The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


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

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This book covers 1919, the year that was hardest for us and was the richest in military events. The reader will not find in this book any sort of connected evaluation of our work in the sphere of military organisation or, still less, a history of the military operations. It is merely a collection of documents and materials. So far as I can judge, the collection is full enough, perhaps even too full: there is no lack of repetition, some of the orders are of formal rather than material interest, and so on. But it would really not be appropriate to make any changes in the present publication: while providing no coherence, such changes would at the same time deprive the documents of what is their principal significance, namely, their documentary character.

There is a prejudice to the effect that revolutionary armies are created by means of ‘agitation’, this being the impression formed by persons who see the matter from outside. It would be extremely harmful if such a notion were to be taken up by revolutionaries in other countries: that would mean that they had gained nothing from our experience. Without agitation, of course, no revolutionary army can be created – nor, for that matter, any other sort of army. But agitation forms only part of the problem. What is needed first and foremost is a correct conception: a plan for building the army which corresponds to the social, political and technical conditions and resources of the revolutionary country. Only on this basis can agitation, which explains to the working population and to the army itself the aims and tasks of the army’s work and struggle, develop a great force of comradely relations, devotion to duty and fighting enthusiasm. And, finally, on the basis of a correct conception and of agitation derived from this, it is necessary to have a clear-cut, immutable, but at the same time flexible, regime, as little bureaucratic as possible, that is capable of maintaining from day to day in the necessary dynamic equilibrium such a complex, artificial organism as an army is. These are the three factors of success, which themselves, in their turn, undergo change in the course of building the army: the conception becomes more and more deeply thought-out, agitation becomes more and more concrete, the regime becomes more and more precise. But woe if, in this process, the regime starts to get overgrown with the rubbish of red-tape-ism!

Agitation, just because it is agitation, that is, because it is expressed in articles and speeches, finds fuller reflection in the documents included in this book than does any other aspect of military work. The reader must keep this firmly in mind, in order not to fall victim to the above-mentioned prejudice about the allegedly all-embracing significance of agitation. In the military sphere more than in any other, the word merely supplements the deed.


L. Trotsky
January 8, 1924

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Last updated on: 18.12.2006