The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Orders, Circulars, Telegrams, etc.

A Contribution to the Question of Military Propaganda

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

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Postal telegram to Comrade Polonsky [1], copies to Comrade Sklyansky, to the Commander-in-Chief and to the Chief of Staff of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, March 16, 1922

We ought to issue a small book consisting of articles brought together under the title: The Model Section-Leader. The purpose of the book would be to enhance the importance of the section-leader both in his own eyes and in those of the persons who are above and below him. The collection could be made up of a few articles describing the role of the section-leader as fighter, organiser, educator and commander. The section-leader has to combine in his person the commander and the commissar, that is, he must be both the leader in battle and the political guide. Basing ourselves on section-leaders like this, we shall gradually advance towards one-man command throughout the structure of the Army.

The book might include the most substantial orders and instructions which relate to the section-leader, and also a list of the textbooks and manuals that are most important for him. I would write a foreword to this collection (after acquainting myself with the manuscripts of the articles). I think that the book should be not more than three quires in length, or four quires at most, with each of the articles not more than eight pages long. The articles must be carefully worked on, written simply and clearly. It would be worthy paying a high honorarium for these articles.

I request you to get this matter going with all speed. [2]

From the archives


Postal telegram to Comrade Polonsky, copies to Comrades Sklyansky, Kamenev, Lebedev [3], March 24, 1922

What about trying to bring out a small book for the Red Army men and junior commanders on the lines of Suvorov’s Science of Victory [4], but, of course, without the incorrect title of ‘science’, because the soldier’s trade is not a science but an art (no offence meant to our thick journal, which is called a journal ‘of military science’)? The book’s task would be to furnish, in brief, simple and expressive formulas, as graphic as possible, the answers to the most important problems of the soldier’s trade. It would be good to include (again, as in Suvorov’s work) some striking symbolic drawings and sketches, so as to fix the points in the memory.

A book like this cannot, of course, be written like an article for a newspaper or a periodical. It must be written with care, with love. Perhaps it could be the product of collective labour (by submitting a number of variants, discussing them, and co-ordinating them). A final editing at the centre could endow the book with the necessary unity. The book should be small – between 16 and 32 pages long.

This would constitute a more correct approach to a unified ‘military doctrine’, that is, to the working out of a programme of education and training, than the repetition of commonplaces about manoeuvringness and revolutionariness which is now going full blast in our circles.

It is very easy to stun oneself and others with general formulas. Simply, practically (but as graphically as possible) to expound to the section-leader the essential tasks of the Red Army, is something very difficult, and this not at all from the standpoint of form but, precisely, from that of content. If your ideas are not clear, finished and concrete, this will most mercilessly be revealed when you try to express them simply and clearly, in the role of teacher.

We are all talking about revising the regulations, a useful and necessary task, and one that was put on the agenda, it seems, over two years ago. But the regulations are a bulky affair, containing many details, and the process of revision itself may get lost among secondary questions. But if we were to try and give a very brief exposition of the essence of the duties, tasks, procedures and methods of the Red Army, this work would prove highly educative, above all for those leading elements who took part in it. If we succeed in mastering this work, revision of the regulations will be greatly facilitated.

Should this proposal perhaps be communicated to the military districts? Perhaps they may put up some fortunate suggestions, regarding both ideas and formulations?

I request the Editorial Council to discuss this and refer it for comment to particular competent comrades. I request also that a decision be given on my suggestion of a collection of articles for the section-leader. [5]

From the archives


1. V.P. Polonsky was chairman of the Red Army’s publishing organisation, and Ya.M. Sklyansky was Trotsky’s deputy in the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and the People’s Commissariat for Military and Naval Affairs.

2. The symposium The Model Section-Leader did not appear, as the contributions submitted failed to meet the standard required.

3. The addressees are the same as before, S.S. Kamenev being the C-in-C and P.P. Lebedev the Chief of Staff.

4. Field-Marshal Suvorov’s Science of Victory, written in 1795-97, was first printed in 1806. It is the earliest known work on the art of war intended not only for officers, and written in language comprehensible to the common soldier. Suvorov’s methods anticipated Sir John Moore’s training of the Light Infantry at Shorncliffe in 1803. Byron depicts, in Canto Seven of Don Juan, the impact of Suvorov’s arrival (at the age of 60) to take command at the siege of Ismail:

There was not now a luggage boy but sought
Danger and Spoil with ardour much increased:
And why? Because a little, odd, old man,
Stripped to his shirt, had come to lead the van.

Philip Langworth writes, in The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Generalissimo Suvorov, 1729-1800 (1965): ‘Suvorov was an innovator. It was he who first broke away from the conventional strategies of the 18th century. He anticipated Napoleon in bringing mobility to warfare: he instilled into his conscripted peasant serfs the dash and the attacking spirit no other army possessed until the French after their revolution.’

5. Comrade Udorov had already written a pamphlet on the subject How To Win, under that title, and this was published on the Western Front and also, in revised form, by the Supreme Military Publishing Council. This pamphlet did not satisfy the demands laid down by Comrade Trotsky. Comrade Trotsky himself wrote, on this subject, A Short Memorandum for Warriors of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army and Navy, which was published by Gviz in 1924.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006