Leon Trotsky

Problems of the Red Army

(November 1919)

Published: The Communist [United States], November 8th, 1919. (One of three articles “celebrating the first anniversary of the Revolutionary Army of Russia.”)
Translated: Unknown
Transcription/HTML Markup: Sally Ryan
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

RED divisions are over a front of vast length. Draw a line from Moscow in any direction, prolong it, and you will reach some part of the Red Army which is fighting for Soviet Russia so heroically. The organisation of this army is a very good example of the efficiency of the revolution.

No wonder the war was called an examination to the people. Of course, war itself is a great barbarity, and all Socialists are bent upon its extermination. But it must be overcome; that is, circumstances must be changed so that war will become not only needless but impossible. The people cannot leap over war instantly, surrounded by the jackals of imperialism, until the mad teeth are jerked out of the mouths of these jackals. And if the people are forced to wage war, then in its capability of defense, battle and attack all the resources of the people are shown: its economic power, its strength of organization, the spiritual average of its masses, the amount of material for leadership, etc., etc.

And so, taking the question from this angle, we may say with assurance that in a land such as ours, worn out, despoiled and ruined to the last degree, no other regime could organize an army. We may now say with certainty that an army will not be successfully organized in Germany, neither by Ebert or Scheidemann. Only Communists, who have taken the power into their own hands and shown in a practical way that this power knows no interests, worries or problems other than those of the working class, will find it possible to organize an army which will become the dependable hedge of the Socialist Republic.

We commenced with the divisions of the Red Guards. Into these we accepted workers, not seldom those who took a gun into their hands for the first time. While the task was to overcome the fighting bourgeoisie, junkers, white guards, groups of students, etc., the Red Guards showed an incomparable excellence in their revolutionary spirit and determination. In a very short period Red Guard divisions spread the Soviet power to all parts of the country. But with the offensive of the Germans in February of last year the condition changed immediately. The enthusiasm of the untrained, badly armed people proved weak before the well-organized Hohenzollern divisions under junker leadership. The first battle showed this, and brought about a fall of spirits in our divisions and armies. This fall of spirits resulted in decomposition within the ranks.

Think of that period. The old army turned into an armed beggary all of Russia, filled all stations, cars, made direct attacks upon the workers on the railroads, ruined railroad property, forcefully robbed the food supplies, etc. The enemy attacked us from the west, taking the Ukraine. The Cossacks rebelled on the Don: in the East, the Czecho-Slovaks, and in the north Archangel was taken from us. The ring was growing tighter and tighter. Then the Mensheviki wrote about the “dying corpse” of the Soviet power. Not only the direct enemies of the working class, but some of the friends of the workers thought that there is no way out, salvation is impossible.

It was this moment of deadly danger for the revolution which gave birth to the crisis of salvation. The watchword: “The Socialist Fatherland is in danger” awakened the best that is in the laboring masses. This was the test of one revolution. Now we may say with quiet assurance that the workers’ revolution has passed the test.

Where are we to get soldiers? How are we to get the peasants into the army of workers’ who have not yet had a breathing spell since the imperialistic war? Will the people accept universal mobilization? Where are we to get the commanding staff? Will the old officers serve the new workers? Russia? Each of these questions presented its vexations and it seemed like the crushing of all at the very beginning. But the revolution laughed at the pessimists and sceptics; the youth of the proletariat of Petrograd and Moscow and other cities showed truly a wonderful transformation in the temper of the working masses, and above all in the red divisions, when they understood that the fight is for the life or death of the Soviet Republic.

I watched this change at first hand, under the walls of Kazan in August of last year, later on at the southern front near Voronezh and Balashov, and in other places. This wonder fall be accomplished only by the revolution.

You know that in our army a strict disciplinary regime wan established. War is war, an army is an army. And if we are forced to fight then we must he victorious, and victory is impossible without iron discipline. But such discipline after world imperialistic war is possible only because it finds a deep moral response in the conscience of every conscious worker, peasant and Red soldier. The conflict goes an in the name of the existence of the Worker and Peasant Republic. Every conscious soldier feels and understands that this is his fight, that deserters and grafters are traitors to the general welfare of the laboring masses, that the strictest punishment for these traitors is just and is dictated by the revolutionary honor of the laboring people. And there has long ceased to be any question of trust on the part of the army. If there is still agitation and argument going on to create mistrust it has no practical effect. The approaching conference of our party, I do not doubt, will strengthen with its authority that system which with the aid of the best workers of the party was put into practice in the fiery experience of the war and has given until this time the very best results.

With each new trip to the front I saw new commanders who worked hand in hand with the Communist commissaries, with complete mutual trust and respect they fulfilled their responsible work. At that time in all our numerous officer courses and academics groups of officers were organized out of the worker-peasant families and those akin to them.

The question of organized equipment of the army was also difficult, but the hardships are being overcome. They are overcome often at the cost of the portion alloted to the working masses of the land, this is undebatable. This is clear to every conscious worker. He knows that war is a terrible poverty. He feels this in his stomach, sees it in the life of his children, but he knows that war is forced upon us by the enemies of the working class and that we cannot defend ourselves with speeches and articles against the cannons and shells of imperialism.

That is why every worker appreciates the dishonest treacherous call to us on the part of the Mensheviki: “Stop the civil war.” The Soviet government openly declared to the governments of all countries: “We want peace; we are prepared to buy this peace at the price of great concessions and heavy losses.” To this, our direct and official proposition, we received no answer. At the time when the enemy continues its attacks and the bands of the imperialists threaten Petrograd, the Jesuit traitors tell us: “Unarm, stop the civil war.” These are the same ones who in moment of deadly danger to the proletarian revolution spoke and wrote of the “dying corpse” of the Soviet government.

The anniversary of the Red Army comes at a period of international and political circumstances which may be called promising. And the most important factor in the international situation is our Red Army. It exists, fights, chases back its enemies, grows, unites, with the determined and heroic support of tens of millions of workers and peasants.

The working class which organized such an army cannot be defeated.

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006