Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 13 (Whole No. 109), 26 March 1932, pp. 3 & 4.
Extract from Year I of the Russian Revolution.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.
On the occasion of the fourteenth anniversary of the founding of the Red Army, we reprint below an account of the event by Victor Serge and several of the first Soviet documents bearing on the subject. Victor Serge is the translator of the French edition of the complete works of Lenin. He is a Franco-Russian Communist of long standing and a member of the Left Opposition. The chapter printed below forms part of his work Year I of the Russian Revolution (in French) and is of especial interest at present in view of the Stalinist distortions of revolutionary history in general and that of the Red Army in particular. The Red Army, in the organization of which comrade Trotsky took the leading part, was created as the army of the International revolution. Today, on the fourteenth anniversary of its foundation, with the sharpening of the class conflicts and the imminence of social struggles of an international scope, it is especially well to remember this. Long live the Red Army, the army of the world proletariat!
Finland, the Baltic countries, the Ukraine are occupied by the Austrians and the Germans. The Turks are entering Caucasia, at that time “independent”, The British are occupying the Baku. The Rumanians are seizing Bessarabia. The Japanese are landing at Vladivostok (April 6). The revolution is surrounded in a circle of iron and fire. It needs an army. This army must be created from the void.
On January 2 (15), while negotiations are going on at Brest-Litovsk, a decree is issued on the establishment of a Red Army of volunteers.
The Red general staff – whatever has remained of the former general staff – calls upon the local Soviets to show their initiative by constituting new corps, the battalion of 150 men to be adopted as the unit. This appeal did not go unanswered. The real Red Army was to be created later, under the cover formed for it by these first improvised units. A Supreme Army Council was formed on the First of March. During these early days of the creation of the army, Trotsky appeared as the tireless animator of the project. “We need a well organized army, a new army”, he exclaimed at the Moscow Soviet on March 19. “We shall work twelve hours a day if necessary ... but we will go forward in the way of discipline, of work and of creative action.” “Obstinate work, revolutionary discipline.” He repeated these slogans, carried them out, implanted them in the minds. The decree on obligatory and general military instruction was promulgated on April 22 upon his proposal. It was a preparatory measure; a great part of the population remained hostile to the regime. The army about to be organized, had to be formed of volunteers whose first qualifications were to be their social origin and political opinions. But a modern army is a complicated machine. Its mechanism cannot be built up, its functioning cannot be assured without the specialist’s skill. Where were the war technicians, to be taken from? There were those of the old regime, those of the enemy classes. Trotsky very early envisaged the utilization of these specialists. In order to carry this out, he had to overcome numerous obstacles and not a few legitimate fears. Even Lenin at first objected and only consented later on:
“Without serious and experienced military men,” I said to Vladimir Llyitch (Trotsky, On Lenin), “we will never get out of this chaos.”
“That seems to be quite true. But what if they will betray us?”
“We shall attach a commissar to each one of them.”
“We shall attach two,” Lenin cried out, “two who will have a solid weight There is no lack of strong-arm Communists.”
The type of the leading organisms of the army was conceived in the following manner: one specialist, one regular officer and two Bolshevik commissars. The military men, it appeared, accepted these positions and this control without many difficulties. Accustomed to passive obedience and to state service, they submitted immediately as soon as. authority was imposed upon them. In their memoires the White Guard generals complained about the ease with which the Bolsheviks recruited the technical personnel of the Red Army. They had to live. And the patriotic sentiment also played its part. And then, there were many who were to remain enemies of the revolution as officers in the Red Army. Conspirators appeared to install themselves permanently inside the army. Trotsky had to refute the arguments of those who feared that the army – in the conduct of which the former generals participated – would become an instrument of the counter-revolution. Composed of workers and poor peasants and held together by a framework of Communist commissars, it did not, he argued, have to fear anything outside of individual treacheries. He had to combat habits created by the revolution itself. For months, the military commanders had been elected. The election of commanders was the command of the necessity of democratizing the old army.
“As long as the power belonged to the enemy class, as long as the cadres of the army were the instrument of this class, it was our task to break the resistance of the command through the election of the commanders. But today the power is in the hands of the working class from the midst of which the army is recruited. Under these conditions – I tell you this in all frankness – the election of officers is no longer of any political utility, it is technically inadequate and a decree has already annulled it in fact.”
Correct as these reasons were, they did not win out painlessly. What! Excellent revolutionists, proletarians were to be placed under the command – even though controlled by commissars (incompetents!) – of generals who only yesterday shot them down and of counter-revolutionary officers! It was necessary. “The creation of the army”, Trotsky said, “is for us a question of life and death.”
There was no administrative apparatus capable of mobilizing the forces necessary for the formation of an army. The party, revealing once more the decisive importance of its historic role, had to supplement the state. The Red Guards, the partisan units (numerous in the inland country, but anarchic, indisciplined, infinitely difficult to control) and a few other hardly regular units that survived from the old army were the first pithy war material of the Republic.
The recruitment campaign had very good but inadequate results. On April 1, Petrograd offered 25,000 volunteers, Moscow – more than 15,000. 106,000 volunteers reported in six weeks.
From L’An I. de la Revolution Russe
Petrograd, January 15, 1918
The old army was a class instrument of the bourgeoisie for the oppression of the working class. The seizure of power by the laboring class and the class of those who possess nothing has made the creation of a new army necessary. This new army will have the task of protecting the Soviet power and of constituting the base on which the regular army will be transformed into a power founded on the arming of the whole people; furthermore, the new army will serve to support the Socialist revolution that is approaching in Europe.
In the execution of the preceding, the Council of People’s Commissars has decided to organize the new army on the following basis and under the name “Red Workers’ and Peasants’ Army”.
The Council of People’s Commissars is the supreme directing organism of the Red workers’ and peasants’ army. The immediate conduct of the army and its administration are concentrated in the Military Commissariat and particularly in the all-Russian collegium.
Last updated on: 18.5.2013