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[Changes in The Russian Army][325]

Frederick Engels

When the late war in Europe[a] broke out, a great number of military men pointed, not without a certain sense of awe, to the wonderful organization of the Russian army. While in France and England, brigades, divisions, army-corps, had to be formed from elements hitherto entirely disconnected, while commanders had to be appointed to lead bodies of troops which they had never seen before, and staffs had to be formed of officers arriving from all corners of the country—in Russia, the huge war-machine had been perfected, in all its subdivisions, years before; every regiment had its unalterable place in the organization of the whole; each body of men, from the company to the army-corps, had its standing commander, and each more important division had its regular staff. The machine was said to be, in fact, in working trim; it only awaited the word of command, the putting on of the steam, in order to move with the utmost ease; every cog, wheel, screw, pulley, strap, valve and lever in its place, doing its work and no more. That was what we were told we should see; but, unfortunately, we saw something quite different. The army-corps were scarcely ever complete, whole divisions, and still oftener brigades, being detached to distant theaters of war, while other troops were mixed up with the main bodies. The desire to keep together as Much as possible the elements of each corps, division and brigade, appeared to hamper the movements of the army on the march quite as much as the strict regulations laid down for the order in which battles should be fought; and finally the nice subdivisions of command with all the generals in charge—corps, divisions, brigades, with their respective staffs, all well known to their troops, well acquainted with each other, and well at home in their respective places and duties—all this turned out to be one vast conspiracy to swindle the Government out of its funds and the soldier out of his rations, clothing and comforts.

If these facts still required an official confirmation, the Russian Government has just given it. The new organization of the army aims first and mainly at the rooting up of those hotbeds of wholesale embezzlement, the subordinate staffs and headquarters. The staffs, both of the army-corps and of brigades, are done away with. Nay, the very name of brigade disappears from the Russian army. The whole six corps of the line are placed under the command of one man, Prince M. D. Gorchakoff I., the late commander in the Crimea. Each corps has, it is true, a commanding general; but as he has no staff—that is to say, no means of actually exercising the details of this command—he is at best but the inspector of his corps—a sort of check on the five generals of division under him. In reality, the generals of the thirty divisions (eighteen of infantry, six of cavalry and six of artillery), forming what is called the "first army", depend directly upon the commander-in-chief; and in each division again, the colonels of the four regiments, infantry or cavalry, and the chiefs of batteries, are directly dependent upon the general of the division. The generals of brigade, being entirely superseded by this new arrangement, arc attached to the staff of the divisional general, as his lieutenants and seconds in command. The reason of all this is plain enough.

Upon Prince Gorchakoff the Emperor can rely; and Gorchakoff, again, can to some extent rely upon the officers of his personal staff. With the bureaucratic nicety and hierarchic gradations of the former system, the direct influence of the commander-in-chief ended with the chiefs of corps; they and their staffs had to transmit the orders to. the divisions, whose staffs again handed them to the brigades, from whose staffs t hey reached the colonels of regiments, who saw to their actual execution. This was nothing but a well-organized scheme of fraud, embezzlement and larceny; and the better the service itself. was organized, the better organized and the more successful was the plundering of the treasury. This was shown in the march of the first, second and third army-corps from Poland to the South during the war; and it is simply with a view of removing the evil that the Russian Government has done away with all but the names of the commanders of corps, and entirely with the commanders of brigades. There are now but two intermediate grades between the commander-in-chief and the company officers, namely, the general of division and the colonel; and there is but one staff, that of the division, which can be used for purposes of embezzlement. If the Government should succeed in eradicating the habit of plunder from the divisional staffs, it may reasonably expect to banish it, by and by, from the regiments also.

Thus the whole organization of the army is upset, by taking out of the chain two links, the necessity of which, in time of war, is sure to show itself. Indeed, the Russian Government acknowledges that neither chiefs of corps nor generals of brigade can be entirely left out of its military hierarchy. The chief of the corps is left there, but as a mere dummy, while the general of brigade is completely relieved from his command, and made a simple appendix to the general of division. This means nothing but that the command of these officers is suspended during peace, while they are kept in readiness for use as soon as a war breaks out. In the only army, indeed, which still faces the enemy—that of the Caucasus—the brigades have been retained. Is any other proof wanted that the abolition of brigades in the remainder of the army is only an attempt to render brigadiers and their staffs innoxious while peace lasts?

Another important change is the dissolution of the great dragoon corps, consisting of ten regiments of eight squadrons each, drilled for infantry as well as for cavalry service. This corps was intended to play a brilliant part in all great battles. When the decisive moment approached, it was to fall with the rapidity of cavalry upon some important post on the flank or rear of the enemy, to dismount, to form into sixteen battalions of infantry and defend the post, supported by its heavy horse-artillery. During the whole of the late war, this corps was nowhere; and the total unfitness of these hybrid troops for active warfare appears to have been recognized on all hands. The consequence is, the change of these amphibious mounted foot-soldiers into regular cavalry, and their distribution, in twelve regiments of eight squadrons each, with the six army-corps of the "first army." Thus the two great creations by which the Emperor Nicholas expected to establish his place among the greatest military organizers of his time, have both disappeared within a few years of his death.

Among other changes, we may mention the establishment of a second battalion of rifles for every army-corps, and the formation of two new infantry regiments in the Caucasian army. By the former innovation, the great scarcity of light cavalry is to some extent remedied. The latter shows that Russia is resolved to finish the Caucasian struggle as soon as possible. For the same reason, the reserve brigades of the Caucasian corps are still held together. It is, therefore, likely that by this time a campaign of importance has been opened in that country.

Written on about April 16, 1857
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5006, May 6, 1857 as a leading article


[a] The Crimean war, 1853-56.—Ed.

[325] The title is given in accordance with an entry in Marx's Notebook for 1857: "April 17. Changes in the Russian army."

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.262-265), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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