The International Situation and the Red Army

V. Building the Air Fleet

The Weapon of the Future

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

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On the eve of the great imperialist war, aviation had barely left the stage of first experiments and exhibition flights. The powerful development of aviation coincides entirely with the war years. By the end of the war aviation had already attained a truly remarkable growth. It can be said that the last war, taken as a whole, hardly utilised aviation but merely created it. If that war had begun from the outset, that is, from July 1914, with aviation technique at its present level, the entire course of military operations would have been different. In that sense, aviation is wholly the weapon of the future.

But not only in that sense. The economic and cultural service that an air fleet can render has as yet hardly made itself apparent. True, already now, it is obvious from the first hasty survey that the cultural importance of aviation is limitless, but, in practice, this is all in the future.

Types of aircraft succeed each other with extraordinary rapidity. Flying machines ‘suffer moral depreciation’, to use Marx’s expression [1], incomparably faster than do ships, locomotives or even motor-cars: this shows that aviation technique has not yet emerged from the epoch of youthful frenzy. The aeroplane has not yet attained that harmony between tasks and technical means, that internal equilibrium of the mechanism, which usually ensures for any machine a certain period of mature stability: the history of technology shows that, when the ‘ideal’ type of a machine has been achieved, this reigns despotically over the thinking of inventors – their modifications and improvements affecting only secondary details – until some new discovery or invention; of collateral origin, upsets at a stroke the complacent equilibrium which has been established. Aviation is the weapon of the future also in the sense that the ‘ideal’ type of machine is still to come.

For us, a country backward economically and technically, this is not a disadvantage but an advantage. If we utilise in good time all the advantages of a centralised socialist state, and get down to work, we can overcome our backwardness in the sphere of aviation more quickly than in many other spheres. For motor-cars, both passenger and goods-carrying, one needs ‘cultured’, that is, surfaced, roads: we have few of those, and what we have are bad. Our airways, however, are no worse than America’s – they just have to be used. We must not, however, wait for ready-ripened fruits to drop from outside, but must insert ourselves, in good time, into the chain of development. We must build aircraft, improve them, adapt them to our climatic and other conditions, re-work independently the technical, military, transport and other experience of aviation throughout the world, and implement a steady process of selecting human material to fly our aeroplanes, we must educate, train and perfect these men – in short, we must ensure continuity of creative work in all the ramifications of aviation.

However, before it rises above the clouds, aviation must establish close contact with the earth, that is, with the masses.It is this aim, first and foremost, that Aviation Week will serve. The working man in town and country must get closer to the aerop-lane, survey it, understand it – that is, he must see in it the great weapon of the future, his weapon: otherwise, the aeroplane will, sooner or later, prove to be wholly directed against him.

Aviation is a new weapon, and precisely its novelty, its unusualness, its miraculous quality, is one of the important conditions governing its use in war. We know that the British make extensive use of aircraft, even without any link with ground forces, in suppressing colonial revolts in Asia and Africa. The aeroplane, as a weapon of psychological terror, is fulfilling the instructions of the slavemasters before it has managed to demonstrate in practice its capacities as a weapon of war. But not only in the colonies, here too, in our North, which they tried to turn into a colony, the British used aircraft, not unsuccessfully, to terrorise and demoralise infantry units that were inexperienced and lacked sufficient cohesion and were unfamiliar with aircraft. Diving low and with their machine-guns rattling, the airmen of Churchill and Chaykovsky [2] often sowed mortal panic among our troops. Why? Because the Red Army men knew nothing about the aeroplane – neither its capacities nor its range of action, neither its strengths nor its weaknesses.

The passenger motor-car, any sort of ‘Ford’, is the most inoffensive of machines. But if you drive one, puffing and grunting, into the square where a country fair is being held, you may bring about a very big catastrophe. When they see and hear the mechanical monster, the poor country horses make incredible leaps, carts knock into each other and overturn, pots are shattered into fragments, people fall under the cart-wheels and the horses’ hooves. Yet in the streets of London, and even of Moscow, the town horses pay no heed when motor-cars approach. In order that enemy aircraft may not, at the moment of encounter, seem surrounded with a halo of mysterious power, that is, so that they may not sow panic, we must make the whole of the army used to aircraft, must familiarise with aircraft all the units and branches of the service. Accustoming the Red Army man, right down to the cook in an infantry regiment, to the aeroplane must become an integral part of the army’s training and education. To a still greater extent must the commanders, from the lowest to the highest, become familiar with aircraft, so that in wartime they may know exactly what can be expected of them and what demanded of them. But we have not always observed this rule. Good watches would not go if one tried to hammer nails into them. One has to know how to use a watch before putting it in one’s waistcoat pocket, and it is even not at all a bad thing to know how its works are put together.

But it is not only a question of the army. The aeroplane is the type of weapon with the most universal sphere of operation. Aeroplanes travel many, many hundreds of versts from their bases, fly deep into the enemy’s rear, destroy railway lines, hangars and power-stations, and make raids on cities, bringing destruction, death and panic. While all other types of weapon and technical means are directed exclusively or predominantly against the enemy’s army, aircraft are no less directed against the peaceful population. Besides their directly destructive action, aircraft perform also the task of playing the devil with the nerves of the people in the rear, so as to frighten, fatigue and demoralise the population and thereby hack at the root of the enemy army’s power of resistance. The steadiness of the rear in face of the destructive effects of enemy aircraft will, all other things being equal, be the greater the more the rear knows about aircraft and their capacities. One must not let the enemy multiply the power of aircraft, which is terrible enough anyway, by the factor of mysterious terror!

The question of flying personnel is of great and particular importance. Poets, it is said, are born that way. But this applies to a considerable degree to airmen, as well. A particular combination of psychological and physical qualities is needed in order to ensure that the aviator works with confidence in the air. However, even the very best organic and psychological pre-conditions do not yet create a fighting airman, in the absence of a good system of training in flying and general military training. It is necessary, therefore, on the one hand, to arouse and develop widespread interest in aviation among the youth and, on the other, to organise thorough, scientifically-based, individual selection: the functions of the aviator are so responsible, so complex and various, and so much depends on him in the course of military operations’ that the army and the country have the right to demand, to an increasing extent’ that our airmen must be not just militarily-literate but militarily-educated people.

We must remember, at the same time, that the actual process of training an airman is connected with dangers such as are unknown, to the same degree, not only in other occupations, but even in other arms of the service. We must therefore look after the workers in the air fleet as well as we possible can. While in every sphere of the soldier’s trade in which man is combined with a machine it is, in the last analysis, the man that is decisive, in aviation this is more obvious than anywhere else. Attention to the apprentice airman! Attention to the airman – the skilled craftsman in charge of an airborne workshop!

Military theoreticians are not averse to arguing about the place that aviation is to occupy in the general mechanism of defence: is it to be one of the auxiliary technical means at the disposal of the army and the navy, or is it to be on an equality, as an air force, with the army on the land and the navy on the sea? This is not, however, a question to be answered in the abstract. Everything depends on the level of development of aviation and the material place it has succeeded in taking in the overall system of the armed forces. Here, too, quantity passes over into quality. Aviation begins its career as an auxiliary means for the army and the navy. Developing, becoming more complex, learning to operate with combined resources, it has a tendency to separate off from its territorial or maritime ‘metropolis’ and assume a place on an equality with it, in the aerial realm. It even sets itself an independent task – domination of the air. In Britain aviation has been assigned to a special ministry. [3] And that is not surprising: the aeroplane threatens to strike a mortal blow at Britain’s insular impregnability, guarded by an all-powerful navy. The USSR is a different matter. Our expanses, our Soviet ocean of land, make us much less vulnerable to aviation than insular Britain, surrounded as it is by an ocean of water. An inseparable link between aviation and the land forces is therefore of decisive importance for us, and will long remain so. It is from this point of view that we shall build our military aviation and in this spirit that we shall educate it.

Aviation is a weapon of imperialism that is constantly grow-ing in strength. Let us build a socialist aviation. Imperialism has not renounced the idea of turning us into a colony. Let us build an aviation that will safeguard our freedom, and that, perhaps, will help the colonies, too, to recover their independence. Let us build an aviation for economic, cultural and military purposes, an aviation for the working people and the oppressed. Persistently and stubbornly let us bring aviation into the country’s everyday life. Let us remember: aviation is not a pastime, nor is it one of many auxiliary technical means available to the army – aviation is the great instrument of the future. To the land and the sea it will add the air as a great new arena for human creativity.

Let us carry forward the work of building our aviation not only vigorously and rapidly but also in a planned way, leading at once all the awakened interest of the masses in the air fleet and their self-sacrificing aid into the channels of proper organisation. The War Department is already no longer in this field. Side by side with it work the Society of Friends of Aviation and the Volunteer Air Fleet. This triple alliance will grow and become stronger. The Week of the Air Fleet will bind it, through the Party, with the masses and will open, we have no doubt, a new, second and richer chapter in the development of Soviet aviation.

May 30, 1923
Pravda, No.121


1. ‘The continuous revolution in the means of production ... involves a change in the means of production and their constant replacement, on account of moral depreciation, long before they expire physically’ (Capital, Vol.II, Chapter 9).

2. Churchill was the British minister for the navy and an active promoter of intervention, on whose initiative British troops occupied North Russia and gave support to the SR government of Chaykovsky at Archangel in 1918.

3.At the beginning of 1918 the ‘air’ branches of the Admiralty and the War Office were detached and merged in a new Air Ministry, and in April the Royal Air Force was formed. The Air Ministry controlled civil as well as military aviation.

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006