The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


V. Military Science And Publications

It Is Necessary To Rearm!

Advice to certain military specialists

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

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We have said more than once, and we are still ready to repeat, that we need military specialists. They are indispensable for our

work, and we need them not only for the period until ‘our own’ commanding personnel have matured, as some light-minded persons idly claim. No, the commanders who have joined the Red Army have mostly merged with it, become dissolved in it and in the Soviet Republic. But if we recruit officers of the former Tsarist army, this does not mean in the least that we observe a tolerant attitude towards all their inherited and acquired opinions and prejudices. Still less does it mean that we can watch passively while these opinions and prejudices are disseminated by them among the forces of the revolution. And yet attempts are being made to do just this. We have in mind not malicious counter-revolutionary agitation, against which we fight by means of repressive measures. No, what we are con cerned with here are perfectly legal articles and books which are now being published, under the Soviet flag, by certain military specialists who sometimes even do not suspect, in the simplicity of their hearts, that they are engaging in mortal struggle against the basic principles of the Soviet power and the Communist programme.

I have before me A Collection of Articles on Discipline, published by the editors of Voyennoye Dyelo. It would be hard to conceive a publication more inopportune, misplaced and lack ing in internal discipline of thought. The collection is evidently intended for use in the Red Army: at any rate, so it would seem. For, if the collection was intended for the instruction of Denikin’s army, the place of publication should have been Rostov or Yekaterinodar. However, it was published in Moscow, in Prechistenka, at the expense of the Soviet state. In the pedantic foreword, which smacks of the erudition of the Ochakov period, [The phrase ‘the Ochakov period’, used to signify a remote period whose lessons are irrelevant to present-day problems, comes from Griboyedov’s play Woe From Wit (also translated as The Misfortune of Being Too Clever), written in 1823, in which the hero condemns fuddy-duddies whose ideas date from the period of the siege of Ochakov, a Turkish fortress on the Black Sea, in 1788.] we are presented with Spencer as an unattainable model: ‘If Russia lacks her own Spencer, then let her read and study England’s Spencer.’ Spencer was a typical bourgeois individualist, a sworn foe of socialism. His world-outlook was saturated with bourgeois conservatism. In essence he was the senior philosophical clerk of the British bourgeoisie, looking at the world through the window of a bank in the City and imagining that the learned superstitions of senior clerks constitute laws governing the development of mankind. And the army of the revolutionary proletariat is being recommended to go to school under the bourgeois-conservative Spencer!

Later on, a whole banquet of Spencer’s thoughts and aphorisms is set before us. In them we find a pharisaical satisfaction that a steady extermination of lower natures and the civilising of those raised up from cannibalism and idolatry has produced philanthropists and peacemakers. Spencer means that the process of torture and imprisonment by means of which the bourgeoisie has exterminated the ‘lower natures’ of unfor tunate vagabonds and homeless proletarians has also, in the end, brought about that flowering of mankind which has been crowned by the philanthropists of the stock-exchange and their philosophical salesman. The stupid bourgeois does not guess that the bourgeois philanthropists for whom such a high price has been paid are, in their narrow self-interest, conceit and egoism, more repulsive than the most inveterate cannibals.

In the so-called ‘philosophical’ section of this collection we find, secondly, the definition of discipline laid down by Bismarck: ‘Discipline is the offspring of honour and is born to love the fatherland and be loyal to the father of the fatherland.’ By the father of the fatherland is meant – Hohenzollern. The Russian Red Army man and his Red commander are genially offered a doctrine of discipline that was conceived by the gut-wisdom of the Prussian Junkers and stylised in the spirit of a nauseating Protestant byzantinism. The sixth point calls for observance of respect for rank (all this is in the ‘philosophical’ section). In the second part of this philosophy of ‘discipline’ we find an aphorism uttered by the ‘father of the fatherland’ himself, Emperor Wilhelm: ‘Only through attention and obedience is military prowess created and preserved in every unit, and only with them can we go to war and win victories not inferior to those of our glorious past. Therefore, every soldier must show attention and obedience to all those placed over him, that is, to every officer and NCO of the regiment or the unit in which he serves, and must carry out with precision the orders that they give him.’ The profundity of thought is fully worthy of the crowned corporal, the brilliant style recalls the peel from a frozen potato. And this aphorism is put forward as an exhortation to the Red Army! On page 17 quotations are given, from Spencer and Tylor, [ The allusions are to Herbert Spencer, whose works (Principles of Psychology, Principles of Sociology, Principles of Ethics, etc.) appeared between the 1860s and the 1870s, and to Sir E.B. Tylor, the pioneer anthropologist, whose Primitive Culture appeared in 1871.] to show ‘the necessity of princely power’, without its being clear whether this applies to the past or to the future – that is, whether the author wishes to explain how cavemen arrived, at a certain stage of development, at princely power, or whether he is leading us to the conclusion that monarchy is a step forward as compared with the Soviet regime.

Incomparably more humane and richer in psychological substance are the ideas of Dragomirov [This is General M.I. Dragomirov, who died in 1906,the author of works on military training that were widely used in the late 19th century. Not to be confused with his son General A.M. Dragomirov, one of the White commanders in the civil war.] – which, of course, need extensive corrections if they are to be applied to the present epoch. Such chapters as The discipline of consequences and Training and mental culture (taken from the books of the psychologist Bain) [The reference is to Alexander Bain (19O3), a philosopher and educationalist, whose Manual of Mental and Moral Science appeared in 1868.] have got into this collection only because its compilers obviously lack firmness and discipline in their own thinking.

As the conception of discipline which is called for by the demands of present-day warfare we are given: ‘strict fulfilment of the rules of saluting’ and, again and again, the requirement of ‘perfection in saluting and particular care where military bear ing is concerned’.

When a mature soldier, or the young commander of a new formation, picks up this collection, he will open his eyes very wide after reading the first few lines, and will then fling the book away in anger. And he will be right to do so. True, the collection contains a certain number of ideas and directions. But what a lot of ponderous rubbish as well! What is completely lacking in the collection, however, is any guiding idea. And our epoch demands great guiding ideas. Stringing together phrases and aphorisms is an occupation for exegetists of the Old Testament. What a revolutionary army needs is not a multitude of learned words but a clear and distinct scientific word, reducing to a system the rich experience of our epoch. Quoting to a Russian Red Army man the myopic bourgeois vulgarian Spencer is ridiculous, and to offer him that theatrical fool with the waxed moustache, Wilhelm, is not merely ridiculous but also impertinent: it smells of some kind of pointless provocation.

What underlies this misunderstanding? A pedantic conception of science as an accumulation of learned quotations, formal definitions and footnotes – the old academic rubbish which is tacked on to practical military knowledge like a detachable tail to a kite. And Citizen Byelyayev, the compiler of the collection, seriously supposed that somebody needs all this! And this moth-eaten wisdom is offered by the editors of Voyennoye Dyelo, despite its stifling stench of naphthalene, to the most revolutionary army in the history of man!

Citizen military specialists! You have studied tactics and strategy – some well, others not so well. The working class is now learning them from you, studying diligently and conscien tiously, and as time goes on it will study still better. But do not imagine, citizen military specialists, that, because you have studied gunnery, you know everything else. Where social, politi cal and historical questions are concerned, most of you know nothing, or, what is even worse, what you have learnt consists of the old rubbish, long since cast aside by the development of human thought, which was used by the sycophants of Tsardom to stuff people’s brains with. We do not need this from you.

And we say plainly: it is sinful and criminal, in this time of universal shortage, to waste paper, ink and labour on printing the ideological cast-offs of long-past historical ages, which are of no use to anyone.

Citizen military specialists! Teach us that which constitutes the subject of your genuine speciality, and, outside those limits, become learners yourselves. There is nothing shameful in admitting one’s ignorance, trying to clear one’s brain of old rubbish, and taking up those books in which the movement of human thought in the 19th and 20th centuries is expressed.

Who can say, perhaps some even among the wise elders of military science will become convinced that the theory of com munism (Marxism) is a very great and complex matter, and that one cannot deal with it in the fashion of those seminarists of former times who were able to smash Darwin to smithereens in five minutes. Citizen military specialists! Sit down to a good book instead of publishing a bad one.

September 1919
Voyennoye Dyelo, No.26 (55)

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Last updated on: 19.12.2006