Trotsky Punishes Delinquent Soldier, 1918
Telegram dated July 20, 1918, sent to Trotsky as People's Commissar of Military Affairs, from the Military Commission of the Main Departmet asking for permission to punish two individuals who refused to take up their military posts. An angry Trotsky writes in blue pencil, "For refusal to accept the posts, Deych and Ivestsky are discharged without right to pension." Signed, "Trotsky."
Throughout late 1918 and early 1919, there were a number of attacks on Trotsky's leadership of the Red Army, including veiled accusations in newspaper articles inspired by Stalin and a direct attack by the Military Opposition at the VIIIth Party Congress in March 1919. On the surface, he weathered them successfully and was elected one of only five full members of the first Politburo after the Congress. But he later wrote: It is no wonder that my military work created so many enemies for me. I did not look to the side, I elbowed away those who interfered with military success, or in the haste of the work trod on the toes of the unheeding and was too busy even to apologize. Some people remember such things. The dissatisfied and those whose feelings had been hurt found their way to Stalin or Zinoviev, for these two also nourished hurts. In mid-1919 the dissatisfied had an opportunity to mount a serious challenge to Trotsky's leadership: the Red Army grew from 800,000 to 3,000,000, and fought simultaneously on sixteen fronts. The Red Army had defeated the White Army's spring offensive in the east and was about to cross the Ural Mountains and enter Siberia in pursuit of Admiral Alexander Kolchak's forces. But in the south, General Anton Denikin's White Russian forces advanced, and the situation deteriorated rapidly. On 6 June commander-in-chief Vatsetis ordered the Eastern Front to stop the offensive so that he could use its forces in the south. But the leadership of the Eastern Front, including its commander Sergey Kamenev (a former colonel of the Imperial army), and Eastern Front Revolutionary Military Council members Ivar Smilga, Mikhail Lashevich and Sergey Gusev vigorously protested and wanted to keep the emphasis on the Eastern Front. They insisted that it was vital to capture Siberia before the onset of winter and that once Kolchak's forces were broken, many more divisions would be freed up for the Southern Front. Trotsky, who had earlier had conflicts with the leadership of the Eastern Front, including a temporary removal of Kamenev in May 1919, supported Vatsetis. At the 3–4 July Central Committee meeting, after a heated exchange the majority supported Kamenev and Smilga against Vatsetis and Trotsky. Trotsky's plan was rejected and he was much criticized for various alleged shortcomings in his leadership style, much of it of a personal nature. Stalin used this opportunity to pressure Lenin to dismiss Trotsky from his post. But when Trotsky offered his resignation on 5 July, the Politburo and the Orgburo of the Central Committee unanimously rejected it. However, some significant changes to the leadership of the Red Army were made. Trotsky was temporarily sent to the Southern Front, while the work in Moscow was informally coordinated by Smilga. Most members of the Revolutionary Military Council who were not involved in its day-to-day operations were relieved of their duties on 8 July, and new members, including Smilga, were added. The same day, while Trotsky was in the south, Vatsetis was suddenly arrested by the Cheka on suspicion of involvement in an anti-Soviet plot, and replaced by Sergey Kamenev. After a few weeks in the south, Trotsky returned to Moscow and resumed control of the Red Army. A year later, Smilga and Tukhachevskywere defeated during the Battle of Warsaw, but Trotsky refused this opportunity to pay Smilga back, which earned him Smilga's friendship and later support during the intra-Party battles of the 1920s. By October 1919, the government was in the worst crisis of the Civil War: Denikin's troops approached Tula and Moscow from the south, and General Nikolay Yudenich's troops approached Petrograd from the west. Lenin decided that since it was more important to defend Moscow, Petrograd would have to be abandoned. Trotsky argued that Petrograd needed to be defended, at least in part to prevent Estonia and Finland from intervening. In a rare reversal, Trotsky was supported by Stalin and Zinoviev and prevailed against Lenin in the Central Committee. He immediately went to Petrograd, whose leadership headed by Zinoviev he found demoralized, and organized its defense, sometimes personally stopping fleeing soldiers. By 22 October the Red Army was on the offensive and in early November, Yudenich's troops were driven back to Estonia, where they were disarmed and interned. Trotsky was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for his actions in Petrograd.