N.I. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism


Chapter 8: The Programme of the Communists in relation to Army Organization

§ 61. Our old programme, and the question of war in a socialist state

In §12 we explained how the standing army of the bourgeois State is constructed and for what purposes it is used. The socialists of all countries, including the Russian social democrats, used to demand the abolition of standing armies. Instead of a standing army, the socialists wanted the general arming of the people (a citizen army); they demanded the abolition of the officers' caste, and the election of officers by the rank and file.

Let us consider what should be the communists' attitude towards these demands.

The first question that arises in this connexion is, on behalf of what form of social order the before-mentioned demands were made. Were they made for a bourgeois society, or for a socialist society, or for a society in the throes of the struggle between bourgeoisdom and socialism?

The socialist parties adhering to the Second International had no clear ideas concerning the nature of the society in relation to which their programme was drawn up. For the most part, indeed, their programme related to a bourgeois society. What the socialists usually had in their minds as model was the Swiss Republic, where there is no standing army but a national militia.

It is obvious that the army programme of the socialists was unrealizable in bourgeois society, above all during an epoch in which the class struggle was continually growing more acute. To abolish barracks signifies the abolition of the places where the workers and the peasants are trained to become the executioners of their own class brothers. It signifies the abolition of the only places in which it is possible to transform the workers into an army which will be ready to use its weapons against other nations at any moment which may suit the capitalists. To abolish the officers' caste signifies the abolition of the beast tamers who are alone competent to maintain an iron discipline, and who are alone able to subject the armed people to the will of the bourgeois class. The election of officers would enable the armed workers and peasants to choose officers from among themselves, officers who would not be bourgeois. For the bourgeoisie to agree to such proposals would mean that it was consenting to the formation of an army which was intended to subvert its own régime.

The whole history of capitalism in Europe has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate the impossibility of carrying out the old army programme of the socialist party within the framework of bourgeois society, of carrying it out while society is divided into classes and in days when the class struggle is growing more acute. In proportion as the class struggle is intensified do we find that the bourgeois rulers are disinclined to arm the whole nation and are determined to put arms in the hands of their trusted White Guards only. The army programme of the socialists, in so far as they hoped to realize it in the bourgeois régime, was, therefore, nothing but petty-bourgeois utopism.

Is it not possible, however, that the programme was formulated with the definite aim of overthrowing the bourgeois régime? This was not the case. The bourgeoisie wishes to defend itself against the working class, which hopes to seize power. It will therefore never entertain the idea of arming the workers. The bourgeoisie has introduced universal military service and has entrusted the worker-soldier with a rifle only for so long as it can hope that the soldiers drawn from the people will continue to obey the orders of their capitalist rulers. But directly the people thinks of fighting for its own land, the people must be disarmed! All shrewd bourgeois politicians are well aware of this. Conversely, it would be quite unreasonable for the workers and peasants to think of arming the whole nation, when what they wish is to arm themselves that they may overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. It follows, therefore, that for the transitional period in which the proletariat is struggling for power, the old army programme of the socialists is futile. Such a programme is only applicable for the very brief period during which the pre-existing bourgeois standing army is being broken up. It is only applicable during the period when the officers' caste is being abolished and when the question of the election of officers by the rank and file arises. In the year 1917, the bolsheviks actually carried out this idea, which was part of their old programme. By suppressing the officers' caste in what had been the tsarist army and in the Kerenskyite army, the bolsheviks deprived that army of its sting, so that it was no longer subject to the bourgeois-landlord class.

On the other hand, for a society in which socialism has been victorious, the old army programme is fully applicable. When the proletariat has overthrown the bourgeoisie and has abolished class in quite a number of countries, it will be possible to carry out a general arming of the people. Then the working population alone will be armed, for in a socialist society all will be workers. It will be possible to do away with barrack life completely. It will also be possible to introduce the election of officers, a method which during the period of accentuated civil war is, except in rare and fortunate cases, unsuitable for the proletarian army.

A very natural question now arises. What need can there be for the general arming of the people in lands where a socialist régime prevails? In certain countries, let us suppose, the bourgeoisie has been conquered; those who were bourgeois have become workers; there can be no question of war between socialist States. But it is necessary to remember that socialism cannot gain the victory simultaneously in all the countries of the world. Some countries will, of course, lag behind the others in the matter of abolishing class and of realizing socialism. In such circumstances, the, countries in which the bourgeoisie has been overthrown and where all the bourgeois have become workers, may have to fight or to be prepared to fight against the bourgeoisies of those States in which the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been established; or they may have to give armed assistance to the proletariat of those lands in which the dictatorship of the working class has been inaugurated but in which the struggle with the bourgeoisie has not yet been carried to a successful issue.

§ 62. The need for the Red Army; its class composition

Most of the socialists who adhere to the Second International consider that socialism can be realized by securing a parliamentary majority. Since the socialists of this calibre were cradled in such ideas, since they were nurtured in the peaceful atmosphere of petty-bourgeois villadom, it was natural that they should give no heed to the possibility of or the need for organizing a proletarian army in the period of the fight for socialism. Other socialists, though they recognized the inevitability of a forcible transformation effected by the armed workers, failed nevertheless to foresee that this armed struggle would be long drawn out, that Europe would have to pass through a phase, not only of socialist revolutions, but also of socialist wars. Consequently not one of the socialist programmes voiced the need for the organization of the Red Army, that is to say, of an army consisting of the armed workers and peasants. First in all the world,1) the Russian working class was able to create such an army. We mean that, first in all the world, the Russian workers were able to get a firm grip of the State authority, and were able to defend what they had gained against the attacks of the Russian bourgeoisie and against the onslaughts of international capitalism. It is perfectly clear that without the Red Army the Russian workers and peasants would have found it impossible to maintain a single one of the achievements of their revolution. Without the Red Army they would have been crushed by the forces of reaction at home and abroad. A Red Army cannot be established upon the foundation of universal military service. While the struggle is still in progress, the proletariat, even though success is in sight, cannot venture to entrust rifles to members of the urban bourgeoisie or to the rich peasants. The proletarian army must be exclusively composed of persons belonging to the working class, of persons who do not exploit labour and who are directly interested in the victory of the workers' revolution. Only the industrial workers of the towns and the poor peasants from the villages should form the nucleus and the foundation of the Red Army, which will be converted into an army of all the working population by the adhesion of the middle peasants. As far as the members of the bourgeoisie and of the rich stratum of the peasantry are concerned, they must fulfil their military obligations to the proletarian State by militia duties at a distance from the fighting front. Of course this must not be considered to imply that a sufficiently powerful proletarian authority will refrain, in its turn, from compelling the exploiters to shoot at their White friends in the opposing trenches, just as the bourgeoisie, with the aid of its standing army, forced the proletarians to shoot their class brothers.

The standing army of the bourgeoisie, although it is established upon the basis of universal military service, and although in appearance it is an army of the whole people, is in reality a class army. But the proletariat need not hide the class character of its army, any more than it hides the class character of its dictatorship. The Red Army is one of the organs of the Soviet State, and is, generally speaking, constructed upon the same type as the other State organs of the proletarian dictatorship. Just as in the Soviet elections the soviet constitution gives no vote to persons whose whole economic and political position that constitution aims at undermining, so in the Red Army there is no place for those for whose destruction in the civil war the Red Army exists.

§ 63. Universal military training of the workers

One of the primary aims of the system of military training for the workers which the Russian Soviet Republic has set out to realize, must be to reduce barrack life to a minimum. As far as possible, the workers and peasants must not be withdrawn from the work of production while they are being trained for military service. This will greatly diminish expenditure upon the army and will obviate the slackening down and disorganization of production. Workers and peasants who are trained to arms in their spare time, fit themselves to be soldiers of the revolution without ceasing to be producers of value.

The second great need in connexion with the universal military training of the workers is to create in every town, and in every rural district, proletarian and peasant reserves able to take the field at a moment's notice on the approach of the enemy. The experience of the civil war in Russia has shown how important such reserves are for the success of the socialist campaign. It suffices to remember how the regiments of the workers' reserves successfully defended Petrograd from the White Guards; or to think of the workers of the Ural region and the Donetz basin; or of the workers and peasants in the town and province of Orenburg, in the town of Uralsk, etc.

§ 64. Self-imposed discipline versus discipline imposed from above

Self-imposed discipline is impossible in an imperialist army. The very nature of such an army forbids the idea. An imperialist army consists of various social groups. The workers and peasants have been forcibly herded into the barracks of the bourgeois army. Should they begin to realize their own interests, far from consciously submitting to the discipline imposed by their epauletted superiors, they would consciously resist this discipline. For this reason, the discipline of bourgeois armies must be maintained by force; for this reason, flogging, tortures of every kind, and mass shootings, are not simply occasional incidents, but the foundations of order, discipline, 'military education'.

On the other hand, in the Red Army, which is formed by the workers and the peasants and which defends their interests, coercive discipline must to an ever greater extent be replaced by the workers' voluntary acceptance of the discipline of the civil war. As the Red Army grows more clearly aware of its own nature, the Red soldiers come to realize that in the last resort they are commanded by the whole working class, through the instrumentality of the workers' State and its military staff. Thus the discipline of the Red Army is the submission of the minority (the soldiers) to the interests of the majority of the workers. Every reasonable order is backed, not by the commanding officer and his arbitrary will, not by the bourgeois minority and its predatory interests, but by the whole Workers' and Peasants' Republic. In the Red Army, therefore, propaganda and agitation, the political education of the rank and file, assume peculiar importance.

§ 65. The political commissars and the communist groups

In the Russian Soviet Republic, in which all workers can express their will through the soviets, the workers and peasants have for the last two years been electing communists to the various executive organs. The Communist Party - we put the matter in bourgeois phraseology - has become by the will of the masses the ruling party of the republic, for no other party was capable of conducting the victorious workers' and peasants' revolution to a successful issue. As a result of this, our party has become as it were a huge executive committee of the proletarian dictatorship. This is why the communists fill the leading role in the Red Army. The political commissars are the representatives of the class willof the proletariat inthe army; they are mandated by the party and the military centres. Thereby are determined the mutual relationships of the commissar alike with the military staff and with the communist groups of the division to which he is assigned. The communist group is a section of the ruling party; the commissar is a plenipotentiary of the party as a whole. Thence derives his leading role, both in the army division, and in the communist groups of that division. Thence, likewise, his right to supervise the military staff. He is a political leader who acts as overseer to watch the technical experts performing their duties.

The task of the communist groups is to give to the soldiers of the Red Army clear ideas concerning the civil war, and concerning the need that they should subordinate their interests to the interests of all the workers. A further duty of the members of the communist groups in the army is, by personal example, to display their devotion to the revolution, and to arouse in their fellow-soldiers a desire to emulate this example. The members of the communist groups are further entitled to watch how their own commissar and other commissars perform their communist duties, and they can endeavour (by appealing to the supreme party organizations or to responsible commissars) to secure that necessary measures shall be carried into effect. Thus only can the Communist Party - without any infringement of general military discipline on the part of Red soldiers who are communists - secure complete control over all its members and prevent any misuse of power on their side.

Apart from the communist groups in the army and apart from the political commissars, the political education of the Red Army is supervised by a whole network of political sections in the divisions and in the armies at the various fronts, and it is also supervised by the propaganda sections of the Commissariat for War. In its various departments, the proletarian State of Russia has created a mighty instrument for the enlightenment and organization of its army, and it endeavours to secure the maximum of result with the minimum of effort. Thanks to the existence of this apparatus, the work of agitation and enlightenment in our army is not carried on fortuitously, but has a systematized character. The newspaper, the spoken word at meetings, and scholastic instruction, are ensured for every soldier of the Red Army.

Unfortunately, however, the above-described organizations have not escaped the common lot of all the organizations of the Soviet Power. They have succumbed to bureaucracy; they have tended towards a detachment from the masses, on the one hand, and from the party, on the other; and in practice they have often shown themselves to be harbours of refuge for idlers and incapables who belong to the party war-office officialdom. A vigorous campaign against such abuses would seem to be of far more urgent importance to the Communist Party than the campaign against bureaucracy and slackness in the general soviet mechanism, for upon the success of the former campaign our speedy victory in the civil war must be said in a sense to depend.

§ 66. Structure of the Red Army

In our system of universal military training, barrack life must be reduced to a minimum, so that ultimately the Red barracks may completely disappear. The structure of the Red Army must be gradually approximated to the structure of the productive units of the workers, whereby the artificial character of military unification will be overcome. We may express the matter more clearly by saying that the typical standing army of tsarist days, the standing army in the State of the bourgeoisie and the landed gentry, was composed of persons belonging to the most diverse classes. Those who were called up for service were forcibly dragged from their natural surroundings: the worker, from the factory; the peasant, from the plough; the clerk, from the desk; the shopman, from the counter. The recruits were then artificially assembled in barracks, and distributed in the various army divisions. It was advantageous to the bourgeois State to break off all connexion between the proletarian recruit and his factory and between the peasant recruit and his village, so as to make of worker and peasant alike blind tools for the oppression of the labouring masses, and so that it might be easy to employ the workers and peasants of one province to shoot down those of another.

In the upbuilding of the Red Army, the Communist Party works in the opposite way. Although the conditions of the civil war have frequently compelled the party to make the best of the old methods of organization, the essential aspiration is towards something utterly different. Our aim has been to ensure that the army subdivisions in the course of their construction (the company, the battalion, the regiment, the brigade, etc.) shall harmonize as far as may be with the factory, the workshop, the village, the hamlet, and so on. In other words, our aim is to remodel the artificial military unity - a unity which existed only for its own sake - into a natural, productive unity of the workers, and thus to reduce the artificiality of army life. The proletarian divisions built up in this manner are more compact; they are disciplined by the very method of production; and there is, therefore, the less need for a discipline imposed from above.

The formation of a sturdy, class-conscious proletarian nucleus is of primary importance to the Red Army. In such a country as Russia, in which peasants constitute the enormous majority of the population, the dictatorship of the proletariat necessarily means that the proletarian minority shall lead and organize the peasant majority (the middle peasantry); and that the peasant majority shall follow the lead of the organizing proletariat, and shall have complete confidence in the political wisdom and constructive capacity of the urban workers. This statement is fully applicable to the Red Army, which is strong and disciplined precisely in proportion as its skeletal framework is proletarian and communist. To assemble this skeletal material, to distribute it properly, and to clothe the framework with a sufficient quantity of the disintegrated but far more abundant peasant material-this constitutes the fundamental organizatory task of the Communist Party in the upbuilding of the Red Army.

§ 67. The officers of the Red Army

The upbuilding of the Red Army was begun upon the ruins of the old tsarist army. The proletariat, when it gained the victory in the November revolution, had not a Red officers' corps of its own. There were only three ways in which the workers could make effective use of the experiences of the world war, could apply them to the civil war, could apply to the military training of its own army the technical military experiences that has been accumulated in the fallen régime. The first possibility was to create entirely new staffs out of the Reds, and to use members of the old officers' caste only as instructors. A second way would have been to hand over the command of the new army to the officers of the old army under the supervision of commissars. A third possible course was a combination of these two methods. Time pressed; the civil war had begun; the new army must be quickly created, and must be sent to the fight without delay. The proletarian authorities, therefore, had to adopt the third method. They began to organize schools for Red officers, who in general were only fitted for the lower grades. In addition, quite a number of the officers of the old army were invited to participate in the upbuilding of the Red Army and to share in its command.

The utilization of the officers of the old army involved difficulties which were numerous and grave, and which have not yet been overcome. These officers could be divided into three groups, two small and one large. Some were more or less strongly sympathetic towards the Soviet Power. Others were definitely opposed to the new régime; they sided with the class enemies of the proletariat, and have continued to give these enemies active assistance. The third group, larger than both the others put together, consisted of the average officers who inclined to the winning side, and who were willing to serve the Soviet Government just as the wage worker serves the capitalist who buys labour power. Now the Communist Party had obviously to make all possible use of the services of the sympathetic minority. As regards the other minority, every means of repression had to be employed to render these reactionaries harmless. Finally, as far as the average officers were concerned, those whose political attitude in the civil war was neutral, the proletariat had to retain them in its service, and to ensure that they did their work conscientiously whether at the front or at the rear.

The utilization of the old officers gave valuable results in the upbuilding of the Red Army. In this matter we were able to turn to useful account the technical experience in military affairs that had been acquired by the bourgeois and landlord régime. Their utilization, however, entailed terrible dangers, for it occasionally involved widespread treachery on the part of the officers, and enormous sacrifices of the Red soldiers, who were betrayed and handed over in masses to the enemy.

The principal task of the Communist Party in this connexion is, in the first place, the effective training of our own commanders for the Red Army - the training of Red officers, of communists who shall befitted for work on the general staff by a course of training at the Red Academy which has been established by the Soviet Power. Secondly we have to ensure a closer association between the communist commissars and all the other members of the party in the fighting forces, for the effective supervision and control of all the non-communist officers.

§ 68. Should army officers be elected, or should they be appointed from above?

The army of the capitalist State, based upon universal military service, is mainly composed of peasants and workers, under the command of officers drawn from the nobility and the bourgeoisie. When in our old programme we demanded the election of officers, our aim was to ensure that the army command should be taken out of the hands of the exploiting classes. We were assuming that the army might be democratized while political power still remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Of course the idea was utterly unrealizable, for no bourgeoisie in the world could ever be expected to hand over without resistance the military apparatus of oppression. But in the struggle against militarism, in the campaign against the privileges of the officers' caste, our demand for the election of officers proved of enormous importance, and it was no less important owing to the way in which it contributed to the general disintegration of the imperialist armies.

The Red Army, on the other hand, is under proletarian control. The workers administer it through the central soviet organs, which they themselves elect. In all grades of army life, the proletariat is in control through the instrumentality of the communist commissars, who both at the front and at the rear are mainly drawn from among the workers. In these circumstances, the question of electing officers becomes a question of purely technical significance. The matter of real importance is that we should know what will make the army, in its present condition, the most efficient fighting force. From this point of view, will it be best to elect the officers, or to appoint them from above? When we take into consideration that our Red Army is mainly recruited from among the peasantry, when we recall the hardships to which it is exposed, its exhaustion by two wars, and the low level of class consciousness among the peasants who have joined the army - it will become obvious to us that the practice of electing officers cannot fail to exercise a disintegrating influence in our forces. Of course this does not exclude the possibility that in different circumstances the election of officers might do no harm; for instance, in volunteer units, firmly compacted out of men who all possess strong, revolutionary sentiments. Here, election would throw up practically the same officers as those who would have been appointed from above. As a general rule, however, the election of officers, although it may be regarded as an ideal method, would for practical reasons prove dangerous and harmful at the present juncture. But by the time the working masses who are now enrolled in the Red Army have risen to a level at which the election of officers will be useful and necessary, it is probable that there will be no further need for armies in the world.

§ 69. The Red Army is provisional

The bourgeoisie looks upon the capitalist system as the 'natural' ordering of human society; it regards its own régime as ever lasting, and it therefore constructs the instrument of its power - the army - solidly, builds it to last for years and years if not for ever. The proletariat regards its own Red Army in quite another light. The Red Army has been created by the workers for the struggle with the White Army of capital. The Red Army issued out of the civil war; it will disappear when a complete victory has been gained in that war, when class has been abolished, when the dictatorship of the proletariat has spontaneously lapsed. The bourgeois army is born of bourgeois society, and the bourgeoisie wishes this child to live for ever because it reflects the imperishability of the bourgeois régime. The Red Army, on the other hand, is the child of the working class, and the workers desire for their child a natural and glorious death. The day when the Red Army can be permanently disbanded will be the day on which will be signalized the final victory of the communist system.

The Communist Party must make it clear to the soldiers of the Red Army that if that army should gain the victory over the White Guards of capital the victors would be the soldiers of the last army in the world. But the party must also make it perfectly clear to all who participate in the upbuilding of the Red Army, it must convince all the proletarian and peasant troops, that the workers have only become soldiers for a brief space and owing to a temporary need, that the field of production is the natural field for their activities, that work in the Red Army must on no account lead to the formation of any caste permanently withdrawn from industry and agriculture.

When the formation of the Red Army was first begun, the formation of the army which sprang from the proletarian Red Guards, the mensheviks and the social revolutionaries fiercely attacked the communists, declaring that the latter were false to the watchword of the general arming of the people, and accusing them of creating a standing army consisting of only one class. But the fact that civil war cannot last for ever, makes it obvious that the Red Army cannot be a standing army. The real reason why our army is a class army is because the class struggle has reached the last extremity of bitterness. No one but a pettybourgeois utopist, no one who is not hopelessly stupid, can object to the existence of a class army while recognizing the class war. It is characteristic that the bourgeoisie, in this epoch which has ensued upon the settlement of the world war, no longer thinks it necessary, or even possible, to conceal the class character of its army. Most instructive, in this connexion, has been the fate of the standing army in Germany, Britain, and France. The German National Assembly was elected by universal suffrage. Its main support was Noske's force of volunteer counter-revolutionary troops. At the stage of the embitterment of the class struggle and at the stage of the decay of bourgeois society which Germany has now reached, it is impossible that an army based on universal military service can be used for the maintenance of bourgeois institutions. Similarly in France and Britain, during the year 1919 the government was mainly dependent upon the support, not of the army which had been raised by universal service and had gained the victory in the great war, but upon a voluntary force of counter-revolutionary soldiers and police. Thus, not merely in Russia from the close of 1917, but likewise all over Europe from the close of 1918, a characteristic phenomenon was the abandonment of universal military service and the adoption of a system of class armies. In Russia, the traitors to socialism - the mensheviks and the social revolutionaries - were strongly opposed to the formation of the Red Army of the proletariat, at the very time when in Central Europe their friends Noske and Scheidermann were organizing the White Army of the bourgeoisie. Thus the struggle against the creation of the class army of the proletariat (a struggle conducted in the name of universal military service and in the name of 'democracy') showed itself in practice to be a struggle to found the class army of the bourgeoisie.

Passing now to consider the question of a national militia, we find that the example of Switzerland, the example of the most democratic of all the bourgeois republics, has shown the part which such a militia plays in the hour when the class struggle is accentuated. The national militia, the 'people's militia', of Switzerland under a bourgeois régime proves to be precisely the same weapon for keeping the proletariat down as any standing army in less democratic lands. The arming of the whole nation will inevitably lead to this result whenever and wherever it is effected under the political and economic régime of capitalism.



1) We are speaking in the text of an army in the full sense of the term. If we are asked where the first beginnings of such a Red Army are to be found, we can point to the army of the Paris Commune as the precursor of our Red Army - to the army which the workers of Paris created in the year 1871.


There is very little literature. Trotsky has published articles in 'Pravda' and 'Isvestiya'. A symposium, Revolutionary War, has been edited by Podvoisky and Pavlovich; Trotsky, The International Situation and the Red Army; Trotsky, The Soviet Power and International Imperialism; Zinoviev, Our Situation and the Creation of the Red Army; Zinoviev, Speech concerning the Red Army; Yaroslavsky, The New Army.