Foreword [1]

The third volume covers the period of demobilisation, curtailment of rear institutions and constant re-structuring of the army, adapting it to peacetime conditions. Whereas in the first three years the workers’ state had managed to operate, in the military sphere, mainly by means of broad measures of a heroic and therefore ‘chaotic’ nature, in the second period what came to the forefront were economic and organisational-educational measures of an everyday nature. A phase opened for bringing order into organisation and for persistent study, military and political. ‘Attention to trifles’ became one of the basic slogans for constructive work. This work, improving in quality and becoming more precise, had the aim of leading us into planned construction of the army, broadly conceived, that is, looking several years ahead.

On the other hand, however, in the period when the armed forces were making the transition to a peace footing, the army and the navy fell into the most direct dependence upon the general economic condition of the country, which was going over from War Communism to the New Economic Policy. Of course, in the first three years of Soviet power, too, that is, in the years of civil war, the army’s life and struggle were closely bound up with the Soviet economy. But at that time this link I has been transferred to the second book of this volume. (Note by Soviet editors.) was quite different in character. It can be said that, in wartime, it is not so much that the army ‘dresses by’ the economy as that the economy ‘dresses by’ the army. The situation altered abruptly as soon as the peace treaty of Riga was signed and the Wrangel movement liquidated. Further work at building the defence of the state could be undertaken only on the basis of a developing economy: otherwise, everything was in danger of collapse. Furthermore, the first post-war period did not so much heal as reveal the economic wounds which had been inflicted by the war. At the beginning of the new period stood the Kronstadt rebellion, a terrible echo of the unbearable burdens that the preceding years of civil war had imposed upon the masses of the people. A few months later, the famine broke out. The ruling classes of Poland and Romania made every effort, by means of banditry, to hold back our recovery. Owing to the country’s very great economic difficulties, the needs and demands of the army, now reduced in size, inevitably fell into the background. The attempt to provide ‘one hundred per cent’ for the army and the navy stumbled at every step against our state of poverty and ruin, and the lack of co-ordination between the different elements of the economy. We resorted to such an exceptional, not at all ‘planned’ measure as material patronage by the local executive committees and various state and public organisations over particular units of the Red Army. There was no other way. The barracks were hungry and cold. The situation of the commanders and political workers in the army had become exceptionally difficult. As a result of the drift of military workers away to the economic and political ‘fronts’ an undoubted decline was observable at that time in political work in the army.

It is possible to understand the significance and character of military work in the second three years, its achievements and failures, only if one realises the conditions in which this work was carried on. The army and the War Department suffered most of all from their excessive numbers, from the unwieldiness of their institutions, which had been hastily constructed during the war. The pace of demobilisation failed to keep pace with the need to relieve the country as quickly as possible of its unbearable military burden. Where reduction of the army was concerned it was hard to decide in advance at what point to draw the line. The degree of security which had been achieved was only gradually appreciated. Accordingly, the reduction in the army’s size proceeded in a series of stages. This meant a continual succession of reorganisations and, as the principal consequence and misfortune of the transition period, extreme instability in the army’s personnel. To this must be added that the country’s entire economy – above all, the Soviet rouble – was in this same state of reorganisation, restructuring and fluidity. Moreover, the instability of the currency came to be of more decisive importance in the life of the army in proportion as economic relations shifted on to a monetary basis. An army lives by establishments and schedules, by strict norms, and so, naturally, the ups-and-downs of the currency unit and the arbitrariness in the financing of the army which was inevitably linked with this precluded any possibility not only of planned but even of more-or-less orderly supply work. The attempt made in April 1923 to draw up a five-year plan for development of the land, sea and air forces failed, for this reason, to produce immediate practical results.

Nevertheless, already in 1922-1923, tendencies to revival contended with ever growing success against phenomena of decline. The ‘military-liquidationist’ mood (the drift out of the army) which, as has been mentioned, had been observable, was overcome. This was what determined the turn for the better in all our work. Under exceptionally difficult conditions, the army laid sound foundations for its subsequent studies, and prepared in a practical way the first experiments in the territorial-militia field. The administrative apparatus was gradually reduced. A course was set towards raising the level of general military and political education of the junior commanders, and through them, of the rank-and-file soldiers – a course aimed at forming a good ‘section-commander’.

The beginning of the post-war period found the navy in a tragic situation. Work of complete renewal was needed here. Under most difficult conditions a new, young nucleus of sailors was knocked together and a new cadre of specialists and technicians created.

In this same period the army is being given a new tactical orientation, in connection with the strengthening of the fire-power and the group-tactics [2] of the infantry, with all the resultant consequences for other arms. The commanding personnel are being retrained.

The War Department is succeeding in attracting the country’s attention to problems of aviation. A Society of Friends of the Air Fleet has been formed and is helping the reorganised Air Force Administration. Aircraft-construction, which had been at a standstill, has got going again. A new body of airmen is being trained. The task of building aircraft engines has been brought to the forefront.

The question of chemical warfare has been put on the order of the day for public attention. A Society of Friends of Chemical Defence has been formed.

Military-scientific thought is being nourished in this period by an incomparably better information service and by the steady influx of foreign military literature since the ending of the blockade. The military publishing house is circulating in the army and the navy a whole series of new books – translations, compilations and, to some extent, original works.

Political education work in the army and navy, which fell into decline at the moment of transition from wartime to peacetime, has livened up again and has recently achieved substantial successes.

While the drawing-up of a five-year plan failed, as has been said, to produce immediate practical results, it did not, however, remain without effect: it was, in itself, an extremely valuable school, inculcating a new approach to the tasks of army-building; and furthermore, the calculation involved in it served as a sort of first, rough approximation and a point of departure for all work in the sphere of military planning. Needless to say, it is only through planning that further lasting success will be possible.

An ever larger place in our work has been and is being taken by the building of the militia. One should not, however, view the matter as though the Red Army’s field divisions and its militia divisions embodied two opposite principles. Actually, the task consits in gradually and ‘from both ends’ transferring the Red Army, as created by history, on to a militia basis. Here it is necessary always to keep two circumstances in mind: while the very possibility of going over to the militia system was created for the first time by the establishment of the Soviet order, the tempo of this transition is determined by the general state of culture in the country – technology, communications, literacy, and so on. The political premises for the militia have been soundly established in our country, but the economic and cultural premises lag far behind. Given the backward state of our countryside, the Red barracks constitutes an incomparably higher cultural setting than that to which the Red Army man is used at home. This is the crux of the natter. Once upon a time the Narodniks whined against the need for the peasants to be cooked in the factory cauldron. We explained to them that this cauldron fulfilled a progressive mission.The Soviet barracks is an extremely valuable educational ‘cauldron’ for the country youngster. The educational and cultural importance of the Red barracks can be gradually reduced to zero only through educational and cultural progress in the countryside, and strengthening its linkage with the town. In the immediate future, work at building the militia must inevitably be preparatory in character. Every successive step must follow from strict checking on the success of previous steps.

The reorganisation carried out during last year is a progressive development of the constructive work accomplished in the preceding years. Further contraction of the administrative organs, rejuvenation of the army’s leading personnel, and, finally, decentralisation of administrative and supply work, are, on the one hand, based on the organisational and educational successes already accomplished, and, on the other, presuppose further intense effort at raising the military-cultural and general level of the army and navy. A soldier who is better supplied, better educated and better trained – that is the aim of the reorganisation and, at the same time, the objective test of its effectiveness.

The ending of the civil war naturally intensified the need for leading military workers to study and to generalise theoretically the great corpus of experience which had been accumulated in the sphere of army-building and of warfare. This has led to discussion, written and spoken, which has focussed mainly on the question of the relation between Marxism and military matters. Documents concerning this discussion make up a substantial part of Book Two of Volume Three [Volume V in this edition – Editor]. Today these disputes have been left behind us. The healthy need to study and to grasp established military experience – not just our own, but world-wide experience as well – so as to deduce from it the most advantageous rules for army-building and the conduct of war has, of course, remained fully operative and is the chief mental mainspring for further military achievements. Here we can say only a few words about this difficult and complex question. In military matters, co-ordination between the means and methods employed is more imperative, perhaps, than in any other sphere whatsoever. On the other hand, it is in the military sphere that the pursuit of unity in methods and procedures has led and leads more often than in any other, to dogmatism and schematism. In other words, formal unity is frequently purchased at the price of real expediency. In epochs when the technique of war changed comparatively slowly, and the soldier’s trade advanced, broadly speaking, along the line indicated by the last turning-point (usually, the last big war), schematism, though always harmful, nevertheless could not lead to irreconcilable contradictions and irreparable mistakes. Our own epoch is different. The middle of the imperialist war differed profoundly from its beginning, and by the end of that war means and methods had been brought into play which have created a completely new prospect where the next war is concerned. And we must suppose that the next war is not far off. Despite the economic stagnation of Europe, progress in military technique, which was given a fearful impetus during the war, has not ceased even in the exhausted and, drained states of Europe, not to mention the United States of America. It is enough to recall that the development of aviation and of chemical warfare is profoundly changing the nature of war, undermining many of its traditional elements, subverting the very concept of the ‘front’. What is the most immediate conclusion to be drawn from this? That military schematism is nowadays a hundred times more dangerous than ever before. But this does not at all eliminate the need for uniformity in approach to military tasks and in methods for carrying them out. The essence of the matter is simply this, that such uniformity can be achieved now only at the price of acquiring incomparably higher levels of skill, theoretical and practical, in every sphere.

The link between social conditions and military matters has always existed, because the army is a copy of society. The greatest military leaders always recognised the existence of that link. The conduct of military operations means the leadership of men in the name of certain purposes, and for that reason alone it is impregnated through and through with politics.

However, under conditions of relative stability in social relations (what are called ‘organic’ epochs, in contrast to ‘critical’ ones), the irruption of ‘politics’ into the military sphere was far from being as obvious, striking and acute as it is in our own epoch. The socio-political premises were taken as given once and for all, so to speak, and on their foundation armies were built and wars waged. Our time is characterised above all by extreme instability in social relations, abrupt political turns and upheavals. The military sphere is most closely and directly combined with politics through civil war, which in our epoch has been put on the agenda in every country in the world. A serious military leader cannot but be a politician, nowadays. The art of war retains all its specificity and, in that sense, its independence. Moreover, it is becoming extraordinarily complicated, in connection with the growth in the diversity and power of action of the weapons of contemporary military technique, and, consequently, it calls for heightened purely-military knowledge and know-how. But, at the same time, in the wars of the future, military matters will be combined more closely and directly than ever before with revolutionary (or counter-revolutionary politics (revolts, Fascism, etc.). Therefore, in the education of our Red military leader the development of a capacity for synthetic evaluation of the co-operation and interaction of all forms of contemporary weapons must go hand in hand with the mastering of a correct socio-political orientation, which is given by the method of Marxism and pervades all the premises of purely military knowledge. What follows from this is that the present epoch presents the revolutionary military leader with increasingly heightened demands. We must assume that, before militarism is finally consigned to the museum of human barbarity, it has yet to attain its culmination and that it will inscribe in the book of the proletariat’s struggle for liberation, along with the names of theoreticians, agitators, politicians and organisers, also the names of great military leaders of the proletarian revolution.

L. Trotsky
October 15, 1924


1. Owing to circumstances outside the control of the publishing house, the foreword to Volume Three as a whole [Volumes IV and V in this edition – Editor.

2. ‘Group-tactics’ refers to the new infantry tactics evolved during the World War on the Western Front. The essence of these was the replacement of a continuous line of attacking infantry by small groups, which were linked with artillery, machine-guns and, later, tanks, in order to maximise support. These tactics were used by the Allies at Cambrai.

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Last updated on: 31.12.2006