Leon Trotzky

The 5th Anniversary
of the Red Army

(27 February 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 20, 27 February 1923, p. 158.
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We leave our first 5 years behind us, enriched with a wealth of experience. What are the most important conclusions to be drawn from these experiences? What has been our greatest source of strength, and what, above all, has been our weakness? Without recognizing our own weakness we can make no progress.

Our victory has been due to the unlimited self-sacrifice of the revolutionary vanguard, and to the inexhaustibility of our reserves of peasants. Our army retains these two advantages. The peasant reserves are brought forward to an ever increasing extent by the workers’ vanguard, and the political level of this vanguard will – we hope – steadily improve. But these two premises of our victories are, without doubt, entirely non-military in character. They are rooted in the social nature of the Soviet power, in the class qualities of the proletariat The Red Army of the past five years represents the first crude attempt to utilize these, our great advantages, for military purposes. We have the result before us: we have maintained our position. But at what price? At the price of the greatest sacrifices. But the art of war, like every other art, consists in attaining results with the least possible effort, or, as Suvarov said, with little blood.

Without enthusiasm and self sacrifice, there can be no war and no victory; but we can only speak of an army as such, when these qualities are properly organized and skillfully utilized. What we have lacked in organization, training and equipment, we have made up with the mass of reserves, or with the self-sacrificing heroism of our soldiers. In the future, we shall still need the masses as well as the heroism. But these must be supplemented by good training and technics.

These are the two main points to which we must devote our efforts during the coming five years: personal and collective training, and war technics. We have reduced the army to 600,000 men. Having regard to the size of the country, the number of the population, the extent of our frontiers, and the number of our possible enemies, such an army is really no army, but merely a military staff. But this fact involves the task of bringing this army – as regards training and education – up to the level of a military staff. This group must have excellent division commanders at its disposal, and the subdivisional commanders, thoroughly trained in every respect, must form the links in the chain of gradual education of all our soldiers to the level of the earlier non-commissioned officers, adapted of course, io the new conditions and new structure of the armed forces. This is no Utopian idea. Our youths – not only the workers, but the peasants – enter the army with a greatly increased receptive capacity. And old soldiers look on in amazement at the rapidity with which the Red Guard recruit learns, as compared with the recruit of the Tsarist army. The awakening of the desire to learn, the increased mental plasticity of the masses of the people, this is the greatest achievement of the revolution up to now. And on this achievement we can build up our structure in all spheres. A proper system of pre-military training, combined with a sensible system of training and education within the army itself, is bound to lead, within a few years, to a mighty enhancement of efficiency throughout the army, and render it capable, in case of necessity, of absorbing millions of mobilized men at a moment’s notice.

The second task is that of technics. What are our prospects in this direction? Tsarism equipped its army to a very wide extent, by calling in the aid of foreign technics. This was in the nature of things, as Tsarism itself was a member of one of the groupings of the so-called balance of power in Europe. But the bourgeoisie regards us – and not without reason – as a wedge which undermines and destroys all equilibrium in the capitalist world. Consequently we can by no means reckon on the direct co operation of capitalist Europe or America in the matter of our war technics. Thus our own exertions are of the greatest importance. War technics depend on general economic technics. This means that miraculous advances in the science of armaments, and of the whole equipment of the army, are not possible. But what is possible is a systematic utilization of the available forces, and a gradual improvement. This however, by no means excludes the possibility of our attaining great success within a very short time, at least in some of the most important directions. After a period of sharp retrogression, the whole economics of the Soviet republic are awakening to new life, and making great strides forward. This process of improvement will be extremely slow at first, with unavoidable interruptions and fluctuations. It is our duty to place our war industry under particular favorable conditions – naturally without detriment to economics, as a whole – and to place in the foreground those branches of war industry which are of the utmost importance to us at the present time.

There is no doubt whatever that one such branch is aviation. The whole country must devote its concentrated attention during the next few years to this class of armaments, and to this branch of industry. This is the more possible as, in the sphere of aviation, purely military requirements are closely and immediately connected with the economic and cultural interests of the country. Aviation is the most efficient and newest means of overcoming distances. Its future is boundless. And it is necessary that our young people be thoroughly possessed by the idea of the development and the wide possibilities of aerial transport Our technicians, instructors, poets, and artists, must take care of this.

We have spoken of the tasks which will confront the army during the next 5 years. No one will reproach us for attempting to look too far into the future. It is perfectly evident: we shall still require the Red Army at the end of a year, at the end of two years, at end of five years. After the present comparative standstill, the revolutionary evolution of Europe may abruptly accelerate its speed. But even then, there is not the least doubt, that the epoch of imperialist wars and revolutionary convulsions will not last merely for months or years, but for decades, and that the world will be convulsed again and again, with ever increasing violence, and with but short pauses for breath. But since this is so, we must seriously prepare ourselves for a lengthy task. Our working program for the coming years, which arises out of the events of yesterday and in the conditions of to-day, is: to supplement enthusiasm by art, and numbers by technics We shall then be victorious with fewer sacrifices.