The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


I. The Organisation of the Red Army


At the Conference of Representatives of the Central Directorate of Higher Military Schools and the Command Courses, October 14, 1919

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

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A substantial amount of the discussion was taken up with enumeration of our economic shortcomings, and it must be said that the picture drawn is a pretty miserable one. To a consider able extent, these shortcomings are to be explained and excused by the pressure of objective conditions which it is not in our power to correct in a short time, and which will be put right when we have liquidated the civil war and go over to peaceful economic and cultural Construction – when of course, the need for Command Courses will be less than it is now. All the same, among the shortcomings and defects listed, extremely scandalous are those the blame for which lies entirely with the relevant supply organs, particularly and especially with the billeting administration. That our authorities in charge of billeting were good for nothing has long been no secret so far as I am concerned. That here, under our very noses, our billeting administration was incapable of arranging courses, has today been confirmed, and I think that we shall now set on foot a very serious inspection in order to check on how the courses and course-students are accommodated in Moscow, why they are accommodated badly, who it was that failed to take the necessary measures in order to provide them with better accommodation, within the limits of ordinary possibilities. We shall set up a commission here, composed of representatives of the Central Directorate of Higher Military Schools, the Defence Committee, the Army Inspectorate, the State Control Commission and the Moscow Cheka. People have complained here that the Moscow Cheka wrecks courses, but in this case it will help to create courses, by calling strictly to account all those who have neglected to take the measures necessary to ensure the minimum conditions needed in order for normal work to be possible.

As regards textbooks, we shall see to it, as has already been done where the Military Academy is concerned, that the necessary measures are taken by the Central Supply Administration:

it must mobilise all the textbooks we possess, and must make the provision of textbooks either its own responsibility or that of the Central Directorate of Higher Military Schools, and do this not just on paper but by providing all the resources needed.

As regards rations and fodder, all the problems will be practi cally solved by the transformation of Moscow, in a certain sense, into a fortified area. The food situation promises to get better for the whole country, because in the Volga area and further, beyond the Urals, where Kolchak reigned for a long time, the peasantry are showing themselves extremely generous in the collection of grain, and the autumn grain-procurement operation of the People’s Commissariat of Food has been crowned with success, exceeding all expectations, so that there is hope that the food situation will improve.

The biggest scandal is the delay in monetary payments. We have brought this matter up more than once. Here, too, an inspection is required, so as to bring the guilty face to face with their responsibilities. This disgraceful situation can be tolerated no longer. The fact that, in Moscow, courses cannot obtain their money when it is due and that work is being held up on this account is an absolutely intolerable state of affairs.

That is all in connection with the supply side, but we shall make it the responsibility of the Central Supply Administration to check with the greatest thoroughness on absolutely all the requirements of the courses – those held in Moscow, first and foremost – and to satisfy them as far as possible: otherwise, we are wasting our time in establishing courses which are not able to get down to work. If, when you build a cart, you omit the fourth wheel, you haven’t got a cart.

The question of the personnel of the courses and the instructors has been clarified here, and we have discovered that there are very big deficiencies. A substantial proportion of the personnel needed for the courses has been transferred to the front as a result of the mobilisations: this transfer was due, of course, to the difficult situation, but it was undoubtedly a mistake, all the same. We now have to put this process into reverse, that is, to seek out at the front the persons whom we need. This will have to be done jointly with the All-Russia General Staff and the Field Staff. We must seek out those experienced commanders who have been through the fires of the civil war but have fallen victim to fatigue or wounds and who, though they have recovered, are not capable of filling directly operational posts of command, so as to put them in their right places and entrust them with the appropriate responsibilities in our command courses.

As regards the commissars, I think that we must now, with the help of Comrade Kursky, whom we have asked to check over the commissar personnel of the courses, pick out those who have shown in practice that they are able to cope with their responsible task, and attach them to particular courses, so that they do not spend their time hurrying from one course to another, which, naturally, serves no useful purpose apart from physical training.

As regards the courses themselves, the make-up of the student body, I think that it has been rightly said here that the time has come for us to stop bringing on these courses comrades who are completely unfamiliar with military matters. They must have previously lived as Red Army men and received elementary training. A sufficient number of volunteers has now entered the Red Army from among the advanced workers of Moscow and Petrograd. These include not a few conscious and even older fighters, revolutionaries, and it is these men that, after they have spent a certain time in the army, we ought to bring in for these courses – not freshly conscripted workers and peasants, who are so much lumber hindering the general progress of the course studies.

It is certainly also true that the curriculum needs to be reviewed. This curriculum was drawn up on the basis of old- time experience plus a guess at what new experience would amount to. Today we have, besides that guesswork or, so to speak, anticipation of experience, actual experience which has been empirically appreciated. Here, too, we must set up a commission, with participation by the All-Russia General Staff – we shall settle this matter in the next few days – and draw into its work both the responsible commanding personnel of the army in the field and a certain number of the most outstanding Red commanders who have been at the front and have developed their powers more or less successfully. Only such a commission can tell us what the school of war has given them, what they lack, and what aspects require to be accorded maximum attention.

As regards the political department of the Central Directorate of Higher Military Schools, what is needed here is a direct order to the Political Directorate of the Revolutionary War Council. We shall issue such an order. Among the excellent workers who have been taken from various posts and are now mobilised in the Red Army, a certain number must be assigned to work in the Command Courses.

The complaints about too much theory and the insignificant amount of practical studies are undoubtedly justified, for they are confirmed by statements made by the Red Commanders who, having arrived at the front, often ask permission to continue as rank-and-file Red Army men until they have accumulated the necessary elementary experience and are able to take up some positions of command.

This situation is often due to material conditions and practical difficulties, absence of the necessary means of transport, and so on. Here, the Central Supply Administration must, operating through the approp nate persons and commissions, check as soon as possible, from this standpoint, on the arrangement of studies, so that their theoretical character may not be the result of a lack of the necessary aids and resources.

I wish, further, to say a few words about the length of the period of instruction. There have been fully justified com plaints that the course is too short, that its duration ought to be approximately doubled, if not trebled. This would, certainly, be desirable, but I think that it is possible even within the limits of a short period to get better results if better use is made of the time. And so that better use may be made of the time, better material conditions are needed, together with stricter criteria where the administrative, commanding and teaching personnel are concerned: that is to say, we must promote those who cope well with their work, reward them, place them in better material conditions in every way and increase their allowances, give them more responsibility, entrust the best courses to them, so that there may be no sluggards, idlers or traitors here. We know that such persons do exist: at least, some teachers on the courses here in the Kremlin were arrested and confessed to being agents of Denikin, so that in this case, the Moscow Cheka not only did not disrupt the courses, it purged them for the good of the cause. Consequently, if we examine the commanding personnel closely from the standpoint of the energy they show, their zeal in relation to their work, it is necessary that the conscientious and energetic ones among them be given a certain degree of material and moral satisfaction. I fully support the proposal which has been made here for increasing the pay of the teaching and commanding staff of the courses and improving their material conditions, but not on an equal basis – with a certain gradation, rather, so that, as I said, the best among them are paid and rewarded better than the others. For this to be done, of course, we shall need a measure of inspection and surveillance: supervision will be required.

One of the comrades said that it is not necessary that a specialist be invariably appointed to be in charge of courses. I do not think we have any such hard-and-fast rule. What we need is somebody who will work well. If a specialist runs courses well, looking after all aspects of the work, we can leave him in charge even without a commissar. If a commissar works well, we will give him a specialist as his assistant, or remove the specialist altogether. It is time that the courses went over to the system of one-man management. In the case of those courses where the commissar has shown himself a man with a firm hand as organiser, we must say to him: you shall be the one in charge here, and, if you need a specialist, you will be assigned one as an assistant. If the man in charge copes well with his task, he

should be given complete authority. Where two men work well together, complementing each other, both should be left in post. It was mentioned here that the course-students are not homogeneous from the military standpoint. There are former NCOs and there are young workers and peasants who have never handled a rifle. However, along with better selection of teaching staff and more careful employment of them, we really need to form the students into groups for study. We must form separate groups on the courses, enabling the more successful of them to finish earlier, while the less successful are allowed an extension of their period of study. In this matter the person in charge of the courses must be permitted to develop his own initiative – under supervision, of course, by the Central Directorate of Higher Military Schools. It is obviously stupid to make combatant NCOs of the old army proceed in step with some village lad of 19 who has to be taught the ABC of military matters. Naturally, they cannot be put on the same footing. And, within the bounds of Moscow, we must carry out a redistribution. To some courses must be sent men who have had military experience, while other courses are reserved for the less well-prepared, who must be allowed a longer period of study. Initiative is called for in this sphere. It may be that some students will need five or six months, others less. If matters are arranged so that a certain proportion of the students complete their course in three months, I think it should be possible, once the well-prepared have been separated out, to agree to a lengthening of the other courses. I think this problem deserves to be worked on.

About the question of the fronts. Here, I cannot entirely agree with the view that the fronts are disrupting the courses. The fronts complain that they are sent poorly-prepared material, unsuitable for the actual forms of warfare. On the Eastern front this spring we were harassed by soldiers on skis. Our commanders were completely unprepared for that. In the South we have cavalry. In the North the war is being fought in defiles, with a huge deployment of artillery and use of engineering personnel and materials on an enormous scale. Thus, where we are concerned, every single front has its special features, and special features such as the late war did not possess, because in the old positional warfare all kinds of forces and materials were used on all sectors of the front. We have some excellent commanders on the Northern front, but if we were to transfer them to the Southern front they would lose their bearings, at first. In the North one of these commanders is accustomed to conquering inch by inch – the British have brought up a colossal quantity of artillery. In the South we see guerrilla warfare being waged on a huge scale. A quite different training is required. What could be done about this? We proposed to the commanders of the armies and the fronts that they take certain already- organised courses under their wing and introduce into them the modifications that ensue from the conditions of their own particular front. The first experiment was carried out with the Third Army, which was fighting in the Perm direction. The proposal made was as follows. The courses would continue to be courses, the general curriculum would remain unchanged but the army was given the right to introduce those changes which were derived from the peculiarities of its own front. The army would divide the students into groups, each -bearing the number of a division so that the students knew in advance that they would be joining the Third Army, one group going to such-and-such a division, another to a different one, and from time to time the instructors would take a group to visit its own division. In this way the students would gradually grow into their respective divisions, becoming used to them. All the Red commanders would enter the Third Army, and even the specific divisions previously indicated to them. That was the idea. It is necessary, evidently, to check on what the armies do with these courses. If the armies cannot make suitable use of them, we shall take the courses away from them, with ignominy and a reprimand. But some armies are showing very great enthusiasm and a live, creative spirit in this matter. For checking on this, here again there is no other means but inspection by a commission of the Central Directorate of Higher Military Schools, the Field Staff, the Political Directorate and the All-Russia General Staff. This commission will have to see what use the armies have made of the courses assigned to them. Orders have been given that the courses be developed, provided with everything they need and placed on a better ration-scale, for the fronts and the armies are better-off than the rear. If this is not done, if transfer of a course to control by an army proves detrimental in its effects, we will take the course away from that army and give it back absolutely to the Central Directorate of Higher Military Schools.

Also brought up here was the question of the Moscow Brigade. I think that we must now set up a conference between representatives of the Central Directorate of Military Schools, the Moscow Defence Committee, and the divisional staff, and come to an agreement that the forming of the course students into a single special brigade, and its inclusion in the division, should not affect the normal work of the courses – defining strictly the extent to which they are to be subordinate, and to whom. I think that such a conference can achieve all the results needed. It must be said that, in so far as this arrangement will entail participation in manoeuvres, war games and so on, it will be of very great educational value. When, in Petrograd, on the frontier with Finland, we included the course students in a combined force and organised a war game on that frontier, this proved to be a very good thing. The course-students were happy about it. Especially useful was the big discussion of the war game that was held after it was over, with all the courses taking part. All this was very important, because here the shortcomings of practice could to some extent be made up for. But in any case, whatever use is to be made of the composite brigade in the period of preparation for positional warfare in Moscow – let us hope that it will not have to be put into practice – this can be clarified through an exchange of views and I shall insist emphatically that it must not become detrimental in any way to the progress of studies.

I wish, further, to bring it to the attention of the commissar comrades, and of all those in charge of courses who are interested not only in their own narrow sphere of work, but also in the general situation of our country, that we can now treat it as no more than a bad joke when agents of Denikin appear on our courses. This experience may be repeated in the period immediately ahead, which will be, in the full sense of the word, an unfavourable period for us on the Southern front. It has already been established more than once that the majority of the regular officers have received no political education at all. Even the most honourable men, who may be excellent workers, exist with purely philistine sentiments if they have not had elementary political education. When Mamontov broke through to Tambov, it seemed to all the philistines that this meant the end of the world revolution and that Mamontov was settling all questions by means of a few thousand of his cavalrymen. Now, when the offensive has assumed a rather serious character, in the direction of Moscow, there must, naturally, develop among a section of the commanding personnel, and therefore also among the instructors on the courses, a certain palpitation of the heart: what is going to happen, they wonder, and how will they treat us? And so on. And since there are in Moscow a certain number of White-Guard agents – true, these are fewer since the crushing of the National Centre [30] – it is likewise possible that some of the commanding personnel may be caught on that hook. I think that, here, the Political Directorate and the commissars must keep in mind not only the courses but also the comrade commanders and instructors, because, while being teachers where military matters are concerned, they are pupils as regard politics, and sometimes, where politics is concerned, they know a great deal less than does a 19-year-old worker from a Moscow or Petrograd factory, as a result of his education and experience of life. So that, in order that they may not become, in the future, clients of the Cheka, they must now be made clients of the Political Directorate; that is, more attention must be given to their political consciousness, and they must be made to understand that the fate of Russia and of the world revolution will be decided not by the Denikinites and the Cossacks but by the world revolution of the working class.


30. The National Centre was a counter-revolutionary organisation oriented towards the Allies. Here is a brief history of this organisation, taken from the information in Comrade Krylenko’s speech as prosecutor. Already before the October revolution, in August 1917, a conference of public men was held in Moscow, under Rodzyanko’s chairmanship, which set up a Council of Public Men with this programme: (a) struggle against Soviet power, (b) restoration of private property, and (c) recognition of constitutional monarchy as the only acceptable form of government for Russia.

In March 1918 two counter-revolutionary centres were formed in the Soviet Republic at about the same time: a Right-wing centre, under the overall leadership of the former minister Krivoshein and Professor Novgorodtsev, and a Left-wing one, the so-called ‘League for the Rebirth of Russia’, which brought together Popular Socialists, Right SRs, the Yedinstvo group and Right-wing Mensheviks. As a result of a split on the question of the Brest peace, a section of the activists of the Right-wing centres formed a new associated, the ‘National Centre’, which leant towards the Allies. The offensive by Kolchak and Denikin aroused hope in these organisations that the Soviet power would soon fall, bringing together delegates from the Council of Public Men, the National Centre and the League for the Rebirth of Russia. This group was linked with Denikin and with a military organisation in the city of Moscow. All these organisations were discovered in August 1919 and their case was heard before the Supreme Tribunal of the All-Russia Central Executive committee between August 16 and 20, 1920. The accused in this case were Shchepkin, Leontiev, Urusov, Professor Kapterev, Professor Melgunov, V.I. Rozanov, S.A. Kotlyarevsky, Kishkin, D. Protopopov and many others. The majority were sentenced to be shot, but a section of them later benefited from an amnesty, their sentences being changed to various period of imprisonment and detention in a concentration camp.

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Last updated on: 23.12.2006