The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports


At the All-Russia Conference of Navy Men, April 1, 1922

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

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I am very glad, comrades, that I have managed to be present at your conference.

At the Ninth Congress of Soviets I had to say of the Navy that its fate was a very tragic one. That is undoubtedly the case. Our navy entered history as the first-born son of the revolution, as a first-rate revolutionary fighting force. This first-rate son of the revolution later became a stepchild of the revolution, and subsequently, so far as part of it was concerned, even became an enemy.

The Navy gave too many of its best elements to the service of the revolution, in every sphere: the sailors fertilised the Soviet cornfield. But, as a complex and delicate organism’an organism in both the mechanical and the human sense’a navy requires that its work be uninterrupted: as with any other complex and highly-skilled art, it cannot tolerate a break in its existence. Yet the revolution and its international situation deprived the Navy of the most important conditions for its existence and development. You all know this. The man-power of the Navy was, of course, squandered and dissipated on a large scale. There were moments when temporary elements, of an almost counter-revolutionary character, preponderated in the Navy. And so a time arrived when, from having at first been the revolution’s first-born, it became in part the revolution’s stepchild and in part even its adversary.

In order that we may be able to deal with the question of restoring the Navy we must ensure the possibility of expanding it from the economic standpoint, even if only to a very modest extent. The Navy, after all, is man-power plus a high level of technology, and a high level of technology means industry ... Only now, after we have secured our land frontiers and taught our enemies not to trouble us’whether we have cured them of that for good and all, nobody can say’when we have ensured a relatively peaceful existence for ourselves, only now can we take up the question of restoring the country economically, and, in connection with that, the question of restoring the Navy. The material conditions of the country’s economy tell us that restoring the Navy technologically will be a very protracted process. We have begun with the Navy’s human motive force, its men, its sailors.

How quickly will the Navy develop? On that score, comrades, we cherish no illusions, no false notions. Our navy will develop slowly, by the very nature of the case, because this is a high and complex instrument of war, requiring high and complex human organisation. Skill is acquired slowly. That fact imposes upon us the need to take only picked, first-class men into the Navy, and to put them in conditions such that every rank-and-file sailor may enjoy the prospect of turning himself into a Red officer of our Red Navy: so that, in the event of a change in the international situation, our Navy may occupy a very big place, play a very big role; so that our new revolutionary cadres, with a Communist nucleus, may quickly gather a body of sailors round them, even if only those of the older age-groups which have now been demobilised. We must give, or try to give, to the small number of sailors whom we now have in the Navy the quality of a cadre, by means of intelligent, correct work in the spheres of formation, training and education.

I said that, under certain conditions, our navy will undoubtedly and inevitably acquire a certain international importance.

The Navy’s primary, fundamental task is, of course, purely defensive. There can be no mistake on that score. We are exposed to danger from the sea; it is necessary to protect our shores, and our navy must be an instrument forming part of the whole defence system of the Soviet Republics.

At the same time we must keep in mind the consideration that our navy may, given a change in international conditions, be assigned a wider role. In this connection it must be mentioned that our navy – this weak, as yet very weak organism – possesses something that constitutes an advantage to us in comparison even with the British navy, namely, that in our case the profoundest crisis in the navy is behind us, whereas for them it still lies ahead. They have a ‘powerful’ organism, but, as against that, their crisis, too, will be a ‘powerful’ one, and will paralyse the British navy for a long time.

The British revolution will to a very great extent depend on the conduct of the British navy, and, subsequently, this will also decide the fate of the British colonies. How the process of the break-up will proceed in the British navy, its internal struggle and revolts, perhaps of one part against another’we do not and cannot know about that, but we do know that it is inevitable, and that, in preparation for this critical and acute period, we need to have a Red navy ready which even if it be small, will be firmly united and absolutely conscious.

I cannot at present, in any case, promise you, either on behalf of the Central Committee of our Party or on behalf of the Soviet Government, the creation of conditions that will quickly lift up our navy: we are still too poor, we have fallen too low economically. I know that you will still experience in your life extremely difficult moments when you will find no elbow-room either to the right or to the left, because in every direction you will come up against poverty, when sometimes a man will be, as they say, on the point of giving up the ghost.

We have had such moments, and, maybe, we shall have more of them, but in such moments, when things happen very suddenly, one has to take a somewhat wider view of the historical process: and, then, every one of us must feel confident that, in assembling now just the first bricks for the building of the revolutionary navy, we have an absolutely reliable foundation. Over there, in the British navy, they have a huge Gothic structure, but its pillars and foundations are beginning to show cracks. And, sooner or later, the whole structure will start to collapse, by sections or separate pillars, or it will fall down all at once. Therefore, precisely against that moment, it is very important for us to lay down even the first foundation stone, that is, to create the human cadre of our Red Navy.

In the name of our joint work, I give you fraternal greetings, Communists, builders of the Red Navy, and together with you I cry: ‘Long live the Red Navy!’

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006