The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


II. Commanders and Commissars


By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, March 2, 1919, No.82, Moscow

A Necessary Elucidation of the
Internal Service Regulations of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army
Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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The internal service regulations which have been established as obligatory for the Red Army as a whole say nothing about the rights and duties of commissars. In order to prevent any misunderstandings and incorrect interpretations it is necessary to provide the following indications.

Commissars play a tremendous role in the building of our army. It can be said with complete confidence that we should not have had an army capable of fighting had it not been for the heroic, self-sacrificing work of the commissars. At the same time, it is perfectly clear that the institution of commissars is not a permanent institution, but has arisen from the transitional character of the present epoch in the building of the army.

When this work began we had hardly any commanding person nel who were aware of the tasks confronting the army and the spirit that had to inspire it. This situation made it necessary to split in two the organs of administration and command in the army: the technical side, rights and duties in the sphere of operations and command were assigned to the commanders, while the political, educational and supervisory rights and duties were assigned to the commissars. This type of organisa tion, as experience has shown, has produced, by and large, excellent results. Working hand in hand, commanders and commissars have created on our fronts armies of which the Soviet Republic is rightly proud. But, at the same time, all the work that has been done in building the army has prepared conditions which will lead, sooner or later, to the establishment of complete one-man management in the sphere of administration and command.

During the past year, many thousands of Red officers have been trained in the spirit of the new army. Many old comnian ders have become intimately linked with the new army and are filling with honour responsible posts at the head of the revolutionary forces. Thousands of commissars have obtained military experience in this period and are successfully taking command of their own units. All this is preparing conditions for the duties of commander and commissar to be combined in one person, bearing responsibility in military, political and moral respects alike for the unit entrusted to him.

The internal service regulations, which were not conceived just for a few weeks or months, were drawn up with a view to the future system of complete one-man management in the running of army units.

As regards the present transitional period, these regulations must be supplemented by the regulation concerning commis sars and all the subsequent orders and instructions defining the relations between commissars, commanders and soldiers of the Red Army, Communist cells, and soon. The responsible role to be played by the commissars continues for the present to remain in full force.

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Last updated on: 18.12.2006