The post of military commissar, especially the commissar of a regiment, is one of the most difficult and responsible known to the Soviet Republic. Far from every comrade, however well-developed politically, can cope with the duties of a military commissar. Here what is needed above all is a firm, staunch character, with calm, vigilant courage, free from impetuosity. The commissar who acts without preparation, who turns up in a regiment with a ready-made intention to ‘tighten the screws’, set things right, correct and alter everything, before even knowing how, who or what, will inevitably come up against resistance, obstacles and rebuffs, and will risk becoming transformed into a grumbler-commissar. This is a fairly widespread type, though, fortunately, it accounts for only a small minority in our corps of commissars.
The grumbler-commissar is dissatisfied all the time and with everything: with the senior commissars, with the commanders, with the Revolutionary War Council of the army, with the regulations – in short, with everybody and everything. Actually, this clamorous dissatisfaction has its root in the commissar himself: he is simply incapable of performing his duties, and is soon transformed into a former commissar.
The center of gravity of the problem does not lie at all where bad commissars look for it. The heart of the matter is not the conferring on the commissar of some unrestricted, all-embracing powers. The powers of the commissar are quite adequate. The task is to learn, in practice and through experience, to make use of these powers without disrupting other people’s work, but instead supplementing it and giving it direction.
There have not and do not exist any orders telling the commissar: ‘thou hast no right to interfere in any dispositions whatsoever that are made by the commanders’.
The sphere in which the commissar has fewest ‘rights’ is that of operations, of command. Every sensible person appreciates that there cannot be two commanders at once, and especially not in a battle situation. But nobody has ever forbidden the commissar to express his opinion regarding operational problems, to give advice, to supervise the execution of an operational order, and so on. On the contrary, all this falls within the commissar’s sphere of work, and if he understands what he is doing, he will always exercise a significant degree of influence, even in the sphere of command.
In the organizational, administrative and supply spheres, where the principal problems are solved not in battle situations but in the preparatory period, in the rear, commissars and commanders must work together and, generally speaking, the rights they possess are identical. If, day after day, they disagree on essential questions, this must mean that one or other of them fails to understand the fundamental tasks of constructive work in the military field. In that case, it will be necessary to remove either the commander or the commissar, taking into account which of them, in his work, has departed from the right road. If the disagreement between them relates to some secondary, practical matter, this must be referred up through the usual channels for arbitration. This procedure has, in fact, long since been established in our units, and has been confirmed by appropriate orders and interpretations.
In the sphere of political education it is the commissar who wields the conductor’s baton, just as in the sphere of operational command this will always be wielded by the commander. But that does not mean in the least that the commander has no right to ‘interfere’ in the political work, if this interests him, and a good commander cannot fail to take an interest, since the state of political work has a tremendous influence on the fighting capacity of a unit.
The more the commissar tries to understand the work involved in operations, and the more the commander tries to understand the political work, the closer they will come to that system of one-man authority in which the person placed at the head of a unit combines in himself both commander and commissar, that is, leader in battle and political teacher.
It is known to all soldiers, to all sailors, and indeed, to all citizens, what serious and responsible work has been and is being done by Communist comrades in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. Recently there have been cases, however, in which individual Communists have behaved unworthily, failing to act against pillage, not showing proper courage, and so on. Such Communists are unworthy of the name they bear and are merely persons who have wormed their way into a great calling. The Communist soldier has the same rights as any other soldier, and not a hair’s breadth more: he only has incomparably more duties. The Communist soldier must be an exemplary warrior, he must always be in the forefront of the battle, he must try to lead others to the places of greatest danger, he must be a model of discipline, conscientiousness and courage. At the front and in the rear he must offer others an example of careful treatment of public property in general and army property in particular. Only such a model soldier has the right to the name of Communist: otherwise he is a wretched pretender who must be called to account with twofold severity. I require the political departments of all the armies of the Soviet Republic to pay close attention to the conduct of Communists and thoroughly and in good time to clear the field of weeds.
The old Social-Democratic program called for the establishment of a militia of the whole people, made up of all citizens capable of bearing arms, whose military training would be carried on, so far as possible, outside barracks. This programmatic demand, which in the epoch of the Second International was directed against the imperialist standing armies with their barracks training, long terms of service and officer castes, possessed the same historical significance as other democratic demands – universal and equal suffrage, a single-chamber system, and so on. Under conditions of ‘peaceful’ capitalist development and the necessity, for the time being, to adapt the class struggle of the proletariat to the context of bourgeois legality, one of the tasks of the Social-Democrats was, naturally, to demand the most democratic forms of organization for the capitalist state and the capitalist army. The struggle waged on this basis undoubtedly had its educational value, but, as was shown by the great experience of the last war, the struggle to democratize bourgeois militarism yielded even smaller results than the struggle to democratize the bourgeois parliamentary system. For, in the sphere of militarism, the bourgeoisie can, if it is not to abdicate, allow only such ‘democratism’ as does not affect its class rule: that is, illusory, pretended democratism. When what is at issue is the fundamental interests of the bourgeoisie, in the international sphere as in internal relations, bourgeois militarism in Germany, France, Switzerland, Britain and America, regardless of all the differences in forms of the state and structures of the army, has displayed identical features of ruthless class brutality.
When the class struggle has been transformed into open civil war, tearing away the veil of bourgeois law and bourgeois-democratic institutions, the slogan of a ‘people’s militia’ loses all its meaning, in exactly the same way as the slogan of democratic parliamentarism, and so becomes a weapon for reaction. Just as the ‘Constituent Assembly’ slogan became a cover for activity aimed at restoring the power of the landlords and capitalists, so the slogan of a ‘people’s’ army, or an army ‘of all the people’, became a means of building the armies of Krasnov and Kolchak.
After the experience of the Russian revolution it takes the truly despicable petty-bourgeois blindness of a Kautsky to go on preaching formal democracy in the sphere of the organization of state power and the army  at a time when the German Constituent Assembly has fled from Berlin to Weimar, giving itself into the protection of White-Guard regiments, when General Hoffmann is recruiting his iron battalions from the sons of Junkers, bourgeois and kulaks, and the Spartacists  are arming the revolutionary workers. The epoch of proletarian revolution which has begun is an epoch of open civil war of the proletariat against every bourgeois state and every bourgeois army, regardless of whether or not it is concealed beneath democratic forms. The victory of the proletariat in this civil war will inevitably lead to the establishment of a proletarian class state and class army.
In setting aside for the present historical period the so called ‘nation-wide’ character of the militia, as it was defined in our old program, we do not break with the program of a militia as such. We put political democracy on a class basis and transform it into Soviet democracy. We shift the militia on to a class basis and transform it into a Soviet militia. Our immediate program of work thus consists in creating an army of the workers and poor peasants on the basis of compulsory military training, carries on, so far as possible, outside of barracks, that is, under conditions close to the work-situation of the working class.
The actual course of development of our Red Army runs, so to speak, counter to the requirements which have just been stated. At first we created the army on the basis of volunteering. When, later, we introduced compulsory military training, for workers and peasants who do not exploit the labor of others, we at the same time resorted to the compulsory call-up of a series of age-groups of the working classes. These contradictions were not accidental deviations, but resulted from the actual circumstances and constituted quite unavoidable transitional forms in the work of creating the army in the concrete conditions which had been bequeathed to us by the imperialist war and the bourgeois (February) revolution.
Volunteering is the only possible means of forming units with any degree of combat-readiness under conditions in which the old army has broken down catastrophically, along with all the organs for its formation and administration. The best proof of this is furnished by the fact that, in Germany today, the counter-revolutionary generals find themselves obliged, equally with the Spartacists, to resort to the forming of volunteer battalions. Going over from volunteering to conscription became possible when the main masses of the old army had been dispersed among the towns and villages, and when we had succeeded in establishing in the localities local organs of military administration: for registration, formation and supply (the volost, uyezd, province and district commissariats).
Counterpoising the idea of guerrilla units to that of an army organized and centralized in a planned way (as preached by the ‘Left’ SRs and their like) is a caricatural product of the political thought, or thoughtlessness of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. Guerrilla methods of struggle were forced on the proletariat, in the first period, by its oppressed position in the state, just as it was forced to use primitive underground printing presses and to hold secret meetings of small groups. The conquest of political power made it possible for the proletariat to use the state apparatus to build, in a planned way, a centralized army, unity in the organization and direction of which could alone ensure that the maximum results were obtained with the minimum sacrifice. Preaching guerrillaism as a military program is equivalent to advocating a reversion from large scale industry to the handicraft system. Such advocacy is fully in accordance with the nature of intellectual groups which are incapable of wielding state power, incapable even of seriously conceiving the task of wielding this power, and which excel in guerrilla (polemical or terroristic) forays against the workers’ power.
We can consider it theoretically irrefutable that we should obtain the best of armies if we were to create our army on the basis of compulsory training of the workers and the working peasants under conditions close to their everyday work. An all-round improvement in industry and an increase in the collective character and the productivity of agricultural work would establish the soundest of bases for the army – companies, battalions, regiments, brigades and divisions would then coincide with factory workshops, factories, villages, volost, uyezd, provinces and so on. Such an army, which would be formed, step by step, parallel with the economic revival of the country and with the education of the commanding personnel, would be the most invincible army in the world. We are moving towards precisely that kind of army, and sooner or later we shall arrive at it. 
The need to repulse our class enemies, internal and external, immediately and without delay did not permit us, however, to proceed by this ‘organic’ route towards a workers’ and peasants’ militia, for which several years would be required, or, at least, many months. Just as on the morrow of the October revolution we were obliged to have recourse to volunteer formations, so, in the next phase, the summer of last year, when the imperialist ring tightened especially closely around Soviet Russia, we were obliged to speed up our military work and without waiting for militia formations (that is, out-of-barracks formations of the territorial type), to resort to compulsory general mobilization of certain age groups and to hastily training them and concentrating them in barracks. At the same time, the War Department made every effort to ensure that every barracks was as much as possible like a military school, and to make it a center not only of purely military instruction but also of general and political education.
The active army that we have at present, that is, the army which is in action or is directly preparing for action – is of the transitional type which has been indicated: although a class army in its social composition, it is not a militia but a ‘standing’ or ‘regular’ army in respect of the methods whereby it is formed and trained. While this latter circumstance is the source of many internal difficulties, especially under the conditions of the country’s extreme exhaustion, at the same time we can state with satisfaction that even this transitional type of army, created under the most unfavorable conditions, has shown itself able to beat its adversaries.
Concurrently with the barracked or the purely field formations – that is, those formed in the course of active operations – extensive work is going ahead for universal training of the workers and working peasants in the localities. In relation to our regular formations, the work of universal training was viewed, in its first stages, as elementary preparation, as the inculcation of certain habits in the individual fighter, so as to accelerate his apprenticeship later on in the combat unit which he will join. There can be no doubt that, even from this limited standpoint, universal training is already now performing an important service towards the creation of the army.
But the task of universal military training cannot in any case be restricted to the auxiliary role mentioned. Universal training must, through a series of phases, be coordinated with the more urgent and crucial task of forming regular units, bringing us nearer to the creation of an army which is really of the militia type.
For the purpose mentioned it is necessary that universal training be not restricted to the tasks of individual military training, but shall proceed to the formation of military units, even if only at first the smallest of such units, so far as possible without detaching their components, that is, the workers and peasants, from their normal work-situation. Universal training must proceed to the formation of separate platoons and companies, and, later, of battalions and regiments, with a more distant prospect of forming entire divisions from the workers and peasants of the given locality, with local commanders and local stocks of arms and supplies generally.
If we assume that constant and protracted conflict will continue with the imperialist forces, a gradual transition to the militia-type army will be possible only through a new organization of the replacement of casualties in the active forces. At present, replacements are formed on the same pattern as the basic units, that is, through what are called holding battalions. Subsequently, and in the nearest future, replacements must be formed in the process and on the basis of universal training, and directed into active regiments of the same territorial origin, so that, when demolition takes place, the component elements of a regiment are not scattered all over the country, but have retained their connection with the local community in which they work. The devising of a number of measures for gradual transition from our present transitional type army to a territorial militia type army must be a responsibility of the appropriate organs of the War Department, which has already taken the first decisive steps in this direction.
The class-militia army towards which we are moving does not mean, as is clear from all the foregoing, an improvised, that is, hastily created, poorly-trained army, with a fortuitous collection of weapons and half-qualified commanders. On the contrary, preparation through universal training must be arranged so that, in connection with maneuvers, shooting practices and military reviews, it may produce a type of individual fighter and a type of unit as a whole, which is better-qualified than at present. The militia army must be an army which is trained, armed and organized in accordance with the last word in military science.
The commissars in the army are not only the direct and immediate representatives of the Soviet power but also, and above all, the bearers of the spirit of our Party, its discipline, its firmness and courage in the struggle to achieve the aims laid down. The Party may look with complete satisfaction upon the heroic work done by its commissars, who, shoulder to shoulder with the best elements of the commanding apparatus, have in a short time created an army capable of waging war. At the same time it is necessary that the Political Departments of the army, under the direct guidance of the central committee, shall continue to carry out their work of selection among the commissars, eliminating all elements that are in any degree fortuitous, unreliable or careerist.
The commissars’ work can produce full results only if it is based, in every unit, upon the direct support given by a cell of Communist soldiers. The rapid increase in the number of Communist cells is the most important guarantee that the army will be permeated to an ever greater extent with the ideas and the discipline of communism. But just because of the tremendous role played by the Communist cells, the commissars and, in general, all the most mature Party workers in the army, must take measures to ensure that unreliable elements do not get into the cells, in search of imaginary rights and privileges. Respect for the Communist cells will be the higher and more unshakable the more clearly that every soldier understands, and is convinced by experience, that membership of a Communist cell gives a soldier no special rights, but only imposes upon him the duty to be the most self-sacrificing and courageous of fighters.
Approving in its entirety the statute composed by the Central Committee regarding the rights and duties of Communist cells, commissars and political departments, the Congress declares it to be the duty of all comrades working in the army to conform undeviatingly to this statute.
The demand for the election of commanders, which possessed enormous importance from the standpoint of principle in relation to the bourgeois army, in which the commanding apparatus was selected and educated as an apparatus for class subordination of the soldiers, and, through the soldiers, of the working masses, loses its principled significance completely where the workers’ and peasants’ class-based Red Army is concerned. A possible combination of election and appointment is imposed upon the revolutionary class army exclusively by practical considerations, and depends on the level of formation attained, the degree of solidity of an army unit, the availability of command cadres. In general it can be said that the less mature a unit is, the more fortuitous and transient its composition and the less its young commanders have been tested by experience, then the less expedient it may prove to be to apply the principle of election of commanders, and, contrariwise, growth in the internal cohesion of units, development by the soldier of a critical attitude to himself and to his leaders, the creation of considerable cadres of combatant commanders, of both lower and higher rank, who have shown their qualities in the conditions of the new war, create favorable conditions for the principle of election of commanders to be given ever wider application.
The question of the commanding apparatus, which presents great practical difficulties, does not, in essence, provide any basis for differences of principle.
Even if it had been possible for our army, within a few years, to take shape in a planned way, and at the same time to prepare a new commanding apparatus for itself, we still should have had no grounds of principle for refusing to enlist in the work those elements of the old commanding apparatus which have either inwardly adopted the standpoint of the Soviet power or, by the force of circumstances, have seen themselves as obliged conscientiously to serve it. The revolutionary character of the army is determined, above all, by the character of the Soviet regime which creates this army, which sets it its aims and makes it, so to speak, its instrument. On the other hand, the conformity of this instrument to the Soviet regime is achieved by the class composition of the main mass of the soldiers, by the organization of the commissars and the Communist cells, and, finally, by the overall Party and Soviet guidance of the life and activity of the army.
Work on the training and education of the new officer corps, drawn predominantly from among the workers and advanced peasants, is one of the most important tasks involved in the creation of the army. The steady increase in the number of instructional courses and of pupils attending them bears witness to the fact that the War Department is devoting to this task all the attention it deserves. Together with the Higher Military Academy (of the General Staff), five schools of an intermediate type are being organized – half-way between instructional courses and the Higher Military Academy. Nevertheless, there are in the Red Army of today a very large number of commanders from the old army, who are doing their responsible work with great benefit to the cause. The need for selection and control, in order to keep out traitors and provocateurs, is obvious and, so far as experience goes, it is in practice performed more or less satisfactorily by our military organization. From this standpoint, the Party can have no grounds for revising our army policy.
The regulations published hitherto (for the internal services, for the field armies, for the garrisons) which bring solidity and shape into the army’s internal relations, into the rights and duties of its component elements, and therefore constitute a big step forward; nevertheless reflect the transitional period in the formation of our army and will be subject to further modification, as the old ‘barracks’ features of the formation of the army are overcome and it is increasingly transformed into a class-militia army.
The agitation carried on from the camp of the bourgeois democrats (the SRs and Mensheviks) against the Red Army, as a manifestation of ‘militarism’ and the basis for creeping Bonapartism, is only an expression of political ignorance or charlatanry, or a mixture of both. Bonapartism is not a product of military organization as such, but a product of particular social relations. The political rule of the petty-bourgeoisie, standing between the reactionary big-bourgeois elements and the revolutionary proletarian lower orders, not yet capable of playing an independent political role or of exercising political rule, provided the necessary prerequisite for the rise of Bonapartism, which found its bulwark in the well to do peasant and rose above the class contradictions which had not been solved by the revolutionary program of petty-bourgeois (Jacobin) democracy. In so far as the foundation of Bonapartism is the kulak peasant, to that extent the very social composition of our army, from which kulaks are excluded and driven out, furnishes a quite serious guarantee against Bonapartism tendencies. The Russian parodies of Bonapartism, in the form of the Krasnov movement, the Kolchak movement, and so on, grew not out of the Red Army but in direct and open struggle against it. Skoropadsky, the Ukrainian Bonaparte in Hohenzollern’s leading-strings, formed an army based on a property-qualification directly opposite to the class basis of the Red Army, recruiting well-to-do kulaks for his regiments. Given these conditions, it is possible to see the army of the proletarians and the rural poor as a bulwark of Bonapartism only if one is one of those who yesterday, either directly or indirectly, supported the candidates for the role of Bonaparte in the Ukraine, on the Don, at Archangel and in Siberia!
Since the Red Army is only the instrument of a particular regime, the basic guarantee against Bonapartism, just as against any other form of counter-revolution, has to be sought in the regime itself. Counter-revolution cannot in any way develop out of the regime of proletarian dictatorship it can establish itself only as a result of a direct and open bloody victory over this regime. The development and consolidation of the Red Army is needed precisely in order to render such a victory impossible. Thus, the historical meaning of the Red Army’s existence it that it is the instrument of socialist self-defense by the proletariat and the village poor, defending them against the danger of kulak-bourgeois Bonapartism, backed by foreign imperialism.
The class militia is not the last word in the building of communism, because the aim of the latter is to abolish class struggle by abolishing classes themselves, and therefore class armies as well. As the socialist economy becomes organized, the Soviet class state will be more and more completely dissolved in the guiding apparatus of production and distribution and in the cultural-administrative organs. Freed of its class character, the state will cease to be a state and will become an organ of economic and cultural self-government. Along with this, the army will lose its class character. It will become an army of the whole people in the true sense of the word, because in the socialist commune there will be no more parasitic, exploiting, kulak elements. The formation of this army will rely directly upon the mighty labor groupings of the citizens of the socialist republic, while its supplies will be furnished directly by powerfully growing socialist production. This army, that is, the well-trained and well-armed, socialistically-organized people, will be the strongest army the world has ever known. It will not only serve as the instrument of defense of the socialist community against possible attacks by still existing imperialist states, it will also enable decisive support to be given to the proletariat of those states in their struggle against imperialism.
In the light of these fundamental provisions, the Eighth Congress of the Russian Communist Party considers it necessary to implement the following immediate practical measures:
- Undeviating application of the principle of class mobilization of working elements only, with careful separation off into special labor battalions (companies) of the kulak and parasitic elements – a principle which has not yet been applied, despite the official decision to this effect.
- Continued enlistment of military specialists for duties of command and administration, and selection of reliable elements, while keeping them under unremitting centralized party-political supervision, exercised through the commissariat, and removing those who prove to be politically and technically unfit.
- Organization of a system of checking the credentials of the commanding personnel – the commissars to be responsible for periodically compiling these certifications.
- Intensifying the formation of commanding personnel from among proletarians and semi-proletarians and improving this work from the standpoint of both military and political preparation, with establishment, both in the rear and at the front, for this purpose, of competent credentials commissions made up predominantly of Party representatives, with the task of systematically ending to the Red officers’ schools those Red Army men who are best prepared, by their battle-experience, to become Red officers.
Review of the course programs in accordance with the spirit of the Red Army in the circumstances of civil war. Special attention to be given by local Party organizations to the proper presentation of political education in the courses. [Points 3 and 4: The bodies set up to check the credentials of commanding personnel and certify, their fitness for appointment to various types and levels of appointment are sometimes called ‘Attestation Commissions’. On the technicalities of Soviet military organization in this period, see Erickson, J., The Soviet High Command, 1962.]
- Local organizations to be made responsible for carrying on systematic and intense work of Communist education among the Red Army men in rear units by assigning special workers to this task.
- The Central Committee of the Party to be charged with organizing planned distribution of Communists among the units of the army and navy.
- The center of gravity of Communist work at the front to be shifted from the Political Departments of the fronts to the Political Departments of the armies and divisions, so as to stimulate it and bring it closer to the units active at the front. An agreed and precise resolution to be published regarding the rights and duties of Political Committees, Political Departments and Communist cells.
- The All-Russia Bureau of Military Commissars to be abolished. A Political Department of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic to be formed; all the functions of the All-Russia Bureau of Military Commissars to be transferred to this department, which is to be headed by a member of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party with the powers of a member of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic.
- Military regulations to be revised with a view to making them more concise wherever possible, eliminating all archaisms and provisions establishing unnecessary privileges for the commanding personnel, and allotting the proper place in the schedule of activities to questions of political education.
- The resolution on commissars and revolutionary war councils to be speedily revised so as to define precisely the rights and duties of commissars and commanders, assigning the decision of questions of supply and administration to commanders jointly with commissars and assigning to commissars the right to impose disciplinary penalties (including the right of arrest) and the right to bring persons to trial.
- Recognition of the need to subordinate the ‘special sections’ [The ‘special sections’ carried out in the armed forces functions similar to those of the Cheka among the civilian population.] of the armies and fronts to the respective commissars of the armies and fronts, leaving to the ‘special section’ of the Republic the functions of general guidance and supervision of their activity.
- Recognition of the need, in future, when general-guidance regulations, decisions and instructions are formulated, to submit them, when possible, for previous consideration by the political workers in the army.
69. The Eighth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) was held in Moscow between March 18 and 23, 1919. The principal points on the agenda were: drawing up the Party programme, problems of military policy, and organising work in the rural areas. The Congress drew up and approved a new Party programme. Comrade Lenin’s report on our attitude towards the middle peasant provided the basis for a long-term alliance between the urban proletariat and the middle peasantry. The fundamental report on the military question was given by Comrade Sokolnikov, who expounded Comrade Trotsky’s theses. A supplementary report, for the opposition, was given by Comrade Smirnov. Its main demands amounted to extending the powers of commissars and strengthening their influence not only in the administrative and organisational sphere but also in that of operations. Other detailed discussion of these questions in the military commission, the Congress adopted Comrade Trotsky’s theses.
70. Attempts to apply the principles of formal democracy on German soil ended very sadly. The November 1918 revolution in that country grew out of the Kiel mutiny in 1917 and the general strike in January 1918. This movement, as it grew stronger, led to the abdication of Wilhelm. At the head of the rebel workers and soldiers, Karl Liebknecht proclaimed a socialist republic. ‘True democrats’ (according to Kautsky) came to power: three Scheidemannites and three Independents. Already in January 1919 the petty-bourgeoisie, frightened by the spectre of social revolution, began to carry out bloody measures of repression. These were followed by suppression of workers’ revolts in Berlin and Bavaria, the Kapp putsch and the unleashing of Fascism.
71. The Spartacists were an illegal organisation formed in Germany, at the beginning of the World War, by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, to combat the bourgeoisie and the official Social-Democratic Party. Spartacus was the name of the leader of a Roman slave revolt. After the November revolution in Germany the League of Spartacists ceased to exist and was merged in the newly-formed Communist Party of Germany.
72. An important step forward in the direction of forming military units in conditions close to the everyday labors of the worker and peasant was the partial transition to the militia mode of formation in the Red Army. In 1923 a number of divisions were put on a militia basis.
Last updated on: 20.12.2006