The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


III. Going Over to the Militia System


Speech in the debate in the commission on studying and using the experience of the World War of 1914-1918, November 28, 1920 [38]

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

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In the course of the debate a striking analogy emerged, namely, the similarity between the building of our Red Army and the building of the Russian army during the first period of the Great Northern War. [The Great Northern War (1699-1721) resulted in the replacement of Sweden by Russia as the dominant power in the Baltic region, and Russia’s emergence as a major European power. In order to create a modern army, Peter the Great enlisted the services of specialists from Western Europe. It was during this war that the city of St Petersburg was built, on territory conquered from the Swedes: forced labour was used, and thousands died working to lay the foundations in the marshy ground.] Quite recently I happened to read some works devoted to this period, and I was impressed by this similarity. It is to be observed if one compares the initial stages of what was one and the same process. Peter built an army from scratch, or almost from scratch. We are doing the same thing. In the approach to this task attempts were made at rationalisation, that is, at building the army in accordance not with tradition but with reason. This is what, above all, strikes one by its similarity. These attempts to imbue the task with rationality did not always, however, produce favourable results, and big mistakes were made, both in that time and in our own.

It must be pointed out that it is not so much that there is a similarity between the building of Peter’s army and that of the Red Army as that the entire period of transition to standing armies in the Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries had features in common with the period we are living through. The need for a standing army made it possible to create a regular army with a lengthy period of training. This regular army seemed at first to be self-sufficient: they adapted themselves to it, and based upon it the linear tactics of those days.

What was striking in the period of the Red Army’s infancy – from which it has not yet emerged – namely, tactical immobility, fear of being outflanked, was also typical of the 18th century. What is the explanation? This happened because our development as individuals – and the individual I have in mind here is the army – is identical with that of the species, the type. The development of a baby presents a typical picture of the development of mankind as a whole, though on a reduced scale. In primitive times man walked on all fours, and only gradually, as he acquired experience, did he come to walk upright. It is the same with the building of an army. Peter began at the beginning. We too began at the beginning and passed through the history of the development of all armies in general: from guerrilla-ism we passed, or are passing, to the regular army. It would be very interesting to trace through the ages, through the centuries, the development of the art of war and to distinguish the features typical of the transition from one age, one century, to another.

From the scientific standpoint, a comparison between our epoch and that of the Great Northern War is not accidental or arbitrary in character: there is a scientific basis for it, even though within very narrow limits. This is explained by the fact that we are reproducing a certain phase in the development of Peter’s army. One can observe, for example, a certain analogy as regards the attitude to specialists. In Peter’s time they were foreigners: the mass of the people of that time expected that these men would deceive and betray them, and so on. In the period we are living through, owing to the rupture that took place between the old army and the new, there has been distrust which has gradually disappeared as new military leaders, who have come from among the masses themselves, have felt the need to learn from the specialists and, as a result, to respect them. Under Peter the military commanders learnt from the foreigners and, as a result, learnt to respect them. Many such analogies could be drawn.

I proceed to the question of how an army is to be built during actual war. This question was linked in the oddest way in some of the speeches made here with the question of a militia, with the word ‘militia’ being used quite arbitrarily. One of the speakers identified militia with ‘Makhnovism’. It is possible to find similarity between our epoch and Peter’s, but I cannot understand how anyone can compare ‘Makhnovism’ with a militia. What is a militia? If we contrast it with a regular army, what are the features of the latter that we have in mind? Protracted training in barracks, a certain psychological cohesion, automatism. Since these did not exist in Makhno’s forces, that means, it is said that they constituted a militia. But allow me to point Out that a militia is built in conformity not only with negative but also with positive characteristics. Let us look at it in another way. Figures were quoted here. In the beginning there were two corps, then considerably more appeared, which means that the material existed out of which these could grow. It may be that the latest contingents have not undergone bar racks training to the full extent, or, if they have, it was a long time ago, and the effects of this training have worn off. Consequently, what we have here is two-thirds militia. If you want to understand the concept of militia in a vague, philistine sense, as meaning an army put together in haste, without passing through the barracks, you will be right. From that standpoint all the armies taking part in the imperialist war were militias, closely and organically based upon regular armies. What is it that we want? We want to form precisely the opposite of this, namely, a regular army based upon a militia. More than three million soldiers of the Tsarist army gave themselves up as prisoners of war. What sort of regular army is it in which such masses surrender? It is not a regular army, but the worst sort of militia, an incoherent herd of men with rifles in their hands. The best front-line regiments did not surrender: with them it was different. The basis, the cadres, proved too few, the army had grown beyond them. The limit to this growth during the world war was exhaustion of the nation’s entire resources.

The proposal was put forward here that we form 75 corps immediately, but it would be still better if we could transform the whole nation into a regular army and create another nation which would sustain this first nation. However, these are unrealisable dreams: a division of labour is inevitable. Some body has to cultivate the land, to do the ploughing, while somebody else does the fighting, or gets ready for war. Germany contributed the most where numbers in the army were concerned. France contributed even more in the last year of the war. And what happened? This very foundation proved inadequate, and in the first period of the war a division was made between active regiments and reserve regiments. A little later on in France, when the reserve regiments had become seasoned and combat-ready, Joffre did away with this distinction. Those reserve regiments constituted an untrained mass, a ‘militia’ in the everyday sense of the word.

Thanks to the fact that the Germans had better railways, better barracks and better schools, this ‘militia’ was in their case considerably more useful than in ours, with our poverty and backwardness, the ignorance of our peasantry, and so on.

What do we want now? We want to create a regular army on the basis of a militia serving as a system of education. In that connection the problem of readiness for war, external and internal, arises. This question was considered too schematically during the debate. It was made to appear that our Red Army is suitable only for internal war, and we shall have to form a new army to wage war externally. I cannot agree with this. Let us take the period of the Great French Revolution. The army was formed then almost in the same way as ours. I say ‘almost’ because the change was not so profound. That revolution – radical, but bourgeois – only half-demolished the old army, and the new army was formed by an amalgam with the old line regiments and on the basis of universal military service. It was formed in the first place to put down internal revolts: at the same time, however, the British made their landings, and the troops were sent to the Vendée to put down the revolt there so that the army did not exist merely to perform internal tasks. At first the army was no good, as was to be expected, but in the process of internal struggle it developed, grew strong, and eventually conquered all Europe.

Of course, both the army of the Great French Revolution and our army had to develop on the basis of a certain idea. This idea was intelligible to the leading circles but it could also take hold of the deepest depths of the people. Glib Uspensky describes an idealised type of the old-time soldier, Kudinych. [In 1871 Uspensky visited Western Europe. It was the time of the Franco Prussian War, and what he saw of this led him to write an article, entitled A Tender Conscience, in which he denounced what he regarded as the brutality and vindictiveness of the Prussian soldiery. He contrasted them with an ex-soldier of peasant origin, named Kudinych, who was ending his days as a bird-scarer in Uspensky’s kitchen-garden, and whom Uspensky presents as typical of Russia’s soldiers of those days. If you ask Kudinych about the various peoples he has fought against in the Tsar’s service, – the Poles, the Hungarians, the Circassians – he speaks well of them all, and cannot under stand why they ‘revolted’. He is a good soul, rather childlike, with his head full of superstitions, who would not, on his own initiative, hurt a fly: but, in the Tsar’s army, he has hurt many human beings. Kudinych is meek, with a strong sense of having ‘sinned’ during his life; and Uspensky finds him much preferable, as a type, to the Prussian soldiers he had seen at work in France.] I do not refer to Shtukaturov, who is marked by automatic thinking and extremely meagre personal feelings, his diary recalls that of Nicholas II – ’Had a meal, played cards’ – reflecting hardly any feelings. I speak of Kudinych, who, though lacking individual consciousness, was nevertheless splendid material in the hands of commanders like Suvorov. Suvorov knew the undifferentiated mentality of the primitive milieu and, because of this, performed miracles.

However, as new relationships developed, the army began to break up. The revolutionary army began to be built along with the civil war, with the revolution, with the break-up of the old army. The civil war in America also began with the building of an army. Before that struggle began, the army in America consisted of barely 10,000 regular soldiers. The analogy is instructive and interesting even in matters of detail, such as the contrast between the North and the more reactionary South. The local planters, with their households, living in steppe conditions, with the development of cattle-breeding, had much in common with the kulak society of our south – the Don and Kuban regions. The Northerners had no cavalry, and this was why the South enjoyed superiority in the first months of the war. Eventually, the Northerners learnt their lesson and started to beat the Southerners.

Our civil war is in reality not just an internal war, it possesses an international character. Yudenich would not have been in a position to fight if he had not formed an army resembling the mercenary armies of the 16th and 17th centuries. The White Guard Yelizarov records, in his personal account, how distressing he found it when he had to meet Yudenich secretly in someone’s flat because the British did not allow meetings at which a British agent was not present. Without foreign aid Yudenich could not have fought: everything in his army was foreign, up to and including the airmen. And if our struggle has not assumed an openly international character, that is only because Britain is not in a position to move her own forces against us: she has had to egg on the Finns and Letts, arming and inciting them, threatening to leave them without bread, to cut them off from the rest of the world, if they won’t fight against us. If Britain were to land forces of her own in Finland and Estonia, would that alter the picture of the civil war? No, the change would only be quantitative: two or three more corps would be added, and the war would become harder to fight. But its historical significance would remain as before: the working masses of Russia fighting against world imperialism.

We have entered an age when the distinction between external and internal wars, between civil war and international war, has been erased. The international ties have been drawn too tight by previous development, the peoples have been bound closely together in a common fate. In every country, just as today in our own, the bourgeoisie feels firmly linked with the British bourgeoisie and the British monarchy. At the same time, you will not find a single British worker who is against us: they are all for us. This fact, the world-wide growth in support for us, rules out the possibility of direct war between us and them. In the same way, internal war imperceptibly and inevitably passes over into external war.

I mentioned earlier that in every viable army there is a moral principle. How is this expressed? For Kudinych the religious idea lit up the idea of the Tsar’s power, lit up his rural existence, and that served as his moral idea, even if it was a primitive one. At a critical moment, when the old idea had been shattered but Kudinych had not yet found a new one to live by, he let himself be taken prisoner, The alteration in the moral idea entailed the collapse of the army. Only the presence of a new, fundamental idea made it possible to build the revolutionary army. This does not mean that every soldier understands what he is fighting for. That is certainly not the case. It is said that a certain SR who had fled to the South, when asked about the reasons for the Red Army’s victories over the Whites, replied that the Red Army knows what it is fighting for – which, of course, does not mean that every single Red Army man knows this. And so it is, thanks to the circumstance that we have a large percentage of conscious people who know what they are fighting for, that our army possesses a moral idea and is therefore victorious.

Discipline means, essentially, compulsion by the collective, subordination of the personality, the individual, an automatic subordination inherited from traditional psychology; but, in our case, along with that, there are perfectly conscious elements, that is a people who know for the sake of what it is that they are subordinating themselves, and are imbued with this spirit of subordination. These elements form a minority, but a minority which gives expression to the idea that is felt by all the masses that surround it. In so far as it becomes imbued with the idea of solidarity of the working masses, the element which is not completely conscious – and this element makes up three-quarters of the entire army – subordinates itself to the ideological hegemony of those who express the idea of the new age. The more conscious men shape the public opinion of the regiment, and of the company, which inevitably subordinates itself to this, and so discipline acquires a basis of support in public opinion. Without that, no discipline can stand firm, and least of all the severe discipline of the transitional period.

Peter built his capital by means of the cudgel because the international situation of the country demanded this. And if he had not done it, the general change that took place would have been dragged out over a long period. The pressure from the higher technique of the West evoked in the advanced elements of the people a sense of the need to pull themselves together, to cut their hair and shave their beards, to learn new ways of waging war. Peter, in promoting a new moral idea, acted with ruthlessness. The people suffered under him, but nevertheless submitted to him and even, through their best representatives, gave Peter their backing. The broad masses vaguely sensed that what was happening was inevitable, and supported him. In this sense, the revolutionary army does not differ in principle from other armies. A moral idea is always needed, but one with a new content, corresponding to the new level attained by mankind.

Coming back to the militia system, I should like first of all to ensure that the word ‘militia’ is not understood merely as the antithesis to a regular army, but is defined more precisely. A regular army is usually understood as being a standing army, properly organised, trained in barracks, and with a psychological automatism that has been achieved in that way, something which is of very great importance. In contrast to this concept, people understand by a militia an army put together in haste, without psychological automatism, and either acting in an impulsive way or else not acting at all, but surrendering. In present-day wars, insofar as these are inevitable, nations do not surrender until they have exhausted all their economic and all their moral and physical resources, in the sense of the human material at their disposal. At the same time, the type of regular army which existed up to our day has now outlived itself. In war time it is replaced by the worst type of militia: by that hermaphrodite which is based on the old, very narrow organisation of cadres.

The mathematical deductions that were made here are inescapable. On the one hand we need, as was said here, 75 corps, but if we are to form these corps in peacetime, we shall have to base them on a foundation of production which does not detach people for a period of three to five years from the economy and the production-process: and that can be done only by bringing the regiment close to the field, the factory, the village, so that these constitute so many regimental, brigade and divisional districts. This is the basic conception regarding the organisation of training, fulfilment of which depends entirely on our own forces and resources and on the breathing-space which history will allow us. We shall work for perhaps five to eight years on the new army – let us call it in the meantime just ‘new’, we’ll put the ‘militia’ hat on it afterwards. During this period we shall recover our breath a little, conditions of life will become easier, our economic culture will improve, the factory wheels will turn – and, undoubtedly, more resources will become available for building the army. Internal conflicts and disturbances will disappear under these conditions.

The education of the militia army can be brought up to the average level of the regular army. We shall have begun with the 16-year-olds. As regards the first ten or fifteen years of life, what will be of, enormous importance will be pre-call-up preparation and militarisation of the schools. What is it that is attractive about a good army? Precision of performance and consciousness of responsibility: act when the commanders can not see you just as though they can! And our task is to imbue the entire social order with that principle.

We were recently visited by an American engineer, a pupil of Taylor, whose system is based, as you know, on precise calculation of the worker’s movements. This principle would, of course, be of very great value in the army: upon this basic principle, on which all human culture is founded, namely, achieving the maximum results with the minimum expenditure of energy, all tactics are essentially based. Taylor’s system plays a great role in America. The engineer I have mentioned says that the Taylor system can be fully developed only under the socialist order. This idea must also be introduced into military technique, into the army of the socialist state. And, since an enemy threatens us, we shall imbue with this idea of military education, of precision and assiduity in behaviour, the entire education of our children and youth – militarising, in the best sense of the word, our entire country.

What does militarising mean? It means inculcating the sense of responsibility and, therefore, forming the best type of cultured person. But it is said: if war is going to come within three years, we shall not succeed in doing this. I think that there are no grounds for such fear. If Britain cannot fight us now, in three years’ time she will find herself in such hot water that all the Lloyd Georges and Clemenceaus will be scalded with it. She will be in no state to attack us. A great historical storm is going to break out within a few years, the thunder of which will then be heard by all. Perhaps the countries of the East will take up arms against capitalism in ten or fifteen years’ time. That is problematical, but it may happen. If the Entente ends its war against us now, we shall gain a big respite. If they do draw us into war during the next three years, say, we shall not have finished building the militia. It is said that we shall not have completed the creation of the militia-type army, while we shall have lost the old one. But that is not true at all.

We have to adapt the apparatus of the Red Army, its cadres, to the territory of our country, to the districts. When demobilisation takes place we must have a definite plan, in conformity with a basic militia system, that is, we must select the best cadres, the sound and strong ones, and place them territorially so that they become the cadres of territorial units, in each of which will be included, and to which will be assigned, a definite number of citizens of the appropriate age-groups, so that, when he is in the factory, a citizen may feel that he is a member of his own regiment. Does anyone suppose that, with our present poverty, we could maintain for five years a Red Army of the present size? Of course not. Not a single country, even one much richer than ours, would be in a position to do that. But we do possess this advantage, that we have already passed through an acute period, a period of revolution, and we are demobilising soldiers who will not go out into the country as bearers of the idea of revolt and destruction, which is what will happen in Britain and France, but soldiers who, regardless of any disagreements there may have been in the Red Army, have demonstrated their moral superiority over the other armies that have arisen in Russia. These soldiers will arrive in the villages as a factor of order.

The transition from mobilisation for war to mobilisation for labour will not be so very difficult. By means of these soldiers we shall mobilise industry and introduce universal labour service, and not just on paper but in reality. Why are we organising universal training at the same time as a regular army? Because nobody has told us beforehand how long we shall have to fight. Consequently, all active work in our country, all cultural construction, has had to be carried on in accordance with the prospect that in five years’ time, say, we shall be forced to fight on all fronts. Therefore, we have to be well prepared in every respect. The difficulties, under our conditions, will be of a territorial character. Our country is large, the communications are poor, the apparatus for mobilising people is weak. This means that the enemy can invade before we have set our militia army on its feet. There are also technical difficulties, but these apply to the regular army as well. In the present state of the roads in Russia mobilisation would be so difficult that operations must always be planned on the assumption that the enemy has succeeded in invading us.

The name Jaurés has been mentioned here. Let us trace his thinking on the matter of mobilisation. To the ruling circles of France Jaurés [Jean Jaurés’s book L’Armie nouvelle was published in 1910. It presented arguments in support of a bill for the reorganisation of the French military system which was printed at the end of the book.] spoke more or less like this: ‘Germany has the greater capacity for offensive war, while we have the greater capacity for defensive war, which may develop into offensive war. But, under these conditions, it may happen that the Germans will invade us.’ Much was written in the papers about the violation of Belgian neutrality. That was an episode of the war which was disagreeable for the peasants and workers living on the frontier, but it was nothing more than an episode in the overall perspective of the war. In general, said Jaurés, you should have in view the establishment in good time of a line of defence-on your own, French territory. In accordance with the tempo of the organisation of the militia army, this will be divided into districts. Work out how long the Germans will take to reach this defence line, and in what numbers they will arrive at it. Here they will be held up by local territorial corps, frontier units and militia. All the remaining forces will be concentrated towards this line. That was, roughly, what Jaurés said.

It was mentioned here that those who are to use special types of weapon will need longer periods of training. Under the militia system, these specialists must also go through a military school: let us call it a barracks. It will, of course, be a higher type of barracks. These military schools can be concentrated in the zone which is threatened. France did not listen to Jaurés, and replaced the two-year term of service by a three-year term. It turned out that with the three-year term the total size of the army amounted to 360,000 men – a mere trifle, yet they thought that an army of that size would serve as the battering-rain that would successfully solve the problem of achieving final victory. France lost her Northern departements. She would have lost them under the other system, too, but, given the militia system, this loss would have been premeditated, whereas, in the event, it took place contrary to all the expectations of the General Staff. Only later, with the help of the British and the Americans, did the French manage to go over from the defensive to the offensive. This shows that Jaurés was right when he warned France that the traditional imitation of Napoleon did not square with either the contemporary economy, or the political outlook, or the military potential, or the situation of France.

We are faced with a quite realistic task. Not a single country and ours less than any other – can maintain a standing, regular army that would be adequate to the actual demands of a serious war on a world or a European scale. And if a country were to try to maintain such an army, that army would be a mongrel, and at the first attempt to absorb into it the huge masses of conscripts, it would split asunder at every seam, through internal political contradictions. The army and the people must be brought close together. In the actual process of production the people must be brought closer to the army, while the army is brought closer to the labour-process, to the factory and the field. We shall in this way return to the primitive epoch when no training was needed, when every shepherd and cultivator took up his cudgel and went off to fight. This will take us back to the times when there was no class struggle, when there was only a single fraternal family based on poverty. We want to bring the peoples of the world into solidarity with each other and to unite all culture – economic, technical and spiritual. This task is capable of accomplishment, but at present we can see only its first beginnings. If, two years ago, some sage had said that Russia would be opposed first by Germany and then by Britain, Japan and America, nobody would have believed that we should come out victorious. And the longer we survive, the smaller are the chances of anyone destroying us.

I did not agree with Jaurés so far as his political concepts were concerned. Those who interested themselves in his book [39] noted that he described a gradual reconciliation between all the classes of society in a democracy, without a revolution, without civil war – a peaceful socialisation of society. The world war exposed the utter insignificance of French democracy. The Tsar of Russia and the King of England decided matters as they wished, while democracy was left aside. And it was not by universal suffrage that questions began to be decided in the epoch of armed conflict, but by the relation of forces between different nations, and, later, between different classes. In Germany they have universal suffrage and a constituent assembly. Kolchak, too, had a constituent assembly. But neither here nor there are questions of peace and war settled by formal voting. In our country the constituent assembly was dispersed, and later, when we had learnt to fight with weapons, we dispersed Kolchak’s constituent assembly as well. The masses of the people are learning in an organic way to build their life on new foundations.

The organisation of the army must also be adapted to this circumstance. At its foundation we place the workers, as being the most conscious element, and then the peasantry, starting with the poor peasants. It is them that we take as the sure support for the new idea, since the oppressed masses have always been the bearers of progress. It was fishermen, shepherds, poor men who were the bearers of the idea of Christianity, which overcame the ideas of the pagan world. We, too, begin with those elements, since they are the foundation for an army that is an army not of the aristocracy or the privileged, but of the proletariat. Jaurés’s idea was correct in the sense that he wanted to bring labour and military organisation closer together, but mistaken in that he hoped that it would all happen without a revolution, through the working masses, and even part of the propertied classes, the middle classes of the bourgeoisie, rallying round the flag he raised. His aim was correct, his path utopian.

This aim will have to be reached by a bloody path, if we want, within the setting of general historical development, to create something well-constructed. In the matter of building the armed forces this must be related to the ideas of the militia system, understanding by militia not crude, ignorant guerrillaism, that is, rebellion which degenerates into the Chetnik [The ‘chetniks’ (from Serbo-Croat ‘cheta’, a band) were the semi-patriot, semi-bandit units which carried on a guerrilla struggle in the parts of present-day Yugoslavia which were under Turkish rule until 1913.] activity that I came to know during the war in the Balkans. ‘Makhnovism’ is one-tenth idealism and nine-tenths plundering and violence. It can play a progressive role in one place and a reactionary role in another, but it has nothing to do with the militia. The militia signifies correct organisation and calculation of human material, and it detaches the masses as little as possible from their labours: this is its principal merit.

It is said that such a thing has never existed, that there is no precedent for it. Of course there isn’t. But we are innovators m many fields: we have begun a lot of things at the beginning. Such a militia has not existed before, but the pre-requisites for it have been there. In civil wars, in national wars, in the last imperialist war, we have seen how standing armies have been brought into being in a short time. Consequently, the historical prerequisites for a militia have been created, the culture of the masses has been raised to a higher level, and it is just this that is required for a militia. Let us take the average village muzhik – one like Kudinych. At first, Kudinych fought the Poles without knowing why, and then he died in the kitchen-garden defending his master’s property. But, later on, this Kudinych woke up. The awakening of his individual personality at first found expression in his smashing, destroying and inflicting every kind of humiliation upon the commanding personnel. The anarchic, Makhnovite tendency was present in the revolution also as an expression of the awakening of Kudinych’s individual personality. When Kudinych broke out into anarchy and destruction, he came up against another, a conscious Kudinych. What was needed here was a new form of mutual relations, and this was furnished by the idea of socialism, of solidarity and collaboration between men. The new Kudinyiches are disciplined, they fit themselves into a system, and they will not put up with it when other Kudinyches, alongside them, go through a phase of mischiefmaking. These new Kudinyches themselves call out for discipline. We know of examples where soldiers have sentenced their own comrades to be flogged, or even to be shot. It is not at all the same thing when some aristocratic commander punishes a muzhik as when a hundred Kudinyches sentence the hundred-and-first Kudinych to some punishment or other for stealing a pair of trousers. What we see here is an expression of the idea of conscientious behaviour.

This is the foundation on which our new militia-type army can be built, and we shall build it. To this end we shall use in a planned way the material provided by the Red Army, we shall employ a system of militarisation of labour and of the schools, so that the people’s labour may be put to use in this huge economy of ours with a greater degree of rationality, so that everyone may feel that he forms part of a single colossal collective.

The petty-bourgeois individual egoism, the self-seeking which is encountered in the life of bourgeois society manifests itself in barbarously crude forms: a man locks himself in his room, and everybody else can go to hell. As time goes by, collectivism, solidarity will increasingly take hold of people and within a century we shall have risen to a higher plane, both materially and, to an even greater degree, spiritually. All this will happen through collectivism, which will become, if you like, the new religion – though of course, without any mysticism. As I see it, a new religious bond between men will arise in our epoch, in the form of the spirit of solidarity – and it is with this idea that we must imbue the army, the people, the school, the factory and the village. At present this idea appears utopian, because we are poor, lice-ridden, reduced to beggary, we have to worry about every crust of bread, and as a result elements of animal egoism and brutality have awakened amongst us: but even now it is possible to observe the conditions for a higher, a more humane culture, with the growth in the productivity of labour, which opens up vast possibilities. Britain has seized us by the throat, of course, but she won’t hold on for long. Kudinych has awakened everywhere – in the village, in the volost, in the uyezd. We shall draw him into constructive work, and our children, those who will be grown up in ten years’ time, will all be filled with the idea of solidarity.

We shall unite education and work with the army. We shall link with it all the various forms of sport. And by building the brotherhood of the people upon the idea of solidarity we shall ensure that the militia idea will eventually produce, within this broad setting, very great results indeed. At the same time, this militia idea is a matter of unquestionable historical necessity for us. Sooner or later the war will end and we shall not be able to maintain an army such as we have now. We shall, of course, retain a certain number of divisions to guard the frontier districts. It is said that, if we follow this line, we shall be combining incompatibles. That is not so. The army of the French Revolution was based on an amalgam with the old Royal army. There was a difference in technical structure here, but no difference in ideas, for the Convention succeeded in imbuing the old line regiments and the new volunteer forces with one and the same spirit, which united them. Within a year or two no difference could be discerned between them: the distinction had vanished. Our respected theoreticians of the art of war should be asked to work out a military programme for Russia from the standpoint of a militia system: mobilisation, the line of concentration of forces under a militia system, the minimum of troops of the line necessary during demobilisation, the minimum necessary for defence of the frontiers, depending on the immediacy of danger, the distribution of military schools and barracks, and their concentration in accordance with the requirements of a militia system.

These are problems of enormous importance, which call for theoretical elaboration so that they may be given practical solution.

From the archives


38. The ‘Commission on Studying and Using the Experience of the World War of 1914-1918’ was formed at the end of 1918, under the All-Russia General Staff. Besides its work on the history of the world war, the Commission organised public meetings on various military questions. At the first such discussion on November 21, 1920 an address was given by Comrade Vatsetss on the subject of ‘the building of an armed force under fire and the effect this has upon strategy’. At the second public meeting, devoted to the question of the militia-type army, Comrade Trotsky spoke.

39. reference is to Jaurés’s book L’Armée nouvelle. A Russian translation – a very poor one – is available, entitled Novaya armiya.

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Last updated on: 23.12.2006