The International Situation and the Red Army

II. Genoa and the Hague

Listen and Get Ready, Red Army!

Speech at the Ceremonial Meeting of the Moscow Soviet Devoted to the Fourth Anniversary of the Red Army, February 23, 1922

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

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Comrades! We make the anniversary of the Red Army coincide with today’s date because the decree on the creation of the Red Army was issued exactly four years ago. In fact, however, the Red Army was born together with the revolutionary proletariat at that moment, at that unknown hour when the first revolutionary worker took up a revolver – but why a revolver: a stick or a stone! – in order to aim it at the head of Tsardom and the bourgeoisie, in the knowledge that he was fighting not just for his own destiny but for that of the whole working class. That first moment, which we shall never establish and which no historian will ever determine, was the real birthday of the Red Army. Pacifists smelling of incense do not and never will understand that.

The Red Army is the organised and armed embodiment of the proletarian revolution. I happened today to come upon an article by a foreign Socialist who even thinks he is a Communist. He preaches that the fight against militarism must never cease, no matter what protective colouring this militarism assumes. The emancipation of the proletariat, he assures us, can be attained only through solidarity and not through force, bloodshed, ‘the methods of militarism’. This sort of superstition, worthy of the most miserable Tolstoyan, still finds shelter in the heads of some persons who consider themselves revolutionaries. For us, who have made a revolution, there can be no question of embracing under the single concept of militarism the military system of the bourgeoisie and the Red Army. For us the army is an organised, armed section of the working class, which fights for power, takes power and defends what it has taken.

Through all its four years, the history of the Red Army has been the history of the working class in struggle. The first period of this history consisted of hasty, feverish and often helpless attempts to arm the advanced detachments of the working class. I remember how, at the time when the Brest-Litovsk negotiations broke down and German imperialism launched a new offensive [1], the workers of Moscow and Petrograd were seized with militant enthusiasm. We received telegrams from Comrade Muralov about how the workers everywhere were demanding to be armed, about how, everywhere, revolutionary regiments were being hastily formed. But when, after a week, we counted up the forces that we had managed to create, a miserably tiny figure emerged – not even thousands, barely hundreds.

And the whole of the first year was spent in such attempts, which expanded in concentric circles. We built units under the blows of the enemy, we made many mistakes, we staggered between two extremes – between attempts to reproduce completely what had existed earlier, that is, to pour new content into the old, ready-made, familiar form, and a rush to create in a very short time an army such as the world had never seen before: to turn its defects, its military naivety and ignorance, its lack of organisation into heaven knows what revolutionary advantages. This wavering between routinism, looking backward, and what I will call revolutionary superficiality was inevitable in an epoch of sharp change such as ours.

However, with these hastily organised units we fought. There were battles when, very often, we blocked all the breaches in our front with the best working-class elements of Petrograd and Moscow, of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, the Donbas and the Urals.

We began this meeting by honouring the memory of the fallen. One day we shall collect their names, write them down, and count – how many precious lives of the best human beings, how much enthusiasm, how much ability and devotion lying there at the different stages of our hard struggle against enemies who were better organised, armed and trained than we were.

Looking back, and starting from the experience which we have won, you sometimes say to yourself: ‘How could we ever have conquered with the forces that we had in 1918?’ Our army was numerically weak and badly organised – and if we won, it was only because this was not an ‘army’ in the ordinary sense of the word, but the embodiment of the revolutionary working class. Precisely because the revolution of the working class was the bearer of a new idea against the old one, its enemies were unable to withstand it. The revolution steadily broadened its basis: despite all the instability and vacillation of the peasant masses, the revolution steadily embraced them and bound them to itself.

In 1919 and 1920 we fought with what was already a better weapon of struggle. But in that period we counted on our fight at the fronts merging, any day, with fronts that would stretch over the body of Europe, from us to the West, that would extend, we were sure, all across Europe. We hoped that the war we were waging would merge with the proletarian revolution in the West in the next few months, perhaps weeks.

Week followed week, month followed month – and the fourth year was upon us. The Red Army exists, but the revolution in Western Europe is developing far more slowly than we had hoped four or five years ago. The revolution is, of course, developing, and the reports that were made at the conference of our International by the most responsible leaders of our brother-Parties testify that the International is advancing, firmly and confidently, and that the bourgeoisie draws nearer to the abyss with every succeeding month. But the iron chest of bourgeois society in the West is too strongly put together and is being broken up too slowly. When its component parts have been shattered, when it seems that just one more shove is needed and everything will fall apart, it turns out that in this stout, centuries-old structure there is still inertia enough, still sufficient conservatism, which serves in place of living links 6#8211; and the old edifice continues to hold out, and requires fresh efforts, renewed pressure on the part of the working class.

We have had to adapt the structure of our Red Army to these new conditions of the international situation. Reckoning that the revolution may take a long time, we have been obliged, in the first place, to seek agreements on practical questions with the bourgeois governments which exist today.

In the second place, we have been obliged to make use of the unwished-for ‘breathing-space’ which has been given us, between the Russian revolution and the world revolution in order to consolidate, strengthen, organise and train the Red Army.

From the experience of these years we have learnt to value the creative force of revolution. We know that revolution performs miracles, that it raises up the oppressed strata of the people and enables them to set their hands to the building of their own destiny. But at the same time we are infinitely remote from revolutionary arrogance, from revolutionary conceit, from revolutionary bragging, which supposes that it is enough to set up a revolutionary regime, and all problems have been solved. The revolutionary regime is only the scaffolding for the new culture. In order to build the new culture we need to learn how to erect the new edifice stone by stone, brick by brick. And that fully applies to the army.

While we invariably emerged victorious from our struggle against the White bands, the struggle will be harder when we come up against better technique, a higher level of leadership and more efficient organisation. We have already learnt to speak the truth to ourselves. We had as many failures as we had successes. The fact that we won so many victories bears witness to our real strength: to the fact that our Red Army was composed of material such as no bourgeois state in the world possesses. But, in spite of that, all our efforts must be directed to converting the rude framework of our edifice into a real house – a house in which the walls stand properly, a house that will be properly roofed and glazed. And this careful work has to be done now, since we could not do it in the first years of our struggle.

True, we are now going to the Genoa Conference, to make peace. We are going, but as yet we have by no means arrived. Our diplomat comrades, it appears, are in no hurry to purchase their tickets to Genoa, because the bourgeoisie (judging by the telegrams printed in our papers), in their quest for ‘economic equilibrium’, are upsetting that equilibrium, now at this point, now at that. In France the government which shared in the decision to hold the Genoa conference has now been overthown: Briand has been replaced by Poincarë. We were invited to Italy – but hardly had the Italian Government of Bonomi made its generous gesture of hospitality than it too was flat on its back. [2] Subsequently we have had reports that Lloyd George is very tired. His job is, of course, extremely fatiguing, but, all the same, it is strange that his weariness should have intensified just now, at the moment of the Genoa conference. Does all this mean that, among the ruling classes, as the Genoa conference draws nearer, those elements are coming to the top who do not want to reach agreement with us, and who have decided to link their fate with that of the renewed intervention about which the émigrés talk in foreign gateways [Translated here as ‘gateways’ is the Russian word for the space under agate – through which dogs are supposed to growl at each other.], reports of which percolate through into the White-Russian press, and about which we receive information from our friends abroad? In any case, these frequent rumours of a new intervention and the intentions of our neighbours, both close and distant, combine to constitute a threat to us. This threat is, not, of course, such as could arouse panic here: however skilfully our enemies may plan their schemes, we have, after all, grown stronger indeed, we have grown cleverer in all respects.

Though the revolutionary movement is not strong enough to overthrow the bourgeoisie today, it is nevertheless strong enough to give the bourgeoisie a definite and perceptible shove. The fate of Soviet Russia is again being weighed in the great world scales. And while today one scale of the balance swings over Genoa, the other scale, the bloody one, may at the last moment prove to be nearer to us.

This is why we observe such tension at the centres and in the armies. Six months ago, and, especially, nine months ago, we saw a striving here to take away from the Red Army as many forces and resources as possible. That was a quite comprehensible tendency: it was a reaction after the terrible strain which had lasted for three years. In the present month, in the month of intense discussions about recognising us and of talks concerning the Genoa Conference, we see something different. We see a movement for fraternisation between the working people and the army, patronage by sovicts, trade unions and particular institutions over units of the Red Army. When we put forward the idea of attaching military units to Soviets, none of us was to any degree hopeful that this movement would develop so quickly and produce such splendid results in the weeks that followed.

What does it mean, the fact that individual soviets, factories, institutions and unions are hastening to ‘adopt’ individual units, to get close to them and make a fuss of them? It means that, among the Russian working people, the revolution has awakened a true, infallible instinct of revolutionary statesmanship. It means that the Moscow proletarians, both men and women, have absorbed from our scattered speeches, articles and telegraphic reports, from the entire situation and the surrounding atmosphere, this conclusion: the struggle between historical forces is now traversing a certain critical point, and this critical point may mean, with equal likelihood, either recognition of Soviet Russia, that is, a new, prolonged breathing-space for us, or a new blow struck at us, a new bloody struggle, more severe and more decisive than all the wars that lie behind us.

Nor is that all: the revolutionary state instinct prompts the thought in our men and women proletarians that the chances of deflecting the bloody scale of new war this spring will be the greater the more distinctly and sharply the shadow of the Red Army shows up on the diplomatic screen at Genoa.

Our diplomats, the revolutionary representatives of the Soviet Republic, must have inner confidence that theft decisions will be backed by all the workers and peasants of Russia.

And if they say: ‘We shall not make such-and-such concessions’, that will mean that the whole working class and the whole peasantry will repeat after them a resolute ‘no’. But it is not enough to say ‘no’. One needs to be able to defend one’s ‘no’ from those who want to force down our throats their own ‘yes’. When we reject the unacceptable importunities of the imperialists, we shall do this relying not only on the revolutionary consciousness with which we were armed – alas, armed only with that! – at Brest-Litovsk: no, we shall be firmly aware that, behind us, is the organisation, experience and armament of the Red Army.

We should have wished that the Genoa Conference had taken place as soon as possible. We are interested in establishing normal, proper economic relations. But if it is postponed, we shall not waste the period of the postponement. Postponement of the conference will mean temporary victory for the interventionist elements of the bourgeoisie, and so intensified danger, and it will demand that we take great precautions and make great preparations. Therefore we say: Red Army, every week that the Genoa conference is put off shall be a week of training and preparation for you! We shall not waste the time: the time that they oblige us to lose in the field of diplomacy we shall use in the field of organising and strengthening the Red Army. And the resultant of this parallelogram of forces will be in our favour.

Our preparation – we have spoken about this on several occasions, and it was confirmed by the Ninth Congress of Soviets – is, above all, preparation, in the soldier, of the revolutionary citizen. We have to raise our young men in the army to a higher level, and, first and foremost, to rid them decisively and finally of the shameful stain of illiteracy. By the First of May there must be not a single illiterate soldier in the Red Army ... You, the Moscow Soviet, you, the district brigades and schools – the Red Army asks you, the Red Army expects of you, that you will not let anyone remain illiterate among your ‘sons’ in the great family you have adopted. You will give them teachers, you will help them master the elementary technical means whereby a man can become a conscious citizen.

Literacy is far from being everything, literacy is only a clean window on to the world, the possibility of seeing, understanding, knowing. This possibility we must give them, and before everything else.

We must give every Red Army man a clear and precise idea of who our enemies are and who our friends, tell him about this in the simple and clear words in which one has to talk to the worker and peasant youth who are without political experience.

We must teach our Red Army man to look at the whole world with a clear, free and bold revolutionary gaze. All the superstitions inspired by the sorcerers and priests of all religions must encounter clear and distinct criticism in the honest, frank language of materialist science.

So, each warrior, whether he be worker or peasant, must know and understand that at the basis of the world lies the law of change of matter, that everything living is the product of a long process of change, that man has behind him an immense chain of ancestors, reaching back to the first, elementary living organism, and that this same man has, in his subsequent development, taken his destiny into his own hands, that he is going forward, opening up new worlds, casting down all rulers from their thrones both heavenly and terrestrial, and saying: ‘No, I do not need any sovereign lords – I am man, organised in socialism, I am the master and the ruler of all things . . ‘

This pride, this revolutionary consciousness, which cuts the umbilical cord of old superstitions, this proud awareness, we must give to the Red Army men of all categories – not forcibly, but through intelligent, persistent and scientific propaganda.

Another of our tasks is this, to ensure that our army approaches the soldier’s trade as a complex art which requires study – the mastering of skills, the repetition of experiments, criticism and tireless work upon oneself. Our fifth year will be a year of study. With the same enthusiasm, self-sacrifice and conscientiousness with which the advanced workers’ followed by the peasants, fought and died at the fronts of the Civil War, we shall in the coming months master the most correct military methods, military organisation, technique, tactical and strategical procedures.

No self-deception, no illusions! History may face us with a task of very great gravity: a moment may come, and in the very near future, when the dimensions of the revolutionary movement in the West will still not be strong enough at once to overthrow bourgeois society, and the bourgeoisie, sensing the proximity of the decisive onslaught, will put forth its last desperate effort to crush the Russian nest of world revolution. In two or three months events of the greatest importance may take place. In the last analysis, of course, history will set everything right, the proletariat will triumph – because, if the bourgeoisie were to succeed, in the last hour of its own life, in driving an iron roller over the Soviet Republic, that would mean, even so, not the end of the social revolution, but only the end of our existing soviets; and we know that a new generation would then arise, on our bones, to carry on the fight for our cause.

If, of course, in Germany or in France, a victorious proletarian revolution should develop before the bourgeoisie tries to launch its final attempt to fall upon us, so much the better. Even then, however, I think the Red Army would not prove superfluous. But if, instead, the revolution is delayed, and the bourgeoisie hurries to forestall it, we shall have an army which is materially and morally strengthened, wholly adopted not only by the working class as a whole but also, in detail, by individual workers’ organisations – an army which has learnt from its experience of four years of struggle, has absorbed it, and has purged itself of errors: an army which has become stronger than it was.

That is why the increase in interest in, attention to and love for the Red Army which we have observed recently here in Moscow, and one of the expressions of which is this present ceremonial meeting, is a symptom of immense revolutionary-historical importance. This attention shown by the working people imposes upon us, workers in the War Department, twofold, tenfold responsibilities.

You, comrades, representatives of the units in Moscow, like all the army workers throughout Russia, must all say to yourselves that this new, repeated adoption of its Red Army by the working class demands from the army that it be worthy in all respects of its adoptive father. And that means, first and foremost, that the Red Army must conscientiously apply itself to its duties, paying attention to every trifle. That means that, where the axe is used, we must hew and round off as accurately and well as possible. That means that we must remember that in the soldier’s trade there are no trifles, no unimportant matters, no bagatelles. For it is out of trifles, details, supposed ‘bagatelles’ that victory or defeat is made – and we want victory.

Comrades! On the day of the fourth anniversary we firmly resolve to prepare for renewed struggle, if they should force war upon us; and, by all the signs, that danger is not past. For the end of the conflict between labour and capital is still far off. The bourgeoisie will not leave us in peace. And since the danger is not past, since we shall have to fight, we shall fight properly ... And on the day of our fourth anniversary, here, in the name of the Moscow Soviet, we must send out a call to the Red Army throughout the whole land: ‘Listen, get ready! Prepare for struggle and prepare for victory! The Moscow proletariat, the head and heart of Russia’s proletariat, is with you, Red Army!’

From the stenogram of the Moscow Soviet


1. On the Brest-Litovsk negotiations and the German offensive see note 20 to Volume One.

2. On the fall of the Bonomi Government, see note 60 to Volume Four.

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Last updated on: 31.12.2006