The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports


At the Second All-Russia Congress of Political Education Departments, October 20, 1921

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

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Unfortunately, I did not hear Comrade Aronshtam’s report [1], and it may happen that I shall sometimes repeat something that he already said. I apologise for this in advance. You had Comrade Lenin’s report [2] on our economic situation and on the methods of economic construction in connection with the new period in international affairs, which finds internal expression in our development. Those same conditions which have determined the profound turn in our economic policy have, of course, a corresponding influence also upon our army.

What is the essence of our international situation? It is that, at the end of the fourth year after the October Revolution we are still encircled by capitalism. The proletarian revolution has not achieved any further direct, victorious progress. The bourgeoisie has stood its ground all over the world, in what was the most critical period for it, after the end of the imperialist war and the demobilisation of the armies. That was the period of least state stability of the bourgeoisie as a ruling class, the period of greatest immediate danger from the working masses who were disappointed by the war and its outcome, of the greatest spontaneous, mass-scale revolutionary upheavals, of the greatest panic among the ruling class. In that period it was possible for us, with some justification, to think that the bourgeoisie would fall before this spontaneous onslaught, and that the workers’ and peasants’ army which had been created in order to safeguard the rule of the working class in our country had completely exhausted its tasks within these national limits. The situation developed otherwise. We are, as before, surrounded by the bourgeoisie still in power. All the people’s wealth and state power are in its hands. So, the hope that the first, elemental onslaught of the working people after the war would sweep the bourgeoisie away has not been fulfilled. The bourgeoisie has stood its ground. That is the most important fact in the international situation.

What is now happening before our eyes? A further accumulation of the revolutionary forces of the working class. This is already no longer that spontaneous flood that we saw at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, although the spontaneous mass movement does still exist. Now, in every country, more systematic, stubborn work is being carried on to create a revolutionary party, to accumulate revolutionary experience, to prepare in a systematic way for the conquest of power by the working class. Now, in the epoch into which we have entered, there can no longer be any question of the working class taking the bourgeoisie by surprise and overthrowing it by means of one impetuous onslaught. Despite the fact that the economic soil beneath the feet of the bourgeoisie is cracking up, it has nevertheless kept political control of itself and of its state apparatus, so that the struggle will be stubborn, systematic, protracted and ruthless. This is the basic feature of our international situation. We have, on the one hand, an accumulation of the forces of the working class, but, on the other, we see how, on our undermined and ever more disintegrating economic foundation of capitalism, the bourgeoisie is accumulating military and political forces. We see how it is restoring and strengthening the apparatus of its shaken state power, how it is hitting back and preparing to hit back at still greater length and still more ruthlessly.

What follows from this? The following. First, the bourgeoisie, having stood its ground through 1919, 1920 and 1921, now considers that Bolshevism does not constitute the immediate mortal danger to it that it supposed it did in 1918 and 1919, when it hoped to overthrow us by means of occupation troops. Consequently, it has become psychologically possible for the bourgeoisie to enter into economic relations with us.

Secondly, the bourgeoisie has survived for three years since the war and is preparing to go on living still longer. From this it follows that the bourgeoisie is getting ready for a long period of struggle to suppress the proletarian revolution.

While we are manœuvring, in our internal and international policies, in relation to the peasant masses and to the bourgeoisie (and since we have stood our ground, we are manœuvring not too badly), the bourgeoisie also in its turn is manœuvring. The time has come for it to utilise the natural wealth of Russia, and, to some extent, the Russian market, to heal the most gaping economic wounds, so as to strengthen its position and to be able to strangle the working class if it should rise up against the bourgeoisie.

What follows from this as regards prospects? What follows, as I have already said, is that the struggle of the working class for power will become protracted, intense and ever fiercer, not only on the European but on the world scale. In the course of this struggle there will be waves that rise and waves that sink. It is hard to forecast how long this will go on. But it is clear that it will affect our international situation in very varying ways. There will be periods when the ring of the blockade will be broken and there will be commercial relations between us and the bourgeoisie – and there will be periods of renewed intervention, fresh military inroads. And in this protracted epoch of struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie into which we are entering, one of the fundamental forces of the world working class will still be, as before, our Red Army. That is the perspective in which we must look at the question of the Red Army, not only inside our Party but also among the broad masses of the working people.

We often say that we have passed from a war period into an economic period. This is true, of course, in the sense that we can now transfer a larger quantity of forces into economic work. But in so far as the less conscious element of the working class interprets this circumstance as meaning that the Red Army’s historical role is somehow at an end, this liquidationist attitude towards the Red Army would, if the advanced elements did not fight against it, threaten us with the greatest danger. This urge to liquidate the army (as has often been said) has manifested itself sometimes, in a spontaneous way, among Communist leading circles, in the form of a mass departure of Communists from the Red Army.

Although the plenum of the Party’s Central Committee has now decided firmly to maintain a basic complement of Party workers in the army, this drift into economic work still continues. It is necessary that the Party military workers put up a determined resistance to this drift. Wherever Provincial Committees take military workers away from the army (most often this is done by voluntary agreement, despite the decision of the Party’s CC), Party military workers must relentlessly combat these Provincial Committees. This struggle is necessary for the army’s self-preservation. It is bound up with the profoundly critical period through which the Red Army is passing, and which is due, primarily, to the sharp turn from war to peace conditions.

Our Red Army was formed in the face of terrible danger, from the White Armies and White generals, under the pressure of concentratedly furious agitation by our Party. This was what gave the army its cohesion. Now, in the transition to a peace situation, the army’s psychology has been disrupted. Above all, doubt has arisen as to whether it is necessary to remain in the army now that the most advanced and energetic elements have left it.

We have demobilised sixteen age groups. We are now approaching a situation in which only three age-groups will remain in our army, and then only two, the classes of 1900 and 1901. Along with this, the army’s numbers are being reduced by more than a third. Discharge of the older age groups on indefinite leave is quite unavoidable: it will bring about a normalisation of the army, a levelling-out as regards agegroups, and that will be a big advantage. We hope to achieve this in the next few months, and to that end we have to take from economic activity about 400,000 men of these two agegroups who were not called up at the regular time. This call-up will also take place with a certain amount of resistance, internal and external, and here the task of agitation will be very great to explain the significance of the rejuvenation of the army and its levelling-out in terms of age. Difference in age gives rise to friction and protests. We need an army which will be a long-lived institution, which will continue in being all through the coming epoch, and whose role will increase in connection with changes in the international situation.

The departure of the older age-groups is a big gain, in that as a result the army will be refreshed, but at the same time it is a tremendous loss, in that the army will lose all that it had that was most experienced and tempered, that which constituted the spiritual beauty of the army and on which it was based. What percentage will remain of those who took part in the civil war, in certain districts and rear divisions? There are districts where those of them who are left will make up only ten per cent, all the rest of the troops being fresh raw material. If you look at these districts from the outside, everything seems to be as it was before. Division number such-and-such, morale as it should be, commissars in post, commanders present, training being carried on, uniforms better even than before, the food situation also better: it seems as though a step forward has been taken. However, if you dig deeper, it turns out that this is only an old outline which has been filled in with quite a new element, with new people, young peasants who are like unbaked bricks – give a good shove with your shoulder, and everything collapses. The outward form is good, because the heritage is good – it was created in the preceding epoch. But if we are negligent in this critical period, it may turn out that into the old wineskins – which, to be sure, are not bad wineskins, having been fashioned out of our experience – new wine is being poured which may prove to be not wine at all, but water. [3] Thus, the most immediate danger is this, that if, in this transitional period, there is a too rapid exodus of Communists from the army, if adequate attention is not given to the army as a whole, if no practical, systematic agitation is carried on, then what we shall get, under the outward envelope of the Red Army, is just a blank space.

I speak about this not in order to frighten you, but in order to show you the danger that faces us. That agitation has slackened to an extreme degree is an undoubted fact. I think that this applies generally to the Provincial Political Departments. I asked the commander of the troops in the Volga Military District about their work and (let me say this without meaning to give offence) he replied that the Provincial Political Departments do not carry on any work in the army and, in general, the army cannot see what help they are. It may be that he exaggerated a little but, by and large, I think that the Party and the Provincial Political Departments are not sufficiently aware what a critical period the army is going through, and how much support it needs. The old methods of agitation – drop into a barracks, make a speech, and that’s that – will not do now, because to the new Red Army man, a boy of 19 or 20 who did not serve in the war, these general phrases about imperialism which meant something to the older Red Army men are completely alien. What is needed here is systematic education. He does not feel the presence of the enemy, and abstract arguments – presented, moreover, in very clumsy language – have little effect on him. Consequently, he needs, first and foremost, to be made acquainted with what exists in the world, starting with Romania, Poland and so on. It is necessary to create, at all costs, in place of the stereotyped, barrel-organ agitation about imperialism in general, a series of explanatory pamphlets about our neighbours. In these pamphlets the Red Army man must be taught what Romania is like, for instance, what the position of the peasant is in Romania, what Poland is like, and so on. Perhaps these pamphlets should be produced on a two-story basis, with some more weighty publications for the political workers, the commissars, and so forth, and others, absolutely simple ones, for the rank-and-file peasant. We must, of course, get down to this work without delay, so that it does not happen that war begins when we have only just started to teach the Red Army man.

Under the Tsar, under the Tsarist regime, the peasant’s attitude to war was elemental, with national feeling playing a part. You remember how Uspensky’s hero, the old soldier Kudinych spoke about how he had fought, saying: ‘We beat the Circassians, a good people, we beat countless numbers of them.’ We must not and cannot build our army on that basis. Our Kudinych must know against whom he is fighting and why, he must be taught that, and the commanders as well. Do all the company and platoon commanders know what they ought to know? By no means. True, they curse Poland, they curse Romania, but they do this in wholesale fashion, unconsciously, without any understanding of the situation. For all these reasons we need textbooks adapted to the Red Army. And the creation of such textbooks is a task of political education for the organs of the Political Education Departments.

In the active army the Red Army man is, above all, taken up with war, with fighting. But the Red Army man who lives in an epoch of respite, so to speak, is mainly concerned to look at what is going on around him in the barracks and camps. The peacetime Red Army man pays more attention to trifles. In war, as the French saying has it, things happen ‘as in war’. [4] In war, if the Red Army man hasn’t anything to eat, he steals something from a peasant, and if there isn’t anything for him to steal, well, he goes hungry and just shrugs his shoulders, because he considers that there is nothing to be done about it- it’s war. But in peacetime it is quite a different matter. In peacetime he demands that everything in barracks should be all right, that the barracks should have windows, that these should have glass in them, that the barracks should have a door and a stove. He is much more demanding, and disposed to complain if something does not satisfy him – not to mention those cases when he becomes aware of a bad attitude towards himself and his needs. On the other hand, the people around him are also more demanding, in peacetime, in relation to the Red Army, than they were in wartime. In wartime, if the Red Army man breaks up a door because he has no firewood for his camp-fire, even the peasant whose door he has broken up looks tolerantly on what the soldier has done, because he realises what war means.

Thus, in peacetime, we see greater demands made by the Red Army man upon the state and, contrariwise, by the state upon the Red Army man. In peacetime, the Red Army man demands more order – which is precisely what, we must admit, is lacking both in the army and in other spheres. Here, too, we need to carry out careful work in educating the Red Army man. We have to direct his attention to those trifles which go to make up life.

A distinctive feature of our Communist Party as a group is that we were educated in the past through revolutionary struggle. Against us stood a regime which had been shaped in the course of decades, centuries and millenia. It had created culture and technique and had achieved great things in many spheres. We had to overthrow the old master in order to take power. And in that struggle we did not worry about whether we broke glass or set fire to houses. It was a fight with the bourgeoisie for state power, a struggle which could not have the effect of educating us in attention to trifles and details. On the contrary, we scorned those trifles, and when philistines said to us that the revolution was destroying culture, and so on and so forth, we brushed them aside. After we took power came the epoch of civil war: when you chop wood, chips fly. [5] And many Russian chips flew. It must be admitted that in some places only chips are left.

And now we are proceeding to build, and we have to reeducate the masses, since one cannot build with chips. The work now calls for new methods. An epoch of war, of civil war, could not educate people in attention to trifles and details, yet it is precisely attention to trifles and details that constitutes the necessary condition for economic and cultural progress. When you receive a report that in some division, or regiment, or brigade, the horses are well shod, kept clean, and so on, then, even though this is a small thing, it cheers you up. But, in most cases, you receive reports of a different sort: the horses are in a bad state, they are not groomed, are badly shod, and so on. All attention must now be focused on educating the Red Army. Whereas in the past period it was educated through mass revolutionary upsurge, external danger from the Whites, nowadays this process, which compressed the Red Army into a single, united whole, is absent. There can be no question of the mass of the peasants grasping the basis of this new education theoretically. The inner cohesion of the Red Army can be ensured only by careful attention to the needs of the Red Army man, on the one hand, and, on the other, by teaching the Red Army man to give his attention to all the details of the country’s economic life. This is a very great educational task that confronts us and that we must carry out at all costs. It is a hard task, because it means individual re-education both of the leading workers and of the Red Army masses as a whole.

Of immense importance is the education of the commanders. We can educate them only if we pay attention to their material needs. The commanders are in a very poor situation. Attempts to improve it come up against objections from those who consider that commanders ought not to be put in a privileged situation relative to Red Army men. I direct your particular attention to this matter. It is radically wrong to treat the situation of the commander and that of the Red Army man as though they were identical. The Red Army man has to spend only two years in the army, and that constitutes his military service to the state. But, for the commander, military service is not the performance of some temporary obligation, it is his profession. He has to stay in the army all his life long (this applies especially to the senior ranks) and to maintain his family from what he receives in his capacity as a commander. Here we have to compare the situation of the commander and his family not with that of the Red Army man but with that of a highly-skilled worker, or specialist. If abuses occur in this matter, they must be stopped and punished, but, essentially, our attitude to the question must be clear and distinct, and must not include any concessions to the cheap demagogy which is encountered in this connection.

The mass of Red Army men will always understand when one says to them, frankly: ‘If you want to have a good commander, who won’t be replaced every three months, who will work systematically at his job, and who can guarantee that, in a battle situation, he will not lead the Red Army men to the slaughter, it will be necessary to provide this specialist with favourable conditions of existence.’ Otherwise, we shall not recruit commanders. This applies both to commanders drawn from the workers and peasants and to a large number of the old commanders, whom we are not going to get rid of, because they are useful to us.

We need to pay attention to the old commanders, to know how to approach them and to win them over ideologically. This can be done: we possess some material propitious for this purpose. Our newspapers have written about the book Smena Vekh (A Change of Waymarks) [6], which has been published abroad, in Prague, the authors being former White-Guardists (one of them was a minister in Kolchak’s government, another ran the agitation department in Kolchak’s army, a third headed the same department in Denikin’s army): Klyuchnikov, Potekhin, Bobrishchev-Pushkin. They are all Octobrists, right-wing Cadets and, it may be, former Black-Hundredists, they are all arch-patriots in the reactionary bourgeois-noble sense of the word. And now, proceeding from considerations of patriotism, they have arrived at the conclusion that Russia’s salvation lies in the Soviet power, that, in present historical conditions, no power but the Soviet power is capable of preserving the unity and independence of the Russian people against aggression from without. They are, of course, infinitely remote from communism; but it is not to communism that they have drawn nearer, but to the Soviet power, through the gateway of patriotism. If you read this book you can see that its authors are not some sort of mercenary creatures who want to get pieces of silver from the Soviet power and are ingratiating themselves with it with that aim in view. They have effected a certain ideological change in themselves, working from the standpoint of patriotism. They have halted half-way – but half-way along the road that leads to us. Some of them will go further along this road, and it is the road by which the best elements among the old commanders are drawing closer to us.

It is necessary that there be at least one copy of this book Smena Vekh, in every province. I think that this book will not remain unique. What is indicated here is a turn in thinking of the patriotic émigré intelligentsia which is due to the fact that we have stood our ground, that Russia is now personified by the Soviet power. This is a splendid gift to us for re-educating the commanders of the old school, a gift which we must be able to utilise in the localities. We must set to work, using quotations from the book, to explain to them, to show how people who took the patriotic point of view have sensed, after passing through the ruinous experience of the intervention and suffering the disappointment that has been the lot of all elements among the émigrés, that the only government capable of ensuring the economic and cultural development of the Russian people is the Soviet power.

This work can be carried out, in the main, within the army. I do not indulge myself in the illusion that the Provincial Political Education Departments can do it all by themselves. Each of them has general tasks in relation to the province as a whole: but they can greatly help in this task, by bringing into their work elements of these ideas from the book Smena Vekh about which I have been speaking.

I want especially to stress that the work of re-educating the Red Army’s commanders can be carried out only in barracks, in military units, and so on. It is not to be supposed that we can do all this work of political education of the army, or the main part of it, through the Political Education Departments and their organs. We created the army through the Provincial Military Commissariats. Everything was in their hands: they trained, educated, agitated, purged, formed and also commanded. The provincial military commissariat held the army in its hands. Now, however, the methods of work of our provincial military commissariats have completely changed. Their functions have been reduced to registration and mobilisation. The actual administration of the army is carried on through the hierarchy of command: the high command, the district, the division, the brigade, the regiment. The army’s education is also carried on through these channels. The previous structure of the army, under which leadership was concentrated in the provincial military commissariats, as departments of the Executive Committees, had its justification, of course, and brought good results, but general state and general military considerations have obliged us to make this reform. That is why, while the provincial military commissariat cannot claim to exercise complete military-administrative authority in the army within the boundaries of a province, neither can the provincial political education department, owing to its form of organisation, which does not harmonise with the organisation of command, concentrate in its own hands the work of educating the army. But that does not mean that its role is thereby reduced. In the first place, the political education departments are still in a position to support, ideologically and materially, the agitation carried on in the units, and, something which I think is very important, they have the responsibility of creating around the units an atmosphere conducive to educating the army in a spirit of socialist citizenship, and attracting the workers and peasants towards it.

Meanwhile, as I have said, we observe a decline in political work in the army. This is due to the fact that the transfer of all functions from the Political Directorate of the Revolutionary War Council to the Political Education Departments coincided with the drift of political workers out of the army generally, with demobilisation of the army, with the decline in the attention paid to it. Nearly all our new organisations have yet to prove themselves. The main task, that of uniting army-education work in a province with general education work, can still only be carried out by the Political Education Departments.

For this work to be successful we must retain the maximum number of political workers who are now serving in the army. The replacement of Communist workers which is now taking place in all organisations, especially the cultural and educational ones, is fatal. Not long ago I read in Pravda an excellent article by Comrade Skabeyev in which he speaks of the diabolical fluidity of the political-education staff in the army. Heads of sections, secretaries and all the rest – some are transferred, others mobilised, a third group sent off on missions, and a fourth group leave on their own initiative. This state of affairs leads to the worst consequences, for, I repeat, just dropping into a barracks, making a speech, and then running off does not constitute educational work. One has to get to know the barracks from within, to acquire experience in observing what goes on, to learn what to say and when to say it. It is for this reason that we must keep political workers in the army for a longer period, and why the War Department, and myself in particular, are going to be very difficult in relation to every case of a political worker leaving to go to other work.

Educational work must now be closely linked with increasing the Red Army man’s qualifications as a soldier. His interest in all sorts of things has to be increased: in him we have to educate the socialist citizen and to engender the ambitious soldier. All this calls for the employment of very complex methods. Today I received the report of the inspectorate regarding the state of a certain unit at Kostroma, in which mention is made of a very interesting method of agitation. I will read you an extract from it. [Reads]

Here I must interrupt myself. When I spoke of creating a minimum of human conditions of existence for the commanders, I forgot to say to you that this can be achieved only if attention is given to securing co-operation from the local Soviet organs. We have introduced various reforms and issued authorisations through the Council of People’s Commissars and the Council of Labour and Defence, but these reforms and authorisations have found expression, in the main, in terms of our Soviet roubles, that is, in reality, they have not found expression at all. Obviously, if material improvement is to be achieved, something different is needed: co-operation by the organs that wield power in the localities is called for. We have made an attempt to attach certain divisions to the bigger, more influential soviets – thus, the 51st and 56th Divisions have been attached to the Moscow Soviet, and they do not complain about that, because, as a result, something comes their way from the Moscow Soviet, both materially and spiritually.

We in the Revolutionary War Council have come to the conclusion that we absolutely must arouse throughout the country this sort of emulation between soviets and Executive Committees in the matter of having military units attached to them. Of course, not every soviet can take on two divisions. To an uyezd soviet we shall attach a half-division, or a battery; to a provincial Soviet we’ll give a brigade; and whoever is able to can take on a division. This attachment has become possible now, thanks to the more stationary disposition of units, which in the period immediately ahead will be living a more settled life. Then the local soviet will be able to do a great deal to make up for what has been left undone by the centre, and to improve both the spiritual level and the material condition of units. For example, in the Volga region the needs of the units have been three-quarters satisfied, exclusively thanks to the local soviet and Party organs, for the centre provided very little. This has been attested by the same commander of the troops in the Volga region who complained about the failing-off in educational work. Personally, I think that a lot more can be done in this direction. Let each town which is the seat of the most authoritative organ of power in the given uyezd take steps, through agreement with the district commander, to attach some army units to itself: this will benefit both the units and the local soviet.

I will now continue reading the report about the new method of agitation. ‘Here, political-agitational influence in the most dramatic form was combined with manœuvres, with tactical and strategical training of the Red Army men, which has a very much more powerful effect than any agitational speech, and which can be carried out with the participation of the local Party and trade-union organisation.’

In this connection I will say a few words about the manœuvres which I watched in the Kiev region of Right-bank Ukraine. Both the strong and the weak sides of the Red Army were observable. When Romania stirred, and there seemed to be a threat from Poland, it was decided to hold manœuvres in the Kiev region of Right-bank Ukraine. The units in that area were good, there were a lot of training courses, they had cavalry, morale was excellent. When the two forces came to grips with each other, both sides, which imagined that we were on the brink of war with Romania, were seized with such warlike fervour that it proved hardly possible to separate them. These manœuvres, in which young forces took part almost exclusively, testified to a great increase in military spirit and to tremendous stamina, for colossal marches had to be carried out, by day and by night. On the other hand, however, we were found to be very much weaker in the matter of attention to detail. After all, it is not enough to have a plan of genius: in order to put it into practice one has to pay attention to a whole series of details, to establish communications, carry out reconnaissance, see to security, and adapt the plan to the local situation. Without attention to detail the very best of plans is often transformed into a mere nothing.

Here is an example for you. One unit made use of the local inhabitants’ carts, although this practice had been forbidden. When asked why they had taken the carts, the unit replied that they had not read the order forbidding this, because two orders had been received at the same time, and one of them had not been read. There was doubt at this point as to whether they did not want to carry out this order, or genuinely had omitted to read it, through inattention. But what is the use of the very best operational order if it is not read in time? A whole operation may fall apart if the clerks make mistakes when they copy out the order. Yet in all the reports we received there were enormous typing errors, and such errors can decide the outcome of a battle. If Napoleon had been served by careless clerks he would have lost half his battles.

In our case, what often happens is this. When an order has been copied out, with or without mistakes, it is despatched to the appropriate headquarters – by motor-cycle, for example. The motor-cycle travels two versts, breaks down, and goes no further. And at the moment when, in the commander’s mind, the unit concerned is marching off to take the enemy on the flank, it actually does not even know what his plans are. What is the use of a splendid order if it does not reach its destination? It is obvious that when one sends off an order it is necessary to provide several safeguards to ensure that it gets delivered without fail, through sending it by a messenger on horseback, by car or by other means.

This is what is meant by attention to the details which go to make up military matters, this is what is meant by attention to the regulations. There is noticeable in our army, it must be acknowledged, a whiff of that tendency which is expressed in the phrase: ‘Why worry, it’s in the bag.’ There is a contemptuous attitude to the regulations, yet the regulations are a condensation of military experience: they are a textbook on how to fight, based on past wars. Many people say that the regulations are a dead letter which constrains revolutionary freedom. That is nonsense; one must not talk like that.

The regulations are a most important item in political-educational work and it is necessary to combat relentlessly opinions which can be described only as superficiality, that attitude of: ‘Why worry, it’s in the bag,’ all those so-called revolutionary methods which permit the scorning of orders, regulations and so on. Studying the regulations is just as fundamental a part of educational work as cleaning buttons, uniforms, ammunition and soon. And now the best warriors, the Communist warriors have got down to studying the regulations – they are swotting at the regulations, on the basis of their battle-experience, and, after that, they will apply their minds to exposing deficiencies.

I want to say a few words about the navy. The navy is in a difficult situation. To begin with, it was tied up owing to Britain’s domination of the seas. It was reduced to a minimum, and then it finished itself off through the Kronstadt mutiny. We have noticed how the word ‘Kronstadt’ has come no longer to signify, in literature, in the press and the newspapers, the fortress and the place where Soviet power was born, but is now used as a synonym for the counter-revolutionary element of petty-bourgeois struggle. The Kronstadt sailors read this every day. It is not done, of course, out of ill-will, but, on the other hand, it cannot serve to raise morale. The fortress of Kronstadt is the sailors’ stronghold and, at the same time, the banner of revolt against the Soviet power. This, of course, is a hindrance to us in restoring the navy: but I think that, nevertheless, we have no reason to abandon the idea of restoring it.

I spoke of the road that history is taking in the period that lies ahead. In this period we must expect to see a fierce struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie not only in Russia but throughout the world. And it is very hard to say whether this struggle will be confined to land forces only. We cannot undertake to create a navy for offensive action. We cannot beat British imperialism on the seas and the oceans (we will beat it on the continent of Asia), but must rather think about defending our coasts. Our navy, consequently, must be defensive in character. But that is not enough. We must have the nucleus of a navy made up of the best sailors. And, in this sphere, skill plays a much bigger part than in the army. It is incomparably more difficult to obtain a good sailor than to obtain a good infantryman, gunner or cavalryman. What a sailor has to know is highly complicated. This is why we need to retain the nucleus of a navy, which later on we shall be able to expand. Those organs of the Chief Political Education Department which have local contact with the navy must pay particularly serious attention to this.

In conclusion I will say a couple of words about the prospects of development before our army. Our programme [7] speaks of an intention to create an army of the militia type, that is, an army which retains in readiness only its cadres, and trains a changing body of men without taking them away from their work, so that, should the need arise, they can be brought within the framework provided by the cadres and hurled against the enemy. On what does the tempo of our transition to the militia-type army depend? It depends on many factors, the most important being the mutual relations between the working class and the peasantry and the state of the productive forces – in particular, of transport. In order to transform the army into a militia we need to be in a position, after the variable element has been mobilised, to hurl part of it quickly against the enemy. If transport is in a weak state, we shall have to keep more units with the colours than otherwise we should need to.

Our army, like the state as a whole, is led in an organised way by the working class and the peasantry. The social basis for a militia exists where there is no friction between the workingclass and the peasantry. In so far as the peasantry, for certain economic reasons, has provided, especially in the recent period, the soil for anti-Soviet agitation, and this not only among the upper elements but also among the middle ones, to that extent organising the army as a militia has been politically dangerous, and we have had to keep it in being as a field army, subject to close influence by our party and the advanced workers. Consequently, the rapidity with which we go over to a militia-type army, the rapidity with which we continue to cut down the size of the army, reducing it to its cadres, will be determined by our economic successes. If, before the bourgeoisie falls, we succeed in reviving our transport system, and if, on the other hand, the process of revival in agriculture, which has undoubtedly begun, continues on its way, despite the horrors of the Volga famine, and if mutual relations between the working class and the peasantry become more harmonious, more correct – then the conditions will be created for the army to be reduced still further without reducing the country’s defensive capacity. Until then, however, while we are still in our present difficult economic position, we can pursue the reduction of the army only up to a certain point.

An army, which is an artificial organisation, created not by nature but through protracted work of formation, re-formation and so on, is created gradually and has to be constantly supported. If the Party and the Soviet power do not watch out, the army may disintegrate more quickly than it was built. But, with all the artificiality of the methods of its militaristic organisation, an army wholly reflects the country, the society, the people from which it has emerged, with all their weak and their strong sides. The army has been obliged to devour too great a share of our national income, because our national income is too small, and we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of having a small army consisting of cadres. That is a luxury we shall grant ourselves when we become richer. This idea may, from outside, seem paradoxical, contradictory, but actually it contains a real truth. By its structure our army reflects the milieu around it, with this difference (as I heard it put by the previous rapporteur), that by virtue of its very artificiality it offers favourable conditions for exercising ideological influence upon the young peasant of 19 or 20, separating him as it does from the conditions of peasant life. If we were to take him away from those conditions between the ages of 10 and 15, that would mean de-classing and demoralising him, but by bringing the peasant into close association with Communist workers for two years – and we are moving towards a two-year period of service – we create the most favourable setting for the exercise of Communist influence.

And that is why the War Department is going to insist that military service shall be really universal. We are going to call-up the classes of 1900 and 1901. The barracks must become for the young generation a real school, not only of military but also of political training and education. Exemptions must therefore be kept to the minimum, even in the case of those who are studying or about to study, at institutions of higher education. If they are still at the lower stage of their studies, with a long way yet to go – let them be so good as to come into the Red Army for a couple of years. We must ensure that service in the Red Army is not looked upon as an imposition. This can be achieved by improving the barracks themselves, by cleaning up the internal atmosphere, and by seeing to it that the more advantaged, more educated youngsters do not enjoy any privileges. And in this respect your help with the call-up of the classes of 1900-1901 will be absolutely necessary for us.

Once again we are going through a critical time where the army is concerned. From the general political standpoint we went through a critical time in February and March of this year, during the revolts at Kronstadt and in Tambov province [8] and the change in our legislation. It can now be said that the most dangerous, critical period, from the general political standpoint, has been left behind us. But the army is a copy of society, and the dangers of the turn will be reflected in the army, with a certain delay. We are only now going through the critical period for the army. The morale prevailing in the army is good, and it is possible to consolidate this morale, but that will not happen by itself. If the process that has been going on for some months continues – the drift of forces out of the army and the waning in attention given to the army – then the army may disintegrate, for an army is not an aggregation of individuals, it does not consist of establishments, it is not a certain number of guns, machine-guns and bayonets, it is an ideological, moral bond between living men. This specific, particular military bond is created through experience, through struggle, through sacrifices and trials, through education and example, and so on, endlessly. This is accumulated capital. To accumulate it is ten times, a hundred times harder than to squander it. I ask you to help us in our work of preserving the ideological capital of our Red Army.

From the archives


1. L.M. Aronshtam, at this time head of the military section of the Chief Political Education Department, later held other high posts in the Red Army. He was arrested in 1937 and died in prison: posthumously rehabilitated.

2. Lenin’s report to this Congress on the New Economic Policy is in Collected Works, Vol.33, pp.60-79.

3. ‘Neither do men put new wine into old bottles [i.e, wineskins]: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out ...’ (Matthew 9:17).

4. À la guerre comme à la guerre.

5. This Russian expression is roughly equivalent to: ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.’

6. The title is sometimes translated as Changing Landmarks. However, the allusion is to the marks placed across a tract of country to show a route to be followed: cf. Jeremiah, 31:21 – ‘Set thee up waymarks ...’ For Lenin’s observations on Smena Vekh at the 11th Party Congress (1922), see Collected Works, Vol.33, pp.285-287.

7. The reference here is evidently to the resolution of the Eighth Party Congress On the Military Question: see Resolutions and Decisions of the CPSU, Vol.2, ed. R. Gregor, University of Toronto Press, 1974, pp.23-83. For the discussions in 1921 about the transformation of the army into a militia, see John Erickson, The Soviet High Command, Chapter 5.

8. On the Kronstadt mutiny, see below, note 40. The Tambov revolt was one of the attempts made by SR and Cadet groups to subvert the Soviet power from within. The bandit movement in the Tambov area was headed by a member of the SR Party named Antonov, who in 1918 had been head of the militia in Kirsanovsk uyezd. This movement began in August 1920, with the bandits operating in several groups each of 150-200 men. They rebelled with slogans for a Constituent Assembly, the formation of a union of the working peasantry, extermination of the Communists, and soon. Until the end of 1920 Soviet power was completely wiped out in the three southern uyezds of Tambov province, and unions of the working peasantry were organised everywhere. At the beginning of 1921 the bandit formations had grown so strong (they then numbered 25,000 men) that they were able to attack large villages (Razskazovo, etc.) with impunity, plunder state farms and destroy means of transport and communication, while our poorly-organised units were unable to wage active struggle against them. Only from April 1921 onward did the Soviet Government and the Supreme Command devote sufficient attention to the fight against banditry in the Tambov region. Vigorous political work, establishment of revolutionary committees, and the struggle to divide the peasantry were all combined with resolute measures for suppressing the bandit forces. In mid-June a decisive blow was struck at Antonov, and the peasantry who had been mobilised by the bandits started to come over to us. By the end of 1921 banditry had been liquidated (see Map No.1).

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006