The International Situation and the Red Army

V. Building the Air Fleet


The Air Fleet is on
the Order of the Day

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

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The air fleet, the lightest and most mobile form of weapon, has proved to be ... slow and heavy in take-off. Only through very great efforts and after the loss of much time has the question of the air fleet at last been put on the order of the day. All that remains now is to take care that further work in connection with the air fleet and around it, including agitation, follows the right road, for there is not a little danger that it may go astray.

First of all, about agitation. This is, of course, very important. Agitation in prose (if this be good) is a good thing, and agitation in verse (if this be good) is even better. But what we have most to fear is the danger that agitation may be too abstract and all-embracing, that is, simply empty, which would mean that in a very short time it would be brought to naught by the automatic pressure of universal indifference. In general we have quite a lot of ‘agitations’ which resemble what the Germans call ‘straw fires’ – they flare up with a crackle, and at once go out, leaving behind a handful of ashes. We do not, of course, need agitation about the air fleet for its own sake – what we need is an air fleet, numerous and technically perfect. Agitation must be subordinated to this task, illuminating it from the technical, industrial, general-economic military, political and educational standpoints. The reader must be kept au fait with aviation developments both abroad and at home. We must tell the reader, inform him, and not merely summon him. In general, we do too little informing and too much summoning. In this particular instance it is primarily the fault of the skilled workers of the air fleet itself. If they want the country’s public opinion to take interest in their work, they themselves must do incomparably more than hitherto to interest the country’s public opinion. The aviation horizons of Soviet Russia, or at least of its vanguard, must be widened. Interest must be kindled in those truly fascinating possibilities which are implicit in mastery of the air.

This is the principal task of the Society of Friends of the Red Air Fleet. Its nucleus must consist of persons really interested in aviation and devoted to this work, ready to sacrifice time and energy to it. Only given correct work by such a society, in the person, say, of its permanent bureau, will agitation be based on serious, abundant and attractive information, international in its scope. And, without that, agitation, wearying people with repetition, will inevitably prove to be a straw fire.

The question of the aircraft industry must, of course, be among those put in the forefront. Aircraft factories, like war-industry enterprises generally, are not self-sufficient. On the contrary, they are very closely dependent on the overall state of industry and the economy as a whole. But this fact must not be understood in too simplified a way. The progress of industry does not and will not take place through a mechanically uniform raising of the level of all branches at the same time. ‘Shock’ branches and enterprises are possible and inevitable under NEP, too, just as in the period of War Communism – but only given incomparably greater success. The state cannot give to war industry from its common stock of resources more than it is now giving. Additional aid can be rendered to the aircraft industry in two ways: first, by attracting means to it from sources other than the state budget, and, secondly, by attracting means to it from the state’s resources, on condition, so to speak, that equivalent service is rendered by aviation to certain government interests. Here we must at once eliminate one misunderstanding. If the state cannot devote more means to aviation out of its budget, that does not at all signify that it can give these extra means indirectly, through economic enterprises which either are sustained by the budget or ought to contribute thereto. Here we mean, first and foremost, the trusts. It is wrong to demand that the trusts give aeroplanes to the Red Army. The trusts are organs of the state which have been invested with certain powers to manage state industrial enterprises under market conditions. The powers of the trusts certainly do not include the power to rectify the state’s budget at their own discretion. But it is quite obvious that, if the trusts were to begin to donate aeroplanes out of their commercial and industrial profits (or losses?), they would be doing this at the expense of the state, since their profits constitute an item on the income side of the state’s budget and their losses an item on the expenditure side. I even think that the time will soon come when, for donating aeroplanes, and for many other ‘donations’ which have nothing to do with the tasks of producing well and selling well, the heads of the trusts will be called to account for squandering state property.

But this does not mean at all that the trusts, syndicates, banks and other economic and departmental entities can do nothing for aviation. On the contrary: on the purely economic plane they can do a hundred times more than on that of rather dubious philanthropy. We can only welcome the initiative shown by the management of the Russian Bank of Commerce and Industry in calling a conference of trusts and syndicates to discuss questions of aid to the air fleet. It is to be hoped that the question will be properly posed at this conference.

Can aviation, already in the immediate future, perform useful and necessary functions in the service of our unified industry, of the People’s Commissariats of Agriculture and of Posts and Telegraphs, and, finally, of the largest local soviets? Can we set ourselves the task of establishing regular air links between Moscow and Petrograd, between Moscow and Kharkov, the Donets Basin, Baku and so on? Would these links present such advantages, administrative and economic, that the Moscow Soviet, the Petrograd Soviet, the Supreme Economic Council, the Chief Administration of Fuel, the syndicates, the trusts, the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture, the People’s Commissariat of Posts and Telegraphs, and so on, would undertake the corresponding expenditure? Here we need to make, pencil in hand, a good, businesslike calculation. In such a calculation the military importance of aircraft must also, of course, be given attention. But the basis of the calculation must be the purely economic and administrative considerations of the interested institutions and enterprises. If some of the institutions listed above, and others along with them, come to the conclusion that a certain number of aeroplanes may be no less useful and necessary for them than a certain number of motorcars and lorries, this will by itself ensure, seriously and for a long time, expansion of the basis of our aircraft industry and multiplication of our air fleet. Our aircraft industry will receive considerable numbers of firm orders over and above those from the War Department, and the customers, the trusts and departments, will discuss with the Aircraft Trust how they can help it directly by means of further orders.

What has been said is not in the least aimed, of course, against the collections of donations for which Izvestiya is appealing so vigorously. This campaign must be continued and developed in every way. Every additional aeroplane is very important for our young air fleet. It is only necessary that these donations shall not place a concealed burden on the state’s budget: they must consist of additional, fresh, non-state means. The actual collection of such donations, and, still better, of periodical contributions, can be put on a proper footing only when this work is headed by a proper organisation, that is, the Society of Friends of the Air Fleet.

A society like this must be very closely linked with the trade unions, with the People’s Commissariat for Education and with the local soviets, or at least with the strongest of these. Without active and conscious, technical, economic and military interest in aviation on the part of the worker masses, and in particular, of the young workers, we shall achieve no serious, long-term success in this sphere, and such interest can be evoked, properly nourished and supported only through the trade unions,

the People’s Commissariat of Education and the biggest of the local soviets. Representatives of these institutions must, first and foremost, be drawn into the Society of Friends of the Air Fleet, and not just as a matter of official formality, as ‘honorary’ members, but as active workers, builders and educators. Popular-science lectures and literature on aviation must be promoted, persons being drawn into this work who have a good, profound knowledge of the subject and who are capable of imparting their interest in it to the reader in simple and clear language.

The problem of the peasantry is, of course, more difficult, and therefore this remains one of secondary urgency. Of course, when it becomes possible to use aircraft to some extent for agricultural purposes (land-surveying, combating pests, and so on), and also for the rapid and regular supply of periodical publications to the villages, the cause of aviation will at once acquire a new and gigantic basis. But, naturally, we cannot begin with that. At present we have not sufficient forces. The first steps must necessarily be more modest, but at the same time firmly co-ordinated and planned for a long period. Because we shall have to defend ourselves for a long time yet. And we shall go on flying after we have ceased to need to defend ourselves. It would be more correct to say that we shall only then really fly – or, if not we, then our children and grand-children.

March 4, 1923
Pravda, No.50

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Last updated on: 31.12.2006