The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

Attention to Trifles!

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

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The ruined economy must be restored. We must build, produce, repair, patch up. We are conducting the economy on new principles, which must ensure the well-being of all the working people. But production amounts essentially to the struggle of mankind against the hostile forces of nature, and the rational utilisation of natural wealth to serve mankind’s own purposes. The general trend of policy, decrees and instructions can only regulate economic activity. The actual satisfaction of human needs can be attained only through producing material values, through systematic, persistent, stubborn labour. The economic process is made up of parts and particles, of details, particulars, trifles. Restoration of the economy is possible only by giving maximum attention to these trifles.

We do not give such attention, or, at best, we do it only to a terribly slight extent. The main task of economic education and self-education is to arouse, develop and enhance attention to these particular, small, everyday requirements of the economy. Let nothing slip by, take note of everything, do everything in good time, and demand that others do the same. This task stands squarely before us in all spheres of our governmental activity and economic construction.

Supplying the army with uniforms and boots is, under existing conditions in industry, no easy task. Our supply apparatus is frequently subject to long hold-ups. At the same time, we observe almost no careful and thorough concern for the preservation of uniforms and boots and their timely repair. Our boots are hardly ever greased. [1] When one asks why, one receives the most varied answers: sometimes there is no grease to be had, sometimes it was not delivered on time, sometimes the boots are yellow but the grease is black, and so on and so forth. But the main reason is the absence of a careful, thrifty attitude towards their kit on the part of either the Red Army men or the commanders and commissars. Ungreased boots, especially when they get wet, go dry and deteriorate within a few weeks. The production apparatus cannot keep up with demand, and starts to sew boots ‘anyhow’. The new boots wear out quicker than ever. A vicious circle is created. And yet there is a way out, and it is a very simple one: boots should be greased regularly, and they should be properly laced up, or else they will get out of shape and crushed. We very often spoil a good American boot simply because we have no laces for it. It is possible to get them if you keep insisting: if there are no laces, this is because no one is paying attention to economic trifles. But it is of such trifles that the whole is made up.

The same applies, and to an even greater degree, to the rifle. It is a thing hard to make but easy to ruin. A rifle should be cared for, cleaned and oiled. And this demands tireless and persistent attention. It calls for training and education.

Trifles, accumulating and combining, can constitute something great – or can destroy something great. Small damaged areas in a paved road, if not repaired in time, grow larger, and turn into deep ruts and pot-holes, hindering traffic, causing damage to carts, shaking cars and lorries to pieces and ruining tyres. A bad road causes ten times as much expense in resources and labour-power as would have been needed to repair it. It is precisely in this way, through trifles, that machinery, factory buildings and houses are destroyed. To maintain them requires tireless, day-to-day attention to trifles and details. We lack this active attention because we lack economic and cultural education. It is necessary to get quite clear about this, our chief shortcoming.

Attention to details and trifles is often confused here with bureaucratism. This is a very great delusion! Bureaucratism means attention to empty form at the expense of content, of the matter actually in hand. Bureaucratism wallows in formalities, in nonsensicalities, but does not concern itself at all with businesslike details. On the contrary, bureaucratism usually sidesteps the practical details of which the matter itself is composed, being concerned merely to ensure that everything adds up on paper.

The rule against spitting and dropping cigarette-ends on stairways and in corridors is a ‘trifle’, a petty requirement. Nevertheless, it possesses very great significance in connection with economic education. A person who spits on stairs or on the floor of a room is a sloven and a slob. We can never expect the likes of him to revive the economy. Such a man also fails to grease his boots, breaks glass through carelessness, and carries typhus lice on his person.

To some it may seem, I repeat, that persistent attention to such things as these is nagging and ‘bureaucratism’. The sbvens and sluggards love to hide themselves behind the struggle against bureaucratism. ‘What does it matter’, they say, ‘if cigarette-ends are dropped on the stairs?’ But this is so much rotten rubbish. Slovenly throwing down of cigarette-ends shows lack of respect for other people’s work. And those who do not respect the work of others are not conscientious in their attitude to their own work. If we are to be able to develop communal forms of living, every man and woman in a house must show full attention to order and cleanliness, to the interests of the house as a whole. Otherwise one will end up (and this is what often happens) with a louse-ridden, spittlebespattered pit rather than a communal dwelling. We must wage a tireless, relentless struggle against this sort of slovenliness, lack of culture and sloppiness – a struggle by word and deed, by admonishing and demanding, by exhorting and by calling people to account. Those who silently ignore such things as spitting on the stairs or leaving the yard in a filthy state are bad citizens and are worthless as builders.

In the army all the features of the people’s life, both positive and negative, are combined in a vivid way. This is fully confirmed in respect of the problem of training men to be economical. The army must, at all costs, improve its conduct in this matter, even if only to a small extent. This result can be attained through the combined efforts of all the leading elements in the army itself, from top to bottom, with co-operation from the best elements of the working class and the peasantry as a whole.

During the period when the Soviet state apparatus was only beginning to be formed, the army was suffused with the spirit and practices of guerrilla-ism. We waged a persistent and relentless struggle against guerrilla-ism, and this undoubtedly produced results. Not only was a centralised apparatus of leadership and administration created but, what was even more essential, the very spirit of guerrilla-ism was deeply discredited in the minds of the working people.

We have before us now a struggle no less serious: the struggle against all forms of slipshodness, negligence, indifference, imprecision, lack of assiduity, personal indiscipline, extravagance and wastefulness. All of these are varying degrees and shades of one and the same disease: at one extreme there is lack of care, at the other, conscious misbehaviour. This calls for a big campaign: day-by-day, persistent and tireless, bringing every method into play, just as was done in the struggle against guerrilla-ism – agitation, examples, exhortation, and punishment.

If there is no attention to particulars and details, the most magnificent of plans is mere superficiality. Of what value, for instance, is the very best of operational orders if, through negligence, it reaches its destination too late, or if it is copied with distortions, or if it is read carelessly? He who is true in little things will also be true in great ones.

In order to implement great plans, one must devote great attention to very small trifles! This is the watchword under which the Red Army goes forward in its new phase.

September 11, 1921, No.219


1. This ‘grease’ is evidently a form of dubbin – a special preparation of grease for softening leather and rendering it waterproof.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006