N. Bukharin

The Organisation of the Army and the Structure of Society

Source: The Call, 8 April 1920, p. 2 (1,508 words)
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The organisation of the army is always determined by the social, economic, and political structure on which it is built up. This organisation is far from being a fixed or immovable thing; on the contrary, the evolution and frequently the revolution, of the forms of organisation adopted can be followed with precision. It is easy to understand the fundamental causes of this. Society, with its changing historical forms, is constituted, at any given moment, according to a single principle, which represents, in its different parts, one and the same “type.” The basis of the society in which slavery is predominant is the class relations between the slave-holders and the “human tools,” deprived of all rights. The legal absence of all rights coincides with economic exploitation. The political machine is built up like the “economic structure” of society. And at the epochs when the slave-revolts threatened the existence of the slave holders, the army was composed of “free citizens.” The slaves were excluded. “They were unworthy of bearing arms.” Let us take an example closer to us; namely, capitalist society. Its economic basis is the relation between the proprietor of the means of production, the capitalist, and the hired worker who has no property. The political system reflects this situation in such a way that, either the workers have not equal rights with the capitalists, both in principle and in effect, or else they have such rights in principle, but not in reality. In both cases the capitalists govern, the workers obey. The same relations are noticeable in the army. The elements which economically are the exploiters become the leaders; in the army they are the commanders, and organise themselves in what is called the corps of officers. From this point of view, the capitalist factory, every capital State institution, every regiment of the capitalist army, are constructed on the same principle; the elements of the classes which are in the higher ranks in the factory are also in the higher ranks of the regiment, or in any Government office. On the contrary, the elements of the classes which are at the bottom of the hierarchy in the factory are also at the bottom of the hierarchy in the regiment, or in any organ of the State.

It is easy to understand why we find, in this form of society, this remarkable unity of structure. It is the indispensable condition for, the relative stability of the type of Society under consideration. Without this unity, society, in its character of a definite system of social relations would break down. It results from this that a given social system is the more stable the more its interior architectural plan has unity; in other words, the more its political or other “superstructure” is adapted to the economic foundation.

This is the necessary criterion for grappling with the problem of the organisation of the army. A little before the October Revolution, it was a certain fact that discipline had disappeared in the army. But it had disappeared exactly as had capital discipline in any factory. The worker who occupied the inferior position in the factory ceased to obey the capitalist. The working class demanded its rights first of all to control, and then to direct, the factories. It would not and it could not work any longer in obedience to and under the supervision of the exploiter. But, just as the worker could no longer work for the capitalist and obey him in the factory, so he could no longer work for him and obey him in the army. Consequently that army fell to pieces. The experience of the Hungarian and German revolutions, as well as that of the Russian revolution, and that, in general, of the world-revolution which is growing to maturity, shows quite dearly that the capitalist type of relations between men breaks down at the same time in all spheres. That is why the hope of maintaining the old army is a vain Utopia, an absolutely senseless proposition.

Let us now examine the other aspect of the question.

What must be the organisation of the army when Communism is completely established; that is to say, when a fraternal and free world-organisation is in existence? The reply is obvious: there will be none, for there will then be neither “external” nor “internal” enemies—there will be neither States, nor classes, but humanity pure and simple.

But between world Communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat; as a path to Communism, there will be a series of intermediate stages. We may imagine, for example, a situation like the following. Throughout Europe, Communism is almost completely established: social production is organised, the capitalist class has been for a long time resigned, changed, assimilated: classes have disappeared, the inhabitants of Europe have become simple citizens of a Socialist society. But, in Asia and in Africa, capitalism has developed: the capitalist class has armed itself; and carries on an imperialist policy like that of the fallen European capitalist class. It is obvious that in this case a form of military organisation is necessary in Europe. What form? Here also the reply is clear: the military organisation of Communist society in which classes have disappeared, but which has to fight against foreign capitalists, must be the Socialist militia constituted by the whole people. This is the freest and most perfect form of military organisation; it is based on the profound consciousness of solidarity amongst the members of the Socialist form of society—equal, psychologically fused, divided by no class distinctions. What we call compulsory discipline scarcely plays any part in such a force.

The army of the proletarian dictatorship must be distinguished from this type of military organisation; it belongs to the historical stage which leads to Communism, but which is not yet communism.

Here the basis is not a social structure guided by a society without classes, but a socio-political structure guided by the proletariat.

The State has not been suppressed, but it is the dictatorship of the proletariat which is in force; we have not before us the complete disappearance of classes, but a state of civil war more or less apparent or more or less hidden, or even a social struggle silently coming to ahead. Under such conditions, the organisation of a popular militia is not expedient. It would in no way correspond to the economic basis, or to the type of the Soviet State. Our programme rightly declares “The Red Army, as the instrument of the proletarian dictatorship, must necessarily, have a clearly marked class character; that is to say, it must be composed exclusively of the proletariat and of the proletarian sections of the rural population which are allied to it.”

If, even in an army of this kind, class homogeneity is not complete, in proportion as it results from the difference between the proletariat—which is the conscious leader of the whole Revolution—and the ideology of the small proprietors of the rural population, the supremacy of the proletariat will and must be assured, in the first place by a proletarian corps of officers (in the formation of which it is necessary to keep in mind what, in the words of our programme is “one of the essential problems”), and, in the second place, by an iron revolutionary discipline, which the given phase of development renders indispensable. Those who know the history of the French revolution know how the revolutionary army was organised.

The formation of the army must obviously be accompanied by universal military training of all proletarians and semi-proletarians, and by the inclusion, in the syllabus of the schools, of subjects which are connected with this training. General military training must, in the first stages of development of the dictatorship, bear in the same way a class character, and only become “popular” in proportion as the process of fusion of classes develops. The practical determination of the classes which have to be trained is a question of political tact; it is dictated entirely by the character of the moment, by the degree of transformation of classes and of their assimilation by the proletariat.

It is only under such conditions that the system of the dictatorship of the proletariat will be stable, and that the Red Army will be victorious.

It goes without saying that here the army is not “outside politics,” but, on the contrary, must be entirely permeated with Communist ideas, and that the work of training and of completing the military education of the Red Army must be based on the consolidation of class consciousness and of socialist education.

The phrase of the theoretician of German imperialism, Clausewitz: “War is the continuation of policy, only by other means,” has become a truism. But it remains none the less accurate with this difference, that, to-day, the policy of Imperialism has been succeeded by the policy of victorious Communism, of which the Red Armies of the proletarian dictatorship are the instrument.