The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


I. The Organisation of the Red Army


Answer to questions put by a representative of the Soviet press

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

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You ask me about the general state of the Red Army. I must at the very outset tell you, as a representative of the Soviet press, that the tone in which the Soviet press talks at present about the Red Army seems to me not quite correct. Undoubtedly the Red Army has already rendered great services. But to speak of it as invincible is as yet premature. Revolutionary policy must be profoundly realistic. A policy of bluff, that is, of outward effects, verbal intimidation, military masquerades, is absolutely alien and harmful to us. From that point of view it must be said that the Red Army still has many shortcomings: there are still some weak units, and the supply services have not yet been brought up to the required level. Nevertheless, of course, it cannot be denied that the Red Army has taken a tremendous step forward during the last three or four months. This advance was made possible by all the preparatory work accomplished earlier.

We went over all at once from volunteering to the compulsory call-up of a number of age-groups. The success of this mobilisation necessitated a ramified apparatus of local military administration. This apparatus had been created. The credit for this belongs to the former Military Council, which correctly perceived its principal task as consisting in the creation of district, province, uyezd and volost military commissariats.

From its first day this Supreme Military Council made the basis of its programme the correct regulation of army formations, and it Worked out what their establishments should be. But these formations did not come into being, owing to shortage of manpower, and this was due to the absence of an apparatus for carrying out mobilisation.

That was why military operations amounted to the establishment along our threatened frontier of a thin screen of volunteer units of dubious reliability. Behind this screen, intense work went ahead to create the mobilisation apparatus. [19]As soon as it was more or less ready, we made a first experiment by mobilising two age-groups of workers in Moscow. The experiment succeeded splendidly. It was extended to other provinces, and everywhere that there was an apparatus that was more or less suitable, and the will to use it, mobilisation was carried through impeccably.

The Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, which was set up in conformity with Soviet Russia’s international situation, inherited from the Supreme Military Council all the necessary pre-requisites for regulating formations and for work along the right lines. But, as has been frequently reported to the appropriate institutions, with a military apparatus alone we should never have achieved the results that are now before us. The mortal danger hanging over Soviet Russia placed the War Department at the centre of attention for the Soviet power and all Soviet institutions, and resulted in a powerful influx of first-class Soviet forces into the ranks of the War Department, especially into the field institutions and field armies.

One has to have observed the process of improvement of the unreliable units and training of the young ones in the army at the front in order to appreciate the huge, really decisive importance of the infusion into the military apparatus of the revolutionary will to secure victory at any cost, and it was just this will that was contributed by the revolutionary Soviet executives, the old Communists, who put themselves at the disposal of the army.

True, it must be mentioned here that a certain proportion of the executives who have appeared at the front recently are not up to their task. And that is not surprising. Among the many thousands of commissars, organisers and agitators there could not but have percolated through some dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people who arrived where they were by accident, even some careerists who had attached themselves to the Communist banner. At the front they encounter the strict discipline which is called for by the military situation and which keeps everyone aware that, out there, it is not an amusing game that is being played but a war that is being waged to the death. Obviously, those accidental guests of ours, with their false Communist passports, experience very great dislike for the way things are done at the front, and often they try to spread their own sentiments among those around them, and to introduce these sentiments into the rear.

The political departments of the armies and fronts, which are headed by highly experienced and reliable comrades, are tirelessly digging out and eliminating such undesirable elements from among the Communist executives. Communist cells have been formed in the Red Army units, and they play an immense role in the education of the army. Here too there have been, to be sure, and are still observable, defects and misunderstandings. Some soldiers imagined that the title of Communist entailed privileges, and we saw an influx of such privilege- seekers into the cells. Communist cells which had been formed in haste sometimes displayed a tendency to compete with the commanders and commissars and to take over the running of a unit. Other Communists shirked the primary duties of a soldier of the Red Army.

I speak openly about these phenomena with all the greater freedom because they are exceptional, and evoke a resolute and firm rebuff from the overwhelming majority of the conscious executives at the front. The Party and military authorities have explained firmly that a Communist in the Red Army has no more rights than any other Red Army man – but only more duties.

As you know, the problem of the attitude towards the military specialists has been an acute one. There was a time when this question greatly worried wide circles in the Party. Now, after hundreds of authoritative Party executives have them selves worked at the front and discovered for themselves the state of affairs, no ‘problem’ remains regarding the military specialists. In this sphere there is not and cannot be any question of bringing up that matter on grounds of principle. It is a matter of practice and individual estimation, of the combining of forces, of drawing in suitable executives and pushing out unsuitable ones, of prosecuting traitors and giving all-round support to honest, conscientious and competent executives.

As you know, our Commander-in-chief is a military specialist. I hope that it will occur to none of the comrades who know of Comrade Vatsetis’s outstanding work to reproach the Soviet power for having recruited this military specialist. In command of the fronts stand military specialists, that is, officers of the old army with higher military training. The armies are headed by both military specialists and young Soviet commanders who have been through the school of guerrilla warfare. As time goes by, such Soviet commanders will increasingly come to take over command of large military formations, for in our epoch the experience and the role played by particular individuals increases rapidly.

Have there been cases of betrayal? Certainly, there have. They are inevitable under conditions of civil war. As well as betrayals by military specialists we have seen mutinies by conscripts. But nobody would take it into his head to reject conscription. The question has to be put in a different way: we need to appreciate that betrayals by individual specialists, when they occur nowadays, are quite unable to shake the front, still less to deal it a decisive blow. We saw that already in connection with the Muravyov experience, [The Muravyov mentioned here is the officer who commanded the Red forces defending Petrograd in November 1917, then commanded the Red forces in the Ukraine, and finally commanded on the Eastern front, against the Czechoslovaks, When he tried to lead his troops against the Soviet Government, in support of the Left SR revolt, he was shot by his own men.] when our army was as yet incomparably weaker than it is today, and was not distinguished for its steadiness.

This is not, I repeat, a question of principle, of counterposing an ‘anti-officer line’ to an ‘officer line’. That is misunderstanding and childishness. We need to select good executives from everywhere that they are to be found, to place them in the appropriate positions, to co-ordinate experience with revolutionary will, and by so doing to strive for the results that we need.

A few months ago we formed the Central Supply Administration, and put old military workers at its head. Things didn’t work out, even though there were, alongside the military specialists, some old Party workers acting as commissars. The former lacked the will to succeed, while the latter did not have the necessary understanding of the requirements inherent in the task. But during these thirteen months of the Soviet regime, military work at the province and district level has already trained new specialists for us.

Today, for example, we have appointed to head the Central Supply Administration a Party executive who has behind him a serious record as an organiser. [20]

On the other hand it must be said that, in the process of joint work, a number of military specialists have become fully linked with the Soviet power and even with the Party.

The fate of those officers who fled to the Ukraine and to the Don cannot offer any encouragement, either, for breaking with our authority and betraying it. On the Don and with Denikin, officers serving in the ranks make up entire companies and battalions, which are surrounded by an atmosphere of hatred from the working population, and know that they can expect no quarter. In the Ukraine the officers have besmirched them selves by entering the service of Skoropadsky and Wilhelm, and they are now left without support and will perish if Anglo-French aid does not reach them in time.

Meanwhile, that section of the officers who from the very outset placed themselves at the disposal of the government of Soviet Russia has enjoyed every opportunity to work for strengthening the country’s military might. It is not to be wondered at if, among those officers who took up a hostile attitude towards the Soviet power under the influence of ignorance and calumny, there has been a mental turn-round. They have seen that the only force which during this period has remained equally hostile to German and to British imperialism was and remains the Soviet power.

I am reliably informed that such a turn-round has also occur red among a considerable section of the officers who are in the Ukraine. Many of them would like to get out of there and into Great Russia, but are afraid of encountering severe punishment. The policy of the Soviet power is not a policy of retrospective vengeance. It is governed by revolutionary expediency.

That is why, in full agreement with the leading institutions of our Party, I consider it completely possible to allow into Soviet Russia those of the former officers who come to us in a penitent spirit and state their readiness to serve in whatever post is assigned to them.

Some comrades are sometimes worried by the thought that Bonapartism will arise among us, out of the soil of the revolutionary war. That is really an anxiety which should cause nobody any sleepless nights. No doubt we have some ambitious ensigns who read Napoleon’s biography. But the whole political setting, the class relations, the structure of the army, the international situation all rule out the possibility of Bonapartism. Above all, this possibility is ruled out by the powerful role played by our Communist Party: it guides the country’s entire life, it makes peace, it wages war, it organises the army, it supervises the commanders, both great and small. Any scheme, whether among the military or elsewhere, to oppose the Party, to use the army for purposes alien to the Communist revolution, must inevitably suffer miserable failure. The mere notion of making such an attempt would not arise in any sane person’s brain.

Regarding the further course of military events I can say no more at present. The situation is, in general, extremely favour able for us: in the East, where a fight is going on between the SRs and the Kolchakites, and in the South, where the Petlyurists are gravitating towards the Soviet power and the Communists grow stronger every day. In the West we are advancing further and further, which means, of course, that the line of our future battles lies ever further away from Moscow – if matters do come to large-scale, decisive battles with the forces of Anglo- French imperialism. The Defence Council is now carrying through with all possible vigour the militarising of the country’s forces and resources. The productivity of our war factories is rising – in some of them it has risen very considerably. We have undoubtedly become richer than many suppose in the matter of supplies. We need to mobilise our wealth. In particular we need to collect in the small arms at present held by the population. This is now being done. In the rear there are many formations which will be hurled into battle at the decisive moment. Our shortcomings are many, our tasks are immense, but we have every justification for looking to the future with confidence.

That is all I can tell you.


19. On the screens, see note 48 to Volume I.

20. The Central Supply Administration of the Red Army was formed on June 1, 1918. All the main supply administrations and institutions were placed under its authority. The Central Supply Administration was headed by a Council consisting of a Chief Supply Officer, who was a specialist, and two commissars. This form of organisation lasted until December 1918, when, with the appointment of Comrade Mezhlauk as head of the Central Supply Administration, the principle of one-man management was introduced.

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Last updated on: 18.12.2006