The Military Writings of Leon Trotsky
Volume 2: 1919 – How The Revolution Armed – The Southern Front: The Red Army’s
By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs
December 11, 1919, Moscow
The armies of the Southern front are moving deeper and deeper into the area where the Ukrainian guerrillas are active. It is of immense importance to have a practical policy towards guerrila-ism and volunteerism: on this depends not only our victory over Denikin but also the entire fate of the Soviet regime in the Ukraine. A number of measures must at once be taken to exclude the possibility of any repetition of the events which brought about the fall of the Soviet Ukraine last time.
1. Above all, the Red regiments advancing into the Ukraine must be protected against infection by guerrilla-ism and Makhnovism. To this end:
(a) An extensive agitation, both written and spoken, must be conducted to explain the advantages of a regular army over rebel detachments, using examples from the past to show the treacherous role played by the Makhnovites and Makhnovism.
(b) The units entering the Ukraine must be purged of commanders, commissars and members of Communist cells who are lacking in discipline and inclined towards guerrila-ism.
(c) All necessary measures must be taken to ensure that Red Army men of Ukrainian origin get no opportunity to quit their units and return to their villages, and especially not to take their weapons with them.
(d) In general, the level of discipline must be raised in the units, and a stern struggle waged against all manifestations of banditry and arbitrary conduct.
2. Commanders and commissars of active units are to be categorically forbidden to accept volunteers into such units directly, whether as individuals or in groups. All volunteers are to be sent to the rear and enrolled in the holding battalions of the army or of the Front. Any commissars or commanders who violate this order are to be called strictly to account.
3. The Special Section, jointly with the Political Department, is to send ahead, into the area where the insurgents are active, a considerable number of agents, chosen from among its reliable, devoted and tactful workers. These comrades are to join the guerrilla detachments so as to get to know, from inside, every aspect of the character of each detachment and the relations between different groups and individuals within it. These agents are to carry on in the guerrilla detachment, with all necessary prudence, agitation explaining the advantages of regular units over such detachments.
4. It is to be made a firm rule that a guerrilla detachment ceases to be a military unit after it has appeared on our side of the line of the enemy front and has made direct contact with our units. From that moment it becomes merely material for processing, and for that purpose is to be sent to our rear and handed over to the Formation Administration (worthless elements to be expelled, the commanding personnel renewed, the necessary number of Communists brought in, and training carried on with the required vigour). Certain more combat-ready units may be allowed to go back into the enemy’s rear. In no case are guerrilla detachments, as such, to be allowed to fight in the ranks of the Red Army.
5. The attitude of our commanders and commissars towards the guerrilla detachments must combine unbending firmness with maximum tact.
(a) In order to secure complete subordination of the detachments, they must make use of the agents previously sent into these detachments (point 3) and of the best elements that these agents will have gathered round them.
(b) From the moment that we make contact with a detachment, agitation for its complete subordination to the regular system must at once be undertaken on a wide scale.
(c) No supplies must be given to a guerrilla detachment until it has become fully subordinate to our command.
(d) The most meritorious and disciplined guerrillas may and should be awarded military gifts and also the Order of the Red Banner.
(e) Worthless elements must be expelled from the units, transferred to penal companies or to the rear levies, or handed over to the military tribunals.
6. In the event that a guerrilla detachment that has made contact with us refuses to submit to order, displays unruliness and self-will, plunders the local population, or attempts to stir up trouble in the regular units, this detachment must be subjected to ruthless punishment. The commander responsible on our side must in such cases strictly and precisely calculate the blow to be struck. The reasons for the punishment must be clear to and understood by every peasant, worker and Red Army man. The corresponding order, of an explanatory character, must be printed in good time in advance, in the appropriate number of copies. Absolutely reliable units must be chosen to execute the punishment. Disarmament, investigation and punishment of the detachment concerned must be carried out as quickly as can be: if possible in a period not exceeding 24 hours. The commanders and the kulak leading circles of the detachment are to be punished most severely.
7. In view of the fact that, in the Ukraine, guerrilla detachments appear and disappear with ease, dissolving themselves in the mass of the armed peasant population, a fundamental condition for success in the fight against guerrilla-ism is unconditional disarmament of the rural population, without exception. This task, which is of very great importance, must be carried out in a strictly planned way. Each army has the duty of disarming the population in the area in which it is operating, using all means at its disposal (agitation, intelligence from agents, payment in money or in kind for weapons surrendered, general searches, imposition of fines in money or in kind, enforcement of collective responsibility, taking of hostages, shooting of offenders, etc.).
The demarcation lines between divisions, brigades and so on are also to serve to demarcate the areas subject to disarmament. Under the Revolutionary War Councils of the armies and the headquarters of divisions, brigades and regiments, special commissions are to be formed, or individual plenipotentiaries appointed, to conduct all the measures directed towards achieving the disarmament of the local population. These authorities are to have placed at their disposal particularly reliable task-forces (drawn from town-commandants’ forces, battle-police detachments, special assignment units and so on), the size of which is to be commensurate with the general situation.
The Revolutionary War Councils of the Front and of the armies are required to pay particular attention to the tasks set out in the present order.
Commanders and commissars of certain units, motivated by concern to fill gaps in their ranks as quickly as possible, are often inclined to disobey prohibitions such as this. At the same time, impelled by legitimate military ambition, they all too often fail to take the measures necessary to safeguard their rear. Supervision of the actual and unvarying implementation of the measures set out here is therefore made entirely the responsibility of the higher organs of the front and army administration. Guided by the relevant instructions from the Government, the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic orders that territory be occupied only in those cases and within those limits for which adequate force is available for purging this territory of all manifestations of anarchy and banditry, and ensuring therein firm Soviet authority and proper military organisation.
All the commanders and commissars of the Front must thoroughly realise that only by the fulfilment of this order can the higher interests of the Soviet Republic be safeguarded, and that therefore any violation of the directives here set out will be punished in accordance with martial law, as being equivalent to a very grave crime against the state.
This order, which relates primarily to the armies advancing in the Ukraine, is to be extended also to other fronts where there has been extensive development of guerrilla activity in the rear of the retreating enemy (the South-Eastern front, the Turkestan front, the Eastern front).
Source: Trotsky Internet Archive