The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

Concluding Speech

At the Analysis of Manœuvres at Kotyuzhany [1], September 12, 1921 [2]

Before I let you go back to your units, comrades, allow me to sum up in a few words the general impression obtained from the manœuvres and the analysis which has been made of them.

The very level of the discussion, the very character of the analysis, testifies to the serious extent to which the Red Army has grown. A year to eighteen months ago, an analysis like this, with active participation not merely by the higher commanding personnel but also the middle-ranking commanders, could not have taken place. There is an unquestionable improvement shown here. We heard many criticisms, sometimes very severe and harsh ones, but it is just this critically demanding attitude that testifies to the raising of the army’s level and, above all, the level of its commanding personnel. The army has matured, it is presenting itself with more complex tasks and subjecting itself to stricter demands.

But at the same time, in the light of these increased demands and of the more complex tasks with which the international situation confronts us, the manœuvres have revealed to us all the more clearly our dark, weak sides.

If one were to sum up everything that has been said here, one would have to say: the weakness of the manœuvres consisted in the lack of correspondence between conception and execution. The actual operational plan had, on both sides, an extremely clearcut, sharp and, so to speak, absolute character. But it was broken up in the process of execution because it was not corrected in accordance with the situation and the actions of the enemy, and consequently disappeared in the actual course of operations, which proved, in practice, to lack any unified leadership.

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The idea of command in operations which predominates among us is principally based on breadth and boldness of the strategic conception, extreme mobility of the units, rapidity of marching and impetuosity in attack. Both objectively and subjectively, our present strategy of manœuvre contrasts with the positional strategy of the imperialist war. A tendency exists to draw a contrast on a basis of principle between this new or ‘revolutionary’ strategy and the strategy of the old militarism. Any such contrast calls, however, for substantial qualification.

The imperialist war was marked by the immobility of the front line, a high degree of compactness of the masses involved, and an unprecedented massing of artillery and other technical resources. With such a structure of the front there was almost no room for unexpected strategical combinations. Each side sought to gnaw at the dense front presented by the other. The positional strategy about which people here sometimes speak contemptuously, required, however, a combination of high qualities in the sphere of leadership, accurate estimation of all the forces and resources possessed by the enemy, in their constant changes (growth or decline), very thorough intelligence work, very vigilant security, precise, careful, mosaic organisation of one’s own forces and resources, maximum attention to all details, and ceaseless combination of all the forces and resources for struggle. We saw this especially on the French front. Our Russian front against the Germans was a great deal feebler, and, in comparison with the front in France was like, say, sacking as against good English cloth. In general, though, the same positional tendencies prevailed here as well.

Our civil war, with its manœuvring, was, in its methods and procedures, an extreme reaction from positional warfare. However, this manœuvring character of the civil war was not a manifestation of any absolute ‘revolutionary spirit’. It came about, above all, as a result of the relatively small numbers of forces that were in action over enormous spaces. Compared with the armies of the imperialist war, both the Red Army and the counter-revolutionary armies were, especially in the initial period, small forces which, by the very nature of the situation, could accomplish their tasks only through carrying out highly mobile manœuvres. Military skill, as such, undoubtedly found here a wide field in which to manifest itself, despite the relative poverty of technical resources, and, often, the low level of training of the troops themselves. It was precisely these inadequacies that engendered the need to make up for all shortcomings by means of unexpectedness in combinations, boldness in grouping, daring in manœuvre. Interest in the strategy of manœuvre increased to a remarkable extent among the commanders. The most daring form of manœuvre is the cavalry raid. Enthusiasm for raids developed to a high level here.

It is perfectly obvious that such a degree of freedom to manœuvre is not at all to be found always and everywhere. The larger the forces participating in the conflict, the higher the level of technique, the better the means of transport and communication – the more restricted and limited must be the operational plan, but, at the same time, the greater are its prospects of being implemented

I recall how, in the initial period of the Red Army’s creation, some comrades argued that, by virtue of the ‘inner nature’ of revolutionary warfare we had no need of higher formations of corps, divisions or even brigades. To a strategy of manœuvre, they claimed, there had to correspond a small independent unit, something in the nature of a composite regiment: two or three battalions of infantry, a little cavalry, some artillery. In those days quite a lot of debate took place among us on that subject. But very soon, as the army itself grew, and also its tasks, we arrived at higher formations. If we were now to obtain a lengthy breathing-spell that would enable us to strengthen ourselves in respect to the economy, transport and military technique, and if, after that, we were again to be involved in war – in the Western theatre, say – it is beyond doubt that our strategy would have to be based on larger masses, and would assume a more positional, more ponderous character.

I am not saying all this, of course, in order to denigrate the idea of bold manœuvring, but to show the inner dependence between the operational plan and the nature and numbers of the fighting masses and the actual situation.

Yet, as emerged clearly during the analysis, the idea of strategical manœuvring has acquired among us an absolute character, so to speak. Each of the commanders had a clear-cut strategical plan already at the beginning of the manœuvres. This plan was, of course, broadly deduced from the fundamental facts of the grouping of forces at the outset and the general nature of the locality, and was wholly anterior to the development of the operation. The commander saw his task, in the words of one of our rapporteurs, as being to implement his plan from above downward, by imposing his sovereign will, and bringing the plan to victorious accomplishment. A clear-cut plan and a strong will on the part of the commander certainly constitute elements necessary for success, but, alas, they are not enough. The commander’s will, pressing down from above, can in no case serve as a substitute for work in the sphere of communications, reconnaissance, security, reporting, supply and so on. Yet all these highly important aspects of an operation were not found to be in real accord with the boldness of the plan and the pressure of the guiding will. The bolder and more aggressive the plan on both sides, the more important was it for each of them to effect timely orientation during the course of the operation, so that corrections could be made in good time, precautionary measures taken, and soon. In actual fact, this did not happen. All the requirements of the field service regulations gave way to impetuousness. Consequently, the result obtained was directly opposite to that aimed at by the guiding will: from two impetuous movements, directed one against the other, but without sounding each other out, a situation was created, imperceptibly and bit by bit, such as neither side had foreseen, and in which both essentially lost their way. The entire strategical plan was at once broken up, when the clash took place, into a series of petty tactical tasks, in which no trace of the plan was left. An excess of guiding will on the part of the commanders led, at the decisive moment, to its utter paralysis. This, comrades, is the central conclusion to be drawn from the manœuvres. We have revealed quite clearly and distinctly how inadequate is the tactical training of both Red Army men and commanders: no proper adaptation to local conditions, reconnaissance carried out in such forms as constitute merely fictitious observance of the regulations, while producing no serious military results; exactly the same situation where security is concerned; and also inadequate understanding of communications and ability to organise them. Very important orders are despatched in one copy only, by a technically unreliable route, and so on, and so forth. And behind all this stands the commander, with his mathematical plan and his masterful will. If, to the plan and the will-power flowing down from on high, there were to correspond a wave, arising from below, of all-sided information, accurate reports and summaries, and ideas derived from tactical initiatives at lower levels, the initial plan, after undergoing inevitable modifications in the process of being implemented, might have been an extremely important condition for ultimate success. But this did not happen. Failures piled up all along the line. From time to time it seemed as though, by an effort of will from above, these failures had been overcome, but later there was an inevitable collapse, when, from minor failures, mistakes, lack of information, absence of communication, lack of foresight, a situation was created in which nobody understood what was happening any more, and which inevitably must, in battle, result in panic. There you have the radical defect of our manœuvres: lack of correspondence between conception and execution.

What is the solution? One cannot invent a universal recipe for solving this problem. Persistent work in organisation and training is required: we have to raise the general military-tactical level of the army – both that of the junior commander and that of the rank-and-file soldier: without this, the higher command will inevitably get intoxicated with its own strategical creativeness and then, at the critical moment, will come up against the fact of complete non-fulfilment of its plan. It is necessary therefore, to study conditions on the spot – to study and study again.

I should like to direct your attention also to certain aspects of the matter. Everyone who took part in the manouevres testified to the excellent morale of the troops and their great offensive élan. We have already seen how this offensive élan was broken up into little splashes, because it was not taken in hand tactically and organised from below upward. Here we detect a slight whiff of that old attitude expressed in the phrase: ‘Why worry, it’s in the bag’, merely translated into revolutionary language. It must futher be added – and I want now to focus your attention on this point – that, by general admission, apparently, neither side knew how to utilise particular successes, to carry them to conclusion, and thereby to turn them, perhaps, into the beginning of strategic victory. This inability to exploit and develop successes has, in its turn, two causes: first, the inadequacy, already mentioned, of tactical training, and, secondly, a specific feature of the character of our workers’ and peasants’ commanders, namely, passivity and good nature.

Why did former revolutions suffer defeat? Because the masses of the people proved unable to develop their successes to completion, were easily satisfied with their initial victories, failed to consolidate them, did not destroy all the enemy’s positions, did not disarm him completely, passed over easily from attack to passivity, lost time, and so on. And the old ruling class which had been momentarily weakened, and even overthrown, got back on to its feet, sounded out the weak sides of the momentary victor, and, seizing its opportunity, struck him very heavy blows. In our revolution we see, for the first time, in the person of the Communist Party, a leader that wants and is able to carry victories through to completion and to teach the working masses to do this: hence the successes won by our revolution, and in this lies a serious guarantee of our final victory ... It is this firm, never yielding will to achieve complete victory, to develop every partial victory, to disarm and destroy the enemy, that our new workers’ and peasants’ commanders have not yet entirely assimilated. They are, so to speak, too ‘kind’, too easily satisfied, too ready to soften and lose time. Where this matter is concerned we need to learn a great deal from our foes. Will-power, élan, are splendid things, but for victory one also needs persistence, attention, vigilance, endurance.

Comrades, we need to pay more attention to details, particulars, trifles, and to the minutiae of military affairs. Otherwise, enthusiasm for mere manœuvring threatens to turn into superficiality. That is a very grave sin in any sphere, and all the more so in the military sphere. In military matters there are not and cannot be any details that are not worth attention. What is the use of the very best of orders if it fails to reach its addressee in time, or if it is copied with distortions, or if it is not read with care? There must be more attention to details. For a whole is composed of an accumulation of details. Inattention to details, to particulars, is our basic fault. It is most glaringly evident in the sphere of supply. Someone said here, quite rightly, that not only are we now obliged to fight with very meagre technical resources at our disposal but this will continue to be the case in the period immediately ahead. Hence the need to observe maximum economy. But this is not done! It would be extremely instructive to analyse the manœuvres from the standpoint of supply. We should undoubtedly become convinced that economy, attention and care in the treatment of army property are non-existent where the majority of Red Army men are concerned, and even among the commanders and commissars. Boots are not greased, rifles are not cleaned when they should be, horses are not properly looked after. The commanders and commissars exercise too little influence on the Red Army men in this connection, and are indeed themselves guilty parties. We are capable of dying heroically, but not of taking care of our rifles. We have learnt to manœuvre, but not to grease our boots. And what is the use of manœuvring without boots? If, when I visit, say, a divisional headquarters, I see a filthy stairway, all bespattered with spittle and dropped cigarette-ends, I say to myself: things are in a bad way here, this is a place where orders are certainly written out with mistakes in them, where proper records of equipment issued are not kept, and so on. He who is true in little things will also be true in great ones. [3] Attention has to be paid to details. I speak, of course, not of bureaucratic fussiness, but of attention to practical, material, factual details and particulars, those which, ultimately, decide the outcome of battles and wars, the fate of armies and states. By the attention it pays to these details and particulars one can measure the level at which an army stands, one can measure the cultural level of an entire people ... There is still too much barbarism among us, we need to lift ourselves up.

One of the comrades mentioned here that a disdainful attitude to the regulations is rather widespread among us: what good are the regulations to us, they say, they only cramp initiative. This attitude of not giving a damn for the regulations is profoundly harmful. Here is that same rottenness which is expressed in the phrase: ‘Why worry, it’s in the bag’ [4] – though the bag is now a revolutionary one. The regulations condense an immense amount of military experience. If there are mistakes in the regulations, point them out, and we’ll correct them together. If there are unnecessary things there, they must be deleted. But, above all, it is necessary to study. I think that the commanders assembled here will do a splendid job of education and self education if they will study attentively the relevant chapters of the regulations, on the basis of the experience gained in these manœuvres. Much that to a young commander seemed a dead letter will become filled with living content: he will convince himself that we should get less confused and talk less nonsense if we observed the regulations more seriously.

I come back to the same conclusion with which I started: we have grown up, but it would be a crime to deceive ourselves and rest content with the successes we have achieved. We need to progress, to raise the level of the Red Army, in all respects. And this task we shall fulfil.


1. Kotyuzhany, on the line from Vinnitsa to Mogilev-Podolsky, is only about 40 miles from the river Dniester, then the de facto frontier with Romania.

2. In September 1921 manœuvres by the troops of the Kiev military district, took place in Right-bank Ukraine. The analysis of these manœuvres was held in the area of Kotyuzhani station, which is on the line between Zhmerinka and Mogilev-Podolsky. The speech given here was published as a separate pamphlet by the train of the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council.

3. Here Trotsky uses the Russian equivalent of the words of Jesus in Luke 16:10 – ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much’.

4. The Russian expression is literally: ‘We’ll crush them beneath our caps’, and Trotsky’s comment is: ‘They are now revolutionary caps’.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006