The Fifth Anniversary Of The Red Army

Articles and Orders

Once More on the Tasks in Building the Army

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

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One of our newspaper workers, concerned for the interests of the army (the Red Army finds almost exclusively friends in the newspapers and in the country, since it has, thanks be to destiny, disposed of its enemies), asked me the other day: ‘Could you not give us a brief formula which would, in a certain sense, embrace all the tasks of the Red Army in the period immediately ahead?’ To explain his idea this comrade cited some of the slogans of past years: ‘Down with guerrilla-ism,’ ‘Proletarian to horse,’ and so on.

I know how convenient such concise formulas are for newspapers, and not only for them. All the same, I am obliged this time to decline to offer such a formula, because it would not correspond to the stage through which the army is passing. The time for summary, simple, terse slogans for the Red Army has already passed and – has not yet arrived. Through successive experiments, improvisations, layerings and reconstructions our army was brought to completion, in the rough. Today we are passing through a period of perfecting it, making everything more precise – through a phase of details and trifles. The task of construction is not now focused on a single point but is fragmented into particulars. In this, if you like, consists the general ‘formula’ of the present period.

I spoke recently about the need to bring our 600,000-strong army up to the level of cadres, in respect of qualification. This presupposes, above all, a decisive change in the way the army, and everyone of its members, is evaluated by the state institutions and the entire population of the country. In past years we made extensive use of the army as labour-power, both for the needs of the army itself and for those of the towns and the villages. Thus, in 1920, a whole army in the Urals felled and sawed timber, mined coal and ploughed the land. This hap-Pened at a time when our substantial armed forces in the East had been freed from direct military activity but when, nevertheless, we could not disarm them in view of the prospect of fresh military complications in the near future. At that time we unwound the military ‘ball’ into a labour ‘skein’. But when the storm broke in the West we hastily re-wound the Ural lumberjacks and sawyers into a military ball. However, besides such periodical transformations, with an army of several million men and with a weak civilian apparatus of state, the armed forces were used very widely for guard and patrol duty, for requisitioning, and for carting service ... Today the situation has changed radically in this respect. The minimum number of citizens have been directly retained in the army – and they are so detained only in order that they may acquire military training to the fullest extent possible. Under present conditions it would be senseless to transform the army into labour-power: it would mean getting, as a general rule, in place of a good soldier, a poorly-productive and very expensive worker. It is not for the army to serve the population, in the sense of contributing labour, but, on the contrary, for the population to serve the army, in every way. This is more advantageous, in the first place, to the population themselves. For, if we are obliged to remove from work over half a million workers and peasants, then it is necessary, at least, that during their service, that is, in as short a time as possible, they shall become irreproachable soldiers. To this end it is necessary that a Red Army man be removed from the ranks of those in training as infrequently as can be. As few sentry duties as possible! As few missions, details and leaves as possible! There must be no absences, everyone must be present! If a Red Army man does work which could and should be done by a ‘civilian’ worker, if a Red Army man occupies a post which could be occupied by an armed watchman, that is a crime against the army and the country. The Red Army man has been sent into the army precisely in order to master the soldier’s trade without wasting a single day, a single hour. Only if both the Red Army and the country grasp this point will it become possible to raise the army’s level of qualifications to a height hitherto unknown.

Bringing the standing army to the condition of a cadre presupposes our going over to the militia system. We have firmly taken this road. We are now carrying out our first large-scale experiment in building militia units in various parts of the country ... some predominantly working-class, others purely peasant in composition. This is a very important new chapter in our constructive work. As it develops over the next few years, this experiment can completely regenerate the structure of the army. And, while we have heretofore spoken about the close link between the army and the population, today this formula has already become inadequate: in the militia divisions the army is directly merged with the population. While patronage, which has developed so rapidly, signifies fraternal tutelage over army units by soviets, trade unions and so on, the militia divisions demand from their patrons no longer just friendly care manifested from time to time, but daily participation in the building and education of the army units. This opens up prospects of such democratism in state and army affairs – real worker-and-peasant democratism, deeply-rooted, and armed with rifle and sabre – as the ‘democratic’ lackeys of capital dare not even dream of.

Putting the armed forces on the militia basis means, at the same time, dispersing them. This presupposes, from the standpoint of the country’s defence, that means of transport exist which are capable of moving the mobilised millions fast enough to wherever they may be needed, and also stockpiles from which these millions can be armed, shod, clothed and fed. Both of these conditions are economic in character.The country’s defence capacity is now being forged in the factories of state industry. This does not mean only those factories that directly manufacture rifles or soldiers’ boots. No, it is upon industry as a whole, and, first and foremost, on the fuel and metallurgical industries, that ensuring the country’s security depends. War industry is only an organ of the entire industrial organism. The same is true of transport. Every pood of coal, every pood of metal increases the strength of the Red Army. Here the fundamental problems of the country’s defence are completely fused with the problems of reviving and developing Soviet industry.

This applies, in a certain sense, to cultural and educational work, as well. The more knowledge and skills the worker and peasant youth master at school, the more pre-call-up preparation they are given, the more deeply the Young Communist League, the trade unions and the Party succeed in penetrating their minds and hearts – the better will the young Red Army man master, in the Red barracks, the technical and mental side of the soldier’s trade.

Recognising the inner links between military matters and other fields of constructive and creative work does not at all mean, of course, that we are going to place responsibility for the state of the army and its growth upon the economy and the educational system. No, work must be carried on under the conditions that exist today, with maximum effort and in order to achieve maximum success. The army is, after all, not only a product of economic and cultural-educational work, it is an instrument of this work, and an extremely important one. Teach-ing the army to be precise, thrifty, responsible, efficient, cons-cientious in attention to details, means rendering inestimable educational services in the country’s economic activity and helping to promote the raising of its general cultural level. And that is what we shall do, day after day, during the next five years, with conviction and vigour.

The time for concise formulas has already gone by – and has not yet arrived. By this we mean that the future will by no means always consist of little jobs and minute details. Otherwise we should have to conclude that the army is an end in itself and that it exists only for the internal improvement of its constituent units. No, that is not the case. An army exists to wage war, and we, revolutionaries, can least of all adhere to that old-time Prussian school of thought which considered that what is more harmful to an army than anything else is war.

We have built an armed force and are developing it in aware-ness that wars are profoundly inevitable so long as class society exists. The current epoch of unstable equilibrium teaches us that the interval between two armed conflicts is proving to be, generally speaking, shorter than we should have liked to expect. The next war that they may force upon us – that they cannot but force upon us – will bring with it generalised formulas and concise slogans, because it will put great tasks on the agenda. While, in general, war is the continuation of politics, for us war is the continuation of revolution – but fully-armed with such organisation and such technique as no revolution has ever had before.

February 20, 1923, No.38

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Last updated on: 29.12.2006