Review: “How the Revolution Armed” -Leon Trotsky

In Reviews on April 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Before launching the project, I’ve done quite a bit of research on the matter at hand. Primarily, I’m reading the series of books “How the Revolution Armed” (I-V) by Leon Trotsky.

You can search them up here at the Trotsky Internet Archive: A complication of all the works by Leon Trotsky.

Or, I’ll bring up all five up for you;

PART I (1917-1918)

PART II (1919)

PART III (1920)

PART IV (1921)

PART V (1922-1925)

“How the Revolution Armed” is a complication of speeches, articles, telegraphs, letters, orders and military documents of the Red army, all written by- you guessed it: the People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, Leon Trotsky. A lot of popular rhetoric misinterprets or confuses history, when public opinion, analysis and press attention get thrown into the fray, it very much distorts the truth. What you have here is a real account of what happened, as it was happening. Those speeches were said in front of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets, the strongest branch of Soviet government. Those telegraphs were sent from great leader to great politician. Those orders were sent from commander to soldier. In short; these books depict the red army exactly as it was, because they don’t try to depict it at all, they only show the papers and signatures of the era, YOU rule on them.

When reading these texts, you can really get a feel for the times and atmosphere they were written in. It’s a very ideologically… strong sort of atmosphere, since, these are of course matters of revolution; life or death. While the text IS about the red army, there’s a lot of Communist/political talk in the speeches, it’s supposed to be very serious, but at times (especially if you don’t know Russian and don’t get what he might have been trying to say) it just sounds ridiculous. But very interesting, if you can put some things aside! At times it may become very confusing and some further research will be necessary. What’s at hand is a very complex text, it takes quite a bit of thought. Very difficult is it to just read and simply understand, and still yet not get drawn into questions of “wait is this right?” “did he really just say that?” “did he mean that in a ‘good’ way?” “was it so?”

There are a few minor mistranslations and quite a few things I find a bit distasteful about the writing; but nevertheless, this is probably the best account of the red army in those years. There aren’t that many to chose from anyway. One has to be quite knowledgeable to get the full gist of what Trotsky’s writing about. A lot of times I’ll be reading and it says “Order by the Revolutionary War committee” and I think to myself; Okay, I know these guys exist, they were created a few months back, but it said nothing concrete about the authorities they had, the responsibilities, it’s members, it’s purpose. Those kinds of thinks come a long sometimes. Overall, one has to accept that at a time, these were only available to the highest offices in Soviet government, and reading this whole thing is a learning experience, not a debate (like I felt myself always wanting it to be). One also has to understand what sort of context this text was written in; its not an encyclopedia, these are wartime documents, reliance on the influence of whom might decide the fate of a nation. When it brands a political party saboteurs and calls enemies ‘enemies’- this is to be expected, no one makes a revolutionary propaganda poster saying “well we might be arch enemies but there are quite a few interesting people I’d love to sit down, have a beer with, in the enemy camp.” Don’t come expecting a well-rounded fairly-unbiased analysis.

What the book does best is carefully documenting the spirit and motion within the Soviet government, rather than giving a detailed account of the war. Though there’s a lot of talk about the war, military actions are only momentarily brought up while theory and counter-theory behind them are throughly discussed. At times this is not the case at all, but at times it is, and it can get quite irritating. One constantly feels like at the center of everything is ideology; politics, economics and warfare all revolve around it; but that’s a good thing that it’s written that way, just an unusual one. The book is written within the frames of Kremlin politics, but public opinion is still very much talked about. I would very much like though, to have a more ‘normal proletarian’ view of it all, rather than a politician-in-a-suit’s thoughts on that sort of view. That’s really where the text truly lacks.

“How the Revolution Armed” is still an excellent account by any standard, of a very crucial time. Long and sometimes quite naggy as it might be, I recommend it. If you’re a (military) history-buff, Communist or Kremlinologist; definite must-read. I’ve already read part I, I’ll be sure to get to the rest! Eventually…

Other texts I will soon be reading/reviewing:

“Ten days that Shook the World” on the October Revolution by John Reed.

“History of the Russian Revolution to Brest Litovsk” by Leon Trotsky.

  1. Shaping up to be a very interesting and well-researched work – I’m looking forward to it.

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