The Labour Armies

On Mobilising the Industrial Proletariat, on Labour Service, on Militarising the Economy, and on the Utilisation of Army Units for Economic Needs

Theses of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party [1]

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

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1. The extreme economic decline of the country resulting from the imperialist war and the counter-revolutionary attacks on the Soviet power finds direct expression in the extreme insufficiency or disorganisation of the basic elements of production: technical equipment, raw materials and, in the first place, fuel and labour-power.

2. There are no grounds for counting on reception from out side, in the near future and in significant quantity, of machinery, coal or skilled workers, not only because of the blockade, regarding the future of which it is not at present possible to make any fully confident forecast, but also because of the extreme economic exhaustion of Western Europe.

3. The fundamental lever for raising up the country’s economy is, therefore, living labour-power, its organisation, distribution and efficient utilisation.

A. The Industrial Proletariat

4. The industrial proletariat, the chief wielder of political power, must concentrate all its attention and all its efforts in the period immediately ahead upon organising the economy and participating directly in the production-process.

5. To this end it is necessary to gather together the scattered ranks of skilled and trained workers by systematically withdrawing them (as opportunities for doing this occur) from the army, from the food-detachments, from Soviet rear institutions, including state farm and communes, from handicraft work, from the countryside and, in the filrst place, from the field of speculative activity.

6. Withdrawal and concentration of workers possessing trades must be effected through the combined action of measures for all-round improvement in the food situation and the general living conditions of the workers, of increasingly precise registration of workers, of organised influence excercised on them by the trade unions, and, finally, in all instances where this becomes necessary, of measures of coercion by the state.

7. The implementing of these measures, like all work generally for the development of industry, can produce serious positive results only on condition that there is an all-round strengthening of the organisation of the trade unions through ensuring that they have the necessary cadres of responsible and experienced workers, capable of putting into practice the principle of iron labour discipline.

8. At the same time, measures must be taken on a wide scale for vocational training of the young generation, starting with the 14-year-olds, so as to guarantee the necessary reproduction of skilled labour power. For this purpose an organ must be created, under the People’s Commissariat for Education, with sufficient power and authority and participation by representatives of all the interested departments and institutions.

B. Unskilled Labour-Power

9. All the existing economic conditions, in their combined effect, now call for the recruitment into industry and transport of unskilled – that is, predominantly peasant – labour-power in incomparably larger amounts than ever before.

  1. The country’s mechanical equipment is extremely impoverished. The wear and tear of machines from the passage of time, work, careless handling, low temperatures in the premises where they are housed, and also during evacuation and re-evacuation, is not being made up for even to the slightest extent. If there is to be a rise in production in the near future, given the extreme deterioration of mechanical equipment, this will require, in many branches of industry, a very great increase in the use of living, predominantly unskilled, labour-power.
  2. Procurement of timber, by means of which we shall still, for a long time yet, have to meet an excessively 1arge proportion of our fuel needs; the working of peat and shale deposits to an unprecedented degree; and, finally, intense work of restoration in coal and iron mining and oil-producing areas will call (together with the recruitment of skilled workers) for a concentration of ever increasing masses of unskilled workers.
  3. The cultivation of state farms, and also of the extensive waste spaces in regions that suffered with particular severity from the civil war creates a demand for an extremely large amount of labour power both for permanent service and for seasonal tasks.
  4. Temporary and emergency work, regular seasonal work and auxiliary work connected with the basic types of work mentioned above (snow-clearing, loading and unloading, building huts, repairing roads and bridges and so on), require, in their turn, extremely large amounts of labour power.

10. Manufacturing industry, transport and the economy in general can, in the conditions described, be provided with the necessary labour-power only through the introduction of labour service.

C. Universal Labour Service

11. Socialist construction rejects in principle the liberalcapitalist principle of ‘freedom of labour’, which in bourgeois society means, for some, freedom to exploit and, for others, freedom to be exploited. In so far as the fundamental task of social organisation is to overcome the external physical conditions inimical to man, socialism demands cornpulsoy participation by all members of society in the production of material values and sets itself the task of creating a more rational (that is, more economic and attractive to everyone) form of socialised labour. The principle of universal labour service, unshakably laid down in the fundamental laws of the RSFSR, must now be given wide and all-sided application in practice.

12. Complete implementation of the principle of universal labour service within the framework of a general economic plan can be achieved through perfecting the country’s entire administrative and economic apparatus and the universal introduction of work-books which will precisely define the place occupied by each citizen and citizeness of the Soviet Republic in the country’s economic and defence systems.

13. The transition to wide introduction of labour service must be effected gradually, in forms which, even if far from precise, are capable of providing the labour-power needed by the economy.

14. For this purpose, it is necessary, first and foremost, to determine, in round numbers, the amount of labour-power which is now needed and which, in the present situation as regards food-supplies, instruments of labour and so on, can be inimediately set to work to perform the most urgent economic tasks in the course of the period irnmediately ahead (the year 1920).

15. Along with this, we need to lay down, in a basic decree, what economic needs and requirements must be assigned to local or area responsibility and coped with by means of local labour service.

16. The organisation of labour service, developed on both levels, must be strictly adapted, so far as possible, to the special features of particular areas (local industries, periods of especially intense agricultural work, and so on), and the allocation of forces between state-wide and local labour service must, in the aggregate and as far as possible, be uniform for the whole country, so as to have the least harmful effects on peasant economy.

17. In the immediate future those age-groups must predominantly be drawn into the sphere of labour-service which were least affected by military mobilisation, with recruitment of women on as large a scale as possible.

18. The apparatus for implementing labour service in the localities, for work both of state-wide and local importance, must be created by combining the local agencies of the War Commissariat, the Administration Department of the Executive Committee, and the Department of Labour.

19. The local organ thus indicated (the Committee for Universal Labour Service), being directly subordinate to the Executive Committee, will receive requisitions for labour-power both from the centre, in fulfilment of the general state plans, and from the local Executive Committee, for the economic needs of the given area. It will be the task of the Committee for Universal Labour Service to reconcile the local demands with each other and also with the demands from the centre, which, as a general rule, must be given priority.

20. At the centre a Chief Committee for Labour Service will be set up, consisting of representatives of the Registration and Allocation Department of the People’s Commissariat of Labour, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the Mobilisation Administration of the All-Russia General Staff, and the Central Statistical Office. In the immediate future this Chief Committee will be extra-departmental, as an organ coming directly under the Defence Council. The institutions of all departments both at the centre and in the localities must carry out all instructions received from the Chief Committee relating to matters of universal labour service.

D. Militarising The Economy

21. In the transitional stage of development, in a society burdened by the heritage of a very difficult past, going over to planned and organised social labour is unthinkable without measures of compulsion directed both at the parasitic elements and at the backward elements of the peasantry and of the working class itself. The instrument of state compulsion is the state’s armed force. Consequently, an element of militarisation of labour, to some extent and in some form, is inevitably inherent in the transitional economy based on universal labour service.

The element of compulsion will become less applicable the further the system of socialist economy is developed, the more favourable are the conditions of labour and the higher is the level of education of the rising generation.

22. Militarising the economy signifies, in the concrete conditions of Soviet Russia, that economic questions (intensity of labour, a careful attitude to machines and tools, conscientiousness in use of materials, and soon) must be equated, in the minds of the working people and in the practice of state institutions, with military questions. The entire population of town and country must understand that the elimination of every kind of desertion from work, every sort of self-seeking, unpunctual attendance at work, carelessness, idleness and abuse is a matter of life and death for the whole country, and must be achieved in the shortest possible time, even if this requires very harsh measures.

23. A wide campaign of agitation, spoken and written, must be developed along this line,.which, using concrete and constantly renewed material concerning our economic break down and particular successes in overcoming it, must educate the widest masses of the working people in a spirit of watchful and enterprising social supervision of all phenomena and facts relating to the country’s economic life, with a view particularly to drawing non-Party conferences of workers and peasants into the fight against improvidence, bureaucratism and red-tape.

The leading role in this work must be played, along with the Party, by the trade unions, to which must be returned the best workers who have passed through the school of war.

24. Formal militarisation of particular enterprises (or of particular branches of industry) which are of special importance at the present time or are especially threatened with breakdown, is to be carried out in each case by special decision of the Defence Council and is to have as its primary purpose the temporary attachment of workers to the given enterprise and also the establishment in it of a stricter regime, with granting to the appropriate organ of wide disciplinary powers, in so far as the aim to be attained, of putting the enterprise to rights, cannot be realised by other means.

25. Mass recruitment of unskilled labour-power, not organised in trade unions, through labour service, for food-producing, fuel-getting, building, loading and other forms of work, will require, especially at the beginning, labour organisation similar to the military type.

26. Elements of labour organisation and necessary discipline, compulsory both internally and externally, can be introduced among the hundreds of thousands, the millions of workers mobilised through labour service only through the agency of advanced, conscious, resolute and firm workers, especially those who have been through the school of war and have become accustomed to organising masses and leading them under the most difficult conditions.

27. The realisation of labour service must be based upon the fulfilment of the same organisational tasks, in principle, as in the case of the establishment of the Soviet power as a whole and in the creation of the Red Army: providing for the least conscious, most backward peasant masses natural leaders and organisers in the form of the most conscious proletarians – in the overwhelming majority of cases, skilled men. Inasmuch as the army possesses the greatest amount of experience of mass Soviet organisation of this type, its methods and procedures must (with all necessary modifications) be transferred to the sphere of labour organisation, with direct utilisation of the experience of those workers who have been moved from military to economic work.

E. Labour Armies

28. As one of the forms of transition to the introduction of universal labour service and the broad application of socialised labour, those army units, up to the level of large formations, which have been freed from military tasks, must be used for labour purposes. This is the meaning of the transformation of the 3rd Army into the First Labour Army, and the passing on of this experience to other armies.

29. The necessary conditions for the utilisation for labour of military units and entire armies are:

  1. Strict and precise limitations of the tasks before the labour armies to the simplest forms of work, and, in the first place, the collection and concentration of food supplies.
  2. Establishment of such organisational relations with the appropriate economic organs as will eliminate the possibility of disrupting economic plans and bringing disorganisation into the centralised economic apparatuses.
  3. Establishment of a close bond, where possible, of equality in rations and comradely relations with the workers in the same area.
  4. Ideological struggle against petty-bourgeois-intellectual and trade-unionist prejudices which see the militarisation of labour or the wide use of military units for labour as an ‘Arakcheyev’ system [2], and so on. Explanation of the inevitability and progressiveness of military compulsion for the revival of the economy on the basis of universal labour service. Explanation of the inevitability and progressiveness of even closer rapprochement between the organisation of labour and the organisation of defence in socialist society.

F. Food

30. In all economic plans and calculations, in the mobilisation and application of labour power, in establishing the Soviet regime in newly occupied regions, and so on, the first and fundamental task must be to concentrate in the hands of the Soviet state several hundred million poods of grain, meat, fish and fats, that is, a food-stock that is really sufficient to ensure supplies for the industrial proletariat, the Soviet officeworkers and the peasants mobilised for labour service during the current year.

Only the creation of adequate food bases in the main industrial areas will furnish a lasting and sure guarantee of the realisation not only of the immediate economic plan but also of socialist construction as a whole.

31. Organising public catering for the industrial workers and Soviet office-workers, starting with the urban and factory centres, is – on the basis indicated in the preceding point – an urgent task for the People’s Commissariat of Food, in co-operation with the local soviets and trade unions, and using the relevant apparatus of the War Department. An extensive arrangement of public catering with gradual improvement of the public food-supply, will form a most practical way for public opinion to check on participation by citizens in production, while releasing for productive labour a colossal amount of energy, especially female energy, which is at present being expended, on a ‘retail’ basis, in the individual serving-up of bits of bread.


1. The theses On Mobilising the Industrial Proletariat were adopted by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and confirmed in the resolution On the Immediate Tasks of Economic Construction’ adopted by the 9th Congress of the Communist Party, on Comrade Trotsky’s report.

2. After the victory over Napoleon in the 1820s, Tsar Alexander I, acting through Count Arakcheyev, his War Minister, set up what were called ‘military settlements’, along Russia’s western border and elsewhere. Several hundred thousand Crown peasants were turned over to the War Department and made into soldiers for life. While carrying on their agricultural work, they were organised on military lines and subjected to military discipline. The idea was to create self-supporting regiments and so to reduce the cost of the army. When the victims of this system rebelled they were put down with great ferocity, and the Tsar said: ‘The military settlements will be established at all costs, even if it means paving with corpses all the road from Petersburg to Chudovo’ (the place, about a hundred miles from Petersburg, where the first of the settlements was located). Arakcheyev’s name became a byword in connection with anything that could be seen as ‘militarised serfdom’.

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006