Source: The Communist Review, June 1922, Vol. 3, No. 2.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
ACCORDING to documents, the Red Army is only four months younger than the Russian Revolution, but in reality, it was born on the same day, said Trotsky in an article commemorating the fourth anniversary of the formation of the Red Army, on February 24th, 1922. A marvellous review of the Moscow battalions was held in the Red Square, and in the evening a meeting of the Moscow Soviet in the Great Theatre to honour the day. On both occasions, Leon Trotsky, Commissar of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army of the Russian Soviet Republic, was the principal orator.
It was such a day as comes rarely to snow-stricken Russia—brilliant sunshine in a pale, clear sky, which the dazzling snow seemed to rob of all its blueness. Since five o’clock in the morning the regiments had been forming for the great review that was to take place at eleven; over long country roads in the dim, morning light, with the hoar-frost clinging to their heavy, skirted coats an strange peaked caps, the soldiers had marched from outlying villages throughout the district of Moscow, to assemble around the walls of the ancient Kremlin, and to pour their ranks inside the great rectangular space known since the Revolution as the Reel Square. Upon one side rises the Chinese Wall that encircles the medieval fortress-town of the Kremlin, whose gilded domes and multi-coloured spires and minarets rise flashing like a fairy vision above the serrated top of the old wall, where sentries stand on guard. Upon the other side lies the outer wall of the Kremlin, now concealed and half destroyed by the buildings of the modern city; one end of the square is closed by the old, fortified gateway and the other end by the fantastic church of St. Basil, built in the time of Ivan the Terrible, who caused the eyes of the unhappy architect to be put out in order that he might not be tempted to build for any other monarch such an architectural oddity as this grotesque agglomeration of variegated pinnacles, half Chinese pagoda, half Indian temple, like a disordered nightmare brought to being.
Into this picturesque enclosure, from an early hour, the regiments began to march, bands playing, banners waving, the whole square alive with uniformed men whose lines stretched away on either side to the outer limits of the square, and overflowed into the streets beyond. Under the Kremlin Wall, where the graves of the Red Guards slain in the first storming of the old fortress lie, the crowd of spectators began to file in. A large delegation was present from the Communist International, which happened to be celebrating a conference in Moscow conjointly with the anniversary of the Red Army’s foundation. Familiar faces greeted one at every turn—men and women prominent in the International Working-class Movement, men at the head of affairs here in Russia—all mingling in little groups and gathered to pay homage to the soldiers whose four years of strenuous fighting saved the Republic and given impetus to the cause of the International Proletarian Revolution.
At eleven o’clock, the slim, well-knit figure of Trotsky appeared on the Tribune, and a slow wave of cheering rose and swelled on the frosty air, dying away to the farthest corners of the Square, only to be flung back again as an echo and renewed by the enthusiastic soldiers—“Trotsky’s darlings.” The Commander-in-Chief of the victorious Red Army held up his hand for silence, and an instant hush fell over that vast assemblage. There was nothing of theatrics in that simple gesture, but the firm, steady will of the man ripened by responsibilities and sure of his followers. The Red Army idolises its Chief, who mingles in his treatment of them the discipline of a stern revolutionary with the tender love and consideration of a father for an immense family of trusting, simple-hearted courageous children.
Then he spoke, each word falling distinctly, separately, like the salute of a cannon, his full, resonant voice flinging out the sound to the farthest soldier in the Square and waiting until the echo gave it back again with equal and startling distinctness, so that it seemed as though there were two speakers, not one, addressing the motionless and attentive auditors. He spoke of the first beginnings of the Red Army, that tattered group of determined workers who banded themselves together at the outbreak of the Revolution and constituted the Red Guard; of the first year’s struggle to organise a new army out of the disintegrating masses of the old Czarist fighting machine; of the trouble and confusion and inexperience of those early clays when, for lack of adequate knowledge of military science, many lives were uselessly sacrificed, and not quality but quantity was made to count in the fierce battles against counter-revolution and the invading armies from abroad. “Many of us,” he said “lacked the advantage of previous training,” and those who heard knew that he spoke of himself among them. Then turning from the past to the future, he declared that the fifth year of the Red Army’s life must be a year of strenuous study. “We must abolish illiteracy from our army by the coming first of May,” said Trotsky earnestly. “Let us see to it that every soldier knows how to read and write; each soldier must be able to read the Oath of Allegiance and to understand fully the meaning of that glorious promise to our Republic. The reduction of the army will be in proportion to the qualitative improvement of its elements. The army must be well-fed, warm and clean first of all; a soldier with a ‘vosh’ (louse) is only half a soldier. Ignorance and prejudice is the inner vosh that weakens the human being much more than the outer one; we must therefore raise the moral standard and enlightenment of the army; it must understand the Soviet Constitution and its internal problems as well as foreign politics and the contingencies that may give rise to future wars; more, our soldiers must understand the material laws that determine the history of mankind and the universe. We must so improve our military training that every Red soldier will in case of need, be capable of taking the command. All this cannot be done by the waving of a magic wand, but by the hard, patient mosaic of daily work. The fifth year of life of the Red Army will be a year of strenuous study.”
To see this erect, soldierly figure in his severely simple uniform, without a hint of decoration or a sign of rank beyond the general’s stars on his sleeve, and to remember that at the outbreak of the October Revolution, in 1917, he knew nothing of military science, even to the handling of a rifle; then to recall his war record of the past four years in building up the most tremendous fighting machine of the modern world, in the teeth of insuperable difficulties; to enumerate the list of battles won, of enemies captured and invading armies driven back defeated, is to see embodied in the flesh one of the many great achievements of the Russian Revolution, whose child he is and which has made of him a man. The anti-militarist orator and agitator Trotsky has been moulded in the fiery crucible of war and revolution into a ripened leader and beloved commander with a sure grasp of himself and of the forces that stand obedient to his behest. Trotsky has risen splendidly equal to the undreamed of exigencies and responsibilities so suddenly thrust upon him. He stands to-day not merely as a national, but as an international symbol of revolutionary achievements accomplished under the most difficult conditions; small wonder that the proletariat look to him as the leader of future victorious hosts against the minions of the world reaction and counter-revolution.
As he finished his brief but eloquent address, the sky was suddenly filled with a distant humming, and a squadron of aeroplanes appeared in the transparent blue, circling, diving and climbing joyously above the multitude, and as the thunderous applause began to die away, a flutter of leaflets, like white doves, began to flutter gently down in zig-zag spirals upon the expectant, upturned faces of the happy throng. Trotsky descended from the Tribune and made his way to the front line of spectators where the soldiers would pass in review to give and take the salute. Eager comrades pressed to greet him as a fellow-soldier, and were met with simple cordiality; one old veteran, crippled in the service, approached him hat in hand, and Trotsky asked him to cover himself, shaking his hand with comradely good-fellowship. It was very cold standing there; the men had been on the march and had stood already for hours with true Russian patience. Before the review commenced, a group of speakers from the Communist International ascended the Tribune to greet them in the name of their own proletariat. The Russian leaders, who have never for a moment forgotten the international character of the struggle they are conducting, invariably include the representatives of the fighting proletariat of other lands in every celebration of the Red Republic. The broader issues of the contest now being waged on Russian soil, are constantly held before the people; the Red Army, on its fourth anniversary, must not forget that it is serving first and foremost as the vanguard of the world proletariat in its advancing march towards freedom; while the members of the Communist International know that on hailing the triumphant forces of Russia, they can rejoice at the closer approach of the world revolution.
Delegates from the Communist Parties of Czekoslovakia, Japan, France, Germany, and America paid brief and heartfelt tribute to the tremendous organisation that had grown from such small beginnings, and that, during four years, had valiantly defended the first government of workers, soldiers and peasants from the enemies that had hemmed it in on every side. They conveyed to the Red Army of Russia and to the Soviet Republic which it defended, the greetings of their home proletariat. As they spoke, the distant aeroplanes circled above their heads like giant swallows, gracefully dipping and curving in the clear, frosty sunshine, or riding low over the Chinese Wall of the Kremlin, whose painted towers seemed to blink in astonishment at this intrusion upon their hoary antiquity, and at the conclusion of every speech, a low roll of response, spreading and swelling to a shout, then dying away into echoes, came from the listening soldiers.
At last the quick, staccato music of the band stirred the waiting ranks to motion. In marching array, regiment after regiment filed past the reviewers, who stood on one side of the square, Trotsky in their midst. Each company carried its own scarlet banner, with the campaigns it had fought in lettered in gold upon it. The soldiers marched with the easy spring of lissome youth, for they were all young. In steady ranks they poured, infantry, machine gun corps, engineers, sappers and miners, artillery, cavalry, aeroplanes and tanks, ambulance and communication units—a modern army completely equipped, in the face of the most tremendous handicaps of revolution, civil war, invasion, and blockade ever recorded. It was a magnificent spectacle, rendered more impressive by the clear beauty of the day and the symbolic significance of this mighty war machine, created by an anti-militarist out of the chaos of ruin and defeat, and dedicated to the cause of world-revolution. The triumphant playing of the Internationale; the gleam and flutter of the red banners; the plain uniforms of officers and men, adorned only by the Soviet insignia, a crossed gun and hammer; the white aeroplanes painted with a red star, and the formidable tanks each bearing a name allegorical and meaningful, such as “The Paris Commune,” “The Fighter for Freedom,” “Comrade Lenin,” “Rage,” and “Proletariat.” Russia the indomitable has become Russia the invincible, thanks to the limitless courage and toil which created the Red Army for the defence and preservation of the first Proletarian Republic.