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The Communist Order of Samurai: Leon Trotsky and the Red Army

 

 

Leon Trotsky addresses soldiers of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War

 



By Doug Enaa Greene

 



Dedicated to my friend, Sam Miller.

 


May 17, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Marxist historian Victor Serge described Trotsky's task in organizing the Red Army as its enemies threatened the embattled Soviet Republic as follows:

 

The principal organizer of the October Revolution now has the task of organizing the defence of the Soviet Republic. He goes to war, forges the blade, carries the responsibility on all fronts. He incarnates, in its keenest expression, the revolution’s will to survive.[1]

 

In 1918, Trotsky was given the job of creating a Red Army to fight off its enemies from within and without. Organizing an effective army in a society shattered and exhausted by war would have been a monumental task for even the most experienced general. Yet Trotsky, who possessed no military training, forged a well-organized, centralized, disciplined and effective fighting army of 5.5 million people by 1920 that was fired by revolutionary zeal and triumphed in the Civil War.

 



Although Trotsky was undoubtedly the organizer of the Soviet Republic's victory on the battlefield, he was very much a transitional figure in the development of communist military practice. Nearly all subsequent revolutions, such as those in China, Cuba and Vietnam, would come to power via some form of guerrilla warfare (a possibility which Trotsky did not seriously consider). Trotsky's conception of a revolutionary army was a traditional fighting force with a centralized command, staffed with officers from the old regime (the so-called military specialists) who would in turn be supervised by commissars appointed by the party to ensure that they remained loyal and to provide political education to the rank and file soldiers. Trotsky was also willing to justify terror against enemies of the Soviet Republic as necessary result of revolutionary warfare. Trotsky's vision of revolutionary warfare was very eclectic with a mixture of aspects of old and the new. However, Trotsky never denied that the Red Army was fired by revolutionary zeal and the firm faith that its soldiers were fighting for a new social order. No doubt, it was this moral factor, which ensured the Red Army's victory against the internal and external counterrevolution.

 



I. Counterrevolution at the gates

 



By the Spring of 1918, the Soviet Republic had concluded a draconian peace with Imperial Germany, giving up the Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states in the process. The loss of these territories to Germany deprived the young Soviet state of 60 million inhabitants, two million square kilometers and a third of its available farmland. According to W. Bruce Lincoln, in March 1918, the Soviets possessed “only a seventh of the former Russian Empire's sugar beet fields, a quarter of its coal mines, iron foundries, and steel mills, and less than three-fifths of its population.”[2] On top of this, the Soviet economy was faced with a breakdown in production caused by sabotage from the capitalist owners of industry, seizures of factories by the working class, and the need to feed starving cities from a peasantry reluctant to give up their grain for little in return. By mid-1919, Soviet control in Russia would be reduced to an area roughly the size of sixteenth century Muscovy.

 



In the Summer of 1918, civil war, which had previously been sporadic across Russia, broke out in full force. So-called White Armies under Tsarist generals such as Denikin, Kolchack, Wrangel and Yudenich raised formidable forces from the east, northeast and the south with the avowed aim of restoring the old regime. In areas that the White Armies occupied, no quarter was given to Bolsheviks or their supporters, land was restored to the old gentry and anti-Semitic pogroms were unleashed. Anarchist guerrillas led by Makhno also threatened Bolshevik power in the Ukraine. Lastly, the Allied imperialist powers such as the United States, Britain, France, and Japan not only supported the White Armies with arms, money and recognition, but landed their own troops on Russian soil.

 



In the face of counterrevolution and the urgent need for defense, the Soviets had to raise their own army. However, the old Russian army had collapsed in the wake of the war and revolution. The Bolshevik Party had played no small role in undermining the repressive apparatus of their enemies. However, the breakdown of the army continued unabated after the Bolshevik seizure of power. As Trotsky admitted: “Our party deliberately set out to break up the old Tsarist Army. But the whole course of the war itself led to the complete disintegration of the ranks of the old army. Even without the work of our party, the army would have broken up into its component parts all the same.”[3] While some units of the Tsarist army did make common cause with the proletariat, this still meant that the Bolsheviks had to construct an army from scratch as the civil war began in earnest.

 



Initially, the only forces at the disposal of the Bolsheviks were the Red Guards – an armed militia of workers who had played a pivotal role in the revolution. The Red Guards were committed to the defense of revolutionary gains and the disarmament of the capitalists. Any attempt by the Provisional Government to disarm the Red Guard was fiercely resisted and only served to further radicalize them. Shortly after the Kornilov coup in August 1917, the Red Guard in Petrograd (shortly to pass under Bolshevik leadership) consisted of 25,000 workers with a formal military structure, although its officers were elected. Yet the Red Guard had serious deficiencies, according to military historian Erich Wollenberg:

 

The fighting value of the various Red Guard formations was by no means uniform, as it depended on the strength of their Bolshevist cadres, the extent to which they were permeated with experienced soldiers from the front, and the personal and military qualities of the men they elected as leaders.[4]

 

Wollenberg adds that its democratic structure inhibited the capacity of the Red Guard as a military force since they elected officers “based on the soundness of their political views...this often led to currying favor and to demagogic tricks and intrigues.”[5] Even though Red Guards were more than adequate to bring down the old regime, they were found lacking in the face of regular White Army troops. Yet the future Red Army would be built up around Red Guard divisions.

 



Alongside the Red Guard, there were also revolutionary guerrilla bands across the vast expanse of Russia. According to Wollenberg, the character of guerrilla war was dictated by Russia's

 

immense size...scanty population, the defective system of transport and communication...the lack of reliable contact with the capital; the extraordinary diversity of social structure, culture, density of the population and national composition in the peasantry, and finally the diverse [topographical] nature of the country...[6]

 

The guerrillas were composed largely of armed peasants. Some of these guerrilla units such as Makhno's forces in the Ukraine assumed a truly mass character. Guerrilla movements also emerged in Siberia, who worked closely with workers in the towns, harassed Kolchak's troops and the Japanese. However, guerrilla troops such as those of Makhno also practiced banditry, provided a refuge for deserters and engaged in “plundering operations in order to procure the supplies they needed, thus contributing largely to the general disorganization and prejudice against the political guerrilla movement.”[7] For Trotsky, it was imperative for guerrilla organizations to be integrated and subordinated to the overall command of the Red Army. The integration of guerrilla units into the Red Army was plagued with resistance from the guerrillas and political conflict within the Party's 'Military Opposition' (discussed below).

 



II. Defending the Republic

 



When Trotsky was assigned the post of Commissar of War on February 23 1918, he had before him an immense task of organizing a new Red Army. Trotsky did not make light of the situation confronting the embattled Soviet Republic:

 

The difficulties confronting us can be divided into two categories -- those which are objective in character and those which are subjective. The difficulties which are objective in character are founded in external conditions. They consist in the mere fact of universal ruin, of our system of communication having broken down. Our railway carriages have been stripped and smashed up. A very large percentage of our locomotives are out of action, while those that are in good shape are not moving along the rails as they should (the war has thrown everything into disorder). Our factories and works are disorganized, owing, first, to the mobilization and then to the partial, extremely incomplete demobilization. We suffer from very great difficulties in the sphere of food supplies - partly because we have been impoverished generally, and partly because all means of transport, accounting and control have broken down. These are the difficulties, colossal in their depth, which lie before us, and which we have to overcome at any cost. If we do not overcome them, the country will be wrecked in the very near future, for there is no-one to take our place.[8]

 


In surveying the desperate situation, Trotsky believed that it was necessary for the Soviet Republic to devote everything to the needs of defense and transform the country into an

 

armed camp, and all our resources, all our forces, everything the country possesses, and the personal possessions of each individual citizen and citizeness, must be devoted directly to the defense of the Soviet Republic. We have to mobilize people, soldiers, to mobilize the spirit and the ideological forces of the country, and this mobilization must assume an intense, heroic character, so that...while we live, we will surrender to no-one, that we shall fight to the last drop of blood.[9]

 


Trotsky believed that the Soviets could not rely upon a guerrilla or irregular force (although he believed that such units could play a subsidiary role in military operations), but needed a centralized army with a clear chain of command, discipline, and properly organized. However, Trotsky argued that the Russian working class was hampered by the fact that it was an oppressed and undereducated class, who did not possess the appropriate military knowledge needed for the desperate situation at hand. As he put it:

 

It is the misfortune of the working class that it has always occupied the position of an oppressed class. This misfortune is expressed in the level of its education and in the fact that it has never acquired those habits of rule which are possessed by a ruling class, and which such a class passes on from generation to generation, through its schools, universities and soon. None of that is possessed by the working class, it has it all to acquire. Having come to power, the working class had to examine critically the old state apparatus of class oppression. But it must, at the same time, extract from this apparatus all the valuable skilled elements which are technically needed by it, must set them in their appropriate places, and must bring these elements under pressure from its proletarian class might. This, comrades, is the task which now confronts us in all its magnitude.[10]

 


Here we see Trotsky the idealist revolutionary giving way to the needs of realism. Trotsky didn't believe that an effective and disciplined Red Army could be built quickly by raw recruits, but that military specialists (i.e. the old Tsarist officers) were needed to train the new army. He was willing to use parts of the old state apparatus since the republic was facing an emergency situation. Although many in the party had a preference for militia style units such as the Red Guard (reflected in the Military Opposition), Trotsky with the support of Lenin, brought 50,000 Tsarist officers into the Red Army by the end of the Civil War.[11]

 



Trotsky was second to none in his advocacy of the need for military specialists in the Red Army. He extolled the military apparatus and said that the task of the War Commissariat “consists in taking over the huge military apparatus of the past, disorganized and disordered, but powerful by virtue of the values which it contains, examining it, organizing it, and adapting it to the army which we now wish to form.”[12] The problem with taking over the old apparatus in such a way was that the old Tsarist army had rules, methods of discipline and other practices which were bourgeois and even feudal (which many soldiers had rebelled against before the Revolution). Yet many of these same practices returned to the Red Army. For instance, saluting was restored in the army and officers were granted various privileges.

 



The support for a more traditional military structure came out in Trotsky's opposition to the election of officers which had characterized the Red Guards. Trotsky argued against the election of officers as follows:

 

The whole significance of this consists in combating the old make-up of the officer corps and bringing the commanders under control. So long as power was in the hands of the enemy class and the commanders were an instrument in the hands of that class, we had to endeavor, by means of the principle of election, to break the class resistance of the commanding personnel. But now political power is in the hands of that same working class from whose ranks the Army is recruited. Given the present regime in the Army -- I say this here quite openly -- the principle of election is politically purposeless and technically inexpedient, and it has been, in practice, abolished by decree.[13]

 

While the election principle served a definite purpose in undermining the old army and bringing about the revolution, now that power had passed into the hands of the proletariat, it became an impediment to the development of a regular Red Army. This position provoked ire in many party members and former Red Guards.

 



A major argument against the enlistment of Tsarist officers was that they were not loyal to the revolution and would betray it on the battlefield at the first opportunity (which did often occur).[14] The party needed an effective instrument of control over a potentially disloyal officer corps. This instrument of control was found in the placement of communist commissars in Red Army units. Commissars served as the direct representative of the Soviet state in the army, working to “dissipate the natural mistrust felt by the Red soldiers towards the employment of former military specialists by enacting that every Tsarist officer should be accompanied by a commissar, who had to countersign every order given by the commanding officer before it became effective.”[15] However, the addition of commissars to the army created a problem in the army's structure since a clear chain of command often couldn't be drawn between the specialists and the commissars.

 



Trotsky dealt with this difficulty by laying out the commissar's role as follows: “If he does not interfere in military operations, it is only because he stands above the military leader, watches everything he does, checks on every step he takes.”[16] Yet the commissar could not interfere in the work of the military leadership and had to approve all orders, even those which they did not approve of (although they could appeal to higher authorities).

 



However, Trotsky said that the commissar had another task in the Red Army, perhaps even more important than overseeing the specialists. He saw the commissars as playing the role of heroic fighters, who would be the first to volunteer and the last to retreat, inspiring soldiers with their revolutionary zeal. Trotsky went so far as to compare the commissars to the samurai:

 

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.[17]

 


Although samurai conjured up images of an elite caste with special privileges, cut off from the masses, Trotsky saw the commissar as a different kind of an elite. The commissars not only inspired soldiers, but also educated them on the aims of the party, in order to make sure they understood exactly what they were fighting for: a new social order free of exploitation and oppression. And in order to effectively convey that message, the commissar was granted no special privileges and that communist party units in the army must be free of bad elements. As Trotsky said, “Respect for the Communist cells will be the higher and more unshakable the more clearly that every soldier understands, and is convinced by experience, that membership of a Communist cell gives a soldier no special rights, but only imposes upon him the duty to be the most self-sacrificing and courageous of fighters.”[18]

 



Despite the initial opposition in the party to a centralized military command and the use of Tsarist officers, ultimately the Red Army did prove itself victorious on the battlefield. No small part of this success was due to Trotsky's extraordinary organizational and military abilities in leading the Red Army through the inferno of war. Most of the specialists remained loyal to the republic, as did the soldiers they commanded. Some of the specialists, such as the military genius Mikhail Tukhachevsky, were even won to the communist cause during the course of the war. In Trotsky's eyes, a centralized Red Army, employing a traditional structure fired by revolutionary zeal was the only way to fight the battles on the far flung front lines of the Russian Civil War.

 

III. Guerrilla War

 



As mentioned above, at the beginning of the Civil War some of the only units available to the Red Army were partisan detachments. However, guerrilla warfare went against Trotsky's demand for a centralized army with a regular chain of command. According to Trotsky,

 

the chaos of irregular warfare expressed the peasant element that lay beneath the revolution, whereas the struggle against it was also a struggle in favor of the proletarian state organization's opposed to the elemental, petty-bourgeois anarchy that was undermining it. But the methods and ways of the irregular fighting found an echo in the ranks of the party, as well.[19]

 


Although the guerrilla fighters fought heroically, there was a definite limitation to their effectiveness in the conditions of the Russian Civil War. As historian John Ellis argued, although the peasant “was willing to defend tenaciously that plot of land, he saw little point in remaining under arms once the immediate danger had passed. He thus inclined to a mode of warfare that did not demand that he serve except for short periods of time and which did not take him far from his home.”[20] Although Trotsky initially supported the incorporation of partisan detachments in the army, this “proved unsatisfactory because it infected regular detachments with the 'guerrilla spirit’.”[21] Eventually, Trotsky moved to disband the partisan units and replace them with regular units.

 



Although one of Trotsky's arguments against guerrilla tactics was that they were ineffective, their actual record is mixed. Makhno's units during the civil war were quite effective in resisting the Germans in the Ukraine and later, both the Whites and the Reds. However, Makhno was an anarchist was opposed to Bolshevik centralization (even as he instituted his own such terror and a secret police force) and his dream of an independent anarchist Ukraine put him at odds with the Red Army. Makhno built a solid base of support among the peasantry and an armed force carrying between 20,000 to 50,000 people. He largely abandoned the cities, preferring to fight in the countryside where he had a solid base of support. The chief weakness of Makhno's guerrilla force, according to Arno Mayer was in “lacking an overall strategic military and political vision, he remained, above all, fatally isolated.”[22] By contrast, the Bolsheviks were in firm control of the urban industrial centers, possessed a clear political vision and an effective military.

 



Other guerrilla units in the Caucasus, Siberia and the Urals had more mixed results. In the case of guerrillas in the Caucasus, Trotsky believing that they demoralized Red Army troops and brought defeat in their wake.[23] In general, the Red Army operated with regular operations throughout the course of the Civil War.

 



Although Trotsky was an advocate for a centralized army, his overall view of guerrilla warfare in military operations was more nuanced. For example, Trotsky argued that in the first period of the civil war that guerrilla combat “was a necessary and adequate weapon...This kind of warfare demanded self-sacrifice, initiative and independence. But as the war grew in scope, it gradually came to need proper organization and discipline.”[24] Just as Trotsky recognized the positive role of guerrilla operations in the initial phase of an armed insurrection, he believed that guerrillas ultimately needed to be supplanted with a more centralized structure.

 



Trotsky's opposition to guerrillas (based on experience with Makhno and other units) came in part because they did not submit themselves to military discipline which caused

 

a lack of co-ordination in operations. Commanders exist who do not realize that an order is an order and must be obeyed unconditionally. There have been cases when a commander who does not want to carry out an operational order has put it to a meeting for discussion, and hidden behind that meeting. This evil must be burnt out with a red-hot iron. As citizens, soldiers may in their free time hold meetings on any subject. As soldiers, on service and at the front, they will carry out unquestioningly the military orders of the authority established by the workers' and peasants' government.[25]

 

As far as Trotsky was concerned, guerrilla units had a tendency to undermine a proper chain of command.

 



While Trotsky said that the Red Army was to be primarily based on traditional structures, he argued that well-organized guerrilla detachments could supplement it. Trotsky was categorical on the type of guerrillas he envisioned for this role:

 

To the question about whether we need guerrillas we must answer: yes, we do need guerrillas, they are necessary for our purpose – but only real guerrillas, really brave men, warriors without fear and without reproach, for whom nothing is impossible. In the last period of the civil war, detachments of such daredevils can, if backed by the weighty masses of the Red Army, play a very great role, paving the way for the army, speeding up its attack, covering its flanks, threatening the enemy’s rear, raising revolts in that rear, appearing here, there and everywhere as the embodiment of the spirit of the revolution.[26]

 

IV. Military Opposition

 



Opposition to Trotsky's stance on guerrilla warfare came out in the open at the 8th Party Congress in March 1919. At this point, Trotsky had ordered the end of guerrilla units and their incorporation into the Red Army – threatening sanctions against those who refused. Left Communists refused on principle to support a standing centralized army, believing it to be a violation of Party promises for a democratically-elected militia. A number of Bolsheviks formed a Military Opposition - notably Voroshilov and Stalin who were defending Tsaritsyn from the Whites - since they refused to serve under Tsarist officers and rejected military centralization.[27] These Bolsheviks only paid lip service to the need for centralization and military specialists, preferring to rely on decentralized methods which had proven military successful. Trotsky was determined to bring them to heel.[28] There remained constant friction between the Tsaritsyn front and Red Army Headquarters in Moscow. Despite subordinating Stalin to a new commander, Shlyapnikov, the forces on the ground refused to accept his authority. The conflict grew so heated that in November 1918, Trotsky traveled to Tsaristyn, where according to his biographer Isaac Deutscher, “he threatened to court martial Voroshilov. In a public order of the day, he castigated his command for putting its own ambitions above the interests of the entire front.”[29] For the moment, Trotsky was able to secure victory and a promise of obedience from Tsaritsyn.

 



Yet the attacks on Trotsky by both the Left Communists and the Military Opposition continued. The former group hoped to revise military policy and “demanded that the commissars should hold all commanding posts and that the officers should serve under them as mere consultants.”[30] The Party had not given Trotsky's military policy its blessing, so abuse continued to be heaped on the War Commissar. Tensions continued to simmer between the two sides. At the 8th Party Congress, a resolution to the conflict was finally reached.

 



The Military Opposition was determined to force a change of policy at the 8th Party Congress. To make their case, the Opposition not only objected to strict military centralization as contrary to communist principles, but also highlighted instances of treason from former Tsarist officers. Although Lenin agreed with Trotsky on the need for centralization and discipline, he was not as convinced on the need for military specialists. In fact, during the Congress Lenin even suggested that Trotsky dismiss the specialists. However, when Trotsky confronted Lenin with the sheer number of Tsarist officers in the Red Army, he agreed it was impossible to dismiss them:

 

When Comrade Trotsky recently informed me that in our military department the officers are numbered in tens of thousands, I gained a concrete conception of what constitutes the secret of making proper use of our enemy.., of how to build communism out of the bricks that the capitalists had gathered to use against us.[31]

 


Shortly before the Congress opened, the White General Kolchak launched an offensive, leading Trotsky to be recalled to the front. The main debate at the Congress took place in secret. Although the Left Communists and the Military Opposition remained opposed to the military specialists, their defeat was a foregone conclusion since Lenin was against them. The Party wound up overwhelmingly endorsing Trotsky's position. Although resentment between Trotsky and the Military Opposition remained, the matter was now closed and the need for a centralized, disciplined and professional army was now accepted by the Communist Party.

 



V. Military doctrine

 



Whereas later communist theoreticians of warfare such as Mao Zedong and Vo Nguyen Giap pioneered explicitly Marxist military doctrines, Trotsky did not. According to Deutscher, Trotsky “claimed no originality in this field, but he brought to the discussion of the issues a broad view of history and a freshness of approach which, if they were not enough to make a new philosophy of war, did much to guard the Red Army from pitfalls of one-sided doctrines.”[32] Yet many new Red Army commanders such as Tukhachevsky, Frunze, Voroshilov and Budienny were proponents of a proletarian military doctrine which they argued would meet the needs of the working class by favoring offensives and mobility as opposed to defensive and positional warfare.

 



Trotsky objected to “proletarian military doctrine” stating that “war is based on many sciences, but war itself is not a science, it is a practical art, a skill.” Theories of war are procedures and methods of adaptation used against the enemy in battle. Trotsky said that the Marxist method of science, “of the cognition of objective phenomena in their objective connections” was inadequate when applied to warfare, which he said made as much sense as developing a Marxist theory of architecture and medicine. While Marxist science can analyze the world situation and societal contradictions, war “is not a science, it is a practical art, a skill.”[33] It was therefore a mistake to reconstruct the “practical military procedures and the rules and precepts set out in the regulations – and wanting to reconstruct all this from scratch, so to speak, by means of the Marxist method.”[34]

 



Trotsky's opposition to an explicitly proletarian military doctrine also flowed from a doctrinaire approach to Marxism that he saw in many Red Army commanders. According to him, “Marxism does not supply ready recipes. Least of all could it provide them in the sphere of military construction.”[35] Rather, the construction of the Red Army flowed from an overall Marxist analysis of the practical requirements needed to defend the revolution.

 



What Trotsky argued was necessary in military affairs was not to “take any dogmatic ‘doctrine’ as our point of departure.”[36] Those who insist on a fixed military doctrine and science are doctrinaires who take the “procedures of a particular epoch, are transformed by them into eternal truths.”[37] Trotsky said this method (ex. proletarian military doctrine) would leave an army shackled by formula, unprepared to develop new techniques of fighting, unable to innovative or to teach creative thinking in its soldiers and commanders.

 



Instead of upholding a proletarian doctrine of offensives, which he saw as fixed and dogmatic, Trotsky “argued the need for a certain eclecticism in military theory.”[38] For him, “no question of principle is involved for us where revolutionary offensive warfare is concerned....only a traitor can renounce the offensive, but only a simpleton can reduce our entire strategy to the offensive.”[39] Marxism wasn't a master-key that solved all military problems, rather the art of war possessed its own methods that required study and application, but they had to be verified by practice. Such an approach to military affairs avoided reliance upon “eternal laws” and viewed the laws of war, instead, as “practical procedures.”[40] While Trotsky's approach avoided the pitfalls of dogma in studying warfare, he saw no need to develop a distinctly Marxist approach to warfare. As Deutscher said, Trotsky “demanded respect for a certain continuity of experience and cultural tradition. He saw in the 'proletarian' innovations a cover for intellectual crudity and conceit.”[41]

 



VI. Criticism

 



Despite the immense achievements of the Red Army in winning the Russian Civil War, its revolutionary character has been criticized by many later Marxists. For example, the French Maoist Charles Bettlelheim, in his multi-volume history of the USSR, says that the Red Army “did not succeed in building an army that was definitely proletarian in character, characterized by new ideological and political relations which could have been an instrument in the struggle for socialist transformation of social relations and against the subsequent rise of bourgeois forces.”[42] Bettelheim criticizes the Red Army for relying on military Tsarist officers (which necessitated the use of commissars to maintain ideological and political control of the army), promoting a neutral military technique and not seeing tactics pursued as determined by the class in power conducting military operations, not by the level of productive forces. Bettelheim goes on and claims that the Red Army's whole military approach favored “hierarchical relations of the feudal-bourgeois type” which distrusted the masses, guerrilla units and militias.[43]

 



Bettelheim states that while the Red Army enabled the Bolsheviks to defend Soviet power, it was unsuitable for the next stage of the revolution because it “was not a proletarian army but a people's army subordinated to the dictatorship of the proletariat.”[44] Bettelheim contrasts the “bourgeois character” of the Red Army to the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), which he affirms was a true proletarian army under both the political and ideological leadership of the Communist Party.

 



While Bettelheim does note that the creation of the Red Army arose from a concrete historical situation, he faults the Bolsheviks for not adopting the methods of Mao. And whatever the merits or detriments of Mao and the PLA, Russia in 1918 was not China in 1934. Different methods of warfare were developed based on different historical situations. Aside from the limited duration of the National Guard during the Paris Commune, when the Red Army was created there was little experience of revolutionary military affairs to draw upon. The Bolsheviks had to work with the resources and people at hand and, contrary to Bettelheim, not the future experiences of Mao Zedong. And we should note that the Red Army did triumph against the Whites and that victory counts for a lot more than wishing they had been a “pure” revolutionary army.

 



VII. Conclusion

 



Even though Russia endured the cataclysm of World War One and two revolutions, which devastated the country and brought it to the brink of ruin, the Soviet Republic was able to endure and triumph. The victory of the fledgling Republic was no doubt aided by the political and ideological divisions amongst its counter-revolutionary enemies and their imperialist backers. The White Armies did not fight as a single unit nor did they struggle to achieve a common ideal and aim. By contrast, the Soviet Republic not only possessed the industrial and urban centers of Russia, with their clear lines of communication, but they also fielded a disciplined army with a single leadership and chain of command. And that army, whatever limitations it may have possessed, was a Red Army, fighting for a new social order and a revolutionary ideal in the interests of the workers and peasants of Russia.

 



And no small amount of credit to Soviet victory in the civil war belongs to Leon Trotsky, the organizer and creator of the Red Army. Trotsky executed the unlikely fusion of Tsarist military officers and specialists into a regular army fired by communist zeal. Despite objections from the Military Opposition, Trotsky's system of military organization, Deutscher declares:

 

worked, though not without friction; and no alternative to it could be devised. Under the uncontrolled leadership of the former officers the Red Army would have collapsed politically. Under the command of Bolshevik dilettantes it would have been doomed on the battlefields.[45]

 


Despite the example and achievements of the Red Army, in many respects it was still a traditional army fighting large battles of movement. Trotsky himself, despite his undoubted gifts for organization and theory, was still a traditional figure in terms of communist military doctrine. Future revolutions would not come to power via urban insurrection and deploy regular armies, but through partisans in the hills and jungles. These partisans, fired by the same élan as the Red Army, would pioneer both new methods and doctrines of revolutionary warfare.

 

Notes

 

[1] Victor Serge, “Year One of the Russian Revolution,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/serge/1930/year-one/ch08.htm

 

[2] W. Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War 1918-1921 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1999), 89-90.

 

[3] Leon Trotsky, “We Need an Army,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/military/ch03.htm

 

[4] Eric Wollenberg, The Red Army (Prism Key Press, 2010), 21.

 

[5] Ibid. 22.

 

[6] Ibid. 22.

 

[7] Ibid. 27.

 

[8] Leon Trotsky, “Work, Discipline and Order,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/military/ch05.htm

 

[9] Leon Trotsky, “The Civil War in the RSFSR in 1918: The Red Army and the Civil War,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/military/ch35.htm

 

[10] “Work, Discipline and Order,” (note 8).

 

[11] According to Trotsky memoirs, in 1919 during the controversy with the Party's military opposition, when Lenin considered removing the military specialists from the army, Trotsky had to explain to him the extent of their involvement in Red Army operations (which brought Lenin around to his position):


"You ask me," I said, "if it would not be better to kick out all the old officers? But do you know how many of them we have in the army now?"
~
"Not even approximately?"
"I don't know."
"Not less than thirty thousand."
"What?"
"Not less than thirty thousand. For every traitor, there are a hundred who are dependable; for every one who deserts, there are two or three who get killed. How are we to replace them all ?"


Leon Trotsky, “My Life – Chapter 36: The Military Opposition,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/mylife/ch36.htm

 

[12] Leon Trotsky, “Organizing the Red Army,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/military/ch10.htm

 

[13] “Work, Discipline and Order,” (note 8).

 

[14] See Wollenberg 2010, 45-6. Trotsky was no fool and was willing to punish the officers. According to Isaac Deutscher, “Trotsky's orders of the day bristled with dire threats to the agents of the White Guards. But even the threat of capital punishment was no deterrent to officers in the fighting lines. Trotsky then ordered a register of their families be kept so that the would-be traitor should know that if he went over to the enemy, his wife and children would stay behind as hostages.” Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921 (New York: Verso, 2003), 344.

 

[15] Wollenberg 2010, 46.

 

[16] Leon Trotsky, “Organizing the Red Army,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/military/ch14.htm

 

[17] Leon Trotsky, “Our Work at Building the Army and Our Fronts,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1920/military/ch01.htm

 

[18] Leon Trotsky, “Communist Party and the Red Army,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/military/ch30.htm


Victor Serge describes the role of Communists in the Red Army as follows: “The Communist backbone of the Red Army goes off to organize a vast service of political agitation, propaganda, education and action, such as no army has known before. In place of passive obedience the proletarian revolution substitutes the obedience of a discipline that is based on political consciousness.” “Year One of the Russian Revolution” (note 1).

 

[19] “My Life,” (note 11). We shall discuss the conflicts within the party below.

 

[20] John Ellis, Armies in Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 180.

 

[21] Deutscher 2003, 345.

 

[22] Arno Mayer, The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 389.

 

[23] Ellis 1974, 184.

 

[24] Quoted in Wollenberg 2010, 27.

 

[25] Leon Trotsky, “The Civil War in the RSFSR in 1918: En Route,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/military/ch36.htm

 

[26] Leon Trotsky, “Do We Need Guerrillas?” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1919/military/ch95.htm

 

[27] “My Life,” (note 11).

 

[28] Ibid. See also Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 199-210.

 

[29] Deutscher 2003, 424 and “My Life,” (note 11).

 

[30] Deutscher 2003, 425.

 

[31] “My Life,” (note 11).

 

[32] Deutscher 2003, 481.

 

[33] Leon Trotsky, “Questions of Military Theory: Report and Concluding Remarks - At the Conference of Military Delegates to the Eleventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party, April 1, 1922,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1922/military/ch39.htm

 

[34] Ibid.

 

[35] Leon Trotsky, “Questions of Military Theory: Military Doctrine or Pseudo-Military Doctrinairism,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1922/military/ch37.htm

 

[36] Ibid.

 

[37] Leon Trotsky, “Questions of Military Theory: Military Knowledge and Marxism - Speech at the meeting of the Military Science Society attached to the Military Academy of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, May 8, 1922,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1922/military/ch40.htm

 

[38] Deutscher 2003, 402.

 

[39] “Military Doctrine or Pseudo-Military Doctrinairism,” (note 34).

 

[40] “Report and Concluding Remarks,” (note 33)

 

[41] Deutscher 2003, 401.

 

[42] Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR, First Period: 1917-1923 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976), 275.

 

[43] Ibid. 277.

 

[44] Ibid. 281.

 

[45] Deutscher 2003, 345.

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