The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

Alas, We Are Not Accurate Enough!

Precision, accuracy [1], is a precious quality which is acquired gradually and which can serve as the criterion of economic and cultural development for a people, a class or even an individual. And what we lack most of all is precision. The whole past of our people was such that we were not trained to be accurate, and it can be said without exaggeration that every calamity, every setback, every social misfortune assumes much greater proportions here than might have been expected, just because of the absence of co-ordination of operations, which is impossible without precision, and for that same reason every collective effort we make yields far less results than could have been the case.

The accurate person is not hasty. Hasty people, people who are always and everywhere late for everything – we have enough of those. But accurate people, that is, people who know what an hour means, what a minute means, who are able to organise their work and waste neither their own time nor anyone else’s – of those we have too few. Their number is growing, but slowly, and this is a very great source of difficulty in our economic as well as our military work.

All practical work requires orientation in time and space. Yet all our past training has failed to teach us to value either time or space. It has always seemed to us that there is nothing to worry about, we have both of them in plenty. We are wretchedly bad at measuring.

Ask any peasant on a country road how many versts it is to Ivashkovo village. He will answer: three versts. From experience we know that it could turn out that the distance to Ivashkovo is seven versts, or even eight. If you are exigent and persistent, and start to cross-examine him as to whether it is exactly three versts, not more, not, perhaps, five or seven, in most cases your interlocutor will answer: ‘Who has measured it?’ And, indeed, our versts have not been measured out. There are even various sayings on this score: ‘The old woman set about measuring it with her walking-stick, but gave it up as a bad job,’ and so on.

During tours of the fronts we encountered every day extremely haphazard attitudes towards distance and time on the part of local peasants who were acting as guides, and also, not infrequently, on the part of commanders and commissars in the army itself.

One could compile a fair-sized notebook of recollections and observations on the matter of the army’s guides. We subjected every new guide to intensive examination. Did he actually know the road? How many times had he been along it? This procedure proved to be extremely important for us in fmding out in time that the previous day, or the day before that, this same guide had misled us, because it turned out that he didn’t know the road at all. After enduring a severe examination the guide would take his seat and, within half an hour of starting out would be looking anxiously from side to side, and mumbling that he had been along this road only once before, and that was by night.

Undoubtedly the source of this sort of attitude towards one’s own and other people’s time is the nature of rural Russia. There the harsh climate and the harsh enslavement to the state and the landlord served as a school of passivity and patience and, therefore, of indifference to time. Ability to wait for hours outside someone’s door, quietly, passively, is an age-old feature of the Russian peasant. ‘Don’t worry, he’ll wait,’ is a very familiar ‘formulation’ of the mean contempt shown by the lord for the peasant’s time, and his equally mean certainty that the peasant will put up with anything, since he is not used to valuing his time.

Today, as 1921 draws to its close, the peasant is not, of course, the same as he was in 1861, or before 1914, or before 1917. Vast changes have taken place in his conditions and in his consciousness. But these changes have so far affected only the basic content of his world-outlook, without as yet re-educating him, that is, transforming his habits and ways.

Industry, production by machinery, by its very nature required precision. A wooden plough digs up the soil like this or like that. But if the cogs of two wheels fail to mesh precisely, an entire machine is stopped or destroyed. The proletarian who starts and stops his work at the sound of a hooter is much better able to value space and time than is the peasant. However, our working class is replenished from that same peasantry, and therefore brings their traits into the factory.

Modern war is mechanised war. It demands precision in relation to time and space. Without that, the necessary combination of different kinds of weapon, technical forces and resources, will not be achieved. But it is just in this respect that we are weakest. When it comes to calculating time, we as often as not miscalculate. Performing a task like getting guns up to a certain place at the right time is very, very difficult work. And not just because the roads are bad (an allowance for bad roads can be included in the overall calculation), but because an order may not arrive in time, or may not be read in time. Also, because we carry out the constituent elements of preparation not all at the same time and in parallel, but one after another. Only after you have provided yourself with fodder do you remember that there are not enough harnesses, then you think about indenting for binoculars, or maps, and so on.

’Lost time is as irrevocable as death,’ Peter once wrote – Peter who, at every step, came up against the laziness, immobility and negligence of the bearded boyars. The privileged class reflected in its own way the general features of rural Russia. Peter tried with all his might to teach the service class to regard time in the way the Germans or the Dutch did. The superficial, formal, bureaucratic precision of the Tsarist state machine undoubtedly resulted from Peter’s reforms; but this ritual precision served merely as a cover for the procrastination that we have inherited from the accursed past, together with poverty and illiteracy.

Only the extensive development of a mechanised economy, a proper division of labour and its proper organisation foster habits of precision and accuracy. But, on the other hand, proper organisation of a contemporary economy is unthinkable without precision and accuracy. In this matter, one thing is dependent on the other, the one either assists the other or else opposes it.

Our state propaganda has a part to play in this matter. Of course, it is impossible to eradicate sloppiness and irresponsibility by ceaseless repetition of the word ‘accuracy’. But the point here is that our work of propaganda and education finds its deepest roots in our mass experience of conscious, planned construction. Mere repetition becomes boring and sometimes unbearable, and eventually ceases to enter people’s consciousness, or even their ears. But if this ceaseless repetition is geared to the living experience of factories, state farms, barracks, schools and offices, then, gradually, little by little (oh, how slowly!) it settles into people’s consciousness, and contributes towards improving the practical organisation of work. And a slight improvement in the practical work of our institutions in turn facilitates further education in habits of precision and accuracy, which are among the most necessary features of a conscious, independent, cultured person.

In the age of aviation, electrification, the wireless, telegraph and the telephone, in the age of the socialist revolution, which has to transform the entire economy into a single composite factory, in which all cogs intermesh with clockwork precision – in this age we are wading knee-deep, and sometimes even deeper, in the mire of the old barbaric past. In all matters, large and small, we must say to ourselves often, several times a day: ‘Alas, we are certainly not accurate enough!’ However, there is not and cannot be a note of despair in this cry. Accuracy is something that can be acquired. We shall learn it. We shall master its secret, and that means we shall become richer, stronger and wiser, for the one is impossible without the other.

December 17, 1921
From the archives


1. The Russian word akkuratnovst combines the concepts of accuracy, precision, regularity and punctuality.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006