Soviet Resolution on Military Matters

Fifth Congress of Soviets, Report by Trotsky on the Army and Congress Resolution on Military Matters. July 10, 1918


Trotsky Report

He said that the opponents of the Government had been reproaching it with taking up the organization of the army after great delay and reluctance. As a matter of fact, however, the Bolsheviks had never been in favor of destroying or abolishing the army, and only advocated its reorganization on a new democratic basis. The old army had disappeared, not because of the anti-militarist character of the Revolution, but because it had been organized on a class basis which could not be maintained after the Revolution. Again, the effect of the Revolution on the army had not consisted in introducing politics, because there was no army in the world which was free from politics, but in the revolt of the working class and peasantry against the capitalists and landlords from whom the officers had been recruited, and whose politics had dominated the army. So far from the Bolsheviks being responsible for the dissolution of the army, long before the Revolution delegates from regiments, divisions and whole armies would come to the Petrograd Soviet declaring that the army would leave the trenches on the fall of the first snow if peace were not concluded. If the army, nevertheless, had stayed in the trenches another three months, till February; that had been due to the enthusiasm aroused by the Bolshevik Revolution. It had, however, been impossible to reorganize the old army. The army had to be first dispersed and returned to its original villages before it could, after renovation, become available once more. Nor were the reproaches justified that the Bolsheviks had departed from their original principle of voluntary enlistment. The Bolsheviks had never been in favor of voluntarism such as had been practiced before the war in England and the United States. The protection of one’s country was a civic duty, and, in face of the bourgeois world, armed to the teeth by universal conscription, it would have been absurd on the part of Socialist Russia to rely upon volunteers. The principle of a voluntary army had only been adopted at the first critical stage of the existence of the Russian Republic, as a makeshift, to tide over the difficulties created by the dissolution of the old army and pending the construction of a new. As a matter of fact, the voluntary army, in spite of its enthusiasm, had proved a failure in the defense against the Germans. Therefore, as soon as it became possible, the Government had laid the foundations of new machinery by establishing a supreme organ of military organization in the center and subordinate military commissariats in provincial districts, arranged in a hierarchical order from town to village. Only by first creating such a machinery for the recruitment, formation and training of troops could a beginning be made in the reconstruction of the new army out of the old, which had in the meantime become rejuvenated by labor and contact with the rest of the people in the villages and towns. It must be admitted that the machinery was not yet completed. The commissariats, so far, only existed in some of the provinces, while in many districts, and especially in the villages, they were still lacking. Nor was the idea that each commissariat was subordinate to the one above it in hierarchical order as yet entirely digested by the commissars themselves. There was a good deal of separatism in the military organizations, as there was in the organization of the food supply. Yet without centralization no army was possible. Of course, there were some, like the SRs, who denied the need of an army, and advocated guerilla detachments, but that was the same as if people were to decide to discard railroads, steamers and steam-ploughs, and to go back to transport by carts and sailing boats and to primitive ploughs. The time had passed for home-made remedies, and those who were afraid of centralism were simply obsessed by the old distrust of the Central Government which they had inherited from the Tsarist and bureaucratic regime. The State was now in the hands of the formerly oppressed classes, and the central power at present exercised was the power of those classes. It was the duty of the new organization to imbue the soldiers with a new conception of discipline based not upon blind obedience, but upon a clear conception of the aims and objects of national defense in its present form. The Revolution had awakened a sense of personality in the peasants and workers, and it was natural that that sense would at first assume anarchical and extreme individualistic forms. It was necessary that every worker and peasant, awakened to that sense, should also acquire the sense of the whole, and should realize that he was a conscious part of the conscious organism. The Government was further charged with confining military service only to the workers and peasants, but people forgot that they were living in a period of open civil war, a war of class against class, and that, whether such a war was good or bad, it was a fact which must be recognized. The workers and peasants were up in arms against the bourgeoisie, while the bourgeoisie hated the workers and peasants so deeply that they would prefer any foreign yoke to the domination of the formerly oppressed class. Hence it was the prime duty of the workers and peasants not to place any arms in the hands of the bourgeoisie, whose members would only be used for the formation of labor and auxiliary battalions. That might be a cruel ordeal for them, but they were of the opinion that until the young men from the bourgeoisie had proved their devotion to the working class and peasantry by sharing with them all dangers as well as the task of fighting the internal and external enemy they would have to submit to that ordeal. So far the first steps taken to mobilize the new army by summoning to the colors the contingents of the years 1896 and 1897 had, in Moscow, proved a brilliant success, the young workers rushing to the army in their thousands without any pressure whatever. The same was expected in the Northern district. The mobilization of these two years would in due course be extended to the rest of the provinces, and then a decree would be issued making all citizens of the Republic between the ages of 18 and 40 liable to be called up to the colors for the protection of the Soviet Government at any moment. The greatest task, however, was the supply of officers, since the working class and the peasantry had as yet never had a chance of producing experts in the various branches connected with the army. That circumstance made it necessary to have recourse to the officers of the old army, just as they were obliged to have recourse to the guns, machine-guns and armored cars which had formerly belonged to the Tsar’s regime. Of course, there was a danger of treachery. But so it was in every other branch of administration, on the railroads, in the banks and various Government offices, where they had been obliged to install specialists, who had formerly served the old regime. Such a risk was inevitable, and the only thing to do was to exercise a strict control over the movements of such experts. The War Commissariat was doing its best to expedite the formation of officers from the workers’ ranks, by establishing military schools, and by opening their doors to the working class and peasantry. A successful beginning had already been made in this direction, and within less than a year Russia would have a considerable number of officers from the working class ranks, trained for various tasks, high and low. But in the meantime the old officers must be utilized, which can be done the more easily as a number of them have quite sincerely adhered to the new regime. Similarly difficult was the separatist tendencies, and perhaps the local patriotism of the provincial and district Soviets, which had appropriated the property of the old army, and in many cases refused to give it up, thinking that by holding it they, at least. would secure their own safety. But that was a great mistake. The safety of every locality could be best protected by action from the center, and all army property must be given up and kept by the central authorities.


(1) The Russian Soviet Republic is like a fortress besieged from all sides by Imperialist armies. Inside the Soviet fortress the counter-revolution is raising its head, having found temporary support in the Czecho-Slovak hirelings of the Anglo-French bourgeoisie. The Soviet Republic needs a strong revolutionary army, capable of crushing the counterrevolution of the bourgeoisie and landlords, and repelling the revolting Imperialist robbers.

(2) The old Tsarist Army, created by force to support the dominion of exploiters of the laboring classes, suffered a terrible debacle in the Imperialist slaughter of nations. It was finally killed by the lie of the Cadet and Coalitionist policy, by the criminal offensive of July 1, and by the adventures of Kerenskii and Kornilov. Together with the old regime and the old army, the old machinery of military administration both in the center and in the country went to pieces.

(3) In these circumstances the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government had in the first period of its existence no other way or means of creating an army than the enrollment of volunteers, who were prepared to rally to the banner of the Red Army.

(4) At the same time the Soviet Government always and-and the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets once more solemnly confirms it-that it is the duty of every honest and able-bodied citizen between 18 and 40 years of age to step forward at the first call of the Soviet Republic for its defense against external and internal enemies.

(5) With a view to carrying out compulsory military training and compulsory service, the Council of People’s Commissars has established Soviet organs of local military administration in the form of regional, provincial, district, and volost military commissars. Approving as it does this reform, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets makes it the duty of all local Soviets to carry it out in strict accordance with the law, in their respective localities. The condition of the success of all measures to create an army is a consistent centralism in military administration, viz., a strict and absolute subordination of the volost to the district, of the district to the provincial, of the provincial to the regional, and of the regional commissariats to the People’s Commissariat for War.

(6) The Fifth Congress of Soviets demands from all local institutions a strict account of military property, and its conscientious distribution and administration, according to the rules and regulations confirmed by the central organization of Soviet Government. Arbitrary seizure of army property, hiding, unlawfully appropriating or dishonestly administrating it must be considered as belonging to the category of gravest State crimes.

(7) The time for individual and chance formation of independent detachments must be regarded as passed. All formations must be carried out in strict accord with the instructions and plans of the All-Russian General Staff. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army must be built up in such a way as to yield a maximum of results at a minimum expenditure of effort and means, and that is only possible through a scientific application of all the teaching of military science as prescribed by the experience of the present war.

(8) For the creation of the centralized, well-trained, and well-equipped army, it is necessary to make the widest use of the experience and knowledge of the numerous military specialists among the officers of the old army. They must all be registered and placed at the posts indicated to them by the Soviet Government. Every military specialist who honestly and conscientiously works for the development and consolidation of the military strength of the Soviet Republic is entitled to the respect of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army, and the support of the Soviet Government. All military specialists, who would make the attempt treacherously to use their responsible posts for counter-revolutionary conspiracy or treason in the interest of foreign Imperialists, must be punished by death.

(9) The military commissars are the guardians of the close and inviolable internal connection of the Red Army with the workers’ and peasants’ regime as a whole. Only revolutionaries beyond reproach, staunch fighters for the cause of the proletariat and village poor, must be appointed to the posts of military commissars.

(10) The most important problem in connection with the formation of the army is the training of a new class of officers, entirely animated by the ideas of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Revolution. The Congress enjoins upon the People’s Commissar for War to redouble his efforts in this direction by creating a wide net of schools of instruction, and by attracting to them the ablest and most energetic and bravest soldiers of the Red Army.

(11) The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army must be built up on the bases of an iron revolutionary discipline. Citizens who have received arms from the Soviet Government for the defense of the interests of the laboring masses must implicitly obey the demands and orders of the commanders appointed by the Soviet Government. Hooligan elements who plunder and do violence to the local population, or foment mutinies, cowards and deserters who leave their posts, must be punished ruthlessly. The All-Russian Congress makes it incumbent upon the War Commissariat to hold responsible, in the first place, those commissars and commanders who connive at acts of lawlessness, or neglect to take notice of infractions of military duty.

(12) So long as the bourgeoisie has not been completely expropriated, and has not been subjected to universal labor service, so long as the bourgeoisie is aspiring to restore its former domination, its armament would mean the armament of an enemy who at any moment is prepared to betray the Soviet Republic into the hands of foreign Imperialists. The Congress confirms the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars to create out of the members of the bourgeoisie of military ages reserves in the rear for the formation of labor and auxiliary service units. Only those bourgeois elements, who by their deeds have proved their loyalty to the laboring; masses, may be promoted and transferred to the active service ranks.

(13) The Congress enjoins upon all Soviet bodies and all trade unions and factory organizations the duty of co-operating by all the means at their disposal with the military administration in the matter of the compulsory military training of all workers and all peasants who do not exploit hired labor. It is necessary to form everywhere rifle associations and shooting ranges, and to arrange for maneuvers; and military revolutionary parades, and intensive agitation for the promotion of interest in military affairs among the working classes and peasantry.

(14) While welcoming the summoning to the colors of two annual contingents of all workers in Moscow and Petrograd, as well as the beginning of mobilization on the Volga and in the Urals, the Congress, in view of the endeavor of the world’s robbers to draw Russia once more into an Imperialistic slaughter, considers it necessary to effect a general mobilization of several years’ contingents of workers and laboring peasants throughout the country. The Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars are charged with issuing a decree, fixing the number and the age categories liable to be immediately summoned to the colors, as well as the dates and conditions of enrolment.

(15) Surrounded on all sides by enemies and standing face to face with a counterrevolution, supported by foreign mercenaries, the Soviet Republic will establish a strong army to protect the authority of the workers and peasants until such time as the European and world’s working-classes, rising in revolt, inflict a mortal blow to militarism and bring about conditions for the peaceful and fraternal co-operation of all nations.

Source: Daily Review of the Foreign Press, Neutral Press Supplement. (September 13, 1918), pp. 396-398.

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