The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 1, 1918

How the Revolution Armed



Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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Report to the Moscow City Conference
of the Russian Communist Party, March 28, 1918

Comrades! The conference is meeting at a time of profound internal crisis in our generally critical epoch, and at a moment when our mood cannot be one of enthusiasm and militancy. Without any doubt we are passing through a period of internal confusion, of great difficulty, and, what is most important, of self-criticism, which, let us hope, will lead to an inner cleansing and a new upsurge of the revolutionary movement.

We inherit our authority from the October Revolution, which some of those who marched in ranks close to us, or marched parallel with us, are now disposed, as it were, to repudiate. And the October Revolution is even now regarded by many sages as being either an adventure or a blunder.

We Communists cannot look upon the question of the October Revolution from this subjective point of view. After 1905, during a number of years preceding the revolution of 1917, we not only forecast the inevitability of a new revolution, but declared, theoretically foresaw, that, if this revolution came to a victorious conclusion, it would inevitably put in power the working class, relying on all the poorest sections of the population. Our analysis, which was confirmed in October, was called utopian. Now they call utopian our socialist prospect, our Communist programme. But it is obvious to everyone that the dictatorship of the working class, which we forecast, has been realised, and that all those ‘total abstainers’ who saw in our forecasts only utopianism and our subjective desires have turned out to be cast aside by the development of the class struggle in our revolution.

The February revolution revealed the basic relation of forces: first, the combination of all the property-owning and ruling classes, a combination headed by the Cadet Party, within which were dissolved all the contradictions, all the antagonisms between the different groups among the property-owners, precisely because the revolution posed sharply the root question of property as such, and thereby eliminated the differences among the property-owning classes.

The compromising groups constituted the second major camp in the revolution – politically much larger than corresponded to its real social strength (for reasons about which I shall now say a few words). The third camp was made up of the working class, headed by our Party, and the working masses who were linked with it.

I said that the compromisers’ camp, which set its fatal mark on the first phase of the revolution, appeared to itself and to others incomparably more powerful than actually accorded with the social nature of the stratum from which this camp was recruited: I mean the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia from which the compromiser parties drew not only their leaders but also their fighting cadres.

What explains why it was that, in the first phase of the revolution, the Menshevik and SR parties played the leading role, and thereby held back the development of the revolution, worsened the country’s collapse, and gave to the whole subsequent process of development an extremely acute and painful character? This is to be explained by the circumstance that our revolution grew out of the war, and the war had mobilised and organised the most backward and ignorant masses of the peasantry, endowing them with military organization and so causing them to exercise, in the first phase of the revolution, a direct influence on the course of political events, before these masses had passed, under the leadership of the proletariat, through even the elementary school of politics.

Regiments, divisions and corps elected their deputies to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, alongside the working class. But the working class elected its deputies within the framework of its natural places of work – the factories. The peasants, having been shut up, by means of the state machine, in the compulsory organizations of the Army, elected not peasants’ deputies but deputies of regiments, companies and so forth.

Through the Army the peasants were drawn into exercising immediate active influence upon the course of political events before, I repeat, before political schooling under the leadership of the working class had given them the necessary internal incentive for this and the necessary minimum of political ideas. It was natural that this peasant mass sought representatives and leaders from outside itself, and it found them among the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia in the Army: among the volunteers, the young, the more or less revolutionary officers – in short, among men of bourgeois origin who possessed certain formal advantages over the mass of peasant soldiers, such as the ability to express their thoughts more or less articulately, such as literacy, and so on. That was why the soldier cadres of the SR and Menshevik parties multiplied so greatly in the first phase of the revolution. They relied upon the peasant army numbering many millions. And in so far as the working class tried instinctively to avoid breaking away from its ponderous peasant reserves, this class, too, showed a certain inclination towards the compromisers, because they were the bridge linking it with the peasant and soldier masses. That was the reason why, in the first phase of the revolution, the SRs and Mensheviks set the all-determining imprint of their influence upon its development. They expressed their influence, however, not only in refraining from setting about the solution of a single one of the questions raised by the revolution, but in directly delaying and hindering the solution of all questions, intensifying all difficulties and causing the heritage which fell to us in October to be a frightful historical burden.

When, by the inner logic of the class struggle, our Party, standing at the head of the proletariat, came to power, the third camp was brought to the test, the camp of the working class, which by its entire nature is alone capable of fulfilling the fundamental tasks of the revolution.

In the political and directly military sense, the October revolution took place in an unexpectedly and unprecedentedly triumphal fashion. There had never in history been such a case of a mighty offensive by an oppressed class which in such a planned and rapid way seized power from the possessing and ruling classes in all parts of the country, spreading its rule from Petrograd and Moscow into every corner, every cranny of Russia.

This triumphal character of the October rising revealed the political weakness of the bourgeois classes, which had its roots in the peculiarities of the development of Russian capitalism.

Taking shape under conditions of the complete disintegration of small and medium industry and of the old capitalist ideology in Western Europe, Russian capitalism, which arose from the start in highly concentrated form, undoubtedly developed great economic strength and, along with this, the internal capacity to go over to an improved form of economy – that is, it created the basis for nationalization of the enterprises. At the same time, though, these same conditions transformed Russian commercial, industrial and financial capital into a small, privileged class, few in numbers and cut off from the broad masses of the people, lacking ideological roots in the depths of the people, without a political army of its own.

Hence the slightness of the political resistance which our bourgeoisie proved able to put up against us in October, November and the subsequent months, when in particular parts of the country there occurred the revolts of the Kaledinites, the Kornilovites and the Dutovites [10] and of the Ukrainian Rada. If the Ukrainian Rada was and still is temporarily victorious over the Soviet power in the Ukraine, this fact is due exclusively to the help given it by the mighty machine of German militarism. [11]

Both in the advanced and in the backward, less industrialised parts of the country, everywhere our possessing classes showed themselves helpless when it came to resisting with their own resources the armed revolutionary offensive of the proletariat, fighting to win state power. This shows us, above all, comrades, that if, by the power and will of historical fate – something which I do not think will happen, and neither do you – We were to be driven from power, this would be a mere episode, lasting only a brief interval, for development would proceed subsequently along the same basic line as before. The deep social gulf between the bourgeois upper strata and the laboring classes, and the deep unity between all the unfortunate masses and the proletariat argues for this and guarantees it.

Even if temporarily driven from power, the proletariat would still be the leader of the immense majority of the laboring masses of the country, and a fresh oncoming wave would inevitably restore it to power. We derive from this assurance the most profound inner confidence in all our political work. Because of the whole social structure of Russia and because of the international situation in which we are living, we are, in the full sense of the word, invincible, despite all the difficulties, and even despite our own inadequacies, mistakes and blunders, about which I am going to speak.

The armed resistance of the bourgeoisie was smashed in a very short time. They then brought into action another mechanism of resistance, in the form of sabotage by the officials and technical personnel, all the skilled and semi-skilled forces of the intelligentsia which in bourgeois society function both as mechanism of technical leadership and as mechanism of class rule.

All these elements reared up after the seizure of power by the working class. From the theoretical standpoint this should not have been, and was not, unexpected by any of us. In connection with the Paris Commune, Marx wrote that when the working class comes to power it cannot automatically take over the old state apparatus: it must reconstruct this apparatus completely. [12] And this fact, that the working class cannot simply take over the old machinery, found expression here in two forms: in the distrust shown by the mass of the workers and the Soviets towards the old government officials, and in the hatred shown by the old officialdom towards the new master, the working class. Hence, sabotage, desertion, disorganization of all governmental and many social and private institutions, on the part of their leading technical and administrative staffs.

This sabotage, in so far as it was not a mere outcome of the panic inspired in the educated elements by the heavy hand of the working class which had taken power, in so far as it pursued a political aim, relied upon the approach of the Constituent Assembly, seen as its natural goal, as the new bridge whereby the possessing classes could return to power.

Whereas what corresponded to the Russian bourgeoisie, the Russian propertied classes generally, by virtue of their nature, their political interests, was a monarchy limited by a parliament elected on the basis of a property qualification, to the educated elements which headed the compromiser parties, to their interests and concepts, what corresponded best was a Constituent Assembly, which allows the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia to play a disproportionately big role, because, thanks to its glib tongue, it can come forward in parliament in the name of all the most ignorant and backward masses who cannot speak for themselves, and because, standing between the possessing and the laboring classes, it can play the part of compromiser, broker and mediator. And the Constituent Assembly, as they saw it, was to be the great chamber of conciliation, the great compromise making institution of the Russian Revolution.

The Soviets – that is, the working class, organised in Soviets – threw out the Constituent Assembly, declaring that in the epoch of direct and immediate conflict between class forces only one class or another can rule, openly and solidly – that at this moment there can be either the dictatorship of capital and landownership or the dictatorship of the working class and the poorest peasantry.

By suppressing the Constituent Assembly the Soviets first and foremost broke politically the backbone of the intelligentsia’s sabotage. The resistance of all those technical, administrative and official elements was overcome. Direct and open civil war, together with the fight against sabotage, had to a certain extent distracted our attention from our fundamental, organic tasks in the spheres of the economy and of administration. On the other hand, it was natural that, having smashed the Kaledinites and Kornilovites, having finally taken power into our hands and put down sabotage, we should feel confident that we were at last about to get down to our real creative work.

After the military resistance of the bourgeoisie, the Kornilovites and the Kaledinites had been smashed in open battle (thanks not to our military technique, which was at a very low level, but to the circumstance that the bourgeoisie lacked reliable masses that it could bring into action against us), and after the sabotage by the administrative and technical personnel had been broken and it had proved possible to harness this intelligentsia to work – after all that, we found ourselves face to face with all the immense tasks, difficulties and obstacles which we had inherited from the past.

Naturally, the civil war and the methods by which we broke the officials’ sabotage in all the institutions, had the effect, in themselves, of intensifying the state of collapse which was bequeathed to us by the war and by the first phase of the revolution. We saw this and were clearly aware of it. But that did not stop us, for we knew and were profoundly confident, with a confidence that we drew from our entire analysis of historical events in Russia, that for us there was only one way out on to the main road of historical development, and this way out lay only through the dictatorship of the working class. We knew that if obstacles presented themselves on the path of this dictatorship, they must be swept away. If such sweeping away of obstacles momentarily intensified the state of collapse, then all this must be made up for a hundred fold by the politically intense creative work in the economic field which the working class must get down to without delay once it had come to power.

Now, comrades, having overcome the political obstacles, we are faced in real earnest by all these organizational difficulties. History has put sharply to the working class, to us as its representatives, the question: can you cope with all the difficulties which preceding decades and centuries have piled up for you, here and there tying them in Gordian knots, elsewhere offering them to you in the form of a quite chaotic state of ruin extending all over Russia? Will you cope, shall we cope, with these tasks? In other words, will the working class, led by the Communist Party, in this moment of the greatest test to which the working class has ever been subjected throughout its history, prove to be up to the level of its historical responsibility?

The difficulties confronting us can be divided into two categories – those which are objective in character and those which are subjective.

The difficulties which are objective in character are founded in external conditions. They consist in the mere fact of universal ruin, of our system of communication having broken down. Our railway carriages have been stripped and smashed up. A very large percentage of our locomotives are out of action, while those that are in good shape are not moving along the rails as they should (the war has thrown everything into disorder). Our factories and works are disorganised, owing, first, to the mobilisation and then to the partial, extremely incomplete demobilisation. We suffer from very great difficulties in the sphere of food supplies – partly because we have been impoverished generally, and partly because all means of transport, accounting and control have broken down. These are the difficulties, colossal in their depth, which lie before us, and which we have to overcome at any cost. If we do not overcome them, the country will be wrecked in the very near future, for there is no-one to take our place.

While, as the working class, we, in Marx’s words, cannot simply take over the old state apparatus in a mechanical way, this does not at all mean that we can get by without any of those elements which entered into the composition of the old state apparatus.

It is the misfortune of the working class that it has always occupied the position of an oppressed class. This misfortune is expressed in the level of its education and in the fact that it has never acquired those habits of rule which are possessed by a ruling class, and which such a class passes on from generation to generation, through its schools, universities and soon. None of that is possessed by the working class, it has it all to acquire.

Having come to power, the working class had to examine critically the old state apparatus of class oppression. But it must, at the same time, extract from this apparatus all the valuable skilled elements which are technically needed by it, must set them in their appropriate places, and must bring these elements under pressure from its proletarian class might. This, comrades, is the task which now confronts us in all its magnitude.

This first period of struggle against sabotage consisted in ruthless smashing of the saboteurs’ organizations. This was necessary, and therefore right.

Today, in a period when the power of the Soviets has been set on a firm footing, the struggle against sabotage must express itself in transforming the saboteurs of yesterday into the servants, executive officials, technical guides of the new regime, wherever it needs them. If we do not grapple with this task, if we do not attract all the forces we need and enlist them in the Soviet service, the struggle we waged yesterday against sabotage will thereby be condemned to futility and fruitlessness.

Just as in dead machines, so in these technicians, engineers, doctors, teachers and former officers there is embodied part of our people’s national capital, which we must exploit and utilise if we want, in general, to solve the fundamental problems that face us.

Democratisation does not at all consist this is elementary for every Marxist – in utterly denying the importance of skilled forces, of persons who possess special knowledge, but only in replacing them, wherever necessary, by elected boards, mainly as organs of supervision. [Trotsky quotes from this 1918 speech in his pamphlet Terrorism and Communism (1920). In this quotation the concluding phrase in the above paragraph beginning ‘Democratisation’ is given differently. Instead of: ‘but only in replacing them, whenever necessary, by elected boards, mainly as organs of supervision’, it appears as: ‘and in replacing them, everywhere and anywhere, by elected boards’. This, except for the first word, which is ‘but’ instead of ‘and’, is how the phrase appeared when the speech was first published, as a pamphlet in 1918. An English translation was published in the American journal Class Struggle, 1919]

An elected board consisting of the very best representatives of the working class, but not equipped with the necessary technical knowledge, cannot take the place of a single technician who has passed through a special school and who knows how to do a particular technical job. This flood-tide of the collegiate principle which is at present to be observed in all spheres is the natural reaction of a young revolutionary class, only yesterday oppressed, which is throwing off the one-man-management principle of its masters of yesterday, the bosses and commanders, and everywhere appointing its elected representatives. This, I say, is a quite natural and, so far as its origin is concerned, healthy revolutionary reaction. But it is not the last word in the economic constructive work of the proletariat.

The next step must consist in self-limitation of the collegiate principle, in a sound and salutary act of self-limitation by the working class, which knows where the decisive word can be spoken by the elected representatives of the workers them selves, and where it is necessary to give way to the technician, the specialist, who is equipped with specific knowledge. A great deal of responsibility must be placed on him, and he must be kept under vigilant political control. But at the same time the specialist must be allowed the possibility of acting freely, of performing uninhibited creative work, because no specialist who is at all competent and gifted in his own field can work properly if he is subordinated in his specialist activity to a board of persons who are not conversant with that work. Political collegiate control by the Soviets must be introduced every where, but for executive functions we must appoint technical specialists, putting them in responsible positions and imposing responsibility upon them.

Those who are afraid of doing this are unconsciously adopting an attitude of profound distrust towards the Soviet regime. They think that drawing yesterday’s saboteurs into technical specialist posts threatens the very foundations of the Soviet regime. They do not realise that it is not because of some engineer or former general that the Soviet regime may stumble – in the political, revolutionary and military sense the Soviet regime is invincible. But it may well stumble through its own incapacity to cope with creative organizational tasks.

We need to take from the old institutions everything that was viable and valuable in them, in order to harness it to the new work.

If, comrades, we do not do this, then we shall not cope with our basic tasks, for it will be absolutely impossible for us to bring forth from our own midst, in a very short time, all the specialists we need, while casting aside everything that was accumulated in the past.

Actually, it would be just the same as if we were to say that all the machines that hitherto served to exploit the workers were now to be scrapped. That would be madness. Enlisting the scientific specialists is for us just as essential as taking over all the means of production and transport and all the wealth of the country generally.

I repeat, we must, and immediately, take stock of the technicians and specialists we possess, and introduce the principle of labor service for them, while at the same time offering them a wide field of activity, under our political control.

And it is here, comrades, that there arise before us those difficulties of a subjective kind which I mentioned, and which lie within the working class itself. Here also we see the effect of past centuries of Russian history, here too make themselves felt those ages when the mass of the people were bound to the land, robbed materially and spiritually, and kept without the opportunity to acquire the most necessary habits of government.

We already knew that we lacked the needful organization and discipline, that is, the needful historical schooling. But this in no way hindered us from advancing open-eyed to the conquest of power. We were sure that everything would be learnt, and all would come right.

Now, with power in our hands, we, the representatives of the working class, must quite clearly and honestly review those internal sins and shortcomings of ours which constitute the greatest danger to the cause of socialist construction.

These have, as has been said, their historical explanation, which lies in the old ‘dense’ way of life of the muzhik; when he was not yet an awakened, free, independent human individual, but, as Gleb Uspensky [Author of a number of sketches of Russian peasant life, Uspensky lived from 1843 to 1902. The allusion here is to the dried flesh of the roach, a popular delicacy in Russia.] put it, ‘a roach’, part of a compact mass which lived and died just as a compact mass of locusts lives and dies. The revolution, which awakened the human individual out of his oppressed state, naturally, at the start, gave to this awakening an extreme, if you like, an anarchic character. This arousal of the most elementary instincts of the individual personality often has a crudely egoistic, or to use a philosophical term, an ‘egocentric’ character. Yesterday the mass-man was nobody, a slave to the Tsar, the nobles and the bureaucracy, an appendage to the manufacturer’s machine. In peasant life he was nothing but a beast of burden and payer of taxes. Today, liberated from all that, he becomes aware of himself as an individual personality for the first time, and starts to think that he is everything, that he is the centre of the universe. He tries to grab for himself everything that he can, he thinks only of himself, and is not disposed to consider the people’s class point of view. Hence the flood of disorganising attitudes, individualistic, anarchistic, predatory tendencies which we observe especially in wide circles of the de-classed elements in our country, among the men of the former Army, and also in certain elements of the working class.

This is nothing more than growing pains. We should be both blind and poor-spirited, comrades, if we were to see in it some sort of fatal danger, some symptom of disaster. No, this is no such thing. Like a child’s measles, or like the pain felt when one is cutting a tooth, this is an organic malady of the growth of the class, the pangs accompanying the arousal of its class strength, its creative power. But, all the same, it is a malady, and we have to try and overcome it in the shortest possible time. Negative phenomena are to be seen everywhere: in the factories and workshops, in the trade unions, on the railways, among the new officials in the institutions, here there and everywhere

We have broken the old sabotage and cleared out most of the old officials. But what we have replaced them with is far from always first-class material. On the one hand, into the jobs vacated have gone our own Party comrades, who carried on underground work and passed through the school of revolution, the best elements – militant, utterly honest, disinterested people. On the other hand, there have come in careerists, intriguers, yesterday’s failures, those who, under the old regime, were not good enough for the job. When it proved necessary to draw into work all at once, tens of thousands of new skilled workers, it is not surprising if a lot of crooks managed to get through the interstices of the new regime.

It has to be said also that many of the comrades working in the various departments and institutions have proved to be by no means always capable of organic, creative, sustained work. We quite often notice such comrades in the ministries, especially among the ‘October Bolsheviks’: they work for four or five hours a day, and not very intensively at that, at a time when our situation demands of us the most Intense work, not from fear but from conscience.

Many who, though honest, are weak-willed, easily yield to the suggestion that now, in this situation when the country has been weakened, when everything has fallen apart and been shaken loose, there is no point in displaying energy, because in any case it will not make any difference to the general economic state of the country: many people say to themselves: ‘What’s the point of my straining myself amid all this chaos?’

Consequently, comrades, a quite new task is imposed upon the representatives of our Party. If we were the foremost in the revolutionary battle, as previously we were foremost in the underground work, and then foremost in conquering the posi tions of the enemy class, we must now, in every post that we occupy (I do not forget for one moment that we are now the ruling class), display the greatest conscientiousness, executive sense and creativity – in short, those qualities which are characteristic of a class of genuine builders of a new life. And we need to create within our Party a new morality or, to speak more correctly, the morality that should be a development of our revolutionary fighting morality of yesterday. While yesterday the one most highly esteemed was he who was able with the greatest selflessness to live clandestinely, he who renounced all personal interests and feelings, he who was capable at any moment of sacrificing his life, now these same qualities of the Russian revolutionary which we used to acclaim must find new application in all posts, however prosaic these may look from outside.

Everywhere there must be advanced executants of all functions, all tasks, all the requirements of the Soviet Socialist Republic, and in doing their work they must show all their devotion, all their enthusiasm.

We must, acting through our Communist Party, create in every factory a model nucleus which will be the labor-conscience of that factory. This nucleus must watch over and observe, from the standpoint of the interests of the whole people, the life of the given factory, and inspire the workers with awareness of the need to fulfill everywhere their most elementary duty to our Soviet country, responsibility for the fate of which rests, after all, with its full weight upon us, and for which only we answer, as the ruling class and the ruling Party – especially now, when the Left SR group has left us, when immediate and comprehensive responsibility lies with the Communist Party alone for all that happens in the state life, and through that also the economic life, of the country.

We must, through the Party and the trade unions, instil this new attitude into the factories, bring into the masses this new awareness of labor-duty, labor-honour, and, relying on this awareness, must introduce labor courts, so that the worker who shows an apathetic attitude to his duties, who steals materials or deals carelessly with them, and the one who fails regularly to put in his proper hours of work, shall be brought to trial, so that the names of these violators of socialist solidarity may be printed in all Soviet publications, as the names of renegades.

This, comrades, is the Communist morality that we must now propagate, uphold, develop and strengthen. This is the first priority task for our Party in all branches of its activity. On the fulfilment of this task depends the fate of our policy. As an example, let us take the railways.

Up to now, where railway matters are concerned, we blamed each other, we attacked the previous Government, the former administration of the lines, or the Vikzhel. [13] And we were right to do so. Since we have won our battle, power and leadership in this sphere has passed to us. The railway lines are now in our hands, but, comrades, this is not yet the end of the matter, or even half-way there, it is, perhaps, only one-tenth of the matter. We now need to transform the apparatus of the railways into a punctually-operating mechanism, and this is at the present time one of the most important political tasks of the Communist Party and the Soviet power. This is the whole essence of the matter, and this we need to understand.

Whereas previously the political task consisted in agitation, in propaganda, in open struggle in the streets, on the barricades, in winning power, in elections, now the political task of our Party lies in organising the railways, establishing labor discipline on them, with everyone assuming full responsibility for the post he holds. Why? Because if we do not cope with this task, we shall be overthrown, and that will go down in the world history of the proletariat as a big setback. We realise, of course, that, in the end, the proletariat will win: nevertheless, it will not go for nothing, but will be a black mark against us, if at this moment our Party and our class fail to stand the test. That is why all the organizational, creative state tasks which I have mentioned are now being transformed directly and immediately into political obligations for our Party to fulfil.

All this is related, as a whole, to the sphere with which I am now most closely concerned, namely, the military sphere. I am not now going to speak about the country’s international situation, about the external prospects and dangers. For the purpose of my report it will be enough for me to say that, in so far as the fate of the Russian revolution depends on the world situation, it is bound up with the fate of the revolution in Europe. If no revolution occurs in Europe, if the European working class proves unable to rise up against capital as a result of this war, if this monstrous assumption should be realised, that would mean that European civilisation is doomed. It would mean that, at the end of the mighty development of capitalism, as a result of this world-wide slaughter into which world capitalism has driven the people, the European working class has proved incapable of taking power and liberating Europe from the nightmare of the imperialist inferno. It would mean that Europe is doomed to disintegration, degeneration, regression. Yes, of course, if Europe is thrown back to barbarism, and if civilisation then develops elsewhere, in the East, in Asia, in America, if Europe is transformed into a backward peninsula of Asia, like the Balkans, which in their time were a focus of cultural development, but then came to a standstill and were transformed into the very backward south-eastern corner of Europe; if all this happens, then, of course, we shall not survive. But, given that we have absolutely no grounds for adopting such monstrous hypotheses, given that we are convinced that the European proletariat, as a result of this war and probably already while it is going on, will rise in revolt, and the new offensive on the Western Front is impelling it to take this road, since once again the working masses have been shown the whole hopelessness of their situation; we can therefore say that the future of our revolution, inseparably bound up with the fate of the European revolution and, therefore, with the fate of Europe on the international scale, is rather favourable. But we, as a factor in this European revolution, as a constituent part of it, must take care to be strong, that is, specifically, to be equipped with an army that, in the first place, will correspond to the spirit of the Soviet regime and, in the second place, will be able to defend that regime and to assist the world revolution.

You have read the basic proposals which the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs has put to you. We consider that, since the further development of international relations may, in the very near future, once more subject us to severe military trials, we must forthwith create firm and reliable cadres for the Army, and these cannot be formed on the principle of universal compulsory recruitment because we shall not carry out such recruitment in the next two months. This is why we are going to have to rely for the time being on the principle of voluntary enlistment, which will have, of course, to be cleared through the establishment of strict personal and political criteria for all volunteers.

Party organizations, committees and cells will everywhere be obliged to take care that the elements entering the Army are of good quality in the political and moral sense, and that when they have joined the Army they do not lose their ties with the mass of the workers but are brought under systematic influence from the latter.

Running on ahead somewhat, I must mention that certain of our own Party comrades are afraid that the Army may become an instrument or a focus for counter-revolutionary plots. This danger, in so far as there is some justification for it, must compel us as a whole to direct our attention to the lower levels, to the rank-and-file soldiers of the Red Army. Here we can and must create a foundation such that any attempt to transform the Red Army into an instrument of counter-revolution will prove fruitless. The first task to be accomplished to this end is the replenishment of the cadres through universal training of the workers in the factories and of the poor peasants in the villages. Hitherto, comrades, many decrees and regulations which we have published have remained on paper. The most urgent task for our Party is to ensure that the decree on universal compulsory military training in the factories, workshops, schools, etc., which was published a few days ago, is put into effect. Checking that this decree actually becomes operative is a task for the Party organizations and cells.

Only widespread military training of the worker and peasant masses, everywhere that this is at present practically feasible, will make it possible to transform the volunteer cadres into that skeleton which, in a moment of danger, will become clothed with flesh and blood, that is, in reality, with the broad masses of the workers and peasants in arms.

Here I come to a ticklish matter which is at the present time, to some extent, a sore point in our Party life. This is one of the questions concerning the organisation of the Army, namely, the question of drawing military specialists, that is, to speak plainly, former officers and generals, into the work of creating and administering the Army. All the fundamental, leading institutions of the Army are now so constructed that they consist of one military specialist and two political commissars. This is the present basic pattern of the Army’s leading organs.

I have had occasion several times already to say at public meetings that in the sphere of command, of operations, of military actions, we place full responsibility upon the military specialists and, consequently, give them the necessary powers. Many of our people have taken fright at this, and their fears find expression in the resolutions adopted by some Party organisations. I have one such resolution in my pocket. I received it yesterday, from the North-Western territory. This resolution gives an excellent description of the difficulties that confront us. How much arbitrariness, this resolution comments, is to be observed in the case of some Soviet representatives, how much slovenliness, even dishonesty and thieving – yes, thieving! – is to be observed where certain wielders of Soviet power, elected by workers’ organizations, are concerned. Yes, there is a lot of this, there is a very great deal of this today! And here the Party’s task is, again, to deal quite ruthlessly with this sort of phenomena occurring in our own midst, for they are ruining the country, and disgracing and disorganising our Party. We need to prosecute not only those who, directly or indirectly, are guilty of embezzling the people’s money, but also those who show tolerance towards any manifestation of indiscipline and depravity. We must carry out a process of selection with iron ruthlessness, because in this sphere many dangerous and alarming symptoms are to be seen. This is what the comrades from the North-Western territory write about in the resolution mentioned, which gives an excellent description of the situation, and calls for draconic measures to be taken by the Party – measures for burning out these moral ulcers with a white-hot iron.

But this same resolution points with equal alarm at another danger, namely, the drawing in of the generals, which, it says, is leading the country towards another Kornilov affair. Of course, the danger of a Kornilov affair is not ruled out. But the source of this danger is not the drawing into service of a dozen or so former generals, it has deeper roots.

What is the reason why arbitrariness, slovenliness and even dishonesty are developing? Most frequently they result from the circumstance that people are occupying positions which they are not fit for. Look and see what is happening now in the Ukraine. Those who fought magnificently and heroically against the Kaledinites, Dutovites and Kornilovites, those who defeated these enemies of ours who were technically on the same level, gave in and felt utterly helpless when they came up against the German war machine. Hence their dissatisfaction with themselves. These leaders of guerrilla units are fighting each other, blaming each other, and are often in conflict not so much with the Germans as with the local population.

What has happened in the Ukraine shows us that, if we are talking seriously about the defence of the Soviet Revolution by armed resistance, by war, we must cast aside all Left SR phrases about guerrilla risings, all ‘narrow circle’ measures: we must face the task of creating a regular Army. Only if this regular Army is in being can guerrilla units play a positive role on its flanks. But in order to create such: an army we need qualified specialists, including former generals. As I said earlier, the difficulties of the Soviet regime lie at the present time not in the fight against sabotage, the backbone of which has been broken, but in skilfully drawing the ex-saboteurs into work.

There is one more question in the field of Army organization: the so-called principle of election. The whole significance of this consists in combating the old make-up of the officer corps and bringing the commanders under control.

So long as power was in the hands of the enemy class and the commanders were an instrument in the hands of that class, we had to endeavour, by means of the principle of election, to break the class resistance of the commanding personnel. But now political power is in the hands of that same working class from whose ranks the Army is recruited.

Given the present regime in the Army – I say this here quite openly – the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree. [14]

I ask you: has the principle of election been introduced everywhere among you, in the trade unions or in the co-operatives? No. Do you elect your officials, book-keepers, shop-assistants, and cashiers, do you elect those of your employees who have a strictly defined trade? No. You choose the administration of a trade union from among its most worthy and reliable activists, and to them you entrust the appointment of all the necessary employees and technical specialists. It should be the same in the Army. Once we have established the Soviet regime, that is, a system under which the government is headed by persons who have been directly elected by the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, there can be no antagonism between the government and the mass of the workers, just as there is no antagonism between the administration of the union and the general assembly of its members, and, therefore, there cannot be any grounds for fearing the appointment of members of the commanding staff by the organs of the Soviet power. The true solution of the problem of commanders lies in setting up courses of instruction for advanced soldiers and workers, and in this way gradually educating a new body of commanders in conformity with the spirit of the Soviet regime. And we have set ourselves this task. [15]

The question of creating an Army is for us a question of life and death. You yourselves understand this just as well as I do. But we cannot create an Army through an administrative mechanism alone – which is in our case at present as bad as it could possibly be. If we do possess a powerful mechanism, this is an ideological one, namely, our Party. The Party will create the Army, comrades; it will do everything to eradicate the prejudices of which I spoke, it will help us to replenish the cadres of the revolutionary army with militant and devoted workers and peasants, it will set its hand to the task of introducing compulsory military training in the factories and villages, and in this way will create a military apparatus for the defence of the Soviet Republic.


9. This report was published separately as Trud, distsiplina, i potyadok spasut Sovetskuyu Respubliku (Work, discipline and order will save the Soviet Republic), Moscow 1918, by the publishing house Zhizn i Znanie (Life and Knowledge), as no.175 in their ‘low-cost library’.

10. The fight against Dutov, the ataman of the Orenburg Cossack Host, was carried on with persistence all through 1918, in the southern part of the country beyond the Volga and in the Urals. On January 18, with the capture of Orenburg, Dutov’s basic nucleus was liquidated. He succeeded in organizing the Cossacks once more against the Soviets only simultaneously with the Czechoslovak revolt.

11. The Ukrainian Rada and the fight against it. The All-Ukraine National Congress held in April 1917 elected a Central Rada of Mensheviks and SRs, headed by Semyon Petlyura. The Rada arrived at an agreement with the Provisional Government regarding autonomy for the Ukraine and began to form national units. After the October Revolution the Rada declared the independence of the Ukrainian Republic, ‘Ukrainianised’ the South-Westesn and Romanian Fronts, and pursued a counter-revolutionary policy against the Soviet power. The Rada refused to allow the Soviet echelons through to the Don, while not preventing the concentration of White shock-troops and Cossacks. The Rada withdrew troops from the front, and at the beginning of January the Soviet Government was obliged to liquidate this pocket of resistance by force of arms. The Commander-in-Chief, Comrade Antonov Ovseënko, moved his troops towards Kiev. They were assisted by Comrade Berzin’s units, advancing from the Gomel-Bryansk area. As they approached Kiev a workers’ revolt broke out there, and on January 26 Kiev fell to the Soviets. Petlyura, realising that he had no support inside the country, made an agreement with the Germans whereby the latter undertook to clear the Red Guard units out of the Ukraine. The Germans recognised the independence of the Ukraine, and the Rada supplied them with a substantial quantity of foodstuffs. Under pressure from the German forces the Red Guard units left Ukrainian territory.

12. The Paris Commune was the first workers’ revolution, made by the proletariat of Paris on March 18th, 1871, when the bourgeoisie of France, having fought an unsuccessful war with Germany, wanted to surrender Paris to the Germans, so as to protect themselves from the revolutionary fury of the proletariat. Having taken over the state machine, the Commune proved unable to reconstruct it. Isolated from the rest of France, the Commune lasted only 72 days, and was cruelly suppressed by the bourgeoisie, led by Thiers.

13. Vikzhel meant Vsyerossiisky Ispolnitelnyi Komitet Zheleznodorozhnogo Professionalnogo Soyuza (‘All-Russia Executive Committee of the Railway Trade Union’), which united all the manual and office workers employed on the railways. The majority in Vikzhel were Mensheviks and SRs, and so it maintained, both before and after October, a non-revolutionary, compromising attitude, endeavouring to preserve neutrality between the revolution and the counter-revolution, obstructing the movement of troops by the contending parties and holding up military supply-trains.

14. The elective principle in the Red Army was almost entirely abolished by the regulations ‘on the procedure for appointment to posts in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army’. The decree about this was confirmed by the All-Russia CEC on April 22, 1918, but an instruction to the same effect had already been issued somewhat earlier by the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs.

15. After the October Revolution all military training establishments and ensigns’ schools were dissolved. By the order of the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs No.104, dated January 28, basic provisions were announced ‘concerning rapid courses for preparing commanding personnel far the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army.’ The purpose of the training was to prepare military instructors who were in favour of the Soviet power. By February 14 the first courses had already begin in Petrograd, Moscow, Tver and Kazan.

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Last updated on: 15.12.2006