Tony Cliff

Trotsky: The Sword of the Revolution 1917-1923

4. The structure of the Red Army

THE BOLSHEVIKS needed to build an army from scratch. In February 1917 the Tsarist army had had nine million soldiers under arms. Mass desertions followed the February revolution, and accelerated after October. By the end of November General Posokhov, chief of staff of the Twelfth Army, stated that ‘the army just does not exist.’ [1] Looking back on 10 July 1918, Trotsky wrote:

The old army ... shared the fate of the old Russia in general. If the revolt of the peasants against the landlords, of the workers against the capitalists, of the whole people against the old reign of the bureaucracy and against the Tsar himself signified the break-up of the old Russia, then the break-up of the army was predetermined precisely by this. [2]

The Bolsheviks inherited little from the old army. An official history of the civil war estimated that only some 30,000 or 50,000 of the soldiers ‘remained under the banner of the revolution’. Among them were the Latvian Rifle Regiments, the Fourth Cavalry Division, some armoured car detachments and some of the army units in the Far East. [3]

In addition there was the Red Guard – the armed workers’ militia. At the time of the October revolution the number of Red Guards was estimated at 20,000 in Petrograd, many of them without arms, and fewer than 10,000 in Moscow. [4]

Any attempt to carry out conscription in the first months of the revolution would have failed. The country was sick of war, and the main appeal of Bolshevism had been its search for peace. The first step in the building of the Red Army was therefore the recruitment of volunteers.

On 18 January 1918 a decree signed by Lenin brought the Red Army into formal existence. The new army was called ‘The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army’:

1) The Workers’ and Peasants’ Army is built up from the more conscious and organised elements of the working people.

2) Access to its ranks is open to all citizens of the Russian Republic who have attained the age of 18. Everyone who is prepared to devote his forces, his life, to the defence of the gains of the October revolution, the power of the soviets, and socialism can join the Red Army. Joining the ranks of the Red Army requires characterists [sic] from army committees or democratic public organisations standing on the platform of the Soviet power, party or trade union organisation, or at least two members of these organisations. [5]

Trotsky did not make a virtue out of the voluntary principle. It was a practical necessity:

Volunteering is the only possible means of forming units with any degree of combat readiness under conditions in which the old army has broken down catastrophically along with all the organs for its formation and administration. [6]

Unfortunately an army of millions could not be built on the voluntary principle – but after the proletarian core of the army had been firmly established in this way, Trotsky could think of starting to conscript the mass of workers and peasants.

The election of officers

Hand in hand with voluntary recruitment into the Red Army went the principle of the democratic election of officers by the soldiers. As early as April 1917 Lenin had posed the question: Should officers be elected by the soldiers?’ He answered unequivocally: ‘Not only must they be elected, but every step of every officer and general must be supervised by persons especially elected for the purpose by the soldiers.’ Then he asked: ‘Is it desirable for the soldiers, on their own decision, to displace their superiors?’ And answered: ‘It is desirable and essential in every way. The soldiers will obey and respect only elected authority.’ [7]

The Soviet government followed this general line. Thus on 16 (29) December 1917, Sovnarkom issued a decree stating:

All power in the units and their formations is vested in the respective soldiers’ committee and soviets ...

Election of command personnel and officials is hereby introduced. Commanders up to regimental level are elected at general meetings of their squads, platoons, companies, teams, squadrons, batteries, battalions and regiments. Commanders of higher than regimental level, up to the supreme commander-in-chief, are elected by congresses or conferences convened by the respective committees…

Commanders of armies are elected by army congresses. Front commanders are elected by congresses of fronts ...

Chiefs of staff are elected by congresses from among persons with special training. [8]

The move to conscription

In its early days the Red Army of volunteers was hardly distinguishable from the detachments of the Red Guards. One historian described the Red Guards thus: ‘Fundamental to the Red Guards in 1917 were several features: their volunteering, self-formed and self-directed nature; their intensely local, usually factory, orientation, their hostile attitude toward established political authority; and their volatile and crisis-orientated membership.’ [9] The Red Guards were effective only against Russian anti-soviet forces, which were equally weak in organisation and discipline and at the time less numerous and well-armed. Against a regular army such as the Germans in the Ukraine or the Czechs in Siberia and on the Volga they were helpless.

The number of volunteers to join the Red Army was also insufficient. By April 1918 the Red Army numbered nearly 200,000 men, drawn practically only from the urban proletariat. [10]

On 22 April 1918, at the all-Russian central executive committee of the soviets, Trotsky moved a Decree on Compulsory Military Training. This established compulsory military training for all workers and for peasants who did not employ hired labour. The training was to be for twelve hours a week for eight weeks a year. [11] A month later, on 29 May, the central executive committee decreed the first step towards compulsory service in the Red Army in the Moscow, Petrograd, and the Don and Kuban areas. [12] Then on 12 June Sovnarkom decreed the mobilisation of the workers and poor peasants in the Pri-Volga, Urals and Siberian military districts, those immediately threatened by armed anti-Bolsheviks. [13]

By July the size of the Red Army had grown to 725,383. [14] Only when the proletarian corps of the army had been established was the mass conscription of poor and middle peasants begun. Thus by the end of 1919 the Red Army was three million strong. [15]

With the mass conscription of peasants into the Red Army, an element of instability was introduced. The peasants were far less reliable than the workers, and had a far more ambivalent attitude to Soviet power. They supported the Bolsheviks who gave them the land, but opposed the Communists who requisitioned their grain – sometimes not realising they were one and the same. While welcoming the protection the Bolsheviks gave them against the threat that the landlords might return in the wake of the White armies, they resisted the food requisitions and conscription into the Red Army. This is Trotsky’s graphic description of the changing mood of the peasants during the civil war:

The mood of the peasantry vacillated unceasingly. Entire regiments composed of peasants ... surrendered in the first period, sometimes without putting up a fight, and then later, when the Whites had enrolled them under their flag, crossed over to our side again. Sometimes the peasant masses tried to show their independence and abandoned both Whites and Reds, going off into the forests to form their ‘Green’ units. But the scattered nature and political helplessness of these units foredoomed them to defeat. Thus, at the fronts of the civil war the relation between the basic class forces of the revolution found expression more vividly than anywhere else: the peasant masses, for whose allegiance the landlord, bourgeois, intellectual, counter-revolution contended with the working class, constantly wavered from this side to that; but in the end it gave its support to the working class ... In this social fact is rooted the final cause of our victories. [16]

Mass desertions

The vacillation of the peasantry led to mass desertions from the Red Army. A Soviet historian of the civil war, F. Nikonov, refers to desertions from military trains reaching between 25 and 30 per cent of the total numbers, and in some exceptional instances soaring up to even 50 or 70 per cent. He states that as a rule reinforcements reached the front at about two-thirds of the strength they had when they set off. [17] In February 1919 the Red Army numbered about a million; by January 1920 this had risen to three million. In the intervening year there were no fewer than 2,846,000 deserters - 90 per cent of them men who simply failed to comply with their call-up orders. [18] Of these, 1,753,000 were brought back to duty. [19]

Desertion had been widespread in other revolutionary armies made up of peasants. Thus a historian writes of the army of the French Revolution that ‘... battalions in the army of the Ardennes were melting away. In one of them, five out of six recruits had disappeared ...’ [20] Again, not all army units ‘were equally affected, but those who were far from home sometimes saw one-third of their men disappear.’ [21]

Trotsky took steps against desertion as early as 7 October 1918, when he issued an order declaring:

1) It is the duty of rural soviets and Committees of the Poor to arrest deserters and bring them under secure guard to the headquarters of divisions or regiments.

If unapprehended deserters are discovered in any village, responsibility for this will be placed upon the chairman of the soviet and the chairman of the Committee of the Poor, who will be subject to immediate arrest.

Any deserter who immediately presents himself at the headquarters of a division or regiment and declares: ‘I am a deserter, but I swear that in future I will fight with honour’ is to be pardoned and allowed to perform the high duties of a warrior of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army.

A deserter who offers resistance to arrest is to be shot on the spot. [22]

As potential military material, deserters were not inferior to other soldiers. On 24 February 1919 Trotsky declared:

Give me 3,000 deserters, taken from wherever you like, and call them a regiment. I will give them a good, honest regimental commissar, a fighting commissar, give them the right battalion, company and platoon commanders – and I affirm that within four weeks those 3,000 deserters will provide our revolutionary country with a splendid regiment. And that is not a hope, not a programme, not an idea, it has all been tested by experience ... [23]

In his autobiography Trotsky describes a meeting with deserters:

The war commissariat of Riazan succeeded in gathering in some 15,000 of such deserters. While passing through Riazan, I decided to take a look at them. Some of our men tried to dissuade me. Something might happen,’ they warned me. But everything went off beautifully. The men were called out of their barracks. ‘Comrade deserters – come to the meeting. Comrade Trotsky has come to speak to you.’ They ran out excited, boisterous, as curious as schoolboys. I had imagined them much worse, and they had imagined me as more terrible. In a few minutes, I was surrounded by a huge crowd of unbridled, utterly undisciplined, but not at all hostile men. The ‘comrade deserters’ were looking at me with such curiosity that it seemed as if their eyes would pop out of their heads. I climbed on a table there in the yard, and spoke to them for about an hour and a half. It was a most responsive audience. I tried to raise them in their own eyes; concluding, I asked them to lift their hands in token of their loyalty to the revolution. The new ideas infected them before my very eyes. They were genuinely enthusiastic; they followed me to the automobile, devoured me with their eyes, not fearfully as before, but rapturously, and shouted at the tops of their voices. They would hardly let me go. I learned afterwards, with some pride, that one of the best ways to educate them was to remind them: ‘What did you promise Comrade Trotsky?’ Later on, regiments of Riazan ‘deserters’ fought well at the fronts. [24]

The role of workers and Communists

The stability and combat efficiency of the Red Army depended above all on its proletarian core. Trotsky wrote:

Our army is made up of workers and peasants ... in our workers’ and peasants’ army it is the workers who hold the position of leadership, as they do throughout the Soviet land in all spheres of life and work. This is given them by their greater consciousness, their greater unity, their higher degree of revolutionary tempering. [25]

An article analysing the percentage of workers in the Red Army in 1920 stated:

In the divisions that had distinguished themselves in action, the percentage of workers ranged from 26.4 (Eighth Red Cavalry Division) to 19.6 (28th Rifle Division). In Budenny’s famous First Cavalry Army the percentage of workers was 21.7. On the other hand, in the Ninth Rifle Division, regarded as one of low combat value, the workers were only 10.5 per cent of the total number. In penal detachments, workers were 9.7 per cent of the total, in the detachments from apprehended deserters, 3.8 per cent. For the Red Army as a whole the percentage of workers at the time was 14.9; in the field units at the front it amounted to 16.5, while in the rear it fell to 11-13. [26]

Communist Party members were particularly crucial in giving backbone to Red Army units, in encouraging, inspiring, and steeling the mass of the soldiers. Thus in a speech on 2 September 1918 to the all-Russian central executive committee, Trotsky said:

Every train that brought to us at the front ten, fifteen, or twenty Communists ... was as precious to us as a train that brought a good regiment or a plentiful quantity of guns. [27]

The role of the Communists in the Red Army was clearly formulated by an order of 9 May 1920 to the commissar and commanding personnel of the western front:

In each platoon, section and squad, there must be a Communist (who may even be only a young one, provided he is devoted to the cause) who will keep an eye on the morale of those fellow-fighters nearest to him, explain to them the tasks and aims of the war ... Without such internal, unofficial, day-by-day and hour-by-hour agitation, carried on cheek-by-jowl under all conditions of the combat situation, official agitation alone, effected through articles and speeches, will not bring the necessary results.

The conduct of Communists in the Red Army has decisive significance for the morale and the combat capacity of units. It is therefore necessary to distribute Communists correctly, to guide them attentively, and to keep careful check on their work. [28]

On 13 October 1919, Trotsky wrote about the role of Communist Party organisation in steeling the Red Army:

Every fresh danger at the front causes an influx of Communists into the active units. There has never been a failure to answer the call of the central committee. On the contrary, local party organisations have met their obligations twice and thrice over, and the places of those party members who have fallen are being filled by young proletarians who, in the atmosphere of party organisation, soon acquire the revolutionary tempering they need. Petrograd remains a model in this respect. [29]

Communists fought to the bitter end. They were fanatically devoted to the cause. They knew that if they fell into the hands of the Whites and were recognised as party members, death was inevitable, so they fought with desperate courage and instilled their spirit into the mass of the soldiers. Trotsky compared the Communists with the order of the Samurai in Japan:

We once heard with interest of the Japanese caste of Samurai, who never hesitate to die for the sake of collective, national interests, the interests of the community as a whole. I must say that in our commissars, our leading Communist fighters, we have obtained a new, Communist order of Samurai who – without benefit of caste privileges – are able to die and to teach others to die, for the cause of the working class. [30]

There is abundant evidence of the leading and heroic role of Communist soldiers in the front line of the army. One historian cites instances during the Iudenich advance on Petrograd when the front lines were held by Communists alone. He quotes one of the commanders of divisions defending the city: ‘Comrade Communists go to their death in the same way as they went to the factory to fulfil an important and difficult task – without any excitement or heroics.’ [31]

The military historian F. Nikonov suggests that during the civil war the units of the Red Army were classified with respect to their combat efficiency in accordance with the percentage of Communists within their ranks. He estimates that those with less than 4 or 5 per cent Communists amongst their personnel were regarded as ineffective. Detachments with 6 to 8 per cent were looked upon as satisfactory, with an average combat efficacy. Units with 12 to 15 per cent of Communists were considered shock troops. [32]

The Communists had special duties but not special rights, as Trotsky explains in an order of 11 December 1918 entitled The Role of Communists in the Red Army:

The Communist soldier has the same rights as any other soldier, and not a hair’s-breadth more: he only has incomparably more duties. The Communist soldier must be an exemplary warrior, he must always be in the forefront of the battle, he must try to lead others to the places of greatest danger, he must be a model of discipline, conscientiousness and courage ... Only such a model soldier has the right to the name of Communist: otherwise he is a wretched pretender who must be called to account with two-fold severity. [33]

Communists who offended were to be punished much more severely than non-Communists. Thus an order issued by Trotsky on 8 August 1919 states:

Communists found guilty of offences and crimes against revolutionary military duty will be punished twice as severely as non-Communists, because what may be forgiven to an ignorant, unconscious person cannot be excused in the case of a member of the party that stands at the head of the working class of the whole world. [34]

On 1 October 1919 the total number of Communists in the Red Army was 180,000. It was estimated that during the civil war some 200,000 Communists perished at the front. By the end of the civil war the number of Communists in the army was 280,000, grouped in 7,000 cells. [35] Half of all party members were serving in the Red Army at the time.

The use of former Tsarist officers

With the predominance of peasants in the Red Army, with their inherent vacillation and instability, with the combination of conscription and desertion, the early method of electing officers could not survive. As Trotsky explained:

Election of commanders by the units themselves – which were politically ill-educated, being composed of recently mobilised young peasants – would inevitably have been transformed into a game of chance ... the revolutionary army, as an army for action ... was incompatible with a regime of elected committees, which in fact could not but destroy all centralised control, by allowing each unit to decide for itself whether it would agree to advance, or to remain on the defensive. [36]

The election of officers was especially incompatible with the employment of former Tsarist officers, which became the rule. Speaking to the Moscow soviet on 19 March 1918, a few days after his appointment as commissar for war, Trotsky stated the imperative need to call up the regular Tsarist officers and entrust them with responsible posts. They were called now ‘Military Specialists’.

The tasks of Soviet democracy do not in the least consist in casting aside technical resources which can be usefully applied to ensure the success of its historical work ...

It would be stupid to reject the use of former Tsarist officers. Casting them aside

would be just the same as if we were to say that all the machines that hitherto served to exploit the workers were now to be scrapped. That would be madness. Enlisting the scientific specialists is for us just as essential as taking over all the means of production and transport and all the wealth of the country generally. [37]

After the end of the civil war, looking back, Trotsky explained the crucial role of former Tsarist officers:

We needed them as representatives of their craft, as men who were familiar with military routine, and without whom we should have to start from scratch. Our foes would, in that case, hardly permit us to pursue our self-training until it had reached the required level. [38]

Trotsky referred to the experience of the French Revolution in support for the use of former Tsarist officers:

the army of the Great French Revolution ... was formed by way of an ‘amalgam’, as they said in those days, of the old royal battalions of the line with the new volunteer battalions. [39]

The experience of the American Civil War was similar, he argued. [40]

The overwhelming majority of commanders in the Red Army were former Tsarist officers. During the period of civil war 48,409 former Tsarist officers were taken into the Red Army, and 10,339 into the military-administrative staff; 13,949 army doctors and 26,767 lower medical and veterinary personnel were taken over from the Tsarist army. In addition 214,717 former non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were recruited from the Tsar’s army. This makes 314,181 altogether. [41]

Included among the former Tsarist officers were a considerable number who saw service in the White armies before joining the Red Army: in 1921 a total of 14,390 former White Army officers were found in the Red Army. [42]

Compared with the number of former Tsarist officers, the number of graduates of the command courses run by the Red Army itself was small. During the civil war years, only 39,914 graduated from command courses. [43] Of these, 26,585 graduated in 1920, so that during the height of the civil war in 1918-19 only about 13,000 graduates of these schools were appointed to command positions. [44]

The young Red Commanders, as they were known, often served under the old former Tsarist officers upon promotion to their respective army units. In December 1921 Trotsky stated that ‘Red Commanders who had passed through Soviet Military Colleges make up about 10 per cent of the total’. In addition ‘former NCOs account for 13 per cent of our commanders’. [45] Commanders who were not members of the Communist Party amounted to a full 95 per cent of all officers in the Red Army. [46]

To ensure the loyalty of the former Tsarist officers, Trotsky used an adroit mixture of cajolery and pressure. On 29 July 1918, he announced that former officers who refused to serve would be placed in concentration camps. On 30 September he issued an order to use the hostage system to prevent the officers from betraying the Red Army. He knew that even the threat of capital punishment could not act as a deterrent to officers at the front, so he ordered that a register of officers’ families be kept, so that a would-be traitor would know that if he went over to the enemy his wife and children would stay behind as hostages. [47] The hostage system was a harsh measure, but Trotsky knew that without it the revolution would be defeated, and the White terror would far surpass the hostage system in cruelty.

Tensions between former Tsarist officers and the rank and file of the Red Army

Trotsky again and again refers to the antagonism displayed toward the former Tsarist officers by the soldiers, and he was not ready to pander to the ‘plebeian hatred’ of the military specialists. Trotsky was right that there was a need for the proletarian government to utilise the inheritance from capitalism both in the form of machines and personnel – technicians and army officers. The analogy between the two legacies should not, however, be pushed too far. The use of live human beings was bound to raise far more social and psychological strains than the use of dead machinery in the factories or railroads.

Trotsky was right that without the tens of thousands of former Tsarist officers who were persuaded or forced to serve the Red Army, victory in the civil war would have been impossible. Still, cases of treason by former Tsarist officers were frequent; and they were more frequent the worse the military situation of the Red Army looked. Commanders of regiments, divisions, and even armies went over to the Whites, sometimes followed by the troops. Each case strengthened the opposition in the army and party to the employment of the former Tsarist officers.

However Trotsky warned against drawing the wrong conclusions from the betrayal by some officers:

In recent weeks there have been a few cases of betrayal among the military specialists ...

As a result of the treason of a few scoundrels, distrust of military specialists in general has been intensified. There have been some clashes between commissars and military leaders. In some cases known to me, commissars have shown a clearly unjust attitude toward military specialists, lumping honourable men together with traitors. In other cases commissars have sought to concentrate in their own hands the functions of command and operations, not confining themselves to political leadership and supervision. Such action is fraught with danger, for the confusing of powers and duties kills the sense of responsibility.

I urgently call upon the comrade commissars not to surrender to the impressions of the moment and not to lump together the innocent and the guilty. [48]

Haughty behaviour on the part of military specialists was common. Many former Tsarist officers behaved extremely badly towards the rank and file, and abused their rank to draw unjustified privileges. Trotsky referred to the use of physical force by officers against rank-and-file soldiers:

I have received letters to the effect that in some units the practice of striking soldiers in the face is even flourishing. Even some Communists have told me frankly: ‘I hit him in the teeth with the butt of my revolver’. It is one thing to shoot a man in battle, under fire, for some offence, but if a Red Army man knows that he may be struck in the teeth, that is such loss of moral dignity, such foulness, that it must be eradicated at all costs. Respect for the personality of the Red Army man must be ensured. [49]

One other element in officers’ behaviour was their frequent verbal rudeness. An example of this concerned the use of the words ‘ty’ and ‘vy’ in the Red Army. Russian, like many languages, and like English in earlier times, has two forms for the second person singular – ‘ty’ (thou) which is familiar, and ‘vy’ (you) which is respectful and polite. It was common for an officer to talk to soldiers using ‘ty’, while expecting to be addressed in reply ‘vy’. On 18 July 1922 Trotsky wrote an article in Izvestia:

In the Red Army a commander may not use the familiar form when addressing a subordinate if the latter is expected to respond in the polite form. Otherwise an expression of inequality between persons would result, not an expression of subordination in the line of duty.

To some this may seem a trifling matter. It is not! A Red Army man must respect both himself and others. Respect for human dignity is an extremely important factor in what holds the Red Army together morally. The Red Army soldier submits to his superiors in the line of duty. The requirements of discipline are inflexible. But, at the same time, the soldier feels and knows that he is a conscious citizen, called upon to fulfil obligations of high responsibility. Military subordination must be accompanied by civic and moral equality, which does not allow the violation of personal dignity. [50]

Some inequality is inevitable, Trotsky argues, but sometimes it is completely unjustified. A letter to the revolutionary war councils of the fronts and the armies, and to all responsible workers in the Red Army and the Red Navy on 31 October 1920, entitled More Equality, attacked the abuse of privileges:

When the motor car is used for merry outings, before the eyes of the tired Red Army soldiers, or when commanders dress with flashy foppishness, while their men go half-naked, such facts cannot but provoke exasperation and murmuring among the Red Army soldiers.

There was the question of privileges in army leave:

It is no secret to anyone, and least of all to the Red Army men, that commanders and commissars often get leave under the guise of official missions. For example, the deputy head of the divisional ordnance depot receives a visit from his wife, which itself is contrary to regulations, and then is sent on a seven-day official mission so that he can see her home. Yet among the Red Army soldiers of the depot guard, there are men who have not seen their families for three years.

Then there were evening parties with drink, with women present, and so on and so forth:

Phenomena of this sort are by no means exceptional. Every Red Army man knows about them. They talk a lot in the units – often of course with exaggerations – about the feasting and boozing that goes on ‘at headquarters’. When setbacks occur, the mass of Red Army men frequently – with or without good grounds – see the reasons for them in the excessively gay life led by the commanders. [51]

The commissars

The various elements involved in the Red Army – workers and peasants, Communists and former Tsarist officers – were not only heterogeneous, but often antagonistic to one another. Some of the officers commanding the workers and peasants were the same hated officers who a few months earlier had imposed the will of the Tsar or the Provisional Government on the rank-and-file soldiers. These officers were the scions of landlords, against whom the peasants had rebelled and whose land they had expropriated.

Again the soldiers, above all the peasant conscripts, did not show any great readiness to accept central discipline. Their loyalties tended to be local and their preferred tactics those of guerrilla warfare. To transform all the heterogeneous elements that made up the Red Army into a coherent body, to prevent rebellions, treason and mass desertion, a new institution was needed. So Trotsky turned to the idea of commissars.

Commissars were not new. The armies of the French Revolution had had them, and the form of commissar or political officer had been introduced into other armies since then. Kerensky had appointed commissars to be his agents in the army; they had been attached only to the highest commands, and their function had been insubstantial. Trotsky attached a commissar to every officer from the level of company command to the top military post, and defined his function in substantial terms. On 6 April 1918 an order by Trotsky specified the commissar’s tasks:

The military commissar is the direct political organ of the Soviet power in the army. His post is one of exceptional importance. Commissars are appointed from among irreproachable revolutionaries, capable of remaining, under the most difficult circumstances, the embodiment of revolutionary duty ... The military commissar must see to it that the army does not become dissociated from the Soviet system as a whole, and that particular military institutions do not become centres of conspiracy or instruments to be used against the workers and peasants. The commissar takes part in all the work of the military leaders, receives reports and dispatches along with them, and counter-signs orders. War councils will give effect only to such orders as have been signed not only by the military leaders, but also by at least one commissar. All work is to be done with the cognisance of the commissar, but leadership in the specifically military sphere is the task not of the commissar but the military specialist working shoulder to shoulder with him.

The commissar is not responsible for the expediency of purely military, operational, combat orders. Responsibility for them rests entirely with the military leader. The commissar’s signature on an operational order means that the commissar vouches for this order as having been motivated by operational and not by any other (counter-revolutionary) considerations ... The only operational order that may be held up is one regarding which the commissar has held a well- grounded opinion that it was inspired by counter- revolutionary motives ... Responsibility for seeing to the precise fulfilment of orders rests with the commissar, and all the authority and resources of the Soviet power are at his disposal for this purpose. [52]

The theses written by Trotsky and adopted by the Eighth Congress of the party in March 1919, titled Our Policy in Creating the Army, state:

The commissars in the army are not only the direct and immediate representatives of the Soviet power, but also, and above all, the bearers of the spirit of our party, its discipline, its firmness and courage in the struggle to achieve the aims laid down. [53]

The final sacrifice was expected from the commissars: ‘He who assumes the title of commissar must lay his life on the line!’ [54]


1. K. Muratov, Revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie v russkoi armii v 1917 (Moscow 1958), page 313.

2. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 413. 38. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 10.

3. A.S. Bubnov, S.S. Kamenev and R.P. Eideman (editors), Grazhdanskaia voina 1918-1921 (Moscow 1928) (hereafter referred to as Bubnov), volume 2, page 50.

4. E. Eriaklov, Krasnaia Gvardiia v borbe za vlast sovetov (Moscow 1937), page 39.

5. Y. Akhapkin (editor), First Decrees of Soviet Power (London 1970), page 86.

6. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 245.

7. Lenin, Works, volume 24, pages 100-1.

8. Akhapkin, pages 67-8.

9. R. Wade, Red Guards and Workers’ Militias in the Russian Revolution (Stanford 1984), page 311.

10. Direktivy komandovaniia frontov Krasnoi Armii (1917-1927), volume 4 (Moscow 1978), page 20.

11. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, pages 157-9.

12. Akhapkin, page 137.

13. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 564.

14. Trotsky, My Life, page 437.

15. Direktivy komandovaniia frontov Krasnoi Armii (1917-1927), volume 4, page 112.

16. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 115.

17. Bubnov, volume 2, page 85.

18. Bubnov, volume 2, page 83

19. Bubnov, volume 2, page 87

20. M. Bouloiseau, The Jacobin Republic, 1792-1794 (Cambridge 1987), page 128.

21. Bouloiseau, page 136.

22. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 476.

23. Trotsky, HRA, volume 2, page 39.

24. Trotsky, My Life, pages 411-12.

25. Trotsky, HRA, volume 3, page 6.

26. Quoted in D.N. Fedotoff-White, Growth of the Red Army (Princeton 1944), page 105.

27. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 442.

28. Trotsky, HRA, volume 3, pages 173-4.

29. Trotsky, HRA, volume 2, pages 155-6.

30. Trotsky, HRA, volume 3, page 10

31. G.S. Pukhov, Kak vooruzhalatsia Petrograd (Moscow 1933), page 113.

32. Bubnov, volume 2, pages 67-8.

33. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 242.

34. Trotsky, HRA, volume 2, page 368.

35. Bubnov, volume 2, page 126.

36. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 8.

37. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, pages 23 and 38.

38. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 10.

39. Trotsky, HRA, volume 3, page 11.

40. Trotsky, HRA, volume 3, pages 12-13.

41. Bubnov, volume 2, page 95.

42. Bubnov, volume 2, page 97.

43. Bubnov, volume 2, page 96.

44. Bubnov, volume 2, page 96.

45. Trotsky, HRA, volume 4, page 390.

46. F. Benvenuti, The Bolsheviks and the Red Army, 1918-1922 (Cambridge 1988), page 209.

47. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 196.

48. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 183.

49. Trotsky, HRA, volume 2, page 113.

50. Trotsky, HRA, volume 4, pages 194-5.

51. Trotsky, HRA, volume 2, pages 116-8.

52. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, pages 557-8.

53. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 249.

54. Trotsky, HRA, volume 1, page 298.

Last updated on 31 July 2009