The Labour Armies


Of a Report to a Meeting of Communist Red Army Men in Yekaterinburg, February 26, 1920

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

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1. The transfer of entire armies on to a labour footing is an original and highly complex experiment. Two paths are open here:

  1. to adapt the army as a whole to labour tasks, without disrupting its apparatus, so that at any moment the army could be transferred to military tasks;
  2. gradually to liquidate the army, withdrawing the necessary workers from it, in groups or individually, together with technical resources required for labour tasks.

2. The first path has been forced on us by the not yet finally settled military situation, which could worsen again and require that the army be transferred from the labour front to the war front.

Being obliged to maintain unwieldy army institutions and apparatuses, the army could detach only a comparatively small percentage of its forces for direct productive labour.

The second path, incomparably more advantageous from the labour standpoint, will open up only when the military situation enables us to put the interests of labour before the need to maintain the army as a fighting force.

3. The 3rd Army was transformed into the First Labour Army while retaining its complete army apparatus, against the possibility that this army might have to be transferred as a whole to Siberia or to North Caucasia. It was this circumstance that set comparatively narrow limits in advance to the utilisation of the 3rd Army for labour purposes. Under present circumstances it could supply the labour front with about 23 per cent of its personnel. In actual fact, the number of workers did not even reach that figure, because the adaptation of the army to labour tasks and even the transfer of units was not yet completed.

4. In recent weeks our military and international situation has considerably improved.

  1. we have taken Archangel and are quickly liquidating the northern White Guards, so that the 6th Army is being freed;
  2. Denikin’s attempt to launch a counter-offensive on the Caucasian front, in which he had temporary success, has been liquidated by our forces;
  3. the powerful upsurge of the insurgent movement in eastern Siberia and the agreement reached there with the Czechoslovaks has given us sufficient security in the East;
  4. the turn among the ruling classes of the Entente countries towards de facto, if not formal, recognition of the Soviet Republic is so strong that an attack on us by Poland is becoming improbable.

5. Given these conditions, it seems possible to go over to a way of using the forces and resources of the former 3rd Army which is more expedient from the labour standpoint, by dissolving it as an army.

6. The military units of the former 3rd Army will, of course, be retained as such, and temporarily put under the orders of the Urals District for continued use for labour purposes. The units will be kept up to strength by drawing on the army’s rear, so as to increase their labour power and raise their revolutionary-political level.

7. The personnel released from the disbanded headquarters and administration of the 3rd Army will be distributed among the economic enterprises and institutions of the Urals and the military institutions of the Urals district, while sme of the more highly-qualified military elements will be assigned to the active armies.

8. A corresponding section of army workers must be assigned specially to make up the strength of the territorial cadres which will be called on to do a great deal of work in transferring our armed forces on to a militia footing. In the immediate future the territorial cadres will serve as the apparatus for forming labour units out of the workers and peasants mobilised for labour service.

9. Dissolution of the army apparatus will open up immeasurably wider possibilities for using Communists and, in general, the best workers in the army for labour tasks. The instructions that come down from the Labour Army Council and the Committee on Labour Service must be reinforced by initiative from below. Commissars, and Communists generally, in the army’s administrations and institutions must themselves put forward proposals for the best use to be made of their forces in reviving the Urals economy. All such proposals must be submitted, through the army’s political administration, to the Committee on Labour Service attached to the Labour Army Council.

10. Extremely useful will be the formation of labour shock-detachments to carry out repairing of locomotives, procurement of timber, organisation of cartage, struggle against epidemic diseases, and so on.

Shock-detachments like this, made up either of skilled or of unskilled workers depending on the nature of the task, can have enormous educational significance, raising by their labour heroism the general level of labour in the Urals.

11. It is necessary, furthermore, to assign a considerable number of commanders, commissars and rank-and-file Communists for work in the sphere of efficient implementation of labour service in the localities. Upon military workers who are used to leading masses in the most difficult conditions must fall a substantial share of the work of organising the mobilised 19-year-olds and setting them to work.

12. Upon the Communists of the former 3rd Army there also lies the duty of taking a very active part in the extensive organisation of voluntary work on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the Urals. The economy of the Urals can be saved from complete breakdown only by an exceptional effort, only by unprecedented labour heroism. Saturday and Sunday voluntary work, providing us with a lofty example of self-sacrificing collective labour for the common good, must in the next few days and weeks, be raised to a very high level in the Urals. The duty of Communists who have undergone the hard training of war calls them to be in the forefront of this work.

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006