The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports


At a Meeting of Cadets of the 1st Unified Military School Named After the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, November 2, 1921

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

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Comrade cadets! I should like, today, when we have entered a new period, to share with you some general thoughts regarding the fundamental tasks of this new period. I am speaking to you as future commanders of the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army. Comrades, the title of Red officer, the title of commander, is truly the most responsible title imaginable. At present we have no fronts, but, by virtue of its very purpose, the army exists for war, and therefore everything that you learn in peacetime is intended for use in wartime.

You are studying so as to have the right to command and to give orders. War is a stern business. We are striving, comrades, to put an end to war, but that time will not come today, or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. We shall have to go on fighting for a long time yet. More than one month, perhaps several years, will have to pass before we have won, for our country and also for the workers of other countries, for all Europe, for the whole world, the possibility of free and unhindered development towards communism. We shall be obliged to go on fighting for a long time yet. And for that reason we must learn to fight properly.

I said, cadets, that your studies will bring you the right to command and give orders, and I added that war is a stern business. In wartime one cannot argue, persuade, or explain. In wartime all that is to be heard is a sharp command, followed by its precise and unconditional execution. An army in which men do not know how to command, or to execute commands, is a worthless army, an army that is done for. But commanding is a stern and hard business. It is very hard because in order to command one has not only to be self-sacrificing and heroic but also to be able to answer within oneself for the lives of the tens, then hundreds, and later thousands of men, who in wartime find themselves under a commander’s orders. (Please do not expectorate so much, you will infect others thereby. This is also an aspect of personal discipline. In a well-disciplined meeting only those expectorate who really are suffering from a cold, but in an undisciplined meeting everybody does it, infecting each other and distracting attention.) I am giving a strictly practical report, concerned with your direct, immediate responsibilities, and I therefore require your full attention. Each one of you who is going to command will have, in very responsible and serious circumstances, to demand that attention be paid to what he is saying. You will give commands to your platoon, company, battalion or regiment, and upon the words that you utter hereafter will depend the outcome of a small skirmish, then a big clash, then a whole battle, then a protracted conflict, and, finally, the fate of thousands of men. That is why, although an engineer or a doctor holds a responsible position, the mistakes that may be made by an engineer or a doctor do not result at once in such fatal consequences as those that a commander may make.

However, I have frequently observed that Red Army men are able to understand and forgive mistakes made by their commander, even when the price of these has been heavy losses, provided that the commander himself is able to appreciate that he has made a mistake, provided that he does not try to excuse himself, but goes on studying and pressing onward. But, naturally, in order to reduce these future mistakes to a minimum, we need to concentrate our attention on the preparations which you are now receiving. And here, in order to appreciate the tasks of the new period into which we have entered, we need to look at the two great periods which are now behind us.

The majority of you are youngsters, most of you have been only a few months in the Red Army, and only a minority took part in the civil war, but all of you must be aware that our army was formed in haste, out of guerrilla units that were hurriedly put together under fire. It was formed from Red Guard units of Petrograd and Moscow workers. In those units the commanders were distinguished from the rank-and-file only by the fact that they were, perhaps, more enterprising, politically more developed, braver than the rest, but often they were lacking in even the most basic military knowledge.

There developed in that period a theory, so to speak, of revolutionary guerrilla-ism, especially in the borderlands, where the level of political and general development in the guerrilla units was lower. A view developed according to which, in a revolutionary country in a revolutionary epoch, we do not need protracted training, drill, system, we do not need regulations – a view that all that is needed is revolutionary solidarity, willingness to fight and die, and with our small, closely-welded units we shall march all across the country and, if necessary, beyond its borders into other countries, everywhere conquering our foes. In the first period this theory seemed to be confirmed by experience. But why? Because our first adversaries were White-Guard bands, because our enemy was also weak and unorganised, his troops consisting of small units. True, from the military standpoint, those units were better than ours. Their commanders were a coherent body of officers of the old army, consisting, moreover, of their elite, those who were most courageous in the fight for the cause of the capitalists and landlords, for the cause of the old regime – but, on the other hand, they had few rank-and-file soldiers. They formed officers’ battalions, but these lacked a mass of rankers, private soldiers, that is, peasants and workers, ready to follow them. Our units had more cohesion, there was stronger solidarity between our weak commanders and their rank-and-file, and so we were victorious. This gave some comrades the impression that guerrilla units were the last word in the revolutionary art of war.

But as soon as our foes were able to form stronger units and to consolidate these into regular formations, into brigades, divisions and corps, in the South and in the East, it at once became apparent that loose, shaky, unstable and amorphous guerrilla units were incapable of coping with the task before us; and we waged a persistent, tireless struggle, we – I speak of the War Department and of the Communist Party, which guides the work of all departments including ours – we waged a persistent struggle to establish a regular structure for the Red Army, to replace the scattered guerrillas by a regular, centralised system of administration and command for the fighting forces of the workers’ and peasants’ Republic.

We had to pass through a long period in 1918 and 1919 before the ideas and slogans of guerrilla-ism were finally overcome in the minds of the revolutionary workers and peasants, until, at last, everyone understood that our task was to create a regular, systematically organised army, in which each battalion, each regiment has its establishment and its regular system of administration. From regiments a brigade is formed, from brigades a division, and in time of war these are formed into armies, and the armies united into fronts. Central command was exercised by the Field Staff, while supreme command was, and is, in the hands of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic. This centralised system was our salvation. Without this centralised system, in which everything was concentrated in one directing and commanding centre, we should have perished, for the fronts formed one continuous ring around us. There were fronts in the East, in the North, in the West and in the South. Our forces gradually increased. If we had not been able to decide, from the centre, which front was the most dangerous at any given moment, if we had not been able at each given moment to say that we would neglect for the time being the Ukrainian front, or the Northern front, leaving only a small screen of troops there, while transferring all our main forces and technical resources upon the Eastern front today, against Kolchak or tomorrow against Denikin – if, I say, we had not been able, acting from the centre, to concentrate our forces in the direction of maximum danger, we should have been beaten ten times over during the three- and-a-half years of the civil war.

Centralisation alone saved the Soviet Republic. But centralisation is not just a plan drawn on paper. The plan showed the direction to be followed by work at the fronts or in the districts, by the commanders of the armies, divisions, brigades, corps and so on. It is easy to sketch out such a plan, such a procedure.

But it was necessary to get it into men’s heads, to ensure that regimental commanders understood that they had to subordinate themselves to brigade commanders, and at first they did not accept this. It seemed to the commander of a regiment, or of some guerrilla units of the first period which had been formed into a regiment, that he himself, on the spot, understood the military situation best, for the importance of intelligence on a wider scale, the importance of reports concentrated in the hands of a superior commander, the importance of strategy, of an operational plan with a wider scope, for the sector held by the army or even by the division – all that was not yet understood by our first, hastily-assembled units and their commanders. And it was only gradually, step by step, that the idea of genuine discipline, to be obeyed not from fear but from conscience, entered into the minds of the Red Army men. Everyone understands this now, nobody would venture to oppose it, everyone has realised that, while heroism is a necessary quality, it brings victory only if combined with discipline. Heroism without discipline means criminal squandering of forces and of people’s lives.

From this period of guerrilla-ism we passed into the period of centralised building of the army and centralised conduct of the war. It was this, as I have said, that ensured our victory. But does this mean that we have now spoken the last word on that score? Does it mean that the Red Army is now everything that it ought to be?

We conquered our enemies, but we did this at the price of very great losses. We took too long over every struggle, every war, every campaign. On every front we advanced, chased the enemy and fell upon him; then he struck a return blow and we fell back, often retreating beyond the line from which our original offensive had been launched. Then a continual stream of fresh forces came to our aid: we resorted to using our cadets, we mobilised thousands upon thousands of Communist workers; and once more, with these fresh forces, we fell upon the enemy. Twice we struck at him and pressed forward, but it happened that we again had to retreat, and then to advance a third time. The army did not always show the necessary inner steadiness. There was plenty of heroism, increasing as the war went on. The overall operational plan was often good, excellently conceived, and yet, nevertheless, an operation would miscarry at the very moment when it seemed as though it must ensure complete victory.

To what were these set-backs due? Insufficient preparation of each and every rank-and-file soldier, and especially of the junior commanders. This fault, this misfortune, namely, the inadequate preparation of our junior commanders, is still today the chief misfortune of the Red Army. And since you, when you leave this school, will at first occupy posts as junior commanders, later rising to more responsible tasks, we, the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, hope that your preparation, your self-preparation, will provide us with more experienced, more self-confident commanders.

War, like every other activity, comrades, is made up of small and very small elements. Look at a very large and beautiful building, even if it be only Vasily Blazhenny. [1] A beautiful building, beautiful colours – it might seem that the whole thing flowed out all at once from the artist’s brain, just from his concept alone. But in actual fact this building is made up of small and very small pieces. Somebody had to assemble the materials, saw them, plane them and paint them. And so it is with everything. A machine which works without breaking down seems as though it were alive. Actually, every nut, lever and screw in this machine was calculated by someone, pencil in hand, and if there should be something amiss in some little lever, the machine cannot function. An army is a complex building, or a complex animated machine, made up of small and very small pieces. If the pieces do not fit together, if the calculations have been made wrongly, then the result is that the machine gives a frightful kick, and, at the decisive moment, the army recoils. Why? We have tens and hundreds of examples of this. Because the platoon commanders, the company commanders, the battalion commanders did not know, or forgot at the decisive moment, the simplest rules laid down in the regulations which they had studied – they forgot their duty to report, and that led to catastrophe. If the commander of a small unit had reported in good time what he saw, and if he had taken care to ensure that his report reached its destination, a catastrophe involving a larger unit – a brigade or a regiment – might have been avoided. And because a brigade was taken unawares, a whole army was brought to ruin.

Lack of organisation and failure to report ran through the entire history of our war. I will quote you an example from peacetime. We held manœuvres in Right-bank Ukraine. The purpose of these manœuvres was to test the army, and certain units in particular, under peace conditions, but in such a way as to try and simulate war conditions as closely as possible. There were two forces involved – one called Red Force and the other Blue Force. They fought each other, but both of them consisted of Red Army units, including cadets. When the commander of one of the forces had worked out his strategic concept, his plan of campaign for smashing the enemy, and he had issued and distributed to the various subordinate commanders the orders in which he embodied this plan, it turned out that one of these orders, and the most important of them at that, was not received by one of the subordinate commanders. Why was it not received? It was despatched by motorcycle. The motorcycle was in bad condition; after going two or three versts it stopped somewhere, in the mud, and the order was not delivered. And so, comrades, it happened that the staff had worked out a plan, and the units were supposed to know the particular points to which they were to march in order that a decisive blow against the enemy might be prepared – but the whole operation came to a standstill because an order which had been composed and written out failed to reach its addressee. Why? A motor-cycle turned out to be unserviceable. Perhaps this was because the motor-cycle, like all army property, was falling to pieces, or else because the motor-cyclist was careless – perhaps they gave him the wrong sort of fuel, and he accepted it without checking. A hundred causes could be at work here: but the fact was that the order did not arrive, the subordinates were left without guidance and the whole operation miscarried.

And that’s not all. How many orders have I seen which have been carefully composed, but then spoiled through mistakes in transcription. Where 1400 hours should have been put, the clerk has typed 0400 hours. A big difference. And, as a result, complete confusion in the operation. When the commander receives this order, he realises, after working out the time available, that it is not possible for him to get to the point indicated by 0400 hours. He starts to consider. The period of time must be a lengthy one: he could indeed get there by 1400 hours: but what is written in the order is 0400 hours: and he concludes that what must have been meant is 0400 hours next day. He decides that there is a mistake in the order, namely, that 0400 hours, December 2, should be read as 0400 hours, December 3. He has to assume something. He delays his departure, and appears at the point indicated on the following day. The whole operation has miscarried. Why? Because of a mistake made by the typist in copying the order, and because the staff, the commander himself, did not check every figure in the typescript.

Is it possible to avoid such accidents? Certainly it is. The regulations state that orders, especially important ones, must be despatched in several different ways – where possible, by different routes and different means of conveyance, so that they reach their destination. Owing to insufficient habits of accuracy, to inadequate education of the commanders, the ABC of military work is transgressed among us. Accuracy is the virtue in shortest supply in our country. We saw a small example of this today. It was arranged that today’s meeting should begin at 9 o’clock. When I arrived, your ranks were only just approaching the doors. I asked why. I was told that you had been having supper. Supper is not some unexpected earthquake. Supper is an event which can be calculated, watch in hand; it could have been allowed for, and the meeting fixed for 9.15. We miscalculated a little here, by fifteen or ten minutes. In peacetime, under completely peaceful conditions, the distance from the Kremlin to this hall was not taken into consideration. But what about what happens under war conditions, when an unexpected shower occurs, something that was not foreseen in an order, and all the roads are turned into one complete bog, a mass of mud in which the guns get stuck and out of which they have to be dragged? In such cases the calculations sometimes get muddled, one has to be on the alert, or a mistake may be made which will be a matter not just of a few minutes, but of several hours, even days, and as a result an operation may miscarry and collapse.

There was another case during the manœuvres. Both forces were forbidden to make use of the local inhabitants’ carts for transporting their men. Why? So as not to burden the peasants unnecessarily. In wartime the army makes use of all the means that come to hand. But during manœuvres, on a training exercise, there is no reason to impose an unnecessary burden on the peasants. That was why the army was ordered to get about on foot, without using the local people’s vehicles. When the units were being moved, however, it was found that one of them had covered 50 versts in 24 hours, and that this had been achieved by conveying the men in carts belonging to the local peasantry. When the manœuvres were being analysed, I asked why they had done that, seeing that an order had been issued forbidding use of the local inhabitants’ vehicles. The commander concerned scratched his head and said: ‘We received that order along with some others, and didn’t get round to reading it.’ In war conditions (and on manœuvres one should behave as though in war conditions), they receive an order and sign for it, but then forget to do one more little thing – open the envelope, take out the order, and read it. But again I ask you, comrades, what is the use of having the very best plan of campaign, the very best weapons, enormous expenditure by our country on training, armaments and transport costs, if at the decisive moment, though the commander writes an order, his subordinate commanders don’t read it?

What is all this due to? To the absence of that accuracy without which military work is doomed to destruction. Of course, in so far as we were opposed by White Guards of various sorts, we coped successfully with them – but, suppose we had to fight the French army, what then? True, they lack the enthusiasm that we possess, but they have greater accuracy and precision, their orders reach their destination, their orders are received and carried out in good time. That does not happen with us. The principal difficulty, comrades, lies with the junior commanders – their inadequate preparation, their insufficient habituation to their work, to their responsibilities, the fact that they have not been educated enough in the spirit of accuracy, precision, assiduity. A good commander, a good soldier, is made up of heroism, discipline and accuracy. We possess heroism; we possess discipline, in the sense that we appreciate the need for it, and that deliberate disobedience is rare, being a crime which the army’s public opinion regards with indignation; but accuracy, precision, attentiveness, vigilance we do not possess. And so long as we are without these qualities, the Red Army will still be in its infancy. To boast that we are stronger than anybody, and can beat anybody, is, until we have mastered the most elementary rules and their fulfilment, so much lightmindedness and superficiality.

Yesterday a meeting was held which was attended by senior commanders, students at the Red General Staff Academy, at which questions of military doctrine were discussed – those scientific rules which should determine the structure of our army and the methods with which it fights. [2] Some comrades from among our young commanders who were at the fronts of the civil war – splendid, trustworthy, courageous men, decorated with the Order of the Red Banner – put forward this view: since we are a revolutionary army, we must, above all, attack. The law for our army, they said, should be: resolute offensive action. Is this right? In that form, it is not right. The law for our army should be to conquer, to beat the enemy, and, if he does not surrender, to destroy him utterly. That is the law. Whether to advance or to retreat, to stand one’s ground, to charge forward, or to pull back – will be dictated by circumstances and conditions. He who always rushes forward may be a hero, but as regards tactics and strategy he is a ram, not a commander. A ram rushes forward – but he has a stout forehead, and he puts only his own forehead at risk, whereas a commander is answerable for the foreheads of the soldiers under him; and the art of war, the art of command, consists in achieving results with a minimum of losses, with little bloodshed. That is what calls for study, that is why military schools have been set up.

I have received a letter from a group of cadets in Yekaterinoslay. They ask why it is that they have to learn arms drill, which takes up a lot of time. One needs to know one’s rifle, to be able to take it apart and put it together again, to fire it – and that’s enough: arms drill is a waste of time. Is that true? No, it is not true. We have here a survival from old attitudes.

An army is not just one individual who knows his rifle and is able to fire it; an army is a connected, homogeneous, uniformly-acting whole. In an army it is necessary to ensure that a series of movements and actions are carried out quite automatically, because in battle, one has to know how to react in circumstances that are unexpected, such as one has never seen before, never experienced, so that one always needs to know what to do without having to think it out, and for this reason one’s handling of one’s rifle has to be automatic, mechanical. Only after that has been achieved is it possible to adapt one’s conduct to the local circumstances. And confidence in movement is attained through automatism. That is the first, most elementary task, without which one will get nowhere.

Naturally, in this matter as in others it is possible to overdo things, and to turn drill into a sort of dandyism, as did happen in the old army. It is indeed very agreeable to watch a unit that marches well and all of whose movements are as neat as though governed by a chronometer or a stop-watch. That is a beautiful spectacle, but we are not rich enough to merge the army more or less with the ballet – though I think that would be no bad thing, and when we are richer, and the Soviet country organises national festivals and war-games, the army will attain greater perfection in this respect, so that it will be a pleasure to watch. After all, you do watch ballet. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but we haven’t reached that stage yet. Of course we need drill only in so far as this ensures success in battle.

By automatising them we make habitual and unconscious those elementary movements on which tactics and strategy can be based. As commanders you need to master this automatism at all costs, for the soldier senses very well, from his commander’s voice, whether he is sure of himself or not. Big books have been written about how a commander should give commands, how he should speak. The soldier, the Red Army man, will execute a command precisely and sharply if the commander’s voice is clear and distinct, if the commander feels within himself that he can give orders. If he is not sure of himself, if he gets confused, and his word of command sounds more like a request, or a proposal, the whole unit senses that the commander lacks self-confidence. Woe to that unit, and woe to that commander – it would be better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, as Scripture puts it, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea [Matthew 18:6.], than that he should take upon himself the role of commander.

You are going to have to command, and for that you will need to know the regulations. At the start of the revolution much was said about this matter. People said that the old regulations were a dead letter, and that we, as a revolutionary army, based upon consciousness, upon political, revolutionary élan, had no need of regulations. This was a most profound and gross delusion. The commander needs the regulations in the same way that a builder needs arithmetic. A builder may be a talented man, but if he fails to measure some section of the structure he is putting up he will not succeed in building anything. Arithmetic is a result of the past work of mankind, and there is no need for us to create it afresh. In arithmetic we find the rules for adding and subtracting, multiplying and dividing, which were thought out before our time, and we have only to apply them. Similarly, in military matters there are a number of rules which are derived from past experience, and which are written down in the regulations. How many times has one observed young commanders who have graduated from our schools in the capital (or from other schools in which the period of training was much shorter) and who did not want to study the regulations, regarding that as boring and a waste of effort. But when they were engaged in battle, and found themselves up against it, because no sentries had been posted, because there was no march discipline, because no reconnaissance had been carried out or reports sent in, and because orders did not reach them from headquarters -then the paragraphs of the regulations flashed through their minds: they had heard something, read something, if only they could remember what it was, that would tell them what to do. Only after such an experience did those commanders acquire a very active interest in the dead letter of the regulations. Of course, the task of the teacher consists in filling the paragraphs of the regulations with living content, but that aim can be attained only if each of you remembers, every day and every hour, that he is being prepared to apply these regulations in relation not only to particular local conditions but also to the bodies of tens and hundreds of his comrades-in-arms, the worker and peasant Red Army men.

Here I must turn to certain matters which are in an extremely bad way with us, matters closely bound up with accuracy, with attention to particular details. I mean the question of our army property, starting with boots and ending with horses and rifles. Everything is in a frightful state, and this testifies to the army’s extreme immaturity, its backwardness and lack of military culture. A few weeks ago I asked our supply organs and the inspectorate attached to the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic to give me data on the most crying cases of careless, thriftless and neglectful treatment of greatcoats, barrack buildings, horses and rifles. Some of my informants sent me a whole pile of such cases, while others replied that there were so many of them that they were hard to enumerate.

Rifles are expended very freely in wartime. Both in the imperialist war and in our civil war, over 80 per cent of all rifles were expended in the course of one year – that is, nearly the entire quantity in the hands of the active army. During the year each of them was replaced once, either because it had been lost on the battlefield or because it was worn out. In peacetime, before the imperialist war, this expenditure came to 3 per cent per year – that is, of 100 rifles, three were replaced in the course of a year, or 3,000 out of 100,000 or 15,000 out of 500,000. Thus, during one year the army had to find 15,000 new rifles altogether. We expend 80 per cent of our rifles in wartime, but there can be no doubt that our expenditure now, in peacetime, is higher than 3 per cent. Why? Because we do not know how to look after our rifles, we don’t clean them, there is no habit of attention, no accuracy. This is the major fault against which we must fight with word and deed, with orders and penalties, because our exhausted country cannot, in peacetime, replace 20 per cent, 30 per cent and even more of its rifles every year. We must get back to the old pre-war percentage, that is, an annual wastage of no more than 3 per cent of our rifles.

And what about boots and greatcoats? Our army had a huge percentage of barefoot and ill-clad men on every front, and we lost whole battles and campaigns through shortage ofgreatcoats and boots. At the time, I reported to the Government that we failed to win complete victory in the Polish campaign because there were not enough greatcoats or boots for the winter months. If, in August of last year, we had had a sufficient number of greatcoats and boots on the Western front, we could have trained without hindrance the tens of thousands of young Red Army men whom we sent there. But we were not able to do that, because the rain and cold weather came and our men were barefoot and without greatcoats. At the same time, comrades, there is no other army where there has been such frantic expenditure of boots and greatcoats as in ours, in our exhausted, almost poverty-stricken workers’ and peasants’ country. I tell you, future commanders, this is no joking matter.

What has brought all this about? Lack of accounting, lack of attention. Individual equipment records, Red Army men’s service books, in which everything issued to them is recorded, are being distributed very slowly. Why? For many reasons, illiteracy, insufficient attention on the part of the junior commanders, the platoon, company and battalion commanders, who do not keep an eye, a persistent master’s eye, on this matter. If things go on in this way, twice as many greatcoats and boots will disappear, and when the time comes to fight, the Red Army man will be both barefoot and naked. These are facts shown by the experience of our war.

I will take a example which illustrates this fact especially well. In a certain division there are two regiments. In one of these there are a good commander and a good commissar. They hand over some army property to a platoon commander who has come from this Kremlin school, or from some other school, and they inspire him with an economical, business-like, attentive attitude to his responsibilities. Alongside this regiment there is another, in which the commander, though he may be a hero, is an unbusinesslike, disorderly sort of man: his subordinate commanders get no good example, no education, from him. And so you have two regiments in one and the same division, who receive exactly the same equipment and so on, but the difference between them is colossal. In one regiment they have almost everything they need, and there is even a little store of stuff put by for a rainy day. If forage is lacking, they take steps to procure some from the woods; they look ahead to the difficult time that may come. (There is a commander like this here in Moscow: he used to command the 36th Infantry Division, which has now been disbanded.) But in the other regiment everything is in utter disorder.

In the Moscow Military District a commission carried out a check on the state of the army’s horses in the area round Moscow. I once looked through an order concerning this matter issued by Muralov, the commander of the troops of this district, and I was amazed: the 316th, 317th and 320th Regiments all receive the same, yet the difference between them is colossal. In the 316th Regiment, care of horses is unsatisfactory, and the horses have mange. In the 317th the situation is good: cleanliness and order in the stables. In the 320th they have brushes and curry-combs, but the mucking-out is not done well. Concerning the divisional school, which ought to be a model, a seed-bed of order, I read: mucking-out and maintenance bad, tails and manes cut irregularly, horses rarely groomed, although there is no shortage of brushes and curry-combs, fatigue squads not detailed for work, roster compiled improperly, procedure for exercise not known, no inspection or veterinary supervision undertaken. The entire body of commanders and commissars show indifference to the instructions of the inspectorate. And where is this? In the divisional school. Two or three weeks ago I sent out a new inspecting commission, composed of very responsible and experienced persons, in order to see whether there had been any change. It turned out that there had not. Those who were good had become still better, but those who were bad had not improved in the slightest.

You often hear, these days, and afterwards you experience the fact, that we are very poor, that we lack not only forage but also brushes and curry-combs. In this school, even though you too experience some hardships, comrade Kremlin cadets, you have nevertheless been placed in very favourable conditions compared with those existing in all the other schools. People say – how can we clean our boots if we have no grease, or how can we groom our horses when we are without brushes? But I have quoted an example of how things are in one and the same division. What an immense difference: under one commander, cleanliness, exemplary order – under the other, the opposite. And this depends, above all, on the commanders.

We have passed through a phase in which there was barbarous destruction of all the commercial premises that were turned into barracks. Never can there have been such a dreadfully wasteful, wanton treatment of buildings as we saw here in the past period. Last week! asked for some data on this. I was given so many that it is impossible for me to quote details. People smashed everything up, tore out fittings when they left, knocked out windows, blocked up latrines – you know what I mean, they chucked anything and everything into them, starting with their old footcloths. The pipes froze and then burst, and lakes were formed on the ground floors. Many buildings which were occupied by the Red Army men were in this condition, and cadets were no better than others in this respect. If a unit is stationary, the men remember that they are going to have to spend the winter in that same building, and if they break the windows they will freeze. During the war, when units frequently moved from place to place, one unit would leave the next with a heritage of smashed-up premises. This became a regular epidemic. There was not the simplest civic education, no sense that the building in question was public property. The old attitude of the slave towards what belongs to the state, to the Tsar, to the government, continued to prevail; and when commanders omit to pay attention to this, it is a very grave fault on their part.

For the Kremlin school cadets, comrades, an effort has been made to create here in the Kremlin a certain minimum of comfort, both for study and for personal life. This is very modest comfort, but you have been put in a more privileged situation than other schools, and we hope that you will maintain such order that we may bring other people here and show how to live in cleanliness – no graffiti on the walls, no cigaretteends on the floor, no spitting about the place. That sort of half-thoughtless, half-joking wantonness easily seizes hold of entire units – one man chops a bit off here, another adds his contribution, and, in the end, behold, the entire place is in a mess within a few weeks.

You know that we have a building squad. They have reported that, owing to our lack of materials, they will not only be unable to do a more complete repair job but will not manage even to put right the damage that is done every day. For this reason, the commander of the squad says that if you were to look after the building, that would be more to our advantage than if construction work or repairs were called for. While repairs are under way, more damage is being done than can be repaired. There have been dozens of such reports.

I asked the Chief Administration of Horsebreeding how our commanders treat our horses, and received the answer that, from what they had seen, the treatment is harsh, inhuman. Not everyone behaves like that, of course, as I know perfectly well, but such cases do exist. Careless treatment of horses is inadmissible, for we have only half as many horses as before the war, and this situation is getting worse, not only through our poverty, that is, through shortage of fodder, but also through careless treatment of those horses that we have. I can say, rather, that our poverty has resulted from our carelessness: as I have already mentioned, in our army greatcoats and boots are used up faster than in any other army in the world. This can also be said of the rest of army property. Of what use is an operational plan and excellent morale if, when we advance, our boot-soles come off? The boots are sewn together, of course, from material which is not of the best quality, but why is that? Because twice as many have to be made, owing to our lack of punctiliousness, owing to failure to grease boots when they should be greased.

At the meeting of commanders of the Moscow garrison I said that we failed to get to Warsaw because the soldiers’ boot-soles fell off, because they did not grease their boots, had not learnt to treat them with care, used up too many of them – and at the most crucial moment, when Warsaw was in sight, when we had only to reach out our hand to take the place, we couldn’t manage it. Our strength was insufficient, because an army which is barefoot and ragged has to expend twice as much energy. The army’s baggage-wagons could not keep up with the advance, and the reason why they could not was that the horses were sick with mange, and they were sick because they were not fed or groomed as they should have been. One factor combined with another, and the result was defeat, the failure of the operation, retreat, and the destruction of hundreds, of tens of thousands of men.

It is just as though you were to take the best, strongest fabric and with the finest of needles prick this fabric: you withdraw the needle, and you see it has left no trace, has done no damage to the fabric. But if you sit a hundred men down and put needles in their hands, and they keep sticking the needles into the fabric for 24 hours, all that will be left of your fabric will be threads, it will all have come unravelled. A small failure in accuracy, a slight lack of assiduity is just such a prick with a fine needle. Each person says: what harm does it do if I drop a cigarette-end, or spit? But sometimes a consumptive spits, and somebody else catches the infection from this – and a cigarette-end can set fire to the floor. We nearly had a fire in the Kremlin, which could have caused us great difficulties. Or, when a door won’t open, men try to open it with a bayonet. What is the result? The door is damaged and the bayonet bent. Two little bits of damage; but, just see, within a short time you won’t recognise the building, it’s been so badly spoiled.

If a man finds himself in an untidy, sloppy atmosphere, he is in no mood to work. Take a factory, a workshop. If there is rubbish on the workshop floor, the wind blows through the windows, and rain comes in through the ceiling, the workers will work badly, they won’t feel like it. But if the workshop is clean, with everything as it should be, the men will work twice as well. It is the same with any army unit: in a filthy, spittlecovered place you won’t find a good unit.

If, in the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, I notice a gob of spittle on the floor, I hasten to find who it was that spat. It may be that some will say: what sort of free republic is this if we’re not allowed to spit freely? We cannot permit this sort of interpretation of freedom. Whoever spits on the floor, spits on someone else’s labour – after all, somebody has got to clean it up, sweep it away. The person who behaves like that has a careless attitude to labour, and he is a slob. And we have no need, comrades, of slobs, in the Soviet Republic and in the Soviet army. We must get rid of slovenliness, at all costs.

In the first period we had heroism and to spare. Now, that period is behind us: we need heroism, but this heroism needs to be given a lining of concern for accuracy. Heroism with a lining of concern for accuracy is the finest quality that we have need of. If every one of you provides himself with that lining, we shall get very good commanders. Without it, no readiness for self-sacrifice is going to help us against the new armies with which we shall have to fight. Poland and Romania are our nearest neighbours. If we have to fight them, we shall find that they will be richer in armaments than we are. We have an intelligence service, there is an intelligence directorate where they collect information about the Romanian, Polish, German and French armies, and from this we see that our nearest neighbours are making tremendous efforts to organise their armies and bring them up to a higher level.

We also need to pay greater attention to past experience. The Kremlin training courses possess their own experience. Kremlin cadets fought on various fronts and furnished a considerable number of commanders. I do not know to what extent this experience has been studied. Do your cadets know their past? If not, it is time they began to learn it. You used to have a periodical. I don’t know if it still appears. You must collect material, facts, the circumstances of military actions in which Kremlin cadets took part. If there are commanders in certain units who were formerly cadets at the Kremlin school, you should send messengers to them, to take down what they can tell you about how they coped with their role as commander in their first battle, what they found lacking in themselves, how their teeth chattered – not from fear, because fortunately, there are few cowards among us – but because the situation was a complicated one, in which they could not orientate themselves. An order ought to be given, and the commander looks towards headquarters, expecting to receive one from there, but nobody sends him any orders. In that situation a man has to act on his own initiative, at his own discretion. Let them tell what they found was lacking, what their school had not given them, what they had not obtained from it, through ignorance or carelessness. Many Kremlin cadets have been killed in action. I don’t know whether all such cases have been recorded. I suppose they haven’t. Information needs to be collected about how they died, what the circumstances were. That will serve as a monument to the fallen and as an instruction for others. Perhaps they died, not because the situation required it, but because they were not adequately prepared for their task. That will be the best sort of training and education. An army is strong when its experience is passed on, when each unit firmly preserves its fighting tradition, cherishes the military glory of its regiment, its school, its division. We have entered a period when this pride in one’s achievements has to be fostered. We are all sons of the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army and the workers’ and peasants’ Republic, and in this sense the merits of every regiment are very dear to all of us, but the army can be raised to a higher level when each of you has in his heart and his mind the history of his own unit, his own school, and remembers its merits and its shortcomings. The merits must be increased and the shortcomings eliminated.

While the military calling is, in general, a very hard and responsible one, the calling of the military commander is ten times as hard and responsible as the ranker’s. Since the revolution and the working class need the Red Army – and they do need it – the Red Army must be able to fulfil its role in all respects. We need not just a commander, but a skilled commander. The army is being reduced. It has now been reduced to one-third of its size last year. It has lost in quantity but it must gain in quality. Every commander, every soldier must perform the military work that previously was done by three or five men, because previously we filled up gaps by means of massive numbers. We suffered heavy losses, throwing in two or three divisions where the task could have been accomplished by one division, and this we did through lack of skill, inadequate training. A period has arrived when we have to replace quantity with quality.

The Kremlin school has been provided with comparatively favourable conditions, given our difficult situation, our poverty.

The War Department is doing all it can to ensure that this position does not get any worse: in the future, when we have become richer, we shall improve it. Without exaggeration, the eyes of the world are on the Kremlin school – it is seen as representing the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army. Why? Because when foreigners – friends or foes – visit the Kremlin, they see, first of all, the Kremlin cadets. At the parades and reviews that we hold on Red Square in honour of the International, where foreign diplomats are present, among whom are men of high military education and with a keen, soldier’s eye, these people again see, first of all, the Kremlin cadets, and they say to themselves: if the Kremlin cadets’ horses are in a poor condition, what must the others be like? Or, contrariwise, if the Kremlin cadets look good, that gives the impression that the entire army is good. In the eyes of the whole world, the Kremlin cadets are a model of the Red Army. Our task is to ensure that the Kremlin school becomes a model in every respect: as regards its spirit – revolutionary solidarity, revolutionary morale; as regards drill, administration, tactics; as regards accuracy, assiduity, conscientiousness; in short, in all respects. For that reason the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, and I in particular, will frequently look in on you. Both through a commission and directly we shall inspect these premises. I give you warning of that. It may be that, on the quiet, since discipline does not allow it to be done aloud, somebody will sometimes curse us for being so demanding – for taking you to task today, for instance, because you were 15 minutes late and because you expectorated so much. But, comrades, unless we are so demanding, so insistent, we shall not raise ourselves up; and that we must do, at all costs.

We have the habit of relying on the saying: ‘Somehow, anyhow, perhaps, probably.’ [3] That is a very big defect, which is especially highly developed in the Russian peasant. They pressed down on him from above, nowhere could he straighten his back, and he got used to that situation, and kept saying: ‘Perhaps, probably.’ That was a very great vice produced by slavery, comrades, and even today it affects the revolutionary element. We need to raise ourselves up, to educate ourselves, and for this we need firm discipline, so that a man may be aware of himself, from his little toe to the brain in his head, may remember what he must do and what he must not do, where to throw a cigarette-end, what to say, what command to give – he must be able to control himself, to have command of himself. That is a great art, which has to be learnt. Before a commander receives the right to command others, he must learn to command himself, to feel that he is in control of himself, answerable for himself. The Kremlin cadets must be educated in this high art.

The Revolutionary War Council of the Republic will keep the Kremlin school under its own observation. There must be cleanliness and complete order everywhere, because that is the setting for work. If somebody sometimes gets into a temper and curses, he should remember, nevertheless, that this demandingness of ours is not malicious fault-finding, it is due not to malevolence towards you, but to a desire to help you – sometimes, it may be, by strong measures – to become real commanders, real revolutionary fighters, who have the right to give orders to others, to demand unquestioning obedience, even to the point of death, under the conditions of war. May the Kremlin school progress and grow stronger, may your care and love for it increase; may each one of you say, in a difficult moment of military responsibility – this habit of command and power to command was given to me by the Kremlin school. And I call on you to shout with me, in honour of the Red Kremlin school, all together: ‘Hurrah!’

From the archives


1. The Pokrovsky Sobor (Cathedral of the Intercession), the many-domed church which stands in Red Square, was built in the 1550s by Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate the conquest of Kazan. The people nicknamed the church Vasily Blazhenny (’Basil the Blessed’) after a ‘holy man’ who had persuaded the Tsar to build it.

2. On November 1 a discussion concerning the unified military doctrine was held at the General Staff Academy. Comrade Trotsky’s speech in this discussion is given in Volume V of this edition, in the section: Questions of military theory.

3. The allusion is to a Russian phrase which implies the assumption that some enterprise will ‘come out all right’ even if one has not taken much care to ensure that it will. Cf. the English: ‘We’ll muddle through somehow’.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006