The Fifth Anniversary Of The Red Army

Articles and Orders

Before the Second Five Years of the Red Army

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

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We are entering the second five years with a big load of experience. What are the most important conclusions to be drawn from this experience? In what lay our strength and, most important, in what lay our weakness? For without recognition of one’s weakness no advance can be made.

We conquered through the boundless self-sacrifice of the revolutionary vanguard and the inexhaustible numbers of the peasant reserves. Both of these fundamental advantages of ours will remain. The peasant reserves will draw ever closer to the proletarian vanguard as time goes by while the political level of the latter will, we hope, steadily rise. But both of these pre-conditions for our victories are, as is perfectly obvious, non-military: they are rooted in the social nature of the Soviet power, in the class qualities of the proletariat. The Red Army of the last five years was a rough attempt at using these very great advantages of ours for military purposes. The result is before us: we have defended ourselves. But at what price? At the price of very great sacrifices. The art of war consists, like any other, in getting results at the price of the least possible effort, or, as Suvorov put it, ‘with little blood’.

Without enthusiasm and self-sacrifice there can be no struggle and no victory: but an army begins where there is proper organisation of these qualities, skilful utilisation of them. We made up for all our deficiencies in the sphere of organisation, training and supply by the numbers of our reserves or the selfless heroism of the advanced workers. Both numbers and heroism will be needed in the future as well. But we need to equip them with training and with technique.

These are the two principal channels along which our efforts will be directed in the second five years: individual and collective military training, and military technique. We have reduced the army to 600,000 men: taken in relation to the country’s size, to the number of its population, to the length of our frontiers and to the number of our potential foes, these constitute, essentially, cadres rather than an army. But what follows from that is the task of bringing this army, in respect of education and training, up to cadre standard. It must be provided with outstanding section-commanders, and then with squad-leaders who have undergone all-round preparation so that, gradually, the entire mass of the soldiers may be brought up to, approximately, the level of training of a non-commissioned officer of the old army – adapted, of course, to the new conditions and new structure of the armed forces. This is not a utopian notion. Young men – not only workers but peasants as well – are entering the army with wide-awake receptivity. Old military men note with astonishment how quickly the young Red Army man of today learns to read and write, as compared with the recruit to the Tsarist Army. The awakening of an avid desire to learn, an increased mental liveliness, on the part of the masses, is, so far, the most important conquest of the revolution. Upon this conquest we shall build further, in every sphere. A properly-applied system of pre-call-up preparation, linked with an intelligently constructed system of training and education in the army itself must bring, already in the next few years, a marked improvement in the qualifications of the entire army, and, thereby, in its ability to absorb, when the need arises, the millions of conscripts.

The second task concerns technique. What are the prospects here? Tsardom equipped its army to a considerable extent by means of foreign technique. That was in the nature of things, since Tsardom itself belonged to one of the groupings in the so-called European equilibrium. The bourgeoisie looks on us – and, perhaps, not without reason – as an intrusion that violates and undermines all and any equilibrium in the capitalist world. Consequently, we cannot count on direct help from capitalist Europe or America where our military technique is concerned. All the more important, then, are our own efforts exerted in this direction. Military technique depends on general economic technique. This means that miraculous leaps forward in the sphere of armament and, in general, of supply are precluded. All that is possible is a systematic effort and gradual improvement. But this does not at all rule out substantial successes within a short time – at least, in certain of the more important spheres. The entire economy of the Soviet Republic, after a period of severe decline, is coming to life and going ahead. The process will at first be slow, with inevitable interruptions and vacillations. Our task consists in putting war industry in particularly favourable conditions – without damage, of course, to the economy as a whole – and, within war industry itself, putting in the forefront those branches which are now acquiring exceptional importance for us.

One of these is certainly aircraft. This arm, and this branch of industry, we must place, in the coming year at any rate, at the centre of the whole country’s attention. This is all the more feasible because, in the sphere of aviation, purely military needs are combined, more strongly and directly than in any other, with the economic and cultural interests of the country. Aviation is the most advanced, most up-to-date means of overcoming distance. A boundless future lies before it. And our young people must, on as wide a scale as possible, be seized with the idea of the growth and flourishing of air transport. Our technicians, teachers, poets and artists must interest themselves in this matter.

We are talking about the task of the army in the second five years. It is unlikely that anyone will, today, reproach us with trying to look too far ahead. Because it is very clear that the Red Army will be needed in one year’s time and in two years’ time, and in five years’ time. The revolutionary development in Europe may, to be sure, after the current period of relative lull, suddenly assume a more stormy tempo. But it is indisputable, all the same, that the epoch of imperialist wars and revolutionary upheavals will last not for months or for years, but for decades, involving the world, after brief respites, in fresh and ever graver and more painful spasms. And if this is the case, then we need to prepare seriously and for a long time, to study properly, to shoe ourselves with reliable nails. The programme for our work in the next few years follows automatically from the situations of yesterday and today: enthusiasm must be multiplied by skill, and numbers by technique. Then we shall conquer ‘with little blood’.

February 15, 1923, No.34

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Last updated on: 29.12.2006