Trotsky on Labor, Discipline, Order

Leon Trotsky, Labor, Discipline, Order. March 27, 1918

Speech to a Moscow City Conference of the Russian Communist Party

Original Source: Sochineniia (Moscow, 1926), Vol. 37, part II, pp. 157-58, 161-62,170-71.

As regards politics and direct fighting, the October Revolution has come about with unexpected and incomparable successfulness. There has been no case in history of such a powerful offensive of an oppressed class which with such deliberateness and speed overthrew the rule of the propertied ruling classes in all parts of the country and extended its own rule from Petrograd and Moscow to every far-flung corner of Russia.

This successfulness of the October uprising has shown the political weakness of the bourgeois classes, which is rooted in the peculiarities of the development of Russian capitalism …

If, as the working class, following what Marx said, we cannot simply take over mechanically the old apparatus of state power, this does not at all mean that we can do without all of those elements which helped make up the old apparatus of state power.

The misfortune of the working class is that it has always been in the position of an oppressed class. This is reflected in everything: both in its level of education, and in the fact that it does not have those habits of rule which the dominant class has and which it bequeaths to its heirs through its schools, universities, etc. The working class has none of this, but must acquire it.

Having come to power, it has had to view the old state apparatus as an apparatus of class oppression. But at the same time it must draw from this apparatus all the worthwhile skilled elements, which are technically necessary, put them where they belong, and heighten its proletarian class power by using these elements. This, Comrades, is the task that now stands. before us for our overall growth …

Here I turn to a ticklish point, which to a familiar degree has now assumed major importance in our party life. This is one of the questions of the organization of the army, specifically the question of recruiting military specialists- i.e., to speak plainly, former officers and generals-to create the arm and to run it. All basic, guiding institutions of the army are now set up so that they consist of one military specialist and two political commissars. Such is the present basic type of the leading organs of the army.

I have more than once had to say at open meetings that in the area of command, operations and fighting we will place full responsibility on the military specialists, and therefore -will grant them the necessary rights. Many among us are afraid of this, and their misgivings find expression in the resolutions of certain party organizations … Here again the task of the party is to handle such phenomena in our own midst with complete mercilessness, for they ruin the country and disgrace and disrupt our party …

There is still another question in the area of the organization of the army: the so-called elective principle. In general, all it means is to struggle against the old officers’ corps, to control the commanding staff.

As long as power was in the hands of a class that was hostile to us, when the commanding staff was an instrument in the hands of this power, we were obliged to strive to smash the class resistance of the commanding personnel by way of the elective principle. But now political power is in the hands of that same working class from whose ranks the army is recruited.

Under the present regime in the army-I tell you this in all frankness-the elective principle is politically pointless and technically inexpedient, and has in fact already been set aside by decree …

The question of creating the army is now a question of life and death for us. You yourselves understand this as well as 1. But we cannot create the army only by means of the administrative mechanism, which we have as long as it is so very poor. If we have a powerful mechanism, it is an ideological mechanism-this mechanism is our party. It will create the army, Comrades, and do everything to uproot the prejudices of which I spoke; it will help us fill up the cadres of the revolutionary army with militant and devoted workers and peasants, it will apply itself in conducting obligatory military training in the mills, factories and villages, and in this way will create the military apparatus for the defense of the Soviet Republic.

Source: Robert V. Daniels, ed., A Documentary History of Communism (Hanover: Published for the University of Vermont by University Press of New England, 1984), pp. 92-94.

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