Questions of Military Theory

Report and Concluding Remarks

At the Conference of Military Delegates to the Eleventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party, April 1, 1922 [1] [2]

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

* * *

What Is The Problem?

First, a few words about the history of the problem before us. A critical and impatient movement in favour of a certain new military doctrine manifested itself even before the Party’s Tenth Congress. The principal centre of this movement was the Ukraine. Comrades Frunze and Gusev formulated, more than a year ago, theses devoted to a unified military doctrine, and sought to get them adopted by the Congress. In my capacity as rapporteur on the Red Army I declared that these theses were, in my opinion, incorrect from the standpoint of theory and sterile from that of practice. Comrades Frunze and Gusev then withdrew their theses – which, of course, does not mean at all that they agreed with my arguments. Among those engaged in military work a certain grouping has continued to exist under the banner of ‘the military doctrine of the proletariat’. You will all remember Comrade Solomin’s article, certain speeches by Comrade Gusev, and so on. I felt obliged to abandon my position of watchful waiting inasmuch as the articles by Solomn and others might, if let pass any longer, sow the greatest confusion in the minds of the army’s leading elements. There has been no answer as yet to my article Military Doctrine or Pseudo-Military Doctrinairism. Nevertheless, differences of opinion and prejudices on this question have not been out-lived, although there is no longer any room for doubt that the public opinion of the majority of the Party has become defined.

The task of the present discussion, which has begun on the initiative of Comrades Frunze and Voroshiov, is to elucidate this same question of military doctrine. An impulse from without was provided by the programmatic theses on the training and education of the Red Army which were defended by Comrade Frunze at the recent conference of the Ukrainian commanders. I must say bluntly at the very outset that these theses seem to me to be more dangerous and harmful than the articles by Comrade Gusev and others on the same subject. Comrade Solomin’s article runs too obviously counter to the logic of things, to conimon sense and to our experience. It was obviously written in a moment of doctrinaire derangement. I very much regret that the author is not here and cannot defend his views in person. But his article is a political fact, and I am constrained to speak about it lest it continue to exercise harmful influence. As regards the Ukrainian theses, they are far more cautious, well combed and scrubbed, so that at first everything seems as it should be: furthermore – and here I must salute the skill in manoeuvring shown by the author of the theses – certain points are accompanied by a note in brackets: Trotsky, Trotsky, Trotsky ... They might almost seem to be quotations from articles by me. The terminology has also been renovated. The word ‘doctrine’ has been replaced by the expression ‘unified military world-outlook’ – which is, in my opinion, a hundred times worse. And here we pass from the history of the problem to its substance.

A unified military doctrine obviously presupposes that we have a unified industrial doctrine, a unified commercial doctrine, etc., so that from the sum-total of these doctrines may be formed a unified doctrine of Soviet activity. This is a pompous and affected terminology, but still bearable. If, however, we write: ‘unified military world-outlook’, that is very much stronger meat. It turns out that there is some sort of ‘military’ outlook on the world as a whole. Hitherto we had supposed that what we have is the Marxist world outlook. It turns out that we need to have a unified military world-outlook as well. No, comrades, get rid of that expression as quickly as possible!

When arguing against the term ‘doctrine’ I said that I would not fight over a word. But, in my opinion, the totality of views and attitudes covered by this term is very dangerous.

The Trade Of War And ... Marxism

Yes, indeed. The theses tell us that the unified military world-outlook is a totality of views which have been reduced to a system by means of the Marxist method of analysing social phenomena. This is what is said, word for word, in Point One: ‘This education and training must be carried out on the basis of unified views, permeating the entire army, on the fundamental questions relating to the tasks of the Red Army, the foundations on which it is built and the methods of conducting combat operations. It is the totality of these views, reduced to a system by means of the Marxist method of analysing social phenomena, and inculcated in the Red Army through regulations, orders and instructions, that provides the army with the necessary unity of will and thought.’ Are strategy, tactics, military technique and our army regulations included here? Are they included in this ‘totality of views reduced to a system by means of the Marxist method’? Yes or no? This question must be answered. In my opinion they must be included. How could they not be? After all, the regulations – not in the sense of our pamphlets containing the regulations, but in the sense of the principles underlying them – must enter into this ‘unified military world-outlook’, mustn’t they? For, if they are thrown out, nothing military is left. There will be merely a ‘world-outlook’. What determines its military character is, precisely, the regulations which summarise military experience and determine our military procedures. But were our regulations created by Marxist methods? This is the first time I’ve heard that. The regulations summarise military experience. It may be that they are unsatisfactory, and we shall continue to rectify them on the basis of our military experience. But how are they to be unified by means of the Marxist method?

What is the Marxist method? It is a method of scientific thinking. It is the method of historical, social science. True, our journal is entitled Voyennaya Nauka (Military Science). But it still contains many incongruities, and what is most incongruous is its title. There is not and never has been a military ‘science’. There are a whole number of sciences on which the soldier’s trade is based. Essentially, these include all the sciences, from geography to psychology. A great military commander must necessarily know the basic elements of many sciences – although there are, of course, self-taught army commanders who operate by feeling their way empirically, in doing which they are helped by an innate flair that they possess. War is based on many sciences, but war itself is not a science, it is a practical art, a skill. The Prussian strategist King Frederick II said that war is a trade for the ignorant, an art for the gifted and a science for the genius. But he lied. This is not true. For an ignoramus war is not a trade, because ignorant soldiers are the cannon-fodder of war and not at all its ‘tradesmen’. As is well known, every trade requires a certain schooling, and so, for those properly schooled in military affairs, war is a ‘trade’. It is a cruel and bloody trade, but a trade nevertheless, that is, a skill to be properly mastered, with certain practices which have been worked out through experience. For people who are gifted, and for geniuses, this skill becomes transformed into a high art.

War cannot be turned into a science, because of its very nature, just as one cannot turn architecture, commerce or the work of a veterinary surgeon, and so on, into sciences. What people call the theory of war, or military science, is not a totality of scientific laws which explain objective phenomena, but a totality of practical procedures, methods of adaptation and knacks which correspond to a specific task, that of crushing the enemy. Whoever masters these procedures to a high degree and on a broad scale, and is able to obtain great results by the way he combines them, raises the soldier’s trade to the level of a cruel and bloody art. But there are no grounds for talking of science here. Our regulations are just a compilation of such practical rules, derived from experience.

In the Quagmire of Scholasticism and Utopia

Marxism, however, is a method of science, that is, of the cognition of objective phenomena in their objective connections. How can one construct the procedures of the military trade or art by means of the Marxist method? This is like trying to construct by means of Marxism a theory of architecture or a manual of veterinary medicine. A history of war, like a history of architecture, can be written from the Marxist standpoint, because history is a science. But the so-called theory of war, that is, ‘practical leadership, is something else. These things must not be confused, or what one will get is not unity of world-outlook but a very big muddle.

Socio-political and international orientation is greatly facilitated by using the Marxist method. That is beyond question. Only with the aid of Marxism can one analyse the world situation, especially in the present exceptional epoch.

But one cannot construct field service regulations by means of Marxism. The mistake here lies in interpreting military doctrine or, even worse, ‘unified military world-outlook’, so as to include in it our general orientation as a state, in international and domestic affairs, along with practical military procedures and the rules and precepts set out in the regulations – and wanting to reconstruct all this from scratch, so to speak, by means of the Marxist method. But our state orientation was constructed long ago, and is still being constructed, by means of the Marxist method, and there is no need at all to construct it afresh within the womb of the War Department. As regards purely military methods, as they are laid down in our regulations, it is hardly expedient to apply the Marxist method here. It is, of course, necessary to introduce the maximum degree of unity into the regulations, checking them against experience, but it is merely ridiculous to talk about a unified military world-outlook in this connection.

These are the first and second points in Comrade Frunze’s theses.

I now come to Point Three: ‘The elaboration of this unified world-outlook of the workers’ and peasants’ army was begun already with the first steps of its existence.’ This looks like a polemic against Comrade Gusev, who has given us to understand that we never had and still haven’t any principles of construction. ‘In the course of further practical work were crystallised and defined all the basic elements of the military system of the proletarian state, which are derived from its specific class nature.’ This goes too far. It appears that our military system is derived entirely from the specific class nature of the proletariai state. This nature has to be defined, then a unified military doctrine has to be deduced from it, and from the military doctrine one obtains all the necessary partial, practical conclusions. This method is scholastic and hopeless. The class nature of the proletarian state determines the social composition of the Red Army and, in particular, of its leading apparatus, and it determines the army’s political world-outlook, aims and attitudes. Naturally, all this has a certain indirect influence on both strategy and tactics, yet strategy and tactics are derived not from the proletarian world-outlook but from conditions of technique, especially military technique, from the possibilities for obtaining supplies, from the geographical milieu, from the nature of the enemy, and so on.

Do we possess a unified industrial or a unified commercial world-outlook? Is it possible for us to deduce from ‘the specific nature of the proletarian state’ the best textbook of foreign trade or the best method of administrative or commercial organisation for our trusts? Any attempt to do this would be ludicrous and hopeless. To suppose that by arming oneself with the Marxist method it is possible to solve the problem of how best to organise production in a candle factory is to understand nothing either about Marxism or about a candle factory. And yet a regiment, looked at from the standpoint of its own specific tasks, is a factory which has to be organised properly, that is, in accordance with its purpose. I affirm that attempting to derive from the system of the proletarian state, by means of education, that is, logically, the organisation, establishment and tactical procedures of an infantry or cavalry regiment is an absolutely utopian and useless task. The authors of the theses being criticised feel this, too, for they waver between the ‘unified proletarian doctrine’ and the French field service regulations of 1921. But we shall see this later on.

No Abstractions – Only What Is Concrete!

The premises for the existence of an army are, of course, wholly political in character. The state must have an answer to the question: what kind of an army are we preparing, and for what purpose? But, since our army is a revolutionary and conscious one, it too must have a clear and correct answer to the question. Point Four of the Ukrainian theses aims to provide this. I regard it as one of the politically most dangerous passages. Here it is said: ‘The fact that there is a profound contradiction in principle between the system of proletarian statehood, on the one hand, and the surrounding bourgeois-capitalist world, on the other, makes inevitable both clashes and conflict between these two antagonistic worlds. Accordingly the task of political education in the Red Army is to support and strengthen its constant readiness to engage in struggle against world capital. This combative mood must be consolidated by means of planned political work, carried out on the basis of proletarian class ideology in forms that are lively and comprehensible to all.’

Here the approach to the question is deliberately not political but abstract, wrong and dangerous in its essence. The conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is going on all over the world. In the course of this conflict either our country will be attacked or we shall ourselves attack. The army must be held in readiness, educated on the basis of proletarian class ideology – ‘in forms that are lively and comprehensible to all.’ Why, yes, this is the most abstract Communist doctrinairism, to which we all objected at the last session, when we talked about military propaganda! Here is a splendid programme: in the first half-year turn one quarter of the peasant Red Army men into Communists, in the second half-year add another quarter, then another quarter after that, and in this way, that is, through propaganda in the barracks, alter the correlation of classes in our country and create an army whose political consciousness would have the international class ideology of the proletariat as its driving force. But you know this is a radically false, deliberately utopian approach.

Yesterday we all seemed to be saying: don’t forget that our army consists, in its overwhelming majority, of young peasants. It is a bloc between the working-class minority which leads and the peasant majority which is led by it. The basis of the bloc is the need to defend he Soviet Republic. This has to be defended because it is being attacked by the bourgeoisie and the landlords – foes both domestic and foreign.

The entire strength of the bloc of workers and peasants rests on conscious awareness of this fact. Naturally, we reserve the programmatic right to strike blows at the class enemy on our own initiative. But our revolutionary right is one thing and the reality of today’s situation and tomorrow’s prospects are something else. To some this may seem a distinction of secondary importance, but I affirm that the life and death of our army depends on it. Whoever does not understand this understands nothing about our epoch, and, in particular, does not understand what the NEP is. It is as if we were to say that, on the basis of proletarian ideology, ‘in forms that are lively and comprehensible to all,’ the entire people must be educated in the spirit of the socialist organisation of the economy. Easily said! But, in that case, what need we have for the New Economic Policy, with its decentralisation, its market, and so forth? This, it will be said, is a concession to the muzhik. That is just what it is. If we had not made this concession, the Soviet Republic would have been overthrown. How many years will this phase of the economy last? We don’t know – two years, three, five or ten: until the revolution comes in Europe. How do you want to get round this with your ‘military world-outlook’? You want the peasant to be ready at any moment, on the basis of the proletarian doctrine, to go to war on the international fronts for the cause of the working class. It is our plain duty to educate the Communists and the advanced workers in this spirit. But to suppose that one can build an army on this basis, as the armed bloc of the workers and the peasants, is to be a doctrinaire and a political metaphysician, because the peasants are imbued with the idea of the need for the Red Army to exist only in so far as they have grasped that, despite or profound striving for peace and the very big concessions we have made, enemies continue to threaten our existence.

Naturally, the situation may change: great events in Europe may create quite different conditions for a military initiative on our part. This is in complete harmony with our programme. But, after all, you are not writing a programme. We have to devise methods of educational work for the present day, not for eternity. And here the basic, decisive slogan, which corresponds to the entire situation and to our entire policy is defence. In the epoch when the army is being very extensively demobilised, when it is being constantly reduced, in the epoch of the NEP, in the epoch of preparatory, organisational and educational work in the proletarian movement in Europe, after the retreat that has been executed, in the epoch of the united front of the working class, that is, at the time when joint practical actions with the Second and Two-and-a-half Internationals are being attempted, it is ludicrous and absurd to say to the army: ‘It may be that the bourgeoisie will attack us tomorrow, but it may be that tomorrow we shall attack the bourgeoisie.’ To do this means misrepresenting the prospects, obscuring in the minds of the Red Army men the educational significance of our international conciliatoriness, and paralysing the enormous educational, revolutionary power of this concilatoriness, which will manifest itself if, in spite of everything, we are attacked.

The ‘Concession’ to the Peasant Red Army Man

It might have seemed that all these considerations had been clarified by us, both in our Party and on the international scale: the Third International Congress and the recent conference were to a very large extent devoted to these questions. But no sooner do we set ourselves the aim of creating some sort of unified military world-outlook than, at once, all the established political premises for our domestic and international activity fly into fragments, and we take naked abstractions as our starting point: ‘the international class struggle, we are being attacked, we shall attack, and so on, we must be prepared to take the offensive!’ One cannot with impunity carry out an experiment of this sort on the consciousness of the Red Army masses. They want to know, and have the right to know, along with all the working people of our country: what kind of army are we preparing, and for what purpose? Not for the year 1930, but for today. Why are we keeping the 1899 age-group with the colours, and for how long? Our answers to these questions will be clear and convincing only if we ourselves refrain from starting to get in a muddle.

But Point Five deepens the doctrinaire error. Here it is stated flatly that ‘the army will henceforth perform its combat assignment under conditions of revolutionary war, either defending itself against attack by imperialism or advancing together with the working people of other countries in joint struggle.’ These two eventualities are presented as though equally valid for the present moment: either this will happen, or that. Well, how would you tell a Saratov peasant: ‘Either we shall lead you to Belgium to overthrow the bourgeoisie there, or you will defend Saratov province against an Anglo-French expeditionary force landed at Odessa or Archangel?’ Could you bring yourself to pose the question like that? Never! Any one of you, addressing a regiment, or a meeting of workers and peasants, would invariably stick close to reality and say: we agree, on certain conditions, to pay the Tsarist debts, because we want to avoid war; but our enemies’ machinations are very powerful, and we are still obliged to keep the 1899 age-group in the army for the time being ... The more factually, the more concretely we put before our audience the difficulties of our international position, the magnitude of the concessions we have made, the more clearly will they be able to grasp the need to preserve the Red Army and, at the same time, the more will what we say correspond to the truth of today. But if we put forward the ‘doctrine’ – either they will attack us or we shall attack them – then we shall only confuse our commissars, political workers and commanders, for we shall be giving them a false picture of reality, and imparting a false tone to our whole agitation. With such abstract talk we shall never reach the muzhik’s heart. This is the surest way to confound our military propaganda and political agitation.

An Attempt On The Life Of Philosophy

Point Six of the theses. Here we pass from politics to strategy, that is, into the sphere of purely military questions. As you know, these theses were formulated by Comrade Frunze. To avoid any misunderstanding, I must say that I regard Comrade Frunze as one of the most talented of our military workers and I would never undertake myself the practical strategical work with which I would entrust him. But the question before us today is not Comrade Frunze’s work as an outstanding military leader, but his attempt to create a military philosophy. The late Plekhanov, who, towards the end of his life, committed many sins in politics, was, as is well-known, particularly exacting where questions of philosophy were concerned. He used to say that a Marxist has the right not to concern himself with philosophy; but, if you, so-and-so, do take it up, and even do this out loud, then don’t muddle things. This was his favourite precept. If he caught someone committing deviations in philosophy he would attack like a wolfhound. Sometimes people said to him: ‘Georgi Valentinovich, why are you attacking the man so savagely? Perhaps he hasn’t had the time to study philosophy.’ And Plekhanov would reply: ‘Then let him hold his peace and not spout his own concoctions, because the most harmful political consequences can result from that.’ Plekhanov caught Peter Struve out in philosophical muddling long before Struve began to stray from Marxism politically.

What we have before us here is not philosophy in the true sense of the word, but an attempt at military philosophy. We are under no compulsion whatsoever to engage in such studies at present. We possess a general orientation. In military matters it is possible to be an empiricist, correcting and improving on the basis of experience. In the sphere of military organisation I have allowed myself to be an empiricist, and would have had nothing to say if Comrade Frunze has remained an empiricist in the sphere of strategy. But he has made generalisations, has gone over into the sphere of the philosophy of strategy, and, in my opinion, he has made a mess of it. He himself has strong roots in strategy, but he may cause others to go astray.

Here is how Point Six reads: ‘Up to now our revolution has had to conduct its struggle by employing the same basic methods of military tactics and strategy as are practised in the armies of the bourgeois countries.’ Please take note of that. Now let us hear how he goes on: ‘But the change in the character and manpower of the Red Army caused by the revolution, which has assigned the leading role in the army to the proletarian elements, has found reflection in the way that the general procedures of tactics and strategy are applied.’ This is expressed very ponderously and vaguely. But let us read further.

In Point Seven it is said: ‘Our civil war was predominantly a war of manoeuvre. This resulted not only from purely objective conditions (the vastness of the theatre of operations, the comparative size of the forces engaged, and so on) but alsofrom the internal qualities of the Red Army, its revolutionary spirit, its militant élan, as the manifestation of the class nature of the proletarian elements which play the leading role in it.’ We had just been told that, up to now, we based ourselves on ‘bourgeois’ strategy, yet here it is said that our civil war bore the character of a war of manoeuvre owing to the class nature of the proletariat. This discrepancy is not accidental. To say that the manoeuvring character of the war was determined not only by material conditions (vastness of territory and low density of forces) but also by the ‘internal’ qualities of the Red Army as such is to make an assertion that is false from beginning to end. Nothing supports it, no basis can be found for it, and it reeks of braggadocio.

The Characteristic Features of Our Capacity for Manoeuvring

We must begin by analysing our capacity for manoeuvring. It developed first among our enemies, not among us. That, after all, is an historical fact: our enemies taught us how to manoeuvre. I have already shown this in my article on military doctrine. Enthusiasm for manoeuvring began especially with raids, and, again, it was the Whites who initiated these, and they carried them out, at first, better than we did. They taught us how to manoeuvre. That, first of all: nobody can deny it. It resulted from the fact that their troops were more highly skilled than ours, and had a larger cadre of officers than we had. At the start they had more cavalry (the Cossacks!). Consequently, they were better adapted to manoeuvring. At the same time they had fewer of the peasant masses with them, and what they did have were, for political reasons, much less reliable than what we had. This made manoeuvring necessary for them. They tried to make up in speed (mobility) what they lacked in mass. We learned from them. This is an indubitable fact. So that, if you say that capacity for manoeuvre is derived from the revolutionary nature of the proletariat, how do you account for the strategy of the Whites? The falsity of your contention is flagrant!

There is one thing that can be said: manoeuvring, in the true sense, is beyond the capacity of the peasantry, in revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements alike, because, when the peasantry are left to their own devices, the truly peasant form of warfare is guerrilla warfare (just as in religion, the peasantry cannot get beyond the sect: they cannot create a church). The peasantry are incapable of creating a state with their own forces: we saw a particularly striking example of that in the Makhno movement in the Ukraine. In order that the peasantry may be raised to the level of a state and an army, they need to have somebody else’s hand over them. In the case of the Whites it was the nobles, the landlords and the bourgeois officers, who had learnt something from the landlord officers. They took the peasants by the throat, placed over them a centralised apparatus of coercion, saturated with officers, and – set about manoeuvring. In our case the directing role was played by the workers, who recruited the peasants, organised them and led them forward. In so far as capacity for manoeuvring (not guerrilla warfare!) presupposed a centralised military organisation in the civil war, this was a property of both camps. Do not tell us that capacity for manoeuvring results from the revolutionary qualities of the proletariat. That is false. It results from the size of the country, the numbers of the forces engaged, the objective tasks confronting an army as such, but not in the least from the revolutionary nature of the proletariat.

And what were the characteristic features of our manoeuvring, in the past? Its basic feature, alas, was formlessness.

We have good grounds, comrades, for being proud of our past, but we have no right to idealise it uncritically. We have to learn and to progress. And for that it is necessary to assess critically, and not to sing hymns of praise.

Not ‘Doctrine’, Cadres!

We have made hardly any critical analysis or evaluation of manoeuvring in the civil war, and yet without this we shall not progress. There were excellent individual plans, there were operations that were brilliant as regards manoeuvring and which won us many victories, but, on the whole, our strategical line was characterised by formlessness. We attacked impetuously and resolutely, we manoeuvred audaciously, but often our manoeuvre resulted in our having to recoil for a distance of hundreds of versts. To explain this by the revolutionary character of the proletariat, its militant spirit, and so on, means to run one’s thinking up a gumtree. The revolutionary character of the advanced workers and conscious peasants finds expression in their abnegation and their heroism – during all kinds of operations, under any kind of strategy. The instability and formlessness of our manoeuvring strategy, however, were due to the fact that our militant élan was, more often than not, insufficiently organised: we lacked real, serious cadres. This is where the key to the question lies: our junior commanders were too weak, and those at the intermediate level were inadequately trained. That is why plans that were sometimes excellent broke down and crumbled away in the process of execution, resulting in gigantic leaps backward. On almost all fronts we had to fight the war twice, and in some cases three times over. Why? Because of the inadequacy, both quantitative and qualitative, of our cadres.

War is always an equation with many unknowns. It cannot be otherwise. If all the factors in a war were known in advance, there would be no war: foreseeing what the result would be, one side would simply surrender to the other without a fight. But the task of the military art consists in reducing to a minimum the quantity of unknowns in the equation of war, and this can be accomplished only by ensuring the maximum conformity between a plan and its execution. What does this mean? It means having such units, and such commanders for these units, as will attain the goal by overcoming the obstacles of space and time through combination of methods. In other words, it is necessary to have a command apparatus which is stable and at the same time flexible, centralised and at the same time elastic, which has mastered all the necessary practices and is capable of passing them on to those below. Good cadres are needed. This problem cannot be solved by singing paeans to the revolutionary capacity for manoeuvring. There has been no lack of that, and still less have we experienced, or are we experiencing, any lack of idealisation of manoeuvring. It can be said that if our commanders ailed from anything towards the end of the civil war, it was precisely from an excess of manoeuvring. There was a sort of addiction to manoeuvring. All the talk was of manoeuvring. They were just crazy about raids. But what do we actually lack? Stability in the manoeuvre itself, stability that can be secured only by a good body of commanders in a manoeuvring army. It is to this that all our attention must be shifted in the training period that lies ahead. Schematic idealisation of the capacity to manoeuvre, which allegedly results from the class nature of the proletariat, will not lead us forward but will hold us up and even drag us back.

The Danger of the Abstraction of ‘Civil War in General’

The idea of Point Eight, as it is expressed here, contains a danger not only, and not even so much, for us as for the revolutionary parties of other countries. We must not forget that others are now learning from us: and when we engage in revolutionary, including revolutionary-military generalisations, we need to bear in mind not only Moscow and Kharkov – we must also look to the West, so as not to sow misunderstandings there. Point Eight of the theses says: ‘The conditions of future revolutionary wars will present a number of peculiarities which will bring these wars closer to the civil-war type. In connection with this fact, these wars will undoubtedly be wars of manoeuvre. Therefore, our commanders must be educated predominantly in the ideas of manoeuvring and mobility, and the entire Red Army must be prepared and trained in the art of carrying out march-manoeuvres rapidly and in a planned way.’

By revolutionary wars are here to be understood the wars of a workers’ state against a bourgeois state, in contrast to purely civil wars, that is, wars between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie of one and the same state. Point Eight expresses the idea that future revolutionary wars will approximate in type to civil wars and for this reason will be wars of manoeuvre. But what civil war is being referred to here? Ours, evidently, which took place under the specific conditions of our boundless expanses, low density of population and poor means of communication. But the trouble is that these theses posit some abstract type of civil war, taking as their starting-point the idea that manoeuvring results from the class nature of the proletariat, and not from the relation between the theatre of war and the density of the troops involved. And yet, after all, we do know of one other, fairly large-scale example of civil war besides our own – in France, the Paris Commune! In that case the immediate task consisted in defending a fortified place d’armes, Paris, from which alone a subsequent offensive could have been launched. What was the Commune, from the military standpoint? It was the defence of the fortified area of Paris. This defence could and should have been active and resilient; but at all costs Paris had to be defenced. To sacrifice Paris for the sake of a manoeuvre would have meant cutting down the revolution at its root. The Communards were unable to defend Paris: the counter-revolution conquered it and slaughtered tens of thousands of workers. How then can I, proceeding from experience on the steppes of the Don, the Kuban and Siberia, tell the Parisian worker: manoeuvring results from your class nature. You know, a hastily-made generalisation of this sort is no joking matter!

In highly-developed industrial countries, densely inhabited, with huge centres of population, and with White-Guard cadres prepared in advance, civil war may assume – and in many cases will undoubtedly assume – a far less mobile and far more compact character; that is, it may approximate to positional warfare. There can, generally speaking, be no question of any absolute positionalism, especially in civil war. What we are concerned with here is the correlation of the element of war of manoeuvre and the element of positional warfare. And it is possible to say with certainty that, even in our ultra-manoeuvring strategy in the civil war, an element of positional warfare was present, and in certain instances played an important role. There is no room for any doubt that, in civil war in the West, the element of positional warfare will occupy an incomparably bigger place than it did in our civil war. Let anyone try to deny that. In civil war in the West the proletariat, owing to its numbers, will play a bigger and more decisive role than it played in our country. From this alone it is clear how wrong it is to link manoeuvring with the class nature of the proletariat. Hungary, in its Soviet period, lacked sufficient territory to be able to create an army while retreating and manoeuvring: for this reason the revolution had to yield to its enemies. [Voroshilov: ‘They can manoeuvre in a different way.’] It is, of course, a splendid notion that one can manoeuvre ‘in a different way’, that is, by including manoeuvre within the framework of the defence of a particular place d’armes. But, in such a case, positional warfare will already govern whatever manoeuvring is done. From time to time manoeuvring will play an auxiliary role in the defence of a particular area which is the proletarian focus of the civil war itself. When, however, we speak of a strategy of manOeuvre in civil war, what we have in mind is the Russian example, in which we gave up huge expanses of territory and towns in order to preserve our manpower and prepare to strike a blow at the enemy’s manpower. During the commune the situation in France was such that the loss of Paris meant the doom of the revolution. In Soviet Hungary the arena of conflict, though larger, was still very restricted. But even our area for manoeuvring is now unlimited. We deceive ourselves when frequently we forget that the counter-revolution moved up on us from the borderlands, where there were no really viable foci of revolution. Hence the wild sweep of operations, and the monstrous retreats which could take place without mortal danger or mortal consequences for the Soviet Republic. As the Whites drew nearer to Petrograd, on the one hand, and to Tula, on the other, our place d’armes acquired absolutely vital importance for us. We could not surrender Petrograd, or Tula, or Moscow, so as later to ‘manoeuvre’ on the Volga or in Northern Caucasia. Of course, even defence of the Moscow place d’armes (had our enemies in 1919 developed their success further) would not necessarily have brought us to the immobility of trench warfare. But the need to hang on to territory and defend every square verst would have confronted us far more imperiously. And this means that the element of positional warfare would have grown enormously at the expense of the element of manoeuvre.

Point Ten of the theses recognises positional warfare – but then adds at once, in holy alarm, that it would be extremely dangerous for us to develop ‘enthusiasm for positional methods as the basic form of struggle’. Why is that said? Where have our comrades discovered a danger that we may become carried away by enthusiasm for positional warfare? There is addiction among us, but it is addiction to manoeuvring, and not at all to positional warfare ... Do they perhaps have in mind our military engineering department, which has recently been building too many fortresses? If not, I cannot see the point of this proviso.

The Proletarian Strategy Of Marshal Foch?

Point Eleven reads: ‘The tactics of the Red Army have been and will continue to be permeated with activism, in the spirit of bold and vigorously executed offensive operations. This results from the class nature of the workers’ and peasants’ army (again!) and at the same time coincides with the requirements of the military art.’ It ‘coincides’! How well that is put! Manoeuvring, which results from the class nature of the proletariat, happens to coincide exactly with the requirements of the military art, which was created by other classes! ‘All other conditions being equal, attack is always more advantageous than defence.’ If all other conditions are equal, this is correct: there is no gainsaying it. But that’s not all. Further on we read: ‘Because the one who attacks first makes an impression on his adversary by showing that his is the superior will’ (French Field Service Regulations of 1921). There, you see: strategy must be offensive because, first, this results from the class nature of the proletariat, and because, secondly, it coincides with the French field service regulations of 1921. [Laughter. Voroshilov: ‘There’s nothing funny in that.’] But there is. It reminds me a little, esteemed Comrade Voroshilov, of those Würtemmberg democrats of 1848 who said: we want a republic, but with our good Duke at its head ... So, too, here: we want a truly proletarian strategy, but one that has been approved by Marshal Foch. It will be more reliable that way. A republic, but one headed by a duke: that is certainly the best sort! [Laughter] There is nothing funny here, of course, according to Comrade Voroshilov – but the sooner you delete it, the better it will be for the theoretical dignity of our army.

And, besides, it is essentially false. In the first place, this thesis – by Foch or somebody else, I don’t know who edited the new French field regulations – is now being subjected to very severe bombardment precisely in French military literature. The offensive is, of course, superior to the defensive. No offensive, no victory. But to say that he who attacks first makes an impression on his adversary means falling into a formalism of the offensive. No offensive, no victory. The offensive is, in the last analysis, superior to the defensive. But one does not invariably have to be the first to attack: an offensive should be launched when the situation calls for it.

A small book has recently appeared, by a French writer who signs it with the initials ‘X.Y.’, under the title: On the Principles of the Military Art. [3] German military writers declare this book to be the most notable military work produced in France since the war. The author comes out resolutely against the thesis quoted by Comrade Frunze from the new French field service regulations. He adduces as an example the attempt made by the French to be the ‘first’ to attack in 1914, in the Lorraine theatre where the Germans in their fortified positions, calmly awaited the enemy onset. In this case the moral advantage was wholly on the side of a calculated and well-prepared defence, which was an outright trap for the attacker. During the final period of the war the Germans assumed the initiative, in their summer offensive of 1918. The Anglo-French army, after resisting the offensive and exhausting the enemy, went over in their turn from elastic defence to counter-offensive, and this proved fatal to Hohenzollern’s army. No offensive, no victory. But victory is gained by the one who attacks when it is necessary to attack, and not by the one who attacks first.

If We Think Concretely ...

But isn’t it time to stop talking about ‘the offensive in general’? Many people mentally detach from the operations of the civil war some one segment, in which we attacked successfully and victoriously, and, proceeding from this experience, draw for themselves, from this model, a picture of our future offensives. It is necessary to learn to think more concretely. The states which may drag us into war are known to us. Consequently, the potential theatre of war is open to scrutiny. War begins with mobilisation, concentration, deployment of forces. In our strategical forecasts we must therefore start with the preparatory operations – in the first place, with mobilisation. Who, then, will begin to attack first? Obviously, the opponent who has assembled forces sufficient to do this. Does mobilisation give us the necessary advantage? Unfortunately, no. Enjoying the technical assistance of the imperialist countries, our potential adversaries may possess a certain advantage, technically – not only as regards military technique but also in transport. This will give them, consequently, the advantage in mobilisation. What conclusion follows from this? That our strategical plan – not an abstract one, but a plan worked out for a concrete siuation and concrete conditions – must have in view, for the initial period of the war, not attack but defence. Its aim must be to gain time for mobilisation to get under way. We shall, therefore, deliberately leave it to our enemy to attack first, without considering at all that he will thereby gain some ‘moral’ preponderance over us. On the contrary, having space and numbers on our side, we shall calmly and confidently mark the line at which mobilisation, protected by our elastic defence, will gather striking-power sufficient for us to go over to the counter-offensive.

The formulation of the French field service regulations is obviously incorrect. It speaks of the need to be the first to attack, evidently from the standpoint of the need to gain tempo. Tempo is undoubtedly important in the bloody game of war.

Chess-players know how important tempo is, on a field of 64 squares. But only a venturesome young player believes that tempo is gained by the one who is the first to give check. On the contrary, this is often a sure way to lose tempo. If I am the first to take the offensive, but my attack is not sufficiently sustained by mobilisation, and I am compelled to retreat, thereby disrupting my own mobilisation, then, of course, I shall have lost tempo, perhaps irretrievably. If, on the contrary, my plan envisages a preliminary retreat, and if this plan is clearly understood by senior commanders, who are confident in what the morrow will bring, and if this confidence is conveyed downward without foundering on the prejudice that one ought invariably to be the first to attack – then I have every chance of regaining tempo, and winning.

Point Fourteen, which says it is urgent that we review our regulations, propositions and instructions, in the light of the experience of the civil war, is absolutely correct. But we said this three years ago, and sealed it by a decision of the congress: the corresponding orders were issued, and institutions set up to review the regulations. Unfortunately, the work is proceeding rather slowly. It must be speeded up. But to inform us, under the guise of a new ‘military doctrine’, that we must review our regulations, when the corresponding institutions for this purpose have long since been established is needlessly to smash one’s way through doors that have long been open.

The practical conclusions at the end of the theses are, by and large, correct. But they do not follow at all from the premises, and, in addition, they are inadequate: nor do they specify the central task, which is to ensure the army’s stability and skill through educating the junior commanders. We need section commanders! No matter what strategy may be imposed upon us by the development of events – a strategy of manoeuvre, a strategy of position, or a strategy combining both elements – the basic factor in operations remains the military unit, and its basic cell is the section, headed by the section commander. This is the brick from which, if it be well fired, an edifice can be built.

Antiquity in ‘Novelty’

After reading through Comrade Frunze’s theses, I reread Suvorov’s Science of Victory. The word ‘science’ in the title is, of course, incorrect: but Suvorov understood it simplistically, that is, in the sense of something that has to be learnt. It was precisely in that sense that, when a soldier was made to run the gauntlet he was admonished: ‘here’s science for you’. Under Suvorov’s dictation Lieutenant-General Prévost de Lumian wrote down seven laws of war. Here they are.

  1. Act no other way than offensively.
  2. On the march – speed: in the attack – impetuosity, cold steel.
  3. Not methodism but a true soldierly outlook is needed.
  4. All power to the commander-in-chief.
  5. The enemy must be attacked and beaten in the field: so don’t stay sitting in fortified areas, but get in among the enemy.
  6. Don’t waste time on sieges. A direct assault is best of all.
  7. Never scatter your forces to occupy points. The enemy has outflanked you – so much the better: he is himself heading towards defeat.

What is this if not the proletarian doctrine? Exactly the strategy ‘resulting from the class nature of the proletariat’ and from civil war – only put a bit shorter and better! ... Suvorov was, of course, for the offensive. But he also said: not methodism but a true soldierly outlook ... Still, Suvorov, after all, led into battle an army of serfs commanded by officers from the nobility. It thus turns out that the principles of the ‘proletarian doctrine of the offensive’ coincide not only with the field service regulations of bourgeois-imperialist France but also with the military ‘science’ of Suvorov’s Russia of nobles and serfs!

From this it does not at all follow that ‘the laws of war are eternal’ as some pedants say. What we have here are not laws, in the scientific sense, but practical procedures. Certain very simple generalisations (such as, for example, the advice: ‘When you attack, attack impetuously’) apply to all forms of struggle between living creatures. Coup d’oeil, speed and aggressiveness are needed not only during clashes between two organised and armed forces but also in a fist-fight between two small boys, and even when a hound chases a hare. But if Suvorov’s seven commandments are not eternal laws of war, still less can they be passed off as the most up-to-date principles of proletarian strategy.

Is there a difference between the Red Army and Suvorov’s army? There is. An enormous one. Incalculable. There you had an army of serfs, an ignorant army. Here you have a revolutionary army, whose consciousness is growing. The aims are diametrically opposite. We are subverting everything that Suvorov defended. But this difference is not one of military doctrine but of class political world-outlook. In this little book of his, in his aphorisms, Suvorov also expounds a social world outlook. Without it, Suvorov would not have been a commander of armies. His entire psychological skill consisted in getting the most out of the instrument constituted by the serf soldier. In his social doctrine Suvorov based himself on two poles: running the gauntlet and ‘God with us’. In their place we have the Communist programme and the Soviet constitution.

Here we have made a certain step forward. And not a small one. On this score the Kharkov theses can hardly offer us anything new. And, indeed, we feel no need to renovate our social world-outlook. Where questions of strategy are concerned ‘ there, as we have seen, it all comes down to this, that those who began by promising a new proletarian doctrine ended by copying out Suvorov’s rules, and even then made mistakes.

Doctrine, Outlook, Monistic View

First of all we must occupy the positions which have been abandoned by the opponent in his ‘manoeuvrings’ retreat. That is the first task ...

Comrade Frunze admits that there are some inexactitudes, unclarities, discrepancies in his formulations. If it were a question of a draft for an article, such defects would, of course, be quite natural. But when it is being said: ‘You have no doctrine, but I have one’, as Comrade Frunze puts (or put) it, this is something of a quite different order. After all, at the Tenth Party Congress Comrades Frunze and Gusev took me very severely to task for lacking interest in the question of military doctrine wherein, according to them, lay the whole heart of the matter. At that time they thumped my head lightly with a volume of Engels (without sufficient grounds – but I leave that for another occasion). What was to be done? Engels wrote as a theoretician of military affairs, whereas we still fight empirically. Well, show us your ‘doctrine’, comrade critics. But do so with care. One can fight with an oven-fork, if no other weapon is available, but one can’t write theory with an oven-fork – different instruments are needed. But, after all, is anybody forcing us to rush ahead with this matter? There’s no hurry. True, Comrade Frunze hints very delicately that after the Russo-Japanese War, by order of the Tsar, all discussion of military doctrine had to cease and the regulations had to be studied. One seems to see here a not very agreeable analogy: Comrade Frunze proposes to take up the question of doctrine, but I ‘order’ that perverse discussions cease and study of the regulations be undertaken.

But in reality this comparison is very arbitrary, and its barb turns against Comrade Frunze. For what was the task and purpose of those Russian officers who, after the Russo-Japanese War, began talking about military doctrine? They were the critical element in the army. They were dissatisfied with its structure and wanted changes made. This was the progressive section of the officers, the ones who later united around Guchkov and Milyukov, and whom the Black Hundreds called the ‘Young Turks’. Thus, for them, the banner of military doctrine was the banner of criticism of the past and a programme of army reform. They wanted to Europeanise our army, so far as possible, and even sought support for that in the State Duma. They were ordered to shut up, not to criticise, not to undermine autocratic Asiaticism. But how do matters stand with us? What does Comrade Frunze’s doctrine consist of? It consists of an uncritical idealisation of the past. Our heralds of doctrine seek to deduce from the class nature of the proletariat, and to perpetuate, that which was characteristic of a certain period of the war. What did Comrade Frunze accuse me of in his speech? Of not being under the spell of the past. He regards idealisation of the past as a necessary element in the army’s moral education. But this was precisely the standpoint of those who inspired Nicholas to issue his imperial command – to cease discussing doctrine, so as not to undermine the spell of the past. But we say to you: please don’t threaten to smother the enemy with your caps, even though they are revolutionary ones, but let us begin to learn from the enemy the ABC of military affairs. This is where the basic disagreement lies, and this is what Comrade Frunze does not want to grasp.

Comrade Minin, on the other hand, has enriched us with a new term. If we reject the unified military doctrine, and if comrade Frunze is ready to reject also the military world-outlook, then Comrade Minin will offer us a ‘monistic view’ of military affairs. That has a proud ring: a monistic view – that’s no worse than your military doctrine. But what is meant by this? That unity of views, procedures and methods is needed, in the framework of the army? Well, of course. There is no need to waste words in order to prove that an army is incompatible with an order, or disorder, in which one pulls this way and the other pulls that way. Are we agreed, then? Unity of methods is necessary, let’s call this unity ‘doctrine’ – and that’s it! comrade Kashirin made such a proposal, more or less: the state must define its views on war in the form of single doctrine. So, then, the entire dispute is just about words? No, indeed. The essence of the dispute lies deeper, in confusion between concepts. What do you mean, in the last analysis, by military doctrine? Do you mean the answer to the question of what we fight for, or to the question of how we fight, or, finally, to both of these questions together? [Kashirin: ‘To both questions’]. That’s just it: you need a military doctrine in the sense of some sort of answer concerning ‘the meaning and aims of war’. Here you are wholly captives of the bourgeois state. Because the bourgeois state waged and wages wars for plunder and oppression, it has been compelled to motivate the real aims of war by a special, ceremonial ‘national military doctrine’. The purpose of this doctrine is to deceive the masses, to hypnotise and blind them.

Captives of Bourgeois Ideology

The British doctrine is: the civilising role of the Anglo-Saxons throughout the world, and especially in the colonies. The highest interests of culture require that Britain should rule the waves, and so the British navy must be stronger than the two next strongest navies taken together. Behind this military doctrine lurk the class interests of the bourgeoisie. Is there any need for us to create a special doctrine to explain what we have to fight for, and why? Not the slightest. We have the Communist programme, we have the Soviet constitution we have the agrarian law – there’s your answer. What more do you need? Is there any other country whose answer is anywhere near as powerful as the answer given by our revolution? Our revolution destroyed the ruling, possessing classes, handed over power to the working people, and said: defend this power, defend yourselves – those are your war aims.

You demand that the army set itself a goal in the form of some sort of doctrine, yet the revolution has created an army out of us for its own needs, and has ordered us: study military affairs as they should be studied, and fight as it is necessary to fight. And we did fight for more than three years. Then, when things got a bit easier, we asked ourselves a serious question: where are we to find a doctrine which would explain to us for what we are to fight? Yes, indeed, what absurd pedantry this is! There is a second question: how are we to fight. We are told here that we need unity of method. Well, of course: and why else did we combat guerrilla-ism, localism and homemade notions? Why else did we set up a centralised apparatus, headed by the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic? Why did we compose regulations and instructions and establish tribunals? How many times it was necessary for us (including me personally) to explain and to prove that a unity of poor methods was better than a diversity even of the very best! I had to prove this in the struggle against guerrilla-ism in Tsaritsyn, too, in the home town of Comrade Minin, who now objects to one person pulling one way while another pulls a different way. In those days, some of those who now support military doctrine used to declare that they would, at the front, carry out good orders, but would refuse to carry out those orders that they considered incorrect. In those days it was necessary to deal sternly with separatist-minded commanders of divisions and brigades, who had emerged from a guerrilla milieu and did not want to understand the importance of unity of organisation and importance of unity of method. All our efforts throughout the whole period of the Red Army’s existence amounted to ensuring the maximum degree of planning, the highest unity, the closest co-ordination. This, after all, was the purpose which was served, and continues to be served, by all our regulations, establishments, decisions, orders, circulars, instructions, commissions of inspection and tribunals. And today a considerable part of the interchange that goes on between the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, on the one hand, and the military districts and fronts on the other, is concerned with struggle against their deviations from the establishments and norms laid down by the centre. Naturally, our regulations and establishments are not absolute. We shall review them in the light of our experience. By reviewing and improving our methods we maintain their unity. By shifting the question on to the plane of elementary discussions about the usefulness of unity of method you are actually throwing us back three years, to the period of our struggle against guerrilla-ism and separatism; and you present this as some sort of new military doctrine.

Offensive and Defensive

Comrade Kuzmin dealt with the question of offensive and defensive warfare. And it turned out that there are no difficulties here at all. Comrade Kuzmin at once dispelled all that trouble with a wave of his hand. Trotsky, you see, argues against offensive revolutionary war and is in favour of the defensive; But now I, Kuzmin, say to the Red Army men, workers and peasants: ‘Russia is today a beleaguered fortress and you are her garrison; but tomorrow, perhaps, you will have to sally forth from the fortress into the field, in order to break a blockade!’ And that’s all there is to it: it’s as simple as that. But, after all, comrades, that is not a serious political approach to the question, it is merely the approach of a writer of newspaper articles. It is enough, do you see, to find a suitable comparison, a military image, in order to dispel all difficulties with a wave of the hand ... No, that is not the crux of the matter at all. What has to be done is just this – clearly to distinguish the political problem from the strategical one. Politically, we stand firm in a position of defence. We do not want war, and the entire population of our country must know and understand that. We are taking all possible measures to avoid war. We are announcing our willingness, given certain conditions, to pay the Tsarist debts. I recall how one comrade said to me: ‘Why do you say openly that we are willing to recognise the Tsarist debts?’ This comrade seemed embarrassed that we had had to make such a concession, and he tried to present the fact to the workers and peasants in a disguised form. That is a gross error. We have to speak clearly, simply and frankly. And, in the last analysis, this will only be to our advantage. We say this to the workers and peasants. ‘They are demanding that we pay the Tsarist debts. The Tsar took money from the stock-exchange in order to strangle you, the workers and peasants, and now they demand that you, the workers and peasants, shall pay for being strangled by the Tsar. And we, the Soviet power, are prepared, given certain conditions, to agree even to pay these base, dishonourable, bloody debts. Why? Because we wish to spare our country the ordeal of another war.’ In this way we explain to the peasants the peaceful and defensive character of our policy. Bandit gangs have been hurled at us. We have exterminated these gangs, but have not gone over to the offensive. We have truly shown, and are still showing, incredible forbearance. Why? Because we want to ensure peace for our people. This is what is now the basis of our political-education work in the army and in the country. But what if peace is denied us? What if we are forced to fight? In that case the most backward peasant will understand that the blame for it rests wholly with our foes, that there is no other way out: he will then take up his boar-spear and go forth into battle. Then, too, it will be possible for us to develop an offensive war, in the strategical sense of the expression. The Red Army man, the worker and the peasant will then say: ‘Our entire policy was directed towards defence and peaceful relations. But if these neighbours of ours, these governments refuse us peace, despite all our efforts, then, in order to defend ourselves, nothing remains for us to do but overthrow them.’ ... That will be the ultimate conclusion drawn by the whole country in the event that our defensive and peace-loving policy is disrupted by our enemies. This is the essence of the question. He who understands this will find the rightline for political work in the army. But parables about a beleaguered fortress will avail little here. That’s only a metaphor, an image for us to use in a leading article or a feuilleton. A Samara muzhik who reads it, or hears somebody else read it to him, will scratch his head and say: ‘Comrade Kuzmin writes well, he’s a clever writer.’ But, I assure you, he will not go forth to fight for that metaphor.

Comrade Voroshilov quoted here my words to the effect that, under certain conditions, the road from Petrograd to Helsingfors may prove to be shorter than the road from Helsingfors to Petrograd. Yes, it is true that I said this. And, under certain conditions, I am ready to say it again. But, you see, this is precisely what I have just been explaining. It does not mean at all that we actually intend to attack any of the neighbouring countries. You appreciate very well that that is so. True, in the frontier zone where our fighting men have observed particularly closely the banditry which originates in Poland, Romania and Finland, the feeling among our troops in favour of striking a blow across the frontier is sometimes very strong. ‘Let’s have war!’ Those words are often to be heard there, especially among the cavalrymen ... Our cadets are also not averse to testing out in practice what they are studying in theory. And, indeed, throughout our army there prevails, fortunately, a mood of readiness for battle.

But, after all, this does not exhaust the question. A war is a big, serious and protracted affair. It presupposes fresh mobilisations of several age groups, the requisitioning of horses, the intensification of compulsory cartage duty, and so on and so forth. It is quite obvious that we could not start a war with propaganda about the idea – correct as it is, in the abstract – that the interests of the working people are the same all over the world, etc. This idea is correct, and must be given a most prominent place in our propaganda, above all within our own Party. But there is an immense difference between propaganda about the idea of the international revolution and political preparation of the working masses of the whole country for military events which may occur in the immediate future. It is the difference between propaganda and agitation, between a theoretical forecast and current policy. The more clearly, persistently and concretely, the more irrefutably we are able to show and to explain to the entire population of the country the genuinely peace-loving and defensive character of our international policy, the readier will the entire population be to provide the forces and resources for an offensive strategy on a broad scale, in the event that war is forced upon us. Comrade Frunze does not argue against this. On the contrary, he has even declared that it would be a most stupid prank to talk of an offensive war to be launched by us at this time. That is correct. But read some of the recent articles by Comrade Frunze’s closest co-thinkers on this question: there it is said that, hitherto, we have been ‘sitting’ on the defensive, but now we are getting ready for an offensive. It is very good that Comrade Frunze has decisively and even sharply dissociated tumselt from this false political point of view, which cannot bring us anything except difficulties, confusion and harm.

But surely we can’t renounce the idea of the political offensive in general? Of course not! We are not in the least intending to renounce the world proletarian revolution and victory over the bourgeoisie on the international scale. We should be traitors like the gentlemen of the Second and Two-and-a-half Internationals if we were to renounce the revolutionary offensive. But, after all, the relation between preparatory defensive work and the offensive was elaborated with sufficient completeness and clarity, on the scale of international politics, at the Third Congress of the Communist International. There were adherents of the doctrine of the offensive at that congress, too. They also said: ‘The offensive corresponds to the revolutionary nature of the working class, or to the character of the present revolutionary epoch.’ And when they were checked and called to order, these ‘Lefts’ cried out: ‘So you are renouncing the offensive?’ We are renouncing nothing, dear comrades; but all in good time. Without an offensive, victory is impossible: but only a simpleton supposes that the whole of political tactics is reducible to the slogan – ’Forward!’

In a Situation of ‘Sad Necessity’

The idea of a revolutionary offensive war can be linked with the idea of an international proletarian offensive. But is this the current slogan of the Comintern? No: we have put forward and are upholding the idea of the workers’ united front, of joint actions even with the parties of the Second International, who do not want revolution – on the basis of defending the current vital interests of the proletariat, because these are being threatened from all sides by the aggressive bourgeoisie. Our task is to win the masses. How is it, comrades, that you have overlooked this tactic, failed to master its significance, not grasped its connection with the new economic policy within our country? It is quite obvious that what is needed at present is major preparatory work, which is at the given moment defensive in character, embracing the broadest masses. Out of this activity will inevitably develop, at a certain stage, a mass offensive led by the Communists: but this is not the task today. Bring our military propaganda into harmony with the general course of the policy of the world working class. It is stupid to talk to the Red Army about revolutionary offensive war when we are calling on the Communist Parties of Europe to engage in careful preparation on an ever wider mass basis. When the world situation changes, the slogan of our educational work will change with it.

That is how matters stand today as regards the offensive in the political sense. But there still remains the strategical and tactical aspect of the question. And here, after all Comrade Frunze’ s explanations, I remain entirely of the opinion that the formula of the French field staff is wrong, that it suffers from formalism of the offensive. Our own field service regulations express the idea of the offensive considerably better. ‘The best way to attain the goal which has been set is to act aggressively.’ Nothing is said here about the one who attacks first ‘showing that his is the stronger will’. The task of war is the complete defeat of the enemy. This defeat cannot be achieved without an offensive. The stronger will is shown by the one who creates the most favourable conditions for the offensive, and exploits them to the very end. But this does not mean, in the least, that in order to manifest will-power one has to be the first to attack. That is nonsense. If the material conditions of mobilisation did not permit it, I should be a hopeless formalist and a dolt if I were to base my plan on the proposition that I must be the first to attack. No, I should show the superiority of my will by creating favourable conditions for my offensive, as the second to attack; by wresting the initiative when a certain limit, decided in advance, is reached, and gaining the victory, even though I was the second to attack. [Frunze: ‘That is less advantageous!’] This may be less advantageous in relation to an abstract country, which has different railways and an apparatus for mobilisation different from ours: but, after all, we are engaged not in solving a geometrical problem but in outlining a concrete plan of action which is dependent on the material and spiritual conditions of our country in its inter-relations with other countries. On the one hand, Comrade Frunze emphasises in every way that we shall fight with a lower level of technique at our disposal than our enemies enjoy, and he even seems to introduce this lower level of technique into our military ‘doctrine’. We must of course, do everything to bring our technique up to the level of our enemies. But it is fully appreciated that they will have the advantage in aircraft, for example. Comrade Frunze takes this into account, emphasises it in every way, and as one of the means of counteracting it recommends, for example, that our troops be trained to operate at night. Why, then, does he forget about the transport situation, which is, in present conditions, one of the most important departments of military technique? It is impermissible to forget about mobilisation, concentration and deployment. Serious strategy has to take precisely this as its starting point. That it is necessary to attack is beyond dispute. It is stated not only in our regulations but also, and in almost the same words, in the old Tsarist regulations. We heard it from the lips of Suvorov. How, indeed, can one vanquish the enemy except by hitting him over the head? And to do that you have to attack him, to leap upon him. That was known to military leaders in Old-Testament times. But you want to tell us something new, you talk to us about a proletarian strategy which results from the revolutionary nature of the proletariat. You are apparently not satisfied with the formulations of our field service regulations. You devise a formulation of your own which – oh, what a surprise! – turns out to be taken from the French field service regulations. But this allegedly new formulation is incorrect and obviously not in accordance with our conditions. If we knock it into the heads of our commanders that a revolutionary nature and a ‘strong will’ demand that you be thefirst to attack, the initial period of our operations in the West may throw our commanders into confusion, because conditions may, and in all probability will, impose upon us an initial period of elastic defence and manoeuvring retreat. [Frunze: ‘Sad necessity.’] ... Yes, Comrade Frunze, all war is a matter of sad necessity. It is within the framework of this sad necessity that we have to construct our plan, taking into account other ‘sad necessities’, if these are of major importance. And the condition of transport, in the broadest sense of the word, is one of the most important conditions governing war. Consequently, the nature of our country, its distances, the way its population is distributed, its railways, its roads both surfaced and unsurfaced, make it highly probable that the line at which our offensive will begin will run at a considerable distance from our state frontier. If our commanders grasp the inner logic of such a strategical plan, which begins with screens, defence and even retreat, in order to concentrate troops on a line decided in advance, and then go over to the decisive offensive without which, of course, there can be no victory; if our commanders are imbued with this real conception of manoeuvre, and not with a formalistic view of the offensive, they will not be disorientated, will not become confused, will not lose their heads, and will transmit their calm confidence to the entire army.

Our Agitation as ‘a Type of Weapon’

In support of the contention that we have our own ‘military doctrine’ speakers have referred to our revolutionary agitation as a new type of weapon, introduced by us. But this, too, is wrong. We are deceiving ourselves here as well. As a matter of fact, propaganda is organised in bourgeois armies on a far larger scale, in a much richer and more diversified way than here. During the first two years of the war I lived in France, and observed there the mechanics of imperialist agitation. How could we possibly compete with it, given our poverty of forces and resources? Our newspapers were tiny, with poor paper and extremely illegible print, and, what mattered most, their circulation was insignificant, whereas, in France, such an obscenely mendacious, insolent bourgeois paper as the Petit Parisien used to be published, during the war, in nearly three million copies. The circulation of some other imperialist newspapers exceeded one million. Each soldier received one newspaper, if not two. They contained poetry and prose, feuilletons and cartoons. And the newspapers were of all colours of the rainbow: monarchist, republican, socialist – but they all kept hammering away at a single point: fight the war to the end. Here you had a Catholic priest walking through the trenches and operating as a very skilful agitator. He would slap the soldier on the back and say to him: ‘Only two good things are left in this world – wine and the Lord God!’ And a Socialist deputy, arriving at the front, would talk about the fight for freedom, equality and so on. There was theatre, too, and ballet, and music-hall singers. And all of it first-class. And all hammering away at one single point. A prodigious machine for deception, hypnosis, sending to sleep, and corruption! Wherein, then, does our strength lie? In the Communist programme. In the revolutionary idea. When our enemies talk about the prodigious power of our propaganda, this has to relate not to the organisation and technique of our propganda in the army but to the inner power of our revolutionary programme, which expresses the real interests of the working masses and therefore goes to their hearts. It was not we who invented politics. It was not we who invented agitation and propaganda. In this respect, too, our enemies are stronger, materially and organisationally, than we are, just as Tsardom was incomparably stronger than our Party, when it was under-ground and functioned through leaflets and proclamations. But the heart of the matter is this, that with all its apparatus and all its technique, the bourgeoisie cannot keep its hold on the masses. We are winning them and shall go on winning them, all over the world. There is therefore no need to discover a new type of weapon, which is to enter into the military doctrine of the proletariat. Because the Communist programme was invented before the Red Army appeared, and the Red Army is itself only a weapon for making possible the realisation of the Communist programme.

Fewer Sweeping Generalisations

The connection between two strategical and tactical methods and the class nature of the proletariat is not at all so close, absolute and immediate as many comrades have told us. On the basis of my admittedly meagre knowledge of the history of military affairs I would undertake to prove that the Red Army has passed, from the beginning of its existence, through the same stages that marked the evolution of modern European armies, since, say the 17th century. The transition from stage to stage was, of course, effected very rapidly, as though in an abridged synopsis. A child in its mother’s womb, as it develops from the embryo, repeats the stages in the evolution of the human species, in their fundamental features. Something similar, I repeat, is to be observed in the case of the development of the Red Army. It certainly did not begin with manoeuvring. Its first attempts at combat present a picture of crude, rectilinear positionalism of the cordon type. Its organisation and its methods of strategy changed in the process of the struggle, under the blows of the enemy. In this way developed the manoeuvring which was characteristic of the last period of the civil war. But this is not the last word in the Red Army’s strategy. Into this diffuse, chaotic manoeuvring we must introduce factors of stability: sound, resilient cadres. Will this more highly skilled army turn to methods of positional warfare? That depends on the conditions of future wars, on where they will begin, on the size of the masses that will be involved in operations at one and the same time, and on the sort of territory on which these operations will take place.

Comrade Budyonny explained the positional character of the imperialist war as being due to the absence of great initiative, the irresolution of the leaders. ‘There was no commander of genius!’ ... In my opinion this explanation is wrong. The crux of the matter is this, that the imperialist war was a war not of armies but of nations, and of the richest nations, huge in numbers and with huge material resources. It was a war to the death. To every blow the opposing side found an answer: every hole was blocked. The front was steadily consolidated on both sides: artillery, shells, men were piled up both on this side and on that. The task thus transcended the bounds of strategy. The war was transformed into a most profound process of measuring strength, one side against the other, in every direction. Neither aircraft, nor submarines, nor tanks, nor cavalry could by themselves produce a decisive result: they served only as means for gradually exhausting the enemy’s forces and constantly checking on his condition – was he still standing firm, or was he ready to collapse? This was in the fullest sense of the word a war of attrition, in which strategy is not of decisive but only of auxiliary importance. It is quite indisputable that any repetition of such a war in the near future is impossible. But just as impossible is any repetition on the territory of Europe of the methods and procedures of our civil war: the conditions and the situation over there are much too different. Instead of making sweeping generalisations we ought to start thinking more specifically about concrete conditions.

The ‘Unified Doctrine’ in a Future Civil War

For the sake of illustration let us take Britain, and let us try to imagine what will, or, more correctly, may be the character of a civil war in the British Isles. Naturally, we cannot prophesy. Naturally, events may develop in a quite different way, but it will nevertheless be useful to try and imagine the course of revolutionary events in the distinctive conditions of a highly-developed capitalist country in an insular situation.

The proletariat constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population in Britain. It has many conservative tendencies. It is hard to budge. On the other hand, however, when it does at last get moving, and overcomes the initial organised resistance of its internal enemies, its domination of the island will prove overwhelming, by virtue of its overwhelming numbers. Does this mean that the bourgeoisie of Britain will not attempt, with the help of Australia, Canada, the United States, and so on, to crush the British proletariat? Of course it will. To this end it will try to keep control of the navy. It will need the navy not only in order to impose a hunger blockade on proletarian Britain but also in order to land troops. The French bourgeoisie will not refuse black regiments. The same navy which serves today to defend the British Isles and ensure their uninterrupted supply of foodstuffs will become an instrument of attack upon these islands. Proletarian Britain will thus become a naval fortress under siege. There will be no way of retreat from it, unless into the sea. And we have assumed that the sea will remain under enemy control. The civil war will, consequently, take the form of the defence of an island against warships and landing forces. I repeat, this is not a prophecy: events may turn out in a different way. But who will venture to say that the outline of civil war I have indicated is impossible? It is quite possible, and even probable. It would be a good thing if our strategists would ponder over this. They would then become finally convinced how baseless it is to deduce capacity for manoeuvring from the revolutionary nature of the proletariat. Who knows, the British proletariat may have to cover the shores of its islands with trenches, wide ribbons of barbed wire entanglements, and positional artillery?

We need to look for models of civil war approximating to our recent past not in the future of Europe but in the past of the United States. Undoubtedly the civil war in the United States in the sixties of last century presents many features in common with our civil war. Why? Because there, too, you had enormous expanses, a sparse population and inadequate means of communication. Cavalry raids played a very big role there, too. It is a remarkable fact that there, too, the initiative came from the ‘Whites’, that is, from the Southern slaveowners, who were fighting against the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats of the North. The Southerners had prairies (steppes), plantations, steppe pastures and good horses, and they were used to horse-riding. The first raids, thousand of versts in depth, were carried out by them. Following their example, the Northerners created their own cavalry. It was a diffuse, manoeuvring type of war and ended in the victory of the Northerners, who defended the progressive tendencies of economic development against the Southern planter-slaveowners.

On the Road to a Proletarian Strategy

Comrade Tukhachevsky basically agreed with my view, but made some reservations the meaning of which is not clear to me. ‘That Comrade Trotsky keeps pulling us back by the coat-tails,’ says Tukhachevsky, ‘is a useful thing’ – but useful, it would appear, only up to a certain point, so far as I am able to gather, because the actual urge to create something new, in the sense of proletarian strategy and tactics, seems to Tukhachevsky one that is fruitful and progressive. Comrade Frunze, marching along the same line, but going further, quotes Engels, who wrote in the 1850s that the conquest of power by the proletariat and the development of a socialist economy would create the premises for a new strategy. [4] I also do not doubt that if a country with a developed socialist economy were to find itself obliged to go to war with a bourgeois country (as Engels visualised) the pattern of the strategy pursued by the socialist country would be wholly different. But this provides no grounds for trying today to suck out of one’s thumb a ‘proletarian strategy’ for the RSFSR. A new contribution to strategy will grow out of an endeavour to improve and fructify the practice of war, and not at all out of the mere urge to say ‘something new’. This is like someone who, because he appreciates original people, sets himself the task of becoming an original person: nothing would come of that, of course, except the most pathetic monkey-tricks. By developing a socialist economy, by raising the cultural level and increasing the solidarity of the masses, by raising the Red Army’s skill and improving its technique and its cadres we shall, undoubtedly, enrich military affairs with new procedures, new methods – precisely because our entire country will grow and develop on new foundations. But to set oneself the task of inferring by speculation a new strategy from the revolutionary nature of the proletariat means just rephrasing the dubious propositions of the French field service regulations, and, inescapably, making a fool of oneself.

Towards the Accumulation of Culture!

In conclusion, I want to speak about the question of the section commander. Everyone recognises, of course, the importance and significance of the section commander, but not everyone is willing to see in him the central point of our military programme for the period immediately ahead. Some comrades even express themselves with a certain condescension on this matter: ‘Of course, who would deny ... Yes, of course ... Yes, obviously ... But there’s more to be thought about than the section commander’ ... and so on and so forth. Our very dear comrade Muralov spoke somewhat in that spirit: ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘it is necessary to clean boots, sew on buttons and educate good section commanders, but this is far from everything.’ For some reason the section commander is here lumped in with buttons and boots. Wrongly! Buttons, boots and so on belong among those ‘trifles’ which, in their totality, possess immense importance. But the section commander is in no case a trifle. No, he is the most important lever in our military mechanism.

In passing, though, just a few words about buttons, boots, the fight against lice, and so on. Comrade Minin accused me of slipping into ‘culturalism’ (Kulturnishestvo). What a pity he did not level his charge at the same time against Comrade Lenin, for his report to the Congress, because Comade Lenin’s main idea was that what we lack for our constructive work is culture, that this culture we must persistently, stubbornly and systematically accumulate and increase, through education and self-education. The term ‘culturalism’ is out of place here, because we used that word to designate, and even to brand, those narrow-minded pedants who, under the rule of Tsardom and the bourgeoisie hoped to regenerate the country by means of petty and trifling measures in the spheres of education, consumers’ co-operation, public health and so on. We counterposed to that the programme of revolution and the conquest of power by the working class. But this has now been achieved, power has been conquered by the working class: this means that the political conditions have been created for cultural work to be carried out on a scale unprecedented in history. This cultural work consists wholly of details and trifles. The victorious revolution enables us to draw the deepest layers of the people into cultural work. This is now the main task. We must teach how to read and write, we must teach precision and thriftiness – and must do all this on the basis of the experience of our state and economic constructive work, day by day and hour by hour. And exactly the same applies in the army.

The Military Slogan for Today

But the section commander is, all the same, a special item. He is by no means a trifle. He is the commander, the leader, the head of the basic group of fighters – the section. One cannot build an edifice out of loose sand. One must have good building material, one must have a good section, and that means – a good, reliable, conscious, confident section commander.

‘But’, some object, ‘aren’t you forgetting the senior commanders?’ No, I am not forgetting them, and it is precisely to the senior commanders that I set this task of educating the section commander. There can be no better school for a regimental, brigade or divisional commander than the work of educating section commanders. Our refresher courses, our academies and our academy courses are very important and useful, but the best training of all is obtained by a teacher when he trains his pupils; that regimental, brigade or divisional commander will be the best trained who focuses his attention in the immediate future on the training and education of section commanders, because this cannot be done without getting clearer and clearer in one’s mind on all the Red Army’s problems of organisation and tactics, without exception. All the problems have to be thought out clearly and thoroughly, with-out any self-deception, so as to be able clearly and distinctly to tell the section commander what he must be and what is demanded of him. The section commander – this is now our central task. General phrases about the education of commanders in the spirit of manoeuvring offer essentially very little, and distract attention from the most important tasks of the present period. There was a time when it was necessary to break through our primitive immobility and cordonism, there was a time when the slogan of manoeuvring was salutary: at that time the cry: ‘Proletarian, to horse!’ expressed a fundamental neces-sity. At that time, of course, not only the cavalry but also the infantry, the artillery and the rest were important. However, if we had not at that time created the Red cavalry, we should probably have perished.

Therefore, the call: ‘Proletarian, to horse!’ summed up the central, basic need of that period in the army’s development. The new epoch brings to the fore a new task: setting to rights the basic cell of the army – the section: summing up our military experience for the benefit of the section commander, increasing his knowledge and self-awareness. Everything now rests upon that point. It is necessary to understand this and to get down firmly to work at it.


1. Printed in the pamphlet Fundamental Military Tasks of the Moment, Supreme Military Publishing Council, Moscow 1922.

2. For the background and context of this discussion at the Eleventh Party Congress, see, besides Erickson’s The Soviet High Command and Fedotoff-White’s The Growth of the Red Army, also W.D. Jacobs, Frunze (1969).

3. The book was entitled Reflexions sur l’art de la guerre, and its pseudonymous author was probably the same General de Cugnac who wrote the newspaper article already quoted.

4. Engels’s 1851 article was first published in Die Neue Zeit, December 1914. (See Marx and Engels, Collected Works, English edition, Vol.10, 1978, pp.542-566: the relevant passage is on p.553.)

1 1

Last updated on: 31.12.2006