The International Situation and the Red Army

II. Genoa and the Hague


At the Ceremonial Meeting in the Military Academy of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army Devoted to the Fourth Anniversary of the Academy, December 7, 1922

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

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When the history of our Academy comes to be written (which will probably not be all that soon), it will show how the difficult conditions under which the Academy has lived and developed have reflected the difficulties of our Soviet existence generally.

The Academy is roughly one year younger than our Soviet Republic. Now, of course, on the fourth anniversary of its existence, we can and must look ahead rather than look back. For, while the Soviet Republic and our Red Army are young, the Academy, which is in essence a certain scientifically organised condensation of all our military experience, thought and practice, and, so to speak, the crown of our military edifice, is, of course, especially young. And it is wholly appropriate that it should look to the future.

One may ask oneself: will history give our Academy time enough to develop, since at the very moment of our anniversary commemoration, our joint celebration, a conference on disarmament is meeting in Moscow? This question has been raised very seriously, so far as we are concerned. You will certainly have read in the newspapers the proposal which Comrade Litvinov has put forward on behalf of the Soviet Government – to reduce the Red Army, over the next one-and-a-half to two years, by no more and no less than three-quarters of its present size, that is, from 800,000 to 200,000 men. At the same time, our diplomats have said that this is not a maximum figure, that we are prepared to table even more radical proposals for reduction of the army. In this connection some of you may ask yourselves, and not without justification, whether there is any point in our developing and strengthening the Military Academy, if the army, in general, is heading for disarmament.

Comrades, let us consider whether there are grounds for such optimism ... I say ‘optimism’ because, of course, if conditions were to take shape such that we could dissolve the army, liquidate it entirely, that would be a very great gain for our country. Unfortunately, that is not the case. From the cautious echoes from the work of the Moscow conference that we find in our press we can already say with complete certainty, even while being quite ignorant of what is going on behind the diplomatic walls, that there will be no disarmament.

You know how this question has been posed. In proposing disarmament we are continuing here the policy which was expounded quite clearly at Genoa. We proposed that we proceed directly and immediately to carry out material disarmament, or, at least, maximum reduction of armed forces. The other side replied that material disarmament must be preceded by ‘moral’ disarmament. I find it hard to explain what ‘moral’ disarmament is supposed to mean, but, as it has been interpreted, it must in any case signify a set of measures which would avoid the undertaking of material disarmament and would not get in the way of retaining a numerous and well-equipped army.

It is enough to mention who it was who initiated and devised this delicate expression, ‘moral disarmament’, namely, France. When, at the last congress (I think it was) of the League of Nations, at which some old-fashioned British pacifists like Lord Cecil [sic] [Lord Robert Cecil is meant.] – persons of a very pious cast of mind but who absolutely and undoubtedly failed to understand anything of what was going on around them at Genoa – brought up the fundamental purpose of the League, namely, disarmament, they found themselves up against French imperialism. Disarmament, it was said, must, of course, be begun, but it must be begun by way of ‘careful preparation’, through ‘moral’ disarmament. If we have in mind the policy of French imperialism, we must most readily understand moral disarmament as meaning disarmament ... by abandoning all social and political morality. But let us not discuss the delicate aspects of French policy. For us it is enough that France, while proposing’moral disarmament’, has retained to this day her very numerous army, and is not going to renounce it. France undoubtedly holds the hegemony and primacy in military might in Europe. Therefore, I repeat, moral disarmament, means a set of measures, phrases, fictions and tricks such as may constitute a pretext for retaining large armed forces.

We have now been presented afresh, in reply to our proposal for material disarmament, with a programme of ‘moral’ disarmament. And this after the experience of Genoa! At Genoa our proposal was not even put on the agenda ... The Genoa experience was preceded, quite sig~icantly, by the experience of Washington (at which we were not present), where the strong naval powers discussed, on the initiative of the United States, a programme of reduction in naval armaments. This programme was devised in such a way as to ensure, to a greater or lesser degree, the naval hegemony of the United States, in place of the old, traditional naval hegemony of Britain. The programme which was devised and adopted there was constructed in a very cunning and complex way, but its principal distinguishing feature is, as the rulers of America are now noting, that not a single one of the powers has taken any steps to carry out this programme. Washington and Genoa – there you have the latest petty efforts of capitalist pacifism.

We have always stood and we continue to stand for the view that so long as class society exists, wars are inevitable. But we always declared that in the interests both of politics and of pedagogics we are prepared sincerely and consistently to support the thorough implementation of every pacifist initiative – partly because we may, perhaps, manage thereby to secure, all the same, some limited successes in the matter of lightening the arms burden. And also, of course, so as to demonstrate that a lightening of the arms burden, not to mention its abolition, is inconceivable until the entire historical burden constituted by class exploitation has been liquidated. At Genoa our disarmament programme was not even put on the agenda. We then said that we were ready to take this initiative again, together with any combination of states and in anyplace. And from Genoa the trail led to Moscow.

This conference has not yet finished. How it will finish we do not yet know. But it is clear already that the states which are our Western neighbours, and, which are under the direct guidance of French militarism, especially Poland and Romania – Poland directly and Romania indirectly, through Poland – have come here with that same formula which French imperialism advanced against real reduction of armaments already at Genoa and at the League of Nations. This fact testifies that there are no great hopes of our achieving very substantial successes in the matter of reducing armies.

There is yet another major attempt – major, at any rate, by virtue of the masses involved – to bring about reduction in armaments and prevention of war, namely, the attempt which is to be undertaken in the next few days at The Hague. I must say a few words about this. While Washington and Genoa were pacifist attempts by imperialist diplomacy, at The Hague we shall see, in the next few days, attempts by petty-bourgeois democrats to achieve reduction in the arms burden and elimination of the dangers of war. At The Hague there are to assemble, during the next few days, representatives of the Amsterdam group of trade unions, which are led, as you know, by the compromisers of petty-bourgeois deinocracy, men who consider themselves socialists, together with representatives of the co-operatives and representatives of Social-Democratic and other parties whose programmes include a fight against militarism. Representatives of the Communist International have not, of course, been invited. But Russia’s trade unions have been invited. And since our trade unions and our Communist Party are essentially one, Communist speeches will be heard at The Hague – and that will be a good thing.

What does the pacifist, anti-militarist position of these compromiser bourgeois-democratic elements amount to? Their position was formulated in Rome about a year ago. The Rome resolution says: ‘Down with war, war on war, down with militarism, fight to the end against war, general strike against war.’ To those of you who are older, those who took pan in the struggle before the imperialist war, who took part in the life of the Second International, all these formulas will be extremely familiar... A year, perhaps a year and a half, or less, before the imperialist war, a world congress was held at Basle at which all these formulas were voiced and promulgated a hundred-and-one times, in solemn circumstances. The general strike was counterposed to the spectre of the coming war. But when the war came, the Second International surrendered miserably to the slogan of defence of the fatherland – and it was precisely out of the experience of the imperialist war that the Third International grew, that new revolutionary force in history. I hope the representatives of our trade unions and co-operatives at the Hague will ask the Social-Democrat gentlemen: ‘You say that you will not permit a repetition of the second imperialist war and you threaten to answer war with your general strike – but what about the programme of ‘national defence’, the programme of defence of the fatherland which constitutes the entire foundation of the Second International? If you recognise the right of each country to defend its threatened fatherland, how can you demand that the working class of that country declare a general strike, which will inevitably disorganise defence, and, if it succeeds, will demoralise the army?’ Furthermore, the majority of the representatives of those parties which are shortly to assemble at the Hague vote, in their parliaments, for the military credits asked for by theft governments. They participate in national bourgeois-democratic governmental blocs, and at the same time, as is characteristic of petty-bourgeois democrats in general – of all this world-wide ‘Kerenskyism’ – they are mortally afraid of the consequences of this policy! ... We have seen this with our own eyes. Kerensky conferred with the Second International, issued along with Tsereteli a manifesto ‘to the peoples of the whole world’, and, at the same time, held on by one hand to Buchanan [Sir George Buchanan was Britain’s ambassador to Russia between 1910 and 1918.] and organised the well-known June offensive, remembered by all.

In these contradictions lies the whole essence, the entire policy of the petty-bourgeois Second International, and we shall see that, distinctly, at this congress which is to begin in the next few days. They vote for war credits, they recognise national defence, and at the same time they fear that this may result in war – war which must inevitably follow from all their policies, war to which they counterpose the bald, miserable, abstract notion of the general strike.

We have seen how wars begin ... Is it conceivable that a country without a powerful revolutionary movement can answer the starting of a war with a general strike? Never. At such a moment the state mobilises all its forces: it is able to deceive the people, to lead them into all sorts of delusions about the causes, aims and tasks of the war, it always presents itself before the people in the guise of a lamb – every state will affirm that it is the victim of aggression, that it has to defend itself ... Such behaviour has been constant since people began to practise swindles on each other, and it goes on to this day, whenever states begin to fight one another. But who is to decide the question of who began the war? The future historian will say that this is an unanswerable question. Here you always have two trains travelling towards each other along the same rails: both are attacking and both defending, and, in practice, the question is decided by the victor. When France forced Germany to her knees she, exploiting her victory, ordered Germany to ‘confess’: ‘I was the aggressor.’ Germany was obliged to take the guilt upon herself. France said: ‘Don’t resist, confess, and sign your name to the confession.’ And Germany signed.

That is how the question of attack and defence is settled. And, of course, if you approach the question of the general strike seriously, you have to say: ‘If you want to answer war with a general strike, that is, to demoralise the national army at the critical moment, then begin with “a little thing” – refuse to grant your government credits for the army, because this army, which you want to demoralise when they start to set it to work, will prove to be unprepared for war if you have previously refused credits for it. You must begin with agitation against bourgeois dupery, and then later bring about the general strike. You must first carry on agitation on the railways, because transport is of great importance in wartime. If you are serious about a general strike you must have footholds on the railways, not to mention in the army, you must concentrate there your conspiratorial cells ... Begin’ – the representatives of our trade unions will say at The Hague – ‘with systematic propaganda against your bourgeois government, and when the war begins, we shall see! It will then become clear whether you can at once go over to the attack, or must operate in accordance with the underground revolutionary apparatus that you have: perhaps you will be obliged to wait until the government gets weaker’ ... This position, as you know, follows completely from the programme and tactics of the Third International.

This means, comrades, that war is not going to be liquidated tomorrow. Recently we concluded in Moscow the Fourth Congress of the Third International. [1] During the past year the International has grown to an extraordinary extent, but, even so, it does not embrace the majority of the working class. The majority of the working class will be represented at this pettybourgeois pacifist congress at the Hague: and, if that is so, if it is still not possible to talk seriously about the seizure of power, then it is necessary to win the majority of the working class – in Europe, at least. The Fourth Congress presented a picture of remarkable, planned, confidently-conscious growth of the Communist movement – but not such a rapid growth as we should have hoped for and as we did hope for five or four years ago. At the same time we cannot but admit that the bourgeoisie of Europe and the world have learnt a lot, partly through the experience and on the bones of our own Russian bourgeoisie. In Italy we have seen the victory of counter-revolution, and also a distinctive attempt [i.e.’ the occupation of the factories in September 1920.] by part of the proletariat actually to take power. All this shows that the next ten years – or even not just one decade – will be an epoch of very great upheavals – revolts, revolutions, counter-revolutions and wars. I am very much afraid that our century will see plenty of revolutions and wars.

And it is this, comrades, that answers the question as to whether it is worth while our studying properly at the Military Academy. If one could really hope that, here in Moscow, Comrade Litvinov will reach agreement with the representatives of our western neighbours on reducing armies, and that this initiative will then be imitated on the wider scale of the territory of all Europe and the whole world, we might become pensive concerning the Academy. But, if we take the question in its full perspective, we have to say with certainty that we are going to have to reduce our army and then to expand it – and again to reduce and again to expand it ... And, this being so, it is absolutely necessary that we should possess a very valuable condensation of military thought and experience. In reducing the army we shall, so far as possible, bring it to the state of a saturated solution – and in that solution the Academy must be the most precious crystal. We have all, of course, left behind the childishness of pacifism: we know that war, like revolution, is an extremely cruel and harsh method of solving social problems.

In order not to leave the sphere of diplomacy, I will mention the tirade delivered by Monsieur Colrat, a French representative at Genoa, about the consequences of the Russian revolution, which led, he said, to utter ruin and economic destitution in our country. To a certain extent, that is true. Our industry has, in the last year, produced no more than a quarter of what it produced before the war. Our agriculture is economically more primitive and more capable of revival, but during last year it produced only about three-quarters of the average pre-war crop. What does this prove? Something which we knew even without the instruction provided by this French financial expert, namely, that war and revolution are extremely brutal and destructive methods for solving social problems. But no other methods are available!

In the last analysis, war and revolution may contend with each other as methods. While revolution is the instrument for carrying out the new tasks of a progressive, advanced, historical class, war is merely one of the links in the chain of revolution. And, contrariwise, in every revolution there is the other side of the barricade: over there the class which represents counter-revolution is fighting. In this case, war and revolution have often in history gone hand in hand, neither of them yielding to the other in respect of brutal methods and destructive effects.

In this appropriate connection I have been looking through the history of the French revolution, and I came upon facts therein which are astoundingly vivid.

The French revolution, as is now beyond question for every bourgeois philistine, played an immense progressive role. It opened the gateway for all contemporary civilisation, with its power, its science and technique, and so on. And yet this Great French Revolution, in the course of the ten years of its development, transformed France into a heap of ruins and an arena of poverty. I came, for example, upon this fact. Bonaparte, when he was still First Consul, in the tenth year of the Great French Revolution, checked every day on the number of sacks of flour delivered to Paris, which then had a population of 500,000. Paris needed 1,500 sacks of flour every 24 hours to sustain a famine ration – our Soviet ration of recent years! – but what it received was between 300 and 500 sacks. That was how things were in the tenth year of the revolution, the revolution which overthrew feudal society and opened the gate for powerful capitalist development, with its technique! This means that revolution, which Marx called the locomotive of history, has as its most immediate consequence – ruin and want. And if we compare the situation of our Moscow, which has twice the population, and which is now only at the beginning of its sixth year of revolution, with Paris, that city of half a million people in the tenth year of its revolution, it must be said that we don’t look so bad. I even see that you are going to have, tomorrow, a gala supper to celebrate the anniversary of the Academy: which is, of course, proof of a small but nevertheless definite improvement in our material prosperity. In the third or the second year we could hardly have undertaken to celebrate in such ways as that our then very modest anniversary.

So long as class society exists, wars and revolutions are inevitable, both for solving the problems of imperialist society itself (I speak of war) and for overthrowing that society (I speak of war and revolution).

From this it further follows, comrades, that this epoch will be one of decades. And since, by the will of historical fate, Russia was pushed forward to take the first place in this serious round-dance, and our Communist Party and Soviet Government have been put into the position of being the world’s teacher where these matters are concerned, there is every reason to suppose that we shall be, in respect of military matters as well, the teachers of the revolutions which are beginning – the seedbeds of military knowledge and experience for their use ... And, therefore, we must be prepared. Because we have now to learn, not only for our own sakes but also for future purposes, for the great battles which will begin in our lifetime. I don’t know whether they will end in our lifetime: let us hope that they will end in the lifetime of the youngest of those present here.

In this connection I should like to stress one other point. The military man of today cannot but be a politician and a revolutionary – that is, of course, unless he is a counter-revolutionary. In what are called peaceful epochs, politics ruled over military affairs unnoticeably, on the sly, so that the military man seemed to himself to be merely a military man and nothing more. Our epoch has upset all conventionality, stripped bare all sorts of relationships: it is showing, graphically, that politics rules over military affairs no less than over all other aspects of human activity, forcing them to serve it. The Fourth Congress reminded us strikingly, once more, how impermissible it is, in our epoch, to retire into one’s national shell. In spite of the embitterment of bourgeois national states against each other, in spite of the fact that all Europe is divided up by customs barriers and bayonets – in spite of this, there has never been an epoch in human history when the mutual dependence of nations and classes has been so close, so indisputable, as it is in our time!

This fact finds expression in that same Communist International, in which there now appear the same slogans and methods of action for work in all civilised countries. It has become possible, in Moscow, at the Congress of the Comintern, in this political general staff of the world revolution, to examine all these problems – taking into account, of course, local and national peculiarities. Essentially, Europe, and to a considerable extent the whole world, has been transformed into an arena of internationalised and unified class struggle. Out of political struggle which has become acute grows civil war, when the time is ripe, and this also will tend towards a higher degree of internationalisation. This civil war will need military leadership. And here, comrades, I must emphasise a very prosaic but very important point – that of foreign languages. Whoever in the Academy is still in a position – this applies especially to the younger comrades – to study foreign languages, to give a little more time to them, ought and should do that, at all costs. Times are coming, comrades, when a conscious person who knows no foreign language will be like someone who lacks a right or left arm or leg.

Your study of foreign languages must become, comrades, the expression of the internationalising of your interests, of your psychology, and of our military affairs.

We were arguing not so long ago about when, how and in what period we should create for ourselves our own ‘military doctrine’. We have now become a bit more modest in that regard. I think it is good that we have become a bit more modest. But precisely in proportion as we engage wholly and completely in practical and theoretical working-over of our experience, bringing into this work also the military and political experience of the West, and widening our horizon – precisely in this process are we, unconsciously, without setting ourselves this aim, preparing, grain by grain, the elements of a new military doctrine, which will appear not because he, or you, or I set ourselves the task, sitting down at a desk, of creating it, but because, under the new conditions in which we work over our old experience, we apply existing methods and modify them in accordance with new tasks and new circumstances. And this new military doctrine which we shall establish by working over old experience, and not by setting up chimerical tasks for ourselves, will be the richer, the wider is our horizon, the more boldly we break out of our national shell, the more deeply we enter into world-wide experience. And the instrument for doing that is foreign languages. Consequently, to know at least one foreign language as well as his own, so as to be able to use it as his organ for intercourse with others, is a matter of duty for the qualified military worker of our epoch. About other matters, about our purely military work, I shall not speak. The Academy has only just emerged from a very painful period. We shall not talk about that today.

I said that politics rules over military affairs. That is undoubtedly the case, but if anyone thinks that politics can ‘replace’ military matters, he is very much mistaken. Politics rules over literature, over art – but politics does not replace literature and art. Politics rules in the sense that it reflects class ideology – it penetrates everything and compels everything, from guns to literary verses, to serve this class ideology: but that does not mean that if 1 know the politics of the working class I can make a gun or write lyrics. For that, one has to have talent and training, to know the laws of prosody, and so on. In order to follow the military vocation, one has to know the laws of military affairs and to know military technique. Politics rules over military affairs: but just as we, through the unripeness of our experience, were inclined, to some extent, in all institutions and all spheres, to build everything on the basis of politics, and consequently made mistakes, so also, here too, many of us are still inclined to think that politics ‘replaces’ everything else, and that with this talisman in our hand we shall be able to open all doors. This cannot but affect the Academy. Only recently, in the last few weeks and months, we have been reminded, by a working class which has grown stronger, that although politics rules over military affairs, it does not take their place Military affairs constitute an independent sphere which lives by creative analysis, investigation of mistakes, correction of mistakes, and development of accumulated knowledge. And the Military Academy is the laboratory of this military experience, this military knowledge: here, in the Academy, the marshals of the revolution are being prepared!

On the fourth anniversary of the Military Academy I greet you fraternally, comrades, congratulating you on the successes you have achieved, of which we are all proud, taking into account, of course, the difficult conditions – which, however, we must in no way exaggerate. I greet you and call on you all to look back over the four years which have passed, and to look ahead. I express my firm certainty that your fifth year will be richer in work and success than the fourth, and that the sixth year will prove still more glorious than the fifth. And I conclude my greeting with the cry: Long live the Military Academy, the laboratory of the marshals of the Russian and world revolution!

Krasnye Zori (Red Dawn),
April 1923, No.[?]


1. The Hague Conference, which was a continuation of the Genoa Conference, began work on June 15, 1922. At this conference the states of the Entente continued to insist on the demands they had formulated at Genoa – restoration of the private property of foreigners, payment of debts, compensation for losses, etc. The Russian delegation, headed by Comrade Litvinov, declared that satisfaction of these demands would depend on the provision of credits to Russia. Owing to differences of view between the states of the Entente on this question, and their refusal to make a definite promise of economic aid to Soviet Russia, the conference ended without result, on July 18 1922.

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006