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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Speech at the Alexeyevskaya People’s House, March 22, 1918
(on Red Army Day) [35]
[The practice of celebrating Red Army Day on February 23 was not established until 1919]

The February Revolution and then the October Revolution took place largely under the sign of struggle for a peace on honest democratic principles. The bourgeoisie, which obtained power in the first period of the revolution, very gravely hindered the cause of peace through its imperialistic policy.

Only with the October Revolution, when state power passed directly into the hands of the Soviets, did Russia enter a phase of real, active struggle for peace.

We put forth all possible efforts, made every sacrifice, toward this end, going so far as complete demobilisation of the old army and declaration that Russia was no longer at war with the Central Powers: but German imperialism, feeling no serious revolutionary pressure from within, brought down all its weight upon almost disarmed Russia, and dealing a series of treacherous blows at her, obliged our country to sign an impossibly burdensome treaty of peace.

Such a peace, with the ever-present threat to Soviet Russia’s very existence, from Germany, Japan and other imperialist powers, cannot last long, and for this reason the urgent, essential task that the present moment sets before us is that of organising the country’s defence, mobilising all its forces to give an armed rebuff to the enemy, both external and internal.

What are the concrete measures which must be taken irnmediately and fully, right now?

Universal and compulsory military training of the entire population of Russia. Every worker and peasant must devote a certain nurnber of hours every day to military study. We must invite to serve as instructors experienced old soldiers, non commissioned officers and members of the old commanding apparatus.

All the officers, all the doctors and engineers, all the educated specialists who have hitherto been zealously engaged in sabotage, will be dragged out into the open. It is said that the attitude of the former officers is counter-revolutionary, that it will be dangerous to entrust them with military work in a socialist army. But, in the first place, they will be allotted only the technical and operational-strategic aspects of the work, while the entire apparatus of the army as a whole, its organisation and internal structure will be entirely and completely a matter for the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. And, in the second place, the officers and generals were objects of fear to us only when they controlled the entire mechanism of state power. Now, they are helpless to shake and undermine the foundations of Soviet power. But let every one of them realize, and firmly keep in mind, that if they make the slightest attempt to use their position for counter-revolutionary purposes, they will suffer severe punishment, they will be dealt with in accordance with the full strictness of revolutionary order, they will be shown no mercy!

As regards discipline in the army, this must be the discipline of people who are bound together by one and the same firm revolutionary consciousness – consciousness of their socialist duty. This will not be a discipline based on orders from above, a discipline enforced by the officer’s stick, but fraternal, conscious, revolutionary discipline.

In view of the approach of spring and of the work in the fields that this brings with it, we cannot carry out universal mobilisation at this moment. For the time being we shall confine ourselves to introducing universal compulsory military training and the formation of volunteer fighting units which will serve as the skeleton of the new mass army.

The country is in a shattered state, the economy has been disorganized, there is no strict accounting, and without that it is difficult to organize defence. Besides ruthless and resolute struggle against the speculators and capitalists who even now have not tired of profiteering from the people’s misfortunes, intensifying the already chaotic state of the country, we shall wage an equally stern and resolute struggle against those hooligan elements from among the working people themselves who are plundering and destroying the people’s property to the value of tens and hundreds of thousands of roubles. The revolutionary people will authorize struggle against these hooligan elements in the name of defence and preservation of the people’s property.

We have enemies everywhere, but we also have friends in Europe, namely, the working class. It is incomparably harder for them than it was for us to fight against their own splendidly organized and still strong bourgeoisie, but the four years’ war is inevitably preparing the objective basis for an all-Europe revolution. Sooner or later the conflagration of revolutionary civil war will burst forth in Europe: in this war too we must not be the last to come forward: we must be fully armed and ready for battle, we must conquer – and we shall conquer in this war because the working class of all countries, risen in revolt, cannot but be victorious in the final decisive conflict with its age-old enemies, those who started and who are prolonging this plundering butchery, the bloodiest ever known!


35. On Red Army Day, March 22 1918, big meetings were held in all districts of the city of Moscow under the slogan: ‘Organize socialist defence.’ These meetings were arranged by the All-Russia CEC, the Moscow Soviet, the All-Russia Board for Organizing the Red Army, and the Moscow Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks).

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Last updated on: 13.12.2006