Report of Comrade Trotsky on the development of the Red Army
In this speech, made in 1919, Leon Trotsky reviews the development of the Red Army from a force of Red Guards in 1917 to a three million strong army of revolutionary workers and peasants which had been able to absorb into its commanding staff a large number of officers who had served in the Tsarist armies.‘COMRADE Albert has said that the Red Army furnished an ample subject for discussion in Germany, and if I understand him aright, the fear of an invasion of Eastern Prussia by the Red Army even disturbs the slumbers of Messrs. Ebert and Scheidemann.
Comrade Albert may set the minds of the present rulers of Germany at rest. Fortunately or unfortunately, that is purely a matter of point of view, things have not gone so far as that.
In any case, we are in a much better position to meet a possible invasion of our country, than we were at the time of the Brest-Litovsk Peace. This is quite certain.
As far as the development of the Soviet Government and of the Red Army is concerned, we were, so to speak, still in our long clothes. At that time the Red Army was truly called the Red Guard, but that nomenclature has long ceased to exist.
The Red Guard was the name given to the first detachments of irregulars, the first improvised revolutionary groups of workmen who, impelled by the impetus of the revolution, spread proletarian revolution from Moscow and Petrograd over the whole territory of Russia. This period lasted till the first encounter of the Red Guard with regular German regiments and then it became revealed very clearly that these improvised groups were incapable of affording the revolutionary Socialist republic any real protection, when the work on hand was not only to defeat Russian counter-revolutionaries, but to drive out a well-disciplined army.
From this point the opinion of the workmen concerning the army underwent a sudden change, and the methods of organisation were radically reformed. Under the pressure of the situation we proceeded to the formation of a healthy army, organised on the basis of military science.
In our programme it is pointed out as a “National Militia”. To speak of a militia, this demand of political democracy, in a country ruled by the dictatorship of the proletariat is impossible, for the army is closely connected with the character of the ruling power.
War, as old Clausewitz said, is but the continuation of politics, only by other means. The army is the instrument of war and must correspond to the politics of the day.
The government is proletarian, and the army must in its social composition correspond to this fact. We took a census of the composition of our army. In May 1918, we passed from the volunteer army, the Red Guard, to a conscript army, but admitted into it only proletarians, and peasants not exploiting the labour of others.
The impossibility of speaking seriously of a militia in Russia is all the more obvious if we take into account, that we have several hostile class armies on the territory of the former Russian Empire. We have a monarchistic army led by Cossack officers and consisting of bourgeois elements and wealthy Cossack peasants, in the Don region.
Then we had the army of the Constituent Assembly in the Volga and Ural region. The latter, the so-called ‘peoples army’, it was in fact called, but this army very quickly went to pieces and the honourable members of the Constituent had to leave the Volga region and seek – very much against their will – the hospitality of our Soviet republic.
Admiral Koltchak simply arrested the government of the Constituent Assembly and the ‘peoples army’ was turned into a monarchistic army. We thus see, that in a country whose civil war is being carried on, an army can be built up only on a class basis. This is what we have done, with very good results.
The question of the commanding staff created grave difficulties for us. It goes without saying that our first care was to train red officers from among the workmen and the more developed peasants.
This work we began from the very outset, and here, at the doors of this very hall you may see many a red cadet, who is soon to join the army as red officer. Of these we have very considerable number.
I do not wish to quote figures, as military secrets are military secrets. The figure, I repeat, is fairly high, but we could not wait for the red cadets to blossom into red generals, as the enemy did not give us the necessary breathing space, and we were forced to take recourse to the old commanding staff, and find the men we could use from among them.
In this we succeeded also. Of course we did not choose our officers from among the brilliant favourites of the imperial court, but found perfectly competent men in simpler circles, who ably help us now to fight their former time messmates.
On the one side the best and most honest elements of the old body of commanders, flanked by capable communists as commissaries, and on the other side the best elements from among the soldiers, workmen and peasants for the subaltern commands; this is how we composed our commanding staff.
Our Soviet republic has been forced to wage war from the very first moment of its existence to the present day. Our front extends over eight thousand kilometres; in the North and South, in the West and East, we are attacked, weapon in hand, and we must be on our defence. Kautsky even accused us of having fostered militarism. But it seems to me, that, if we want to keep power in the hands of the workers, we must defend ourselves.
If we are to defend ourselves, we must teach the workers to use the weapons they forge. We began with disarming the bourgeoisie and arming the workers. If this is militarism, so be it, – we have created our own socialist militarism, and we will keep to that.
Our military situation last August was very grave: we were not only surrounded, but the noose was drawn pretty tight round Moscow itself. From that time on we loosened that noose more and more and in the last six months the Red army conquered more than 700,000 square kilometres of territory with a population of 42,000,000, 16 governments with sixteen large towns, the workers of which took and take active part in our struggle.
Even today, if you draw a straight line on the map from Moscow in any direction, on every front you will find the Russian peasant, the Russian workman standing in this cold night, his rifle in his hand, guarding the frontier of the Socialist Republic. And I can assure you that the worker-communist who form the nucleus of this army, feel themselves to be not only the guardians of the Russian socialist republic, but the Red Army of the Third International.
And if today we are offered the possibility of being the hosts of this socialist conference, and thus thank our West-European brothers for their many years of friendship, we in turn owe all this to the efforts and sacrifices of the Red Army, in which our best comrades of the communist worker milieu work as ordinary soldiers, red officers or commissaries, that is, immediate representatives of our party, of Soviet power, who give the tone, political and moral, in every regiment, in every division – in other words, who by their example show our red soldiers how to fight and die for Socialism.
And these are not idle words for our comrades, they are followed by action: in this struggle we have lost hundreds, nay, thousands of our best socialist workers. I presume, that they died not only for our Soviet Republic, but for the Third International as well.
And even if at present we have no intention of attacking Eastern Prussia – we should on the contrary, be extremely pleased if Messrs. Ebert and Scheidemann left us in peace – one thing is certain: if the hour strikes and our Western brothers call upon us to help, we shall answer: ‘we are here, we have learnt to use arms, we are ready to fight and die for the world revolution!’