Questions of Military Theory

Military Doctrine or Pseudo-Military Doctrinairism [1]

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

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’Just as some plants bear fruit only if they don’t shoot up too high, so in the practical arts the leaves and flowers of theory must be pruned and the plant kept close to its proper soil – experience.’
Clausewitz, On War (The Theory of Strategy) [This translation is taken from the English translation of Clausewitz’s book by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (1976), p.61.]

I. Our Method Of Orientation

A quickening of military thought and a heightening of interest in theory is unquestionably to be observed in the Red Army. For more than three years we fought and built under fire, and then we demobilised, and distributed the troops in quarters. This process still remains unfinished to this day, but the army has already approached a higher degree of organisational definiteness and a certain stability. Within it is felt a growing and increasing need to look back over the road already travelled, to assess the results and to draw the most necessary theoretical and practical conclusions, so as to be better prepared for the morrow.

And what will the morrow bring? New eruptions of civil war, fed from without? Or an open attack upon us by bourgeois states? Which ones? How should we prepare to resist? All these questions require an orientation on the planes of international policy, internal policy and military policy. The situation is constantly changing and, consequently, the orientation changes, too – not in principle but in practice. Up to now we have coped successfully with the military tasks imposed upon us by the international and internal situation of Soviet Russia. Our orientation proved to be more correct, more far-sighted and profound, than that of the mightiest of the imperialist powers, which sought, one alter the other or together, to bring us down, but burnt their fingers in the attempt. Our superiority lies in our possession of an irreplaceable scientific method of orientation – Marxism. It is a powerful and at the same time very subtle instrument – using it does not come easy, one has to learn how to use it. Our Party’s past has taught us through long and hard experience how to apply the methods of Marxism to the most complex combination of factors and forces during this historical epoch of sharp breaks. We use the instrument of Marxism also to define the basis for our constructive work in the military sphere,

It is quite otherwise with our enemies. While in the sphere of production technique the advanced bourgeoisie has banished stagnation, routinism and superstition, and has sought to build each enterprise on the precise foundations of scientific method, in the sphere of social orientation the bourgeoisie has proved impotent, because of its class position, to rise to the heights of scientific method. Our class enemies are empiricists, that is, they operate from one case to the next, guided not by the analysis of historical development but by practical experience, routine, coup d’oeil and flair.

Assuredly, the British imperialist caste has, on the basis of empiricism, provided an example of far-flung greedy usurpation, triumphant far-sightedness and class firmness. Not for nothing has it been said of the British imperialists that they think in terms of centuries and continents. This habit of weighing and appraising practically the most important factors and forces has been acquired by the British ruling caste thanks to the superiority of its position, on its island vantage-point, and under the conditions of a comparatively slow and planned accumulation of capitalist power.

The parliamentary methods of personal combinations, bribery, rhetoric and fraud, and the colonial methods of bloody repression, hypocrisy and every form of vileness have entered equally into the rich arsenal of the ruling clique of the greatest of empires. The experience of the struggle of British reaction against the Great French Revolution refined the methods of British imperialism, made it more flexible, armed it in a variety of ways, and, consequently, rendered it more secure against historical surprises.

Nevertheless, the potent class dexterity of the world-ruling British bourgeoisie is proving inadequate – and more and more so as time goes by – to the present epoch of volcanic upheavals in the bourgeois regime. While they tack and veer with great skill, the British empiricists of the epoch of decline – whose finished expression is Lloyd George – will inescapably break their necks.

German imperialism rose up as the antipode of British imperialism. The feverish development of German capitalism provided the ruling classes of Germany with the opportunity to accumulate a great deal more in material and technical values than in habits of international and military-political orientation. German imperialism appeared in the world arena as an upstart, went too far, slipped up and was smashed to pieces. And yet, not so long ago, at Brest-Litovsk, the representatives of German imperialism looked upon us as visionaries who had been accidentally and temporarily thrust to the top.

The art of all-sided orientation has been learnt by our Party, step by step, from the first underground circles through all the subsequent development, with its interminable theoretical discussions, practical attempts and failures, advances and retreats, tactical disputes and turns. Russian émigrés’ garrets in London, Paris and Geneva turned out, in the final analysis, to be obsrvatories of immense historical importance. Revolutionary impatience became disciplined by scientific analysis of the historical process. The will to action became combined with self-control. Our Party learned to apply the Marxist method by acting and thinking. And this method serves our Party in good stead today ...

While it can be said of the more far-sighted empiricists of British imperialism that they have a keyring with a considerable choice of keys, good for many typical historical situations, we hold in our hands a universal key which enables us to orientate ourselves correctly in all situations. And while the entire supply of keys inherited by Lloyd George, Churchill and the others is obviously no good for opening a way out of the revolutionary epoch, our Marxist key is predestined above all to serve this purpose. We are not afraid to speak aloud about this, our greatest advantage over our adversaries, for it is beyond their power to acquire our Marxist key for themselves, or to counterfeit it.

We foresaw the inevitability of the imperialist war, and the prologue to the epoch of proletarian revolution. From this standpoint we then followed the course of the war, the methods used in it, the shift in the groupings of class forces, and on the basis of these observations there took shape, much more directly, the ‘doctrine’ – to employ an elevated style – of the Soviet system and the Red Army. From scientific prediction of the further course of development we gained unconquerable confidence that history was working for us. This optimistic confidence has been and remains the foundation of all our activity.

Marxism does not supply ready recipes. Least of all could it provide them in the sphere of military construction. But here, too, it gave us a method. For, if it is true that war is a continuation of politics, only by other means, then it follows that an army is the continuation and culmination of the entire social and state organisation, but with the bayonet to the fore.

We approached military questions with, as our starting-point, not any ‘military doctrine’, as a sum-total of dogmatic postulates, but a Marxist analysis of the requirements for the self-defence of the working class, which, having taken power, had to arm itself, disarm the bourgeoisie, fight to maintain power, lead the peasants against the landlords, prevent the kulak democracy from arming the peasants against the workers’ state, create for itself a reliable body of commanders, and so on.

In building the Red Army we utilised Red-Guard detachments, and the old regulations, and peasant atamans, and former Tsarist generals; and this, of course, might be described as the absence of ‘unified doctrine’ in the sphere of the formation of the army and its commanding personnel. But such an appraisal would be pedantically banal. We certainly did not take any dogmatic ‘doctrine’ as our point of departure. We actually created the army out of that historical material which was ready to hand, unifying all this work from the standpoint of a workers’ state fighting to preserve, entrench and extend itself. Those who can’t get along without the metaphysically tainted word ‘doctrine’ might say that, in creating the Red Army, an armed force on a new class basis, we thereby constructed a new military doctrine, for, despite the diversity of practical means and the changes in approach, there could not be, nor was there, any place in our military constructuve work either for empiricism devoid of ideas, or for subjective arbitrariness: from beginning to end, the entire work was cemented by the unity of a revolutionary class goal, by the unity of will directed toward that goal and by the unity of the Marxist method of orientation.

2. With A Doctrine Or Without One?

Attempts have been made, and frequently repeated, to give proletarian ‘military doctrine’ priority over the actual work of creating the Red Army. As far back as the end of 1917 the absolute principle of manoeuvre was being counterposed to the ‘imperialist’ principle of positional warfare. The organisational form of the army was to be subordinated to the revolutionary strategy of manoeuvre: corps, divisions, even brigades, were declared to be formations that were too ponderous. The heralds of the proletarian ‘military doctrine’ proposed to reduce the entire armed force of the Republic to individual composite detachments or regiments. In essence this was the ideology of guerrilla-ism just slicked up a bit. On the extreme ‘Left’ wing, guerrilla-ism was openly defended. A holy war was proclaimed against the old regulations, because they were the expression of an outlived military doctrine, and against the new ones because they resembled the old ones too closely. True, even at that time the supporters of the new doctrine not only failed to provide a draft for new regulations, they did not even present a single article submitting our regulations to any kind of serious principled or practical criticism. Our utilisation of officers of the old army, especially in positions of command, was proclaimed to be incompatible with the introduction of a revolutionary military doctrine; and so on and so forth.

As a matter of fact, the noisy innovators were themselves wholly captives of the old military doctrine. They merely tried to put a minus sign wherever previously there was a plus. All their independent thinking came down to just that. However, the actual work of creating the armed force of the workers’ state proceeded along a different path. We tried, especially in the beginning, to make maximum possible use of the habits, usages, knowledge and means retained from the past, and we were quite unconcerned about the extent to which the new army would differ from the old, in the formally organisational and technical sense, or, on the contrary, would resemble it. We built the army out of the human and technical material ready to hand, seeking always and everywhere to ensure domination by the proletarian vanguard in the organisation of the army, that is, in the army’s personnel, in its administration, in its consciousness and in its feelings. The institution of commissars is not some dogma of Marxism, nor is it a necessary part of a proletarian ‘military doctrine’: under certain conditions it was a necessary instrument of proletarian supervision, leadership and political education in the army, and for this reason it assumed enormous importance in the life of the armed forces of the Soviet republic. We combined the old commanding personnel with the new, and only in this way did we achieve the needed result: the army proved capable of fighting in the service of the working class. In its aims, in the predominant class composition of its body of commanders and commissars, in its spirit and in its entire political morale, the Red Army differs radically from all the other armies in the world and stands in hostile opposition to them. As it continues to develop, the Red Army has become and is becoming more and more similar to them in formally organisational and technical respects. Mere exertions to say something new in this field will not suffice.

The Red Army is the military expression of the proletarian dictatorship. Those who require a more solemn formula might say that the Red Army is the military embodiment of the ‘doctrine’ of the proletarian dictatorship – first, because the dictatorship of the proletariat is ensured within the Red Army itself, and, secondly, because the dictatorship of the proletariat would be impossible without the Red Army.

The trouble is, though, that the awakening of interest in military theory engendered at the outset a revival of certain doctrinaire prejudices of the first period – prejudices which, to be sure, have been given some new formulations, but which have in no way been improved thereby. Certain perspicacious innovators have suddenly discovered that we are living, or rather not living, but vegetating without a military doctrine, just like the King in Andersen’s story who went about without any clothes on and didn’t know it. ‘It is necessary, at last, to create the doctrine of the Red Army’, say some. Others join in the song with: ‘We are going wrong where all practical questions of military construction are concerned because we have not yet solved the basic problems of military doctrine. What is the Red Army? What are the historical tasks before it? Will it wage defensive or offensive revolutionary wars?’ – and so on and so forth.

It emerges that we created the Red Army, and, moreover, a victorious Red Army, but we failed to give it a military doctrine. So this army goes on living in a state of perplexity. To the direct question: what should this Red Army doctrine be? we get the answer: it must comprise the sumtotal of the principles of the structure, education and utilisation of our armed forces. But this answer is purely formal. The Red Army of today has its principles of ‘structure, education and utilisation’. What we need to know is, what kind of doctrine do we lack? That is, what is the content of these new principles which have to enter into the programme for building the army? And it is just here that the most confused muddling begins. One individual makes the sensational discovery that the Red Army is a class army, the army of the proletarian dictatorship. Another adds to this that, inasmuch as the Red Army is a revolutionary and international army, it must be an offensive army. A third proposes, with a view to this offensiveness, that we pay special attention to cavalry and aircraft. Finally, a fourth proposes that we do not forget about the use of Makhno’s tachanki. Around the world in a tachanka – there’s a doctrine for the Red Army. It must be said, however, that, in these discoveries, some grains of sensible thought – not new, but correct – are smothered beneath the husks of verbiage.

3. What Is A Military Doctrine?

Let us not seek for general logical definitions, because these will hardly, by themselves, get us out of the difficulty. [2] Let us rather approach the question historically. According to the old view, the foundations of military science are eternal and common to all ages and peoples. But in their concrete refraction these eternal truths assume a national character. Hence we get a German military doctrine, a French one, a Russian one, and so on. If, however, we check the inventory of eternal truths of military science, we obtain not much more than a few logical axioms and Euclidean postulates. Flanks must be protected, means of communication and retreat must be secured, the blow must be struck at the enemy’s least defended point, etc. All these truths, in this all-embracing formulation, go far beyond the limits of the art of war. The donkey that steals oats from a torn sack (the enemy’s least defended point) and vigilantly turns its crupper away from the side from which danger may be expected to come, acts thus in accordance with the eternal principles of military science. Yet it is unquestionable that this donkey munching oats has never read Clausewitz, or even Leer.

War, the subject of our discussion, is a social and historical phenomenon which arises, develops, changes its forms and must eventually disappear. For this reason alone war cannot have any eternal laws. But the subject of war is man, who possesses certain fixed anatomical and mental traits from which are derived certain usages and habits. Man operates in a specific and comparatively stable geographical setting. Thus, in all wars, in all ages and among all peoples, there have obtained certain common features, relatively stable but by no means absolute. Based on these features, an art of war has developed historically. Its methods and usages undergo change, together with the social conditions which govern it (technology, class structure, forms of state power).

The expression ‘national military doctrine’ implied a comparatively stable but nevertheless temporary complex (combination) of military calculations, methods, procedures, habits, slogans, feelings, all corresponding to the structure of the given society as a whole and, first and foremost, to the character of its ruling class.

For example, what is Britain’s military doctrine? Into its composition there obviously enters (or used to enter) recognition of the need for maritime hegemony, together with a negative attitude toward a standing land army and toward conscription for military service – or, more precisely, recognition of the need for Britain to have a navy stronger than the combined navies of the next two strongest powers, and, what was made possible by that situation, the maintenance of a small army of volunteers. Connected with this was the support of such an order in Europe as would not allow any one land power to obtain decisive preponderance on the Continent.

Undoubtedly, this British ‘doctrine’ used to be the most stable of all military doctrines. Its stability and definiteness were determined by the prolonged, planned, uninterrupted development of Britain’s power, without any events and upheavals such as would have radically altered the relation of forces in the world (or in Europe, which, formerly, came to the same thing). Now, however, this situation has been completely disrupted. Britain dealt her own ‘doctrine’ the biggest blow when, during the war, she was obliged to build her army on the basis of compulsory military service. The ‘balance of power’ on the European Continent has been upset. No-one has confidence in the stability of the new relation of forces. The power of the United States rules out the possibility of automatically maintaining any longer the dominant position of the British navy. It is at present too early to predict at the outcome of the Washington Conference will be. But it is quite obvious that, since the imperialist war, Britain’s ‘military doctrine’ has become inadequate, bankrupt and quite worthless. It has not yet been replaced by a new one. And it is very doubtful if there will ever be a new one, for the epoch of military and revolutionary upheavals and radical regroupments of world forces leaves very narrow limits for military doctrine in the sense in which we have defined it above with respect to Britain: a military ‘doctrine’ presupposes a relatively stable situation, foreign and domestic.

If we turn to the countries on the continent of Europe, even in the past epoch, we find that military doctrine assumes there a far less definitive and stable character. What constituted, even during the interval of time between the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the imperialist war of 1914, the content of the military doctrine of France? Recognition that Germany was the hereditary and irreconcilable enemy, the idea of revanche, education of the army and the young generation in the spirit of this idea, cultivation of an alliance with Russia, worship of the military might of Tsardom, and, finally, maintenance, though not very confidently, of the Bonapartist military tradition of the bold offensive. The protracted era of armed peace, from 1871 to 1914, nevertheless invested France’s military-political orientation with relative stability. But the purely military elements of the French doctrine were very meagre. The war submitted the doctrine of the offensive to a rigorous test. After the first weeks, the French army dug itself into the ground, and although the true-French generals and true-French newspapers did not stop reiterating in the first period of the war, that trench warfare was a base German invention not at all in harmony with the heroic spirit of the French fighting man, the entire war developed, nevertheless, as a positional struggle of attrition. At the present time the doctrine of the pure offensive, although it has been included in the new regulations, is being, as we shall see, sharply opposed in France itself.

The military doctrine of post-Bismarck Germany was incomparably more aggressive in essence, in line with the country’s policy, but was much more cautious in its strategic formulations. ‘The principles of strategy in no way transcend common sense’, was the instruction given to Germany’s senior commanders. However, the rapid growth of capitalist wealth and of the population lifted the ruling circles, and above all the noble officer caste of Germany to ever greater heights. Germany’s ruling classes lacked experience in operating on a world scale: they failed to take forces and resources into account, and gave their diplomacy and strategy an ultra-aggressive character far removed from ‘common sense’. German militarism fell victim to its own unbridled offensive spirit.

What follows from this? That the expression ‘national doctrine’ implied in the past a complex of stable guiding ideas in the diplomatic and military-political spheres and of strategical directives that were more or less bound up with these. Furthermore, the so-called military doctrine – the formula for the military orientation of the ruling class of a given country in international circumstances – proved to be the more definitive, the more definite, stable and planned was the domestic and international position of that country, in the course of its development.

The imperialist war and the resulting epoch of maximum instabilty have in all spheres absolutely cut the ground from under national military doctrines, and placed on the order of the day the need for swiftly taking into account a changing situation, with its new groupings and combinations and its ’unprincipled’ tacking and veering, under the sign of today’s anxieties and alarms. The Washington Conference provides an instructive picture in this connection. It is quite incontestable that today, after the test to which the old military doctrines have been subjected in the imperialist war, not a single country has retained principles and ideas stable enough to be designated a national military doctrine.

One might, it is true, venture to presume that national military doctrines will take shape once again as soon as a new relationship of forces becomes established in the world, together with the position therein of each separate state. This presupposes, however, that the revolutionary epoch of upheavals will be liquidated, and succeeded by a new epoch of organic development. But there is no ground for such a presupposition.

4. Commonplaces And Verbiage

It might seem that the struggle against Soviet Russia ought to be a rather stable element in the ‘military doctrine’ of all capitalist states in the present epoch. But even this is not the case. The complexity of the world situation, the monstrous criss-crossing of contradictory interests, and, primarily, the unstable social basis of bourgeois governments exclude the possibility of consistently carrying out even a single ‘military doctrine’, namely, struggle against Soviet Russia. Or, to put it more precisely, struggle against Soviet Russia changes its form so frequently and proceeds in such zigzags that it would be mortally dangerous for us to lull our vigilance with doctrinaire phrases and ‘formulas’ concerning international relations. The sole natural and correct ‘doctrine’ for us is: be on the alert and keep both eyes open! It is impossible to give an unconditional answer even when the question is posed in its crudest form, namely: will our chief field of military activity in the next few years be in the East or in the West? The world situation is too complex. The general course of historical devlopment is clear, but events do not keep to an order fixed in advance, nor do they mature according to a set schedule. In practice one must react not to ‘the course of development’ but to facts, to events. It is not difficult to guess at historical variants which would compel us to commit our forces predominantly in the East, or, conversely, in the West, coming to the aid of revolutions, waging a defensive war, or, on the other hand, finding ourselves obliged to take the offensive. Only the Marxist method of international orientation, of calculating class forces in their combinations and shifts, can enable us to find the appropriate solution in each concrete case. It is not possible to invent a general formula that would express the ‘essence’ of our military tasks in the coming period.

One can, however, and this is not infrequently done, give the concept of military doctrine a more concrete and restricted content, as meaning those fundamental principles of purely military affairs which regulate all aspects of military organisation, tactics and strategy. In this sense it can be said that the content of military regulations is determined directly by military doctrine. But what kind of principles are these? Some doctrinaires depict the matter like this: it is necessary to establish the essence and purpose of the army, the task before it, and from this definition one then derives its organisation, strategy and tactics, and embodies these conclusions in its regulations. Actually, such an approach to the question is scholastic and lifeless.

How banal and lacking in content are what are taken to be the basic principles of the military art can be seen from the solemnly-quoted statement by Foch that the essence of modern war is: ‘to seek out the enemy’s armies in order to beat and destroy them; to adopt, with this sole end in view, the direction and tactics which may lead to it in the quickest and safest way.’ [Foch, The Principles of War, translated by Hilaire Belloc (1918), page 42.] Extraordinarily profound! How remarkably this widens our horizon! One need only add that the essence of modern methods of nutrition consists in locating the aperture of the mouth, inserting the food therein, and, after it has been masticated with the least possible expenditure of energy, swallowing it. Why not try to deduce from this principle, which is in no way inferior to that propounded by Foch, just what sort of food is wanted, and how to cook it, and just when and by whom it should be swallowed; and, above all, how this food is to be procured.

Military matters are very empirical, very practical matters. It is a very risky exercise to try and elevate them into a system, in which field service regulations, the establishment of a squadron, and the cut of a uniform are derived from fundamental principles. This was well understood by old Clausewitz: ‘Perhaps it would not be impossible to write a systematic theory of war, full of intelligence and substance; but the theories we presently possess are very different. Quite apart from their unscientific spirit, they try so hard to make their systems coherent and complete that they are stuffed with common-places, truisms and nonsense of every kind. ’[Howard and Paret translation, page 61.]

5. Have We Or Have We Not A ‘Military Doctrine’?

So, then, do we or do we not need a ‘military doctrine’? I have been accused by some of ‘evading’ an answer to this question. But, after all, in order to give an answer one must know what is being asked about, that is, what is meant by military doctrine. Until the question is posed clearly and intelligibly one cannot but ‘evade’ answering it. In order to come closer to the correct way of formulating the question, let us, following what has been said earlier, divide the question itself into its component parts. Looked at in this way, ‘military doctrine’ can be said to consist of the following elements:

  1. The fundamental (class) orientation of our country, expressed by its government in matters of the economy, culture, and so on, that is, in domestic policy.
  2. The international orientation of the workers’ state. The most important lines of our world policy and, connected with this, the possible theatres of our military operations.
  3. The composition and structure of the Red Army, in accordance with the nature of the workers’ and peasants’ state [sic] and the tasks of its armed forces.

The teaching on the organisation of the army (point 3), together with the teaching on strategy (point 4), must, obviously, constitute military doctrine in the proper (or narrow) sense of the word.

Analysis could be carried further still. Thus, it is possible to separate out from the points enumerated problems concerning the technology of the Red Army, or the way in which propaganda is carried on in it, etc.

Must the Government, the leading Party and the War Department have definite views on all these matters? Why, of course they must. How could we build the Red Army if we had no views on what its social composition should be, on the recruitment of the officers and commissars, on how the units should be formed, trained and educated, and so on? And then, one could not answer these questions without examining the fundamental tasks, domestic and international, of the workers’ state. In other words, the War Department must have guiding principles on which to build, educate and reorganise the army.

Need one (and can one) call the sum-total of these principles a military doctrine?

To that my answer has been and still is: if anyone wants to call the sum-total of the Red Army’s principles and practical methods, a military doctrine, then, while not sharing this weakness for the faded galloons of old-time officialdom, I am not going to fight over it (this is my ‘evasion’). But if anyone is so bold as to assert that we do not have these principles and practical methods [3], that our collective thinking has not worked and is not at work upon them, my answer is: you are not speaking the truth, you are befuddling yourselves and others with verbiage. Instead of shouting about military doctrine, you should present us with this doctrine, demonstrate it, show us at least a particle of this military doctrine which the Red Army lacks. But the whole trouble is that as soon as our military ‘doctrinaires’ pass from lamentations about how useful a doctrine would be to attempts to provide us with one, they either repeat, not very well, what has already been said long ago, what has entered into our consciousness, what has been embodied in resolutions of Party and Soviet congresses, decrees, decisions, regulations and instructions, far better and much more precisely than is done by our would-be innovators, or they get confused, stumble, and put forward absolutely inadmissable concoctions.

We will now prove this, in respect of each of the constituent elements in the so-called military doctrine.

6. What Kind Of Army Are We Preparing, And For What Tasks?

‘The old army was an instrument of class oppression of the working people by the bourgeoisie. With the transition of power to the working and exploited classes there has arisen the need for a new army as the mainstay of Soviet power at present and the basis for replacing the regular army by the arming of the whole people in the near future, and as a support for the coming socialist revolution in Europe.’

So reads the decree on the formation of the Red Army, issued by the Council of People’s Commissars on January 12 [sic], 1918. [4] I much regret that I cannot adduce here everything that has been said concerning the Red Army in our Party programme and in the resolutions of our congresses. I strongly recommend the reader to re-read them: those writings are useful and instructive. In them it is very clearly stated ‘what kind of army we are preparing, and for what tasks.’ What are the newly-arrived military doctrinaires preparing to add to this? Instead of splitting hairs over the rephrasing of precise and clear formulations they would do better to devote themselves to explaining them through propaganda work among the young Red Army men. That would be far more useful.

But, it may be said, and is said, that the resolutions and decrees do not sufficiently underscore the international role of the Red Army, and, in particular, the need to prepare for offensive revolutionary wars. Solomin is especially emphatic on this point ... ‘We are preparing the class army of the proletariat’, he writes on page 22 of his article, ‘a worker-peasant army, not only for defence against the bourgeois-landlord counter-revolution but also for revolutionary wars (both defensive and offensive) against the imperialist powers, for wars of a semi-civil (?) type in which offensive strategy may play an important role.’ Such is the revelation, almost the revolutionary gospel, of Solomin. But, alas, as often happens with apostles, our author is cruelly mistaken in thinking that he has discovered something new. He is only formulating poorly something old. Precisely because war is a continuation of politics, rifle in hand, there never was and never could be, in our Party, any dispute in principle about the place which revolutionary wars can and should occupy in the development of the world revolution of the working class. This question we posed and settled in the Russian Marxist press quite a while ago. I could quote dozens of leading articles from the Party press, especially in the period of the imperialist war, which treat of revolutionary war by a workers’ state as something to be taken for granted. But I will go back even further and quote some lines which I had occasion to write in 1905-1906.

‘This (the development of the Russian revolution) immediately gives the events now unfolding an international character, and opens up a wide horizon. The political emancipation of Russia led by the working class will raise that class to a height as yet unknown in history, will transfer to it colossal power and resources, and will make it the initiator of the liquidation of world capitalism, for which history has created all the objective conditions.

‘If the Russian proletariat, having temporarily obtained power, does not on its own initiative carry the revolution on to European soil, it will be compelled to do so by the forces of European feudal-bourgeois reaction. Of course it would be idle at this moment to determine the methods by which the Russian revolution will throw itself against old capitalist Europe. These methods may reveal themselves quite unexpectedly. Let us take the example of Poland as a link between the revolutionary East and the revolutionary West, although we take this as an illustration of our idea rather than as an actual prediction.

‘The triumph of the revolution in Russia will mean the inevitable victory of the revolution in Poland. It is not difficult to imagine that the existence of a revolutionary regime in the nine [sic] provinces [Russian Poland was divided into ten provinces.] of Russian Poland must lead to the revolt of Galicia and Poznan. [Let me recall that this was written in 1905. [Note by Trotsky] [Galicia was in Austrian Poland, Poznan in German Poland – B.P.] The Hohenzollern and Habsburg Governments will reply to this by sending military forces to the Polish frontier in order then to cross it for the purpose of crushing their enemy at his very centre – Warsaw. It is quite clear that the Russian revolution cannot leave its Western advance-guard in the hands of the Prusso-Austrian soldiery. War against the governments of Wilhelm II and Franz Josef under such circumstances would become an act of self-defence on the part of the revolutionary government of Russia. What attitude would the Austrian and German proletariat take up then? It is evident that they could not remain calm observers while the armies of their countries were conducting a counter-revolutionary crusade. A war between feudal-bourgeois Germany and revolutionary Russia would lead inevitably to a proletarian revolution in Germany. We would tell those to whom this assertion seems too categorical to try and think of I any other historical event which would be more likely to compel the German workers and the German reactionaries to make an open trial of strength.’ (See Trotsky, Nasha Revolyutszya (Our Revolution), p.280) [5]

Naturally, events have not unfolded in the historical order indicated here merely as an example, to illustrate an idea, in these lines written sixteen years ago. But the basic course of development has confirmed and continues to confirm the prognosis that the epoch of proletarian revolution must inevitably thrust it into the field of battle against the forces of world reaction. Thus, more than a decade and a half ago, we already clearly understood, in essence, ‘what kind of army and for what tasks’ we had to prepare.

7. Revolutionary Politics And Methodism

So, then, no question of principle is involved for us where revolutionary offensive warfare is concerned. But, regarding this ‘doctrine’, the proletarian state must say the same as was said by the last congress of the International regarding the revolutionary offensive of the worker masses in a bourgeois state (the doctrine of the offensive): only a traitor can renounce the offensive, but only a simpleton can reduce our entire strategy to the offensive.

Unfortunately, there are not a few simpletons of the offensive among our newly-appeared doctrinaires, who, under the flag of military doctrine, are trying to introduce into our military circulation those same one-sided ‘left’ tendencies which at the Third Communist Congress attained their culminating form as the theory of the offensive: inasmuch as (!) we are living in a revolutionary epoch, therefore (!) the Communist Party must carry out an offensive policy. To translate ‘leftism’ into the language of military doctrine means to multiply the error. While preserving the principled foundation of waging an irreconcilable class struggle, Marxist tendencies are at the same time distinguished by extraordinary flexibility and mobility, or, to speak in military language, capacity for manoeuvre. To this firmness of principle together with flexibility of method and form is counterposed a rigid methodism which transforms into an absolute method such questions as our participation or non-participation in parliamentary work, or our acceptance or rejection of agreements with non-Communist parties and organisations – an absolute method allegedly applicable to each and every set of circumstances.

The actual word ‘methodism’ is used most often in writings on military strategy. Characteristic of epigones, of mediocre army leaders and routinists is the striving to turn into a stable system a certain combination of actions which corresponds to specific conditions. Since men do not wage war all the time, but with long intervals between the wars, it is common for the methods and procedures of the previous war to dominate the thinking of military men during a period of peace. That is why methodism is revealed most strikingly in the military sphere. The mistaken tendencies of methodism unquestionably find expression in the efforts to construct a doctrine of ‘offensive revolutionary war’.

This doctrine cTntains two elements: international-political and operational-strategic. For it is a question, in the first place, of developing in the language of war an offensive international policy aimed at hastening the revolutionary denouément, and, in the second place, of investing the strategy of the Red Army itself with an offensive character. These two questions must be separated, even though they are interconnected in certain respects.

That we do not renounce revolutionary wars is attested not only by articles and resolutions but also by major historical facts. After the Polish bourgeoisie had, in the spring of 1920, imposed a defensive war upon us, we tried to develop our defence into a revolutionary offensive. True, our attempt was not crowned with success. But precisely from this follows the not unimportant supplementary conclusion that revolutionary war, an indisputable instrument of our policy under certain conditions, can, under different conditions, lead to a result opposite to that which was intended.

In the Brest-Litovsk period we were for the first time constrained to apply on a broad scale a policy of politico-strategical retreat. It seemed to many at that time that this would prove fatal to us. But within only a few months it was shown that time had worked well for us. In February 1918 German militarism, though already undermined, was nevertheless still strong enough to crush us, with our military forces which were insignificant at that time. In November German militarism crumbled to dust. Our retreat in the field of international politics at Brest was our salvation.

After Brest we were compelled to wage uninterrupted war against the White-Guard armies and the foreign interventionist detachments. This small-scale war was both defensive and offensive, both politically and militarily. On the whole, however, our international policy, as a state in that period was predominantly a poltcy of defence and retreat (renouncing sovietisation of the Baltic states, our frequent offers to engage in peace negotiations, together with our readiness to make very big concessions, the ‘new’ economic policy, recognition of the debts, and so on). In particular, we were most conciliatory in relation to Poland, offering her conditions more favourable than those indicated for her by the Entente countries. Our efforts were not crowned with success. Pilsudski fell upon us. The war assumed a clearly defensive character on our part. This fact contributed enormously to the rallying of public opinion not only among the workers and peasants but also among many elements of the bourgeois intelligentsia. Successful defence naturally developed into a victorious offensive. But we overestimated the revolutionary potentiality of the internal situation in Poland in that period. This overestimation was expressed in the excessively offensive character of our operations, which outstripped our resources. We advanced too lightly equipped, and the result is well known: we were thrown back.

Almost at the same time, the mighty revolutionary wave in Italy was broken – not so much by the resistance of the bourgeoisie as by the perfidious passivity of the leading workers’ organisations. The failure of our August march on Warsaw and the defeat of the September movement in Italy changed the relation of forces in favour of the bourgeoisie throughout Europe. From that time on, a greater stability has been observable in the political position of the bourgeoisie, and greater assurance in its behaviour. The attempt by the German Communist Party to hasten the denouément by means of an artificial general offensive did not and could not produce the desired result. The revolutionary movement has shown that its tempo is slower than we expected in 1918-1919. The social soil continues, however, to be sown with mines. The crisis in trade and industry is assuming monstrous proportions. Abrupt shifts in political development in the form of revolutionary explosions are wholly possible in the very near future. But, on the whole, development has assumed a more protracted character. The Third Congress of the International called on the Communist Parties to prepare themselves thoroughly and perseveringly. In many countries the Communists have been obliged to carry out important strategic retreats, renouncing the immediate fulfilment of those fighting tasks which they had only recently set themselves. The initiative for the offensive has temporarily passed to the bourgeoisie. The work of the Communist Parties is now predominantly defensive and organisationally preparatory in character. Our revolutionary defence remains, as always, elastic and resilient, that is, capable of being transformed, given a corresponding change of conditions, into a counter-offensive which in its turn can culminate in a decisive battle.

The failure of the march on Warsaw, the victory of the bourgeoisie in Italy and the temporary ebb in Germany compelled us to execute an abrupt retreat, which began with the Treaty of Riga and ended with the conditional recognition of the Tsarist debts.

During this same period we executed a retreat of no less importance in the field of economic construction: the acceptance of concessions, the abolition of the grain monopoly, the leasing out of many industrial enterprises, and so on. The basic reason for these successive retreats is to be found in the continued capitalist encirclement, that is, the relative stability of the bourgeois regime

Just what is it that they want, these proponents of military doctrine – for the sake of brevity we shall call them the doctrinaires, a designation they have earned – when they demand that we orient the Red Army towards offensive revolutionary warfare? Do they want a simple recognition of the principle? If so, they are breaking open an already open door. Or do they consider that conditions have arisen in our international or our domestic situation which put an offensive revolutionary war on the agenda? But, in that case, our doctrinaires should aim their blows not at the War Department but at our Party and at the Communist International, for it was none other than the World Congress that, in the summer of this year, rejected the revolutionary strategy of the offensive as untimely, called on all parties to undertake careful preparatory work, and approved the defensive and manoeuvring policy of Soviet Russia as a policy corresponding to our circumstances.

Or do some of our doctrinaires consider, perhaps, that while the ‘weak’ Communist Parties in the bourgeois states have to carry on preparatory work, the ‘all-powerful’ Red Army ought to undertake offensive revolutionary war? Are there, perhaps, some impatient strategists who really intend to shift on to the shoulders of the Red Army the burden of the ‘final, decisive conflict’ in the world, or at least in Europe? Whoever seriously propagates such a policy would do better to hang a millstone about his neck and then act in accordance with the subsequent instructions given in the Gospel. [6]

8. Education ‘in the Spirit of’ the Offensive

Seeking to extricate himself from the contradictions involved in a doctrine of the offensive put forward during an era of defensive retreat, Comrade Solomin invests the ‘doctrine’ of revolutionary war with ... an educational meaning. At the present time, he concedes, we are indeed interested in peace, and will do everything to preserve it. But, despite our defensive policy, revolutionary wars are inevitable. We must prepare for them, and, consequently, we must cultivate an offensive ‘spirit’ for future requirements. The offensive is to be understood, therefore, not in a fleshly sense but in spirit and in truth. [7] In other words, Comrade Solomin wants to have, ready for mobilisation, along with a supply of army biscuits, also a supply of enthusiasm for the offensive. Matters do not improve as we proceed. While we saw earlier that our most severe critic lacks understanding of revolutionary strategy, we now perceive that he also lacks understanding of the laws of revolutionary psychology.

We need peace not from doctrinal considerations but because the working people have had enough of war and privation. Our efforts are directed to safeguarding for the workers and peasants as long a period of peace as possible. We explain to the army itself that the only reason why we cannot demobilise is that new attacks threaten us. From these conditions Solomin draws the conclusion that we have to ‘educate’ the Red Army in an ideology of offensive revolutionary war. What an idealistic view of ‘education’! ‘We are not strong enough to go to war and we do not intend to go to war, but we must be prepared’ – Comrade Solomin gloomily philosophises – ‘and therefore we must prepare for the offensive: such is the contradictory formula we arrive at.’ The formula is indeed contradictory. But if Solomin thinks that this is a ‘good’, a dialectical contradiction, he is mistaken: it is confusion, pure and simple.

One of the most important tasks of our domestic policy in recent times has been to draw closer to the peasant. The peasant question confronts us with particular acuteness in the army. Does Solomm seriously believe that today, when immediate danger of a return of the landlords has been eliminated, and revolution in Europe still remains only a potentiality, we can rally our army of more than a million men, nine-tenths of whom are peasants, under the banner of offensive war for the purpose of bringing about the denouément of the proletarian revolution? Such propaganda would be stillborn.

We do not, of course, intend for a moment to hide from the working people, including the Red Army, that we shall always be, in principle, for offensive revolutionary war in those conditions when such war can help to liberate the working people of other countries. But to suppose that one can, on the basis of this statement of principle, create or ‘cultivate’ an effective ideology for the Red Army under existing conditions is to fail to understand either the Red Army or these conditions. In actual fact, no sensible Red Army man doubts that, if we are not attacked this winter, or in the spring, we shall certainly not disturb the peace ourselves, but shall exert all our efforts to heal our wounds, taking advantage of the respite. In our exhausted country we are learning the soldier’s trade, arming and building a big army in order to defend ourselves against attack. Here you have a ‘doctrine’ which is clear, simple and in accordance with reality.

It was precisely because we posed the question like that in the spring of 1920 that every Red Army man was firmly convinced that bourgeois Poland had forced upon us a war which we had not wanted and from which we had tried to protect the people by making very big concessions. It was just this conviction that engendered the very great indignation and hatred that was felt against the enemy. It was due precisely to this that the war, which began as one of defence, could subsequently be developed into an offensive war.

The contradiction between defensive propaganda and the offensive (in the last analysis) character of a war is a ‘good’, viable, dialectical contradiction. And we have no grounds whatsoever for altering the character and direction of our educational work in the order to please muddleheads, even if they speak in the name of military doctrine.

Those who talk about revolutionary wars usually derive their inspiration from recollections of the wars of the Great French Revolution. In France they also began with defence: they created an army for defence and then went over to the offensive. To the sound of the Marseillaise the armed sansculottes marched with their revolutionary broom all across Europe. Historical analogies are very tempting. But one has to be cautious when resorting to them. Otherwise, formal features of similarity may induce one to overlook material features of difference. France was, at the end of the 18th century, the richest and most civilised country on the Continent of Europe. In the 20th century, Russia is the poorest and most backward country in Europe. Compared with the revolutionary tasks that confront us today, the revolutionary task of the French army was much more superficial in character. At that time it was a matter of overthrowing ‘tyrants’, of abolishing or mitigating feudal serfdom. Today it is a matter of completely destroying exploitation and class oppression. But the role of the arms of France – that is, of an advanced country in relation to backward Europe – proved to be very limited and transient. With the downfall of Bonapartism, which had grown out of the revolutionary war, Europe returned to its Kings and feudal lords.

In the gigantic class struggle which is unfolding today, the role of armed intervention from without can have no more than concomitant, contributory, auxiliary significance. Armed intervention can hasten the denouément and facilitate the victory. But for this it is necessary that the revolution be mature not merely in respect of social relations – that is already the case – but also in respect of political consciousness. Armed intervention is like the forceps of the obstetrician: used at the right moment it can ease the birth-pangs, but if brought into play prematurely it can only cause a miscarriage.

9. The Strategical and Technical Content of the ‘Military Doctrine’ (Capacity for Manoeuvring)

What has been said so far applies not so much to the Red Army, to its structure and methods of operation, as to the political tasks set for the Red Army by the workers’ state.

Let us now approach military doctrine in the narrower sense of the term. We heard from Comrade Solomin that, so long as we fail to proclaim the doctrine of offensive revolutionary war, we shall remain confused and shall commit blunders in organisational, military-educational and strategical and other matters. However, such a commonplace does not get us far. Instead of repeating that good practical conclusions must necessarily follow from a good doctrine, why not try to offer us these conclusions? Alas! As soon as our doctrinaires try to reach conclusions, they offer us either a feeble rehash of stale news or the most pernicious sort of ‘independent thinking’.

Our innovators devote their greatest energy to trying to fix the anchor of military doctrine in the sphere of operational questions. According to them, as regards strategy, the Red Army differs in principle from all other armies, because in our epoch of positional immobility the basic features of the Red Army’s operations are capacity for manoeuvring and aggressiveness.

The operations of civil war are, unquestionably, distinguished by an exceptional element of manoeuvring. But we must ask this question, quite precisely: does the Red Army’s manoeuvring result from its inner qualities, its class nature, its revolutionary spirit, its fighting zeal – or is it due to the objective conditions, to the vastness of the theatres of war and the comparatively small numbers of troops involved? This question is of no small importance if we recognise that revolutionary wars will be fought not only on the Don and the Volga but also on the Seine, the Scheldt and the Thames.

But let us, meanwhile, return to our native rivers. Was the Red Army alone distinguished by capacity for manoeuvring?

No, the strategy of the Whites was wholly a strategy of manoeuvre. Their troops were, in most cases, inferior to ours in numbers and in point of morale, but superior in military skill. Hence the need for a strategy of manoeuvre arose first among the Whites. In the initial stages we learnt manoeuvring from them. In the final stage of the civil war we invariably had a situation of manoeuvre countered by manoeuvre. Finally, the highest capacity for manoeuvring was characteristic of the operations of Ungern and Makhno, those degenerate, bandit outgrowths of the civil war. What conclusion follows from this? Manoeuvring is characteristic not of a revolutionary army but of civil war as such.

In national wars, operations are accompanied by fear of distance. By removing itself from its base, from its own people, from the area where its own language is spoken, an army, or a detachment, finds itself in a completely alien environment, where neither support, nor cover, nor aid is available to it. In a civil war each side finds sympathy and support, to a greater or lesser degree, in the opponent’s rear. National wars are waged (at all events, they used to be waged) by ponderous masses, with all the national-state resources of both sides brought into play. Civil war signifies that the forces and resources of the country convulsed by revolution are divided into two; that the war is waged, especially in the initial stage, by an enterprising minority on each side, and, consequently, by more or less scanty and therefore mobile masses; and, for this reason, much more depends on improvisation and accident.

Civil war is characterised by manoeuvring on both sides. One cannot, therefore, consider capacity for manoeuvring a special manifestation of the revolutionary character of the Red Army.

We were victorious in the civil war. There are no grounds for us to doubt that superiority in strategic leadership was on our side. In the last analysis, however, victory was ensured by the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of the working-class vanguard and the support given by the peasant masses. But these conditions were not created by the Red Army – they were the historical preconditions for its rise, development and success.

Comrade Varin remarks, in the journal Voyennaya Nauka i Revolyutsiya [8], that the mobility of our troops surpasses all historical precedents. This is a very interesting assertion. It would be desirable for it to be carefully verified. Unquestionably, the extraordinary speed of movement, requiring endurance and self-sacrifice, was conditioned by the army’s revolutionary spirit, by the élan that was contributed to it by the Communists. Here is an interesting exercise for the students of our Military Academy: to compare the marches of the Red Army, from the standpoint of distances covered, with other examples from history, particularly with the marches of the army of the Great French Revolution. On the other hand, a comparison should be made between these same factors as they existed among the Reds and the Whites in our civil war. When we advanced, they retreated, and vice versa. Did we actually show, on the average, greater endurance during marches, and to what extent was this one of the factors in our victory? It is incontestable that the Communist leaven was able to produce a superhuman exertion of strength in individual cases. But it would require a special investigation to determine whether the same result held for an entire campaign, in the course of which the limits of the organism’s physiological capacity could not but make themselves felt. Such an investigation does not, of course, promise to turn all strategy topsy-turvy. But it would undoubtedly enrich with some valuable factual data our knowledge of the nature of civil war and of the revolutionary army.

The endeavour to fix as laws and erect into dogmas those features of the Red Army’s strategy and tactics which were characteristic of it in the recent period could do a great deal of harm and could even prove fatal. It is possible to say in advance that operations by the Red Army on the continent of Asia – if they are destined to take place there – would of necessity be profoundly manoeuvring in character. Cavalry would have to play the most important, and in some cases even the one and only role. On the other hand, however, there can be no doubt that military operations in the Western theatre would be far more constrained. Operations conducted in territory with a different national composition and more densely populated, with a higher ratio between the number of troops and the given territory, would undoubtedly make the war more positional in character and would, in any case, confine freedom to manoeuvre within incomparably narrower limits.

Recognition that it was beyond the capacity of the Red Army to defend fortified positions (Tukhachevsky) sums up correctly, on the whole, the lessons of the past period, but it certainly cannot be taken as an absolute rule for the future. Defence of fortified positions requires fortress troops, or, more correctly, troops of a high level, welded by experience and confident in themselves. In the past period, we only began to accumulate this experience. Every individual regiment, and the army as a whole, were living improvisations. It was possible to ensure enthusiasm and élan, and this we achieved, but it was not possible to create artificially the necessary routine, the automatic solidarity, the confidence of neighbouring units that there would be mutual support between them. It is impossible to create tradition by decree. To some extent this does exist now, and we shall accumulate more and more as time goes by. We shall in this way establish the preconditions both for better conduct of manoeuvring operations and, if need arises, for positional operations too.

We must renounce attempts at building an absolute revolutionary strategy out of the elements of our limited experience of the three years of civil war, during which units of a particular quality fought under particular conditions. Clausewitz warned very well against this. ‘What could be more natural,’ he wrote [9], ‘than the fact that war of the French Revolution had its characteristic style, and what theory could have been expected to accommodate it? The danger is that this kind of style, developed out of a single case, can easily outlive the situation that gave rise to it: for conditions change imperceptibly. That danger is the very thing a theory should prevent by lucid, rational criticism. In 1806 the Prussian generals were under the sway of this methodism’, and so on. Alas! Prussian generals are not the only ones with an inclination towards methodism, that is, towards stereotypes and conventional patterns.

10. Offensive and Defensive in the Light of the Imperialist War

It is proclaimed that the second specific feature of revolutionary strategy is its aggressiveness. The attempt to build a doctrine on this foundation appears all the more one-sided in view of the fact that during the epoch preceding the world war the strategy of the offensive was cultivated in the by no means revolutionary general staffs and military academies of nearly all the major countries of Europe. Contrary to what Comrade Frunze writes [Art. cit. in Krasnaya Nov (Note by Trotsky)] the offensive was (and formally still remains to this day) the official doctrine of the French Republic. Jaurès fought tirelessly against the doctrinaires of the pure offensive, counterposing to it the pacifist doctrinairism of pure defence. A sharp reaction against the traditional official doctrine of the French general staff came as a result of the last war. It will not be without value to quote here two striking pieces of evidence. The French military journal the Revue militaire française (September 1, 1921, p.336) cites the following proposition, borrowed from the Germans and incorporated by the French general staff in 1913 in the Regulations for the conduct of operations by large units. ‘The lessons of the past,’ we read, ‘have borne their fruits: the French army, returning to its traditions, henceforth does not permit the conduct of operations in accordance with any law but that of the offensive.’ The journal goes on: ‘This law, introduced soon afterward into the regulations governing our general tactics and the tactics peculiar to each arm, was to dominate the teaching given both to our marshals-under-instruction and to our commanders, through conferences, practical exercises on maps or on the ground, and, finally, through the procedure called les grandes manoeuvres.’

’The result was,’ the journal continues, ‘a veritable infatuation with the famous law of the offensive, and anyone who ventured to propose an amendment in favour of the defensive would have niet with a very poor reception. It was necessary, though not sufficient, if one was to be a good marshal-under-instruction, to keep on conjugating the verb “to attack”.’

The conservative Journal des Débats of October 5, 1921, subjects to sharp criticism from this standpoint the regulations for infantry manoeuvres which were issued this summer. ‘At the beginning of this excellent little work,’ the newspaper writes, ‘a number of principles are set out ... which are presented as being the official military doctrine for 1921. These principles are perfect: but why have the editors conformed to old custom, why have they given the honour of their first page to a glorification of the offensive? Why do they propound for us, in a prominent paragraph, this axiom: “He who attacks first makes an impression on his adversary by demonstrating that his will is superior”?’

After analysing the experience of two outstanding moments of struggle on the French front, the newspaper says:

‘The offensive can impress only an adversary who has been bereft of his resources, or whose mediocrity is such as one never has the right to count on. An adversary aware of his strength does not let himself be impressed at all by an attack. He does not take the enemy’s offensive as any manifestation of a will superior to his own. If the defensive has been wished for and prepared, as in August 1914 [by the Germans] or in July 1918 [by the French], then, on the contrary, it is the defender who considers that he has the superiority of will, because the other one is falling into a trap.’ The military critic continues: ‘You commit a strange psychological mistake in fearing (the Frenchman’s) passivity and preference for the defensive. The Frenchman wants nothing better than to take the offensive, whether he attacks first or second – an offensive, that is, which is properly organised. But do not tell him any more Arabian-Nights stories about the gentleman who attacks first with a superior will.’

’The offensive does not bring success by itself. It brings success when all resources of every kind have been assembled for it, and when these are superior to those possessed by the opponent, because, after all, it is always the one who is stronger at the point of combat who beats the one who is weaker.’

One can, of course, try to reject this conclusion on the ground that it is drawn from the experience of positional warfare. As a matter of fact, however, it follows from war of manoeuvre with even greater directness and obviousness, although in a different form. War of manoeuvre is war of great spaces. In the endeavour to destroy the enemy’s manpower it sets no great store by space. Its mobility is expressed not only in offensives but also in retreats, which are merely changes of position.

11. Aggressiveness, Initiative And Energy

During the first period of the revolution the Red troops generally shunned the offensive, preferring to fraternise and discuss. In the period when the revolutionary idea was spontaneously flooding the country this method proved very effective. The Whites, on the contrary, tried at that time to force offensives in order to preserve their troops from revolutionary disintegration. Even after discussion had ceased to be the most important resource of revolutionary strategy, the Whites continued to be distinguished by greater aggressiveness than we showed. Only gradually did the Red troops develop the energy and confidence that make decisive actions feasible. The subsequent operations of the Red Army were marked to an extreme degree by capacity for manouevring. Cavalry raids were the most striking expression of this capacity for manoeuvring. However, these raids, too, were taught us by Mamontov. From the Whites we also learned to make rapid breakthroughs, enveloping movements, and penetrations into the enemy’s rear. Let us remember this! In the initial period we tried to defend Soviet Russia by means of a cordon, holding on to each other. Only later, when we had learnt from the enemy, did we gather our forces into fists and endow these fists with mobility, only later did we put workers on horseback and learn how to make large-scale cavalry raids. This little effort of memory is already sufficient for us to realise how unfounded and one-sided, how theoretically and practically false, sounds the ‘doctrine’ according to which an offensive, manoeuvring strategy is characteristic of a revolutionary army as such. In certain circumstances this strategy corresponds best of all to a counter-revolutionary army which is compelled to make up for its lack of numbers by the activity of skilled cadres.

It is precisely in a war of manoeuvre that the distinction between defensive and offensive is wiped out to an extraordinary degree. War of manoeuvre is war of movement. The aim of movement is destruction of the enemy’s manpower at a distance of 100 versts or so. Manoeuvring promises victory if it keeps the initiative in our hands. The fundamental features of the strategy of manoeuvre are not formal aggressiveness but initiative and energy.

The idea that, at each given moment, the Red Army resolutely took the offensive on the most important front, while temporarily weakening itself on the other fronts, and that just this characterises most graphically the Red Army’s strategy during the civil war (see Comrade Varin’s article) is correct in essence but is expressed one-sidedly and therefore does not provide all the conclusions needed. While taking the offensive on one front, considered by us at the given moment as being the most important, for political or military, reasons, we weakened ourselves on the other fronts, considering it possible to remain on the defensive there and to retreat. But, you see, what this shows is, precisely, the fact – how strange that this is over-looked! – that into our overall operational plans retreat entered, side by side with attack, as an indispensable link. Those fronts on which we stayed on the defensive and retreated were only sectors of our general ring-shaped front. On those sectors fought units of that same Red Army, its fighters and its commanders, and if all strategy is to be reduced to the offensive, then it is obvious that the troops on those fronts where we confined ourselves to defensive operations, and even retreated, must have been subject to depression and demoralisation. The work of educating troops must, obviously, include the idea that retreat does not mean running away, that there are strategic retreats due to an endeavour either to preserve manpower intact, or to shorten the front, or to lure the enemy in deeper, all the more surely to crush him. And if a strategical retreat is legitimate, then it is wrong to reduce all strategy to the offensive. This is especially clear and incontestable, let us repeat, with regard, precisely, to the strategy of manoeuvre. A manoeuvre is, obviously, a complex combination of movements and blows, transfers of forces, marches and battles, with the ultimate aim of crushing the enemy. But if strategic retreat is excluded from the concept of manoeuvre, then, obviously, strategy will acquire an extremely rectiineal character – that is, will cease to be a strategy of manoeuvre.

12. The Yearning For Stable Schema

‘What kind of an army are we building, and for what purpose?’ asks Comrade Solomin. ‘In other words: what enemies threaten us and by what strategical methods (defensive or offensive) shall we deal with them most quickly and economically?’ (Voyennaya Nauka i Revolyutszya, No.?, p.19)

This formulation of the question testifies most vividly that the thinking of Solomin himself, the herald of a new military doctrine, is wholly captive to the methods and prejudices of old-time doctrinairism. The Austro-Hungarian general staff (like others) worked out in the course of decades a number of variant contingency plans for war: variant ‘I’ (against Italy), variant ‘R’ (against Russia), with the appropriate combinations of these variants. In these plans the numerical strength of the Italian and Russian forces, their armament, the conditions governing their mobilisation, the strategical concentrations and deployments, all constituted magnitudes which, if not constant, were at least stable. In this way the Austro-Hungarian ‘military doctrine’, basing itself on specific political suppositions, was firm in its knowledge of what enemies threatened the empire of the Habsburgs, and from one year to the next it pondered on how to cope with these enemies ‘most economically’. The thinking of the members of the General Staff in all countries ran in the fixed channels of ‘variants’. The invention of improved armour by a future enemy was countered by strengthening one’s artillery, and vice versa. Routinists educated in this tradition would inevitably feel quite out of place under the conditions in which we carry on our military construction. ‘What enemies threaten us?’ – that is, where are our General-Staff variants for future wars? And by what strategical methods (defensive or offensive) are we intending to realise these variants, outlined in advance? Reading Solomin’s article I was involuntarily reminded of the comic figure of that dogmatist of military doctrine, General Borisov of the General Staff. Whatever problem was being discussed, Borisov would invariably raise his two fingers in order to have the opportunity to say: ‘This question can be decided only in conjunction with other questions of military doctrine, and for this reason it is first of all necessary to institute the post of Chief of the General Staff.’ From the womb of this Chief of the General Staff the tree of military doctrine would spring up, and produce all the necessary fruits, just as happened in antiquity with the daughter of the Eastern king. Solomin, like Borisov, pines essentially for this lost paradise of stable premises for ‘military doctrine’, when one knew ten or twenty years ahead who the enemies would be, and whence and how they threatened. Solomin, like Borisov, needs a universal Chief of General Staff who would gather up the broken pieces of crockery, set them on the shelf and paste labels on them: variant ‘I’, variant ‘R’, and so on. Perhaps Solomin can at the same time name to us the universal brain he has in view? So far as we are concerned, we – alas! – know of no such brain, and are even of the opinion that there can be no such brain, because the tasks set for it are unrealisable. Talking at every step about revolutionary wars and revolutionary strategy, Solomin has overlooked just this: the revolutionary character of the present epoch, which has brought about the utter disruption of stability in both international and internal relations. Germany no longer exists as a military power. Nevertheless, French militarism is obliged to follow with feverish eyes the most insignificant events and changes in Germany’s internal life and on Germany’s frontiers. What if Germany suddenly raises an army of several million men? What Germany? Perhaps it will be Ludendorff’s Germany? But perhaps this Germany will merely provide the impulse that will prove fatal to the present rotten semi-equilibrium and clear the way for the Germany of Liebknecht and Luxemburg? How many ‘variants’ must the General Staff have? How many war plans must one have in order to cope ‘economically’ with all the dangers?

I have in my archives quite a few reports, thick, thin and medium-sized, the learned authors of which explained to us with polite pedagogical patience that a self-respecting power must institute definite, regular relations, elucidate in advance who its possible enemies are, and acquire suitable allies, or, at least, neutralise all those that can be neutralised. For, as the authors of these reports explain, it is not possible to prepare for future wars ‘in the dark’: it is not possible to determine either the strength of the army, or its establishments, or its disposition. I do not recall seeing Solomin’s signature under these reports, but his ideas were there. All the authors, sad to say, were of the school of Borisov.

International orientation, including international military orientation, is more difficult nowadays than in the epoch of the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. But there is nothing one can do about that: the epoch of the greatest upheavals in history, both military and revolutionary, has disrupted certain variants and stereotypes. There can be no stable, traditional, conservative orientation. Orientation must be vigilant, mobile and urgent – or, if you like, manoeuvring in character. Urgent does not mean aggressive, but it does mean strictly in accordance with today’s combination of international relations, and concentrating maximum forces on the task of today.

Under present international conditions, orientation calls for much greater mental skill than was needed for elaborating the conservative elements of military doctrine in the epoch that lies behind us. But, at the same time, this work is carried out on a much wider scale and with the use of much more scientific methods. The basic work in evaluating the international situation and the tasks for the proletarian revolution and the Soviet Republic which result from it is being performed by the Party, by its collective thinking, and the directive forms of this work are provided by the Party’s congresses and its central committee. We have in mind not only the Russian Communist Party but also our international Party. How pedantic seem Solomin’s demands that we compile a catalogue of our enemies and decide whether we shall do the attacking and just whom we shall attack, when we compare it with this work of evaluating all the forces of the revolution and the counter-revolution, as they now exist and as they are developing, which was accomplished by the last congress of the Communist International! What other ‘doctrine’ do you need?

Comrade Tukhachevsky submitted to the Communist International a proposal that an international general staff be set up and attached to. [10] This proposal was, of course, incorrect: it did not correspond to the situation and the tasks formulated by the Congress itself. If the Communist International could be created de facto only after strong Communist organisations had been formed in the most important countries, this applies even more to an international general staff, which could arise only on the basis of the national general staffs of several proletarian states. So long as this basis is lacking, an international general staff would inevitably become a caricature. Tukhachevsky thought it necessary to deepen his error by printing his letter at the end of his interesting little book The War of Classes. This error is of the same order as Comrade Tukhachevsky’s impetuous theoretical onslaught on the militia, which he sees as being in contradiction to the Third International. Let us note, in passing, that offensives launched without adequate safeguards constitute, in general, the weak side of Comrade Tukhachevsky, who is one of the most gifted of our young military workers.

But even without an international general staff, which does not correspond to the situation and is therefore impracticable, the international congress itself, as the representative of the revolutionary workers’ parties, did accomplish, and through its Executive Committee continues to accomplish, the fundamental ideological work of the ‘General Staff’ of the international revolution: keeping a tally of friends and enemies, neutralising the vacillators with a view to attracting them later to the side of the revolution, evaluating the changing situation, determining the urgent tasks, and concentrating efforts on a world scale upon these tasks.

The conclusions which follow from this orientation are very complex. They cannot be fitted into a few General-Staff variants. But such is the nature of our epoch. The advantage of our orientation is this, that it corresponds to the nature of the epoch and its relations. In accordance with this orientation we align our military policy as well. It is at the present time actively-temporising, defensive and preparatory. We are above all concerned to assure for our military ideology, our methods and our apparatus a flexibility so resilient as to enable us, at each turn of events, to concentrate our main forces in the principal direction.

13. The Spirit of Defence and the Spirit of the Offensive

But, after all, says Solomin (p.22), ‘it is impossible to educate, at one and the same time, in the spirit of the offensive and in the spirit of defence.’ Now this is sheer doctrinairism. Where and by whom has it been proved? By nobody and nowhere, because it is false to the core. The entire art of our constructive work in Soviet Russia in the military sphere (and not only in that sphere) consists in combining the international revolutionary-offensive tendencies of the proletarian vanguard with the revolutionary-defensive tendencies of the peasant masses, and even of broad circles of the working class itself. This combination corresponds to the international situation as a whole. By explaining its significance to the advanced elements in the army we thereby teach them to combine defence and offence correctly, not only in the strategical but also in the revolutionary-historical sense. Does Solomin think, perhaps, that this quenches ‘the spirit’? Both he and his co-thinkers hint at this. But that is the purest Left-SRism! Clarifying the essence of the international and domestic situation, and an active, ‘manoeuvring’ adaptation to this situation, cannot quench the spirit but only temper it.

Or is it, perhaps, impossible in the purely military sense to prepare the army both for defence and for the offensive? But that, too, is nonsense. In his book Tukhachevsky stresses the idea that in civil war it is impossible, or almost impossible, for the defence to assume positional stability. From this Tukhachevsky draws the correct conclusion that, under these conditions, the defence must, like the offensive, necessarily be active and manoeuvring. If we are too weak to attack, we try to wrench ourselves out of the enemy’s grip, so as later to gather our forces into a fist, on his line of subsequent advance, and strike at his most vulnerable spot. Erroneous to the point of absurdity is Solomin’ s assertion that an army has to be trained exclusively for a specific form of warfare – either defensive or offensive. In reality, an army is trained and educated for combat and victory. Defensive and offensive operations enter as variable factors into combat, especially if this involves manoeuvring. He is victorious who defends himself well when it is necessary to attack. This is the only sound education we must give our army, and especially its commanders. A rifle with a bayonet is good for both defence and attack. The same applies to the fighter’s hands. The fighter himself, and the unit to which he belongs, must be prepared for combat, for self-defence, for resisting the enemy and for routing the enemy. That regiment attacks best which is able to defend itself. Good defence can be achieved only by a regiment that has the desire and ability to attack. The regulations must teach how to fight, and not just coach for offensive operations.

Being revolutionary is a spiritual state, and not a ready-made answer to all questions. It can give enthusiasm, it can ensure élan. Enthusiasm and élan are most precious conditions for success, but they are not the only ones. One has to have orientation and one has to have training. And away with doctrinaire blinkers!

14. The Most Immediate Tasks

But are there not, in the complex intermeshing of international relations, certain clearer and more distinct factors in accordance with which we ought to align ourselves in our military activity in the course of the next few months?

There are such factors, and they speak for themselves too loudly to be considered secret. In the West there are Poland and Romania, with, behind them, France. In the Far East there is Japan. Around and about Caucasia there is Britain. I shall here dwell only on the question of Poland, as this is the most striking and instructive.

France’s Premier, Briand, declared in Washington that we are preparing to attack Poland this spring. Not only every commander and every Red Army man but also every worker and peasant in our country knows that this is utter rubbish. Briand knows it too, of course. Up to now we have paid such a big price to the big and little bandits, to get them to leave us in peace, that it is possible to talk about a ‘plan’ on our part to attack Poland only so as to have a cover for some fiendish plot against us. What is our actual orientation where Poland is concerned?

We are proving to the Polish masses, firmly and persistently, not in words but in deeds – and, primarily, by most strict fulfilment of the Treaty of Riga – that we want peace, and are thereby helping to preserve it.

Should nevertheless the Polish military clique, incited by the French stock-exchange clique, fall upon us in the spring, the war will be, on our side, genuinely defensive, both in essence and in the way the people will see it. Precisely this clear and distinct awareness of our guiltlessness in a war thrust upon us will serve to weld together most closely all the elements in the army – the advanced Communist proletarian, the specialist who, though non-Party, is devoted to the Red Army, and the backward peasant soldier, and will thereby best prepare our army to show initiative and launch a self-sacrificing offensive in this defensive war. Whoever thinks this policy is indefinite and conditional, whoever remains unclear concerning ‘what kind of army we are preparing, and for what tasks’, whoever thinks that ‘it is impossible at one and the same time to educate both in the spirit of defence and in the spirit of the offensive’, understands nothing at all, and would do better to keep quiet and not hinder others!

But if such a complex combination of factors is to be observed in the world situation, how can we, nevertheless, orient ourselves in practice in the sphere of building the army? What should be the numerical strength of the army? What formations should it consist of? How should they be distributed?

None of these questions can be given an absolute answer. One can speak only of empirical approximations and timely rectifications thereto, depending on changes in the situation. Only helpless doctrinaires suppose that answers to questions of mobilisation, formation, training, education, strategy and tactics can be arrived at by deduction, in a formallogical way, from the premises of a sacrosanct ‘military doctrine’. What we lack are not magical, all-saving military formulas, but more careful, attentive, precise, vigilant and conscientious work based on those foundations which we have already firmly laid down. Our regulations, our programmes, our establishments are imperfect. That is unquestionable. There are plenty of omissions, inaccuracies, things that are out-of-date or incomplete. They must be corrected, improved, made more precise. But how and from what standpoint should this be done?

We are told that we must take the doctrine of offensive warfare as our basis for the work of review and rectification. ‘This formula,’ Solomin writes, ‘signifies a most decisive (!) turn (in the building of the Red Army); it is necessary to reconsider all (!) the views we have formed, to carry out a complete (!) reappraisal of values from the standpoint of going over from a purely defensive to an offensive strategy. The education of the commanders, the preparation of the individual fighter ... armament – all this (!) must henceforth proceed under the sign of the offensive’ (p.22).

’Only with such a unified plan,’ he goes on, ‘will the reorganisation of the Red Army, which has begun, emerge from a state of formlessness, disorder, disharmony, vacillation and absence of a clearly known goal.’ Solomin’s expressions are, as we see, strictly offensive, but his assertions are absurd. The formlessness, vacillation and disorder exist only in his own head. There are, objectively, difficulties and practical mistakes in our constructive work. But there is no disorder, no vacillation, no disharmony. And the army will not allow the Solomins to impose their organisational and strategical ramblings and thereby to introduce vacillation and disorder.

Our regulations and programmes need revision not from the standpoint of the doctrinaire formula of the pure offensive but from that of the experience we have had in the last four years. We must read, discuss and correct the regulations at conferences of commanders. It is necessary, while the memory of the combat operations, large and small, is still vivid, to compare that experience with the formulas given in the regulations, and each commander should consciously ask himself whether these words answer to the practice or not, and, if they differ, should decide where the difference lies. To collect all this systematised experience, to sum it up, to evaluate it at the centre against the criterion of higher experience in strategy, tactics, organisation and politics, to rid the regulations and programmes of all out-of-date, superfluous material, to bring them closer to the army, and to make the army feel to what extent they are necessary to it, and to what extent they should replace improvisation – this is a great and vital task!

We possess an orientation which is international in scale and has great historical scope. One of its sections has already passed the test of experience: another is now being tested, and is standing the test. The Communist vanguard is sufficiently assured of revolutionary initiative and aggressive spirit. We do not need wordy, noisy innovation in the form of new military doctrines, nor the bombastic proclamation of these doctrines; what we need is systematising of experience, improvement in organisation, attention to details.

The defects in our organisation, our backwardness and poverty, especially in the technical field, must not be erected by us into a credo; they must be eliminated by every means in our power, in an effort to approach, in this respect, the imperialist armies, which all deserve to be destroyed, but which are in some ways superior to ours: well-developed aviation, plentiful means of communication, well-trained and carefully-selected commanders, precision in calculating resources, correct mutual relations. This is, of course, only the organisational and technical integument. Morally and politically, the bourgeois armies are disintegrating, or heading towards disintegration. The revolutionary character of our army, the class homogeneity of our commanders and of the mass of the fighting men, Communist leadership – here is where our most powerful and unconquerable strength lies. Nobody can take this away from us. All our attention must now be directed not toward a fanciful reconstruction but toward improvement and greater precision. To supply units properly with food; not to let foodstuffs go bad; to cook good cabbage soup; to teach how to exterminate lice and keep the body clean; to conduct training exercises properly, and to do this rather less indoors and rather more under the open sky; to prepare political discussions sensibly and concretely; to provide every Red Army man with a service book and see to it that the entries are correct; to teach how to clean rifles and grease boots; to teach how to shoot; to help the commanders to assimilate thoroughly the behests of the regulations concerning communications, reconnaissance, reports and security to learn and to teach how to adapt oneself to local conditions to wind one’s footcioths properly, so as to save one’s feet from getting rubbed raw; and, once again, to grease one’s boots – such is our programme for the winter and the spring that lie ahead.

Should anyone, on a holiday occasion, call this a military doctrine, he will not be punished for that.

November 22-December 5, 1921, Moscow


1. Published as a separate pamphlet by the Supreme Military Publishing Council, Moscow, 1921.

2. Comrade Frunze writes: ‘One may offer the following definition of “unified military doctrine”. It is the unified set of teachings adopted by the army of a given state, which fix the form of construction of the country’s armed forces and the methods of training and leading the forces, on the basis of the views which prevail in the given state regarding the character of the military tasks which confront this state and the methods of performing these tasks which follow from the class essence of this state and the condition of its productive forces.’ (Krasnaya Nov, No.2, p.94, article by M.Frunze, Unified Military Doctrine and the Red Army.)

This definition can be accepted, with reservations. But, as the whole of Comrade Frunze’s article testifies, the conclusions drawn from the definition quoted can in no way enrich the ideological arsenal of the Red Army. However, we shall deal with this in greater detail later. [Note by Trotsky]

3. Comrade Solomin accuses us (see the military-science journal Voyennaya Nauka i Revoluyutsia) of having, so far, failed to answer the question: ‘What kind of army are we preparing, and for what tasks?’ [Note by Trotsky]

4.The decree was issued on 15 (28, new style) January 1918. For the text, see First Decrees of Soviet Power, edited by Yu. Akhapkin, Lawrence and Wishart, 1970, page 86.

5. The passage comes from Results and Prospects: see The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, New Park Publications, 1962, pages 240-241 or, see The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, on the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive.

6.‘Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.’ (Matthew, 18:6)

7. ’God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ (John, 4:24)

8. Comrade Vain’s article, On the Lessons of the Civil War, in the periodical Voyennaya Nauka i Revolyutsiya, 1921.

9. Howard and Paret translation, pages 154-155. The last sentence is, however, a precis by Trotsky of the following: ‘When in 1806 the Prussian generals ... plunged into the open jaws of disaster by using Frederick the Great’s open order of battle, it was not just a case of a style that had outlived its usefulness but the most extreme poverty of the imagination to which routine has ever led. The result was that the Prussian army under Hohenlohe was ruined more completely than any army has ever been ruined on the battlefield.’

10. Comrade Tukhachevsky’s letter was published in his book Voina Klassov (The War of Classes). An English translation of Tukhachevsky’s letter is included in John Erickson’s The Soviet High Command, pp.784-785.

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Last updated on: 22.4.2007