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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THE RED OFFICERS – September 1918

THE DON COSSACK HOST – September 3, 1918





Report to the Fifth Congress of Soviets at its session of July 10, 1918

Our opponents and, to an even greater extent, our enemies – though it must be said that in the course of the revolution our opponents are being transformed into enemies – reproach us for having realized only gradually, only belatedly, the need to create an army, and an army built according to solid, planned, scientific principles.

The program of our party, like that of any workers’ socialist party, does not say anything about the destruction and suppression of the army in the present period of struggle, but only about reconstructing it on new, democratic principles, the principles of militia service and armament of the entire people.

I shall speak later about the modification that the principle of universal armament undergoes in the revolutionary conditions of an epoch of civil war. But now, before dealing with that question, I have to ask you this: what caused the disappearance of the old army, which was a regular army constructed, so far as the material and ideological means and resources of the old regime permitted, on the basis of scientific principles?

The main cause of the collapse of the Tsarist army was not the anti-militarism of the revolution, not the fact that the revolution rejected military defense as such, but solely the class structure of the old army itself, the fact that, while consisting mostly, of course, of peasants and workers, it had a ruling apparatus which was constructed, organized and educated so as to ensure that this army automatically served the ruling class of those days, with the monarchy as its summit.

This is something which, naturally, we never forget. And that is why the claim made by some of the military specialists that the army was ruined by politics, and that an army can survive, as a sound organism capable of fighting, only if it be placed outside politics, seems to us to be baseless and childish.

Not long ago, for instance, one of the most outstanding of the old generals, Brusilov [General A.A. Brusilov was commander-in-chief of Russia’s South-Western Front in 1916 and made a famous ‘breakthrough’ which crippled the Austro-Hungarian army and had important effects on the course of World War I. It brought Romania in on the Allied side, saved the Italian army from annihilation, and obliged the Germans to lighten their pressure on the French. Owing to the corruption and incompetence of the Tsarist regime, Brusilov’s success was not followed up. Brusilov remained inactive after the October Revolution until 1920, when he rallied to the Soviet Government in connection with the war against Poland, and became Inspector of Cavalry in the Red Army.], informed the bourgeois press, in connection with Kerensky’s reminiscences, which had been published in pamphlet form, that the disintegration of the old army was a process brought about by the revolution, as such, and that the armed forces could be re-created only provided that the army was isolated from politics. By ‘politics’ is meant in this statement, of course, the interests of the worker and peasant masses, for there has never in history been, and there is not anywhere now, an army that stands ‘outside politics’.

‘War,’ said the famous German theoretician of war, Clausewitz, ‘is the continuation of politics, only by other means’ – that is, the army of a particular country is subordinate to the politics of that country.

From this it is clear that the army of Tsardom was nothing but an armed force adapted to the service of the interests of Tsardom and carrying out precisely the politics of Tsardom. As crowning proof of this I will not recall its external status and the oath of allegiance to the Tsar, the so-called national anthem, which was the anthem of Tsardom, or the commemoration days and parades – all that which created around the army an atmosphere thick with Tsarist politics. I will refer only to the commanding personnel, who were made to serve as an apparatus for subjecting the peasant and worker masses to the requirements of the ruling upper circles of the country.

And if the old army disintegrated, that happened not because of any pernicious slogans but because of what the revolution itself gave rise to, namely, anger on the part of the worker and peasant masses against the propertied classes that had previously held command. The old army merely shared the fate of the old Russia in general. If the revolt of the peasants against the landlords, of the workers against the capitalists, of the whole people against the old reign of the bureaucracy and against the Tsar himself signified the break-up of the old Russia, then the break-up of the army was predetermined precisely by this. It was inherent in the internal mechanics of the revolution, in the dynamics of its class forces.

And when they now hurl at us the charge that the October revolution inflicted an incurable injury upon the army and disintegrated it, I remember very well, comrades, since I was living in Petrograd at the time, I remember, as many of you will, too, how, during September and October, down to the moment of the October revolution, delegates came to see us at the Petrograd Soviet, from regiments, divisions, corps and whole armies, saying: ‘Something terrible is coming to a head in the trenches. The army will not stay in the trenches any longer unless decisive steps are taken towards peace.’

In that period proclamations were being circulated in the trenches which the soldiers themselves had composed, proclamations in which they wrote that we, that is, the soldiers, will stay here until the coming of the first snow, but after that we shall quit the trenches and get away from here.

And if this worn-out and internally defeated army – defeated above all, under Tsardom already, by the terrible blows suffered from without, struck at it by the German army, and then by the baseness and dishonesty of the Tsarist regime, and, finally, by the deception committed by the Compromisers and the bourgeoisie after the February period, when they hurled the army into the offensive of June 18 – if this thrice-defeated army nevertheless, all through November, December and January, despite the terrible ebb-tide from the trenches, continued to hold its positions, it was supported solely by the ideological pressure of the October revolution.

But there was no power capable of keeping this army, as such, in existence, for it had been destroyed internally: it had to be atomised, dispersed – every soldier, be he worker or peasant, had to be demobilized, to go back to his own work-hive, his own economic cell, so that he might then, reborn, proceed thence into a new army, built according to the interests and tasks of the new classes that had come to power, the workers and the peasants who do not exploit the labor of others.

‘But you tried to build the army on the voluntary principle’; so runs the next objection.

I do not know of anyone among us who has ever affirmed that the voluntary principle is a sound principle for organizing a truly popular, democratic army. The principle of voluntary service was adopted by Britain, a predatory power whose chief concern in the matter of armed forces was the organizing of a navy – and a navy does not require a large number of men. The principle of voluntary service was also adopted by the United States, which, until recently, did not wage an imperialist policy of conquest outside America, because American territory itself offered wide scope for the bourgeoisie of the New World.

Apart from America and Britain, in absolutely every bourgeois-democratic country the principle of universal military service was invariable applied, being dictated, there too, by the general conditions prevailing, the regime of political life, and so on.

Neither the Party of the workers and peasants nor the Soviet power, based on these classes, could, in any case, make the question of the country’s defence depend upon the influx of volunteers. They resorted to a temporary application of the voluntary principle only because they were passing through an acute, crucial moment of the revolution, when the old army had broken up and dispersed, and, along with it, the old apparatus of military administration, both at the center and in the localities.

In order to build the new army according to the laws dictated by the interests of the working classes it was necessary, first, that the old army should have finally dispersed, with the soldiers returning to their cells of work and class and becoming transformed into the raw material from which it would later be possible to build a new, socialist army; and, secondly, that an apparatus of military administration should have been previously formed, at the center and in the localities, an apparatus that would be competent to register all the human material available and draw it, in a planned way, into fulfillment of the most important of all civic duties the duty of defending the workers’ and peasants’ Soviet regime and fatherland.

That, comrades, was why, at a time when we had not yet managed to create organs for registering, calling up and training the new cadres, but, at the same time, when it was not possible to suppose that our enemies, internal and external, had gone to sleep, we could only appeal to the people, saying: ‘You, workers, and you, peasants, who see the difficult situation that the Soviet power, our power, is in, will respond, and those of you, from the ranks of the old army, from the factories and from the villages, who want to save the socialist fatherland, will at once take your places under the banner of the Red Army, as volunteers.’

This was not a principle that we fought for and promoted. It was a necessary compromise measure for a particular moment, because there was no other solution available. But if you take all our statements of principle since the October revolution, all our programmatic speeches, you will then be able to establish that we considered the voluntary principle precisely as a temporary measure, a palliative, as a measure which was contrary in principle to the task of building a real workers’ and peasants’ army.

That was why we set ourselves the task, first and foremost, of creating an organ of military administration in the localities, an organ for registration, call-up, formation and training. The local military commissariats are no longer departments of the local Soviets, but are subordinated hierarchically one to another, right up to the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs.

This, comrades, is a most important military-administrative reform: without conscientious and precise implementation of this measure in the localities we cannot carry through any serious mobilization, even when the conditions for this improve – and they will improve when the time comes for gathering in the new harvest.

The creation of the new army is affected by the genera! situation in the country, its economic position, the presence of food stocks, transport, and so on. All these difficulties, about which particular People’s Commissars and individual delegates from the localities have spoken here, the disorganized state of affairs and other phenomena, all this finds reflection in the activity of the War Department and hinders the work of creating the army. I do not say this in order to strengthen anyone’s scepticism: on the contrary, I am filled with the same faith which undoubtedly lives in each one of you, faith that we shall cope with all difficulties and dangers, shall overcome them, every one, and create favourable circumstances for consolidating the Soviet Republic.

What we need to do now, above all and before anything else, is to create an apparatus of military administration in the uyezds, volosts, provinces and districts. I have nothing to say about the volost commissariats. They have been set up in only an insignificant minority of volosts. But uyezd commissariats do not exist everywhere, either, and those that do are not fully organized, they do not have all their departments, and do not always have the establishment that we laid down for them, that it, they are without specialists. Even the province commissariats are lame in one leg, and sometimes in both, and lack an adequate number of competent workers, authoritative and strong commissars. And without all that, comrades, we cannot, of course, create any army at all.

Furthermore, it is necessary that each commissariat keep well in mind its hierarchical dependence on the commissariat that ranks above it: the dependence of the volost commissariat on that of the uyezd, of the uyezd commissariat on the province commissariat, of the province commissariat on that of the district, of the latter on the center – on Moscow. This is a simple mechanism, but it has to be mastered, and this is not always done. Soviet centralism is, in general, still in a rudimentary state, but without it we shall achieve nothing, either in the sphere of food-supply or in any other sphere, and especially not in the military sphere.

By its very essence, an army is a strictly centralized apparatus, closely linked by threads with its center. No centralism, no army.

In this connection you have heard a statement made here that we have no need at all for an army built on scientific principles, but that we do need guerrilla squads. But this is as though they were to tell us: ‘The workers’ and peasants’ government do not need railways – we’ll use animal-drawn transport. Let’s chuck out the steam ploughs, where they exist, and go back to the wooden Andreyevna plough. [The allusion here is to a riddle from Russian folklore. ‘Old Andreyevna bending down, with her nose to the ground and her arms stretched out behind her. What is it? Answer: The plough.’ The choice of the name ‘Andreyevna’ was probably intended to suggest the plough-like appearance of a capital ‘A’ upside down.] In general, let’s return to the regime of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.’ For going back to guerrilla units means a leap backward of whole centuries.

Yes, indeed, when we were working in the underground we formed guerrilla units, but we tried to bring into them the maximum degree of centralization and unity of action. However, we did not take power in order to continue hobbling along towards our goal with amateurish methods. Having taken over the whole centralized state apparatus, we want to reconstruct it on new principles, to transform it into an apparatus of the masses who yesterday were oppressed and humiliated. What is involved is a very great historical experiment which you have to carry out, an experiment in building a workers’ and peasants’ state and economy and creating a centralised workers’ and peasants’ army.

For this purpose we need, first and foremost, to introduce the strictest Soviet centralism. Unfortunately, we encounter opposition here and there in the localities, and, I’m afraid, we encounter this even from some of the comrades who are present here. Psychologically, this opposition can be understood: it was engendered by the domination of the old bureaucratic centralism, which stifled all free initiative, all individuality. And now, when we have overthrown this old bureaucratic apparatus, it seems to us that each one of us can act quite independently, that he can and will do everything himself. We have got used to looking on the center as a hindrance and a threat. We apply to the center, comrades, when we need money or armoured cars, and all the volosts now have a great liking for armoured cars, and there is no volost that would not ask for atkasi a dozen of them.

But the centre can give you only what is needed, and when it isneeded, and, moreover, only if you are capable of handling it. We must put an end to the procedure whereby they send delegates from the uyezd to Moscow almost for every foot cloth [Russian soldiers wore, instead of socks, strips of cloth wound round their feet.] they want, supposing that this will be the quickest way to get it. But this procedure gives rise to the greatest dislocation and difficulty. We need, for example, to ensure that, in the sphere of military administration, the Soviets at province level teach their commissars to keep an eye on the uyezd Soviets, to see that all estimates and lists are Sent up through the district office. Only in this way shall we form a military apparatus that will help us to create an army.

This military apparatus is, of course, merely an administrative skeleton. To create an army we need, by means of this apparatus, to draw in the living, creative, human element, the conscious element, for it is this that distinguishes our army from the old one. And we know that the Tsarist army was, in the main, a peasant army, but the peasants were unconscious and ignorant: without reasoning why, they went where they were sent. Discipline did not pass through the individual consciousness of each separate soldier.

People often complain now, in our country, and we too complain, that there is no discipline. We do not want the old discipline, that discipline by which every ignorant peasant and worker was slotted into his regiment, his company and his platoon, and marched off without asking why they were leading him away, why they were making him shed blood. The revolution awakened the human personality in the ignorant peasants and the oppressed worker, and this is the principal and greatest achievement of the revolution.

The revolution gave land to the peasants, the revolution gave power to the workers and the peasants: these were great achievements, but no achievement of the revolution is more important than the awakening of the human personality in every oppressed and humiliated individual.

This process of awakening of the individual personality assumes chaotic form, in the early stages. Whereas yesterday still the peasant did not think of himself as a person, and was ready, at the first order from the Government, to go forth blindly to shed his blood, now he is unwilling to subordinate himself blindly. He asks: where are they telling me to go, and why? And he declares: I’m not going, I don’t want to submit! He says that because awareness of his human dignity, his personality, has been awakened in him for the first time, and this awareness, which is as yet too crude, which is not sufficiently digested, takes anarchical forms when expressed in deeds.

We have to reach the situation when every peasant and every worker is aware of himself as a human personality with a right to respect, but also feels that he is part of the working class of republican Russia and will be prepared unquestioningly to lay down his life for this Soviet Republican Russia.

Whereas formerly the working man did not value himself, now, contrariwise, he does not value the whole. It is necessary to remember the whole, to remember the interests of the whole class of working people, of our workers’ socialist fatherland of labor.

This is the psychological cement by means of which we can create a new army, a real, conscious Soviet army, bound together by a discipline that has passed through the soldiers’ brains, and not just the discipline of the rod. This is the discipline we advocate, and we do not want to know any other.

But for this purpose, I repeat, we need to have a centralized apparatus.

I mentioned when I began that the principle of democracy is the principle of general mobilization, and because we have not introduced it we are in receipt of many attacks from bourgeois newspapers and bourgeois politicians. They demand that we introduce universal military service.

Universal military service is the regime needed for a period of peaceful democratic construction. But we are living in conditions of open civil war of class against class. That is the basic fact from which we start. We are not going to say whether this fact is good or bad. The civil war is not a principle but a fact, prepared by centuries of historical development, centuries of oppression of the working people, who have revolted against this oppression. We cannot but reckon with this fact. Civil war ruthlessly tears apart the fabric, the envelope of the nation. At any moment the propertied classes are ready to stretch out their hands to any foreign aggressor, in order to crush the workers and peasants of their own country. This is also a fact, which has found confirmation in the events in the Ukraine, on the Don, on the Murman coast, and on the banks of the Volga. Every where, the bourgeois classes look with much greater hatred upon the power of the workers and peasants than upon the power of the German or the Anglo-French imperialists, or upon the Czechoslovak hirelings of the French stock-exchange.

Since civil war exists amongst us, we are naturally not interested in arming our class enemies, who are at the same time the allies of all our external enemies. We do not want to arm a bourgeoisie which is ready to place any weapon that may be given it at the service of foreign imperialism.

We rejected the Constituent Assembly because this democratic envelope is merely an empty form when class is confronting class, and the question of power calls for a weapon. And universal military service is at that moment, in those conditions, just such an empty envelope.

The obligation of universal military service would actually find expression for the bourgeoisie in the obligation to run away to Krasnov, to the Urals, to the Czechoslovaks, to join with all our enemies and attack us, while the obligation falling upon us is expressed in smashing the bourgeoisie and our enemies external and internal.

It is that that determines the principle on which we build our army. We include workers and peasants in our army: it is a reflection of the system of Soviets as a whole, a reflection of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets. We can understand why the bourgeois agents – the SRs and Mensheviks – fiercely attack our method of creating an army. Of course our army is hateful to them, since it is a weapon of the Soviet system. Repeating the phrase of the German theoretician I have already quoted, about war and the army being a reflection of general politics, we can say that with Soviet, workers’ and peasants’ politics it is necessary to have a Soviet Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army.

But an agitation is being carried on among the peasants and workers, saying that the Soviet power is putting the burden of military service on their shoulders, while relieving the bourgeoisie and landlords of this burden. To this argument you, comrades, should reply: ‘In the epoch in which we live, a rifle is not a burden but a privilege, a monopoly of the ruling class.’

For lack of time and also for lack of a fully-formed military apparatus, we have not as yet managed to draw the bourgeoisie to the work of bearing those burdens which the bourgeois in classes ought not, of course, to be spared. A series of decrees are being got ready in the Council of People’s Commissars, and will, I hope, be issued in the next few days, which will draw the bourgeoisie into the work of bearing these burdens. Levies for work in the rear, teams for laboring and auxiliary tasks, will be formed from among the bourgeoisie. [99]

We are told that this is cruel. To this we reply: if the bourgeois youth show in practice that they are devoted to the peasant and worker class and are ready to live with us, to eat from one fraternal cauldron, ready to fight against our external and internal foes, then, of course, we shall open the gates of the Red Army wide and clear for such youngsters. But those from whom the revolution has not yet shaken out the idea of restoring the power of the landlords and bourgeoisie are in need of thoroughgoing correction. We shall say: ‘Our ancestors, our grandfathers and fathers, served yours, cleaning up dirt and filth, and we will make you do the same.’ Until you recognize that Soviet Russia is a country of equality in labor, of duty to labor, for civil and military purposes – until then we shall subject you to a severe schooling.

But, once again, for the practical solving of this question we need to create military commissariats in the localities – universal registration and control both of the working class for enlistment in the army and of the bourgeoisie for enlistment in teams for work in the rear. The question of universal military training is being solved by us, as I have already said, on the basis of the general principle of the Soviet regime. We are undertaking (and have already undertaken) the military training of all workers and all peasants who do not exploit the labor of others. But these enormous numbers of cadres who have to pass through the training school are still not an army, but only substantial reserves, which can be called up at a moment of crisis. However, we need to have, here and now, the fundamental nucleus of an army that would be capable of giving battle at any moment. This cadre, fit to fight, we have so far formed through volunteering, but we have now had to reject this principle and, in practice, to go over to the method of compulsory military mobilization.

For the time being we have carried out one complete practical experiment only. Here in Moscow we have mobilized two age-groups – those of 1896 and 1897. As always, there was whispering in all the bourgeois holes and corners that our experiment would come to nothing, that not a single worker would turn up. You know, comrades, that we have not had recourse to any measure of coercion, for there was no need for it: the workers all reported themselves, as one man, and we selected from the numbers reporting the thousands whom we needed, and from them we shall form very fine fighting regiments.

The Council of People’s Commissars has instructed the Petrograd Commune to carry out a similar mobilization of those two age-groups, 1896 and 1897. In addition, we are going to mobilize three age-groups of workers belonging to the artillery and engineer branches.

Those who know the proletariat of Petrograd will have no doubt that the mobilization will be carried out there impeccably. By a general decree, which lays down no times for its implementation, mobilization has been proclaimed in fifty uyezds of the Volga region, the Urals, Siberia, the Don and the Kuban, but in those parts of the country the military-administrative prerequisites for the practical carrying-out of mobilization do not yet exist.

All these partial experiments of ours are merely preparatory steps towards the promulgation of a law that every citizen of the Soviet Republic between 18 and 40 years of age must report to the colors at any moment when called upon by the Soviet power to defend it.

We shall ask the Congress to give us, in the interests of the Soviet Republic, the right to mobilize two, three or more age groups, depending on the conditions that confront us. When you have granted us this right, you, comrade delegates to the Congress, after dispersing to the localities, will explain at every meeting of workers and peasants that, in order to defend our selves against our enemies, in order not to fall under the oppression of the imperialists, we need to have an armed force.

And here we take the occasion to say to those comrades from the Left SRS who have not left us and who, I hope, will not leave us, but will stay loyal to the Soviet power, those who, as they say, feel with particular acuteness the oppression by German imperialism in the Ukraine (true, they do not feel the pressure of the other imperialism in the same way), those who say: ‘We do not want to be slaves’ – we say to them: ‘We, too, do not want to be slaves, we all want to be free citizens of Soviet Russia: therefore, comrades, don’t get excited, don’t succumb to hysterics, but, in the localities, build companies, battalions and regiments of the workers’ and peasants’ army.’

Comrades, while war and the army are a continuation of politics, politics is, on its part, a reflection of the strength of the army.

The most difficult problem in creating the Red Army is the problem of commanding personnel. The crisis of the old army caused a split between the working masses and the ruling class, and this led to a breach between the mass of the soldiers and the officers. That was inevitable.

Neither the working class nor the peasant masses possess as yet the habit of governing, they lack sufficient of the knowledge that is needed in all spheres of economic, state and military administration. This is an indubitable fact, to which we cannot close our eyes. We have extraordinarily few engineers, doctors, generals and officers who are flesh and blood of the workers and peasants. All the bourgeois specialists were brought up in such educational institutions and in such an atmosphere that there was formed in them the conviction that the working masses are incapable of taking over the apparatus of state power, that only the educated, bourgeois classes can rule. When power passed to us they were mostly in the camp of our enemies, with only a few remaining cautiously neutral, waiting in the wings to see who would win, so as to offer their services to the victor.

But from this, comrades, one cannot draw the conclusion which is drawn by naive and superficial people, namely, that we should reject the services of the old commanding personnel and try to manage with our own resources. If we did we should have to resort to guerrilla methods, to military amateurism.

The power of the working class and the peasants does not begin with our driving out the bourgeoisie and the landlords, with cudgel-blows, from the apparatus of state power: it begins with our taking that apparatus into our own hands and making it fulfill the tasks of our own class.

The Tsarist cannon, the Tsarist machine-guns, armoured cars, engineers, generals, specialists of all ranks and branches – we register them all and say: ‘Now, gentlemen, hitherto all this has belonged to the propertied classes and served them, but now be so kind as to serve the working class!’

At that moment we are asked: ‘But what if they betray us?’ There will, of course, be cases of betrayal. Haven’t the railway bigwigs, all sorts of directors, engaged in sabotage and called for strikes? Haven’t there been very shameful cases when they held up the movement of our Red Army men? There have been any number of such cases! What conclusion follows from that? Certainly not that we must do without railways, but rather that we must catch the saboteurs and crush them ruthlessly, while supporting the honest engineers and railway executives. It is just the same where the commanding personnel are concerned.

Among us one hears, it said, in the localities: ‘They are inviting the old generals to come back.’ And many add: ‘They are restoring the old regime.’ But when the situation gets serious they send us a telegram: ‘Send us experienced specialists, military leaders!’ And among the military leaders, the military specialists, there are, I affirm, a whole category of men who are now giving conscientious service to the Soviet regime, because they see that this regime is firm and strong and able to make itself obeyed. Not to take them into our service would be pitiful childishness. On the contrary, all the military specialists who conscientiously carry out our instruction must receive the most vigorous support in the localities. The local soviets and Soviet people must eliminate the prejudice and distrust felt towards these men by the masses, and put it to them like this: ‘You, worker and peasant, now hold in your hands the power of government, you form part of it: that means that the officers and generals are now serving you.’

‘But then,’ they say, ‘what if we don’t manage to keep a close eye on them?’

‘Comrades! If we don’t keep a close eye on them, when we have all power in our grasp, then we are not worth a brass farthing!’

It is possible that, along with honest military specialists, a dozen or two may get in among us who will want to use their position for counter-revolutionary plots. There has been such a case: it happened in the Baltic fleet, and you know what the end of it was. [100]

We do not want an amateur army, constructed on some do-it-yourself principle or other, but a real, centralized army, constructed in accordance with the principles of military science and technique. For that to be the case, the army needs to have adequate cadres of military specialists.

As yet there are no new military specialists drawn from the working class, and so we are enlisting the old ones.

Among the regular officers whose consciousness and experience were formed only during the war and the revolution there are many for whom their experience of events has not gone for nothing. They have understood what a profound organic process the revolution has stimulated, they have understood that the people and the army will emerge from the revolution different from what they were, that the army must be built by other ways and means than before. Among these young officers there are not a few who understand us and march with us.

At the same time we have done everything possible to create a new officer corps of our own, from among workers and peasants who have passed through the school of war and who have the military vocation. We are putting them through instructors’ courses. We shall increase the number of such courses month by month and cover the whole country with them. As I have already reported, there took part in the suppression of the revolt in Moscow our Soviet officers of tomorrow, the students attending the instructors’ courses. They are the most devoted, the finest soldiers of the Soviet power. Appointed to command small military units, platoons and companies, they will be a bulwark of the Soviet regime, a bulwark against which any intrigues in the ranks of the Red Army will break in pieces.

At the same time we have opened the doors of the General Staff Academy, now called the Military Academy, to persons without qualifications. Previously, access to the academy was restricted to military specialists possessing certain educational qualifications. We have said: any soldier who has had a certain experience of command, who has a quick brain and a certain amount of imagination, the ability to combine the tasks of a military commander, may be admitted to the Military Academy. Within two or three months we shall determine whether he is up to the work. If not, he will be transferred to the preparatory courses, and later will again be sent to the Military Academy. We have sent about 150 new pupils there, soldiers devoted to the Soviet power, and our Academy will turn out the first graduation of these General Staff officers during the next ten or twelve months.

While creating a new commanding apparatus drawn from the classes which are now in power, we shall in the meantime make use of all the sound elements of the old commanding apparatus, giving their members extensive opportunities for work.

Speaking of the difficulties we encounter in creating the new army, I must mention that the biggest of these is constituted by this dreadful localism, local patriotism. Interception, seizure and concealment of military property and institutions of any and every kind is being carried on by the local organs of Soviet power.

Every uyezd, almost every volost, believes that Soviet power can best be defended by concentrating on the territory of the given volost as much as possible of aircraft materiel, radio equipment, rifles and armoured cars, and they all try to conceal this materiel – and not only in the provinces, but even in the centers, even in the district organizations of Petrograd we can still observe this childish conduct.

It is self-evident that, from the point of view of the state as a whole we need to keep account of all our military property. It was dumped during the process of demobilizing the old army, without any plan, in all sorts of places, and wherever it was damped it was absorbed, unpacked, pillaged and sold off. It must be recovered, listed, handed over to the army authorities and concentrated in depots, so as to be at the disposal of the country as a whole.

Is it really not appreciated that any Tsarevo-Kokshaisk uyezd [Trotsky uses Tsarevo-Kokshaisk as an example of an out-of-the-way, backwoods place. Known today as Yoshkar-Ola, and capital of the Mari USSR, it lies between Kazan and Vyatka.], or any volost, will be better protected from external enemies and counter-revolution if the central Soviet power has on record and under its control all the arms and ammunition in the country, instead of letting these military stores remain in the volosts, where they can neither be used nor disposed of? We send telegrams to the Soviets of the provinces complaining about these abuses, but in nine cases out of ten, comrades, we do not meet with sufficiently active support from you in the localities.

We must put an end to this situation. We must wage a most severe struggle against the intercepting, appropriating and concealing of Army property by local Soviets.

There are a whole number of difficulties of a more general kind. Testifying to these are a large number of dispatches which we have received only this day. I am not going to quote them all here: I will select just a few, to serve as examples.

Here is a telegram from Usmansk uyezd, in Tambov province: ‘Organization of the Red Army is proceeding with great difficulty. Very few men have registered for service. The kulaks are carrying on a persistent agitation against the Soviet power: in some volosts they have driven out the Soviets. In general, counter-revolutionary agitation is proceeding intensely.’

The same kulaks who disrupt our procurement organization and conceal grain are also waging a struggle against the Red Army. This means that the Red Army is nothing but a reflection of the Soviet regime as a whole, and it is coming up against the same difficulties and the same foes.

The poorest peasantry have a good attitude to the creation of a new Red Army. A resolution greeting the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army was adopted at a general meeting. The morale of the Red Army men is excellent, but this cannot be said of the railway workers. Counter-revolutionary agitation is being carried on among them. The military commissariat has only just been established.’

Where the railway workers are old cadres of the Black Hundreds, where they are under the thumb of the managers, they revolt against the Soviet power and against the workers’ and peasants’ Soviet army.

From Kaleyevo volost, in Volokolamsk uyezd, Moscow province, I have received a report that the peasants of one village announced that everyone serving in the Red Army must immediately leave it and return to his village by June 30. Whoever failed to obey this decision would be deprived of his peasant status (that is how it is put in the resolution) and would not be allowed back into the village. One of the commissars sends us this report, and says that it has affected the Red Army very badly. Comrades, I make use of this lofty tribune of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets to give a first warning to the kulaks and Black Hundreds of Kaleyevo volost, Volokolamsk uyezd. They have no right to deprive a Red Army man of his peasant status. They themselves will be deprived of any status at all if they dare revolt against the creation of the workers’ and peasants’ army.

In the localities the idea of compulsory military service is meeting in most cases, so say the reports we get from our commissars, with a completely favourable response on the part of the workers and the poor peasants. Thus, I have had a telegram from our district commissar regarding the Yaroslavl province congress. He writes that this congress hails the last decree on universal military service and considers that one of the principal tasks, perhaps the principal task, of the current moment is the formation, technical equipment, and armament in accordance with the last word of military science, of a workers’ and peasants’ Red Army. The congress is firmly convinced that Soviet Russia will succeed in realising its cherished aims and will in future be in a position to resist the entire imperialist world not only ideologically but also with military armed force. This is signed by Nakhimson, representing the Congress.

Nakhimson was our district commissar. He was killed at Yaroslavl during the White-Guard revolt. He was one of the most dedicated workers for the Soviet regime, one of the best of our commissars. We shall accomplish the idea which he set forth in that statement, we shall create a workers’ and peasants’ army excellently trained and technically equipped according to the most up-to-date military science.

In conclusion I must say that all those who previously were doubtful about this are coming round to it. In the Party Committee of the North-Western region there were comrades who reacted with some distrust and criticism to our endeavour to build an army on the basis of rational military science, with enlistment of the necessary number of specialists. I have received from that quarter, from those very comrades, a telegram which calls for establishment of the strictest discipline, recruitment of the necessary number of old military specialists, compulsory enlistment for military service on special conditions, of all those officers who are scattered among various other commissariats and engaged in various other kinds of work, and formation of new cadres of military leaders from the ranks of our own Soviet people.

I may mention here the name of one of the finest workers for the Soviet power, Comrade Myasnikov [A.F. Myasnikov (Myasnikian), a Bolshevik since 1906, served on the Volga front in 1918, and became Commissar for Military Affairs in Soviet Lithuania and Byelorussia in 1919], whose previous attitude towards our methods of creating a workers’ and peasants’ army was one, if not of mistrust then of hesitation. I don’t know if he is present: he wanted to speak on this question. As a result of experience he has now come to the same conclusions as we have, and he wanted to make a public statement to this effect at the Congress.

We hear more and more often that those Soviet executives who, sometimes openly and sometimes on the sly, grumbled at us for creating a real army and not a toy or amateur one, not some sort of militia detachments, are now in favour of our view on this matter. Those who protest against this have not yet understood that the worker and peasant class is in power, and for that very reason everything we do is not home-made and amateurish but built on solid, scientific principles.

We must stop this grumbling! Some people try to frighten us by saying: ‘We are inviting back the old generals, and the Red Army men hear this and think that we are inviting them back so as to restore the old regime.’ But we say: ‘Haven’t you taken power, worker and peasant? Don’t you want to consolidate this power? That we can do, but we need to create conditions in which we can work successfully. For this purpose we need to bring in specialists. In order to create an army of the workers and peasants we need generals, and if mistakes and failures occur in this sphere of work, if we see that some general engages in counter-revolutionary activity, we shall arrest him.’

We must examine each case individually, and not throw out all the specialists without adequate reason. Fortunately, the workers and peasants understand that we cannot succeed in creating something on new principles without employing specialists. If a bourgeois engineer, invited to serve in a factory, were to think of being guided in his work by the idea that industry is going to revert to capitalism, then the workers’ administration would, of course, show him that this is not so. And we have shown and shall show this likewise to every military specialist. Our task is to create the mechanism of a new order. This task is not so simple.

If the Tsarist regime succeeded in creating an army, and succeeded in creating discipline in that army which served not the people but the enemies of the people, we, in creating an army to defend the people’s interests, do not doubt that we shall succeed in creating discipline that is ten times as firm. We have only to overcome the infantile disease, the malady of growth, the slackness and weakness which are a heritage from the accursed war and the Tsarist regime.

But the question of whether or not we shall manage to do this is the question of the survival of our power. If we do not, it means that the working class must put its neck under the old yoke. But we reject that notion. We know that the working class will overcome all difficulties and will be able to hold out through these most difficult few weeks when our enemies are straining every effort, resorting to rebellion and mutiny, holding up the movement of food supplies, delaying trains, striving to bring about disorder everywhere: when, essentially speaking, all parties have disappeared, merging into one, which sets itself the task of overthrowing the workers’ and peasants’ power: when every means is being brought into play – calumny, sabotage, and the summoning of foreign bayonets.

We are sure that you here, having acquired fresh energy, fresh will to power, will take with you from this Congress back to the localities confidence that no force can crush us, because we are closely bound together. A new, still closer bond will be our workers’ and peasants’ army, which will grow and become stronger and firmer. Within six weeks we shall be over the pass, we shall be getting in the new harvest, and that will enable us to create the basis for organizing our army. We shall become able to give our Red Army men not three-quarters of a pound but one-and-a-half, perhaps two pounds of bread, which a healthy young fellow needs if he is going to undergo military training for six hours a day and then spend three hours on his political development.

We shall form more and more cadres from the workers and peasants, and you will support us in the localities, stamping out all localism, understanding that Soviet Russia is one entire organism, that the army is one of the parts of this organism, that we need firm discipline and a firm, consistent policy for strengthening the workers’ and peasants’ socialist order.


1. The Russian Soviet Republic is like a fortress which is besieged on every side by imperialist forces. Inside the Soviet fortress counter-revolution is raising its head, having found temporary support from the Czechoslovak hirelings of the Anglo-French bourgeoisie.

The Soviet Republic needs a strong revolutionary army, capable of crushing the bourgeois-landlord counter-revolution and giving a rebuff to the onslaught of the imperialist predators.

2. The old Tsarist army, which was created by coercion and in order to maintain the rule of the propertied upper circles over the working lower orders, suffered a terrible debacle in the imperialist slaughtering of the peoples. It was dealt the final blow by the lying policy of the Cadets and the compromisers, the criminal offensive of June 18, the Kerensky episode and the Korniloviad.

The old apparatus of military administration, at the center and in the localities, crashed and was dispersed along with the old order and the old army.

3. Under these conditions there was, at the beginning, no way open to the workers’ and peasants’ power, for creating an army, other than the enlistment of volunteers prepared to take their places under the flag of the Red Army.

4. At the same time the Soviet power always recognised (and the Fifth All-Russia Congress of Soviets again solemnly confirms this) that every honest and healthy citizen aged between 18 and 40 has the duty to answer the first call of the Soviet Republic to come forward to defend it against internal and external enemies.

5. With a view to introducing compulsory military training and compulsory military service, the Council of People’s Commissars has set up Soviet organs of local military administration, in the form of district, province, uyezd and volost military commissariats. Approving this reform, the All-Russia Congress of Soviets imposes on all local soviets the duty of implementing it with all strictness in the localities. It is a condition for the success of all measures for creating an army that there shall be consistent centralism in the sphere of military administration – that is, strict and unconditional subordination of volost commissariats to uyezd commissariats, of uyezd commissariats to province commissariats, of province commissariats to district commissariats, and of district commissariats to the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs.

6. The Fifth Congress of Soviets requires of all local institutions a strict accounting of military property, and its conscientious distribution and expenditure in conformity with the establishments and regulations laid down by the central organs of Soviet power. Arbitrary seizure of military property, its concealment, unlawful appropriation or careless expenditure must henceforth be treated as equivalent to the worst of crimes against the state.

7. The period of casual formations, arbitrary detachments and amateurish structures must be put behind us. All formations must be effected in strict conformity with the institutional establishments and according to the assessments of the All-Russia General Staff. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army must be built in such a way that the minimum expenditure of forces and resources gives the maximum result, and this will be possible only provided there is planned application of all the conclusions of military science emerging from the experience of the present war.

8. In order to create a centralized, well-trained and well-equipped army we need to make extensive use of the experience and knowledge of many military specialists from among the officers of the former army. These must all be registered and obliged to take up the posts assigned to them by the Soviet power. Every military specialist who works honestly and conscientiously to develop and strengthen the military might of the Soviet Republic has the right to respect from the workers’ and peasants’ army and to support from the Soviet power. The military specialist who tries perfidiously to utilise his responsible post for counter-revolutionary conspiracy or treason on behalf of foreign imperialists must be punished with death.

9. The military commissars are the guardians of the close and inviolable internal bond between the Red Army and the workers’ and peasants’ regime as a whole. Only irreproachable revolutionaries, staunch champions of the cause of the proletariat and the village poor, must be appointed to the posts of military commissars, to whom is entrusted the fate of the army.

10. A most important task in connection with the creation of the army is the education of new commanding personnel thoroughly filled with the ideas of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution. The Congress imposes upon the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs the duty to redouble his efforts in this direction, by creating an extensive network of schools for instructors and bringing into them able, energetic and courageous soldiers of the Red Army.

11. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army must be built on a basis of iron revolutionary discipline. A citizen who has been given by the Soviet power a weapon with which to defend the interests of the working masses is obliged to submit unquestioningly to the demands and orders of the commanders appointed by the Soviet power. Hooligan elements who plunder and coerce the local population or raise revolts, together with self-seekers, cowards and deserters who quit their battle-positions, must be punished without mercy. The All-Russia Congress imposes on the Commissariat for Military Affairs the duty of calling to account, first and foremost, those commissars and commanders who connive at excesses or shut their eyes to violations of military duty.

12. Until the bourgeoisie has been finally expropriated and subjected to universal labor service, so long as the bourgeoisie is still striving to restore its former domination, arming the bourgeoisie would mean arming an enemy who is ready at any moment to betray the Soviet republic to foreign imperialism. The Congress confirms the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars on forming, from the age-groups of the bourgeoisie which have been called up, rear levies to make up the strength of non-combatant units serving as fatigue squads. Only such bourgeois elements can be allowed to transfer to combatant units who have shown in practice their loyalty to the working classes.

13. The Congress imposes on all Soviet institutions and on all trade-union and factory-committee organizations the duty of assisting the War Department in every way in the matter of implementing compulsory military training of workers and peasants who do not exploit the labor of others. Shooting clubs and rifle ranges must be established everywhere, manoeuvres and revolutionary-military festivals organized and agitation extensively carried on with the aim of heightening interest in military matters among the working class and the peasantry.

14. Hailing the call-up of two age-groups of workers in Moscow and Petrograd, and also the approach to mobilization on the Volga and in the Urals, and taking account of the endeavour by the world-predators to involve Russia once more in the imperialist slaughter, the Congress considers it necessary to proceed as soon as possible with the mobilizing of several age-groups of workers and working peasants throughout the country. The Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars are made responsible for issuing a decree defining the number of age-groups subject to immediate call- up, together with the times and conditions for reception of these age-groups.

15. Surrounded on all sides by enemies, face to face with counter-revolution, which relies on support from foreign mercenaries, Soviet Russia is creating a strong army to defend the workers’ and peasants’ power until such time as the working class of Europe and the world, rising in revolt, shall strike a mortal blow at militarism and create the conditions for peaceful and fraternal collaboration between all peoples.


Speech at the meeting of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee on September 2, 1918

Comrades, I did not expect that I should have the opportunity to address you at this time, to address the highest organ of the Soviet Republic, and I came here not on the business of the department in which I work but recalled by the news of the attempt on the life of Comrade Lenin. [101] In conversation with comrades about this I could describe the situation that has been created only as one in which, besides the fronts we had already, yet another front has been created – in the chest of Vladimir Ilyich, where life is now struggling with death, and where, as we hope, that struggle will end with the victory of life. On our war fronts victory alternates with defeats: there are many dangers, but all comrades undoubtedly realise that this front, the front in the Kremlin, is now the most worrying of all. At the front, the front where the armies are, the news of the attempt on the life of the leader of the working class produced not depression and dismay, so far as I could judge from first impressions, but, on the contrary, an upsurge of bitterness and of will to revolutionary struggle. There is no need to say how the conscious fighters at the front felt about Comrade Lenin when they learnt that he was lying with two bullets in his body. We knew that no-one could say of Comrade Lenin that his character lacked metal: now there is metal in his body as well as in his soul, and for this he will be still dearer to the working class of Russia.

Turning to the front from which I have come, I must say that I cannot, alas, report decisive victories, but, on the other hand, I am able with complete confidence, to affirm that these victories are on the way: that our position is firm and sound: that a decisive turn has taken place: that we are now guaranteed, so far as this is possible, against any big surprises, and that each week that passes will strengthen us at the expense of our enemies. As regards the masses in the army, they have undergone a certain schooling, both military and political, and an enormous contribution was made to this by those advanced workers from Petrograd, Moscow and other cities who were sent to the front. It is hard to evaluate the importance at the front of every conscious, advanced worker. At the most critical moment, when Kazan had fallen and the battle was renewed, the Communist comrades took all the difficulties of the situation on their own shoulders. They organized vanguard units. These set out numbering fifty and came back twelve. They are agitators but, when necessary, they take up rifles, like the commissars, get in among unreliable units and provide them with a strong armature. They establish everywhere a hard, sometimes severe, regime, because war is, in general, a severe business. At the same time, thanks to these forces and to the close contact between our units and the population, a tremendous change has been brought about in the mood of the Volga peasantry.

Our country is huge and requires immense forces and political efforts. In the Volga and Ural regions we have not worked on the mass of the peasantry in the way that virgin soil is ploughed up, consciousness has not yet been aroused among the poor but they have already come into contact with Red Army units which do not plunder or steal, and although some excesses have occurred here and there, we have, on the whole, firmly disciplined units. Here again an immense role is played by those same workers from Petrograd and Moscow. Political circumstances are turning out entirely to our advantage: our units are getting stronger and are growing, spiritually and numerically, whereas among the enemy, according to the reports obtained by our intelligence, utter disorder and breakdown prevails in his units, and those workers and peasants whose attitude to him was one of indifference or only slight hostility are now his enemies and our friends. This is evident from the fact that when our artillery falls silent, the bourgeoisie of Kazan at once rallies to the White Guards, but when our artillery roars, when our aircraft fly over and shower dynamite on the bourgeois quarters, meetings start to be held in the working-class quarters, the bourgeois hide themselves in corners, and the White Guards find themselves isolated. In so far as our units undertake attacks, our command adheres to tactics of caution. We have no right to suggest any change, if our command considers that these tactics correspond to the character of the units involved in this war, and, at the same time, these tactics guarantee us against dangers and major surprises, while we can also expect that they will bring us sure and solid success. On the other fronts there is also wavering this way and that, but on every front the chances of success are now very much greater than they were. The situation is best of all in the Povonno-Tsaritsyn [Povorino is about 330km north-west of Tsaritsyn, and is the junction of the Moscow-Tsaritsyn railway line with the Kazan-Kharkov line.] direction, where we are on the offen sive against Krasnov’s bands. The latest dispatches, which are probably known to you, speak of the capture of Kachalinskaya stanitsa. Here a certain 6th Cossack Regiment was disarmed, and another, similar regiment joined us and, together with our units, pursued the fleeing enemy. This, comrades, was no accidental occurrence, there are profound inner reasons for it. The working class and the working masses have understood that it is a matter of life and death, that they are engaged in a mortal conflict, and that every day helps to bring a change in the situation in our favour. And so what is required of us is work, tireless work, resolute and intense work.

In the sphere of command, things are better than they were, though still far from satisfactory. Our new front was formed when the old apparatus of command was, in general, withering away, and the apparatus of military organisation was designed for the old front. Hence the duality in organization. We formed divisions on the basis of volunteering, and, in accordance with this, we formed extensive staffs for these divisions. We have already done away with the voluntary principle. We have gone over to the conscription of workers and peasants who do not exploit the labor of others, and the staffs of the old divisions must be transformed to where the process of formation is going ahead with great success. Close to the new front, in those places where the peasant finds himself under direct threat from the blows of the Czechoslovaks and White-Guards, the peasantry are increasingly eager to co-operate in creating new formations.

At the top of our military apparatus we lack at present the necessary unity. We have the former Supreme Military Council, which was set up in relation to the old front, and the Revolutionary War Council at Arzamas [Arzamas is about 100km south of Nizhny-Novgorod, on the railway line between Moscow and Kazan.], which was organized for the needs of the Eastern front, though we have now brought the North-Eastern front under its authority as well.

What are the urgent tasks before us?

It has been said here that Britain intends to wage war against us for three years. It is hard, comrades, to make any forecast where time is concerned. When the world war began, they thought it would last three months, yet it is now entering its fifth year. At present, important British diplomats are saying that war with Soviet Russia will last three years, and those successes which we have had do not in the least mean that we shall finish the war in the next three weeks or three months. These successes merely prove that the working class is learning to fight and to create a military organization, and that the Soviet Republic is able, if it so desires, to defend itself. How long the imperialist onslaught will go on, what forms it will take, and what further measures we shall have to adopt for our defence, it is impossible to say. One can state only that the danger is still extremely great, and that it will be especially great during the next two months – until the coming of winter, which will paralyse, at least for the duration of that season, any increase in British aid to the Czechoslovaks. These two months that lie ahead will be a time of most intense, energetic and, I will say, heroic work on our part for the military consolidation of all the borders of the Soviet Republic. We are exhausted, we are poor in all respects including the military respect, and we need to place all the country’s resources at the service of the defence of the Soviet Republic.

You must proclaim that in these conditions, in which we are now faced with the concentrated fury of world imperialism, which has turned its Anglo-French and Japano-American face towards us, we are obliged to transform the Soviet Republic into one single armed camp, and all our resources, all our forces, everything the country possesses, and the personal possessions of each individual citizen and citizeness, must be devoted directly to the defence of the Soviet Republic. We have to mobilize people, soldiers, to mobilize the spirit and the ideological forces of the country, and this mobilization must assume an intense, heroic character, so that everywhere, and, in particular, on the British stock-exchange, where they quote the blood of the Russian people, they may know that, while we live, we will surrender to no-one, that we shall fight to the last drop of blood.

The measures of which I speak follow from the objective situation, from the dangers which surround us and which are not to be measured by the Czechoslovak forces and the pitiful Anglo-French expedition, dangers which may grow and assume a different physiognomy and different dimensions.

We need to become strong and powerful. To this end we must, first and foremost, ensure supplies for our army. And in our economic circumstances this will be possible only if we mobilize the entire resources of the country. Work in the supply sphere must be centralized. In charge of this work we have already placed such an energetic and expert worker as Comrade Krasin. He must be given the widest powers and all the material resources needed if our military supply service is to be raised to the proper level. Everything must be put at the disposal of the organizers of supply!

We also need, as I have already mentioned, to centralize the military apparatus. The lack of co-ordination which resulted from the duality of the fronts – one ceasing to exist and the other coming into existence – must be ended. At the head of the armed forces and resources of the Soviet Republic must be placed a single leading organ, in the shape of the Revolutionary War Council, and a single Commander-in-Chief. All the other institutions of the All-Russia General Staff, as an organ of supply, must be subordinated to this Revolutionary War Council, and they must receive from it the fundamental directives that will ensure that we have unity in the disposition of all the country’s armed forces and resources, in their transfer from one part of the country to another, from one front to another, in the provision of supplies and equipment that have to be got ready and assembled in the shortest possible time. Along with this, we need to continue the work of agitation and organization which has been and is being carried on here in the rear. Every train that brought to us at the front ten, fifteen or twenty Communists, together with a stock of literature, was as precious to us as a train that brought a good regiment or a plentiful quantity of guns. Every detachment, every group of Communists regenerated one or other sector of the front, ensured its staunchness, established communications, and, what is not the least important factor in this matter, ensured for us a certain behaviour on the part of the officers who are now at the front. In that connection I must mention that many, especially among the young officers who were brought up under the former regime, have become closely linked with the new army, with our party, with the Soviet power, and are filled with profound respect for the Soviet activists. Among the General Staff officers with this outlook there are many who are acting not from fear but from conscience. This was shown by the following example. When Kazan fell it was easy for the officers to sell themselves to the enemy. Yet many fell in battle, while others hid themselves for weeks and then secretly made their way over to us. But there are also elements prepared to betray us at the first opportunity, and there are wavering elements that need an iron corset – and such an iron corset is provided by one or two good Communists. Without Communists our army will be incapable of fighting, and if many here complain that we have depopulated a whole number of important institutions, I do not quite understand this attitude of theirs.

These complaints, coming from certain organs, are not altogether comprehensible or normal. If we fail to smash the forces opposing us, then, of course, all the Soviet institutions will go smash, and basic Soviet politics is now being put into effect before Kazan, Simbirsk and Samara and the other sectors of our front. So, give us all the elements that you can give. You will proclaim that the task of the front is now the central task, and that the entire country is a reservoir for supplying that front. You will transform the country into an armed camp: you will centralize the work of supply and make available for that work all the necessary resources that the country can provide: you will centralise the military administration, placing all military authority in the hands of the Revolutionary War Council. Thereby, you will show your will to win and to live, and let us hope that, within the few weeks in which the leader of the working class will recover, we shall conquer on the other fronts too, and that news of the downfall of our foe at Samara, Simbirsk, Ufa, Orenburg and in Siberia will be brought to a session of our CEC at which Comrade Lenin will be our dear guest.


Speech at the Military Administration Courses, September 1918

Comrades, I should like first to convey to you a fraternal greeting, and then my impressions, from those armies of ours with whom I have spent the last six weeks, watching from day to day how they grew in strength, solidarity and heroism. Two months ago, comrades, we were a great deal weaker than we are today: our Workers and Peasants’ Red Army has taken an immense step forward. To say nothing of our enemies, there were not a few among our friends who, two months ago, were doubting if we would succeed – in a country exhausted by four years of slaughter, a country around whose neck the noose of the Brest peace had been drawn tight, a country that had not yet eliminated the dreadful heritage of Tsardom and bourgeois rule – in creating a powerful revolutionary army. Well, it turned out that the new trials with which history confronted us engendered new forces. Under the lash of historical necessity and of a new war, a civil war, the Russian working class and peasantry strained every nerve, and we now see how, as a result of this effort, a workers’ and peasants’ Red Army is being built.

The army that fought before Kazan had been created in no more than a few weeks. Before Kazan it showed elements of instability, weakness, criminal deviations. There was the case when the Revolutionary Tribunal, with the approval of the whole army, sentenced to death a regimental commander who, though considering himself a Communist, shamefully deserted his regiment and set off on a steamboat, aiming to get away to Nizhny-Novgorod. In connection with this case the Revolutionary Tribunal said: ‘Cowards and self-seekers in general deserve stern punishment, but those who, while holding posts of command and bearing the lofty title of Communist, behave as runaways and traitors must be punished doubly and trebly.’ And despite its youth, the whole army understood, grasped with its sense of morality the complete justice of this stern, ruthless punishment. The regiment concerned became one of our best, and fought splendidly after that, with genuine courage.

Thus, comrades, in our Red Army, despite the very brief period it has existed, there is already at work in full force that revolutionary consciousness which rallies everything honorable and valiant and throws out everything impure and corrupt. Yet, not long ago, we were being told, on all sides, that we would not succeed in building a disciplined, solid army. Truly, those who talked like that failed in two ways to understand our army. In the first place, with the working class now in power, there is a profound moral basis for the army, and in the second place, there is realisation of this profound moral basis, the fact that we are fighting for the highest aim of mankind: this justifies the sternest, most ruthless measures in relation to those who undermine the foundations of the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army. If the Tsarist generals could establish discipline in the name of interests alien to the working class, we can and must – and this is already taking effect – establish a discipline ten times harder and firmer than theirs, for this is discipline in the name of the interests of the working class.

In military literature – in particular, I read something about this only today in our rather poor and weak journal Voyennoye Dyelo (Military Affairs), which is published by specialists who have evidently not quite understood the spirit and sense of this epoch of war – in military literature the question: ‘drill or education?’ has often been raised. By ‘drill’ was meant the physical education of the soldier, and by ‘education’ the exercising of spiritual influence upon him. Have we rejected drill? Never. We have merely brought more purposefulness into it, driving out, through living necessity, the survivals of barrack tyranny, square-bashing and so on. Drill, as we understand it, means inculcating in the soldier the capacity for operating in a purposeful way his arms, his legs, his sabre and his rifle, and doing all that automatically. A musician cannot become a good musician if he cannot rove his fingers automatically over the keyboard, if he has to seek with his eyes for every separate note. Just as the musician must lay his finger automatically on each key as he needs it, so must the soldier automatically operate his body and his weapon with the maximum productivity, in the interests of the military task assigned to him, just as this is achieved in industrial production, through the mechanisation of movements. The greater the automatism of his technique, the more freely will his mind work, the easier will it be for him to find his bearings, the better will he be able to estimate danger and find cover – the greater will be his freedom for military creativity. Drill, that is, the inculcation of automatism in the soldier, does not stand in contradiction to education.

But education is a different sphere, and here the military specialists do not understand – I am not talking, of course, about all the specialists: there are some among them whose eyes the revolution has opened – that the education we have in mind is profoundly different from, and diametrically opposite to, the education of the past epoch. What was meant by the education of the soldier in the epoch of Tsardom, and what is meant by this in Germany and France today? Educating the soldier on behalf of the propertied class: inculcating in him spiritual slavery and subordination, causing him not to under stand his own interests, the interests of his class and of humanity in general. Achieving this under the conditions of capitalist society is a little difficult, and that is why, in all those countries, the education of the soldiers is such a complicated, serious, delicate task. Where religion lends its aid the task is easier, but in proportion as criticism takes hold of the soldier’s consciousness, and he no longer submits blindly to whatever his priest tells him, it becomes ever harder for the propertied class to instil in the soldier masses the idea of the necessity of submission, that is, to educate them to serve purposes that are against their own interests. Only our army, the one in which you, comrades, are serving, is, for the first time in the history of the world, nothing but the armed hand of the working class and the poor peasants. Consequently, for us, educating the soldier means showing him that he is serving himself, in the shape of his class and his posterity. Our education is therefore incomparably easier, more honest, simpler, and, in that sense, Comrade Red officers, your task includes, besides a military mission, a great moral and cultural mission as well. You will be able to fulfil your task provided that every soldier feels, recognises, sees and senses that you are flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood. The fact that you belong to the working classes, your spiritual bond with the worker and peasant masses, does not, of course, solve everything, and much room is left free for individual evaluations. Ivanov may be brave, whereas Petrov is not brave enough. Woe to that officer regarding whose courage a spark of doubt is struck in the soldier’s mind: woe to him, he is ruined in the consciousness of the masses, ruined for military work. Your first military quality is the same as your first revolutionary quality – selfless courage in face of any and every danger. Hold your head proudly high: that is the behest for every warrior. Nor is that all, comrades. You must be, and you will be – for this is your calling which you have entered freely – not courageous only: you must struggle steadily to enlarge your knowledge, experience and skill as leaders of the Red Army. I have seen in battle, in action, excellent units which did not feel that they were being directed by a steady, technically competent hand. When, at a critical moment, they notice that their leader hesitates, woe to that officer, and woe to that unit! A unit must know at every moment, and especially at the moment of battle, that it is being guided by steadfast thought, a clear eye and a firm hand, and if that hand is sometimes severe, the conscious mass of the soldiers will not complain. They will understand the need for this, in the common interest: they will know that they are fighting for the cause of their class and that for this the fighting capacity of a military unit is an essential condition.

The second behest for every Red Officer is to ensure the unity and growth of the army. You are called proletarian officers. In bourgeois society the word ‘proletarian’ had a certain nuance which cannot and will not apply to you. You know that when people say: ‘he lives like a proletarian’, it means: ‘he lives badly’; that when they say: ‘he lives in a proletarian flat’, it means, ‘in a poor sort of flat’; that when they say: ‘he eats a proletarian meal’, it means a scanty meal. But the words ‘proletarian officer’ must not be translated as signifying ‘bad officer’. A ‘proletarian officer’ must signify a first-class Officer, who is a model of courage, firmness, knowledge, and selfless devotion to the cause of the Soviet land. That is what being a proletarian officer means. Thanks to Tsardom and the old army, the word ‘officer’ became discredited with us and was relegated to the archives, but I think that you will renew and revive it, fining it with a new content. I do not doubt that the soldier masses themselves will renew and revive this word, and when you come among them – you, new men filled with a new spirit – they will hail you as ‘our Red worker-and-peasant officers’.

Against the background of the military tasks of the revolution, your task, comrades, like that of the Red Army, is truly immense and rewarding in the highest degree. When the Germans crushed us at Brest-Litovsk it seemed as though there was no way out. They cut us into pieces, separated our sister the Ukraine from her sister Great Russia, and trampled on Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic lands, while in Finland they drowned the proletariat in blood – and then, after that, when we, bled white, were healing our wounds, the Anglo-French and Japano-American predators struck their claws into the North and East. It seemed as though there was no way out. But there is! The Nemesis of history, that is, the goddess of justice, who in the present historical period is embodied in the revolutionary consciousness of the worker masses of the whole world, was and is with us. It seemed that we had been destroyed, crushed by the violence of Germany, but after only a few months Bulgaria broke away from Germany, now Turkey is following Bulgaria, and there is a ferment in Austria-Hungary: within a few weeks or days the Austrian monarch will be brought to his knees Germany itself is isolated, there is discontent and ferment in that country, and the German Kaiser, who always used to speak of ‘Unser alter Gott’, that is, ‘our old (German) God’, and maintained the closest friendship with him, has now begun to speak of the need to bring the German people into closer participation in affairs of government. Wilhelm talks as Nicholas talked in the first days of the February revolution, but he will have to talk a different language yet, or else will find himself being talked to differently. History is accomplishing, before our eyes, a rapid turn. Revolution is raising its flag in Bulgaria, where, we learn from the newspapers, a Soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies has been formed. The German press writes that the blame for the surrender of Bulgaria lies not with the military situation but with the idea of Bolshevism, which has taken hold not only of the masses but also of the Bulgarian army. ‘The idea of Bolshevism’ – that means that everywhere the hatred and indignation of the working people is rising against the dishonorable bourgeois slaughter into which they were dragged by their propertied classes. We foretold this and based our policy upon it, and at that time we were accused of having made a mistake, since we were obliged to sign the thrice burdensome and shameful peace of Brest. We said: ‘We shall have to suffer only for a time: give us time, and we will kindle the flame of our revolution in the hearts of the peoples of Germany and Austria-Hungary – and the Ukraine, Poland, Finland and the Baltic lands will be free.’ Naturally, the fools and flay-flints of the French and British Governments rub their hands with glee, thinking that because the masses have been weakened, it will be possible to finish Russia off. They are mistaken. To each one his turn: after Russia, Bulgaria, after Bulgaria, Turkey and then Austria-Hungary, after Austria-Hungary, Germany – and after Germany, and simultaneously with Germany, will come France, Britain and other countries. To each his turn, and from this we forecast with complete confidence that the weakening of German militarism will mean not only revolution in Germany but also revolution in France, Britain, the United States and Japan. We now have more allies than enemies in the world, and, just because of that, we need in this transitional period to prevent our enemies from dealing us a mortal blow. Here lies the fundamental task of the Soviet Republic, of the Red Army, and of you, its commanders. You know that a dying insect can sometimes sting fatally, and so, in order that dying imperialism, to East or West, shall not deal us a cruel blow, we need to be on the alert, we need to be strong and firm – and this applies especially to you, for you, comrades, form part of the skeleton of the workers and peasants’ Red Army, part of its backbone, and the whole organism is held up by the backbone. If the backbone is weak, the organism will not function: you must be that firm backbone on which the musculature of the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army depends, you must strengthen the cause of the international revolution by strengthening your spirit with military exercises, with your bond with the Red Army, with its affairs, with awareness that there is not and has never been a cause higher than the one that you serve. That is your first duty!

Today, when you look towards the Volga and the Urals, you can say with complete satisfaction: we have an army, it is taking shape and growing stronger, and before Kazan it smashed the officers’ battalions, which consisted entirely of officers of the old army. On the enemy’s side, disintegration and collapse, but on our side, in the Red Army – enhanced morale, self-knowledge and self-confidence.

But we are sometimes short of commanding personnel, and it is you who are called upon to fill that gap, to lead our Red Army units. I bring you a fraternal greeting and to each one I mentally stretch out my hand and say: ‘Welcome, Red proletarian officers, to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army! To you, Red officers, and to our Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, and to our Soviet Russia, which we love and for which we are all ready to lay down our lives and to shed our blood to the last drop, to our Soviet Workers’ and Peasants’ Russia – Hurrah!’


Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars, September 3, 1918

The protracted civil war between the workers and the working peasantry, on the one hand, and, on the other, the landlords and the bourgeoisie, joined with the British, French, Czechoslovak and other mercenaries, has demanded from the Soviet power a great tension of the people’s forces. Inflexibly determined to nip in the bud the malicious schemes of the imperialist brigands, both foreign and Russian, the Soviet Government has been obliged to direct great armed forces against them and to give all its attention to crushing quickly and ruthlessly, with the iron fist of the revolution, the last remnants of these plundering bands.

For this reason the Southern borderlands of the Russian Republic – the Don, Kuban, Terek and Caucasian regions have lacked timely support from the central Soviet power. A multitude of generals, landlords and officials, all the black carrion-crows of Tsardom, have congregated in the Cossack lands, gathered round them the landlord and kulak elements of Cossackdom, by force and cunning seized the Don territory, confused the minds of the Cossacks, and made the free Cossacks strangle their Cossack freedom with their own hands.

The renowned working Cossacks proved unable to defend their sovereign rights. The villages and stanitsas are depopulated, the corn remains unharvested, the working Cossack community is impoverished and dying.

To end the deception and machinations of the rebel Krasnov and his supporters and to put into effect the decrees of the Central Government concerning the new organization, free and based on labor, of the Don territory, the Council of People’s Commissars has decided: To convene a Field Assembly of the Soviet Cossack Host of the Don – a government of the Host, endowed with full power on the Don and composed of representatives of the working population of the Don who are, arms in hand, defending the legal authority of the Soviets against the rebel bands.

The Field Assembly of the Soviet Don Cossack Host will consist of representatives of the Soviet Don regiments and also of those villages and stanitsas which have been liberated from the rule of the officers and landlords.

Until the legally-elected Soviet power has been re-established throughout the territory of the Don Cossack Host, the Field Assembly of the Soviet Don Cossack Host is assigned all the rights and prerogatives of the Soviets of the Don Cossack Host, as laid down in the decree of the People’s Commissars of June 1, 1918.

The most urgent task of the Field Assembly is to re-establish the Soviet socialist order in the Don territory and free the territory of the Don Cossack Host from all counter- revolutionary forces.

In order to achieve this aim, the Field Assembly is accorded the right:

  1. to conscript into the Soviet forces all the working population of the Don territory;
  2. to take charge of the organization of the armed forces of the Soviet Don territory;
  3. to co-ordinate the operations of these forces along the whole Don front.

The task of establishing of procedure for elections and norms of representation, and also the actual convocation of the Field Assembly, is entrusted to a special commission to be formed in accordance with instructions from the Presidium of the All Russia Central Executive Committee.


Report to the Sixth Congress of Soviets [102], November 9, 1918

During the four months and more which have passed since the time of the July Congress, tremendous changes have taken place in the world situation and in the internal lives of all countries, and these changes have found direct reflection in the life and development of our Red Army.

When, in the memorable days of July, we experienced one of the most acute crises in the existence of the nine-months-old Soviet Republic, our Red Army was still weak, and, what was yet more serious, even in our own Soviet ranks its future development was often questioned. At that time many comrades doubted whether we would succeed, under those conditions of the extreme weariness of the entire adult male population of the country and of the anaemic and exhausted state of the Republic, in creating within a short period a trained, close-knit, combat-ready Red Army.

Then, in July, as you will remember, comrades, a party which occupied a certain sector of this hall made it a matter of principle to counterpose guerrilla detachments to the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army. We were told, from the camp of the Left SR party which then existed, that a revolutionary regime cannot create regular armies, that it must confine itself to forming guerrilla detachments. That was dangerous nonsense. Guerrilla detachments correspond to the period of struggle for power and the first, infant phase of the development of Soviet power. As the ruling class begins to make use of its power for military purposes, it goes over from guerrilla amateurism to planned state-building and has to create a regular army. I think, comrades, that the number of deputies we should find here and now who would support the Left SR cry of those days: ‘Long live guerrilla detachments’ – counterposed to the cry that rang out in this place: ‘Long live the workers’ and peasants’ army’ – would not reach even single figures.

At that time, in July, our army was in a poor way. The situation was this. On the one hand, the painful breaking-up of the old army, which, in its decomposition, corrupted our newly-formed units: on the other hand, these units, suffering from the natural maladies of youth, were as yet only precariously put together and lacked even the minimum of military traditions. Under these conditions we retreated wherever any fairly well-organized enemy units were in action against us. That happened, for example, when the Czechoslovaks attacked us on the Eastern front. However, we gradually began to form strong units, and as these grew, so the situation began to change.

Previously, the Red Army units had shown a low level of military preparation, and we surrendered town after town. We fell back from the Volga and gave up part of Siberia.

When the Anglo-French expedition landed at Murmansk, and then, almost without having to fight, insolently seized Archangel, there arose before us the concrete danger that the Anglo-French Northern front would link up with the White Guards in the East, on the Volga and in the Urals. This tremendous threat from the North-East shook the Soviet Republic.

Nevertheless, after the Fifth Congress of Soviets which concluded in early July, we still went on retreating for a whole month. In the first days of August we surrendered Kazan, the center of military operations where the War Council of the Eastern Front was situated. Our inability to hold Kazan symbolised the extremely low level of development of the Red Army.

After that there began, at last, a turn for the better, which was accomplished in a short time. The turn took place not so much within the War Department as in Soviet Russia as a whole. For the first time everyone realised that the country was facing mortal danger, and that the War Department and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army had to get rid of this threat, with their own forces and with the help of the entire working class of Russia.

We appealed to the Petrograd Soviet, to the Moscow Soviet, to the trade unions, to the factory committees and to the more advanced of the provincial soviets, which were still far from completely on the same levels as the revolutionary capitals. The organizations mentioned sent the flower of their workers, the best, most self-sacrificing proletarians, to the Eastern Front.

These comrades, members of trade unions and workers in various commissariats, reinforced the still diffuse, disorganized Workers’ and Peasants’ Army and formed, as I reported to the Central Executive Committee, its strong, firm and supple backbone. Without those thousands of Soviet executives and advanced proletarians the War Department would not have coped with its task. It was only thanks to their extraordinary self-sacrifice that we not only did not lose Nizhny-Novgorod, Vyatka and Perm, not only prevented any link-up between the Czechoslovaks and the Anglo-French force but, on the contrary, went over to the offensive on these fronts, an offensive which developed with ever greater success and led to our clearing the White Guard forces out of the whole Volga region within a few weeks. And I must say, before the most authoritative assembly of the Republic, that we owe these victories, first and foremost, to the Soviets of Petrograd and Moscow, in the shape of the proletarians they hurled into battle on the Eastern Front. In the Ural region our successes did not develop as speedily as we had wished. The chief difficulty here was that a White Guard revolt broke out in the factories of Izhevsk and Votkinsk [Izhevsk and Votkinsk are about half-way between Kazan and Perm.], and these factories were transformed into strongpoints for the White-Guard and Czechoslovak forces. The factories in question supplied them with cartridges and with machine guns. The counter-revolution succeeded in involving in the factory revolt not only kulaks but also, undoubtedly, a section of the workers, who joined them under compulsion. A struggle began for possession of these highly important armament centers, and this struggle diverted forces from our offensive towards Yekaterinburg and other points in the Urals. Only yesterday we received the news that the Izhevsk factories have been taken by regiments of the Red Army and, on the first anniversary of the Republic, the flag of Soviet power is flying over them. All the other points will soon be liberated. Henceforth these factories will supply our Red Army with cartridges, machine-guns and everything else that it needs. This gives us grounds to expect that, in the nearest future and on the nearest front, we shall be advancing. And success will develop at a faster rate. We may suppose that in the immediate future the British and French will scrap even the idea of forming a unified North-Eastern Front. We have information that on the Northern Front the British and French and the Czechoslovaks have given up hope of success, and at the same time there are indubitable signs ofdisintegration of the expeditionary force. It is reported from the Kotlas front [Kotlas is on the River Northern Dvina, about 500 km south-east of Archangel.] that, for the first time, a detachment of 58 British soldiers has come over to us. It’s the first step that counts. Fifty-eight is not many, of course: but we need to remember that there are extremely few British in the North, and that their position will get worse with the winter weather. There can therefore be no doubt that the British must very soon remove their expeditionary force, if they do not want to expose it to the risk of complete disintegration and dispersion.

During the winter the country will not be threatened with any danger on the Northern front. And, I repeat, there can be no question but that the enemy will, for the time being, close down that front.

In the East, operations will develop further in the direction indicated, that is, in the sense of a systematic and planned offensive by our forces. One may legitimately express impatience, comrades, because the capital of the Urals, Yekaterinburg, is not yet in our hands: but at the same time you must note and take full account of the fact that on the Eastern Front our offensive is in the highest degree regular, planned and systematic, and not at all of the guerrilla variety. Here we are safeguarding ourselves against any sort of surprises. This does not prevent the operation on the flanks of our advancing front, and fairly deep in the enemy’s rear, of our guerrilla detachments, acting in conformity with directives from the Center, transmitted by the commanders of the regular armies, and they are operating with conscious success.

On the Southern Front, comrades, matters are, up to now, certainly worse than on the Northern and, especially, than on the Eastern Front. On the Southern Front our army has been put together in a different way, as compared with the other two fronts. The enemy here is different, and the course of operations has developed differently. Until recently the Southern Front was, so to speak, our stepchild: our attitude towards it was almost one of letting things slide, the reason being, of course, that we had to concentrate our attention, forces and means upon the Northern Front. The British, French and Czechoslovaks were there, and the Americans and Japanese had already appeared on the Eastern horizon. But the menace proved to be too serious, and unexpectedly so, in the near South as well, where Krasnov’s band was. During the first year of the revolution we had too easily got used to disposing of the internal counter-revolution and our own bourgeoisie, of the Kiasnovite and Kaledinite bands, by means of improvised workers’ detachments which were poorly organized, each numbering a thousand or two of untrained Petrograd workers, who picked up rifles and dealt very well with the matter in hand. Because of this we developed a contemptuous attitude towards the Southern Front, a conviction that we should get rid of our enemies eventually, sooner or later. That was one aspect of the matter. The other aspect was the actual process of formation of the units which are now holding our Southern Front. To a considerable extent they are composed of men from the Ukraine, the Don region, the Kuban and North Caucasia. They are excellently seasoned troops who have been through a hard school of experience during the guerrilla war. Their commanders have shared with them all the adversities and hardship and all the fortunes of war through many months, in the Ukraine, on the Don, and in North Caucasia; but at the same time, these units brought with them the negative features of the guerrilla period of the war, to a greater degree than all our other units on other fronts, and have still not got rid of them. Each guerrilla commander looked on his unit, which he later named a division, as a closed world: he required of the soldiers belonging to his division unconditional submission to severe discipline, and was often capable of creating and maintaining such discipline. At the same time, he was often lacking in that discipline where his own attitude to the higher centers of command was concerned. It was hard to turn these units into regular formations, proper military units, divisions of a normally functioning centralized army. This task called for a large number of Soviet Communist activists, combat-hardened revolutionaries, and to get them, comrades, we again appealed to the Soviets of Petrograd and Moscow, pointing out how extremely important and necessary it was to discipline and unify the Southern Front, along the same lines as the Eastern Front. And again the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets gave us many hundreds of workers for service on the Southern Front. But this happened very recently, and it was only a few days ago that these several hundreds of the state’s best workers appeared at the front: they are today, perhaps, scattered over various sectors of the front. Until now there have been no commissars on the Southern Front, either in the regiments or in the divisions. Those of your comrades who are at all close to the Army know what a tremendous role is played by commissars who are old Party workers. As commanders we have only young men and former soldiers whose attention and strength are wholly absorbed by the military side of things, and the tasks of political control and revolutionary tempering of the troops are, naturally, assigned to a different leader, to the commissar, whose post is of the highest importance. Yet in our Southern armies, which include great numbers of men, there are hardly any units that have commissars, apart from those regiments and divisions which have recently been and are now being transferred thither. Only now has an apparatus of commissars been formed on that front. Our enemies have given our regime the name ‘commissar-rule’, and, where our workers’ and worker-peasant army is concerned, we are ready to accept that name which our enemies wanted to fasten on us as a term of abuse. Yes, our army is ruled by commissars, and in so far as it depends on them we can call the revolutionary regime ‘commissar-rule’. If you will give us experienced, battle-tempered commissars who know how to die, our cause will prosper.

Comrades, I am repeating what I have told the CEC many times before. I do not know of one single unit that has retreated in panic, shown faint-heartedness or produced many cases of desertion, if that unit has a firm commander and a firm commissar. In any case there is always, even if it be small, a perfectly conscious and hardened nucleus of soldier revolutionaries, Communists, knights devoted to the struggle for socialism, and if the commissar always stands at his post as an unbending soldier of the revolution, if, at the moment of most terrible danger, he is there in the front line, in front of his unit, and says ’Don’t move’, he will be backed up by the best of the soldiers, and then the conduct of all the soldiers is guaranteed, for in every unit, even one that is not very conscious, there is the voice of conscience in the soul, which whispers: ‘You must not betray, you must not desert.’ And if even the commanding personnel are silent, and it is known that the instinct of self-preservation may triumph over consciousness, it is enough for the voice of duty to ring out: ‘Comrades, don’t move,’ and the Red Army unit will not fall back. I have not yet known an example of panic under those conditions. That is why we have introduced a rule which some find severe, but which remains fully in force: for every panicky withdrawal, for every case of desertion, the commander and the commissar are to be answerable, first and foremost. If they have not taken all the necessary measures, have remained unharmed, or have deserted along with their unit, then, of course, they will be the first to fall beneath the sharp blade of our revolutionary punishment. Apparently, some comrades have considered, and have voiced their opinion, that we are acting too harshly, too mercilessly. Our time is, in general, a harsh and merciless time for the working class, which is compelled to defend its power and its existence against a swarm of external foes. And if we want to celebrate more than just one anniversary of the Soviet Republic, to uphold Soviet power and win the future for the working class and the working peasantry, then, in this merciless time, we are obliged to be merciless towards anyone in our own ranks who does not display the utmost energy, courage and firmness when he has been put in a responsible position: and there is no post more responsible than that of Commissar. There can be no doubt, comrades, that if such a firm proletarian course is followed on the Southern Front in the immediate future, beneficial work will be accomplished in the disciplinary, unifying and centralizing of our armies stationed there.

I have visited the armies stationed on the Voronezh, Balashov, Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan fronts, and acquainted myself, closely and in detail, with their situation, and I can say with a clear conscience that we possess in the South a good and very numerous army, very much bigger than many of you suppose. It is now being given the proper organization of command and a real corps of commissars. I repeat – the results of this will make themselves felt very soon.

In the Cossacks and White Guards we now have an adversary who is a great deal more serious than seemed to be the case until recently. United against us are the substantial forces which until recently were backed by the Germans, in the shape of Krasnov’s bands, and by the British and French, in the shape of Denikin and Alekseyev. There is now taking place a unification of the Alekseyev-Denikin front and the Krasnov front, which previously relied on the two hostile imperialist coalitions, the German and the Anglo-French, but which both now hope to receive supplies, on both sectors of their united front, from victorious Anglo-French militarism. Our problems on the Southern Front are now extremely acute. German militarism has collapsed. We have just heard a report which shows that the process of its downfall is going ahead at feverish speed. The Germans were needed to defend the Ukraine. Anglo-French militarism is hurrying to take their place in the Ukraine, on the Don and in North Caucasia. And we must slip in between departing German militarism and approaching Anglo-French militarism. We must occupy the Don, North Caucasia and the Caspian, support the workers and peasants of the Ukraine, crush their enemies, and enter into our Soviet house (in which we mentally include North Caucasia, the Don and the Ukraine), go into our own Soviet dwelling and say that there is no entry here either for British or for German scoundrels. This concludes the repercussion on the Red Army of those changes in the world situation that I mentioned earlier. I will now proceed to questions of organization.

It is no secret that we are experiencing difficulties in the organization of supplies and in the training of commanding personnel.

We have overcome the deepest crisis: the army exists and is being administered and supplied. There can be no room now for the doubt that was felt not long ago as to whether we could create an army. The army exists, is fighting, and is becoming a factor in international affairs with which our enemies are already having to reckon. Quoted in our own Soviet newspapers recently were extracts from the foreign press, namely, the leading British paper The Times and the German bourgeois paper Der Lokal-Anzeiger, They write of our Red Army that it is growing at a menacing rate. As regards numbers, the papers mentioned a figure of 400 to 500,000 soldiers, already now. [Figures published later show that the Red Army actually comprised only 350,000 men at this time.] For reasons you will understand, I am not going to quote precise data, but I will say that at present the figures given by country’s forces, and to do this, in the first place, so as to serve the Southern Front. If certain institutions feel pressure from the War Department as the cruel pressure of a new Red Soviet militarism, well, I resolutely say again that we live in a harsh time, when our country has to be transformed into an armed camp. If our soldiers fall back under the influence of panic, severe punishment awaits them. This fate will befall likewise those Soviet institutions which may remove themselves, as many have done, previously, from the territory of the front. True, such cases are happening now a great deal less frequently; on the contrary, indeed, when the front bends and comes close to uyezd or town soviets, the latter no longer move away, but take up arms and join the ranks of our army. For all that, though, we are still far from having formed a stable, disciplined vigorous rear. When we have such a rear, we will take the offensive on our Southern front. It is clear to everyone how important the conquest of the Don region will be. It will have repercussions in the Ukraine and all over the world, for we shall develop forces there which will help us wage a struggle for mastery of the Caspian Sea. Just three days ago I was in Astrakhan, and I returned from there with seven large steam ships which had been captured from Bicherakhov. We needed these ships, for three of them were the biggest on the Caspian Sea, such ships as we did not possess. On them we shall mount our hundred-millimetre guns, which neither Bicherakhov [General L.F. Bicherakhov held positions in Daghestan, on the Western coast of the Caspian Sea, from which he was waging a two-front war: by sea against the Bolsheviks based at Astrakhan, and by land against the Turks who had come in through Armenia and Azerbaidzhan.] nor the Turks will have. And I think that our honest Soviet river Volga will soon flow into an equally honest Soviet sea, the Caspian. It is not permissible, of course, to slip into extreme optimism, but we cannot but acknowledge that our general military position is satisfactory.

On the Eastern Front there is complete demoralisation in the units fighting against us. We are now intensifying this by supplying information about the events in Austria-Hungary, about Bohemia having gained independence, and every Czechoslovak understands and knows that the road to liberated Bohemia lies not through Britain and France but through Soviet Russia or through Soviet Ukraine. As regards the Southern Front, the whole question there comes down to the tempo of our work. We must not allow our enemies to relieve each other. Krasnov, who until yesterday was in conflict and competition with Alekseyev, is now united with him: Bicherakhov is now at war with Turkey, but tomorrow he will be united with her. The Germans will undoubtedly clear the way for the British and French and will even help them in the common struggle against us. Tempo is of very great importance, and we must achieve tremendous speed: this together with the forces of the Red Army, will enable us to act so as to safeguard Russia from counter-revolutionary onslaughts.

I returned from the front with the conviction that there is much work to be done, and that there are also subjective obstacles: that, for instance, not all Soviet executives have realised that a centralized administration exists, and all orders that come from above have to be obeyed, that deviation from them is impermissible, and that we shall be pitiless towards those Soviet executives who have not yet understood this. We shall dismiss them, cast them out of our ranks, subject them to repression. There are still many difficulties, especially on the Southern Front, but our forces have grown larger, and we have more experience and confidence. If all of you comrades go from the Congress of Soviets refreshed from having met together, if you go back to the localities and report what you have heard here, and if you say that we have a Red Army that is strong and united, if you go to the localities with that conviction and explain that the principal task before us is to send all available and half-available forces to the Front, that all barrels have to be scraped and all superfluous bayonets and cartridges mobilized and sent back through the appropriate channels, to the front, that if there are motor-cars in the localities, it is necessary to do without them, and to send all of them to the front, as well – if you do all this, if you carry through the work of militarising all Soviet organizations, our country will be put on such a footing that it will fear neither the German nor the Anglo-French imperialists. Our Red Army and our rear will develop daily and hourly. And the slogan which Comrade Lenin issued in his letter to the CEC, that we need an army of three million men, will become reality. [The reference is to Lenin’s letter to the All-Russia CEC, October 3, 1918, in Collected Works, Vol.28, pp.101-104.]

While in the other countries a process of internal breakdown is taking place, with only a difference of degree between one country and another, while the war is giving rise there to a process of disruption between the mass of the soldiers and the commanders, and between the ruling classes and the masses generally, when they are going through the period we knew in February, March and April of this year – meanwhile, the opposite process is going on here. We are taking shape, getting into formation, becoming hardened. Here we have soldiers, taken partly from the old army, who are now fulfilling historical tasks, soldiers who cannot break down and disperse, which is something that happens now only in the countries of the bankrupt bourgeoisie. There the armies have either dispersed or are dispersing, or will disperse tomorrow, as a result of revolutionary agitation alone. Our soldiers fear no agitators, and, in confirmation of that, I bring to your notice the fact that on the Southern Front, where we are now in a difficult situation, confronted with the imperialists of Germany, France and Britain, not only the Right SRs but the Left SRs as well are fruitlessly engaged in baseless conspiracies. The details of one of these conspiracies in our Red Army (cries of ‘Shame!’) fighting against united Anglo-French imperialism will be published in the next few days.

Someone here uttered the word ‘shame’. Yes, shame, thrice shame! Our Red Army is now afraid of no agitators. It knows that the country has no task other than to supply and care for the Red Army. The Army has its commanding apparatus. All the forces that are available in the country are being devoted to the Red Army. We do not conceal our tasks and aims.

Our Red Army feels that it is the Soviet workers’ and peasants’ regime in arms. Our Red Army will uphold this regime. Comrades! Make serving the Red Army, with moral and material means alike, your first priority. The whole country must be mobilized, materially and spiritually. All the country’s strength and resources belong to the Red Army, which has to fight better than it has fought hitherto. The experience of the Red Army is being transformed into irreplaceable capital. It will accumulate this experience, it will not waste its strength. The whole country now faces a fresh process of forming units of workers and peasants, and everyone must see to it, in the localities, that these units which are being formed lack nothing they need, either materially or morally. They must feel that they are supported by the Soviet power. It is your duty to leave here conscious that there is no higher task than strengthening the Red Army and supporting the front.

And when this task has been performed, our front will be unshakable, and then we shall celebrate the anniversary of the revolution not only at home but also in Rostov, Kharkov, Kiev, Vienna and Berlin, and, perhaps, the international congress which Friedrich Adler was preparing to convene in July 1914, on the eve of the war, will be fully convened by us, in one of our Soviet capitals. Then we shall tell the Third International that it has assembled here, in Moscow or Petrograd, [A conference of the Second International was being prepared when the First World War broke out. The first Congress of the Third (Communist) International met in Moscow in March 1919.] because its congress is defended by the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army, the first army of communism in the whole history of the world.


[Signed by Ya. Sverdlov, V. Ulyanov (Lenin) and V. Avanesov. – L.T.]

The Soviet Republic faces increasing danger of invasion by the united hordes of world imperialism. Having entered the arena of world-wide slaughter under the false slogans of democracy and brotherhood of the peoples, the victorious Allied predators are now trampling more and more upon the weak peoples and states. The German working class, which was itself a victim of the policy of the bourgeois-noble monarchy of the Hohenzollerns, is now being ruthlessly stifled by Wilson, Lloyd-George and their accomplices. Belgium, freed from the Germans, becomes the booty of Britain: Hungary, Bohemia, all the countries of the Balkan Peninsula, are occupied by foreign armies. All the neutral countries meekly bend their necks beneath the yoke of the victors. France herself, a member of the group of victorious states, is actually occupied by Anglo-American and colonial armies, whose task is to stifle the revolution of the French proletariat.

Under these conditions of world-wide brigandage, plundering and violence, our country alone is now the true home of the independence of the working class, the bulwark of the weak and oppressed peoples, the fortress of the social revolution, namely, Soviet Russia.

Against it is directed all the malice, all the hatred of the world’s bourgeoisie. In the North and in the South, in the East and in the West, the Anglo-American and Franco-Japanese predators have advanced and are advancing hostile fronts against Soviet Russia: they are arming the White Guards, the Cossack Generals, the sons of the landlords and bourgeois, of the kulaks of town and country, landing expeditionary forces and threatening us with more and more hordes.

The All-Russia Congresses of Soviets have shown before the face of all mankind their desire to live in peace and fraternity with all peoples, and at the same time their readiness to defend, arms in hand, the socialist republic against the attacks of imperialist forces. Nothing with great satisfaction the successes of the Red Army and the Red Navy, the All-Russia Central Executive Committee reiterates the need to increase tenfold the efforts of the workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors, in the defence of the workers’ and peasants’ country.

By decree of the All-Russia CEC dated September 2, the Soviet Republic was proclaimed an armed camp.

This decree must now be put into effect in all branches of economic activity and state administration.

It is necessary to ensure that the army gets its supplies, and for this purpose to increase the productivity of labor.

It is necessary to ensure that the army and navy get their food, together with Moscow, Petrograd and all other centers of organized labor.

To this end, all grain-procurement and railway organs, at the center and in the localities, must be made to work at maximum tension and with the greatest conscientiousness.

Not only in the army and the navy, but also in the grain-procurement and transport spheres, and in war industry, a military regime must be established, that is, a regime of strict labor discipline, corresponding to the situation of a country which the bandits of imperialism have forced to transform itself into an armed camp.

In order to put these measures into effect, the closest unity must be created between the War Department, the Extraordinary Commission for Producing Supplies, and the departments of communications and grain-procurement, in joint work for the fulfilment of practical tasks.

To this end, the All-Russia CEC resolves to set up a Workers’ and Peasants’ Defence Council under the chairmanship of Comrade Lenin, as Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, to consist of the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, Comrade Trotsky; the People’s Commissar of Communications, Comrade Nevsky; the Deputy-People’s Commissar of Food, Comrade Bryukhanov; the Chairman of the Extraordinary Commission for Producing Supplies, Comrade Krasin (or their deputies); and, representing the Central Executive Committee, Comrade Stalin. [The name-index gives: Stalin, I.V. Old Bolshevik. Worked very closely with Comrade Lenin during the October Revolution. Member of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) continuously since 1912. During the Civil War was a member of the Revolutionary War Councils of various fronts. At present General Secretary of the RCP(B).]

The Defence Council is endowed with full powers for mobilizeing the country’s forces and resources in the interests of defence. The decrees of the Defence Council are unconditionally binding on all departments and institutions, both central and local, and on all citizens.

Direct leadership of the army and navy, and also of all institutions of the military and naval department, remains as before in the hands of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic.
In order to secure greater concentration of the activity of the latter institution, a Bureau is to be formed from it, consisting of Comrade Trotsky, as Chairman; the Commander-in-Chief, Comrade Vatsetis; and Comrade Aralov.

November 30, 1918

Published in Collected Decrees and Decisions of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, December 22, 1918, No.91-92, p.924


99. The regulations on the rear levies were published in the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars dated July 20, 1918 By this decree, all citizens not liable to be called up to the Red Army along with others of their age groups were conscripted for one year to serve in the rear levies. Special labor units in the form of independent labor battalions, were constituted from those called up in this way. They were assigned to trench digging, building jobs, labor on the roads, work stores and workshops in connection with the stockpiling of fuel and foodstuffs, loading and unloading, and so on. Strict measures were introduced for registering all citizens liable to call up between the ages of 18 and 45, in the following categories: (1) those living on unearned income; (2) those employing hired labor with a view to making profit; (3) members of the managements of joint-stock companies and industrial commercial and agricultural enterprises; (4) former barristers their assistants private attorneys, notaries, stockbrokers, middlemen, writers for the bourgeois press; (5) monks and clergy of all denominations; (6) persons belonging to the so-called liberal professions, if not performing functions of public utility; (7) former officers, civil servants, pupils at the cadet (Junker) training schools and in the Cadet Corps [The old established and prestigious Cadet Corps catered for sons of the nobility. The ‘Junker’ schools had been created to provide officer training for young men from the other classes of society.], and persons without a definite occupation.

100. On the counur-revolutionary conspiracy in the Baltic Fleet, headed by Shchastny, see notes 50-58.

101. The attempt on the life of Comrade Lenin was made on August 30 by a member of the SR party named Kaplan, during a meeting in the Mikhelson factory in the Zamoskvoretsk district of Moscow.

102. The Sixth All-Russia Extraordinaiy Congress of Soviets was held in Moscow on November 6-9, 1918, coinciding with the celebration of the first anniversary of the October Revolution. This congress considered the following questions: (1) the anniversary of the Revolution; (2) the international situation; (3) the military situation; (4) the building of Soviet power at the center, the Committees of the Poor, and the Soviets.

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Last updated on: 16.12.2006