Karl Radek

Leon Trotsky, Organizer of Victory


From Fourth International, Vol. 5 No. 8, August 1944, pp. 239–241.
Reprinted in Fourth International [Amsterdam], No. 7, Autumn 1959, pp. 21–23. [A]
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Supplementary transcription by Einde O’Callaghan.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The article printed here was first published in Pravda in 1923 and an English translation was carried that year in Inprecorr, the press bulletin of the Comintern. Radek’s appraisal of Trotsky’s role in the creation of the Red Army and in the civil war victories was thus in the nature of an official tribute by the whole Communist movement of that time. Despite the miserable subsequent fate of its author, the article retains this signal importance. It is testimony to the true appreciation of the great organizing genius of the revolution by the whole generation that fought at his side. The labors of the Stalin machine of falsification are futile. They cannot erase the fact that “this bright page in the history of the Russian Revolution will always be bound up with the name of Leon Davidovitch Trotsky.” – Ed.

History has prepared our party for various tasks. However defective our state machinery or our economic activity may be, still the whole past of the party has psychologically prepared it for the work of creating a new order of economy and a new state apparatus. History has even prepared us for diplomacy. It is scarcely necessary to mention that world politics have always occupied the minds of Marxists. But it was the endless negotiations with the Mensheviki that perfected our diplomatic technique; and it was during these old struggles that Comrade Chicherin [1] learned to draw up diplomatic notes. We are just beginning to learn the miracle of economics. Our state machinery creaks and groans. In one thing, however, we have been eminently successful – in our Red Army. Its creator, its central will, is Comrade L.D. Trotsky.

Old General Moltke, the creator of the German army, often spoke of the danger that the pen of the diplomats might spoil the work of the soldier’s sabre. Warriors the world over, though there were classical authors among them, have always opposed the pen to the sword. The history of the proletarian revolution shows how the pen may be re-forged into a sword. Trotsky is one of the best writers of world socialism, but these literary advantages did not prevent hum from becoming the leader, the leading organizer of the first proletarian army. The pen of the best publicist of the revolution was re-forged into a sword.

Marxist Military Literature Was Scant

The literature of scientific socialism helped Comrade Trotsky but little in solving the problems which confronted the party when it was threatened by world imperialism. If we look through the whole of pre-war socialist literature, we find – with the exception of a few little-known works by Engels, some chapters in his Anti-Duehring devoted to the development of strategy, and some chapters in Mehring’s excellent book on Lessing, devoted to the war activity of Frederick the Great- only four works on military subjects: August Bebel’s pamphlet on militia. Gaston Moch’s hook on militia, the two volumes of war history by Schulz, and the book by Jaurès, devoted to the propaganda of the idea of the militia in France. With the exception of the books of Schulz and Jaurès, which possess high value, everything which socialist literature has published on military subjects since Engels’ death has been bad dilettantism. But even these works by Schulz and Jaurès afforded no reply to the questions with which the Russian Revolution was confronted. Schulz’s book surveyed the development of the forms of strategy and military organizations for many centuries back. It was an attempt at the application of the Marxian methods of historical research, and closed with the Napoleonic period. Jaurès’ book – full of brilliance and sparkle – shows his complete familiarity with the problems of military organization, but suffers from the fundamental fault that this gifted representative of reformism was anxious to make of the capitalist army an instrument of national defense, and to release it from the function of defending the class interests of the bourgeoisie. He therefore failed to grasp the tendency of development of militarism, and carried the idea of democracy ad absurdum in the question of war, into the question of the army.

Origin of the Concept of the Red Army

I do not know to what extent Comrade Trotsky occupied himself before the war with questions of military knowledge. I believe that he did not gain his gifted insight into these questions from books, but received his impetus in this direction at the time when he was acting as correspondent in the Balkan war, this final rehearsal of the great war. It is probable that he deepened his knowledge of war technique and of the mechanism of the army, during his sojourn in France (during the war), from where he sent his brilliant war sketches to the Kiev Mysl. It may be seen from this work how magnificently he grasped the spirit of the army. The Marxist Trotsky saw not only the external discipline of the army, the cannon, the technique. He saw the living human beings who serve the instruments of war, he saw the sprawling charge on the field of battle.

Trotsky is the author of the first pamphlet giving a detailed analysis of the causes of the decay of the International. Even in face of this great decay Trotsky did not lose his faith in the future of socialism; on the contrary, he was profoundly convinced that all those qualities which the bourgeoisie endeavors to cultivate in the uniformed proletariat, for the purpose of securing its own victory, would soon turn against the bourgeoisie, and serve not only as the foundation of the revolution, but also of revolutionary armies. One of the most remarkable documents of his comprehension of the class structure of the army, and of the spirit of the army, is the speech which he made – I believe at the first Soviet Congress and in the Petrograd Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council – on Kerensky’s July offensive. In this speech Trotsky predicted the collapse of the offensive, not only on technical military grounds, but on the basis of the political analysis of the condition of the army.

“You” – and here he addressed himself to the Mensheviki and the SR’s – “demand from the government a revision of the aims of the war. In doing so you tell the army that the old aims, in whose name Czarism and the bourgeoisie demanded unheard-of sacrifices, did not correspond to the interests of the Russian peasantry and Russian proletariat. You have not attained a revision of the aims of the war. You have created nothing to replace the Czar and the fatherland, and yet you demand of the army that it shed its blood for this nothing. We cannot fight for nothing, and your adventure will end in collapse.”

The secret of Trotsky’s greatness as organizer of the Red Army lies in this attitude of his towards the question.

All great military writers emphasize the tremendously decisive significance of the moral factor in war. One half of Clausewitz’s great book is devoted to this question, and the whole of our victory in the civil war is due to the circumstance that Trotsky knew how to apply this knowledge of the significance of the moral factor in war to our reality. When the old Czarist army went to pieces, the minister of war of the Kerenski government, Verkhovsky, proposed that the older military classes be discharged, the military authorities behind the front partly reduced, and the army reorganized by the introduction of fresh young elements. When we seized power, and the trenches emptied, many of us made the same proposition. But this idea was the purest Utopia. It was impossible to replace the fleeing Czarist army with fresh forces. These two waves would have crossed and divided each other. The old army had to be completely dissolved; the new army could only be built up on the alarm sent out by Soviet Russia to the workers and peasants, to defend the conquests of the revolution.

When, in April 1918, the best Czarist officers who remained in the army after our victory met together for the purpose of working out, in conjunction with our comrades and some military representatives of the Allies, the plan of organization for the army, Trotsky listened to their plans for several days – I have a clear recollection of this scene – in silence. These were the plans of people who did not comprehend the upheaval going on before their eyes. Every one of them replied to the question of how an army was to be organized on the old pattern. They did not grasp the metamorphosis wrought in the human material upon which the army is based. How the war experts laughed at the first voluntary troops organized by Comrade Trotsky in his capacity as Commissar of War! Old Borisov, one of the best Russian military writers, assured those Communists with whom he was obliged to come in contact, time and again, that nothing would come of this undertaking, that the army could only be built up on the basis of general conscription, and maintained by iron discipline. He did not grasp that the volunteer troops were the secure foundation pillars upon which the structure was to be erected, and that the masses of peasants and workers could not possibly be rallied around the flag of war again unless the broad masses were confronted by deadly danger. Without believing for a single moment that the volunteer army could save Russia, Trotsky organized it as an apparatus which he required for the creation of a new army.

Utilizing the Bourgeois Specialists

But Trotsky’s organizing genius, and his boldness of thought are even more clearly expressed in his courageous determination to utilize the war specialists for creating the army. Every good Marxist is fully aware that in building up a good economic apparatus we still require the aid of the old capitalist organization. Lenin defended this proposition with the utmost decision in his April speech on the tasks of the Soviet power, In the mature circles of the party the idea is not contested. But the idea that we could create an instrument for the defense of the republic, an army, with the aid of the Czarist officers – encountered obstinate resistance. Who could think of re-arming the White officers who had just been disarmed? Thus many comrades questioned. I remember a discussion on this question among the editors of the Communist, the organ of the so-called left communists, in which the question of the employment of staff officers nearly led to a split. And the editors of this paper were among the best schooled theoreticians and practicians of the party. It suffices to mention the names of Bukharin, Ossonski, Lomov, W. Yakovlev. There was even greater distrust among the broad circles of our military comrades, recruited for our military organizations during the war. The mistrust of our military functionaries could only be allayed, their agreement to the utilization of the knowledge possessed by the old officers could only be won, by the burning faith of Trotsky in our social force, the belief that we could obtain from the war experts the benefit of their science, without permitting them to force their politics upon us; the belief that the revolutionary watchfulness of the progressive workers would enable them to overcome any counter-revolutionary attempts made by the staff officers.

Trotsky’s Magnetic Energy

In order to emerge victorious, it was necessary for the army to be headed by a man of iron will, and for this man to possess not only the full confidence of the party, but the ability of subjugating with his iron will the enemy who is forced to serve us. But Comrade Trotsky has not only succeeded in subordinating to his energy even the highest staff officers. He attained more: he succeeded in winning the confidence of the best elements among the war experts, and in converting them from enemies of Soviet Russia to its most profoundly convinced followers. I witnessed one such victory of Trotsky’s at the time of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations. The officers who had accompanied us to Brest-Litovsk maintained a more than reserved attitude towards us. They fulfilled their role as experts with the utmost condescension, in the opinion that they were attending a comedy which merely served to cover a business transaction long since arranged between the Bolsheviki and the German government. But the manner in which Trotsky conducted the struggle against German imperialism, in the name of the principles of the Russian revolution, forced every human being present in the assembly room to feel the moral and spiritual victory of this eminent representative of the Russian proletariat. The mistrust of the war experts towards us vanished in proportion to the development of the great Brest-Litovsk drama.

How clearly I recollect the night when Admiral Altvater – who has since died – one of the leading officers of the old regime, who began to help Soviet Russia not from motives of fear but of conscience, entered my room and said: “I came here because you forced me to do so. I did not believe you; but now I shall help you, and do my work as never before, in the profound conviction that I am serving the fatherland.” It is one of Trotsky’s greatest victories that he has been able to impart the conviction that the Soviet government really fights for the welfare of the Russian people, even to such people who have come over to us from hostile camps on compulsion only. It goes without saying that this great victory on the inner front, this moral victory over the enemy. has been the result not only of Trotsky’s iron energy which won for him universal respect; not only the result of the deep moral force, the high degree of authority even in military spheres, which this socialist writer and people’s tribune, who was placed by the will of the revolution at the head of the army, has been able to win for himself; this victory has also required the self-denial of tens of thousands of our comrades in the army, an iron discipline in our own ranks, a consistent striving towards our aims; it has also required the miracle that those masses of human beings who only yesterday fled from the battlefield, take up arms again today, under much more difficult conditions, for the defense of the country.

That these politico-psychological mass factors played an important role is an undeniable fact, but the strongest, most concentrated, and striking expression of this influence is to he found in the personality of Trotsky. Here the Russian revolution has acted through the brain, the nervous system, and the heart of its greatest representative. When our first armed trial began, with Czecho-Slovakia, the party, and with its leader Trotsky, showed how the principle of the political campaign – as already taught by Lassalle – could be applied to war, to the fight with “steel arguments.” We concentrated all material and moral forces on the war. The whole party had grasped the necessity of this. But this necessity also finds its highest expression in the steel figure of Trotsky. After our victory over Denikin in March 1920, Trotsky said, at the party conference: “We have ravaged the whole of Russia in order to conquer the Whites.” In these words we again find the unparalleled concentration of will required to ensure the victory. We needed a man who was the embodiment of the war-cry, a man who became the tocsin sounding the alarm, the will demanding from one and all an unqualified subordination to the great bloody necessity.

L.D. Personified the Revolution

It was only a man who works like Trotsky, a man who spares himself as little as Trotsky, who can speak to the soldiers as only Trotsky can – it was only such a man who could be the standard bearer of the armed working people. He has been everything in one person. He has thought out the strategic advice given by the experts and has combined it with a correct estimate of the proportions of social forces; he knew how to unite in one movement the impulses of fourteen fronts of the ten thousand communists who informed headquarter as to what the real army is and how it is possible to operate with it; he understood how to combine all this in one strategic plan and one scheme of organization. And in all this splendid work he understood better than anyone else how to apply the knowledge of the significance of the moral factor in war.

This combination of strategist and military organizer with the politician is best characterized by the fact that during the whole of this hard work, Trotsky appreciated the importance of Demian Bedny (communist writer), or of the artist Moor (who draws most of the political caricatures for the communes papers, posters, etc.) for the war. Our army was an army of peasants, and the dictatorship of the proletariat with regard to the army, that is, the leading of this peasants’ army by workers and by representatives of the working class, was realized in the personality of Trotsky and in the comrades co-operating with him. Trotsky was able, with the aid of the whole apparatus of our party, to impart to the peasants’ army, exhausted by the war, the profoundest conviction that it was fighting in its own interests.

Inseparably Linked in History

Trotsky worked with the whole party in the work of forming the Red Army. He would not have fulfilled his task without the party. But without him the creation of the Red Army and its victories, would have demanded infinitely greater sacrifices. Our party will go down in history as the first proletarian party which succeeded in creating a great army, and this bright page in the history of the Russian revolution will always be bound up with the name of Leon Davidovitch Trotsky, with the name of a man whose work and deeds will claim not only the love but also the scientific study of the young generation of workers preparing to conquer the whole world.


1. Gregory Chicherin was Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs at that time (1923).

Note by MIA

A. The 1959 reprint of this article was introduced by the following note:

One of Leon Trotsky’s outstanding characteristics was his ability to bring his powerful intelligence to bear upon subjects in which he had no previous specialized training, with such creative effectiveness that in a remarkably short time he not only became expert in them but was even able to make important new contributions to their theory and practice. This remarkable quality is exemplified concerning the art of war in the following article, which describes how Trotsky created from practically nothing the heroic Red army that saved the young Soviet Union from civil war and imperialist intervention. Its author, Karl Radek, born in 1885, was a brilliant German revolutionary leader of Polish origin, an organizer of the Zimmerwald Left, who, on the Russian Revolution, moved to Russia and joined the Bolsheviks, and became from 1919 to 1923 one of the principal leaders of the Communist International and its specialist in German matters. He was a member of the Left Opposition from 1923 to 1928; but, expelled from the party at the XVth Congress and deported to Siberia, soon capitulated to Stalin. Condemned to ten years of forced labor at the 1937 Moscow Trial, he presumably died or was executed about 1942. In spite of his later moral collapse and wretched end, he was for many years a respected Bolshevik leader, and the evaluation in the following article, published in 1923 in Pravda and the Comintern’s press bulletin, Inprecorr, is not merely a personal tribute, but represents the official opinion of the Communist movement of Lenin’s day on Trotsky as “the organizer of victory.”

Last updated on 30 January 2016