The Labour Armies

About the
Organisation of Labour [1]

A report

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

* * *

Comrades! The internal civil war is coming to an end. On the Western front the situation remains undecided. It is possible that the Polish bourgeoisie will throw down a challenge to its own fate ... But even in that case – and we do not seek it – the war will not demand of us that all-devouring concentration of forces which the simultaneous struggle on four fronts demanded. The frightful pressure of the war is becoming weaker. Economic requirements and tasks are increasingly coming to the fore. History is bringing us face to face in real earnest with our fundamental task – organising labour on new social foundations.

The organisation of labour is, in its essence, the organisation of the new society: every form of society known to history is basically a particular organisation of labour. Whereas every past society was an organisation of labour in the interests of a minority, which organised its own state coercion of the overwhelming majority of the working people, we are making the first attempt in world history to organise labour in the interests of the working majority itself. This, however, does not rule out the element of compulsion in all its forms, from the most gentle to the extremely severe. The element of obligatoriness, of state compulsion, not only does not disappear from the historical scene, but, on the contrary, will still play, for a considerable period, an extremely big role.

As a general rule, man strives to avoid work. Love of work is not at all an inborn characteristic: it is created by economic pressure and social education. One may even say that man is a rather lazy animal. It is on this quality, essentially, that all human progress is founded, to a considerable extent, because, if man did not strive to expend his energy economically, did not try to obtain the largest possible quantity of goods in return for a small quantity of energy, there would have been no development of technique or any social culture. Thus, from this standpoint, human laziness is a progressive force. Old Antonio Labriola, the Italian Marxist, even pictured the man of the future as ‘a happy and brilliant idler’. We must not, however, draw from this the conclusion that the Party and the trade unions should, in their agitation, propagate this quality as a moral duty. No, no! We have too much of it as it is. The task of social organisation consists precisely of bringing ‘laziness’ within a definite framework, disciplining it, so as to urge mankind forward by means of methods and measures invented by mankind itself.

Labour Service

The key to the economy is labour-power – skilled, with elementary training, semi-skilled, raw or unskilled. To work out methods for its accurate registration, mobilisation, distribution and productive application means to solve, in practice, the task of economic construction. This is a task for an entire epoch – a gigantic task. Its difficulty is intensified by the fact that we have to reorganise labour on socialist principles under conditions of unprecedented scarcity, of frightful want.

The more our mechanical equipment becomes worn-out, the greater the disruption of our railway installations, the less hope there is that we shall receive machinery from abroad, to any significant extent, in the near future, the greater is the importance acquired by the question of living labour-power. It would seem that there is plenty of it. But how are we to get at it? How are we to set it to work? How are we to organise it productively? Already when we were clearing the snowdrifts from railway tracks we came up against very big difficulties. It was absolutely impossible to overcome these difficulties by obtaining labourpower on the market, given the present insignificant purchasing power of money and the almost complete absence of manufactured goods. Our fuel needs cannot be satisfied, even partially, without a mass-scale, unprecedented application of labour-power to the getting of timber, peat and shale. The civil war has played havoc with our railway-tracks, our bridges and station-buildings. We require tens and hundreds of thousands of workers to restore all this to order. For large-scale production in logging, peat-digging and other branches of work we need housing for our workers, even if only in the form of temporary huts. Hence, again, the necessity of devoting a substantial amount of labour power to building work. Many workers are required to organise the floating of timber down the rivers. And so on and so forth.

Capitalist industry is sustained, to a large extent, by auxiliary labour-power in the form of seasonal work by peasants. The countryside, caught in the grip of landlessness, always threw a certain surplus of labour-power on to the market. The state obliged the countryside to do this, through its demand for taxes. The market offered the peasant manufactured goods. Today we have none of this. The peasants have more land, there is not enough agricultural machinery, workers are needed for work on the land, industry can at present give the peasants almost nothing, and the market no longer attracts labour-power.

Yet labour-power is needed more than ever before. Not only the worker but the peasant as well must contribute his energy to the Soviet state, so that the Russia of the working people, and with it the working people themselves, may not be crushed. The only way to recruit the labour-power needed for our economic tasks is to introduce labour service.

The actual principle of labour service is quite unquestionable for a Communist. ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat.’ [2] And, as all must eat, so all must work. Labour service is inscribed in our Constitution and in our Labour Code. But hitherto it has remained only a principle. Its application has always had a casual, partial, episodic character. Only now, when we have been brought right up against the problems of reviving the country economically, have the problems of labour service confronted us in full concreteness. The only solution to our economic difficulties which is correct both from the standpoint of principle and also in practice is to see the entire population of the country as a reservoir of the labour-power we need – an almost inexhaustible reservoir – and to introduce strict order into the work of registering, mobilising and utilising it.

How, in practice, are we to set about getting hold of labourpower on the basis of labour service?

Hitherto, only the War Department has had experience in the sphere of the registration, mobilisation, formation and transference from one place to another of large masses of people. These technical methods and practices were, to a considerable extent, inherited by our War Department from the past. In the economic sphere there is no such heritage, since what operated previously in that sphere was the principle of private rights, and labour-power made its way from the market to each enterprise separately. It is consequently natural that, if so obliged, we should, at least during the initial period, make extensive use of the apparatus of the War Department for labour mobilisation.

We have set up special organs for the implementation of labour service at the centre and in the localities: in the provinces, uyezds and volosts we already have labour service committees at work. [3] They rely, for the most part, on the central and local organs of the War Department. Our economic centres – the Supreme Economic Council, the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture, the People’s Commissariat of Transport, the People’s Commissariat of Food – draw up estimates of the amount of labour-power they require. The Chief Committee on Labour Service receives these estimates, co-ordinates them, relates them to the local sources of labour-power, gives corresponding directions to its local organs, and through these organs carries out labour mobilisations. Within the boundaries of regions, provinces and uyezds, the local organs perform this work independently, so as to satisfy local economic requirements.

All this organisation exists at present only in outline. It is still extremely imperfect. But the course we have adopted is unquestionably the right one.

While the organisation of the new society can be reduced, fundamentally, to a new organisation of labour, the organisation of labour means, in its turn, the proper introduction of universal labour service. This task is not at all exhausted by measures of an organisational and administrative character. It affects the very foundations of the economy and of everyday life. It conflicts with the most powerful psychological habits and prejudices. The introduction of labour service presupposes, on the one hand, a colossal amount of educational work and, on the other, the greatest circumspection in the practical approach adopted.

The utilisation of labour-power must be as economic as possible. In our labour mobilisations we have to take account of the economic and social conditions of each area, and with the requirements of the basic occupation of the local inhabitants, namely, agriculture. We must, if possible, make use of the previous by – employments and seasonal work of the local people. We must see to it that the transferring of mobilised labour power takes place over the shortest possible distances – that is, to the nearest sectors of the labour front. We must ensure that the number of workers mobilised corresponds to the dimensions of the economic task to be performed. We must ensure that the mobilised workers are supplied in good time with the tools they need, and with food. We must ensure that experienced and sensible instructors are put in charge of them. We must ensure that the workers mobilised on the spot are convinced that their labour-power is being used prudently and economically and not expended in a haphazard way. Wherever possible, direct mobilisation must be replaced by the ‘labour task’, that is, by imposing on a volost the duty to supply, for example, at such-and-such a time such-and-such a number of cubic sazhens of wood, or to bring up, by cart, to such-and-such a station such-and-such a number of poods of cast iron, and so on. In this sphere it is necessary to study experience, as it accumulates, with particular care, to allow a great measure of elasticity to the economic apparatus, to show more attention to local interests and peculiarities of everyday life. In short, we have to elaborate, improve and perfect the procedures, methods and organs for putting into effect the mobilisation of labour-power. But at the same time we must, once and for all, appreciate that the actual principle of labour service has just as radically and irrevocably replaced the principle of free hiring as the socialisation of the means of production has replaced capitalist ownership.

The Militarisation Of Labour

The introduction of labour service is inconceivable without the application, to a greater or less degree, of methods of militarising labour. This term brings us at once into the realm of the biggest superstitions and outcries from the opposition.

To understand what militarisation of labour means in a workers’ state, and what its methods are, one needs to appreciate how it was that the army itself was militarised, for, as we all remember, in its early days the army did not at all possess the necessary ‘military’ qualities. During these two years we mobilised for the Red Army nearly as many soldiers as there are members in our trade unions. But the members of the trade unions are workers, whereas in the army workers constitute about 15 per cent, the rest being a mass of peasants. And yet we can have no doubt that the real builders and ‘militarisers’ of the Red Army have been the advanced workers, brought forward by the Party and the trade-union organisation. Whenever the situation at the front was difficult, whenever the freshlymobilised mass of peasants failed to display sufficient staunchness, we turned, on the one hand, to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and, on the other, to the Presidium of the All-Russia Trade-Union Council. From both of these sources advanced workers were sent to the front, and there they built the Red Army after their own image and likeness -educating, tempering and militarising the peasant mass. This fact must be kept in mind today, with all possible clearness, because it throws the proper light on the very meaning of militarisation under the conditions of a workers’ and peasants’ state. The miitarisation of labour has more than once been proclaimed as a watchword, and realised in particular branches of the economy, in bourgeois countries both in the West and here, under Tsardom. But our miitarisation differs from those experiments by its aims and its methods, just as the conscious proletariat, organised for emancipation, differs from the conscious bourgeoisie, organised for exploitation.

From the confusion, half-conscious and half-intentional, between the historical forms of proletarian, socialist militarisation and bourgeois militarisation spring most of the prejudices, mistakes, protests and outcries on this subject. It is on such a confusion that the whole position of the Mensheviks, our Russian Kautskyites, is based, as it was expressed in their resolution on matters of principle that was moved at the current Trade Union Congress. [4]

The Mensheviks attack not only the militarisation of labour but also labour service itself. They reject these methods as ‘compulsory’. They preach that labour service signifies a low productivity of labour, while militarisation means aimless plundering of labour-power.

’Compulsory labour is always labour of low productivity’ – that is the exact phrase used in the Menshevik’s resolution. This affirmation brings us to the very essence of the question. For, as we see, the question is not at all whether it is wise or unwise to declare this or that factory militarised, or whether it is helpful or not to give the military revolutionary tribunal power to punish corrupt workers who steal the materials and tools which are so precious to us, or who sabotage their work. No, the Mensheviks have put the question on a much profounder level. By affirming that compulsory labour is always labour of low productivity, they are trying to cut the ground from under all our economic constructive work in the present epoch of transition. For it is beyond question that to step from bourgeois anarchy to socialist economy without a revolutionary dictatorship and without compulsory forms of economic organisation is impossible.

In the first paragraph of the Mensheviks’ resolution we are told that we are living in the period of transition from the capitalist mode of production to the socialist mode. What does this mean? And, first of all, whence does this come? Since when has this been admitted by our Kautskyites? They used to accuse us – and this formed the basis of the differences between them and us – of socialist utopianism. They declared – and this constituted the essence of their political doctrine – that there can be no question of a transition to socialism in our epoch, that our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, and that we communists are merely disrupting capitalist economy, not leading the country forward but throwing it back. This was the basic difference, the most profound and irreconcilable divergence of views, from which all the others followed. Now the Mensheviks tell us, in passing, in the introductory propositions of their resolution, as though it is something that does not call for proof, that we are living in the conditions of a transition from capitalism to socialism. And this quite unexpected admission, which, it might seem, is very much like a complete ideological surrender, is made the more lightly and glancingly in that, as the whole resolution shows, it imposes no revolutionary obligations on the Mensheviks. They remain wholly captive to bourgeois ideology. After recognising that we are on the road to socialism, the Mensheviks hurl themselves with all the greater ferocity upon those methods without which, in the harsh and difficult conditions of the present time, the transition to socialism cannot be accomplished.

Compulsory labour, we are told, is always unproductive. We ask: what is meant here by compulsory labour, that is, with what kind of labour is it being contrasted? Evidently, with free labour. What, in that case, are we to understand by free labour? That concept was formulated by the progressive ideologues of the bourgeoisie in the struggle against the unfree, that is, the serf labour of the peasants and against the standard-governed, regulated labour of the guild craftsmen. Free labour meant labour which could be ‘freely’ bought on the market: freedom was reduced to a legal fiction, on the basis of wage-slavery. We know of no other form of free labour in history. Let the very few representatives of the Mensheviks at this Congress explain to us what they mean by free, non-compulsory labour, if not the market for labour-power.

History has known slave labour. History has known serf labour. History has known the regulated labour of the mediaeval guilds. Throughout the world there now prevails wage-labour, which the yellow journalists of all countries counterpoise, as the highest form of freedom, to Soviet ‘slavery’. We, on the contrary, counterpoise to the capitalist slavery socially regulated labour on the basis of an economic plan, obligatory for the whole people and, therefore, compulsory for every worker in the country. Without this we cannot even think of the transition to socialism. The element of material, physical compulsion may be greater or less: that depends on many conditions – on the level of wealth or poverty of a given country, on its heritage from the past, on its cultural level, on the state of transport and the administrative apparatus, and so on. But obligation, and, consequently, compulsion, is a necessary condition for bridling bourgeois anarchy, socialising the means of production and labour, and reconstructing the economy on the basis of a single plan.

For the liberal, freedom, in the last analysis, means the market. Can or cannot the capitalist buy labour-power at a reasonable price – that is for him the sole measure of the freedom of labour. This measure is false not only in relation to the future but also in relation to the past.

It would be absurd to imagine that, in the days of serfdom, work was carried on entirely under the stick of physical compulsion, as if an overseer stood with a whip behind the back of every peasant. Mediaeval forms of economic life grew up out of definite conditions of production, and created definite forms of social life, to which the peasant grew accustomed, and which he, at certain periods, considered just, or, at any rate, unalterable. Whenever, under the influence of a change in material conditions, he showed hostility, the state brought down upon him its material force, thereby revealing the compulsory character of the organisation of labour.

The basis for the miitarisation of labour is constituted by those forms of state compulsion without which the replacement of the capitalist by the socialist economy will forever remain an empty phrase. Why do we speak of militarisation? This is, of course, only an analogy, but an analogy very rich in content. No social organisation except the army has ever considered itself justified in subjecting citizens to itself to such a degree, and controlling them by its will in every aspect, as the state of the proletarian dictatorship considers itself justified in doing, and does. Only the army – just because it used to decide, in its own way, questions of the life or death of nations, states and ruling classes – was endowed with the power to demand from each and everyone complete submission to its tasks, purposes, regulations and orders. And it achieved this the more completely the more the tasks of military organisation coincided with the requirements of social development.

The question of the life or death of Soviet Russia is at present being decided on the labour front. Our economic organisations, and, together with them, our trade-union and production organisations, have the right to demand from their members all that self-sacrifice, discipline and assiduity which, hitherto, only the army demanded.

On the other hand, the relation of the capitalist to the worker is not at all founded merely on the ‘free’ contract, but includes powerful elements of state regulation and material compulsion.

Competition between capitalist and capitalist imparted a certain, very limited reality to the fiction of freedom of labour: but this competition, which had been reduced to a minimum by the syndicates and trusts, we have finally eliminated by abolishing private ownership of the means of production. The transition to socialism, which the Mensheviks recognise in words, means the transition from spontaneous distribution of labour-power, through the play of buying and selling, the movement of market prices and wages, to planned distribution of workers by the economic organs at the level of the uyezd, the province and the country as a whole. Such planned distribution presupposes the subordination of those distributed to the state’s economic plan. And this is the essence of labour service, which inevitably enters, as the fundamental element, into the programme of socialist organisation of labour.

While a planned economy is inconceivable without labour service, the latter is unrealisable without eliminating the fiction of freedom of labour, without substituting for this the principle of obligation, which is reinforced by actual compulsion.

That free labour is more productive than compulsory labour is quite true as regards the period of transition from feudal society to bourgeois society. But one needs to be a liberal, or, in our day, a Kautskyite, to see that truth as something permanent and to transfer its applicability to the period of transition from the bourgeois to the socialist order. If it were true as the Mensheviks’ resolution says, that compulsory labour is unproductive always and under all conditions, all our constructive work would be doomed to failure. For we can have no road to socialism other than by authoritative direction of the country’s economic forces and resources, with centralised distribution of labour-power in accordance with a general state plan. The workers’ state considers that it has the right to send every worker to the place where his work is needed. And not one serious socialist will deny the workers’ state the right to lay its hand upon the worker who refuses to perform his labour duty. But that is the whole point – that the Mensheviks’ road of transition to ‘socialism’ is a Milky Way, without a grain monopoly, without abolishing the market, without revolutionary dictatorship and without militarising labour.

Without labour service, without the power to give orders and demand that they be carried out, the trade unions will be transformed into a mere form without content, for the socialist state which is being built needs trade unions not for a struggle for better conditions of labour – that is a task for the social and state organisation as a whole – but in order to organise the working class for production purposes, to educate, discipline, distribute, group and attach certain categories of workers and individual workers to their posts for certain periods of time: in short, to exercise their authority, hand in hand with the state, to bring the workers into the framework of a single economic plan. In these circumstances, to defend ‘freedom’ of labour means to defend fruitless, helpless, absolutely unregulated striving for better conditions, unsystematic and chaotic movements from factory to factory, in a hungry country, under conditions of frightful disorganisation, of the transport and food apparatus.

What, except complete breakdown of the working class and complete economic anarchy, could result from a stupid attempt to combine bourgeois freedom of labour with proletarian socialisation of the means of production?

Thus, comrades, militarisation of labour, in the fundamental sense that I have indicated, is not the invention of individual politicians, or of our War Department, but is the inevitable method of organising and disciplining labour-power in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. And if the compulsory distribution of labour-power, its temporary or long-term attachment to particular branches and enterprises, its regulation from the standpoint of a general state economic plan, if all these forms of compulsion lead, always and everywhere, as the Mensheviks’ resolution states, to lowering the productivity of labour, then you can give socialism up for lost. For socialism cannot be based on lowering the productivity of labour. Every social organisation is fundamentally an organisation of labour. And if our new organisation of labour leads to a lowering of the productivity of labour, then this will inevitably lead to the ruin of the socialist society we are building, whichever ways we may twist and turn and whatever measures for salvation we may invent.

That is why I stated at the very beginning that the Menshevik arguments against miitarisation take us to the root question of labour service and its bearing on the productivity of labour. Is it true that compulsory labour is always unproductive? One has to reply that this is the most pitiful and worthless liberal prejudice. The whole question is: who is applying compulsion, to whom, and for what purpose? What state, what class, under what conditions, by what methods? Even the serfowning organisation was, in certain conditions, a step forward, and led to an increase in the productivity of labour. Productivity increased enormously under capitalism, that is, in the epoch of free buying and selling of labour-power on the market. But free labour, along with capitalism as a whole, having entered the stage of imperialism, blew itself up in the imperialist war. The whole world economy entered a period of bloody anarchy, of monstrous upheavals, of impoverishment, degeneration and destruction of the masses. Can we, in these circumstances, talk about the productivity of free labour, when the fruits of this labour are being destroyed ten times as fast as they are created? The imperialist war and its aftermath revealed that it is impossible for society to go on any longer on the basis of free labour. Or, perhaps, somebody possesses the secret of how to separate free labour from the delirium tremens of imperialism, that is, to turn back the clock of social development by half a century, or a century? If it were to turn out that the planned, and consequently compulsory, organisation of labour which is replacing imperialism leads to a decline of the economy, that would mean the ruin of all our culture, a retrograde movement of mankind back to barbarism and savagery.

Happily, not only for Soviet Russia but for the whole of mankind, the philosophy of the low productivity of compulsory labour, ‘always and under all conditions’, is merely a belated rehash of old-time liberal tunes. The productivity of labour is a magnitude derived from a very complex combination of social conditions, and is not in the least measured or pre-determined by the legal form of labour.

The whole of human history is the history of the organisation and education of collective man for labour, with the object of attaining a higher level of productivity. Man, as I have already permitted myself to point out, is lazy: that is, he instinctively strives to obtain the largest possible quantity of goods for the least possible expenditure of energy. Without this striving on his part there would have been no economic development. The growth of civilisation is measured by the productivity of human labour, and each new form of social relations must be tested against that touchstone.

‘Free’ labour, that is, wage-labour, did not appear all at once on God’s earth, armed with all the attributes of productivity. It acquired a high level of productivity only gradually, as a result of a protracted application of methods of labour organisation and labour education. Into that education entered the most varying methods and practices, which, moreover, changed from one epoch to another. First of all, the bourgeoisie, using its club, drove the peasant from the countryside onto the high road, after having robbed him of his land, and when he would not work in the factory, it branded his forehead with a red-hot iron, hanged him, sent him to the galleys – and, eventually, it taught the vagrant who had been forced out of the countryside to take his place at the bench in the manufactory. At that stage, as we see, ‘free’ labour is, as yet, little different from convict labour, both in its material conditions and in its legal situation.

At different times the bourgeoisie combined the red-hot iron of repression, in different proportions, with the methods of ideological influence – primarily, preaching by priests. As early as the 16th century it reformed the old religion of Catholicism, which defended the feudal order, and adapted a new religion for itself, in the form of the Reformation, in which the free soul was combined with free trade and free labour. It found for itself new priests, who became the spiritual salesmen and pious timekeepers of the bourgeoisie. The school and the press, the town hall and the parliament, were all adapted by the bourgeoisie for the ideological fashioning of the working class. Different forms of wages – day wages, piece-wages, contracts, collective agreements – are all merely changing methods in the hands of the bourgeoisie for the labour-training of the proletariat. To them are added all sorts of ways of encouraging labour and inciting to careerism. Finally, the bourgeoisie learned how to take control even of trade unionism, that is, of the organisations of the working class itself, and made extensive use of them, especially in Britain, to discipline the workers. It domesticated the leaders and by means of them inculcated in the workers a conviction that peaceful, organic labour was a necessity, with a faultless attitude to their duties and strict obedience to the laws of the bourgeois state. The crown of all this work was Taylorism, in which elements of scientific organisation of the production process are combined with the most concentrated methods of the sweating system.

From all that has been said it is clear that the productivity of wage-labour is not something given, ready-made, presented to history on a salver. No, it is the outcome of a long and stubborn policy of repression, education, organisation and encouragement pursued by the bourgeoisie in relation to the working class. Step by step, the bourgeoisie learned to squeeze out of the workers an ever larger quantity of products of labour, and one of the most powerful weapons in its hands was the proclamation of wage-labour as the only free, normal, healthy, productive and salutary form of labour.

No legal form of labour which would of itself guarantee productivity has ever been known in history, and it cannot exist. The legal envelope of labour corresponds to the relations and concepts of the epoch. The productivity of labour is developed, on the basis of growth in technical forces, by labour-education, by the gradual adaptation of the workers to changing means of production and new forms of social relations.

The creation of socialist society means the organisation of the workers on new bases, their adaptation to these bases, their labour re-education, with the purpose unchanged: raising the productivity of labour. The working class, led by its vanguard, must itself re-educate itself, on the basis of socialism. Whoever, has not understood this is ignorant of the ABC of socialist construction.

What methods, then, do we possess for re-educating the working people? Incomparably more extensive ones than the bourgeoisie possessed and, moreover, honest, direct, open methods, infected neither by hypocrisy nor by lies. The bourgeoisie had to have recourse to deception, presenting ‘its’ form of labour as free, whereas in reality it was not merely socially-imposed but actually slave labour. For it was the labour of the majority in the interests of the minority. We, however, organise labour in the interests of the working people themselves, and therefore we can have no motive for hiding or masking the socially-compulsory character of our organisation of labour. We have no need of fairy stories, either those of the priests, or those of the liberals, or those of the Kautskyans. We say directly and openly to the masses that they can save and revive the socialist country and bring it to a flourishing condition only by means of hard work, unquestioning discipline, and the greatest care shown in the assiduous performance of his duties by every worker. Our chief means is ideological influence – propaganda not only in words but also in deeds. Labour service is compulsory, but this does not mean at all that it is coercion of the working class. If labour service were to encounter opposition from the majority of the working people, it would be shipwrecked, and with it the whole Soviet order. Militarisation of labour when the working people are against it is Arakcheyevism. Militarisation of labour by the will of the working people themselves is socialist dictatorship. That labour service and miitarisation of labour do not violate the will of the working people, as ‘free’ labour did, is best shown by the flourishing, unprecedented in the history of mankind, of voluntary labour in the form of subbotniks. Such a phenomenon has never been seen before, anywhere. By their own voluntary, disinterested labour, once a week and even more often, the workers are clearly demonstrating not only their readiness to assume the burden of ‘compulsory’ labour but also their eagerness to give the state a certain amount of additional labour over and above that. The subbotniks are not only a splendid manifestation of Communist solidarity, they are also the most reliable guarantee of successful introduction of labour service. These truly Communist tendencies must be publicised, extended and developed by means of propaganda.

The chief spiritual weapon of the bourgeoisie is religion. Ours is frank explanation to the masses of the actual state of affairs, the spreading of knowledge of natural history and technology, and the initiation of the masses into the state’s general economic plan, on the basis of which all the labour power at the disposal of the Soviet Government has to be set to work.

Political economy provided the principal subject of our agitation in the period we have left behind us: the capitalist social system was a mystery, and we unveiled that mystery before the masses. Today, social mysteries are unveiled before the masses by the actual working of the Soviet order, which draws the masses into all spheres of administration. Political economy will increasingly pass into the realm of history. Into the forefront will move the sciences which study nature and the ways of subordinating it to man.

The trade unions must organise scientific and technical educational work on the widest scale, so that every worker may find in his own work a stimulus to theoretical thinking, and this in turn may send him back to his work, to improve it and make it more productive. The general press must come into line with the country’s economic tasks, not just in the sense in which this is being done at present, that is, not just in the sense of mere general agitation in favour of labour élan, but in the sense of discussing and weighing concrete economic problems and plans, the ways and means of solving them, and, most important of all, the checking and evaluating of results achieved. The newspapers must follow, from day to day, the production of the principal factories and other enterprises, recording their successes and failures, encouraging some and pillorying others ...

Russian capitalism, owing to its belatedness, its lack of independence, and the parasitic features resulting from this, has been able to train the worker masses, to educate them technically and discipline them to the service of production, only to a much smaller extent than European capitalism did with its workers. This task now falls entirely upon the trade-union organisations of the proletariat. A good engineer, a good mechanic, a good fitter must receive in the Soviet Republic the same publicity and fame as was previously accorded to outstanding agitators, revolutionary fighters, and, in the most recent period, to the most courageous and capable commanders and commissars. Leaders in the sphere of technology, both great and small, must occupy the centre of public attention. Bad workers must be made ashamed of doing their work badly.

We have retained, and for a long time we shall continue to retain, the wages system. The further we advance, the more its significance will consist simply in ensuring that every member of society receives all the necessities of life: and thereby it will cease to be a wages system. But at present we are not rich enough for this. Our main task is to increase the quantity of goods turned out, and to this task every other must be subordinated. In the present difficult period the wages system serves us, first and foremost, not as a method for ensuring the individual existence of the individual worker, but as a method of evaluating what that individual worker contributes by his labour to the workers’ republic.

Consequently wages, both in money and in kind, must be made to correspond as closely as possible to the productivity of individual labour. Under capitalism, piece-work and lumpwork, the application of the Taylor system, and so on, had as their object to increase the exploitation of the workers by squeezing out surplus value. Under socialised production, piece-wages, bonuses, and so on, serve the purpose of increasing the volume of the social product, and, consequently, raising the general level of prosperity. Those workers who do more for the common interest receive the right to a larger share of the social product than the lazy, the careless and the disorganisers.

Finally, while rewarding some, the workers’ state cannot refrain from punishing others, that is, those who clearly violate labour solidarity, undermine the common work, and seriously impair the socialist rebirth of the country. Repression for the attainment of economic ends is a necessary weapon of the socialist dictatorship.

All the measures enumerated above, and a number of others as well, must promote the development of emulation in the sphere of production. Without this we shall never rise above a mediocre, extremely inadequate level. Underlying emulation is the vital instinct of the struggle for existence, which in the bourgeois order assumes the character of competition. Emulation will not disappear even in developed socialist society, but, with the increasing guarantee of the necessities of life, it will acquire an even more disinterested and purely ideal character. It will express itself in a striving to perform the greatest service to one’s village, uyezd, town, or to the whole of society, and to receive in return renown, gratitude, popularity, or, finally, just inward satisfaction from consciousness of work well done. But in the difficult period of transition, under conditions of extreme shortage of material goods and a still inadequate development of the sense of social solidarity, emulation must inevitably be, to a greater or lesser degree, bound up with a striving to ensure objects of personal consumption for oneself.

This, comrades, is the sum of resources at the disposal of the workers’ state for raising the productivity of labour. As we see, there is no ready-made solution here. We shall find it written in no book. For there could be no such book. We are only beginning, along with you, to write that book, with the sweat and blood of the working people. We say: working men and women, you have taken the road of regulated labour. Only along that road will you build socialist society. Before you stands a task which nobody will accomplish for you: the task of increasing the productivity of labour, on new social foundations. Unless you accomplish that task, you will perish. If you accomplish it, you will make mankind taller by a whole head.

Labour Armies

The question of the use of the army for labour purposes, which has acquired amongst us enormous importance from the standpoint of principle, was approached by us empirically, and not at all on the basis of theoretical considerations. In certain outlying areas of Soviet Russia, circumstances had been created which left considerable military forces free from military tasks for an indefinite period. To transfer them to other, active fronts, especially during the winter, was difficult in consequence of the disorder in railway transport. This was, for example, the position of the 3rd Army, which was stationed in the provinces in and near the Urals. The leading workers of this army, realising that we could not yet demobilise it, themselves raised the question of transferring it to labour activity. They sent to the centre a more or less worked-out draft decree for a labour army.

The problem was novel and difficult. Would the Red Army men work? Would their work be sufficiently productive? Would it pay for itself? In this connection there were doubts even amongst ourselves. Needless to say, the Mensheviks started beating their drums in opposition. The same Abramovich, at the Congress of Economic Councils – in January, I think, or at the beginning of February, that is, when the whole thing was still in draft stage – forecast that we should suffer inevitable failure, for the whole undertaking was senseless, an Arakcheyev utopia, and so on and so forth. We saw the matter differently. The difficulties were great, of course, but they were not distinguishable in principle from all the other difficulties in Soviet constructive work.

Let us look at what, in fact, the organism of the 3rd Army comprises. Few military units were left in that army: in all, one infantry division and one cavalry division – fifteen regiments altogether, plus some special units. The rest had already been transferred to other armies and fronts. But the apparatus of army administration had still remained intact, and we thought it probable that, in the spring, we should have to transfer it down the Volga to the Caucasian front against Denikin, if he had not been finally smashed by that time. Altogether, about 120,000 Red Army men were left in the 3rd Army, in the administrations, institutions, military units, field hospitals, and so on. In this total mass, composed mainly of peasants, there were about 16,000 Communists and members of the organisation of sympathisers, consisting to a considerable extent of Urals workers. Thus, in its composition and structure, the 3rd Army was a mass of peasants bound together into a military organisation under the leadership of advanced workers. A considerable number of military specialists were working in the army, carrying out important military functions under the general political supervision of the Communists. If we look at the 3rd Army from this point of view, we see that it represents in miniature Soviet Russia as a whole. Whether we take the Red Army as a whole, or the organisation of the Soviet power in an uyezd, or a province, or in the entire Republic, including the economic organs, we shall find everywhere the same scheme of organisation: millions of peasants who are being drawn into new forms of political, economic and social life by the organised workers, who occupy the leading position in all spheres of Soviet construction. For posts requiring special knowledge we recruit specialists from the bourgeois school: they are granted the necessary independence, but supervision of their work is maintained by the working class, in the person of its Communist Party. The introduction of labour service is, again, conceivable for us only as the mobilisation of predominantly peasant labour-power under the leadership of advanced workers. Thus, there were not and could not be any obstacles in principle to the use of the army for labour. In other words, the objections on grounds of principle to labour armies, on the part of those same Mensheviks, were really objections to ‘compulsory’ labour in general, and, consequently, were directed against labour service and against Soviet methods of economic construction as a whole. We stepped over those objections without difficulty.

The military apparatus, as such, is not, of course, adapted to guiding the labour-process. But we did not attempt to use it for that purpose. Control had to remain in the hands of the appropriate economic organs. The army supplied the necessary labour-power in the form of organised, compact units, suitable, in the mass, for carrying out very simple, homogeneous tasks: freeing roads from snow, procurement of timber, building work, organising cartage, and so on.

We now already possess considerable experience in the matter of using the army for labour, and can provide an evaluation which is not merely conjectural and hypothetical. What conclusions are to be drawn from this experience? The Mensheviks have hastened to draw them. The same Abramovich, again, declared at the miners’ congress that we had gone bankrupt, that the labour armies are parasitic formations, in which for every ten workers there are 100 officials. Is this true? No. This is the irresponsible and malicious criticism of outsiders, who do not know the facts and pick up only fragments and rubbish, here, there and everywhere, and who either proclaim our bankruptcy or prophesy it. In reality, the labour armies have not only not gone bankrupt, but, on the contrary, have had important successes, have shown their vitality, are evolving and growing stronger and stronger. It is precisely those prophets who have gone bankrupt, those who foretold that nothing would come of the whole venture, that nobody would work, that the Red Army men would not go to the labour front but would simply scatter to their homes.

These objections were dictated by philistine skepticism, lack of faith in the masses, lack of faith in bold organisational initiative. But did we not hear what were fundamentally the same objections when we set about extensive mobilisations for military tasks? They tried to frighten us then, too, by saying that mass desertion would be inevitable after the imperialist war. [5] Desertion did occur, of course, but considered by the test of experience it proved to be not at all on such a mass scale as had been foretold. It did not destroy the army. The moral and organisational bond, communist volunteering and state compulsion combined, enabled us to mobilise millions, to carry through numerous formations and fulfil very difficult military tasks. In the end, the army was victorious. Where labour tasks were concerned we expected, on the basis of our military experience, to get the same results. And we were not mistaken. The Red Army men did not disperse at all when they were switched from military to labour service, as the sceptics had prophesied they would. Thanks to our well-organised agitation, the transference itself was accompanied by a great wave of enthusiasm. True, a certain section of the soldiers tried to quit the army, but this always happens when a large military formation is moved from one front to another, or sent from the rear to the front – in general, when it is shaken up, and when potential desertion becomes actual. But in this case the Political Departments, the press, the organs for combating desertion, and so on, at once came into their own, and today the percentage of deserters from the labour army is no higher than in our fighting armies.

The statement that, by virtue of their internal structure, armies can detach only a small percentage of workers is true only to a certain extent. As far as the 3rd Army is concerned, I have already pointed out that it retained its complete apparatus of administration along with an extremely small number of military units. So long as we – for military, not economic, reasons – retained intact the army’s headquarters and its administration, the percentage of workers supplied by the army was indeed extremely small. Out of a total of 110,000 [sic] Red Army men, 21 per cent proved to be occupying administrative or supply posts; about 16 per cent were engaged in routine duties such as providing guards, mostly in connection with army institutions and stores; the number of sick, mostly with typhus, together with the medical personnel looking after them, came to about 13 per cent; those absent for various reasons (official missions, leave, absence without leave), not more than 25 per cent. Thus, the total personnel available for work did not exceed 23 per cent: this was the maximum that could, in that period, be obtained for labour from that army. Actually, at first, only about 14 per cent worked – men drawn mainly from the two divisions, one of infantry and the other of cavalry, which still remained with the army.

But as soon as it was clear that Denikin had been crushed, and that we should not have to send the 3rd Army down the Volga in the spring, to help the troops on the Caucasian front, we immediately set about disbanding the cumbersome apparatuses of the army and adapting the army’s institutions more properly to labour tasks. Although this work has not yet been completed, it has already had time to give some very significant results. In March the former 3rd Army is contributing about 38 per cent of its total number as workers. As for the military units of the Urals military district, which are working alongside it, they already provide 49 per cent of their number as workers. This result is not so bad, if we compare it with the attendance-figures for factories, in many of which not long ago, and in some even today, absence from work, for reasons legitimate and illegitimate, reached 50 per cent and over. Since then, this percentage has been very greatly reduced (June 1920). To this one must add that workers in factories are often looked after by adult members of their families, whereas the Red Army men have to look after themselves.

If we take the case of the 19-year-olds who were mobilised in the Urals by means of the military apparatus, principally for logging work, we find that, out of their total number, more than 30,000, over 75 per cent present themselves for work. This is already a very big step forward. It shows that, by using the military apparatus for mobilisation and formation, we can bring about such changes in the structure of purely labour units as will ensure an immense increase in the percentage of those participating directly in the material process of production.

Finally, in connection with the productivity of military labour, we can now judge on the basis of experience. At first, the productivity of labour in the principal branches of work, despite the great wave of enthusiasm, was indeed extremely low, and might seem quite discouraging when one read the first labour reports. Thus, to procure one cubic sazhen of timber one had at first to reckon on taking 13-15 working days, whereas the norm (true, rarely attained in these times) is three days. It must be added that artists in this work are capable, under favourable conditions, of producing one cubic sazhen per day per man. What actually happened? The army units were quartered far from the cutting area. In many cases they had to march between 6 and 8 versts to and from their work, which swallowed up a substantial portion of their working day. There were not enough axes and saws on the spot. Many Red Army men, born in the steppes, were unfamiliar with forests, had never felled trees, had never chopped or sawn them up. The province and uyezd timber committees were far from knowing at first how to use the army units, how to direct them where they were needed and to organise them properly. It is not surprising if all this had as its result an extremely low level of productivity. But after the most crying defects in organisation had been eliminated, results were achieved that were much more satisfactory. Thus, according to the most recent figures, in that same First Labour Army four-and-a-half working days are devoted to procuring one cubic sazhen of wood, which is not so far from the present norm. What is most comforting is the fact that the productivity of labour is regularly increasing, in step with the improvement in the way it is organised.

Regarding what can be achieved in this respect we have the brief but very rich experiment carried out by the Moscow Engineer Regiment. The Chief Army Engineer Administration, which guided this experiment, began by setting the norm of production as three working days for one cubic sazhen of wood. This norm was soon surpassed. In January, two-and-a half working days were spent on one cubic sazhen: in February, 2.1; in March 1.5, which is an exceptionally high level of productivity. This result was achieved by moral influence, by precise recording of each individual’s work, by arousing labour ambition, by paying bonuses to workers who produced more than the average, or, to speak in the language of the trade unions, by applying a flexible scale of payment which could be adapted to every individual variation in the productivity of labour. This experiment, carried out under almost laboratory conditions, clearly indicates the path we need to follow in future.

At present we have functioning a series of labour armies – the First, the Petrograd, the Ukrainian, the Caucasian, the South Volga, the Reserve Army. The last-named helped considerably, as you know, in increasing the traffic-capacity of the Kazan-Yekaterinburg railway. And wherever the experiment of using army units for labour tasks was carried out with any intelligence at all, the results showed that this method is unquestionably viable and correct.

The prejudice regarding the inevitably parasitic nature of military organisation – under all conditions – proves to have been shattered. The Soviet Army reproduces within itself the tendencies of the Soviet social order. We must not think in the petrified concepts of the past epoch: ‘militarism’, ‘military organisation’, ‘the unproductiveness of compulsory labour’. We must approach the phenomena of the new epoch without preconceptions and with open eyes, and we must remember that the sabbath exists for man and not the other way round [‘The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath’ (Mark, 2:27)] – that all forms of organisation, including the military ones, are only weapons in the hands of the working class in power, which has both the right and the possibility of adapting, altering and refashioning these weapons until it has achieved the requisite result.


1. The report ‘on the organisation of labour’ is a composite document. Most of it is taken from Comrade Trotsky’s report to the 3rd All-Russia Congress of Economic Councils. With a view to a fuller treatment of the question, the text of this speech has been supplemented with excerpts from Comrade Trotsky’s reports to the All-Russia Congress of Economic Councils and the 9th Party Congress. This report is quoted in full in Chapter 8 of Comrade Trotsky’s book Terrorism and Communism, Gosizdat, Petrograd l920. In the present volume only that part of the report is printed which is concerned directly with military questions. Omitted are the chapters on the single economic plan and on collegiate and one-man management, and the conclusion of the report.

2. Thessalonians, 3:10-11. St Paul warns against ‘some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies’, and reminds his readers that, ‘when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat’.

3. Committees for universal labour service were set up by the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars dated February 3, l920. By this decree a Main Committee for universal labour service was formed, together with committees at province and uyezd level and, where necessary, also town committees. In the localities these cornmittees were to be subordinate to the local Executive Committees, and were constituted by representatives of the military commissariat, the administration department and the labour department. The Main Committee was directly subordinate to the Defence Council, and consisted of representatives of the People’s Commissariats of Military Affairs, Internal Affairs and Labour.

4. As mentioned in note l6 above, this refers to the 3rd All-Russia Congress of Trade Unions.

5. The total number of deserters from the Red Army up to the winter of 1920 was estimated at 2,846,000, of whom 1,543,000 subsequently returned to the ranks.

1 1

Last updated on: 27.12.2006