‘The Red Army’ by V. Antonov-Ovseenko from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 3 No. 20. February 27, 1923.

‘The Red Army’ by V. Antonov-Ovseenko from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 3 No. 20. February 27, 1923.

[The Red Army will celebrate its fifth anniversary on February 24, and we feel this a fit time to give a resume of its history. We have borrowed largely from the excellent article of V. Antonov-Ovseenko, one of the first soldiers and one of the first heads of the Red Army. His article appeared in a work published by the Central Committee of the Communist Party Of Russia on the Fifth Anniversary of the October Revolution. The name of Trotzky, who was the great organizing spirit of the Red Army throughout its period of trial, and those of other revolutionaries who led it, Vatsetis, Tukhatchevsky, Kamenev, Frunze, Dybenko, Vorochilov, scarcely appear in this article; for the Red Army is essentially the creation of the mass of workers and peasants, of a mass party, and of historic necessity. We shall attempt, however, to correct  this apparent omission. Ed.]

Long before the Revolution.

Long before the Revolution the Bolshevik Party was busy organizing armed forces which were destined io support the demands of the proletariat one day. The glorious fighting traditions still retained their force from the revolution of 1905 which had prepared and made possible the worker’s insurrection, and the seizure of power by the proletariat supported by the poverty stricken peasants.

From the very beginning of the imperialist war, the more influential militants of the party formulated the fighting slogans: transformation of the capitalist war into a civil war; from national war to class war. From the trenches to the barricades! Free from pacifist illusions, the party refused to advocate general disarmament even though it meant the secession of certain parlor Bolsheviks from the Party.

Under Kerensky.

The old army went to pieces; but out oi it came the soviet elements which worked towards the formation of the new Soviet Army. The struggle of the Bolsheviks to extend their influence in the army, and to organize in it disciplined revolutionary bodies, continued side by side with the work of creating the groups of proletarian fighters, the Red Guard.

The formation of the Red Guard began in March 1917, in the workshops and factories of Petrograd, and soon spread through the ranks of the Russian workers. Although the method of fanning the Red Guard differed according to place, its organization was much the same everywhere; the instructors were always chosen from the better elements of the revolutionaries in the old army, the workers were armed by the shop committees and remained at work, devoting only a certain number of hours each day to military training.

In Petrograd, a tendency soon arose towards the military training of the entire working class and the preserving of such army contingents as already existed. That was the militia of workers formed for the maintenance of order in the city. The development of the Red Army of Petrograd was precipitated, by the unsuccessful reactionary coup of General Kornilov. A unified organization and a central control were established. The unit was a battalion (360 bayonets) of 3 companies, accompanied by a group of sharp-shooters, a communication and sanitary unit and a supply section.

At Moscow the Red Guard began no serious organization until the eve of the October Revolution. On the day of the insurrection we had 110,000 guards at our disposal in Petrograd and 3,000 in Moscow. The Red Guards were a voluntary militia which elected its own officers.

Let us mention here the most important strategic preparations for the October Revolution, for it was necessary to foresee everything.

The First Test.

On the day after the victory of the revolutionary proletariat, Kerensky succeeded, by a ruse, in making the Cossack division of General Krasnov, -about a thousand cavalry provided with many batteries of artillery and an armoured car,-march through Petrograd. The first contact with this enemy aroused us to a realization of the great shortcomings in our military organization. We had neither cavalry nor artillery. The Red Guard had not learned how to fight in open country. The troops of the Petrograd Garrison, being without commanders, were difficult to manage. The old head of our shock troops, Major Mouraviev, as head of the military district of Petrograd, succeeded in winning over certain officers, and established a sort of front, where the marines and the Red Guard, about 15,000 men gathered at Helsingfors, played an active part. It was they who defeated Krasnov and, sometime later, the counterrevolutionary revolt of the Junkers.

The first Soviet Forces.

A military congress, meeting in December 1917, under, the chairmanship of Kedrov, studied the question of demobilization and adopted a resolution declaring the necessity of “Commencing immediately the formation of a Socialist army.” The demobilization of the old army was to take place progressively and in proportion as the new army of volunteers should be recruited.

But long before that, it was necessary to act, for there was not an hour to spare, and we were laced with immediate strategic problems. We had to seize the headquarters of the old. armies, to support the comrades who were fighting in the streets of Moscow, to establish communications with Siberia, so important for the provisioning of Petrograd.

The Military Revolutionary Committee of Petrograd, which had directed the uprising of October 25, established three contingents for this purpose in the days following: 1) The marines from Helsingfors, together with a Lithuanian battalion placed under the command of comrade Ter-Aroutimaniz. 2) The 245th Finnish regiment, a battalion of Red Guards from Petrograd and an armoured car of workers from Putilov, under the command of Potapov. 3). A battalion of Helsingfors marines and the 17th regiment of Siberian infantry under the command of Midshipman Pavlov and the Commissaire Shtchukine. Ter-Aroutiniantz seized the General Headquarters without a fight. Potapov did not arrive in Moscow until after the Red victory. The forces under Pavlov fought at length and victoriously along the Siberian roads against Dutov. On the 29th of January they took Orenburg.

The Red Guards in the Civil War.

In December 1917 the national Rada of Ukraine and the Heiman of the Don Cossacks, Kaledin, prepared to oppose us, as did the Army of White volunteers formed by General Alexeyev at Rostov on Don, where the workers’ organization had suppressed. The Soviets feverishly prepared their offensive and defensive. Our commanding general consolidated little by little the considerable volunteer forces from the garrisons of Novgorod, Pskov, Petrograd and Moscow. There were the proletarian Red Guards of Petrograd and Moscow (the most numerous), of Kharkov, the Don and Ekaterinoslav, and several other units of regulars from the old army recalled from the northern, eastern and Caucasian fronts. A scattered army and in many ways deficient. There were many desertions from this heterogeneous force. The Red Guard, with its high standard of morale, was poor in manoeuvres and lacking in endurance. There were certain units of regulars, the 4th regiment of Lithuanian Infantry, the 11th Siberian, the 4th Division of cavalry, the 5th brigade of Siberian artillery which gave us an advantage over General Kornilov. In the Ukraine, a proletarian uprising dispersed the Rada.

In February 1918, we faced a new trial, that of the German bayonets. Breaking the armistice of Brest-Litovsk, the Kaiser’s armies began seriously to threaten Petrograd. From the Don, in the Ukraine, at Moscow, the Red Army was easily driven back. The “national” Directorate, driven from Ukraine by the Reds, called upon the Germans to intervene. The Roumanians

threw themselves upon Odessa. But, beaten on February 23, by the workers of the city and by the Bolshevik troops at the Roumanian front, they renounced their designs and even promised by treaty to evacuate Besarabia within two months. On March 3, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. The demobilization commenced at once while the Germans were advancing in the Ukraine. The Checho-Slovakians refused to fight them side by side with us, demanded and obtained their departure from the Ukraine. At Kharkov, Barvelkovo, Svatovo, Lugansk and Taganrog we opposed the German advance; on April 7 they entered Kharkov and on May 9th, Rostov.

From the volunteer to the regular army.

The task was a difficult one; but the Soviet power mastered it at once. On the 28th of January 1918, a decree on “The formation of a socialist army” was passed. On February 23 it was in force. The Pan-Russian College for the organization of a Workers’ and Peasants Red Army, an army of volunteers, commenced its extensive campaign of propaganda with the aid of the soviets and the military committees. But propagandists and instructors were lacking. It was necessary to create special courses (at the end of 1918 there were 16), and to produce a special literature. An appeal to the workers was distributed in 450.000 copies. In February began the organization of a school for Red Officers. On the 25th of February we had already 5,500 voluntary enlistments in Petrograd. On April 1 we had about 25,000. On April 29, tire Moscow district numbered 19,000 volunteers. A total of 106,000 men enlisted in two-and-a-half months.

But could we confer the defense of the revolution upon volunteers? We began to prepare the measures necessary for the establishment of a regular army. A decree of April 8, 1918, created the Local Military Commissariats, charged especially with the duty of taking a census of all workers capable of bearing arms, and to give elementary military instruction to the entire working class population. The decree of May 29 made this instruction compulsory. On July 9th, the Fifth Congress of Soviets proclaimed, “The duty of all able bodied citizens between 28 and 40 to take part in the defense of the Soviet Republic”. The bourgeois population was to be employed behind the lines. The resolution of the congress said:

“Surrounded by enemies, face to face with counter-revolution. and foreign intervention, the Soviet Republic must create a strong army, which will defend the power of the workers and peasants until the day when the working class of the world deal the final blow to militarism, and will realize the peaceful cooperation and fraternity of all peoples.”

At this moment the Checho-Slovakian revolt was at its height, demonstrating every day the inadequacy of our first military formations.

The transformation of an army of volunteers into a regular army was difficult, and here the firmness of the Communist elements played an important role. The army had to be purged of its undisciplined elements. A rigorous revolutionary discipline had to be imposed upon it. The creation of the Red Army was not completed until a central leadership and a central ordnance organization was created.

Difficult moments.

In September, 1918, the Revolutionary Military Council was established, and Vatsetis was appointed commander of all our forces. It was a tragic period. German imperialism held the Ukraine, the Don basin and the Baltic provinces. Krasnov occupied the Don, was attacking Tsaritsin and threatening Voroneje. In the northern Caucasus, Denikin was preparing for war with the support of the allies. The Baku was occupied by the Turks. The Checho-Slovakians held the Volga. The Constituent S.R.’s controlled Astrakhan and the Ural. An S.R. directorate formed a coalition in Siberia with monarchist officers. Archangel and Mourmansk were occupied by Anglo-American forces. In Finland the Whites and the Germans had erased all traces of the Revolution. We had nothing to oppose to the regular armies which pressed us. on all sides, outside of a few volunteer contingents bearing fearful names (The Thunderbolt, The Troop of Fire, The Avenger) but undisciplined, scattered and hardly fear inspiring in reality, despite their revolutionary enthusiasm. The work of shaping them went on, none the less. The red partisans in the Caucasus, hunted by the whites and ravaged by trphus, formed the 11th and 12th regular armies in the mountains of Kuban; on the Volga 1he 1st army was formed. Thus the mobilization went on. Within a few weeks an army arose to which the Communist Party gave the best that it had. Our enemies, the S.R.’s of Samara also attempted to mobilize the peasant masses under cover of the Checho-Slovakian front. But they slipped away. We were successful, the Volga was reconquered. But Krasnov dealt us some terrible blows. The officers who had passed into our service, continually betrayed us, carrying, with them entire divisions. It was there that the 11th Division Tsartsin fought so heroically.

Successes and reverses.

The Red Army was at the frontier of Galicia, ready to invade. Behind it Hungary was about to become Sovietist, threatened by Checho-Slovakia and Roumania. A peasant revolt was crushed in Bessarabia. The government of Ukrainian Soviets sent an ultimatum to Roumania demanding evacuation of Bukovina and of Bessarabia. We prepared to march to Bukarest and across the Carpathians to bring help to Hungary.

It was at this point that Koltchak assumed the offensive with an army of 300,000 peasants mobilized by force and equipped by the Allies. In one month (15th of March to 15th of April, 1919) he was master of the Urals and threatening the Volga. But his success was of short duration. The peasants, whom he had mobilized turned against him, surrendering en masse; some clever maneuvers of the Red Anny did the rest.

Still the Workers’ Republic was to have no peace. In the middle of April, Denikin was finally ready to begin an offensive, and we were obliged to give up the idea of carrying relief to Hungary. Denikin succeeded in occupying the entire Ukraine. In September he was at Orel and marching on Moscow. His reactionary policy, his mistrust, of the peasant, the excesses of his class army, were bound to cause his failure. But with us, the immensity of the danger aroused great efforts. The White Cossacks of Mamontov and Shkuro had done us a huge amount of damage. Within a few weeks: a Red cavalry was formed by Mironov and Budienny. On October 17, the second attack of Yudenitch on Petrograd was repulsed, on the 20th Denikin was driven from Orel. In January 1920, after a disastrous retreat, the remains of his army shut themselves in the Crimea where Wrangel assumed the command. Now one could lay down the sword and take up the trowel. Many Red armies were transformed at Trotzky’s instance, into armies of work. We planned the transference of the regular army into a system of militias. But our relations with Poland continued to grow more strained and the Polish offensive against us began on the 25th of April.

The march on Warsaw.

The vicissitudes of that campaign can scarcely be forgotten. Vast prospects opened up before us in a moment, when we repulsed the Polish aggression which had been so victorious at first. To take Warsaw, to join hands with the German proletariat crushed under the weight of the Versailles Treaty to push the Red front to the Rhine in a final struggle!

The disillusionment was cruel. Our general plan of attack failed. Today the political and strategic mistakes of that time are evident. We had believed the Polish army more disorganized than it really was; we had overestimated the revolutionary preparedness of the Polish proletariat; we had misjudged the possibility of an awakening of the nationalist spirit in the peasant masses of Poland. My personal opinion is that we were wrong to direct the Budienny army against the enemy group operating in the south of Kiev instead of throwing it upon Warsaw. One other great strategic fault was the weakening of our center and the excessive extension of our right wing. The enemy took advantage of all our errors, concentrated its forces in the radius of Ivanogrod, broke our center and attacked the flank of our right wing which had advanced too far. The steadiness with which we held our positions in the September retreat redeemed a part of our mistakes.

The end of the Polish campaign gave us an opportunity to return to the attack against Wrangel. In the end of December, 1921, the entire Crimea was in the hands of the Reds, for the impregnable positions of Perekop, poorly fortified, had not stopped their course. Wrangel, sailing with the remnants of the Russian bourgeoisie in ships stolen from Russia, hoisted the French flag on the way to Constantinople.

The civil war was ended. The Finland adventure in Karelia, at the end of 1921, was disposed of without much trouble. A little later, the companies of Boulak-Balakhovitch, let loose upon us by the Polish and French, were crushed. At last in December, 1922, Vladivostok was taken.

The Red fleet.

The role which the Navy fleets played in the revolution cannot be passed over in complete silence. All the seas were closed to them. In 1918, Germany caused us to recall our Baltic fleet from Helsingfors and Reval, -to Cronstadt. This fleet was powerless, in part, because of the lack of fuel. As for the Black Sea Fleet, one part had been destroyed at Novorissisk in order to escape the hands of Germany and the other had been delivered overby Wrangel to France.

The ships, then, were of little service. But the sailors rendered very important service indeed. They have fought everywhere, in all parts of Russia. Thanks to them it had been possible to form many flotillas totaling up to more than 2,000 vessels manned by 45,000 men. The Volga flotilla distinguished itself against Koltchak. That of the Caspian Sea 1enninated its brilliant operations on May 18, 1920, by the capture, at Enzeli, of the last boats. of Denikin and the English.

The Baltic fleet has not remained inactive. In December 1918, it attacked Reval, losing two torpedo boats. Later, when blockaded by the English fleet in May, 1919, it kept its head and slipped by with its small boats. On the 13th of June of the same year, the Baltic sailors took- possession of the fort of Krasnaia Gorka, which had been treacherously surrendered to the Whites.In the course of the operations of that period, we lost a: cruiser and a training ship. The Red Fleet did its share towards the crushing of Yudenitch. Its total loss against the English was: one cruiser, one training ship and five torpedo boats. The English, according to their own information, lost in th.at period, two cruisers, one torpedo-boat, one sub-marine, three motor-boats and two burners.

The Experience of the Red Army.

At the beginning of our campaigns we have had to give way, almost invariably, before the superior technique and training of our adversaries. Almost always we have needed time to recover and to commence our counter-offensives. We have lacked discipline and trained reserves. Our list of officers has been weak.

We have had to send into battle, forces poorly trained and imperfectly unified. Naturally, they have not held their ground. But after some weeks of political work and of organization, they have developed into well-knit units.

The employment of technicians from the old army was of great service to us and old officers who came to us have also become one with us. Treason has certainly been frequent among them, But the treason of entire bodies has been quite exceptional.

In spite of all this, victory has demanded the extension of all our forces, and exacted immense sacrifices. It was an administrative and economic rather than a military victory. At the end of 1920, we had 5,500,000 men under arms, who had to be fed, clothed, equipped, to be distributed along a front of 8 to 9 thousand kilometers in length, and often. to be transported. from one end of the country to the other. And yet, the army has never experienced the provisioning crises customary under the Tsar’s and Kerensky’s regimes.

In this struggle, the transports accomplished a formidable task. Between October 1919 and November 1920, 4986 military trams were put into operation in Russia, and 3,305 bridges, which had been destroyed by the enemy, were re-built. This gives one only an incomplete idea of their work.

The mobilization itself was difficult and defective at first but it improved rapidly.

Agitation and propaganda.

The political education in the army, a matter of the first importance, was completed with the most encouraging results. Here are some. figures. The All-Russian Bureau of Military Commissars which had been m operation at the end of 1918 caused the publication (at Petrograd, in the spring of 1919) of The Commune. The Commune was printed m English, Italian, French, German, Serbian, and Russian, with from 40 to 50 thousand copies of each number. In November, 1918, three leaflets were published in German with 300,000 copies of each. In the same year 61 pamphlets and other publications appeared with a total of 3,000,000 copies.

At the close of 1919, 4,500 library branches existed in the provinces there were the centers of the Red Army propaganda. At the same time, the army had 383 clubs 100 dramatic circles 22 musical circles, etc. At the end of 1918, there were 444 schools and 1,795 libraries.

The Bureau of Military Commissars was transformed by the VIIIth Congress of the Communist Party into the Political Directorate of the Revolutionary Council of the Army. Its activities were extended and broadened. Between the 1st of June 1919 and the 1st of July, 1922, the Political Directorate published 9,500,000 leaflets, 1,700,00 extracts from periodicals, 4,500,000 posters and propaganda matter. Besides the local political directorates of the armies and districts (there were 16 in January-February 1920) all had their press organs, usually dailies. Certain divisions even had their newspapers. The Political Directorate was particularly active on the western front. Between October 1919 and April 1921 they issued: 10 newspapers (in 4 languages) with 980,000 copies; 34 manifestos with 2,813,000 copies; 251,000 posters, etc.; about 22,000,000 handbills, 2,376,000 pamphlets, etc.

On the 1st of January 1920, the army had 1315 clubs. On the 1st of July of the same year it had 10,029 libraries 624 theatres, 767 choirs and musical groups (in the rear) with 401 choirs and 510 musical clubs at the front. From March 1919 to February 1920, 1he army had received 145,000,000 copies of newspapers from the capitals.

The Communists in the Army.

The Communist Party gave to the army the best of its troops. Between December 1918 and the 15th of August 1920, 30,000 militants, trained for political work, were poured into the army. In February 1919, there were 1500 Communist groups in the army. By the 1st of October 1919, the number of Communists and sympathizers at the front was 62,000. There were as many of them in the formations behind the lines.

On the 1st of October, 1920, there were 2,962 Communist groups in the army and the fleet, counting 120,185 members and sympathizers, and in the rear: 3,975 groups with 157,858 members and candidates. The Red Army, then, had a total of 7,000 communist sections including 300,000 men. Trotzky spoke justly enough when he declared to the VIIth Congress of the Soviets on December 7, 1919, that “Without the Communist element, without the devotion and example of the best elements of the working class, the army would have fallen to pieces”

In difficult periods, the army leaders have always turned to the Party. Trotzky cites one case, which occurred in the Ukraine, of Red Menshevik commanders requesting the commissariat that Communists be sent to them. The Communists in the army have not had and do not have any privileges. They have only duties. And the great majority of them have always fulfilled their duties without shrinking from pain, danger or death.

International Press Correspondence, widely known as”Inprecor” was published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) regularly in German and English, occasionally in many other languages, beginning in 1921 and lasting in English until 1938. Inprecor’s role was to supply translated articles to the English-speaking press of the International from the Comintern’s different sections, as well as news and statements from the ECCI. Many ‘Daily Worker’ and ‘Communist’ articles originated in Inprecor, and it also published articles by American comrades for use in other countries. It was published at least weekly, and often thrice weekly. A major contributor to the Communist press in the U.S., Inprecor is an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/inprecor/1923/v03n20-feb-27-1923-Inprecor-yxr.pdf

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