The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


I. The Organisation of the Red Army


Interview given to a Rosta correspondent

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

* * *

On the Eastern front I convinced myself of something about which, moreover, I had no doubt even before I went there: namely, that our setback on that front is not dangerous, and still less catastrophic, in character. [22]

The setback constituted by the loss of Ufa is, of course, a serious one. The retreat by our units was not halted everywhere, and where it was halted the necessary steadiness was not achieved in every case. However, if we consider the conditions in which our war is being fought we should rather be surprised that we do not suffer isolated setbacks more frequently than we do.

We are fighting on a front 8,000 versts long. Our army has grown quite large, but if we take into account the incredible length of the front, it is clear that we are compelled to stretch our military manpower to an extreme extent. The reinforcements that we send are often, so to speak, semi-finished, in need of further processing, and before they become integrated into the organism they may for a certain period even weaken it.

The question of reinforcements is now the most important sphere of work for the military authorities. The army at the fronts has been defined and established, the cadres have been formed and tempered in battle. It is necessary, therefore, to keep the numbers of the fighting armies up to the required level. (Their losses in dead and wounded and, most important, through illness, are rather large.) At the same time, the reinforcements must be of the right quality, from both the military and the political standpoint. The sources from which reinforcements are drawn are the holding units in the rear. All the human material passes through them. Consequently we must keep these holding units at the proper level, both militarily and politically.

It has to be said plainly that the political side is lagging badly here, The reasons for this are known. All the political workers are over-burdened with all manner of Soviet work, and the result is that agitation is very much neglected: not only in the countryside and in the army, but even among the workers, the agitation and education sections are not coping with their task, and cannot cope, since they do not possess the necessary forces. The best agitators are filling various responsible posts. There remains another method – drawing into the work the Party organisation as such, that is, obliging every responsible political worker, regardless of the post he occupies, to perform work in the sphere of agitation and enlightenment, both generally and, in particular, in the army.

Some extremely light-minded people who are unable to forget anything and don’t want to learn anything continue to say that the reinforcements are poor politically because the work of formation has been handed over entirely to military specialists. But that is the purest nonsense. It is precisely at the head of the local military administrations in the rear – the commissariats in the uyezds, provinces and districts – that more or less responsible political workers have been placed. Under the new establishments, the military specialists have simply been turned into technical assistants. [23] Thus, all power is in the hands of the political worker who acts as commissar. Blaming the shortcomings in political work on the military specialist simply means indulging in enervating gossip.

Our task now is to create a firm nucleus of conscious workers in every holding battalion. This will be, so to speak, a leaven which must be safeguarded, and expended only in proportion as it naturally increases. Around this nucleus the less conscious elements will crystallise. All experience testifies how important it is not to allow alien class elements, which in practice means kulaks, into the army. Here, however, we come up against the difficulty of defining the line that distinguishes the middle peasant from the kulak. This question will be decided quite differently in different provinces, depending on the local conditions of economic life. But the military commissars, acting on their own, cannot decide this question. We touch here, generally speaking, on the fundamental question of our policy towards the middle peasant. Since this question has been put on the order of the day as the most important one, both in practical life and in the decisions taken by our leading institutions, there can be no doubt that practical methods for distinguishing between a middle peasant and a kulak will be laid down as fully as is necessary for the guidance of local workers. And this will make it possible for us to keep kulaks out of the Red Army and to oust them from the sphere of military training.

Among the causes that have influenced the lessening of staunchness on certain sectors of the front I cannot refrain from pointing to the itch to criticise which has seized hold of some comrades. I do not at all mean to imply that criticism of military policy is impermissible, or even undesirable. It is both permissible and desirable, although up to now nobody has offered any criticism that has substance to it. They merely catch up with the work of the War Department several months late, and, retaining their itch to engage in criticism, try to find, so to speak, new points at which to apply it. What is certainly impermissible, though, is that political workers who do not share the viewpoint of our military system, or who merely feel a vague hostility toward it, should be allowed to work at the front. An army is not a discussion group, and this is especially the case when it is an army engaged in battle with the enemy. We need workers who believe in their work and are competent to perform it, without looking over their shoulders, or sideways: otherwise it will not prove hard to ‘loosen up’ even the very best of armies.

If, I repeat, we keep in mind the length of our front and the extent of the territory over which the Red Army has fought its way during the winter, the prolonged preparation our enemies have carried out for their simultaneous spring offensive, the link between this offensive and the carefully prepared revolts, to which the Left SRs have contributed their experience of illegality and their illegal apparatus, we can say with complete confidence that the army has stood up splendidly to the united onslaught of our enemies.

I hope and believe that the period immediately ahead will see successes for us.

March 27, 1919


22. On the situation on the Eastern front at this time, see below, note 70.

23. During the existence of the Supreme Military Council and in the first period after the organisation of the military commissariats (see note 48 to Volume I), the latter were headed by military specialists, each of whom was flanked by two commissars. From the second half of 1919 new establishments were introduced, under which responsibility formiitary work, in the military districts, provinces and uyezds was placed on the military commissars: military leaders from among the specialists were appointed to work with them as technical assistants.

return return

Last updated on: 18.12.2006