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Stalin during the Civil War

Let us come back for a moment to the rôle played by Stalin during the Civil War.

Many bourgeois publications place Trotsky,  the `creator and organizer of the Red Army', on an equal level with Lenin,  the two being responsible for the military victory of the Bolsheviks. Stalin's contribution to the struggle against the White Armies is generally neglected. However, between 1918 and 1920, Stalin, who was one of the main leaders of the Party, personally led the military struggle on many decisive fronts. At the military level, Zinoviev,  Kamenev  and Bukharin  played no rôle.

In November 1917, the Central Committee created a smaller committee to deal with urgent affairs; its members were Lenin,  Stalin, Sverdlov  and Trotsky.  Pestkovsky,  Stalin's assistant, wrote: `In the course of the day (Lenin)  would call Stalin out an endless number of times .... Most of the day Stalin spent with Lenin'. 

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Grey,  op. cit. , p. 105.

During the peace negotiations with Germany in December 1917, Lenin  and Stalin, in order to preserve Soviet power, whatever the cost, insisted on accepting the humiliating concessions imposed by Germany. They thought that the Russian army was simply incapable of fighting. Bukharin  and Trotsky  wanted to refuse the conditions and declare `revolutionary war'. For Lenin,  this ultra-nationalist line was a trap laid out by the bourgeoisie in order to precipitate the fall of the Bolsheviks. During the negotiations with Germany, Trotsky  declared: `We are withdrawing our armies and our peoples from the war ... but we feel ourselves compelled to refuse to sign the peace treaty'. Stalin affirmed that there were no signs of a incipient revolution in Germany and that Trotsky's  spectacular act was no policy. Germany again took up the offensive and the Bolsheviks were soon forced to sign even worse peace conditions. In this affair, the Party was on the verge of catastrophe.

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Ibid. , pp. 106--109.

In January 1918, the Tsarist general Alekseev  organized a volunteer army in Ukraine and in the Don region. In February, the German Army occupied Ukraine to `guarantee its independence'. In May 1918, thirty thousand Czechoslovakian soldiers occupied a large part of Siberia. During the summer, at the instigation of Winston Churchill,  Great Britain, France, the United States, Italy, and Japan, among others, intervened militarily against the Bolsheviks.

Starting in March 1918, Trotsky  was People's Commissar for War. His task was to organize a new army of workers and peasants, led by 40,000 officers from the old Tsarist army.

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Ibid. , pp. 115--117.

In June 1918, the North Caucasus was the only important grain-growing region in the hands of the Bolsheviks. It was threatened by Krasnov's  army. Stalin was sent to Tsaritsyn, the future Stalingrad, to ensure grain delivery. He found complete chaos. On July 19, he wrote to Lenin,  asking for military authority over the region: `I myself, without formalities, will remove those army commanders and (c)ommissars who are ruining things'. Stalin was named President of the Southern War Front Council. Later, Stalin would oppose the old Tsarist artillery general Sytin,  named by Trotsky  as Commander of the South Front, and the Commander-in-Chief, the old Tsarist colonel Vatsetis.  Tsaritsyn was successfully defended.

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Ibid. , pp. 121--127.

`Lenin  regarded `the measures decided on by Stalin' as a model'.

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McNeal,  op. cit. , p. 157.

In October 1918, Stalin was appointed to the Military Council of the Ukrainian Front; its task was to overthrow Skoropadsky's  régime, set up by Germany.

In December, when the situation dramatically deteriorated in the Urals, thanks to the advance of Kolchak's  reactionary troops, Stalin was sent with full powers to put an end to the catastrophic state of the Third Army and to purge the incompetent commissars. In his inquiry, Stalin criticized the policies of Trotsky  and Vatsetis.  During the Eighth Congress in March 1919, Trotsky  was criticized by many delegates `for his dictatorial manners, ... for his adoration of the specialists, and his torrent of ill-considered telegrams'.

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Grey,  op. cit. , pp. 128--129.

In May 1919, Stalin was sent once again, with full powers, to organize the defence of Petrograd against Yudenich's  army. On June 4, Stalin sent a telegram to Lenin,  claiming, with support from seized documents, that many leading officers in the Red Army were working in secret for the White Armies.

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Ibid. , pp. 129--130.

On the Eastern Front, a bitter conflict developed between its commander, S. S. Kamenev  (not to be confused with L. B. Kamenev),  and the Commander-in-Chief, Vatsetis.  The Central Committee finally decided in favor of the former and Trotsky  presented his resignation, which was refused. Vatsetis  was arrested pending an inquiry.

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Ibid. , p. 131.

In August 1919, Denikin's  White Army was moving forward towards Moscow in the Don, in Ukraine and in South Russia. From October 1919 to March 1920, Stalin led the Southern Front and defeated Denikin. 

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Ibid. , pp. 132--133.

In May 1920, Stalin was sent to the Southwestern Front, where the Polish armies were threatening the city of Lvov, in Ukraine, and Wrangel's  troops Crimea. The Poles occupied a large part of Ukraine, including Kiev. On the Western Front, Tukhachevsky  counter-attacked, pushing back the aggressors to the limits of Warsaw. Lenin  hoped to win the war with reactionary Poland and a temporary Polish Soviet government was formed. Stalin warned against such an act: `The class conflicts have not reached the strength to break through the sense of national unity'.

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Ibid. , pp. 135--136.

Poorly coordinated, receiving contradictory orders, Tukhachevsky's  troops were counter-attacked by the Polish troops on an unprotected flank and put to flight.

To the South, Wrangel's  White Armies were liquidated at the end of 1920.

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Ibid. , p. 139.

In November 1919, Stalin and Trotsky  received the newly created Order of the Red Banner for their military successes. Lenin  and the Central Committee estimated that Stalin's merits in leading the armed struggle in the most difficult areas equaled Trotsky's  in organizing and leading the Red Army at the central level. But to make himself come out in a better light, Trotsky  wrote: `Throughout the period of the Civil War, Stalin remained a third-rate figure'.

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Leon Trotsky,  Stalin: An appraisal of the man and his influence (New York: Harper & Brother Publishers, 1941), p. 333.

McNeal,  who is often prejudiced against Stalin, writes on this subject:

`Stalin had emerged ... as a political--military chief whose contribution to the Red victory was second only to Trotsky's.  Stalin had played a smaller role than his rival in the overall organization of the Red Army, but he had been more important in providing direction on crucial fronts. If his reputation as a hero was far below Trotsky's,  this had less to do with objective merit than with Stalin's lack of flair ... for self-advertisement.'

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McNeal,  op. cit. , p. 63.

In December 1919, Trotsky  proposed the `militarization of economic life' and wanted to mobilize the workers using methods he had applied for leading the army. With this line, the railroad workers were mobilized under military discipline. A wave of protests passed through the union movement. Lenin  declared that Trotsky  committed errors that endangered the dictatorship of the proletariat: by his bureaucratic harassment of the unions, he risked separating the Party from the masses.

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V. I. Lenin,  The Trade Unions, the Present Situation, and Trotsky's  Mistakes (30 December 1920). Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1960--1970), vol. 32, pp. 19--42.

Trotsky's  outrageous individualism, his open disdain for Bolshevik cadres, his authoritarian style of leadership and his taste for military discipline frightened many Party cadres. They thought that Trotsky  could well play the rôle of a Napoléon Bonaparte,  effecting a coup d'état and setting up a counter-revolutionary authoritarian régime.



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Next: Lenin's `Will' Up: The young Stalin Previous: The `socialists' and



Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995