The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

The Fifth Year –
A Year for Study

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

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The Red Army is only four months younger than the Soviet Republic. But that is true only in terms of the documents. Essentially, the Army and the Republic were born on the same day. It could even be said that, in the shape of our Party’s Military Organisation, the Red Army had come to birth even before the moment when the working class took power into its hands.

The first year of its existence was a period of uncoordinated, semi-amorphous attempts and strivings to create an armed force for the revolution under the very difficult conditions imposed by the break-up of the old army and the disgust for war felt by the working masses.

The second and third years were a period of intense conflict in all the borderlands of our country. The army was built under fire. Various methods and procedures were tried out, and either rejected or consolidated. The army grew in numbers to an extraordinary and even excessive degree. This was due both to the length of the fronts and to the still very imperfect character of our military organisation. New military tasks and requirements engendered new organs alongside those previously created which had already half-demonstrated their unfitness but had not yet been abolished. Inadequate preparation led to a high expenditure of manpower. Wherever quality was lacking, it had to be replaced by quantity.

The fourth year was a year of relative quiet on the frontiers and intense work at reducing and reorganising the army. The task was to release as many age-groups as possible, keeping with the colours only those strictly necessary, while, at the same time, pruning the army’s organisation of all superfluous organs, all excrescences and parallel institutions, and cutting down the overstaffed services of the rear. This task has now, broadly speaking, been accomplished. Thereby, the conditions have been created for raising the army’s qualitative level.

The fifth year of the Red Army’s existence will be a year of intense study. Further reorganisation and partial reduction of the Red Army can take place only on the basis of qualitative improvement of its constituent elements, and strictly in accordance with this process.

We must raise the level of the basic cell of the army – the infantryman. He must be well-fed, kept warm, and clothed in clean underwear. A soldier with lice is only half a soldier.

The soldier must be literate. We have firmly committed ourselves to this task. By May 1 not a single illiterate soldier must be left in our army. We are under compulsion to carry out this task – and to do it not just for show, that is, not in such a way that the man who has been hastily taught his letters will, within a couple of months, fall back into his original state. No, we must and we shall teach all the Red Army men their letters in the proper way.

On May 1 this year the Soviet Republic will call upon its army to take the Red Oath. Every Red Army man must be able to read clearly, distinctly and consciously the text of the Solemn Promise. [1]

We must raise the political and, in general, the spiritual level of every fighting man. He must know who our neighbours and possible enemies are. He must know the essentials of the Soviet Constitution and the tasks of the workers’ and peasants’ state. He must know that the basis of the whole world,, with all its varying phenomena, is matter, bound by its own internal laws. A persistent struggle must be waged to free his consciousness from prejudices and superstitions. Superstition is an inner louse which debilitates a man even more than the outer one does.

We shall steadily improve our purely military training. A regimental commander must set himself the task of bringing every Red Army man up to a level such that, in case of need, he will be capable of commanding a section.

Steady work by the commanders and commissars, both on the Red Army men and on themselves, constitutes the most important precept for this fifth year of work. Despite the short time that the army has existed, we already possess a lot of experience. But this is as yet in a chaotic state. It must be carefully studied, checked, refined, so that what is most essential may be extracted from it and firmly fixed in the consciousness of the entire army.

Every great cause, especially in such a complex and changing epoch as ours, has two great enemies: routinism and superficiality. Routinism thinks in old clichés, without taking account of new circumstances: it lacks initiative, boldness in conception and decisiveness in execution. In the business of war these are fatal faults.

Superficiality is, so to speak, the opposite of routinism. Nowadays it often takes ‘revolutionary’ form. Having correctly observed the shortcomings of routine, superficiality dismisses all serious work, all conscientious and detailed study of past experience, and deludes itself with cheap generalisations and arbitrary schemas. Superficiality, too, is a fatal fault in the business of war.

We need to be firmly aware that the qualitative level of the army cannot be raised by waving a magician’s wand. No, this task calls for stubborn work, persistent, detailed, sometimes mosaic work. Something new, whether great or small, can be contributed only by someone who watches attentively what is under his feet, takes note of everything, studies everything and learns from everything. But he who, striving to say something new straightaway, seeks for it by gazing at the sky will unfailingly step on a rake, and that will come up and hit him sharply on the forehead. Neither routinism nor superficiality! Persistent, stubborn and conscientious work!

This work is now being made easier through the ever increasing attention paid to the army by the working masses of the entire Soviet Federation. Quite recently, as an experiment, we introduced the practice of patronage by Soviets. How quickly this has caught on and developed! What beneficial results it is already producing today! Even before now the Red Army was an integral part of workers’ and peasants’ Russia. But now a more everyday, more intimate bond has been established between them. The fraternisation between particular divisions and particular Soviets, and between particular regiments and particular factories and trade unions is raising the moral level of the army and creating better material conditions for its vital work.

The Red Army looks ahead in calmness and confidence: the fifth year of its life will be a year of untiring study.

February 22, 1922
Pravda, No.43


1. For the text of the solemn promise, see Volume I page 160.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006