly that “in the period 1918-1920, Stalin was perhaps the only man in the Central Committee sent from one fighting front to another.” The word “perhaps” is designed, no doubt, as balm for Voroshilov’s conscience, for while he wrote that statement he was fully aware of the fact that any number of members and agents of the Central Committee played no less a part in the Civil War than Stalin, and others an immeasurably greater part – among them, I.N. Smirnov, Smilga, Sikolnikov, Lshevich, Muralov, Rosenholtz, Ordzhonikidze, Frunze, Antonov-Ovseyenko, Berzin, Gussev. All of these, he knew, spent the entire three years at the various fronts either as members of the Revolutionary Councils of War of the Republic, of the fronts and of armies, or at the head of armies and fronts, and even (as in the case of Sokolnikov and Lashevich) as military commanders, while Stalin’s total sojourn at all the fronts was less than one year out of the three years of the Civil War.

In some of the official publications it is mentioned in passing, seemingly on the basis of some sort of evidence in the archives, that Stalin was at one time on the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic. No specific reference is made to the precise period of his participation in that highest military organ. In a special monograph, “The Revolutionary Council of War of the U.S.S.R. for Ten Years,’ composed by three authors in 1928, when all power was already concentrated in Stalin’s hands, it is stated:

On December 2nd, 1919, Comrade Gussev was included in the Revolutionary Council of War. Subsequently throughout the course of the entire period of the Civil War, Comrades Stalin, Podvoisky, Okulov, Antonov-Ovseyenko and Serebryakov were appointed to the Revolutionary Council of War at various times.

A history of the Communist Party edited by N.L. Meshcheryakov in 1934, after glibly repeating that lie that Stalin “spent the period of the Civil War principally at the front,” declares that Stalin “was a member of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic from 1920 to 1923.” In the twentieth volume of Lenin’s Miscellany (page 9) Stalin is referred to as a “member of the praesidium of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic . . . since 1920. One of these telegrams is from Stalin as a member of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic to Budenny and Voroshilov, dated June 3rd; and second – a routine report on the situation at the front from Budenny and Voroshilov to Stalin in his above capacity, dated June 25th. The third telegram is from Frunze, in command of the Southern Front, to Lenin, as Chairman of the Council of Defense, announcing termination of military operations against Wrangel –i.e., the end of the Civil War proper –date November 15th. On the basis of these documents, the only evidence so far published, it would seem that Stalin was actually a member of the Supreme War Council for the Republic at least from June 3rd to June 25th, or for slightly more than three full weeks in 1920. No evidence of his membership is adduced before or after these two dates in June of that year. Why not? True, the five volumes published by the War Department in which my orders, appeals, and speeches were gathered, were not only confiscated Ann destroyed, but mere reference to them, let alone quotations from them, were tabooed. The Proletarian Revolution, the official historical journal of the Party, in its issue of October, 1924, wrote of these five volumes, which contained nothing but documents of the Civil War: “In these . . . volumes the historians of out revolution will find a great quantity of tremendously valuable documentary material.”

But in the archives of the War Department remain stenographic transcripts of the sessions of the Council of War. The records of that institution were kept with scrupulous accuracy and preserved in complete security. Why are not these records cited to establish the actual period during which Stalin was a member of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic? The answer is simple enough: because Stalin is not mentioned in the minutes of its sessions as among those present, except once or twice as a petitioner on local matters, and never mentioned as an actual member of the Council, let alone its non-existent “praesidium.” Yet Stalin was appointed to membership on that body by order of the Party Central Committee in the spring of 1920.

The explanation of this puzzling circumstance, as far as I can remember it, is rather revealing of Stalin’s character. Throughout the years of Civil War, during every conflict with Stalin, I tried to put him in the position of having to formulate his views on military problems clearly and definitely. I tried to transform his sulking and surreptitious opposition into an open one, or to replace it with his articulate participation in a leading military organ. By agreement with Lenin and Krestinsky, Who wholeheartedly supported my military policy, I finally succeeded –I no longer remember under what pretext –in securing Stalin’s appointment to the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic. There was nothing left for Stalin to do but to accept the appointment. But he found a simple way out: under the pretext of being overloaded with work he did not even once appear at any session of [that supreme military body].

Now it may seem strange that no one in the course of the fist twelve years of the Soviet regime ever mentioned either the alleged “leadership” of Stalin in military affairs or even his “active” participation in the Civil War. Yet this is easily explained by the simple fact that there were still many thousands of military men about who knew what had actually taken place and how.

Even in the Red Army Anniversary issue of Pravda of 1930 the claim was not yet made that Stalin was the chief organizer of the Red Army as a whole but only of the Red Cavalry. Eight years earlier to the day, on February 23rd, 1922, Pravda had published a somewhat different account of the formation of the Red Cavalry in an article on the Civil War:

* Mamontov occupied Kozlov and Tambov for a time, wreaking great havoc. “Proletarians, to horse!” That slogan of Comrade Trotsky’s for the formation of the mount5ed masses was greeted with enthusiasm, and by the 19th of October, Budenny’s Army was striking blows at Mamontov under Voronezh.

[As late as] 1926, not only after my removal from the War Department, but after I had already been subjected to cruel persecutions, the War College published a work of historic research, “How the Revolution was Fought,” in which the authors, well-known Stalinists, wrote:

Comrade Trotsky’s slogan, “Proletarians, to horse!” was the stirring slogan for accomplishing the organization of the Red Army in that respect.

i.e. in regard to the creation of the Red Cavalry. In 1926 there was as yet no mention of Stalin as organizer of the cavalry.

[Voroshilov insists upon] Stalin’s great role in organizing the mounted army. “This was,” writes Voroshilov, “the first experiment in uniting cavalry divisions into a single unit as large as an army. Stalin foresaw the might of the mounted masses in the Civil War. He thoroughly understood their tremendous significance for a devastating maneuver. But in the past no one had had such a unique experience as action by mounted horse armies. There was nothing written about it in scientific works, and therefore such a measure evoked either amazement or direct opposition. Especially opposed to it was Trotsky.” [Arguing this, Voroshilov merely exposes his ignorance of military affairs, which is exceeded only by his aptitude for prevarication. The point is, that the question of whether to] unite two corps and a sharpshooting brigade into a special mounted army or to leave these three units at the disposal of the command of the front was a problem that had nothing whatever in common with the general appreciation of lack of appreciation of the significance of cavalry. The most important criterion was the question of the command: Will Budenny be able to manage such a mass of horsemen? Will he be able to rise from tactical tasks to strategic ones? Without an exceptional commander of the front, who knew and understood cavalry, and without reliable means of communication, the creation of a special mounted army would have been unwise, since an excessive massing of cavalry always threatens to lessen the unit’s basic advantage, [which is its] mobility. The disagreements on this matter had an episodic character, and if history were to repeat itself I would again repeat my doubts. [Nevertheless, the specific circumstances were such that] we did create the mounted army.

[As a matter of fact, the] campaign for the creation of the Red Cavalry made up the major portion of my work during many months in 1919. As I have said [elsewhere], the [Red] Army was built by the worker who was mobilizing the peasant. The worker had an advantage over the peasant not only in his general level of culture, but especially in his knack of using weapons of new technique. This secured a double advantage for the worker in the Army. With the cavalry it was quite a different matter. The homeland of the cavalrymen were the Russian steppes. The best horsemen were the Cossacks. Next to the best were the sons of the rich peasants of the steppes who owned horses and know horses. The cavalry was the most reactionary part of the old army and it supported the Tsarist regime longer than any other branch of the service. It was, therefore, doubly difficult to form a mounted army. It was necessary to accustom the worker to the horse. It was necessary that the Petrograd and Moscow proletarians actually get on horse back, if only in the role of commissars or rear rank privates. Their task was to create strong and reliable revolutionary cells in the cavalry squadrons and regiments. Such was the sense of my slogan, “Proletarians, to horse!” The whole country, all the industrial cities, were covered with placards bearing that slogan. I toured the country from end to end and assigned tasks concerning the formation of [cavalry] squadrons and [cavalry] regiments by reliable Bolshevik workers. One of my secretaries, Poznansky, was personally occupied –and with great success, I might add –in the formation of the Red Cavalry units. Only this work of proletarians who got up on horseback actually transformed the wobbly guerilla detachments into well-trained units [and made possible the formation of a reliable mounted army].

Three years of the Soviet regime were years of civil war. The War Department determined the government work of the entire country. All the other government activity was subsidiary to it. After it in importance came the Commissariat of Supplies. Industry worked chiefly for war. All the other departments and institutions were subjected to constant contraction or reduction and some were even completely closed. All who were active and courageous were subjected to mobilization. Members of the Central Committee, People’s Commissars, and other [leading Bolsheviks], spent most of their time at the front as members of Revolutionary Councils of War and sometimes as army commanders. The war itself was a hard school of governmental discipline for a revolutionary party which only a few months before had emerged from the underground. War with its pitiless demands, selected the wheat from the chaff within the Party and within the State machines. Very few member of the Central Committee remained in Moscow: Lenin, who was the political center; Sverdlov, who was not only President of the Central [Executive] Committee [of the Soviet], but also General Secretary of the Party, as editor of Pravda. Zinoviev, whom everyone including himself regarded as unfit for military affairs, remained in Petrograd as its political leader. Kamenev, the leader of Moscow, was several times sent to the front, although he, too, by nature was decidedly a civilian. Lashevich, Smilga, I.N. Smirnov, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov, [all leading] members of the Central Committee, were almost constantly at the front.

It would carry us too far afield to enumerate even briefly the careers in the revolutionary underground, in October and during the Civil War of these and many other militants. Any number of them were in no way inferior to Stalin and quite a few excelled him in those values that revolutionists prize most –political clarity, moral courage, ability as agitator, propagandist and organizer. It is suffici8ent to recall that when the Red Army was being organized, other men were considered better fitted than Stalin for the task. The Supreme Council of War, created on March 4th, 1918, consisted of Trotsky as chairman, Podvoisky, Sklyansky and Danishevsy as members; Bonch-Bru-yevich as chief clear and a staff of Tsarist officers as military specialists. When it was reorganized on September 2nd, 1918, into the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic, it was made up of Trotsky, as Chairman, Vatzetis as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and following as members: Ivan Smirnov, Resenholtz, Raskolnikov, Sklyansky, Muralov, and Yurenev. When on the 8th of July, 1919, it was decided to have a smaller and more compact staff, the Revolutionary Council of War was made up of Trotsky as Chairman, Sklyansky as Vice-Chairman, Rykov, Smilga, Gussev as members and Commander-in-Chief S. Kamenev. Like others, Stalin too found his place in the Army, and the Red Army found due application for his talents. What is contrary to the facts is the latter-day claim of Stalin’s pre-eminent role in the organization of the Red Army and in the conduct of the Civil War.

The army was built under fire. The methods of building it, in which improvisation predominated, were subjected to immediate trial in action. In order to solve each now battle problem, it was necessary to organize new regiments and divisions from scratch. The army –growing chaotically by leaps and bounds –was build by the worker, who mobilized the peasant and attracted the former officer to the cause and placed them under his control. This was no easy task. The material conditions were extremely difficult. Industry and transport were completely disorganized, there were no reserve supplies, there was no agricultural economy, and all the processes of industrial disintegration were constantly deepening. Under such conditions, there could be no question if compulsory military service and compulsory mobilization. Temporarily, at least, it was necessary to resort to the volunteer system.

Those who had military training were tired of fighting in the trenches, and to them the Revolution meant deliverance from war. It was no simple matter to mobilize them again for another war. It was easier to mobilize the youngsters who knew nothing about war, but they had to be trained, and the enemy did not allow us sufficient time for that. The number of our own officers, connected in one way or another with our Party and unconditionally trustworthy, was insignificant. They, therefore, played a great political role in the Army. But their military vision was myopic. When their knowledge proved insufficient, they often used their revolutionary and political authority unwisely and thus hampered the task of building the Army. The Party itself, with nine months ago had emerged from the Tsarist underground and several months later had been subjected to the persecution of the Provisional Government, found it difficult, after the brilliant victory of October, to adjust itself to the thought that the Civil War was still ahead. Altogether, insuperable difficulties accumulated in the way of creating the Red Army. At times it seemed that arguments were consuming all the energy spent. Will we or will we not be able to create an army? The fate of the Revolution rested on that question.

The transition from the revolutionary struggle against the old state to the creation of a new state, from the demolition of the Tsarist Army to the creation of a Red Army, was accompanied by a Party crisis, or rather by a series of crises. At each step the old methods of thought and the old ways came into conflict with the new tasks. Rearmament of the Party was indispensable. Since the Army is the most necessary of all the organizations of the state and since during the first years of the Soviet regime the center of attention was the defense of the Revolution, it is no wonder that all the discussions, conflicts and groupings inside the Party revolved around the questions of building the Army. An opposition appeared almost from the moment we made our fist efforts to pass from disjointed armed detachments to a centralized army. The majority of the Party and of the Central Committee in the end supported the military leadership, since victory after victory spoke in its favor. However, there was no lack of attacks and waverings. The Party enjoyed full freedom of criticism and opposition in the very thick of the Civil War. Even at the front at closed Party meetings the Communists often subjected the policy of the military command to merciless attacks. It never occurred to anyone in those days to persecute the critics. The punishments at the front were very stringent –and they included Communists –but they were imposed only for the non-fulfillment of military duties. Within the Central Committee, the opposition was a of a very much weaker character, since I enjoyed the support of Lenin. In general, it must be said that whenever Lenin and I were in agreement, and we were on the majority of occasions, the remaining members of the Central Committee invariably supported us, almost always unanimously; the experience of the October Revolution had entered the life of the Party as a potent lesson.

It must be said, however, that Lenin’s support was not unconditional. Lenin wavered more than once, and in several instances was gravely mistaken. My advantage over him was in the fact that I uninterruptedly traveled along the various fronts, came in contact with a tremendous number of people, from local peasants, prisoners of war, and deserters, to the highest Army and Party leaders at the front. This mass of varied impressions was of inestimable value. Lenin never left Moscow, and all the threads were concentrated in his hands. He had to pass judgment on military questions, which were new to all of us, on the basis of information which for the most part came from the higher-ups of the Party. No one was able to understand individual voices coming from below better than Lenin. But these reached him only on exceptional occasions.

In August, 1919, when I was at the front near Svyazhsk, Lenin asked my opinion concerning a proposal introduced by one of the prominent Party members to replace all officers of the General Staff with Communists. I replied sharply in the negative. “True,” I replied by direct wire from Svyazhsk to the Kremlin on 233rd of August, 1918, “of the officers, many are traitors. But there is evidence of sabotage during the movement of troops on the railways as well, yet no one proposes to replace railway engineers with Communists. I consider Larin’s proposal thoroughly worthless. We are now creating conditions under which we are carrying on a ruthless selection of officers: on the one hand, concentration camps, and on the other hand, the campaign on the Eastern Front. Catastrophic measures like Larin’s are dictated only by panic . . . Victories at the front will enable us to improve our present selections and will give us cadres of reliable General Staff men . . . Those who protest most against the use of officers are either panicky people, or those far removed from the work of the military mechanism, or those Party military workers who themselves are worse than any saboteur; they don’t know how to get things done, they behave like satraps, they don’t do anything themselves, and when they fail, they place the blame on the General Staff man.”

Lenin did not insist. Meantime, victories took their turn with defeats. Victories strengthened confidence in my military policy; reverses, multiplying inevitably the number of betrayals, evoked a knew wave of criticism and protest in the Party. In March, 1919, at the evening session of the Council of People’s Commissars, in connection with a dispatch concerning the treason of certain Red Army commanders, Lenin wrote me a note: “hadn’t we better kick out all the specialists and appoint Lashevich Commander-in-Chief?” I understood that the opponents of the policy of the War Department, and particularly Stalin, had pressed Lenin with special insistence during the preceding days and had aroused certain doubts in him. I wrote my reply on the reverse side of his query: “Childish!” Apparently the angry retort produced an impression. Lenin appreciated clear-cut formulations. The next day, with the report from the General Staff in my pocket, I walked into Lenin’s office in the Kremlin and asked him:

“Do you know how many Tsarist officers we have in the Army?”
“No I don’t,” he answered, interested.
“I don’t know.” He categorically refused to guess.
“No less than thirty thousand!” the figure simply astonished him. “Now count up,” I insisted, “the percentage of traitors and deserters among them, and you will see that it is not so great. In the meantime, we have built an army out nothing. This army is growing and getting stronger.”

Several days later at a meeting in Petrograd, Lenin drew the balance sheet of his own doubts on the question of military policy: “When recently Comrade Trotsky told me that . . . the number of officers runs into several tens of thousands, I got a definite idea of how best to make use of our enemy; how to compel those who are the opponents of Communist to build it; how to build Communism out of the bricks gathered by the capitalists for use against us . . . We have no other bricks.”

Pedantry and set patterns were alien to us. We resorted to all sorts of combinations and experiments in our pursuit of success. One army was commanded by a former non-commissioned officer with a general as chief of staff. Another army was commanded by a former general with a guerrilla fighter as second in command. One division was commanded by a former private, while a neighboring division was commanded by a colonel of the General Staff. This “eclecticism” was forced on us by the circumstances. However, the considerable percentage of educated officers exerted an exceedingly favorable influence on the general level of the command. The amateur commanders learned as they went along, and many of them became first-rate officers. In 1918, 76% of the whole command and administration of the Red Army was composed of former officers of the tsarist Army and only 12.8% consisted of fledgling Red Commanders, who naturally occupied the lower positions. By the end of the Civil War, the staff of commanders consisted of workers and peasants without any military education except direct battle experience, who had advanced from the ranks in the course of the Civil War; former soldiers and non-commissioned officers of the old army’ young commanders who had gone through the course of the Soviet military school, 34% were officers in the Tsarist Army.

From the old officer corps that entered into the Red Army, on the one hand, progressive elements who sensed the meaning of the new epoch (they were a small minority); a broad layer of those who were inert and talentless and who joined the Army only because they did not know how to do anything else; and on the other hand active counter-revolutionists who were awaiting a favorable moment to betray us. The non-commissioned officers of the old army were recruited by means of special mobilization. From among them came a number of exceptional military commanders, the most famous of whom was the former Cavalry Sergeant-Major, Simeon Buddeny. But they, too, were not any too reliable as a class, for before the Revolution non-commissioned officers were chiefly the sons of the wealthy peasantry and city bourgeoisie. From them came a small number of deserters who played an active role in counter-revolutionary uprisings and in the White Army. A commissar, usually a worker Bolshevik with experience in the World War, was attached to each commander. We were looking forward to preparing a reliable officer corps.

“This institution of commissars,” I declared when I was at the head of the War Department in December, 1919, “is to serve as a scaffolding . . . Little by little we shall be able to remove this scaffolding.” At that time on one foresaw that twenty years later the institution of commissars would again be revived, but this time for opposite purposes. The commissars of the Revolution were representatives of the victorious proletariat watching over commanders who had come mainly from the bourgeois classes; the latter-day commissars were representatives of the bureaucratic caste watching over officers who for the most part had come from the rank and file.

[On the 22nd of April, 1918, a decree was published concerning the centralization of village, regional, provincial and territorial commissariats of War.] In July I reported to the Fifth Congress of Soviets –[the Congress which ratified the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and the plan for creating the Red Army] –that many of the lower commissariats had not yet been organized because of lack of competent military men. Our objective was to centralize the military-administrative organs for the purpose of mobilization and the formation of Regular Army units. Each military region was headed by a Revolutionary Council of War, of three members: a representative each from the Party and the government, and one military specialist. Since a considerable number of military specialists were appointed simultaneously to the front as well as to regional, provincial, territorial and township war commissariats, we were a of course to a large extent feeling our way in the dark. We organized a military attestant committee. But that did not have at its disposal the necessary information for an adequate appraisal of the old generals and officers from the point of view of their loyalty to the new revolutionary regime. Let us not forget that the job was undertaken in the spring of 1918 –that is, a few months after the conquest of power –and that the administrative machine was being built amid the greatest chaos with the aid of the improvisations of chance assistants taken largely upon accidental recommendations. Indeed, there could have been no other way under the circumstances. The verification of the military specialists, their definitive selection and the like took place gradually.

Among the officers there were many, perhaps a great majority, who did not know themselves where they stood. The outright reactionaries had fled in the very beginning, the most active of them to the peripheries, which were then building up the White Fronts. The rest hesitated, bided their time, could not make themselves abandon their families, did not know what would become of them, and by inertia found themselves in the military-administrative or commanding apparatuses of the Red Army. The further behavior of many of them was determined by the treatment they were accorded. Wise, energetic and tactful commissars –and such were in the minority – won over the officers at once, while they, who from force of habit had looked down on the commissars, were amazed by their resoluteness, daring and political definiteness. Such unions of commanders and commissars often lasted for a long time and were distinguished by great stability. When the commissar was ignorant and boorish and baited the military specialist, carelessly compromising him before the Red Army soldiers, friendship was out of the question, and the hesitating officer was finally inclined toward the enemy of the new regime.

The atmosphere of Tsaritsyn, with its administative anarchy, guerrilla spirit, disrespect for the Center absence of administrative order and provocative boorishness towards military specialists, was naturally not conducive to winning the good-will of the latter and making them loyal servants of the new regime. It would be, of course a mistake to think that Tsaritzyn got along without military specialists. Every one of the improvising commanders had to have an officer who knew about the routine of military affairs. But the Tsaritsyn sort of specialists was recruited from the dregs of the officers –drunkards or those who had other wise lost all semblance of human dignity, prideless men who were ready to crawl on their belly before the new boss, flatter him, refrain from contradiction him in anything, and the like. This is the sort of specialist I found in Tsaritsyn. Voroshilov’s Chief-of-Staff was precisely that type of specialist. The name of this insignificant officer was never mentioned anywhere else and I don’t know anything about his fate. [He was] a docile and submissive former captain of the Tsarist army irresistibly addicted to alcoholic beverages. Eye to eye with this Chief-of-Staff, the Tenth Army Commander was never obliged to lower his head in embarrassment.

In order to advance the commanders who were closest to the Soviet regime, a special mobilization of former Tsarist non-commissioned officers was made. Most of them had been promoted to non-commissioned ranks during the latter part of the war, so their knowledge of military affairs was of no great significance. However, the old non-commissioned officers, especially in the artillery and the cavalry, had an excellent comprehension of military matters and were really better informed and fare more experienced than the commissioned officers under whose command they served. To that category belonged people like Budenny, Blucher, Dybenko (a petty officer in the Navy) and a number of others. In Tsarist times these men were recruited from among the more literate, the most cultured, those more accustomed to command. Hence it was not surprising to find that these non-commissioned officers were almost exclusively the sons of rich peasants, of the petty gentry, or the city bourgeoisie, or petty officials, teachers, bookkeepers, and the like. Such types of non-commissioned officers gladly assumed command, but were not inclined to submit to and to tolerate the superior authority of commissioned officers.

They were just as little inclined to recognize the authority of the Communist Party, knuckle down to its discipline and sympathize with its aims, especially in the sphere of agrarian affairs. Purchases at fixed prices, not to mention the expropriation of grain from the peasants, was met by them with furious enmity. To that class belonged the cavalry man, Dumenko [Note: The Stalinist historian E. Genkina on p 109 of her book “The Fight for Tsaritsyn in 1918” published by the political publications section of the All-Union Communist Party in 1940, writes of Dumenko: “Dumenko himself was a kulak by origin, had a windmill, two houses, etc. But during the imperialist war his cattle and horses were confiscated, and the Whites appropriated a few things. That pushed Dumenko temporarily into the camp of the Reds, he began to organize a cavalry detachment, but not at home, in the Cherkass Region of the Don Territory, but in the Sal Region, where he was not known as a kulak.” - C.M] the corps commander at Tsaritsyn and Budenny’s immediate superior (Budenny at that time commanded a division). Dumenko was more gifted than Budenny. But he ended up with the insurrection, killed all the Communists of his corps, attempted to join the forces of Denikin, was seized and executed. Budenny and the commanders close to him likewise experienced a period of wavering. One of the Tsaritsyn commanders of a brigade, subordinate to Budenny, revolted; many of the cavalry men joined the Greens.

[Note: Although the Civil War was chiefly fought between the Reds and Whites, smaller groups were also involved in it. The most important of them were the Greens, peasant guerrilla detachments that would sally out of the green forests (hence, their name) to fight either the Reds or the Whites, but more often the Whites. The Greens regarded themselves as defenders of peasant democracy and were opposed to both Reds and Whites. The Green movement was most active in the Black Sea Basin, the Kuban Territory and the Crimea. As allies of the Reds in the winter of 1919-20, the Greens played an important part in the disintegration of General Denikin’s Army. The Green movement terminated about 1921, when limited freedom of trade was introduced and peasant insurrections generally were liquidated by the Soviet government – C.M.]

The treason of the former Tsarist officer, Nossovich, who occupied a purely bureaucratic administrative post, produced of course less harm than the treason of Dumenko. But since the military opposition –the breeding ground of the Stalin faction – depended at the front on elements of the Dumenko’s type, this mutiny is not mentioned at all nowadays. [The subject is carefully avoided even in the 217-page history of the Tsaritsyn episode cited above with reference to Dumenko – C.M.]


The reader who is not acquainted with the actual course of events and who at the present time cannot gain access to the archives will find it difficult to imagine the extent to which the proportions of events have been distorted. The whole world has heard by now about the defense of Tsaritsyn, about Stalin’s journey to the Perm front, or about the so-called Trade Union Discussion. These episodes loom today as the peaks on the historical range of events. But these alleged peaks have been artificially created. From the tremendous amount of material with which the archives are bulging, certain special episodes have been singled out, and these have been surrounded with imposing historical stage-effects. Subsequent works of official historiography piled up new exaggerations, based on the old exaggerations; to these, outright inventions have been added from time to time. The total effect is the product of stagecraft rather than of historic fact. Practically never does none meet reference to documents. The press abroad, and even learned historians, have come to regard these tall tales as original sources. In various countries one may now find specialists in history who know third-rate details of Tsaritzyn or the Trade Union Discussion but have practically no conception of events which were immeasurably more important and significant. Falsification in this matter has taken on the quality of an avalanche. [Yet it is simply] astonishing how very few documents and other authentic materials have been published concerning Stalin’s activity at the front and generally during the Civil War period.

In accounts published during the years of the Civil War, the story of Tsaritsyn was one of the many completely unconnected with the name of Stalin. His role behind the scenes, which was very short-lived at best, was known to only a small number of people and offered absolutely no occasion for many words. In the anniversary article on the Tenth Army by Ordzhonikidze, and old pal of Stalin’s who proved faithful to him to the point of suicide, Stalin is not even mentioned. It was the same with other such articles. The Bolshevik Minin, Mayor of Tsaritsyn at the time and subsequently a member of the Tenth Army’s Revolutionary Council of War, wrote a heroic drama in 1925 entitled “The Encircled City,” which had so few references to Stalin in connection with the Tsaritsyn events that Minin ended up eventually as “an enemy of the people.” The pendulum of history had to swing very far before Stalin was raised to the heights of a hero of the Tsaritsyn epic.

For years now it has become a tradition to represent matters as if in the spring of 1918 Tsaritsyn was of great strategic importance and Stalin was sent there to save the military situation. It was nothing of the kind. It was entirely a question of provisions. At a session of the Council of People’s Commissars on May 28, 1918, Lenin discussed with Tsuryupa, then in charge of supplies, the extraordinary methods then in vogue for supplying the capitals [Moscow and Petrograd] and the industrial centers with provisions. At the close of the meeting Lenin wrote to Tsuryapa: “This very day get in touch with Trotsky, by telephone, so that by tomorrow he can get everything started.” Further in the same communication, Lenin informed Tsuryupa of the Sovnarkom’s [a portmanteau world for the Russian equivalent of Council of People’ Commissars – C.M.] decision that People’s Commissar of Supplies Shlyapnikov was to leave immediately for the Kuban’ to co-ordinate the provisioning activities in the South for the benefit of the industrial regions. Tsuryaupa replied in part: “Stalin agrees to go to the Northern Caucasus. So send him. He knows local conditions there and Shlyapnikov will find it useful to have him around.” Lenin agreed: “Send them both off today.” During the next few days several additional decisions were made about Stalin and Shlyapnikov. Finally, as recorded in Lenin’s Miscellany, “Stalin was sent to the Northern Caucasus and to Tsaritsyn as general manager of provisioning activities in the South of Russia.” There was no mention whatever of military tasks.

What happened to Stalin was what happened to many other Soviet officials, to droves of them. They were sent to various provinces to mobilize the collection of grain surpluses. Once there, they ran into White insurrections. Whereupon their provisioning detachments turning into military detachments. Many workers in the commissariats of Education, of Agriculture or other departments were thus sucked into the maelstrom of the Civil War in outlying regions, and, in a manner of speaking were obliged to change their various professions for the profession of arms. L. Kamenev, who next to Zinoviev was the most unmilitary member of the Central Committee, was sent in April, 1919, to the Ukraine to accelerate the movement of supplies to Moscow. He found that Lugansk had been surrendered and that danger threatened the entire Don Basin; moreover the situation in the recently-won Ukraine soon became increasingly less favorable. Just exactly as Stalin had in Tsaritsyn, Kamenev in the Ukraine found himself drawn into military operations. Lenin telegraphed to Kamenev: “Absolutely necessary that you personally . . . should not only inspect the expedite matters, but that you, yourself, should bring the reinforcements to Lugansk and to the entire Don Basin, because otherwise there is no doubt that the catastrophe will be tremendous and scarcely remediable; we will most surely perish, if we do not completely clear the Don Basin in a short time . . .” This was Lenin’s customary style in those days. On the basis of such quotations it is possible to prove that Lenin regarded the fate of the Russian Revolution as dependent on the military leadership of Kamenev in the South. At different times the very unmilitary Kamenev played a very prominent role at various fronts.

[Note: The reference is to Lev Borisovich Kamenev, the Bolshevik leader, Trotsky’s brother-in-law, deputy chairman under Lenin in the Council of People’s Commissars and the Council of Labor and Defense (since 1922), appointed by Lenin himself as Lenin’ literary executor and editor of Lenin’s Collected Works, founder and first president of the Lenin Institute, Lenin’s successor as Chairman of the Council of Labor and Defense, etc. who in 1919 was at the front as an extraordinary representative of the Council of Defense. This Kamenev was shot by Stalin’s order as a self-confessed traitor in 1936. He is not to be confounded with Sergei Segeyevich Kamenev, scion of a tsarist military family, who was a colonel in command of the 30th Poltlava Regiment at the time of the Revolution of 12917, was one of the tsarist officers drawn into the Red Army during Trotsky’s tenure as Commissar of War, appointed by Trotsky to the command of the Eastern Front in September, 1918, and made Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Republic in July, 1919, in succession to Joachim Joachimovich Vatzetis. S.S. Kamenev remained Commander-in-Chief until April, 1924, when the office was abolished. He subsequently became a member of the Communist Party and died a natural death. C.M,.]

Under totalitarian concentration of all the means of oral and printed propaganda, it is impossible to crate as false a reputation for a city as for a man. Nowadays many heroic episodes of the Civil War are forgotten. Cities where Stalin played no part are scarcely remembered, while the very name of Tsaritsyn has been invested with mystic significance. It is necessary to bear in mind that our central position and disposition of the enemy in a large circle made it possible for us to act along internal operational lines and reduced our strategy to one simple idea: the consecutive liquidation of fronts depending on their relative importance. In that profoundly mobile war of maneuvers, various parts of the country acquired exceptional significance at certain important moments, and later lost it. However, the struggle for Tsaritsyn could never have attained the same significance, for example, as the struggle for Kazan’, from where the road to Moscow opened, or the struggle for Oryol, from where the was a short road by way of Tula to Moscow, or the struggle for Petrograd, the loss of which would have been a dire blow in itself and would have opened the road to Moscow from the north. Moreover, notwithstanding the assertions of latter-day historians the Tsaritsyn “was the embryo of the War Cikkegem where the cadres of the commanders for other numerous fronts were created, commanders who today are at the head of the basic units of the army,” the fact is that the most talented organizers and army leaders did not come Tsaritsyn. And I do not mean simply central figures, like Sklyansky, the real Carnot of the Red Army; or Frunze, a most talented military leader, who subsequently was placed at the head of the Red Army; or Tukhachevsky, the future reorganizer of the army; or Yegorov, the future Chief-of-Staff; or Yakir or Uborevich, or Kork, but many, many others. Every one of them was tested and trained in other armies and on other fronts. All of them had an extremely negative attitude toward Tsaritsyn, its know-nothing smugness, its constant extortions; on their lips the very word “Tsaritsynite” had a derogatory meaning.

On May 23rd, 1918, Sergo [Ordzhonikidze] telegraphed to Lenin:

The situation here is bad. We need resolute measures . . . The local comrades are too flabby. Every desire to help is regarded as interference in local affairs. Six trains of grain ready to move for Moscow are standing at the station and not being sent . . . I repeat again that what we need are the most resolute measures . . .

Stalin arrived in Tsaritsyn in June, 1918, with a detachment of Red Guards, with two armored trains and with unlimited powers, in order to arrange for provisioning the hungry political and industrial centers with grain. Soon after his arrival several Cossack regiments surrounded Tsaritsyn,. The Cossack villages of the Don and the Kuban had risen against the Soviet Government. The Volunteer Army [of the Whites], which had been wandering and meandering through the steppes of the Kuban, had grown strong. The Soviet Army of the North Caucasus –the only granary of the Soviet Republic at the time –suffered heavily under the blows.

Stalin was not supposed to stay in Tsaritsyn. He was supposed to [organize the dispatch of provision to Moscow and] proceed to the North Caucasus. But within one week of his arrival in Tsaritsyn, i.e., on June 13th, he wired to Lenin that the situation in Tsaritsyn “has sharply changed, because a detachment of Cossacks have made a sally at a point some forty versts away from Tsaritsyn.” From Stalin’s telegram of June 13th it is clear that he had been expected by Lenin to go to Novorossiisk, and take charge of the crucial developments in connection with the scuttling of the Black Sea Fleet. For at least the next two weeks he was still supposed to go to Novorossiisk. In his speech of June 28th, 1918, at the Fourth Conference of the Trade-Union and Factory Committees of Moscow [Lenin said]:

* Comrades! I shall now . . . reply to the question about the Black Sea Fleet . . .I am going to tell you that it was Comrade Raskolnikov who acted there . . .Comrade Raskolnikov will be here himself and will tell you how he had urged that we should rather stand for the destruction of the fleet than let the German troops use it against Novorossiisk . . . This was the situation, and the People’s Commissars, Stalin, Shlyapnikov and Raskolnikov will soon come to Moscow and will tell you how everything happened.

[However, instead of proceeding to the Northern Caucasus or, when the plans were altered by the change in the military situation, to Novorossiisk,] Stalin remained in Tsaritsyn until the latter was surrounded in July by the Whites.

Stalin had expected to find little trouble and great glory in forwarding millions of bushels of grain to Moscow and other centers. But all he managed to send, notwithstanding his ruthlessness, was a shipment of three barges, referred to in his telegram of June 26th. Had he sent more, other telegrams to this effect would have been published and commented on long ago. Instead of that, there are inadvertent admissions of his failure as grain-deliverer in his own reports, culminating on August 4th in his statement that it was useless to expect any further provisions from Tsaritsyn. Unable to make good on his boastful promise to supply food to the Center, Stalin turned form the “food front” to the “military front.” He became dictator of Tsaritsyn and of the North Caucasian Front. He acquired extremely broad and practically unlimited powers, as the authorized representative of the Party and the Government. He had the right to carry through local mobilization, requisition property, militarize factories, arrest and try, appoint and dismiss. Stalin exercised authority with a heavy hand. All efforts were concentrated on the task of defense. All of the local Party and workers’ organizations were taken in hand, were supplemented with the new forces; the freebooting guerrillas were harnessed. The life of the entire city was suddenly squeezed in the vise of a ruthless dictatorship, “On the streets and at crossings were Red Army patrols,” writes Tarassov-Rodionov, “and in the middle of the Volga on an anchor, raising its black belly high out of the water, was a large barge, and looking askance at it was a flabby official in a faded uniform cap whispering anxiously to the little old women on shore: ‘There , , , is the Cheka!” But that was not the Cheka itself. That was only its floating prison. The Cheka was working in the center of the city, next to the Army headquarters. It was working . . . full blast. Not a day passed without bringing to light all sorts of conspiracies in what seemed the most reliable and respectable of places.”

[on the 7th of July, approximately one month after his arrival in Tsaritsyn, Stalin wrote to Lenin (on the letter is the notation, “Hurrying to the front –writing only on business.”)]:

* The line south of Tsaritsyn has not yet been re-established. I’m hurrying them, scolding everyone I should. I hope that soon we shall have it re-established. You may be sure that I will not spare anyone, neither myself nor others. But we will get you the grain. If our military “specialists” (the shoemakers!) were not asleep, the line would not have been broken and if the line is restored it will not by thanks to the military, but in spite of them.

[On the 11th of July Stalin again telegraphed Lenin]:

* Matters are complicated by the fact that the staff of the North Caucasian Military Region ;proved to be utterly unadapted to the conditions of fighting against counter-revolution. It is not only that our “specialists” are psychologically incapable of resolute struggle with counter-revolution, but also because, being staff men who know only how to sketch blueprints and how to propose plans for reformation, they are utterly indifferent to operative action . . . and generally feel themselves to be outsiders . . . I do not think that I have the right to regard this with indifference, when Kaledin’s front has been separated from the provisioning point and the north from the grain region. I will continue to straighten out these and many other deficiencies, wherever I find them; I am undertaking a number of measures and will continue to do so, even if I have to remove all the ranking men and commanders who are inimical, notwithstanding difficulties of formalities, which I will break when necessary. Let it be understood that I assume all responsibility before all the highest institutions.

[On the 4th of August, Stalin wrote from Tsaritsyn “to Lenin, Trotsky and Tsuryaupa”]:

* The situation in the South is not one of the best. The Council of War has received a heritage of utter disorder, due partly to the inertness of the former military leader, partly to the conspiracy of persons brought by the military leader into the various departments of the military region. We had to begin all over again . . . We repealed what I would call the old criminal order, and only after that our advance began . . .

Similar, communications were received in those days from all parts of the country, because chaos reigned everywhere. What is surprising are the words about the “heritage of utter disorder.” The military regions were established in April and had hardly started working, so that it was rather premature to speak of a “heritage of utter disorder.”

The task of provisioning on any sort of wide scale proved to be insoluble because of the military situation: “Contacts with the South and with its load of provisions are broken,” wrote Stalin on the 4th of August, “and the Tsaritsyn region itself, which connects the Center with the Northern Caucasus, is cut off in its turn, or practically cut off from the Center.” Stalin explained the cause of the extreme aggravation of the military situation on the one hand by the turn of the strong peasant, “who in October had fought for the Soviet government, against the Soviet government (he hates with all his heart the grain monopoly, stable prices, requisition, the struggle with the baggers); on the other hand, by the poor condition of our troops . . . In general it must be said,” he concluded, “that until we reestablish contact with the Northern Caucasus we must not rely . . . upon the Tsaritsyn sector for provisions.”

Stalin’s assumption of the functions of manager of all the military forces at the front had obtained the confirmation of Moscow. The telegram of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic, which bore the notation that it was sent by agreement with Lenin, expressly delegated Stalin “to establish order, unite all detachments into regular formations, establish proper command, after expelling all insubordinates.” Thus the rights given to Stalin were signed, and as far as one is able to judge from the text, were even formulated by me. Our common task at the time was to subordinate the provinces to the Center, to establish discipline, and to subordinate all sorts of volunteer and guerrilla units to the army and to the front. Unfortunately Stalin’s activity at Tsaritsyn took an altogether different direction. At that time I did not know that Stalin had inscribed his resolution, “to be disregarded” on one of my telegrams, since he himself never mustered sufficient courage to report the matter to the Center. My impression was that Stalin did not fight resolutely enough against local self-rule, the local guerrillas and the general insubordination of the local people. I accused him of being too lenient toward the wrong policy of Voroshilov and others, but it never entered my head that he was the actual instigator of that policy. This became evident somewhat later from his own telegrams and from admissions of Voroshilov and others.

Stalin spent several months at Tsaritsyn. His underhanded work against me, which even then made up an essential part of his activity, went hand in hand with the homespun opposition of Voroshilov who was his closest associate. However, Stalin bore himself so that at any moment he would be able to jump back, his skirts clear. Lenin knew Stalin better than I and apparently suspected that the stubbornness of the Tsaritsynites could be explained by Stalin’s activity behind the scenes. I made up my mind to set things right at Tsaritsyn. After a new clash with the command there I decided upon the recall of Stalin. This was accomplished through the good offices of Sverdlov, who went himself in a special train to bring Stalin back. Lenin wanted to reduce the conflict to a minimum, and was of course right in that respect.

At the time, while the Red Army had already managed to win big victories on the Eastern Front, almost completely clearing the Volga, matters continued to go badly in the South, where everything was in chaos because orders were not carried out. On the 5th of October, at Kozlov, I issued an order concerning the unification of all armies and groups of the Southern Front under the command of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Southern Front, consisting of the former General [Sytin and three Bolsheviks –Shlyapnikov, Mekhonoshin and Lazimir]: “All orders and instructions of the Council are subject to unconditional and immediate execution.” The order threatened the insubordionates with dire punishments. Then I telegraphed Lenin:

I insist categorically on Stalin’s recall. Things are going badly at the Tsaritsyn Front in spite of superabundant forces. Voroshilov is capable of commanding a regiment, not an army of 50,000. However, I shall leave him in command of the Tenth Army at Tsaritsyn, provided he reports to the Commander of the Army of the South, Sytin. I have required reports of reconnaissances and operations sent twice daily. If that is not done by tomorrow, I shall remand Voroshilov and Minin to court martial and shall publish the fact in an Army Order. According to the statutes of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic, Stalin and Minin, as long as they remain in Tsaritsyn, are nothing more than members of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Tenth Army. We have only a short time left for taking the offensive before the autumn mud sets in, when the local roads will be impassable for either infantry or mounted troops. No serious action will be possible without coordination with Tsaritsyn. There is no time to lose on diplomatic negotiations. Tsaritsyn must either submit or take the consequences. We have a colossal superiority of forces, but there is utter anarchy at the top. I can put a stop to it in twenty-four hours, provided I have your firm and clear-cut support. At all events, this is the only course I can see.

[This was followed the next day by this direct wire to Lenin]:

* I have received the following telegram: “Stalin’s military order #118 must be cancelled. I have issued full instructions to the Commander of the Southern Front, Sytin. Stalin’s activities undermine all my plans . . . Vatzetis, Commander-in-Chief; Danishevsky, member of the Revolutionary Council of War.”

[Stalin was recalled from Tsaritsyn in the second half of October. This is what he] wrote in Pravda (30th October, 1918) [about the Southern Front]:

* The point of the greatest attack by the enemy was Tsaritsyn. That was understandable, because the capture of Tsaritsyn and the interruption of communications with the South would have assured the achievement of all the tasks of the enemy. It would have united the Don counter-revolutionists with the upper layer of the Cossacks of the Astrakhan and the Ural armies, creating a united front of the counter-revolution from the Don to the Czecho-Slovaks. It would have secured the South and the Caspian for the counter-revolutionists, internally and externally. It would have left the Soviet troops of the Northern Caucasus in a state of helplessness . . .

[Was Stalin “confessing” that he was guilty of having aggravated the situation by his intrigues and insubordination? Hardly. However, on his way back to Moscow from Tsaritsyn, Sverdlov inquired] cautiously about my intentions and then proposed to me that I have a talk with Stalin, who it developed was on his train.

“Do you really want to dismiss all of them?” Stalin asked me in a tone of exaggerated subservience. “They’re fine boys.”
“Those fine boys will ruin the Revolution, which can’t wait for them to grow up.” I answered him. “All I want is to draw Tsaritsyn back into Soviet Russia.”

Thereafter, whenever I had occasion to tread on the corns of personal predilections, friendships or vanities, Stalin carefully gathered up all the people whose corns had been stepped on. He had a lot of time for that, since it furthered his personal ends. The leading spirits of Tsaritsyn became from that time on his principal tools. As soon as Lenin fell ill Stalin, through his henchmen, had Tsaritsyn renamed Stalingrad.

[The Tsaritsyn oppositionists were a curious lot. The man who most detested the military specialists was Voroshilov –“the locksmith of Lugansk,” as he came to be called by latter-day chroniclers –a hearty and impudent fellow, not overly-intellectual but shrewd and unscrupulous. He never could make head or tail of military theory, but he was a gifted browbeater and had no compunction about unitizing the ideas of brighter subordinates and no false modesty about taking full credit for them. His intellectual naivete in both military theory and Marxism was to be amply demonstrated in 1921, when,] following uncritically the lead of some obscure ultra-Leftist, he argued that aggressiveness and the tactic of the offensive was a consequence of “the class nature of the Red Army,” at the same time offering “proof” of the necessity of the offensive in the form of the quotations from the French military regulations of 1921.

His “loyal right hand” was Shchadenko [the political commissar of the Tenth Army, a tailor by trade, whom later chroniclers were to immortalize they]; “Angrily frowning under his eagle-like eyebrows, his militant eyes squinting, he ran around the front, burning up with the effort to be Klim’s loyal right hand.”

Equally zealous but quite different from both was Sergei Minin. [He was a curious mixture of poet and demagogue who had given himself heart and soul to the cause and suffered from a blinding phobia of all tsarist officers.] Popular among the workers of Tsaritsyn since his participation as a young student in the Revolution of 1905, Tsaritsyn was proud of him as its leading and most impassioned orator. He was by far the most honest of the lot, but also perhaps the most unreasonable. Sincere in his intransigence, he contributed his full share of earnest mischief to the aggravation of the military situation in Tsaritsyn. [He was an innocent but all the more effective tool of Stalin’ s Tsaritsyn intrigue and was cast aside as soon as his usefulness came to an end.]

Then there was the engineer Rukhimovich, former “People’s Commissar of War of the Donetz-Krivorog Republic” –[one of the mushroom Red republics of the early days of the Revolution –who had given Voroshilov his first mandate to organize a proletarian army. Placed in charge of supplies, the provincial-minded] Rukhimovitch could conceive of no needs except the needs of the Tenth Army. No other army swallowed as many rifles and bullets, and at the fist refusal he yelled about the treason of the specialists in Moscow. [He, like the youngest member of the Council of War, Valerii] Mezhlauk, rose subsequently to second-rank heights in the Stalinist hierarchy, to disappear from view [for reasons unknown. There were] Zhloba, Kharchenko, Gorodovik, Savitsky, Parhomenko and others, whose contributions to the Red Army and the Soviet State did not rank above that of hundreds of thousands of others, but whose names were saved from utter oblivion only because of their early association with Stalin at Tsaritsyn.

“Trotsky,” [Tarassov-Rodionov wrote later], “spoke at the Revolutionary Council of War haughtily and irritably. He let loose a hail-storm of stinging rebukes for the tremendous waste of material . . . Trotsky was not interested in explanations . . .” On November 1st I telegraphed to Sverdlov and Lenin from Tsaritsyn:

The situation with the Tenth Army is as follows: There are many forces here but no operational leadership. The staff of the Southern Front and Vatzetis are inclined to favor changing the commander. I would not consider it possible to keep Voroshilov by giving him an experienced operational staff. He objects to that, but I don’t doubt that the question could be settled. . . The only serious obstacle is Minin, who carries on an extremely harmful policy. I insist in every way on his transfer. When will the medals be ready?

After inspecting all the sectors of the Tsaritsyn Army, in a special order of November 5th, 1918, I recognized that services of many of the units and their commanders, at the same time noting that parts of the army consisted of units calling themselves divisions which actually were not such in substance; that “political work in certain units has not even been started yet”; that “the disposition of military reserves does not always proceed with military caution”; that “in certain instances the commander, not wishing to carry out an operational order, would pass it on for the consideration of a meeting . . .” and the like. “As citizens,” the order stated, "the soldiers are free during their leisure hours to hold meetings on any question. As soldiers, they must carry out military orders without any objections.”

After visiting the Southern Front, including Tsaritsyn, I reported to the Sixth Congress of Soviets on the 9th of November, 1918: “Not all Soviet workers have understood that our administration has been centralized and that all orders issued from above must be final . . . We shall be pitiless with those Soviet workers who have not yet understood; we will remove them, cast them out of our ranks, pull them up with repressions.” This was aimed at Stalin to a much greater extent than at Voroshilov, against whom these words were ostensibly directed at the time. Stalin was present at the Congress and kept silent. He was silent at the session of the Politburo. He could not openly defend his behavior. All the more did he store up his anger. It was in those days – recalled from Tsaritsyn, with deep anger and a thirst of vengeance in his heart –that he wrote his piece on the First Anniversary of the Revolution. The purpose of the article was to strike a blow at my prestige, turning against me the authority of the Central Committee headed by Lenin. In that anniversary article, dictated by suppressed anger, Stalin was nevertheless forced to write:

All the work of practical organization of the insurrection was conducted under the immediate leadership of the President of the Petrograd Soviet, Comrade Trotsky. It was possible to declare with certainly that the swift passing of the garrison to the side of the Soviet, and the bold execution of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the Party owes principally and first of all to Comrade Trotsky.

On the 30th of November, acting on the proposal of the Commissariat of War to organize a Council of Defense, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, which had already proclaimed the Soviet Republic to be a military camp, passed a resolution calling for the convocation of the Council of Defense, composed of Lenin, myself, Krassin, the Commissar of Ways of Communication, the Commissar of Supplies and the Chairman of the Praesidium of the Central Executive Committee, Sverdlov. By agreement with Lenin I proposed that Stalin be also included. Lenin wanted to give Stalin some satisfaction for removing him from the Army in Tsaritsyn; I wanted to give Stalin the chance to formulate openly his criticisms and proposals, without wetting the powder in the War Department. The first session, which outlined our tasks in a general way, was held in the daytime of the first of December. From Lenin’s notes at the session, it appears that Stalin spoke six times. Each orator was allowed no more than two minutes. The leadership in the work of the Council of Defense, not only on major questions, but even on details, was concentrated entirely in the hands of Lenin. To Stalin was assigned the task of formulating a thesis on the struggle against regionalism and another on fighting red tape. There is no evidence that either thesis was ever composed. Moreover, in the interest of expediting the work, it was decided that “the decrees of the commission appointed by the Council of Defense, signed by Lenin, Stalin and the representatives of the appropriate department, will have the force of a decree by the Council of Defense.” But as far as Stalin was concerned the whole matter boiled down to another title instead of actual work.

[Notwithstanding these concessions, Stalin continued to support the Tsaritsyn opposition secretly, nullifying the efforts of the War Department to enforce order and discipline in that sector. At Tsaritsyn, his principal tool was Voroshilov; in Moscow, Stalin himself exerted all the pressure he could must upon Lenin. It therefore became necessary to send the following telegram from Kursk on December 14th]:

* To the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Lenin. The question of recalling Okulov cannot be decided by itself. Okulov was appointee as a counterbalance to Voroshilov, as guarantee that military orders would be carried out. It is impossible to let Voroshilov remain after he has nullified all attempts at compromise. Tsaritsyn must have a new Revolutionary Council of War with a new commander and Voroshilov must go to the Ukraine.
Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic, Trotsky.

[Voroshilov was then transferred to the Ukraine. The fighting capacity of the Tenth Army rose by leaps and bounds. Not only the new commander but Stalin’s successor on the Council of War, Shlyapnikov, proved immeasurably more efficient, and the military situation at Tsaritsyn soon improved.]



[Several days after Voroshilov’s removal, and after the months of enforced abstention from the extremely tempting business of intervening in military affairs following upon his own removal from Tsaritsyn, Stalin go another opportunity to work at the front –this time, for a couple of weeks. He utilized it for sticking a knife into Trotsky’s back. The incident began with the following exchange of telegrams between Lenin and Trotsky]:

1. * Coded Telegram to Comrade Trotsky at Kursk or any other place where the Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic may be:
Moscow, December 13, 1918.
Extremely alarming news from vicinity of Perm. It is in danger. I am afraid we have forgotten about the Urals. Are the reinforcements to Perm and the Urals being sent with sufficient energy? Lashevich told Zinoviev that only units that had been under fire should be sent. Lenin.

2. * To Trotsky at Kozlov or wherever the Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic may be:
Moscow, December 31, 1918.
There are several Party reports from around Perm about the catastrophic condition of the Army and about drunkenness. I am forwarding them to you. They ask that you come there. I thought of sending Stalin. I am afraid Smilga will be too soft with Lasevich, who it is said drinks himself and in unable to restore order. Telegraph your opinion. Lenin

3. By direct wire in code to Moscow, Kremlin, for the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Lenin.
Reply to #66847
Voronezh, January1, 1919, 19 o’clock []
From the reports of the operations of the Third Army I concluded that the leadership there is completely at a loss and proposed a change of command. The decision was postponed. Now I deem replacement unpostponable.
I completely share your misgivings concerning the excessive softness of the Comrade who has gone there. I agree to Stalin’s journey with powers from both the Party and the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic for restoring order, purging the staff of Commissars, and severely punishing the guilty. The new commander will be appointed upon agreement with Serpukhov. I propose that Lshevich be appointed a member of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Northern Front, where we do not have a responsible Party man, and the front may soon acquire greater significance.
#9. Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic, Trotsky.

[The matter was then referred to the Central Committee, which decided[]:

* to appoint a Party investigating committee of the Central Committee members Stalin and Dzerzhinsky to conduct a detailed investigation into the reasons for the surrender of Perm and the latest defeats on the Ural Front, and also to elucidate all the circumstances surrounding the above facts.

[The Third Army had surrendered Perm to the advancing troops of Admiral Kolchak and took up its position at Vyatka, where it held its ground precariously. Stalin and Dzerzhinsky reached Vyatka while the Third Army was holding it against the attacks of the enemy. On the day of their arrival there, January 5th, 1919, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky telegraphed to Lenin]:
[Note: The following three excerpts, found in Trotsky’s notes for this book, are from the works of S. Dmitrievsky, whom Trotsky quotes in other places. They tell the story. How accurately, is another question. The possibility that Trotsky might have challenged some of the statements Dmitrievsky ascribes to Stalin is not excluded – C.M.]

* The investigation begun. We shall inform you from time to time about the course of the investigation. Meantime we deem it necessary to inform you about such needs of the Third Army as do not bear postponement. The point is, that out of the Third Army of more than 30,000 men, there remain only 11,000 weary, exhausted soldiers, who can hardly withstand the pressure of the enemy. The units sent by the Commander-in-Chief are unreliable, partly even hostile to us, and are in need of serious filtering. In order to save the remnants of the Third Army and to prevent the rapid movement of the enemy upon Vyatka (according to information secured from the commanding staff of the front and of the Third Army, the danger is quite real), it is absolutely necessary at once to transfer from Russia and place at the disposal of the army commander at least three entirely reliable regiments. We insistently urge that you exert the proper pressure in this direction upon the corresponding military institution. We repeat: without this measure the fate of Perm awaits Vyatka.

[On the 15th of January Stalin and Dzerzhinsky informed the Council of Defense]:

* 1200 reliable bayonets and swords were sent to the front; the next day two squadrons of cavalry. On the 10th and 62nd Regiment of the4 3rd Battalion (previously thoroughly filtered) was sent. These units made it possible for us to check the advance of the enemy, to raise the morale of the Third Army and to begin our advance upon Perm, so far successful. A thorough purge of Soviet and Party institutions is going on in the rear of the Army. Revolutionary committees have been organized in Vyatka and at county seats. Strong revolutionary organizations have begun to be set up and continue to be set up in villages. The entire Party and the Soviet work is being reconstructed along new lines. The military control has been cleaned up and reorganized. The provincial Cheka has been purged and staffed with new workers . . .

[After investigating the causes of the catastrophe, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky reported to Lenin that these were]:

* The fatigue and exhaustion of the army at the moment of the enemy’s advance, our lack of reserves at that moment, the staff’s lack of contact with the army, the mismanagement of the army commander, and inadmissibly criminal methods of administering the front by the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic, which paralyzed the possibility of offering timely aid to the Third Army, the unreliability of reinforcements sent from the rear due to old methods of recruitment, absolute unsteadiness of the rear due to the complete helplessness and inability of Local Soviet and Party organizations.

[Almost every statement in this report was a blow at Trotsky. Had Lenin, the Council of Defense, the Central Committee and its Politburo taken these charges against Trotsky seriously, they would have had no alternative but to remove him from office. However, Lenin knew Stalin well enough to consider this report by him and his associate in Vyatka as less factual than recriminative –and act of revenge for the recall from Tsaritsyn, and for Trotsky’s refusal to give him another chance at the Southern Front, where he could rejoin Voroshilov and the other Tsaritsynites.]

[Meantime in the Ukraine, utilizing his political prerogatives and his rank as Army Commander, Voroshilov continued to antagonize the military specialists, disrupted staff work and interfered with directives from General Headquarters. With the support of Stalin and others, he soon made his presence at the Southern Front to intolerable that on the 10th of January, 1919, it was necessary to telegraph]:

* To Moscow
To the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee, Sverdlov.
. . . I must state categorically that the Tsaritsyn policy, which has led to the complete disintegration of the Tsaritsyn army, cannot be tolerated in the Ukraine . . .Okulov is leaving for Moscow. I propose that you and Comrade Lenin give the utmost attention to his report on Voroshilov’s work. The line of Stalin, Voroshilov and Rukhimovich means the ruin of everything we are doing.
Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic. Trotsky.

{While Stalin with the aid of Dzerzhinsky was conniving in Vyatka], Lenin insisted that it was necessary for me to conclude a compromise with Stalin:

* Stalin would very much like to work on the Southern Front . . .Stalin hopes that on the job he will succeed in convincing us of the correctness of his views . . . In informing you, Lev Davidovich, about all these declarations of Stalin, I beg you to give them your most thoughtful consideration and to answer me: in the first place, whether you agree to let Stalin explain the matter to you in person, for which he is willing to report to you, and in the second place, whether you deem it possible on the basis of certain concrete conditions to adjust the previous conflict and to arrange to work together, which is what Stalin desires so very much. As for me, I think that it is necessary to make every effort for joint work with Stalin. Lenin.

Lenin’s letter was obviously written under the influence of Stalin’s insistence. Stalin was seeking agreement, conciliation, further military work, even at the cost of temporary and insincere capitulation. The front attracted him, because here for the first time he could work with the most finished of all the administrative machines, the military machine. As a member of the Revolutionary Council of War who was at the same time a member of the Central Committee of the Party, he was inevitably the dominant figure in every Council of War, in every army, on every front. When others hesitated, he decided. He could command, and each command was followed by a practically automatic execution of his order –not as in the collegium of the Commissariat of Nationalities, where he had to hide from opponents in the commandant’s kitchen.

On the 11th of January I replied by direct wire to Lenin:

Compromise is of course necessary, but not a rotten one. The fact of the matter is, that all the Tsaritsynites have now congregated at Kharkov. You can gather what the Tsaritsynites are from Okulov’s report, which throughout consists solely of factual material, and the reports of commissars. I consider Stalin’s patronage of the Tsaritsyn tendency a most dangerous ulcer, worse than any treason or betrayal by military specialists . . . Rukhimovich is only another name for Voroshilov. Within a month we shall again have to choke on the Tsaritsyn mess, only this time we will not have the Cossacks against us but the English and French. Nor is Rukhimovich the only one. They firmly hang on to each other, raising ignorance to a principle. Voroshilov plus the Ukrainian guerrillas plus the low cultural level of the population plus demagogy –we cannot tolerate that under any conditions. Let them appoint Artem, but not Voroshilov or Rukhimovich . . . Once again I urge a careful reading of Okulov’s report on the Tsaritsyn Army and how Voroshilov demoralized it with Stalin’s cooperation.

Concerning this first period of Stalin’s work on the Southern Front no materials have been published. The point is that this period did not last very long and ended up quite sadly for him. It is a pity that I cannot rely on any material to supplement my memory of this episode, for it left no traces whatever in my personal archives. The official archives have naturally remained in the Commissariat of War. On the Revolutionary Council of War of the Southern Front, with Yegorov commanding, were Stalin and Berzin, who subsequently devoted himself entirely to military work and played a prominent if not a leading role in the military operations of Republican Spain. Once, at night –I regret I cannot state anything with regard to the exact date –Berzin called me to the direct wire and asked me whether he was “obliged to sign an operative order by the Commander of the Front Yegorov.” According to the rules, the signature of the commissar or political member of the Council of War on an operative order meant merely that the order did not have any hidden counter-revolutionary significance. As for the operative meaning of the order, that was entirely the responsibility of the commander. In this particular case, the order of the Front Commander was merely a matter of passing on an operative order of the Commander-in-Chief, a transmission and interpretation of that Army order to the army under his command. Stalin declared that Yegorov’s order was not valid and that he would not sign it. In view of the refusal of a member of the Central Committee to sign the order, Berzin did not dare to place his own signature on it. At the same time, an operative order signed only by the officer in command had no actual force.

What argument did Stalin advance against an order which, as far as I remember, was of secondary importance and the nature of which I cannot now recall? No argument at all. He simply would not sign it. It would have been quite possible for him to have called me to the direct wire and explained his reasons to me, or, if he preferred, to have called Lenin to the direct wire. The Commander of the Front, if he were in disagreement with Stalin, by the same rule could have expressed his own considerations to the Commander-in-Chief or to me. Stalin’s objection would have been immediately discussed in the Politburo, and the Commander-in-Chief would have been requested to submit supplementary explanations. But just as in Tsaritsyn, Stalin preferred a different form of action: “I won’t sign it,” he declared, in order to show off his importance to h is collaborators and to his subordinates. I replied to Berzin: “The order of the Commander-in-Chief certified by a commissar is obligatory for you. Sign it immediately: otherwise, you will be turned over to the Tribunal.” Berzin immediately attached his signature to the commander’s order.

The question passed to the Politburo. Lenin said, not without embarrassment: “What can we do about it? Stalin again caught in the act!” It was decided to recall Stalin from the Southern Front. This was his second important misfire. I remember, he came back sheepish but apparently not resentful. On the contrary, he even said that he had achieved his purpose, that he had wanted to call attention to improper relations between the chief command and the command at the front, that although the order of the Commander-in-Chief contained nothing inimical, it was issued without previously sounding out the opinion of the Southern Front, which was not right. That, he said, was what he was really protesting against. He felt quite satisfied with himself. My impression was that h e had bitten off more than he could chew. Caught in the trap of a chance swaggering remark, he had been unable to extricate himself. At any rate, it was perfectly obvious that he was doing everything possible to cover up his t races and to make believe that nothing had happened. [To save his face, it was then proposed, probably upon Lenin’s initiative, to shift him to the Southwestern Front. But Stalin replied]:

* February 4, 1919.
To the Central Committee of the Party.
To Comrades Lenin and Trotsky.
. . .My own profound conviction is: no change in the situation can possibly be effected by my going there . . . Stalin.

[For three or four months after that he held on leash his eagerness to work in the military machine and resumed his contributions to The Life of the Nationalities.

[The liquidation of the Tsaritsynites was less real than apparent. Actually, Stalin and his allies had merely changed the field and methods of attack. The new field was the Party, and the methods were adapted accordingly.] As in 1912-13 with reference to the Conciliators and as during the pre-October days with reference to the opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev, so at the Eighth Congress [of the Party, Stalin, ostensibly in no way connected with the Military Opposition, worked hard on building it up, and used it as leverage against Trotsky].

The military opposition consisted of two groups. There were the numerous underground workers who were utterly worn out by prison an exile, and who now could not find a place for themselves in the building of the Army and the State. They looked with great disfavor on all sorts of upstarts –and there was no lack of them in responsible posts. But in this opposition there were also very many advanced workers, fighting elements with a fresh reserve of energy, who trembled with political apprehension when they saw yesterday’s engineers, officers, teachers, professors, once again in commanding positions. This Workers’ Opposition reflected, in the final analysis, lack of confidence in its own powers and uncertainty that the new class which had come to power would be able to dominate and control that broad circles of the old intelligentsia.

During the first period, when the Revolution was spreading from the industrial centers toward the periphery, armed fighting detachments were organized of workers, sailors and soldiers, to establish the Soviet regime in various localities. These detachments frequently had to wage minor wars. Enjoying as they did the sympathy of the masses, they easily became victorious. They received a certain tempering, and their leaders a certain authority. There was no proper liaison between these detachments. Their tactics had the character of guerrilla raids, and as far as they went that was sufficient. But the overthrown classes, with the aid of their foreign protectors, began to take the offensive. Accustomed to easy victories, the guerrilla detachments at once displayed their worthlessness; they did not have adequate intelligence sections; they had no liaison with each other; nor were they ever able to execute a complex maneuver. Hence –at various times, in various parts of the country –guerrillaism met with disaster. It was no easy task to include these separate detachments in a centralized system. The military ability of the commanders was not high, and they were hostile to the old officers, partly because they had no political confidence in them and partly to cover up lack of confidence in themselves. Yet as late as July, 1918, at the Fifth Congress of Soviets the Left Essars still insisted that we could defend ourselves with guerrilla detachments and has no need of a centralized army. “This is tantamount to being told,” I replied to them, “that we don’t need railways and can get along with horse-carts for transportation.”

Our fronts had a tendency to close into a ring of more than eight thousand kilometers in circumference. Our enemies themselves selected the direction, created a base on the periphery, received aid from abroad and delivered the blow in the direction of the center. The advantage of our situation consisted in this, that we occupied a central position and acted along internal operational lines. As soon as the enemy selected his direction for the attack, we were able to select our direction for the counter-attack. We were able to move our forces and mass them for thrusts in the most important directions at any given moment. But this advantage was available to us on the sole condition of complete centralization in management and command. In order to sacrifice temporarily certain of the more remote or less important sectors for the sake of saving the closer and more important ones, we had to be in a position to issue orders and have them obeyed instead of arguing about them. All of this is too elementary to require explanation here. Failure to understand this was due to those centrifugal tendencies which were aroused by the Revolution, the provincialism of the vast land of isolated communities, the elemental spirit of independence that had not yet had the time or the opportunity to mature. Suffice it to say that in the beginning not only provinces but even region after region had its own Council of People’s Commissars with its very own Commissar of War. The successes of regular organization induced these scattered detachments to adapt themselves to certain norms and conditions, to consolidate themselves into regiments and divisions. But the spirit and the method often remained as of old. A chief of a division, not sure of himself, was very easy-going with his colonels. Voroshilov, as an army commander, was very indulgent with the chiefs of his divisions. But all the more resentful was their attitude towards the Center, which was not satisfied with the outward transformation of the guerrilla detachments into regiments and divisions, but insisted on the more fundamental requirements of military organization. In an argument with one of Stalin’s guerrilla partisans I wrote in January, 1919:

In one of our armies, it was considered a mark of the highest revolutionism not so very long ago to jeer rather vulgarly and stupidly at “Military specialists,” i.e., at all who had studied in military schools; yet in this very same army practically no political work was carried on. The attitude there was no less hostile, perhaps more so, toward Communist commissars than toward the specialists. Who was sowing this hostility? The worst kind of the new commanders –military know-nothings, half-guerrillas, half-Party people who did not want to have anyone around, be they Party workers or serious military workers . . . Hanging on for dear life to their jobs, they fiercely execrated the very mention of military studies . . . Many of them, getting finally into a hopeless mess, ended up by simply rebelling against the Soviet Government.

At a moment of grave danger, the Second Petrograd Regiment, occupying a crucial sector, abandoned the front upon its own initiative and, headed by its commander and commissar, seized a river steamer and sailed down the Volga from the vicinity of Kazan in the direction of Nizhni-Novgorod. The boat was stopped by my order and the deserters were placed on trial. The commander and commissar of the regiment were shot. This was the first instance of the shooting of a Communist, Commissar Panteleyev, for violation of military duty. In the Party there was a lot of talk and gossip about this incident. In December, 1918, Pravda published an article which, without mentioning me by name but obviously hinting at me, referred to the shooting of “the best comrades without a trial.” The author of the article, a certain A. Kamenesky, was in himself a figure of little importance –obviously, a mere pawn. It seemed incomprehensible that an article containing such dire and weighty accusations could appear in the central organ. Its editor was Bukharin, a Left Communist and therefore opposed to the employment of “generals” in the Army. But, especially at that time, he was utterly incapable of intrigue. The riddle was solved when I discovered upon investigation that the author of the article, or rather the man who signed it, A. Kamensky was on the staff of the Tenth Army and at the time under the direct influence of Stalin. It is beyond doubt that Stalin surreptitiously assured the publication of the article. The very terminology of the accusation: the brazen reference to the shooting of “the best” comrades, and moreover, “without a trial,” was astonishing because of the monstrosity of the fabrication as well as its inherent absurdity. But it was precisely this crude exaggeration of the accusation that revealed Stalin, the organizer of the future Moscow trials. The Central Committee settle the matter. I recall that Kamensky and the editorial board were reprimanded, but Stalin’s manipulating hand remained invisible.

[Later, while at the Southern Front, Stalin continued to utilize this disecredited story through his tools at the Party Congress. When news of this reached Trotsky, who was away at the front during the sessions of the Eighth Congress, he was obliged to appeal to the Central Committee a second time with the request “to institute an investigation in the case of the shooting of Panteleyev,” as the minutes of the Central Committee session for April 18, 1919, state, “in view of the fact that the matter was again brought up at the Party Congress.” With Stalin present at the Central Committee session, the request was unanimously referred to the Orgburo, where again with Stalin present (he was a member of both bodies), the Orgburo once more unanimously] appointed a commission composed of Krestinsky, Serebryakov and Smilga, all three members of both the Orgburo and the Central Committee, to look into the entire question. The Commission reached, of course, the conclusion that Panteleyev was shot after a trial and not as a Communist and a [commissar], but as a vicious deserter –“not because his regiment abandoned its position, but because he abandoned the position together with his regiment,” [in the words of Army Commander Slavin, commanding officer if the Army to which Panteleyev’s regiment belonged]. Ten years later this episode would again play a part in Stalin’s campaign against me under the very same title: “The Shooting Of The Best Communists Without A Trial.”

The Eighth Congress of the Party as in session from the 18th to the 23rd of March, 1919, in Moscow. On the very eve of the Congress we received a strong blow from the White near Ufa. I decided, regardless of the Congress, to go immediately to the Eastern Front. After suggesting the immediate return to the front of all the military delegates, I made read to go to Ufa. Part of the delegates were dissatisfied; they had come to the capital for a few day’s furlough and did not want to leave it. Someone started the rumor that I wanted to avoid debates on military policy. That lie surprised me. I introduced a proposal in the Central Committee on March 16, 1919, to repeal the directive about the immediate return of the military delegates, assigned the defense of the military policy to Sokolnikov and immediately went East. He discussion of the military question at the Eighth Congress, notwithstanding the presence of quite a significant opposition, did not deter me; the situation at the front seemed to me much more important than electioneering at the Congress, especially since I had no doubt that the policy I considered the only correct one was bound to win on its own merits. The Central Committee approved the thesis I had previously introduced and appointed Sokolnikov its official reporter. The opposition’s report was to be presented by V.M. Smirnov, an Old Bolshevik and a former artillery officer of the World War. Smirnov was one of the leaders of the Left Communists, who were determined opponents of the Brest-Litovsk Peace and had demanded the launching of a guerrilla war against the German regular army. This continued to be the basis of their platform even as late as 1919, although true enough, they had somewhat cooled off in the interim. The formation of a centralized and regular army was impossible without military specialists and without the substitution of proper and systematic leadership for improvisation. The Left Communists, having managed to cool off to some extent, tried to adapt their views of yesterday to the growth of the State machine and the needs of the regular army. But they retreated step by step, utilizing all they could out of their old baggage, and camouflaging their essentially guerrilla tendencies with new formulas.

A minor but very characteristic episode took place at the beginning of the Congress with regard to the composition of the praesidium. It indicated to a certain extent the nature of the Congress, if only in its preliminary stage. On the order of the day was the trying military question. It was no secret to Lenin that behind the scenes Stalin was in fact at the head of the opposition on that issue. Lenin had come to an agreement with the Petrograd delegation concerning the composition of the praesidium. The oppositionists proposed several supplementary candidatures under various pretexts, naming not only oppositionists but others as well. For example, they proposed the candidature of Sokolnikov, the chief spokesman of the official point of view. However, Bukharin, Stassova, Oborin, Rykov and Sokolnikov declined, honoring as a personal obligation the agreement that had been concluded unofficially concerning the praesidium. But Stalin did not decline. That flagrantly revealed his oppositionist status. He seemed to have been hard at work trying to pack the Congress with his partisans, and electioneering among the delegates. Lenin was aware of this, yet to forestall embarrassment he did his utmost to spare Stalin the test of a vote either for or against him. Through one of the delegates Lenin put the preliminary question: “Are supplementary candidates for members of the praesidium necessary at all?” And without an effort he secured a negative answer to that question. Stalin suffered a defeat, which Lenin had made as impersonal and inoffensive as was humanly possible. Today the official version is that Stalin supported Lenin’s position on the military question at the Eighth Congress. Why then are not the protocols published now when there is no longer any need to preserve [such] military secrets?

At the Ukrainian conference in March, 1920, Stalin formally defended me, appearing as the reporter representing the Central Committee; at the same time, through trusted people, he exerted no little effort to achieve the failure of his theses. At the Eighth Congress of the Party such a maneuver was difficult, since all the proceedings were directly under the observation of Lenin, several other members of the Central Committee and responsible military workers. But essentially, here too Stalin played quite the same role as at the Ukrainian conference. As a member of the Central Committee he either spoke equivocally in defense of the official military policy or kept quiet; but through his closest friends –Voroshilov and Rukhimovich and other Tsaritsynites, who were the shock troops of the opposition at the Congress –he continued to undermine not so much the military policy, it is true, as its chief spokesman. He incited these delegates to the vilest kind of personal attack against Sokolnikov, who had assumed the defense of the War Commissariat without any reservations. The nucleus of the opposition was the Tsaritsyn group and most prominent among them was Voroshilov. For some time preceding the Congress they were in constant contact with Stalin, who instructed them and held in leash their premature hastiness, at the same time centralizing the intrigue against the War Department. This was the sum of the substance of his activity at the Eighth Congress.

“A year ago,” Sokolnikov reported to the Eighth Congress of the Party, “at the moment of the complete collapse of the Army, when there was no military organization to defend the proletarian revolution, the Soviet Government resorted to the system of voluntary army formations, and in its day this volunteer army played its part. Now, looking back at this period, as at a stage we have passed, we should take into consideration both the positive and the negative aspects. The essence of the positive side was that the best elements of the working class participated . . . But in addition to these bright aspects of the guerilla period there were also the dark sides, which in the end outweighed whatever was good in it. The best elements left, died, or were taken prisoner . . . What remained was a conglomeration of the worst elements . . . These evil elements were supplemented by those who chose to enlist in the Volunteer Army because they had been cast out in the street in consequence of the catastrophic collapse of the entire social order . . . These were, finally, supplemented by the demobilized riffraff of the Old Army. That is why during the guerrilla period of our military organization such forces developed as compelled us to liquidate this guerrilla system. In the end it has resulted in a system in which small, independent detachments grouped themselves around separate leaders. These detachments in the final reckoning were devoted not only to the struggle in defense of the Soviet Government, in defense of the victories of the Revolution, but also to banditry and marauding. They turned into guerrilla detachments that were the bulwark of adventurism . . .” On the other hand, “in the present period,” Sokolnikov continued, “the building of the State . . . the Army . . . goes forward.”

“A great deal of heated discussion,” Sokolnikov said, turning to another phase of his report, “arose around the question of military specialists . . . Now this question has been essentially solved both theoretically and practically. Even the opponents of the use of military specialists themselves admit that this question is out of date . . . Military specialists were used in the reorganization of the guerrilla army into the regular army . . . Thus we achieved the stability of the front, thus we achieved military success. Conversely, where the military specialists were not used, we frittered away our forces to the point of utter disintegration . . . In the problem of the military specialists, we are confronted not with a purely military problem but with a general special problem. When the question was brought up of inviting engineers to the factories, of inviting the former capitalist organizers, do you remember how the ultra-Red Left Communists taunted us with their merciless ‘super-Communist’ criticism . . . that to return the engineers to the factories meant to return the commanding staff of the bourgeoisie? And here we have an analogous criticism, applied now to the building of the Army. We are told that by returning former officers to the Army we will restore the former officer class and the former army. But these comrades forgot that side by side with these commanders there are commissars, the representatives of the Soviet Government; that these military specialists are in the ranks of the army which is entirely at the service of the proletarian revolution . . . This Army, which has tens of thousands of old specialists, has shown in practice that it is the army of the proletarian revolution.”

By the time of the Eighth Congress, the disagreement on the military question was considerably less pronounced than it had been previously. The opposition no longer put the question as frankly as it had the year before. Then the centralized army was proclaimed to be characteristic of the imperialist State and in its place the opposition advocated the system of guerrilla detachments, rejecting the utilization of contemporary technical means of struggle, such as airplanes and tanks. This time they came out against the “imperialistic” principle of maneuverability: the corps, the division, even the brigade, were declared to be units too heavily weighted. It was proposed to reduce all of the armed forces of the Republic into distinct units of the combined services, each unit about the size of a regiment. This was essentially the ideology of guerrillaism slightly masked. The use of the old officer corps, especially in commanding positions, was declared incompatible in action with loyalty to the revolutionary military doctrine.

The actual work of organizing the military forces of the workers’ government proceeded along entirely different lines. We tried, especially in the beginning, to utilize as much as possible the experience, method, knowledge and means remaining from the old army. We built the revolutionary Army from the human and technical material at hand, striving always and everywhere to secure in it the dominance of the proletarian vanguard. The institution of commissars was under the circumstances an indispensable instrument of proletarian control. We combined the old commanding staff with the new, and only thus were we able to achieve the required results. This had become crystal-clear to a majority of the delegates by the time the Congress convened. No one any longer dared to reject in principle the foundations of the military policy. The opposition turned to criticism of occasional errors and excesses, regaling the Congress with all manner of sad anecdotes.

The reporter of the opposition, Smirnov, replying directly to Sokolnikov’s statement that “some presumably stand for a guerrilla army and others for the regular army,” pointed out that on the question of using military specialists “there was no disagreements among us over the dominant trend in our military policy.” He basic disagreement was over the necessity of broadening the functions of commissars and members of the Revolutionary Council of War so as to ensure their greater participation in the management of the Army and in decisions pertaining to operational matters, and thereby reduce the role of the commanding staff. The Congress met this criticism about half way. It was decided to continue the recruiting of the old military specialists in full force, but on the other hand, it was emphasized that it was necessary to prepare a new commanding staff as an absolutely reliable instrument of the Soviet system. That this and all the other decisions were adopted unanimously with one abstaining vote is explained by the fact that the opposition had in the meantime repudiated most of its principal prejudices. Powerless to counterpose its own line to that of the majority of the Party, it had to join in the general conclusion. Nevertheless, some of the effects of the guerrillaism of the preceding period were evident throughout all of 1919, particularly in the South –in the Ukraine, in the Caucasus and in Transcaucasia, where the elimination of the guerrilla tendency proved no easy task.

In 1920 a prominent military worker wrote: “Notwithstanding all the pain, outcries and noise raised concerning our military policy, concerning the recruitment of military specialists in the Red Army and so forth, the head of the War Department, Comrade Trotsky, proved to be right. With an iron hand he carried through the indicated military policy, disdaining all threats . . . The victories of the Red Army on all the fronts is the best proof of the correctness of the military policy.” Yet to this very day in innumerable books and articles that hoary tales of the treason of the “generals” whom I appointed persist without abating. These accusations sound particularly silly when one remembers that twenty years after the October Revolution Stalin accused of treason and exterminated almost the entire commanding staff appointed by himself. It might also be added that Sokolnikov, the official reporter, and V.M. Smirnov, the oppositionist co-reporter, both active participants in the Civil War, subsequently fell victims of the Stalinist purge.

A special military conference was held during the Congress, the minutes of which were kept but never published. The purpose of this conference was to give an opportunity to all participants, especially the dissatisfied members of the opposition, to express themselves fully, freely and frankly. Lenin delivered an energetic speech at this conference in defense of the military policy. What did Stalin say? Did he speak in defense of the Central Committee’s position? It is hard to answer this question categorically. There is no doubt that he acted behind the scenes, inciting various oppositionists against the Commissariat of War. There can be no doubt of that because of the circumstances and the recollections of the participants of the Congress. A flagrant piece of evidence is the very fact that the protocols of the military conference of the Eighth Congress have not yet been published –either because Stalin did not speak at it, at all, or because his speech on that occasion would be too embarrassing for him now. [Stalin, along with Zinoviev, was also a member of a] special commission of conciliation for working out the final resolutions. What he did there remains unknown beyond the bare fact that a satellite of his, Yaroslovsky, was advanced at its reporters.

Soon after the Eighth Congress I replied to the declaration of Zinoviev, who, undoubtedly by agreement with Stalin, had taken it upon himself to defend the “insulted” Voroshilov, in a letter to the Central Committee. I said: “The only guilt that I can charge against myself with reference to him [Voroshilov] is that I spent too long, notably two or three months, on the effort to act by means of negotiations, persuasions, personal combinations, when in the interests of the cause, what was necessary was a firm organizational decision. For, in the end, the task in connection with the Tenth Army did not consist of convincing Voroshilov, but in attaining military successes in the shortest possible time.” [And that of course depended on the maximum co-ordination of plans throughout the] country, which was divided into eight military districts composed of 46 provincial and 344 regional military commissariats.

[Stalin did his utmost to poison the mind of the Congress on the position taken by the Commissariat of War on the military question.] All documents on hand fully prove that by virtue of his position in the Central Committee and in the Government, Stalin headed the opposition. If I had previously suspected it, now I am fully convinced, that Stalin’s machinations with the Ukrainians, his wire-pulling in the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party, and the like, are directly connected with the maneuvers of the military opposition. [Having] reaped no laurels at Tsaritsyn, he tried to reap his revenge [in the dark].


Next Chapter 10 The Civil War (Continued)

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