Stukov and the Nature of Revolutionary War

We ended our translation of Volume 2 of Kommunist, the journal of the Russian Left Communists of 1918, with an article by Innokentiy Nikolayevich Stukov (1887-1937) and we start our translation of Volume 4 with an article by the same author. Stukov was the great advocate of “revolutionary war” (he had also wanted to support the armed sailors in the July Days in 1917) which Lenin had derided as romanticism on several occasions, but in this article Stukov makes one of the most coherent defences of his position. The first half of the article observes that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk has not only not brought the “peredyshka” or breathing space that Lenin hoped for, but goes on to demonstrate the worry that the Germans would eventually be able to surround and crush the Russian Revolution in the wake of the Treaty. This was a repeated theme in much of the Kommunist output at the time, but it was a concern also shared by Rosa Luxemburg in her famous pamphlet on the Russian Revolution. It was a worry which vanished on 9 November 1918 when the German Empire itself succumbed to a workers’ rising and thus vindicated the decision to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The second half of the article though is of far greater interest for us today. Stukov points out that the working class won power against the imperialist state inside Russia without having any arms worthy of the name on their side. He perhaps exaggerates when he then talks of the possibility of a revolutionary war by the population at large. He concedes that the mass of the population will not be able in the beginning to resist a German advance, but once it is clear what the rapacious nature of German imperialism is, and once the Germans have extended their supply lines far from the zones of comfort in Poland, he is convinced that a revolutionary war is possible. On his side he could have pointed to the defeat of Napoleon not by a standing army but by Russia’s vast size, vicious winter and a guerrilla struggle which hounded the Grande Armée out of Russia. Lenin argued that the workers’ revolution could not abandon the cities, but by June 1918 workers had already abandoned cities where there was no food (Stukov refers to this in passing) in huge numbers. Either way, the debate showed that the fate of the Russian Revolution at this point hung in the balance and signing Brest-Litovsk was unavoidable.

What is perhaps most revealing is that Stukov, who clearly understands what the Marxist theory of the state is, can see that the creation of a standing army contrasts with an army intended for revolutionary war. This, as he notes, “must be constituted in an entirely different manner to an army whose vocation is to fulfil the objectives assigned by a general staff ...” In saying this, Stukov leaves us with the question mark over the compatibility of a proletarian revolution with a large standing army. The soviets approved the decree setting up the Red Army which would absorb the workers’ militias like the Red Guard. Originally the Red Army was conceived of as a volunteer force. Neither the soviets nor the communists could have known then that two years of civil war and imperialist intervention (during which time there were no Soviet congresses) would turn it into a conscript army of about 4 or 5 million. It would also have become, as Trotsky himself admitted, the greatest source of “bureaucratism” in the revolution. And by bureaucratism the Russian revolutionaries meant any form of organisation which was not subject to control or initiative of the working class. In fact, by 1920 the Red Army had (like the Cheka) become the backbone of a state which was no longer controlled by the working class as a whole. In the same year, it became eminently abundant that world revolution could not be exported by bayonets, when the Red Army faltered outside Warsaw. The article is thus worth reading for this kind of provocation to thinking about the nature of revolution, and it is an issue we will have to return to if we are to understand the nature of a future international working class revolution.

The Struggle against the Counter-Revolution


It was only a few weeks ago that Comrade Lenin, head of the State and leader of the Communist Party, affirmed in his famous speech on the objectives of the Soviet State that with the fall of Bogaewsky(1), bourgeois resistance was smashed(2), and that we will return to a period of organic work (orientated exclusively towards our explicit aims). Without denying the necessity of this type of work, we proletarian communists affirm that victory over the bourgeoisie cannot be achieved after such a short historic period. Inasmuch as all of the tools of production will not in fact be in the hands of the proletariat, inasmuch as socialist production will not yet have been installed, the bourgeoisie, who retain a large part of capital, will use all of our difficulties to try and overthrow the government of workers and peasants, and to seize power. We have shown that at the very moment when imperialism reigns around us, the Russian bourgeoisie can garner support from foreign capital and throw itself with renewed strength into the battle against the power of the soviets.

A few weeks ago in Moscow, a serious counter-revolutionary conspiracy was discovered and a state of war was decreed on the Don as in the Kuban. Thus, a counter-revolutionary band with General Krasnov(3) at its helm reared its head. In Kiev, Russian counter-revolutionaries form voluntary detachments in favour of this general. Whatever German diplomacy says, although they may assure us that they are foreign to Krasnov’s plan(4), even a blind man could see that the overthrow of Ukrainian power represents the re-establishment of the landowning and capitalist economy, which resonated as a call to capitalist counter-revolution: “Assemble your forces, organise yourselves, German imperialism will come to your aid!”. Thus, there can be no doubt that the coup d’état carried out in Ukraine(5) with the aid of German bayonets has given birth to a renewed hope among the Russian bourgeoisie.

The German diplomacy does not deny that what is designated by the name “Government of the Mountains of the Northern Caucasus”, i.e. the counter-revolutionary gang led by General Krasnov, has been clearly launched against the Soviet power by German imperialism. No less clear is the link between the Czechoslovak adventurers and the agents of the coalition of capital. After the October Revolution, the Czechoslovak brigades received money from French and English military missions, and we know from completely reliable sources that not only the Russian counter-revolutionary clique but also the agents of French imperialism have been trying for a long time to train Czechoslovaks in the struggle against Soviet power.(6) Some Czechoslovaks defected to the side of Soviet power, while a majority wished to remain neutral between the Russian revolution and the counter-revolution, sliding between the hammer and the anvil, in order to struggle against German imperialism on the Western Front within the ranks of the army of the Allies.

The fragility of the Czechoslovak petty bourgeois masses was used by the corps of the Czechoslovak bourgeois officers, employing unknown means until now, in order to fight against Soviet power with the aim of seizing the Western part of the Siberian railways. Cui prodest? Who could have vested interests in this affair? Franco-Japanese imperialism, which since Vladivostok has had the same objective as the Czechoslovaks in Chelyabinsk(7): seizing the Trans-Siberian Railway. Both act in concert with the gangs of Semyonov, who were sent towards Chita(8) in the name of the so-called Siberian Government, i.e. the counter-revolutionary clique, with General Kolchak(9) and General Horvat at its helm. Vinaver(10), the chief tactician of the Cadet party, expressed himself perfectly at their congress, saying that the direction to follow had no importance, the essential thing was rather to serve in the salvation of Russia (from the mouth of a Cadet, we know that this means the overthrow of Soviet power). And Vinaver is one hundred percent right, if we see the matter from his point of view: Horvat and Kolchak as well as the miserable army they have at their fingertips, that of the Czechoslovaks, receives money from the Japanese and the French. Krasnov is supported financially by the Germans, but his detachments, as well as those of the Czechoslovaks, compose the two flanks of one anti-Soviet army, as Pravda has quite rightly remarked.

Under the German bayonets, a preliminary counter-revolutionary gang advanced to take the bread of the Kuban and of the Don and the oil of the Caucasus from workers’ Russia. Under Japanese protection, with the money of the French imperialists, another attempted to deprive workers’ Russia the grain-producing regions of East Siberia, the iron of the Urals, and the anti-imperialist resistance bases of the Urals and the Volga. Thus the illusion that we could peacefully take care of the politics of construction (a peaceful politics for a peaceful construction) crumbled. This calculation, which we had always thought built on sand, according to which the butchery pursued in the West would give us the chance for a little respite(11), was reduced to nothing.


This theory of a breathing space departed from the hypothesis that if the German and English coalitions were to come to slaughter each other, it would be impossible for them to conquer Russia. But the fate that was reserved for Ukraine has shown that all of this was nothing but pure illusion. It is precisely because Germany is not able to defeat the Allies, which must have become apparent to them over the long period of war, that they were forced not only to seize Ukraine to gather the wheat of the previous year, but also to overthrow the revolution and hand back the land to the owners, and the factories to the capitalists, to make sure they had a hope of getting hold of the next harvest. The Germans later reported the invasion of Central Russia for two types of considerations: strategic and economic. It was necessary first to surround Central Russia militarily so as to seize it with less numerous forces. They have achieved this task; Germany occupies Ukraine and Finland. On the other hand, it would have been totally senseless to occupy Central Russia before the new harvest, at the moment where the famine was most acute. By occupying Russia up to now, the Germans would have had to clash with the movements of the starved population. Germany had everything to gain by not occupying Russia immediately, and by waiting until the revolts of the starving population have deposed the Bolsheviks and restored power to the hands of the bourgeoisie, which, with the help of German bayonets, would take charge of the organisation of economic life and the delivery of raw materials and merchandise from Central Russia that were so cruelly lacking in Germany following the war. The Germans wait impatiently for the moment when this stranglehold will become effective by supporting the counter-revolutionary insurrection of Krasnov and Turkish intrigues in the Caucasus. Thus, Russia will find itself deprived of its last grain producing region, and its last fuel. The pursuit of the struggle in the West, which would have offered us guarantees against a German invasion, only reinforces Germany’s perfectly planned manœuvres for surrounding us. Cannae(12) — is the ideal for the German strategy praised by Schlieffen, the major German Head of State(13) who planned this war; the Germans are repeating their old surrounding manœuvre to the detriment of Russia.

And what about the Allies? They are opposed(14) due to doubtless differences. America, the furthest from the heart of the conflict, can allow itself to carry out a wise policy in the long term: the American circles of influence have understood the future importance, following the agrarian revolution, of the Russian domestic market. America would like to guarantee its own dominance in this market. At the same time, America has understood that if Russia is to play any kind of role in this war, America must give it the chance to be reborn and to reinforce itself economically. The other former Allies are not ready for such “high” thoughts, but remain like that huge carnivore of acute intelligence. For France, with its twenty billion in Russian loans, its only concern is guaranteeing that loan.(15) The military position of France and the threat of defeat prevent France from carrying out any longer term policies, even military ones. How could France think of the advantages of drawing reinforcement from Russia when it might be invaded tomorrow? For France, only one thing is important: forcing the Germans to penetrate deep into Russia to weaken the latter’s resistance to the West. As a consequence, France is undoubtedly in favour of the Japanese invasion of Siberia, since France hopes for this to guarantee its Russian loans and draw the German armies towards the Urals. It is pure hypocrisy for the French press to maintain that the Japanese invasion was necessary for the salvation of Siberia from the coming German yoke. France wants Germany to occupy Russia, nothing else matters to France. Japan’s voracious appetite needs no justification. English imperialism oscillates between the French and American points of view, but is hardly in any state to take a position. Today England is in negotiations with America to offer economic aid to Russia; tomorrow it will be with the French adventurists in occupying Siberia. And since these are men of action, men of initiative making the policy, it is entirely possible that in the near future, the discussions between the Allies will end and we will find before ourselves with a fait accompli; new line of trenches which will tear along the heart of the country not in two camps in struggle, but between two gangs of marauders, pillaging on either side of the trench this wretched country which, ceasing to be the subject of an imperialist war, thus becomes its object.


Throughout this policy of a “breathing space”, the Soviet Power aimed to make the most of this time to reorganise the forces of the country and accumulate new ones for the struggle to come. We now have three months of such “respite” behind us. Let us see this reorganisation effort that was supposed to be accomplished in three months! There have been long discussions on the use of big bosses of trusts in the socialist government. All of this ended in vain controversies, and in any case it could not have gone any other way. Organic construction needs not only time, but also raw materials, if only as a starting point. One cannot commence construction if one has no bricks, that is, iron, coal, cotton, machines. We spoke of bartering with the countryside. Today, in order to procure bread for starving cities, we are organising a crusade against the Kulaks of the countryside.(16) This is indispensable, but has only become such because we were not able to barter, even though there were more manufactures in Russia than in Germany. And we launch a crusade not against the regions rich in wheat which find themselves on the other side of the line of German bayonets, but against the regions where there is little surplus. But even this struggle for the Kuban and the Don clashes with Germany.

The Brest-Litovsk Peace, that capitulation to German imperialism, has led to attempts at using the bourgeoisie, or rather, attempts at peace with the bourgeoisie, to call things by their real names, contrary to what is customary for the communists of the right. This attempt has amounted to nothing. We are in a struggle against the counter-revolution, and, as German and Japanese bayonets stand behind it, we will inevitably clash with them. The latest proclamations of the government allow it to be thought that they have started to understand the unavoidable character of this shock, but they have not managed to decide to lead a real policy of mobilisation, to sound the alarm in order to prepare for this assault. In the same way, they have not resolved to pose to the masses the questions of bread, of work, of the struggle against the counter-revolution in all its magnitude, and this is why this hesitant, sly policy cannot awaken and organise the forces that we could find among the masses if they were openly told that they are heading towards a catastrophe.

The leaders of the government are bound hand and foot by a sentiment of military impotence. Is this sentiment not in accordance with reality? Is our Red Army only at the moment in the process of formation? This question would hit the mark if the struggle that we lead against international imperialism manifested itself in the form of a struggle between two armies. The fatal error of the Soviet government is precisely that, freed as they are from bourgeois opinions in all other domains, they remain inert on the military question and stick to traditional opinions of the soldier clique, taking inspiration from the servile advice of the scum hovering around the incapable Russian generals. Nobody among the Soviet leaders tries to think for themselves on the characteristics of the Russian war against imperialism. Instead, they are all hypnotised by images of war between imperialist countries. Modern strategy is a science that endeavours to describe the conditions of the struggle in force in capitalist countries; it takes as its starting point of its reflections the organised forces of capitalist countries. We do not have the same elements of force, and because of this the Soviet leaders think that we have no forces at our disposal. But a capitalist State rests on the same elements of force: an organised and armed mass and the retention of technical means. What is more, did we combat the power of Tsarism with the aid of a structured military force? Certainly not; we defeated Tsarism by sweeping away the foundations of its power, and we accelerated this destruction by obliging it through our struggle to mobilise its forces against the people. The strategy of bourgeois States in war rests on the propensity to unite their forces to strike their enemy where they are vulnerable to bring about their defeat. The war strategy of a people’s state against a capitalist State consists of obliging the enemy, whose power is limited to their grasp of a small class of exploiters over the popular masses, to disperse these masses over a great space, to weaken this force of control and command retained by a small cluster of officers, and to lead the foreign popular masses “to enter into contact with the revolutionary popular masses”.(17)

All those who do not take into account this difference between the strategy of a capitalist State and that of a people’s State will obviously be convinced by our impotence. However, we can imagine the situation which could present itself in the case of a German attack and a firm refusal of the Soviet government to surrender. It is all too clear that our military forces will be in no state to hold back the enemy, and they will advance as far as they can from their operational base, i.e. Poland. The German military authors, like their Swedish colleagues and sympathisers (cf. the works of General Major Nordensvan(18) in the Swedish Military Review), would know that the greater danger for Germany is to be distancing themselves from their base, the place where German administration is in place, where German domination is in effect, a place where the sources of their military power lie. What is more, the German advance into Russia means no more nor less than the removal of the German troops from their base: Poland, Lithuania, Courland(19), Belarus, countries under the greatest pressure and with starving populations in revolt, hating the German invaders a little more with each day. Given that all popular movement in these regions is susceptible to cutting the imperialist army at its base, the Germans will be obliged to retain numerous troops on these territories, which separates them from their rear. Even in Russia, the number of German soldiers needed will rise day by day. It could be that they will succeed in conquering Russian cities with the aid of their reduced forces but if they want to seize raw materials, metal, they will have to increase the number of soldiers in their army, whether they like it or not, since they will not have enough to occupy the nerve centres and the large urban centres: they have to invade the whole of Russia. The popular masses, which may not offer all the resistance necessary at the start of the German advance, will see how the Germans strip them of their land to turn them into squirrels, and export the final reserves of their country, and will then fight them with all their means. The Germans will be living on a volcano, and this will oblige them to increase the number of their troops in Russia. In this way, weakening their presence on the Western front and getting mired in this conflict, the Germans will exacerbate the discontent of their popular masses, and of their army based in Russian territory, subjected to incessant attacks from the Russian population. In this situation, the government of workers and peasants, having lost a large part of Russian territory but having kept a base of military production, will be able to implement a military formation and a clandestine network of agents to play the role of organiser and leader of the popular masses in their struggle against imperialism.

The bourgeois State as an organ of coercion of the majority by the minority only exists because it retains a territory as well as the apparatus and instruments of coercion. The government of workers and peasants relies on the mass of the population in struggle and does not cease to govern when deprived of part of its territory; it keeps the means of struggle against its own bourgeoisie and against the foreign bourgeoisie, that is, popular mass terror.

As long as the government of workers and peasants fails to understand this, it will remain in no condition to take advantage of this short delay, which, as victims of the great crimes of German imperialism, we have at our disposal. The Red Army will be formed for a mission for which it is not needed. The general staff envisages the creation of an army, small in number but harmonious, which will play the role of an instrument of pressure in the discussions of peace of the general order. But before these discussions can begin, we will be confronted with the German invasion. And the question that will arise in the first place will be that of using this army not to stop the invasion, but to organise the popular resistance. It goes without saying that an army intended for this mission must be constituted in an entirely different manner to an army whose vocation is to fulfil the objectives assigned by a general staff as cited above.

For the government of workers and peasants, the time has come to choose a path to follow. If it does not understand that it will have to organise an open struggle against imperialism in the very near future, despite all the attempts made to solve the question of the Russian counter-revolution, the government will be caught off guard, and a Ukrainian Rada installed.

I.T.S. (Stukov?(20))

(1) Mitrofan Petrovich Bogaewsky (1881-1918): Cossack leader, head of the military region of the Don, was the organiser of the first resistance of the Don Cossacks to soviet power alongside Kaledin, but did not succeed in getting the majority of them to follow in his footsteps. Defeated, he abandoned power and was arrested by Red Guards in early March 1918, before being tried and executed at Rostov-on-Don in April. His brother, Afrikan Petrovich Bogaewsky (1873-1934), would later become one of the leaders of the Southern White Armies.

(2) In the article The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, Lenin stated, “In the main, however, the task of suppressing the resistance of the exploiters was fulfilled in the period from October 25, 1917, to (approximately) February 1918, or to the surrender of Bogayevsky.” (Lenin, Collected Works Vol 27.) English wording taken from this version: See also his report to the session of the CEC on 29 April (ibid):

(3) Piotr Nikolayevich Krasnov (1869-1947): Russian officer and author from an old Cossack family from the Don region, he was elected as their leader (ataman) in 1918, and fought as a general in the White Armies throughout the Civil War. In exile, he published a novel, From Double Eagle to the Red Flag, which enjoyed a degree of success. It retold Russian history from the start of the reign of Nicholas II up to the end of the Civil War. In 1941, he supported the formation of voluntary groups of Cossack units equipped by the Wehrmacht to fight the Red Army. He turned himself over to the British authorities in Austria in June 1945, but despite the promise that they would not be repatriated to Russia, he and his Don Cossacks were delivered to Stalin. Condemned by the Supreme Tribunal of the USSR, he was executed in January 1947.

(4) Krasnov himself, however, would report at length on the extent of German support in his memoirs. Cf. Jean-Jacques Marie, The Russian Civil War 1917-1922

(5) See articles and notes on Ukraine in previous issues.

(6) Incorporating Czech emigrant workers and prisoners of war, the “Czechoslovak Corps of Russia”, formed by merging several divisions of volunteers who had regrouped at the beginning of the First World War to fight for the constitution of an independent Czechoslovakia, numbered 38,000 men by the end of 1917. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the “Czechoslovak Legion”, unable to cross the Austro-German Front, decided to march towards Vladivostok, via Siberia, with their final destination of the USA, in order to join the Western Front on the side of the allies. On account of their very slow advance, as well as minor incidents, Trotsky, then Commissar of War, “issued an unenforceable order on 14 May that the Czechs be disarmed. This immediately sparked a rebellion that quickly spread along the railway to Chelyabinsk. Czech rebels now provided the Right SRs with the armed backing they so sorely needed ...” S.A Smith, Russia in Revolution (Oxford 2017), p.168

(7) On 25 May, following a clash with the local soviet, the Czechoslovaks took this city situated near the Ural Mountains, an important station on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

(8) Capital of the Transbaikal Krai, in the Southeast of Siberia on the Trans-Siberian line, the city of Chita was from 1920 to 1922 the capital of the Far Eastern Republic.

(9) Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak (1874-1920): officer in the Russian Marines, youngest vice admiral in the history of Tsarist Russia, he was the only admiral who supported the Kerensky government. He became the minister of war in the reactionary government formed at Omsk with the aid of the Czech Legion and assumed chief command of the Russian forces in the railway region (East Chinese Company). A coup d’état carried out by the most right wing officers and the Cossacks on 18 November 1918 drove the SRs out of the Siberian government and declared Kolchak “Supreme Chief”. Under his dictatorship, the White Armies arrived 600 kilometres from Moscow before ceding all the terrain they conquered to the Red counter-offensive. Defeated, abandoned by his old allies, Kolchak was arrested and tried in Irkutsk from 21 January to 6 February 1920, then executed the next day.

(10) Maxim Moiseevich Vinaver (1862-1926): renowned lawyer and jurist in Saint Petersburg, founding member of the Cadet party, he was a deputy in the Duma of the Empire in 1906 and representative of the Union for Full Rights of the Jewish People. He fled to Crimea in October 1917 but, at his party conference in Moscow in May 1918, he rejected all collaboration with the Germans, hoping in vain for the emergence of a united anti-Bolshevik front in Russia. He emigrated to France in 1919.

(11) The Russian word is “peredyshka” [передышка] which we have translated sometimes as “respite” and sometimes as “breathing space” (the more usual translation in the history books) depending on context. It was also used by Gorbachev in the 1980s to justify his policies of “glasnost” and “perestroika” in the vain hope of saving the USSR from collapse.

(12) Cannae, Apulia, Southeast Italy, was the place of the most brilliant and crushing victory of Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca over the Romans led by consuls Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paulus, on 2 August 216 AD. This battle of Cannae has remained famous for Hannibal’s manœuvre of doubly surrounding the Romans (by the wings of the infantry line and the movement at the rear of the cavalry).

(13) Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1913): Prussian general, Chief of the German General Staff (not Head of State as it says in this article) from 1891 to 1906, he was the architect of the plan that took his name. The Schlieffen Plan established that in the case of war on two fronts, Germany would deploy maximum force to the West to gain a quick victory over France by a surrounding manœuvre that obliged them to invade Belgium, despite the latter’s neutrality being recognised by the Treaty of London in 1839. This plan was inspired by a manœuvre from the Battle of Cannae, but on a much vaster scale. The Schlieffen Plan was modified in 1911 and imperfectly carried out by von Moltke in 1914. It inspired further strategies like that of Guderian in 1940.

(14) The Allies were obviously opposed to the German policy of pillaging Ukraine to revitalise its army and bring food to a starving Germany. There was no inter-imperialist solidarity against the Bolshevik Revolution on this point.

(15) For the record, the most important of the Russian loans was that of June 1906, an international loan aimed at re-establishing Russian finances after the Russo-Japanese War. At 2.25 billion francs, half of it was covered by France...and its million and a half investors! The revolutionary government of course had to write off these debts in 1918.

(16) Even before official “war communism”, forced requisitions were the order of the day, notably following the “dictatorial decree on food” on 9 May 1918.

(17) This whole paragraph is a very original strategic reflection for the epoch and does not only introduce the idea of guerrilla war as we often remember, but also anchors the revolutionary “front” fundamentally on social and ideological terrain.

(18) Carl Otto Nordensvan (1851-1924): Swedish general and military writer, author of some twenty works. A conservative, he sympathised with the war goals of imperial Germany and thought that Sweden should also support the whites in the Finnish Civil War. Author of numerous articles for the Military Sciences Review (Krigsvetenkasakademins tidskrift, 1881-1911), he was also editor of the review cited by the editor (Svensk militär tidskrift).

(19) Historical province, including the Baltic coast of Lithuania. Since the signing of the treaty, the Baltic countries had come under German military administration.

(20) Stukov’s initials (I.N.S.) do not correspond to the signature, but then many of the left communists’ signatures and initials, well-known or otherwise, do not match. We are therefore confined to a hypothesis.

Thursday, November 5, 2020