MINISTER OF WAR, Leon Trotsky, has no prototype in history. Therefore, he cannot be compared, he can only be contrasted. He is without question the most dramatic character produced during the whole sweep of the Russian revolution and its only great organizer. No man will overshadow his eminence in the history of the revolution except Lenin. They will remain the two most distinguished personalities. They are complementary figures. Lenin represents thought; Trotsky represents action. Trotsky's genius might have burned itself out in some wild enthusiasm or some consuming rage if it had not been for the cooling influence of Lenin. On the other hand, Lenin's plans, no matter how carefully thought out, could not have materialized withouts a Labor Army better than a fighting army because it makes him happier to build than to destroy.
But all his organizing genius goes for nothing if he cannot have order and discipline.
About three years ago Lenin appointed Trotsky Minister of Railways in addition to his post as War Minister. Trotsky took a trip over the country and found transportation generally smashed and the railway employees as lacking in morale as he had once found the Russian soldiers. He immediately began to re-build transportation with every atom of his strength. If a train was not on time, there had to be a reason given, which had ceased to be done in those days. In fact, no one was ever deeply concerned about exact arrivals and departures of trains under any regime. The Trans-Siberian Railway was the only efficient road which ever operated in Russia. But Trotsky began to make such an everlasting row about these matters that the railway men were aghast. There had always been graft and laziness and indifference, they had no doubt that there always would be, even under government control. Trotsky hauled them up, threatened them with imprisonment and even with death. The result was that the unions were so roused that they threatened a general strike. The situation grew worse and worse. Finally Lenin, to avert a national crisis, dismissed Trotsky and wrote an open letter to the unions about it and Trotsky showed his real fineness of character by accepting his defeat in silence. And yet if he had been in charge of the roads they would certainly not be in the condition that they now are and many thousands of lives in the famine area would have been saved.
Trotsky cannot bear Russian slothfulness and he is constantly irritated by Russian indifference to sanitation. He insists on the utmost fastidiousness and neatness for all who work with him. An amusing scandal took place in Moscow at the time of one of the International Conventions. Trotsky had instructed a Red Army physician to inspect the hotel in which the foreign delegates were to stay and report if it was in order. The physician merely went down to the building and finding a fine grand piano there, whiled his time away playing and let the inspection go. In due course of time the delegates arrived and the first night they were all routed out of bed by insects. This came to the ears of Trotsky and he was so furiously angry that he had the doctor arrested and announced that he would have him shot. The delegates flew around in a fine state of excitement with a petition which they all signed begging Trotsky to spare the physician's life. As a matter of fact Trotsky would not have shot him, but his threats are reminiscent of the day of Tsar Peter who found it necessary to shoot a number of nobles before the others would shorten their long coats as he had ordered by royal decree.
Trotsky is a student of the French Revolution. He lived a long time in France and he loves France, in spite of its hostility to Soviet Russia. Some of his closest friends are Frenchmen who knew him in Paris and who followed him to Russia and work with him there. He never forgets his friends and has a real capacity for permanent friendships. Russians are, as a rule, very changeable in their personal relationships but one can depend on Trotsky.
As an orator he reminds one much more of the French revolutionary orators. Russians speak more slowly and more logically and with less fire. Trotsky Stirs his audiences by his own force and by striking phrases. There were times when these splendid literary phrases infuriated Lenin; from the public platform he once called Trotsky a “phrase-maker.” But this was way back in the Smolny days when Trotsky was more untamed than he is now, and before Lenin realized that Trotsky would be his most able assistant.
While Trotsky was in America he was the editor of a Russian newspaper and apparently caught the American feeling for on-the-minute news. He is the easiest official to interview in Moscow and entirely the most satisfactory, because he is free from the general reticence and distrust of the press which most of the Commissars have. I once wrote him a note saying that I was writing a story about the Red Army and would like some material. The very same day he sent me down a great sack of copy. There were many Red Army magazines and newspapers that I had never heard of. There were handbooks and statistics and maps and, besides all that, there was a permission to go to. any of the fronts and to attend any of the lectures at the various schools.
One of the most important departments of the Red Army is that known as the Political-Cultural. A report is made daily by this Department concerning the morale of the soldiers and the relation between the army and the civilian population. This Department conducts the classes in reading and writing and elementary technical training and vocational training; the work is carried on even in fighting days and right up to the front.
The soldiers are also taught to be interested in physical culture and have been learning games like Rugby. There was a good deal of excitement in the Red Army when a Russian team beat a team composed of foreign delegates to the Third Congress of the International in Moscow.
Soldiers are urged to attend the Art Galleries and the theatres. Art exhibitions and lectures on art take place in the soldiers' clubs. Here also they often build and act their own plays; most of these are about the revolution and will no doubt gradually settle down into national patriotic epics.
It is hard to know whether Trotsky will ever have another chance to experiment as he would like with his Labor Army, but that is his ambition. Lenin's opinion is that it is absolutely an experiment which can work out only if the men themselves are willing to submit to this plan for the good of Russia. Men never do efficient work if they do not want to, Lenin believes. Trotsky answers this argument by saying, “But we have the advantage over the rest of the world in that respect; we can try any schemes we please and if they do not work, we can change our minds.” His plan for a Labor Army I have taken from notes and I quote Trotsky's exact words:
“Russia is an industrially undeveloped country; and our economic apparatus is ruined by six years of war and revolution. We must be able to concentrate labor upon certain emergency tasks-where it is most necessary. For example, the Ural mining district needs fifty thousand skilled workers, two hundred thousand semi-skilled and two hundred thousand laborers. We should be able to send these workers where they are most needed; of course, this would, be done in co-operation and after consultation with the Unions and Shop Committees.”
His idea of maintaining the regular fighting force is to have it on a very much smaller scale. “Russia is now being redistricted. The new districts will be ordered according to their economic character, as economic units. Each district will be the headquarters of a division whose task is to mobilize the population not only for the army but for the work.
“The army divisions on the frontiers are to be constantly renewed. Each will remain on duty for three or four months, and then be sent home to work. In this way the whole male population will be trained to arms, each knowing his place in his regiment, and also his proper work.”
In the brief period before the Polish offensive, the Labor Army had been started full blast and at that time it had the approval of the army and the unions. Perhaps in another half year it will again be working. It is interesting to know how they managed. I will give one example. In six weeks the Labor Army built the great steel bridge over the Kam River, blown up by Kolchak. Thus the direct route to Siberia was restored. They restored the railway at Yamburg. They cut millions of feet of fire-wood for the cities. They were making such progress that if the Polish offensive had never taken place, the cities would actually have been provisioned and provided with wood before the first snow of that year.
One can make vast speculation about Trotsky. He is the sort of man who, if he is given full power in a great plan of this kind, will work miracles, but if he is hampered by petty labor disputes and a thousand petty jealousies, will fail utterly. I always have believed that if he had been interested in finance instead of social revolution he would now be our greatest banker. If he had been interested in the war from the Allied standpoint he would have been a great military hero.
Trotsky was born in 1877. He is the son of a colonist of Jewish faith from the government of Kherson near Elizabethgrad. He was indicted in a judicial investigation of the Workman's Syndicate of 'South Russia in 1898 and sentenced to Siberia for four years. He settled in the city of Verkholensk and later escaped. He became president of the Soviet of Workmen's Deputies in Petrograd in 190S. For activities in that organization he was sent again into exile to Tobolsk and again escaped. After that he lived in Paris and Vienna and later in the United States. He returned to Russia after the beginning of the revolution. Trotsky has a wife and two children. His wife is young and excessively good looking and is interested in revolutionary activities. Trotsky, like Lenin, is very proud of his wife.'
Trotsky might never have written his name as indelibly as he has on the page of history if it had not been for the peculiar circumstances of the war. His heroic strivings might have been spent aimlessly, if chance had not thrust into his hands the task of rebuilding an army. And no man can build a great army out of a rabble and not be famous. Many points were in his favor beside circumstance. He might not have found even his genius or his vitality enough to meet world opposition without the use of trained officers, men who were willing to submerge their own opinions for the moment in order to save Russia. A day will come perhaps when General Brusilov's words will be known to all Russian school children as the words of Patrick Henry are known to American children. This was his advice to all classes of Russians during intervention and the blockade:
“When a steamer on the boundless ocean is in danger, it is not a time for starting quarrels as to this principle or that, or to seek the numerous causes for the fact that our ship of state may have emerged into an unfavorable sea, but it is our duty to exert immediately all our thoughts and forces to save the vessel from destruction and bring her back to port with the smallest possible loss.”
I saw Trotsky again this summer (the summer of 1922) and asked him what he had done about reducing the army. Of course, because of the new economic policy, a Labor Army was out of the question. He told me that he had reduced the army from 5,300,000 to 800,000, including the navy. A greater reduction than that, he said, was impossible.
“We stand always ready to reduce our army,” said Trotsky, “even to liquidating it fully, whenever our closest and our farthest neighbors accept a program of disarmament. In January we offered disarmament. Europe refused even the suggestion. Later we asked our close neighbors, with the same result. If America would only take the initiative in this respect,” he shrugged and smiled, “well, we would support her with our whole heart.”