The International Situation and the Red Army

II. Genoa and the Hague


At the Celebration of the Fourth Anniversary of the Red Army at the Military-Academy Courses for Senior Commanders of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, February 18, 1922

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

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Comrades, it is after long delay, due to a whole number of reasons, that I appear before the flower of our commanding personnel. Comrades, we are at present, on the one hand, at an eve-of-festival moment, preceding the fourth anniversary of the creation of the Red Army, and, on the other, at a very significant moment in the international situation of the Soviet Republic and of the whole world: we are before the fourth anniversary and before the Genoa Conference. There is some connection between these two dates, because, if we are now able to send a delegation to Genoa, the credit for this goes to our army, that Red Army which, though rough, formless in the past, chaotic and poorly trained, already covered itself with glory and saved our country internationally, established our revolution, and opened and paved the way to a most responsible international conference. Since you all follow the latest news, I can add nothing to this, because I know no more about the forthcoming – or, may I say, the non-forthcoming – conference at Genoa – than is known to any others present. If anybody thinks that there is somebody in the world who knows more than we do, he is mistaken. The international conference at Genoa is now the ideal point of intersection of an immense number of wills, interests, endeavours, intrigues and all kinds of diplomatic approaches and tricks, and since it is proposed to invite forty states, not all of whom, to be sure, possess decisive importance, and since all of these states have their own plans and schemes, it is quite obvious that this ideal point may never be realised. There are some whose interest it is to wreck the conference, others who are interested in having it take place. In Britain, the Government, in the person of Lloyd George, has, so to speak, linked its fate with the forthcoming conference and its success, whereas the French Government, the present one, has linked its fate with the sabotaging of this conference. But we, comrades, approach this proposed conference with complete tranquillity. If it is held, we shall take part in its work, which will do us no harm. If it is not held, we shall say: we’ll wait.

If the conference were to take place without difficulty, that would mean that they had come to an understanding, and they can do that only if their understanding is directed against us: it would mean a united front of 39 of the participants against the fortieth, because we are on our own against the 39 others.

If this conference were to take place quite smoothly, having been prepared at the pre-conference meeting, the rehearsal which is now being held in order to make a fresh attempt to smother us, that would be very sad. But they will never reach an understanding among themselves. They are going to the conference with a whole heap of antagonisms, and we are going with a keen-edged weapon so as to intensify those antagonisms to the utmost. If we are not going to have a single reliable ally, and that will be the case, then on every question it will be one against all the rest. If any of them disrupt the conference, that will mean that we have reached an understanding not with everyone present at the conference but with some of them separately. All the better – it was not we who convened the conference, and it was not we who disrupted it. We waited patiently, refraining from reply to provocation after provocation, but answering in the most courteous fashion (so far, of course, as our breeding allows), in the politest language. And if they break up this conference, we shall negotiate separately with those who have not reached an understanding between themselves. Some advantage will come from this, too. We shall not lose from either conjuncture. We shall play our game with cards on the table and, in the last analysis, without losing. If we can play our game in these circumstances it is only because we possess a Red Army which has already passed through its most critical period of demobilisation and reorganisation. And a certain ideal shadow of this Red Army – its spectre – will be present at Genoa, if the conference does take place. To this shadow, this spectre, our diplomats will politely point their fingers, when this becomes necessary: the Red Army exists.

One of the most important questions in the world of diplomacy is the reduction in the size of the Red Army, disarmament of the nations, lightening of the arms burden. We are ready to take that road. Welcome! Welcome! Disarmament, or at least reduction of the army? Splendid: but where reduction is concerned we need to have a definite yardstick. If, Messrs diplomats, you want to know our opinion, we have a programme for this purpose, it is called the European, and later the World, Soviet Federative Republic – the most reliable road to disarmament and pacification in Europe; but we shall not meet, in Lloyd George and Poincaré, enthusiastic collaborators, so to speak, in taking that road – oh no! We can say: let us try applying palliative measures, by way of reducing the army. You say that the Red Army is a threat to peace? Give us, then, the yardstick, the numerical coefficient, of an army that will not be a threat to peace. Here, for you, are the fundamental data – territory, population: give us the coefficient that will determine the legal, permissible, legitimate, non-threatening numbers for the army, and let us come to an agreement. The coefficient will be in our favour. If they say that we are too poor to have a big army, we shall reply: yes, we are poor, that’s true. With your help, Messrs French and British, we have been made extremely poor; but what follows from that is that military technique is less good in our army, it means that we have to make do with numbers, and so, where we are concerned, the coefficient ought not to be lowered but, on the contrary, somewhat raised. Finally, with whom are the numbers of the army to be compared? If with the present French Republic, well, of course, it is richer than we are. But the French Republic knew a period of revolutionary wars, when it was surrounded on all sides by British intrigue. And if you take the numbers of the revolutionary army of those days, which saved France, if you compare that figure with ours, it will leave ample room for increasing the size of our army. Give us a yardstick, give us a coefficient for determining the lawful, legitimate numbers of the army. Some so-called democrats, our Mensheviks in particular, are striving to ensure that a question of some delicacy for us, the question of Georgia, gets brought up at Genoa. Georgia, they say, was seized by armed force, and so they demand the withdrawal of Soviet troops and a free consultation of the inhabitants. An excellent programme: we are ready to discuss it with them. Withdrawal of Soviet troops from Georgia? So, then, they see Georgia as a colony, a conquered country? That is nonsense, of course. But, for the moment, let us adopt that point of view. Let troops be withdrawn from colonies. We withdraw from Georgia – not, of course, the Georgian troops, but the all-Russia troops – and you withdraw from India, from Morocco, from Tunisia, from Algeria. Don’t forget, we, too, have learnt a little geography. Then we ask: why are the troops to be withdrawn? They will say: so that the Georgian people may make a free decision. But a free decision depends not only on the presence or absence of Russia’s troops in the territory, but on the absence or presence of the British fleet near the shores of the Black Sea. When the Georgian peasant sees that a landing may take place in Georgian territory at any moment, from British vessels, that Georgian peasant will not feel, as you wish he should, that he is in a position to decide freely. What is the solution? We withdraw our troops from Georgia, for example, and you withdraw your fleet from the Black Sea. Where to? To the Mediterranean. But the Turkish Straits are now wide-open gates for Britain to pass through. So, perhaps, the Turkish Straits should be closed against warships? That, of course, will not decide the matter, but, all the same, it will bring us somewhat nearer a solution. And, having closed the Straits again, should not the key be given to Turkey? But, after all – the last and weightiest argument – Georgia is not a colony. What happened in Georgia was the same as happened here in the old Russia. Did the Soviet revolution as they imagine it, happen anywhere in any different way? We, you see, brought to Moscow Lettish, Chinese and Bashkir troops in order to seize power, and into Georgia, of course, we sent Muscovite troops. If, in accordance with the laws of history, a Soviet revolution took place in Latvia, then that was carried out, of course, not by Letts but by men from the Urals. Speaking generally, it is a characteristic of ours that, when making revolutions, we always fetch troops in from somewhere outside, whence they are brought by some mysterious route, and these troops from outside implant everywhere the will of the working masses, establish the Soviet order, and banish, or expel through the trapdoor at Batum, those Mensheviks who really were supported by imperialist troops from elsewhere. Thus, the given question will be turned round, so to speak, and we shall have very weighty arguments against our enemies. I must admit that I am very doubtful whether they will find a coefficient that would compel us to reduce the size of our army to numbers smaller than we have at present. And although we should be very glad if this happened, I should commit a crime ill were to indulge in the optimistic hope that the Genoa Conference would enable us to effect a further decisive reduction of the army. That is unlikely – not through our fault, through theirs – and we have spoken publicly about that on more than one occasion. Just because, at Genoa, all questions will be posed in a precise way, and it will not be possible simply to postpone them to an indefinite future, but they will have to be answered, yes or no, that very circumstance may bring new harsh conflicts nearer. And we can say with satisfaction and a certain pride that the working masses of our country possess a profound political instinct, awakened by the revolution, which finds expression in the increased attention paid to the Red Army which we are now noticing. What is happening at the present in Moscow and throughout the country in the matter of Soviet patronage of the army, that is, establishing links between soviets, particular organs, institutions and trade unions, on the one hand, and units of the army, on the other, the enthusiasm which this is arousing among the workers, who are not at all sentimental, who have seen some very depressing sights – all these are facts of immense importance. Our Red Army has evoked among these tired masses, who have endured much, very profound concern, which is expressed not only in meetings but also in a whole number of practical, material sacrifices by the soviets, by the organised working masses, for the sake of the Red Army. This is a fact of very great importance. They will learn that at Genoa.

The first period of the Red Army was a period of great internal difficulties. Just after the imperialist war, the peasants did not want to join the Red Army, or else joined it doubting whether they really needed to: the workers, too, joined without full confidence, and state coercion played a very important role in the period of our first mobilisations. Today a complete and profound change has taken place. It is due to the fact that the country’s consciousness has to a certain extent become defined, that the people have taken account of the international situation which has been formed, and, as a result, the Red Army appears in the thinking of the working masses as a necessary and salutary organ of our country in this very difficult national situation. This achievement, which has resulted from experience, this very profound turn in the people’s psychology, after the horrors of the imperialist war, after the first semi-revolution, after the October revolution, after our four fronts, or, more properly, one encircling front, this is a colossal achievement of the people’s consciousness, upon which we shall build the army. Already this army is unshakable!

In connection with all these conditions, comrades, a question which assumes decisive importance for us is that of raising the level of the army’s skill. This is a fundamental question! What we have least of in every sphere is good assembling of parts and polishing to the finest degree. Certain comrades are turning their minds nowadays mostly towards broad military generalisations, sometimes towards so-called new, unified, universal military doctrines. I, comrades, am much more cautious where this question is concerned. I think that our generalisations can embrace such a wide field – in fifteen or twenty years’ time. What we are lacking in is certainty that every nail shall go where and how it ought to go. In military matters this is of colossal importance: it applies everywhere, but even more than elsewhere does it apply in military matters. Here we have defects, blunders and mistakes, and we nave to pay for these ten or a hundred times more than in any other sphere. By this I do not mean that our Red Army, its Academy, or the Revolutionary War Council that leads it are preparing to clip anyone’s wings, to curb the flight of creative thinking in the military sphere – no, never, in no case! Whoever has something new to say, whoever shows insight into the future – such insight is possible, if it is firmly rooted in experience – whoever can anticipate new prospects in military matters, is welcome, and we will back him up in every way. But for collective creativity in the military sphere, as in any other, real success is possible only on the basis of steady couiolidation and elaboration of what has been achieved, of the practices established, and working over experience won. The individual thought of anidividual genius in the military sphere may, of course, be engendered according to those obscure laws of nature which have yet to be investigated: but raising the general military level of the army is quite a different matter. In this, inspiration can play no part. Here we have to operate with minute particulars, to plant grains, to strengthen and rear them, starting by teaching everyone to read and write, so that we have not a single illiterate Red Army man (the task we have set ourselves to accomplish by the First of May), and so that our commanders, our new sturdy, strong commanders may not cease to polish their military knowledge, both practically in war and theoretically in the intervals of truce. If I speak against the self-deception in the expressions ‘new military doctrine’, ‘unified military doctrine’, that does not, of course, mean, comrades, that Jam afraid of a really new contribution in the military sphere – let us have it, we shall all welcome it, develop it and apply it. But what I fear most of all is that from this may grow the superficiality which lulls and hypnotises with high-sounding words and enables people to avoid learning just because somebody has promised to produce from his waistcoat pocket, not in 24 days but in 24 hours, a military doctrine, a new discovery, a new doctrine that will be a universal specific. No, this will only take shape if we have firmly mastered, rammed into our consciousness, that which has been done up to now, that which has been acquired by military experience in the broadest sense of the word. While we are not obliged to apply our minds to the Punic Wars, we must study, and study properly, our own civil wars and the last imperialist war.

The fact that at these courses in the Military Academy I see, as instructors, old comrades whom I met in the North and in the South, in the East and in the West, who commanded our divisions, brigades and even armies, shows that the danger of getting hypnotised, the danger of falling into cheap selfsatisfaction, is not so terrible, and so the army will not suffer spiritual depreciation.

We went through a first period, which was a period of very chaotic improvisation – our first year. The second and third years were a period of most desperate struggle on all fronts, with the aid of the more or less stout and fit units which had been created by that original improvisation, and which got better in the course of struggle. The fourth year was the year of our reorganisation and demobilisation, a year of very painful internal operations by the army itself. And the fifth year, if we are not going to fight, will be a year of study, of preparation, of raising the level of skill, of making more precise, adjusting and polishing. Only in this way shall we progress.

In concluding, I express my very great and sincere pleasure that these tempered warriors of the revolution, divisional and brigade commanders who led our glorious Red Army in the most difficult circumstances and who have been decorated by the Soviet Republic with the Order of the Red Banner – how many are sitting here who have won that decoration repeatedly! – that these stout Red fighters, revolutionary wolfhounds, have come here to study in this time free from other occupations. This is the real public opinion of the Red Army. We shall not trust anyone who wants to say something new in military matters just on the basis of what he says, but shall demand: show us. We learn from experience, and not only from books. Show, link with experience – for superficiality in military mailers is the most terrible of enemies. And you, the flower of our commanders, you, the salt of our Red Army, you will not allow that superficiality to appear among us. The fifth year will be a year of industrious, persistent, steady and honest study.

Long live our military studies, long live the flower of our commanders, our Higher Academy courses, and long live our Red Army!

Voyennaya Nauka i Revolyutsiya, 1922, No.1

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Last updated on: 31.12.2006