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The Red Army

Red Army, Russian Civil War, Red Square, Moscow 1918
The new Red Army parades through Red Square

The ease of the White and Czech Legion victories made it clear to Trotsky, Commissar of War, that the Red Army had to be reformed on the model of the tsarist conscript army, with regular units replacing the Red Guards, proper discipline in the ranks, professional officers and a centralized hierarchy of command. There was a lot of opposition to these policies among the party's rank and file. They were especially opposed to Trotsky's conscription of ex-tsarist officers (75,00 were to be recruited) which they saw as a return to the old military order and a hindrance to their own promotion as 'Red officers'. But Trotsky ridiculed his critics' arguments: revolutionary zeal was no substitute for military expertise.

Through mass conscription (introduced in June 1918) the Red Army grew to one million men by the spring of 1919; to 3 million by 1920; and 5 million by the end of the civil war. It grew faster than the devastated Soviet economy was able to supply guns, food and clothes. The soldiers lost morale and deserted in their thousands, taking their weapons and their uniforms, so that new recruits had to be thrown into battle without proper training, so that they in turn were even more likely to desert. The Red Army was thus drawn into a vicious circle of mass conscription, supply shortages and mass desertion, which locked the whole economy into the system of War Communism where all production was geared towards the needs of the army.

Look at these fascinating film clips of Trotsky during the Civil War. Check out the leather jackets, the Red Army uniforms, the agit-trains. What can you learn?

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