The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports


To the Conference of Military Education Institutions of the Moscow Military District, December 12, 1921

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

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Comrades, we have, up to now, reduced the size of our army to less than one-third what it was last year. In connection, on the one hand, with the forthcoming Congress of Soviets, and, on the other, with the slander put out against us at the Washington Conference, that we are preparing to conquer all Europe next spring or summer and are developing rabid militarism, we have calculated the numbers of our army. In comparison with the numbers of the French army, taking into account the difference in territory and population, even using the most modest coefficient, namely, comparing our population with that of France, our army is only one-eighteenth as big as the French army. Moreover, it has to be remembered that, as regards security, France is in a position at least eighteen times better than ours. The danger to France, about which the French Premier Briand complained so bitterly at Washington, consists in the circumstance that she holds Germany by the throat, and, having forced her to the ground, says to her allies: ‘If my grip weakens, Germany may break away and get up.’ That is what the danger to France amounts to! Our danger is of a different order. We are still surrounded by an imperialist encirclement, and the imperialists are trying to grasp us by the throat and force us to the ground. Our army is in the full sense of the word an army for defence: in the midst of a very grave international situation, in the midst of danger, we have reduced the size of our army by two thirds.

Our army has become considerably more youthful in composition. We have released thirteen age-groups. They were the ones which had been through the imperialist war and the civil war. We are now approaching the point when the army will consist of two age-groups only, the youngest. They are a splendid element, splendid material. But this young age-group haven’t much experience. Roughly speaking, not more than ten per cent of them saw service in the civil war. We have therefore not merely reduced the army quantitatively, but it is now lacking in experience, and it will need to acquire that.

The commanders of our Red Army are now much younger than was the case previously. A section-leader is a Red Army man of 19 or 20. And yet it is obvious that, if we are to be able to defend ourselves with an army reduced in size, this army of ours must be highly-skilled, it must be an army of the professional type. If, against our will, we had to face a new war, it would be a more serious war than we have known hitherto. In that event, we should turn to mobilising great masses of men, calling millions to the colours. We are maintaining a strictly defensive policy in international and military affairs: we are making concessions. Both the Treaty of Riga and our recent agreement to recognise the Tsarist debts, on certain conditions, are concessions on our part. These concessions are inspired by our endeavour to devote all our forces to restoring our ruined economy. But our enemies continue to attack us. Consequently, we have to be prepared. For this purpose we need, without increasing the size of the army, to raise its ideological, political and military level. The army’s composition is youthful and, from that standpoint, favourable. The young Red Army men and cadets want to learn and are capable of learning. But they have to be taught, and that presents great difficulty.

Our ideal, which is a practical one and not a dream of heaven, is to put every Red Army man through a short command course. What sort of army do we need? We need one in which every Red Army man possesses the body of knowledge that is possessed by a Red commander who has been through a command course. We shall not achieve this tomorrow, or the day after. But it would be good if, within a short time – say, a few months – the senior soldier in a squad [1] were to attain the present level of a section-leader, and the section-leader to attain the level of a good Red commander. We need to bring the corps of commanders one stage nearer to the Red Army man. In this matter, so far as we know, we enjoy the approval of the Red cadets, who want to begin their probationary period as commanders at section level. In the old army, the section-leader was a non-commissioned officer, whereas the platoon-commander was an officer. This barrier must be broken down. The young Red commander will begin his service as a section-leader, remaining in that post for at least three months. If, in this probationary period, he shows the necessary qualities – primarily, confidence and firmness in command – he will receive promotion. If not, he will be kept as section-leader for another three months, in order to acquire the confidence he needs. In this way Red commanders will be given, to start with, a task that is within their competence. The next phase will see an improvement in the level of skill of the entire Red Army. A Red Army in which every Red Army man will be at the level of today’s junior commanders will require an improvement in the work of our military education institutions. We must ceaselessly perfect their work, if we want to use the breathingspell to create a well-trained army. Improving military education is now a very important task before the Republic.

Along with this there is another task to be performed: the creation of stores in readiness for mobilisation. During the civil war our greatest misfortune was that we were unable to provide all our fighting men even with rifles, let alone with anything more advanced technically. Every improvement in the country’s economic position – and such an improvement has begun both in the iron and steel industry, and in fuel production – will at once have its effect on army supply, which is kept under vigilant observation by the Soviet Government. You know the difficult material situation in our schools – you know it better than I do. And we must find a way out of this situation. It would be good if we could at once increase supply by 20 or 30 per cent but at present there can be no question of that. The only solution is to lay down a definite minimum for the schools and see to it that the schools receive this – receive it 100 per cent. If we can manage to do better than that it will be a gain for you and for us. At the centre we are waging a ceaseless struggle in order to obtain the necessary minimum from the state’s common stock, the claimants on which are numerous and can only be allowed something less than they ask for. The reason for this state of affairs is, of course, not ill-will but the condition the country is in. Supply to military-education institutions has been given first priority, even though much is lacking also in the Red Army’s barracks. But we shall explain to the Red Army man – and he will understand – that we are keeping short not only the peasants and the workers but also the Red Army men so as to be able to give to the schools, because the schools are preparing commanders for the Red Army men, and if they do that job badly, then the Red Army men will pay for it with their blood.

Initiative must also be shown in the localities, so as to make better use of what the schools provide. Vigour is required, too, so as to get additional help from local resources. The commander or commissar who is able to interest the local province or district executive committee in the fate of his school, who reports on it to meetings of the local executive committee, mentioning its requirements, can get help from the local organs in the shape of food, felt boots, sheepskin coats, and so on. We at the centre shall support such initiative in every way. Linked with this is our move to attach military education institutions to local executive committees and to central bodies. We must take this process further, and ensure that these attachments do not remain merely moral, but bring real, solid, material advantages. Only the combined efforts of the centre and the localities will ensure that we see an improvement in the position of our educational institutions.

On my way here I read Comrade Verkhovsky’s pamphlet dealing with the state of military training in the military education institutions. [2] I urge all the comrades here present to have a look at this pamphlet. It examines the curriculum of purely military training in the light of our Red Army’s experience, in the international situation we are in today. Some of the conclusions drawn by Comrade Verkhovsky can be accepted completely, others only with qualifications. You know that a discussion is now going on in the army press and at meetings on the extent to which the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary Red Army are inseparably bound up with the tactics of a war of manœuvre, and whether circumstances might arise in which the Red Army would have to fight a war that was quasi-positional in character. These are very complex and interesting questions. It would be highly desirable and useful to have an exchange of views on these questions. But in no case must it be forgotten that the Red Army has its own, definite, clear tasks.

Comrade Verkhovsky insists, quite rightly, on the immense importance of initiative in the army. But this initiative must have a certain infrastructure of automatism in habits, without which no initiative is possible. When necessary actions have become habitual, the brain is freed for creative activity. I have already spoken more than once about our large-scale manœuvres in Podolia. The higher commanders did not disgrace themselves in these manœuvres, but where those elementary practices are concerned which go to make up a military action – march discipline, security, communications, and so on – we proved to be beneath criticism. The Red commanders did not manifest any excess of automatism. But it is essential that certain habits shall become second nature. A commander must not be able to sleep until he has made his report. He cannot forget to make the necessary arrangements for security. All this he does mechanically. And then he can be creative. Imagine a musician who had to search over the keyboard with his fingers to find where ‘doh’ is and where’re’ – all his playing would be ruined. There is an element of automatism in any craft without which no skill is possible. We are not born with it, but acquire it, through the formation of habits. Military skill begins at the point where the habits of the military craft are combined freely, in accordance with the situation, the time and the weather; but the basic actions – conducting reconnaissance, posting sentries, remembering what communications have to be established, to right and to left, sending reports – must be so much a matter of habit that they are performed automatically. There is no call to be afraid of automatism here. We haven’t enough of it. Yet many comrade cadets, and even instructors, denounce square-bashing and the like. We have got rid of presenting arms and ceremonial marching. If something is unnecessary, right, let it be struck out of the regulations. But whatever has been tested by experience and found to be necessary must be studied, for only with this kind of application of automatism can the mind be freed for creativity. We need to take this into account in our curricula and in all our training and education work. I hope that we shall prepare the summer camp carefully, drawing up a proper programme of summer exercises – provided that we do not fmd ourselves obliged, this summer, to operate, through the will of our enemies, not on manœuvres but in an actual war situation, something which is also not beyond possibility. But that does not depend onus. For our part, we must do everything to carry out the training and education of the army in the proper way.

Comrade Verkhovsky mentions the role that propaganda plays in welding our army together and in disintegrating the enemy. I should like to correct not only what Comrade Verkhovsky says but also what has been said by many others who have written on this theme. It is often said here that propaganda is a component part, a specific property of the ‘doctrine’ – how they love that word! – of the Red Army. I spent the first year of the war in France. I have never seen here such propaganda as France carried on – how could we have such propaganda, given our poverty, our ‘going about in bast sandals’, so to speak? Every Red Army man received several newspapers ... I beg your pardon, there were no Red Army men there. If there had been, we should not have needed to create a Red Army. Every French soldier received several newspapers. And all these newspapers confirmed, with one voice, that the war was being fought in defence against barbarism. Every piece of information was filtered. There were a variety of newspapers: clerical ones, social ones, and so on, all the colours of the Republic were represented, and they all said the same thing – go to the defence of the Republic. And the French soldier absorbed that in the trenches, day after day. The very best artistes performed for him. He was visited in the trenches by a variety of deputations – on the one hand, the Socialist deputy Renaudel, on the other the clerical deputy and Academician Barrès. One spoke of the Catholic God, the other of the Socialist ideal. But both told him one and the same thing: fight. Ballet dancers, the best actors and actresses, all passed through the trenches, and all of them carried on agitation in favour of fighting the war to the end. What’s this they say, that we, the Bolsheviks, invented propaganda? Nothing of the sort! Every religion was propaganda. Even our old Tsardom knew how to make propaganda: ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality.’ [3] If you compare what we do with what was done in France in the sphere of propaganda, we look like miserable pigmies.

What is the point? Not that we invented propaganda, but that our propaganda has a definite class content, that it is better received, that our little grey paper, printed in France on an underground press and translated into French, meets with a better response among the French workers than is met by the splendidly produced French papers. In Paris, two sailors, Marty and Badina, have been elected to the municipal council [4]: they were on the ships that bombarded Odessa, they refused to take part in the bombardment, and they were sentenced death. They are now in a convict prison, and French workers have elected them to the municipal council. While Briand was telling lies in Washington [5] about how we want to conquer the whole world, French workers were electing two convicts to their council because they had refused to fire on us. We did not invent propaganda, but our propaganda expresses the feelings of the working masses, and that is where its immense power lies. Today, the task in educating the Red Army and its commanders is to explain, clearly and simply, the situation at any moment, and to draw conclusions from it.

I mentioned today that we have made a number of concessions – from the Treaty of Riga to recognition of the Tsarist debts. We are not doing this, of course, with a light heart, and many of you were stirred to indignation: we cancelled the Tsar’s debts, we proclaimed this loudly, and now we are saying that, given certain conditions, we are ready to recognise them. [4a] That this is a retreat is indubitable. Yes, we are retreating. But why? Because we regard these debts as being beyond reproach? No. Everyone must realise that our agreement to pay these debts, on certain conditions, is an attempt to pay not for the past but for the future, so that we may not be disturbed by highway robbers. The meaning of these concessions must be comprehended by every Red commander, because he is called upon not only to shed his own blood but also to summon others to shed theirs. Consequently he must first know and understand that our policy is a policy of making concessions to the world-predators who are pressing upon us. The peace with Poland, the Treaty of Riga, was a very big concession. And how many cases there have been since then which have been what is called in thieves’ cant casus belli, meaning that we could, because of them, have gone to war in full accordance with their laws. We made a peace treaty with Poland, but she is throwing Savinkov at us. In what textbooks of international law is such conduct permitted? There are no such textbooks, but the facts are there. We exterminate the gangs, but we do not declare war on Poland. Why? Because we do not want war, we want to restore our economy. History is working for us. It sometimes works slowly, like a worn-out horse, and has to be given the whip. Nevertheless, the old lady is getting us up the hill. If we did not have confidence in ultimate victory, our policy would not be possible, and we should perish. But we have this confidence, and therefore our restraint in foreign policy is absolutely justified. If, though, we find ourselves obliged to fight, we must be ready quickly to ward off the enemy’s blow.

Only recently Poland launched Tyutyunik on to our territory, and Romania acted similarly. Today, White-Guard bands are operating in Karelia, having been thrown by the Finnish Government on to our territory. From the casus belli standpoint, pretexts for war are as plentiful as could be wished. But we are not going to fight. We look upon the raid into Karelia and the offensive into Right-bank Ukraine as the remnants of a certain plan. In the autumn, when the news came out concerning the famine in the Volga country, a frenzied agitation began among our enemies. In Poland and Romania they thought the moment had arrived to launch an offensive on a compact front against Soviet Russia. It was then that they got ready the first of Savinkov’s units, and the other gangs. The general offensive did not come off, because the famine did not give rise to what they had expected: collapse, revolt, and so on. But the gangs had been got ready. They have now invaded our territory and caused some disorder, but, since they fail to encounter sympathy even among the elements most favourably disposed to their standpoint, they are, naturally helpless to do us any substantial harm.

These raids at the same time serve to warn us. They tell us that the spring may see the beginning of operations of a more serious nature. The very fact that Briand, in Washington, found it possible to assert that we are preparing to do something against all Western Europe in the spring testifies that they, not we, are plotting something for the spring. In all the work we do in our military education institutions we must reckon with the danger that may be bearing down upon us. I suggest that you all follow attentively what is happening on our frontiers. In the Far East the remnants of the Kappelite army have rearmed [6], put on weight, and are invading the Far Eastern Republic. What does this invasion mean? The Far Eastern Republic is a part of Russia. Why does it exist separately from us? Because it has voluntarily made itself the democratic defensive flank of the Soviet Republic in the Far East. France says: ‘We fought against Russia because there was no democracy there, no government elected on the basis of universal, equal (and so forth) suffrage. [7] There was no democracy, which is closely bound up with property-ownership.’ We replied: ‘You want democracy, with private property – there you have it, in the Far East.’ Out there they elected a government on the basis of equal, universal (and so forth) suffrage. All elements of the population in those parts support the government, which, though it consists mostly of Communists, has been elected in such a way that not a word can be said against it. More than that: private property has been retained. Well, so what? Japan and the Kappelite remnants continue to attack it. While Briand was arguing in Washington about how much better it would be to disarm, we had already three-quarters disarmed. We gave them democracy in the Far East. Here, we gave them our promise to pay the Tsar’s debts, but, despite all our concessions, they still go on attacking us, from every direction.

Although these attacks are of no military importance, they possess enormous significance as symptoms. The gentlemen who are conferring in Washington know that we are ready to make concessions. They know this, and yet all the attacks on us take place with their knowledge, on their orders. Therefore we need to keep our eyes open.

Our enemies’ situation is such that they are seeking salvation in adventures. The crisis has become extremely acute even in America. Germany is in no position to make the payments imposed on her by the peace treaty. France is poor, a state bankrupt who hopes to put off bankruptcy with Germany’s aid. But they can get nothing out of Germany, because they can’t lay hands on capital. Only the working class can do that, and it will do it not in order to pay France but in order to fight against her. In Poland the Pilsudski clique hopes, by annexing the Ukraine to Poland to plunder her and use her resources to compensate for the ruined state of Poland. That is why it is supporting and sustaining the gangs which are attacking the Ukraine. While striving for peace we must all the time take care that we are in a position to fight.

We need to prepare ourselves through military training and political education. In Tsarist Russia our peasants were cannon-fodder for war. And so long as war did not require a more intellectual type of soldier, our army performed miracles, in the hands of commanders like Suvorov and others. It became weaker in proportion as individuality and initiative came to be required of the soldier. Our peasants could not provide that sort of individual fighting man. The task of promoting the peasant’s general development is an urgent one. Agitation among the peasants must always have a direct, practical, down-to-earth, so to speak, point of departure. The worker is much more capable of grasping abstractions. He is capable of going into battle for a Soviet Germany, understanding the unity of interests of the workers of the whole world. The mass of the peasantry are not capable of doing that. We observed this in the civil war. Only when Denikin approached Kursk did the peasant of Kursk Province realise what was coming towards him. He had to see with his own eyes that the landlords and kulaks were coming, and were starting to take the land away from him, before he would agree that the time had arrived to hit back. The deserters in Kursk Province then began to report for duty, partly under the pressure of the public opinion of the Kursk peasantry. That is the peasant’s weakness. After events have given him a fright, he is able to show tenacity and courage. A commander has to reckon with this mentality of the peasant, especially in our army, which must be based on the consciousness of all its fighters. And it is necessary that every peasant shall understand our policy of concessions, our defensive line.

Our concessions, including the recognition of the Tsarist debts, mean two things. First, they are an attempt to buy the possibility of our country’s economic restoration. Secondly, they are highly instructive for the peasant whose level of consciousness is low. The peasant does not want to fight. While the advanced worker will say: ‘I am ready to give my life for the Hungarian republic, for the Polish republic, for the German republic,’ the peasant won’t say that. The Penza peasant doesn’t want to die for the Polish republic, and neither does the Saratov peasant want to die for the German revolution. But when enemies force us to fight, contrary to our wishes, against White Poland, White Romania and so on, it is necessary that the peasants of Penza and Saratov shall realise that we have no alternative. Ferdinand Lass alle said that every revolutionary movement begins with the need to ‘say what is’. We have to say what is to the peasants of Penza and Saratov. We are making big concessions, and we say to the peasant: all this is being done so that you may not be forced to fight. There will, of course, be those who will say that it would be better to fight now, instead of making concessions. Let these ‘fire-eaters’ put that to a company or a regiment, and they will get this reply: ‘You want us to fight for the sake of the Tsarist debts?’ And the fire-eater will fall silent, because the company, 90 per cent of whom are non-Party peasants, does not want to fight. But if, after we have made all these concessions, they attack us, then the peasants of Saratov and Penzawill fight. Even if it means they have to die in their tens and hundreds of thousands, they will march. They will march when they understand that what is at stake is the workers’ and peasants’ power, the independence of the country, the inviolability of our territory, of their land. It is an urgent task in the political education of our army to explain the meaning of every concession we make and of every blow struck at us. Comparing Washington, where they are forging chains for us, with Paris, where the French workers and soldiers are electing sailor convicts to the council, and the events in Karelia, which, though not large-scale, are highly symptomatic, with our recognition of the Tsarist debts – there you have a simple, honest way of explaining our position to the peasant. A cadet may himself be a peasant from Saratov or Penza, and he must understand this himself and explain it to the Red Army man.

Let every cadet, when he returns to his school, say first of all to his comrades: the workers’ and peasants’ government is making concessions so as to avoid war, but we are being attacked in spite of this; you must stand up for the revolution and the future of mankind. Because all the facts show that they are preparing to strike a big blow at us in the spring – not a blow that could crush us, but one that would call for efforts on our part. And we are faced with the task of preparing to fight, if we are forced to, and of winning victory with a minimum of bloodshed. If your conference can explain this to the mass of cadets, its work will be fully justified.

I greet you, comrades, and wish you success in your work.

Voyenny Vyestnik, 1922, No.1


1. A ‘squad’ (zveno) consists of 3-5 men, a ‘section’ (otdelenie) of 5-15 men.

2. A.I. Verkhovsky, The tasks of military-education institutions in the light of war experience: supplement to issue No.19 of 1921 of the journal Voyennoye Znanie.

3. ‘Orthodoxy [i.e., the Orthodox form of Christianity, contrasted with Catholicism], Autocracy [i.e., Tsardom], and Nationality [i.e., ‘Russianness’]’ were the official principles of Tsarist Russia, as ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ were those of Republican France.

4. Andrè Marty was first engineer on the Destroyer Protet. While the vessel was in Romanian waters he tried to raise a mutiny with a view to taking the ship to Odessa and turning it over to the Bolsheviks. Arrested on April 16, 1919, he was on April 23 transferred to the cruiser Waldeck-Rousseau, which was threatening Odessa. He succeeded in getting in touch with the crew, and on April 27 they mutinied, so that the vessel had to be withdrawn from Soviet waters. Louis Badina was with Marty in the conspiracy on the Protet, but escaped arrest by jumping ship. He remained in Romania, and other countries outside France, until September 1920, when he gave himself up to the French Consul at Genoa. In March 1921 he was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. Marty had already in 1919 been sentenced to 20 years. Both men were released in 1923.

4a. The statement [4b] about recognition of war debts [sic] was made on October 28, 1921. In a note addressed to the government of Britain, France, Italy and the United States, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Comrade Chicherin, declared that the Soviet Government was ready to assume obligations towards other states and their citizens in respect of state debts incurred by the Tsarist Government down to 1914, provided that favourable terms were granted which would make it possible in practice for the Soviet Government to meet these obligations.

4b. The Soviet statement actually concerned pre-war (pre-1914) debts. On Russia’s debts incurred during the war the Soviet Government’s line was that the Russian people had more than repaid these debts by their contribution made in blood to the fight against the common enemy of debtor and creditors.

5. The reference is to the Washington Conference on naval disarmament, held in November-December 1921, which was attended by the United States, Britain, France, Japan, Italy and other states. At the conference sessions on November 21 and 27 [5a] the representative of France, Britain, when discussing the Russian question, accused Russia of militarism, saying that Soviet Russia was ready at any moment to fall upon Poland, and that the Red Army actually numbered 6,000,000 and constituted a menace to Europe.

5a. Briand did indeed make a speech on November 21, 1921 in which he spoke of the existence in Russia of ‘an army of 1,500,000 men, 600,000 of whom are substantially armed’ as a cause for alarm. On November 25, however, he sailed from the USA, arriving in France on December 2, so that it is not clear what the editor means by his reference to a speech made on November 27.

6. General V.O. Kappel, one of the ablest of the White commanders, died in January 1920. The remnants of Kolchak’s forces called themselves ‘Kappelites’ in honour of his memory. They were commanded at this time by General Verzhbitsky.

7. The four points of the traditional demand for democratic elections in Russia were that suffage should be (1) universal, (2) equal (i.e. one man, one vote), (3) direct (i.e. not via some ‘electoral college’) and (4) secret.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006