The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

Conference of Military Delegates to the Congress of Soviets

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

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A conference of the military delegates to the congress with the responsible military workers present in Moscow was convened on two occasions: on the eve of the Congress of Soviets and now, at its close. [1]

The conference provided a very instructive picture of the state of the Red Army, and indicated more precisely and concretely what must be the task of future work.

The army which fought the civil war during more than three years grew directly out of the October revolution. It was the direct prolongation of that revolution. Those same workers of Petrograd and Moscow who had overthrown the bourgeois regime then went forth in their Red detachments all over the country, and later they built regular regiments which included conscripts.

The present Red Army consists of the three youngest age groups. They are predominantly made up of young peasants. The country’s general political level has, to be sure, risen to a remarkable degree during these years. Nevertheless the political knowledge of the young generation of peasants who have grown up since the October revolution and who did not pass through the school of civil war, is very superficial and amorphous, like everything which has been obtained at second hand and has not been tested by one’s own experience.

The senior and middle ranks of the army’s commanders and commissars mostly developed through their experience in the civil war. It is their task to pass on this experience to the young Red Army men. But for this to happen it is necessary that the leading elements of the army, the representatives of the older generation, shall find a common language with the young Red Army men. The meeting of military delegates gave special attention to this question.

All of the revolutionary workers of the older generation learnt, in their time, the ABC and grammar of politics from the political facts of the Tsarist epoch. If there was a strike, or a new Tsarist law, the advanced workers explained to the more backward ones, on the basis of these examples from life, the nature of Tsardom, the contradiction of interest between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and so on. Thus, step by step, a certain body of knowledge was accumulated in the heads of the older generation of revolutionary workers: facts, their political explanation, their social interpretation. Then, every new fact was fitted into this framework and found its place there. The longer a man lives a conscious political life, the wider his political experience, the more examples he knows from the past, the easier it is for him to grasp the meaning of new facts and to assign them their appropriate place. The older generation of members of our Party undoubtedly possess very great political experience, and quickly orientate themselves, understanding each other without the need for many words.

But just for that reason, our agitation, carried on in our customary language, all too often proves incomprehensible to the new generations, who lack not only our experience but any political experience whatsoever. This young generation has to accumulate its experience from scratch, to learn to understand the simplest facts of social and political life and to assign them their proper place. The ABC of Communism is a most necessary and useful manual. [2] But to suppose that you can make a Communist out of a young peasant by reading The ABC of Communism with him for a month or two is radically mistaken. The ABC of Communism can only generalise the experience of life and struggle that one already possesses.

The fundamental fact for a Red Army man is that he is a Red Army man; that is, that he has been conscripted and put in the army. Why? He must understand why this has happened. The mere counterposing of workers’ and peasants’ Russia to ‘world imperialism’ is full of rich content for the politically more experienced. But for the young Red Army man who barely knows the names of foreign countries, such counterposing is just empty sound. The young soldiers have to be given elementary facts and living examples, as material for generalisation.

Today we are having to fight along the Finno-Karelian border. This fact must be made the centre of political education work in the army in the period immediately ahead.

What is Finland? Who lives there? Who rules the country? Here one should tell of the attempt made by the Finnish workers to take power, and of how ruthlessly the bourgeoisie dealt with them. Why did we recognise the independence of Finland? Karelia, Finland and Petrograd must at once be pointed out on the map. Each new communiqué about the events in Karelia must furnish material for repeating and concretising this information. Thus, from one day to the next, the events in Karelia will be transformed for the Red Army man into inward experience, will become an important part of the political experience that he obtains. For him this will not be just a page from The ABC of Communism, which he may read and forget, but a living fact which affects his own fate and is understood by him precisely in that connection.

Similar work must be done where all our neighbours are concerned. Every Red Army man must know who it is that surrounds us. In this way the Red Army man will arrive gradually at a grasp of what is meant by world imperialism, what the external threat to us consists in, and why we need the Red Army.

It is particularly important that the propagandist shall not simply ‘instruct’ the Red Army man, using the appropriate material, even if this be something like the events in Karelia: no, he must make him aware, as an armed citizen of the Soviet Republic, of the danger we are in. He must explain to the Red Army man the actual situation that exists today.

For this purpose it is necessary to follow events from day to day or, at least, from week to week. When the facts repeat themselves, we too shall repeat them. When changes take place, we shall explain these.

Every other sort of purely-propagandist, theoretical educational work is, of course, both permissible and useful. But the first and most important thing, remember, is that the Red Army man is a citizen in arms, and that the line of our country’s development, its internal and external fate, must not be allowed to escape his awareness: and, above all, as a soldier, he must know what danger threatens the revolution today.

The question of the Party purge in the army was discussed at the meeting, briefly, but fully enough. All the delegates reported that the purge was carried out with great seriousness, and produced very valuable positive results. One cannot, however, overlook the fact that, as a result of the purge, the percentage of Communists in the army has fallen still further. All the delegates voiced a categorical demand for consolidating the Communist ranks. The news of the decision by the Party’s Central Committee to mobilise all the Communists liable for military service who were born in 1899, 1900 and 1901 was received with unanimous applause. The army consists today of these three age-groups. There can be no exemptions whatsoever for Communists. They must serve in the army along with their coevals. This can be ensured the more easily because among our young comrades of 22,21 and 20 there can hardly be found any ‘irreplaceable’ workers. As regards Communists who are studying at Party schools, they, after appearing before the appropriate special commissions, must, if found suitable, be embodied in military units and then temporarily appointed to finish their course of study – after which they will join their units as Red Army men. No exemptions at all! Communists born in 1899, 1900 and 1901 – into the army! This is the unanimous demand of the responsible army workers. This is the decision of the Party’s Central Committee.

In general, the provision of Communists for the army was resolved by the Central Committee plenum to be one of the most important of the Party’s tasks. The Central Committee gave its attention to the fact that not all local organisations are carrying through conscription for the army with the necessary vigour. The Central Committee’s decisions on this question strike a very stern note. One of the tasks of the Communists who are working in the army and are closely connected with local Party organisations is, precisely, to call the attention of the latter to the political state of the army, and in this way to liquidate the last vestiges of the ‘liquidationist’ attitude. Persons who have been improperly demobilised, or who have improperly demobilised themselves, must be brought back into the army. It is the duty of the Political Departments to see to this. In those cases where their authority is insufficient, they must appeal to the Political Directorate of the Revolutionary War Council, which, in turn, will call in the authority of the Central Committee. The army, being reduced in size, must have a higher combat-capacity, and precisely for that purpose it must have a higher percentage of Communists in its ranks.

Connected with the Party purge is the particular question of the commanders who have been deprived of party membership. In those cases, of course, in which their exclusion from the party was due to conduct discrediting their personal honour, there can be no question of leaving them in their positions of command, since a Red commander must possess not only militarytechnical but also complete moral authority. But there are numerous cases in which exclusion from the Party has been due to a commander’s failure to fit in with the general spirit of the Party, its world-outlook and its internal relations. The Party is a voluntary association of like-minded persons. This association has the right to decide in each separate case whether or not a particular person may belong to it. The Party says to commander Petrov: ‘You are an honourable man, you are a commander devoted to the workers’ and peasants’ republic, and a brave fighter, but because of your entire past education, because of your outlook, you are remote from the Communist Party, and we cannot allow you to influence with your vote the programme and tactics of our Party.’ Such a decision is in certain instances not only legitimate but also necessary. Does this mean, though, that the man excluded from the party is thereby deprived of the right to hold a position of command? No, it does not. The Red Army has not rejected and does not reject non-Party commanders. They make up the majority of the commanders. A commander excluded from the Party because of his general failure to fit in with its spirit may remain in his position of command if he is an honourable warrior and citizen. While depriving him of the right to be numbered among the Communists, the Party will nevertheless give him the full support of its authority in his role as a Soviet commander. This was the unanimous view of the military delegates.

The sailors have frequently mentioned with bitterness, in recent months, that the name of Kronstadt has become a sort of synonym for petty-bourgeois revolt against the dictatorship of the proletariat. Yet Kronstadt has remained what it was, one of the most important fortresses of the workers’ and peasants’ republic. The garrison of Kronstadt remains a valuable part of the Red Army and the Red Navy. The advanced sailors are making every effort to preserve the basic nucleus of the Navy and to strengthen it.

This problem also came up at the meeting, and it was unanimously decided to remind the whole country of the glorious role played by Kronstadt in the birth and development of the proletarian revolution. We must tell the young Red Army men and Red Navy men, by means of both the spoken and written word, the revolutionary history of Kronstadt from as far back as March 1917. The White-Guard-SR mutiny at Kronstadt was only a tragic episode in the history of the fortress, which has been temporarily weakened both materially and ideologically.

The time has come to close the book on that episode. Kronstadt has again become the sentry-post of the proletarian revolution.

Our army has all at once become younger. Its experience and traditions are preserved by the commanders and commissars. The Communist Party in the army has been purged, and has thereby become less numerous. The bulk of the army is made up of non-Party, predominantly peasant youngsters. It is therefore all the more important to establish correct mutual relations between the leading apparatus of commanders and commissars and the Communist cells, on the one hand, and the young non-Party soldiers, on the other. It is necessary to get closer to these young people. To learn to speak their language. To help them to understand Soviet Russia and to hate its enemies. To teach them to master their weapons in order to fight for Soviet Russia.

And for this purpose we must conclude as quickly as possible the period of demobilisation and reorganisation. Enough of rearrangements, transfers, mergers and transformations! We need a firm regime, stability, organisational definiteness. It is time to get down to work of training and education in the fullest sense. That was the unanimous opinion of the military delegates. The meeting was the best of guarantees that the winter months ahead of us will be a period of intense work and conscientious preparation.

January 4, 1922, No.3


1. The Ninth Congress of Soviets was held on December 22-27, 1921. The article given here, together with an appendix containing the resolutions passed by the conference of military delegates, was published as a separate pamphlet by the Supreme Military Publishing Council (Gosizdat) in 1922.

2 The ABC of Communism, by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, was the official exposition of the Soviet Communist Party’s programme. An English translation was published by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1922. A Penguin edition appeared in 1969, with an introduction by E.H. Carr. See the full text at: ABC of Communism in the N. Bukharin Internet Archive.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006