Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Report on the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union and the Red Army

Delivered at the First Session of the First World Congress, March 2, 1919

IT IS CLEAR from the report of Comrade Albert [1] that the question of the Red Guard has become “a proverb and a byword” in Germany; and if I understood him correctly, speculations anent the possible incursion of our Red Guard into the territories of Eastern Prussia cause Messrs. Ebert [2] and Scheidemann [3] to suffer night-mares during their nights of sleeplessness. On this score Comrade Albert may reassure the rulers of Germany – they have nothing to fear. Fortunately or unfortunately – and this is, of course, a matter of taste – affairs have not yet reached that stage at the present time. As regards the intervention that does threaten us, we can say boldly that today we are in a far better position than was the case last year at the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. [4] It is hardly necessary to dwell on this. At that time we were still wearing diapers so far as the construction of both the Red Army and the Soviet government as a whole was concerned. The Red Army was then actually called the Red Guard but this appellation has long since dropped out of circulation among us. The Red Guard was the name given the first partisan detachments, improvised groups of revolutionary workers, who burning with revolutionary zeal spread the proletarian revolution from Petrograd and Moscow throughout the country. This phase lasted until the initial clash between this Red Guard and the regular German regiments, when it became quite obvious that such improvised detachments, while able to conquer the Russian counter-revolution, were impotent before a disciplined army and in consequence could not serve as the real shield of the revolutionary Socialist Republic.

This marks a breaking-point in the attitude of the working masses toward the army, and a start in the scrapping of old methods of army organization. Under the pressure of events we proceeded to the creation of a healthy army, organized on principles dictated by military science. Now, our program calls for a “people’s militia.” But it is impossible even to talk of a people’s militia – this demand of political democracy – in a country where the dictatorship of the proletariat is in power, for an army is always intimately bound up with the character of the reigning power. War, as old Clausewitz [5] says, is the continuation of politics by other means. The army is the instrument of war and it must therefore correspond to politics. Since the government is proletarian, therefore the army, too, must be proletarian in its social composition.

For this reason we introduced a set of rigid restrictions into the army. Since May of last year we passed from a volunteer army, from the Red Guard, to an army based on compulsory military service, but we accept into our army only workers and peasants, non-exploiters of labor.

The impossibility of seriously considering a people’s militia in Russia becomes even clearer if we take into account the fact that within the boundaries of the former Czarist empire there were and are still to be found at one and the same time several armies of classes hostile to us. In the Don province there even exists a monarchist army consisting of bourgeois elements and rich Cossacks, and under the command of Cossack officers. Furthermore, in the Volga and Ural provinces there was the army of the Constituent Assembly. [6] After all, this army was also designed as a “people’s army,” and was so designated, but it quickly fell apart. The honorable members of the Constituent Assembly remained with empty hands. They found it necessary – entirely against their will – to leave the Volga province and to accept the hospitality of our Soviet government. Admiral Kolchak [7] simply placed the government of the Constituent Assembly under arrest and the army was converted into a monarchist army. We thus observe that in a country involved in a civil war, the army can be built only along the line of class principle; we did exactly that and we got results.

On our road we were confronted with great difficulties resulting from the question of the commanding personnel. Our primary concern, naturally, was to train Red officers from among the workers and the most advanced peasant youth. This is a job we tackled from the outset, and here at the doors of this building you can see not a few Red ensigns who will shortly enter the army as Red officers. We have quite a number of them. I don’t want to specify the exact figure inasmuch as military secrets should always remain military secrets. This number, I repeat, is rather large. But we could not bide our time until Red generals arose out of our Red ensigns, inasmuch as the enemy did not extend us such a breathing spell; and we had to turn to the old commanding personnel and find capable people among these reserves; this, too, was crowned with success. Naturally, we sought our officers not amid the glittering salons of military courtesans, but we did find in more modest circles people who were quite capable and who are now helping us in the struggle against their own former colleagues. On the one side, we have the best and the most honest elements among the old officers corps, whom we surround with sensible Communists in the capacity of Commissars; and on the other, the best elements from among the soldiers, workers and peasants in the lower commanding posts. It is in this manner that we compounded our Red commanding personnel.

From the moment the Soviet Republic arose in our country, it was compelled to wage war, and is waging war to this very hour. Our front extends more than 8,000 kilometers; from the South to the North, from the East to the West – everywhere the struggle is being waged against us arms in hand and we are constrained to defend ourselves. Why, Kautsky [8] has even accused us of cultivating militarism. But it seems to me that if we wish to preserve the power in the hands of the workers, then we must show them how to use the weapons they themselves forge. We began by disarming the bourgeoisie and by arming the workers. If this bears the name of militarism, so be it. We have created our own socialist militarism and we shall not renounce it.

Our military position in August of last year was extremely precarious; not only were we caught in a ring of steel, but this ring surrounded Moscow rather tightly. Since then we have widened this ring more and more, and in the course of the last six months the Red Army has reconquered for the Soviet Republic an area not less than 700,000 square kilometers, with a population of some 42,000,000, 16 gubernias (provinces) with 16 large cities, the workers of which conducted and continue to conduct an energetic struggle. Even today, if you draw a straight line on the map radiating from Moscow in any direction, you will find everywhere at the front – a Russian peasant, a Russian worker standing in this cold night, gun in hand, at the frontiers of the Socialist Republic and defending it. And I can assure you that the worker-Communists who comprise the hard core of this army feel that they are not only the Guards Regiment of the Russian Socialist Republic but also the Red Army of the Third International. And if we are today given the opportunity to extend hospitality to this Socialist conference, and in this way repay our Western European brothers for their many years of friendship, then we in our turn owe this to the efforts and sacrifices of the Red Army, in which the best comrades from among the worker-Communist milieu are serving as ordinary soldiers, Red officers or Commissars, i.e., as direct representatives of our party, of the Soviet Power. In every regiment, in every division they set the moral tone, that is, by their example show the Red soldiers how to fight and die for socialism. And these are not the empty words of our comrades; accompanying these words are deeds: In this struggle we have lost hundreds and thousands of our best socialist workers. I believe they have fallen not only for the Soviet Republic but also for the Third International.

And although it does not even enter our minds at present to attack Eastern Prussia – on the contrary, we would be extremely satisfied if Messrs. Ebert and Scheidemann left us in peace – one thing is nonetheless unquestionable: should the hour strike and our Western brothers call upon us for aid, we shall reply:

“We are here! We have in the meantime become skilled in the use of arms; we are ready to struggle and to die for the world revolution!”


1. Albert was the pseudonym of Hugo Eberlein, a prominent German Communist, who attended the First World Congress of the Communist International as a delegate of the Spartacus League. He was under instructions at the time to oppose the formation of the Communist International on the ground that the time was not yet ripe for it. Subsequently Eberlein became one of the leaders of the so-called “Center” in the German Communist Party.

2. Ebert was the first president of the German counter-revolutionary bourgeois Weimar Republic. He had been one of the closest collaborators of Bebel. During the imperialist war Ebert together with Scheidemann was the inspirer of the social-chauvinists. In the last days of the Hohenzollern monarchy Ebert entered the government in order to prevent the revolution and to save the monarchy. Failing in this effort the German Social Democrats then undertook – successfully – to restore capitalism in Germany on the basis of the bourgeois republic. Ebert was elected president in 1919.

3. Scheidemann, another of Bebel’s closest collaborators, was with Ebert the leader of the German Socialist traitors after Bebel’s death. He, too, entered the cabinet of Prince Baden in order to save the monarchy. All his efforts, after the Kaiser’s downfall, were directed to the crushing of the revolutionary movement. After the defeat of the Spartacists he became the head of a coalition government, succeeded in completely discrediting himself in the eyes of the workers and had to retire.

4. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed by the Soviet delegation on March 3, 1919 without even reading its predatory terms. The peace negotiations began on December 9, 1918 but were broken off, on the instruction of the Bolshevik Central Committee, by the Soviet delegation headed at that time by Leon Trotsky. The German Social Democrats supported throughout the imperialist policy of the Hohenzollerns and of the German bourgeoisie, under the pretext that the Bolsheviks had “agreed” to the peace and “wanted” it. Liebknecht throughout supported the Bolsheviks. Within the Russian Communist Party, the negotiations and the peace itself precipitated a sharp crisis, because of the opposition by the “Left Communists” headed by Bukharin who opposed the peace on grounds of principle. Lenin succeeded in carrying the day only because of the assistance rendered him in the crucial hours by Trotsky. But subsequently, the Stalinists tried to utilize the disputes of the Brest-Litovsk period in their struggle against Trotsky. For further details of this campaign of falsifications see: Leon Trotsky, My Life, pp.362-378ff.

5. Karl von Clausewitz was the outstanding military theoretician in the first part of the nineteenth century. His best known work Über Krieg und Kriegfuehrung (On War), three volumes, Berlin 1832-34, bears unmistakable evidence of the use of the Hegelian dialectic. Clausewitz participated in the campaigns against Napoleon and later served as the head of the Prussian General Staff (1831). In 1812-13 he was in the service of the Russian army.

6. After the mutiny of the Czechoslovak troops in Penza, a White Guard-SR coup was accomplished in the summer of 1918 in Samara where all the members of the dispersed Constituent Assembly had assembled. These members of the Constituent Assembly organized a government in Samara and attempted to create a “People’s Army.” Toward the end of 1919 the initiative in the Civil War passed into the hands of the White Guard generals who dispersed this “People’s Government” with the aid of the Czechs. The indignant SRs – or more correctly their Left Wing, headed by Volsky – then sought refuge in the territories of Soviet Russia.

7. Kolchak was a Czarist admiral who after the Soviet power had been temporarily overthrown in Siberia came there as a puppet supported by the Allies. In November 1918 the Cossack atamans (chieftains) elected him supreme commander. When the counter-revolution suffered defeat he was left stranded by the Allies and was arrested during an uprising in the Irkutsk province. Kolchak was executed in February 1920 by the order of the Irkutsk Revolutionary Committee.

8. Kautsky was the outstanding theoretician of the Second International. From 1906 Kautsky, who had begun as a Marxist, started moving toward reformism. The war and the October Revolution transformed him completely into an avowed opportunist. In the last postwar period Kautsky, who no longer played a major political role, was the theoretician for the perfidious policy pursued by the Second International in the interval between the two world wars. After Hitler’s coming to power he died an ignominious death in exile.

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Last updated on: 19.4.2007