The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

From a Speech

At a General Meeting of Members of the Russian Communist Party in Zamoskvoretsk District, January 4, 1921

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

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It remains for me to mention the reduction in the size of the army, which is a matter of great importance. There were many preliminary discussions about it in the Central Committee of the party, in the commission attached to the CC. This question was made complicated through being cut across by a number of other questions. The army had to be disbanded to the greatest extent possible, that was clear, but on the other hand the army had to be kept in being, and in a size such that it could be sustained.

What came up here, first and foremost, was the question of releasing those elements which belong neither to the army nor to the labour army. Their subsequent fate was to be determined by whichever one of the economic departments selected from among them those that it needed. For example, those elements would be selected for work in the coal-mines who had already been engaged in that occupation, and the rest let go.

Then comes the question of reducing the size of the army, and, after that, of reducing headquarters, with their administrations and institutions. We do, of course, talk very often about bureaucratism in our army administration, but it must not be forgotten that we moved from the stage of guerrilla units to a situation in which we had four fronts: one near Transbaikalia, one before Archangel, one in the West, and one in the South. We had to administer these four fronts from Moscow in such a way that we could follow the movements, if not of every company, then, at least, of every regiment, so that we could arm and supply them in accordance with a plan – and that was hard to attain in our very difficult situation, without the necessary means and forces, without available transport. Given our backwardness, our lack of culture, every task became complicated, and it was necessary to construct a great nerve running from the centre to the front, so that, in response to commands from Moscow, Balakhovich could be combated, forces sent against the rebellion in Daghestan, help given to the guerrillas in Transbaikalia to enable them to crush Semyonov, and so on. It was necessary to build a colossal and competent apparatus, before which we workers in the War Department stood in horror. When we set about reducing this apparatus, the fear arose: isn’t it too early to cut it down, may we not still have to transfer armed forces from one point to another, and then we shan’t be able to do that in nine?

We now find ourselves in a more favourable situation as regards reducing headquarters staffs. If this work is not going full steam ahead, it is only because we cannot move our units fast enough. In order to cut down the number of divisions, we need, in many places, to withdraw field divisions to the rear and replace them with the internal-service divisions which are being formed and expanded, and to do this we need means of transport for which we lack coal. The slow pace at which reduction is proceeding is thus a result of our poverty, but, broadly speaking, as you know, our plan for reducing the size of the army consists in halving it by June. We tried to lay down a programme of reducing the army’s size to a greater extent, so as to disband all the institutions which serve the labour armies and live at the expense of the army’s resources, but the chief difficulty was, again, the absence of means of transport for moving the men who would be released.

First for release will be the men born in 1885, 1886 and 1887, then those born in 1888, 1889, 1890 and 1891. After that will come the turn of those born in 1892, 1893, 1894 and 1895. All that will be left to us then will be the men born in 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900 and 1901, that is we shall have six age-groups under arms. That will be the situation, provided no unforeseen circumstances arise. At the same time, it is proposed to set up schools in the most industrialised, proletarian areas, to prepare militia units, so that in these areas we may gradually form a militia-type army.

The units that we keep under arms must be sufficiently numerous to be capable of withstanding an enemy’s initial blow, while we are carrying out extensive work in the rear to assemble our reserves. At the same time, our programme for reducing the size of the army involves retaining some of our cadets who are following command courses, doubling or trebling their programme of study, and raising the level of the commanding personnel by providing the army with the best proletarian forces. Broadly speaking, this measure was approved by the Congress of Soviets and it has now been passed to the appropriate authority.

I should like to say, in conclusion, a few words about the army. It is true, of course, that our enormous military machine is a sore burden upon everyone, and especially upon the workers and peasants. While, on the one hand, everyone praises the heroic Red Army, on the other, everyone dreams of reducing it to the minimum. This is clear, because the army does not produce anything, but only consumes and spends, just because it is an army. The idea of making a move on to the road of economic work is linked with an impatient desire to cut down the size of the army as soon and as much as possible. But there is also another aspect to the matter – this spiritual demobilisation which is observable in the Party, and which filters through into the army. The opinion is widespread that the army has completed its historical task and can be relegated to the archives. There is a widespread urge to leave the army. A communist considers that he became a soldier, a commissar or a commander only because that was what was required at the given moment, but what he wants to do now is to build, to develop a cultured workers’ state. I should like to give warning that this view of the army as something secondary contains a very dangerous element. We are still surrounded on every side by capitalist foes – none of our major foes, none even of the minor ones, is as yet extinct. France, Japan, America are still imperialist countries. Poland and Romania are ready, as before, to launch a new onslaught upon us. We may hope that history will let this cup of another war pass from us, but there is no guarantee that it will be so. If the liquidationist mood were to develop, it would lead to the moral disintegration of those divisions and units which it is necessary to retain as our safeguard against possible attacks. The peasant soldier submitted to the leadership of the worker, the peasant soldier marched against the landlord alongside the worker, when Wrangel confronted him, but today no landlord is to be seen in any direction on the horizon of the Soviet Republic, and the peasant’s range of interests is narrow and his memory short, because he was oppressed and exploited for centuries, for thousands of years, until the worker tried to bring him under his leadership. The peasant forgets the blows of the past and submits his neck to the yoke once more. When divisions are stationary, in waiting, the peasant starts to scratch his head – why are we standing about here, wouldn’t it be better to go home? And if our Party’s work in the army were to weaken, if our military workers were to slacken off in their activity in the regiments and companies, the army would start to break up, like a living fabric.

It is not possible to keep the entire army in being: during the winter, by the coming of spring, we must reduce it by half; but how are we to do this? This must be done by means of the advanced workers whom we have always taken from the factories, the party organisations and the trade unions. Consequently, they must be kept in the army, because the Communists maintain a certain regime in the army, they keep up its fighting spirit. The party organisations are now responsible for the main part of the political education of our army units. I am going to submit to the Central Committee and the Moscow Committee of the Party a memorandum on the theme that, in the course of the winter, we must uphold and brace the army, raise its qualitative level. If the Party organisations do not get down to it and carry through this work before the spring comes, we may be heading for a military catastrophe and breakdown in the army. I think that the Party organisations will safeguard the army’s spirit. They will curse military bureaucratism, but at the same time they will say that it is absolutely necessary to have the army. We must establish model courses with a longer period of study, so as to prepare qualified commanding personnel. As a

general thesis, this has been approved by the Congress of Soviets, and it is to be passed to the Party Congress. The results of the last Congress of Soviets can be formulated like this: expansion and improvement of the economy, contraction and improvement of the army. On the basis of this improvement and contraction we shall wage a struggle against bureaucratism, which now means a struggle against laxity, ignorance and slackness in all spheres of our life. I think that by the time of the 9th Congress of Soviets we shall be stronger than we are now, provided that we follow the paths indicated by the 8th Congress of Soviets.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006