The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

Communication to the 8th Congress of Soviets

On Reducing the Size of the Army,
December 29, 1920 [1]

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

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Comrades, on the instructions of the Council of Labour and Defence, and consequently of the Council of People’s Commissars, of which the Council of Labour and Defence is an organ, I have to inform the 8th Congress of Soviets about the scale and procedure of the forthcoming partial and gradual demobilisation of our army.

I will first of all set forth the propositions which the Government has worked out regarding this matter and transmitted to the leaderships of the War Department and the other departments directly affected:

On Reducing The Size Of The Army

‘Assuming the task of effecting an all-round lightening of the military burden borne by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic, by reducing so far as possible the numbers of the army and returning to the economy as large an amount of labour-power and resources as possible, while at the same time maintaining fully the Soviet Republic’s capacity for defence (because its enemies have not yet laid down their arms), the Council of Labour and Defence has projected a series of measures for reducing the numbers of the army and enhancing its fighting qualities.

‘Proceeding from the actually prevailing conditions of transport and from the amount of armed forces which are needed for sound defence of the Republic, the Council of Labour and Defence hopes, beginning now with the discharge of the older age-groups on indefinite leave, to reduce the army to approximately half its present size by midsummer 1921.

‘In accordance with this, already on December 11 of this year an order was issued by the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic to discharge on indefinite leave, in the course of December, all the Red Army and Navy men of the army and navy born in 1885 or earlier, and to detach from the army and embody in special labour units the following three age-groups, namely, those men born in 1886, 1887 and 1888, with a view to their being next in turn to be discharged on indefinite leave, after conveyance of the first batch has been completed. It is proposed that, simultaneously with the beginning of the discharge of men born in 1886, 1887 and 1888, those born in 1889, 1890 and 1891 shall be detached into special labour units, so as to be ready for discharge on indefinite leave if, when conveyance of the preceding three age-groups has been completed, the military situation permits of a further reduction in the size of the army.

‘By carrying out these measures the Council of Labour and Defence hopes, if transport conditions and the political situation permit, to discharge during the next four or five months – that is, if possible, in time for the spring work-season – the age-groups enumerated above. Then – that is, in the spring of 1921 – the Soviet power will take up the question of further discharges, namely, of the classes of 1892 and 1893, and, in all probability, of 1894 and 1895 as well, the decision on which will depend on the international situation which exists when that time comes.

‘Given favourable political and transport conditions, the Council of Labour and Defence proposes to complete the discharge of these four age-groups, as has already been said, by midsummer 1921.

‘The procedure of discharge on indefinite leave mentioned above affects Red Army men only. As regards members of the commanding, administrative, supply, medical and veterinary personnel, special regulations will be promulgated concerning their discharge, having in mind that, in order that the army’s readiness for war may be kept at the proper level, they will have to be retained in the army in accordance with different norms and for a longer period.

‘Similarly, discharge from the Navy, except for the discharge, already carried out, of the oldest age-groups, that is, those born in 1895 and earlier, will be effected in accordance with special regulations, in view of the particular conditions governing the service and replenishment of the Navy.

‘All the work involved in the discharge of men on indefinite leave will be carried out in a strictly planned way by the organs of the military authority. Anyone leaving the forces on his own initiative will, as before, be liable to the severest punishment, as a deserter.

‘Those persons liable for military service who have up to now avoided reporting for call-up, or who have deserted from military service, are required, as before, to present themselves at the nearest military commissariat, to fulfil their duty to the Republic of workers and peasants. Only complete and unconditional reporting for service by the younger age-groups will make possible discharge of the older ones.

‘Those persons liable for military service who belong to the older age-groups which are now being discharged and who had avoided call-up before the publication of the first order of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic concerning discharge on indefinite leave, that is, before December 11, 1920, or who had deserted from military service before that date, must expiate their guilt before that date, must expiate their guilt before the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic by voluntarily presenting themselves within a definite period and subsequently performing work on the labour front.

‘It has therefore seemed necessary to issue a decree by force of which the categories of people above-mentioned are to be enlisted first and foremost for labour service, so as thereby to create labour-privileges for those workers who have been discharged from the army on indefinite leave, and also to ensure the provision of economic assistance to the Red Army men who remain with the colours.

‘Those of the persons referred to who report punctually to the labour front are to be relieved of criminal responsibility for their evasion of military service or desertion therefrom.

‘Persons who evade military service or desert after the date given above (December 11, 1920), whatever age-group they belong to, are, as before, to be punished with the full severity of the law.

‘In undertaking a reduction in the size of the army, the Government considers it necessary at the same time to take all measures to ensure that the Red Army is fully guaranteed all the material resources it needs for its existence, training and education, and that its military training and political education are carried out with the necessary energy and without hindrance.

‘It is the responsibility of the local organs of Soviet power to take measures to ensure that the families of Red Army men remaining with the colours receive proper assistance.’

This, comrades, is the Government’s statement which, if you approve it, as we hope you will, is to be published today by all the means available to us for making known important Government measures. [2] We have here, comrades, a measure of exceptional importance: the army expects from us a clear and precise statement regarding its future fate.

An extremely serious, critical, responsible and difficult period is now approaching, for the army and for the War Department which serves this army. For, while at first glance it may seem that reducing the army means lightening their task, this is true only from one angle. From another angle, the reduction and reconstruction of the army means a fresh task and a new concern of exceptional difficulty. We have to reduce the size of the army, and we hope to reduce it by half before midsummer, if no unfavourable circumstances supervene. We are going to reduce it without weakening it. Not weakening the army while we reduce it means enhancing its quality, increasing the specific weight of every individual soldier. This can be achieved only by improving military training and general revolutionary-political education. And this in turn can be achieved by increasing the quantity and quality of our new commanders who have come from the ranks of the workers and peasants. Consequently, while reducing the army, we are at the same time, within the framework of this reduction, extending and developing the command courses, deepening the educational work they perform.

At the same time, while disbanding our army cautiously and in a planned way, we do not in the least intend to allow this reduced army to be left without the availability of substantial reserves in the country. And we need, while reducing the army, to go over to a new system of army organisation. We shall make this transition, comrades, with all caution, relying on the experience that we accumulated during three years of harsh fighting, defeats and victories. We are not at present in a position to demobilise the entire army. We must retain a safeguard against possible enemies. And this safeguard must be sufficiently strong to withstand the first blow which may be struck at us suddenly, in the hope of catching us unawares. This safeguard must be sufficiently strong to enable us to bring up weighty reserves, drawing these from among the workers and peasants who have undergone the necessary training in the militia, with cadres available for them, and correlation between our field units and our young militia units of the future. How is this correlation between them, this proportionality, to be determined? We all know the answer. The proportions will be determined by the extent to which we are safeguarded from our enemies, from the danger of a direct, perfidious and predatory blow. And the stronger the Soviet Republic’s position in the world, and that of the international working class, the less need we shall have of a safeguard in the form of field units, and the more boldly and firmly we shall proceed with demobilising our age-groups. We speak of this in the conditional tense. We say that, if the situation permits, we shall do this and that. There is an element of indefiniteness here, but it is dictated not by any indecision on our part but by the indefiniteness of the world situation – and it is our duty, if you confirm this (and especially your duty, delegates from the Navy and the Army), to explain to every backward Red Army man what the Government’s declaration means, when we say that we cannot demobilise if the world situation changes in a way unfavourable to us. Let every Red Army man follow attentively, along with the centre, the course of world politics, and let everyone of us study the clouds on our horizon, as they concentrate or disperse.

We want to carry out demobilisation as widely and fully and as methodically as possible. We are undertaking this task now, and we are doing it in awareness of the high inner moral strength of the country which has created a victorious army. This country is Workers’ and Peasants’ Russia, which is represented here at the 8th All-Russia Congress of Soviets.

Stenographic report of
the 8th Congress of Soviets


1. The Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets was held between December 22 and 29, 1920. Comrade Lenin gave the report on foreign and domestic policy. The agenda included problems of electrification (report by Comrade Krzhizhanovsky); the state of industry and measures for its restoration (report by Comrade Rykov); and transport (report by Comrade Trotsky).

2. The communication on the reduction in the size of the army was approved by the Eighth Congress.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006