Suvorov’s canons of army and state governance

Suvorov’s canons of army and state governance

A.Yu. Golubev

Alexander Vassilievich Suvorov is known as an invincible military leader and a model for Russian soldiers for all times. Many books, both in this country and abroad, (1) were written about Suvorov’s life and military career. But few modern authors ever give thought to versatility of his talent, though it was precisely what made him invincible. While many writers mention his knowledge of languages, mathematics, fortification, military and general history, politics, and more, Suvorov’s theoretical findings as regards organization of army governance (government) have been noticed by almost no one. Yet, they are no less valuable for us than the rest of his heritage. The epigraph to The Science of Victory, where they are found, says this: “Here is the eternal wisdom of truth, / Here is the mighty power of hearts, / Here is what father’s soul wishes / To preserve for his son!” (2)

He presented his system of views on army and state governance as graphs with terse commentaries. These are “the drawings whereby Suvorov asserted in the memory of the illiterate the notions about the truthful nobility of the Russian state system and the abnormality of the system accepted by other governments, about the character of relations superiors should practice toward their subordinates, about service duties, etc.” (3) Now let us turn to those drawings so that we might bridge the gap in our knowledge about the heritage left by our great ancestor. First let us consider two main graphs from The Science of Victory.

Fig. 1 shows the graph (a) which Suvorov called “Symbol of Valiant Favor of Autocratic Imperial Power” (in other words, “Relativity of Rights under Autocracy”), which shows the right correlation of power in the state and army as wielded by leaders at different levels. As we can see, the rights of a Starik (Old Man–veteran) are three times those of a Bogatyr (Hero–soldier), this in keeping with the saying: “A scholar is worth three ordinary men.” Accordingly, the rights of a Corporal are five times those of a Bogatyr, and so on up to the Emperor’s rights. Thus, the rights of superiors should grow evenly in accordance with positions they hold. The graph’s soldier in a three-eared cap can always “find the truth” climbing the “rights slope.”


Suvorov also noted this interesting regularity: given the even growth of superiors’ rights, even if the power proved more severe, a soldier would obtain justice all the same though with greater difficulty, as it was difficult to climb a higher mountain. He illustrated his point by a dotted line with this caption on top: “Demonstration of difficulties in ascent.” It was easier to obtain justice from more lenient authorities, but again under the condition that the rights graph preserved its linearity. Suvorov illustrated this situation by another dotted line superscribed “Mild incline.”

Importantly, the linearity, as he saw it, was due to the top instance, God’s power, that is, the moral principle which absolutely everyone–from ordinary soldier to the emperor–should seek to achieve while performing his duties. The divine right of this moral principle is infinitely superior to the rights of any chief, which makes it absolute as regards all of them. Let us note the following peculiarity inherent in governance based on this linear graph: all subordinates, like all superiors, are always within “the field of vision” of any person represented on the graph. Each of them “knows his maneuver” and understands how his “maneuver” fits in with that of his superior and how his subordinate’s “maneuver” fits in with his own.

Given this transparency, a superior has no need going into detail and working for his subordinate, but he cannot shift his work on to the subordinate either, because each gap on the graph instantly comes into view, with governance efficiency declining considerably.

The next graph (Fig. 2) shows other three schemes of possible governance (limited, caste and despotic).


The upper line, which Suvorov called “Arrow of applications plea ascending to High Justice. Incline of successfulness of ascent to justice under small power,” symbolizes difficulties arising in correct governance following “arrogant expansion of instance rights.” (4) As we can see, both the “lowest ranks” and the “very upper strata” find themselves totally without rights in this case. Paradoxically, everyone gains bigger rights (particularly so, the middle echelon), but this surge in rights throws entire governance off balance because the top strata are short of rights for implementing their governance duties, while the excess of rights in the middle echelon leads it to shift its duties on to the lower strata. “This enfeebles the top authority in the process of introducing a good new principle, if it demands concessions from subordinates; the same goes for their impotence in interceding on behalf of an innocent subordinate.” (5) The impossibility of “introducing a good new principle” under limited government is evident from the fact that after intersection of the “limited government graph” with the autocratic government graph its line in the area of “God’s power” proceeds almost without any ascension, which means that the limited government actually disregards the moral principle.

Presented by Suvorov as a dotted line, the caste government scheme also tends to reduce considerably the efficiency of governance. It is not for nothing that he wrote this over the graph: “Castes mean the stumbling of the estates.” In the caste system, a certain wall (grade) as it were arises between different levels of governance, and it takes a lot of effort to overcome it, and consequently the feedback (subordinate-superior) is practically inoperative as well. A chief has much more rights than is needed, and that leads to arbitrariness. There is no question of morality in this system, for which reason Suvorov broke off the graph without letting it reach “God’s power.”

The inordinate build-up of power in the hands of top superiors under despotic government also tends to seriously unbalance the governance system, because leaders at the middle and lower levels have absolutely no chance for normal performance of their duties in connection with the dearth of rights. “In consequence of this, arbitrariness predominates in the top strata of government, as powerlessness to put through a good principle does in the lower ones.” (6) Naturally enough, the despotic government does not recognize any moral principles, and therefore the despotic government graph only touches the area of God’s power.

As is evident from the graph, any deviation from “Petrine incline of ascension to justice in Great Autocracy” brings about the situation where some or other “instance part” is unable to perform its duties for lack of rights, while another “lapses into arbitrariness” on account of their excess. (b) The above two graphs are basic to the understanding of the entire Suvorov-suggested system of governance. They also show not only the “schemes” of correct (linear) government but also examples of distortions.

But there are another two very interesting graphs drawn by the great Suvorov in person and illustrating the state of affairs under republican government in general and, since 1789, in the French Republic in particular. They are of much interest for us for an added reason that the government he described resembles very much the one that took hold almost everywhere in the world in our day and age (Fig. 3).

This graph is quite similar to the “limited government graph,” but it lacks “The Throne” and “God’s power,” which means that republican government lacks the harmonious ten-echelon governance and totally lacks the moral principle. (c)


The last of Suvorov’s graphs is one portraying government in France before 1789 (Fig. 4). Notice that this ugly scheme of governance is characteristic of certain modern democracies.


As we can see from the graph, the groups that enjoyed the biggest rights in France before 1789 were all kinds of merchants, petty bourgeois and artisans, then so-called variable (elected) authorities, flatterers, courtiers, commissioners, noblemen and troops. “Fettered by the intrigue,” the royal power, however, only slightly exceeded the power of the farmer. Everyone knows well where this “curve of government” led France.

Generally, as Suvorov shows in his book, all absurdities in government are primarily the consequence of immorality of power (“Preeminence of GOD’S POWER (over man’s) is insignificant under small power (i.e., limited); despots violate GOD’S POWER, while castes forget it”). Nevertheless, degradation of power is due to a no small extent to superiors’ hair-splitting, to wit, their interference in the sphere of competence of their subordinates (while “the local has better judgment”), or, on the contrary, to their resting on their laurels after they gained certain ranks (Suvorov has what to say on this score as well: “As a candle will not make the sun brighter, so ranks will not make a reasonable man conceited”).

Suvorov deduced a formula for the right system of government, which could fit each of its echelons: “A worm-eaten apple falls down of its own accord, while a green one cannot be knocked down even by hand; neither volunteer for service, nor plead to be released from service; a presumptuous man is like a drunkard: he knows not the measure or the time,” i.e., each superior must possess full power in accordance with duties he performs. “The apple means that preliminary sorting of persons is necessary before each undertaking, for a man fit to engage in a certain affair is not yet ripe for another one or is totally unfit for the same. Whoever volunteers for it before enlisters are called should not be accepted: he is like a worm-eaten apple which will fall of its own accord before it is ripe and thus is of no use. Those failing to respond to a call are unreliable as well: they are as yet unripe; they will hesitate in battle. But those who respond to a call without volunteering for it are capable of neither jumping forward nor lagging behind in battle.” (7)

Suvorov’s ideal scheme of army and state governance can be represented as a hypothetical graph of Y = X function, which reflects the strict correspondence of the rights wielded by any officer (Y) to his duties (X). As we already know, preeminence of rights over duties leads to petty tyranny and “an impossibility to translate into life a good principle.” Another important thing is that precisely rights should be dependent on duties rather than vice versa, because otherwise we risk getting an ill-functioning system of government, where rights will be granted on totally obscure grounds for an unknown purpose.

It is also of fundamental importance for this graph that it is an upwards-directed infinity, because it is precisely what makes it linear by stretching. As soon as this stretching moral principle slackens, the straight line gets deformed in some way or other, something that leads to deterioration or even disintegration of the entire governance system. Moreover, it is of fundamental importance for the preservation of the linear graph that all parts of the governance system tend upwards (literally, “with each point of its soul”), because the straight line can be deformed on any stretch and then the governance system will degrade in principle. Thus, it is only the realization by each instance of its duty to Fatherland, the very same moral principle, that can make a state strong and prosperous and its army invincible.

Generally, one can say that in a state where people are guided by high moral principles, cases of bribery and embezzlement of public funds become intolerable and rare, while each commander in the army is always conscious that he has the honor to command rather than just commands. Suvorov writes this in The Science of Victory: “A true superior is a strong wall that by its honor reliably protects anyone in the right against winds of slander.” (8) It is this high emotion that will not let any of the leaders not only breach at least one of the moral precepts but also take a leading position where he is as yet unable to deliver properly. A subordinate for his part will always be able “to find the truth” with upper command echelons.

At this point it will be appropriate to recall a story that happened with the then Maj. Gen. Suvorov during the Russian-Turkish war (1769-1774), when he captured a fortified Turkish camp at the town of Turtukai, for which he had no orders. “Irritated by both bad developments in the war and Suvorov’s unauthorized actions, Rumyantsev summoned him to the main headquarters. After a severe reprimand, Suvorov was stripped of his command, court-martialed, and sentenced to death for his disobedience. Sick with fever, suffering from Turtukai shell-shock, Suvorov was staying at Bucharest, when he unexpectedly learned that the military court’s ruling had been sent to the Empress, and that he was ordered to reappear before Saltykov (Lieutenant General, Suvorov’s direct superior.–A.G.).

“The Empress’ decision was not long in coming. Rumyantsev had forwarded Suvorov’s verses (‘Glory to God, glory to You! Turtukai’s taken, and I’m right there.’–A.G.) along with the court sentence, adding that he was sending down ‘an unexampled laconism of the unexampled Suvorov.’ Catherine II recognized her own Diogenes in that witticism, penned ‘Victor is not judged’ on the sentence, and sent Suvorov St. George Cross 2nd Grade for his bravery and courage.” (9)

Another most important factor helping to straighten out the governance line is like-mindedness, that is, the correct and identical understanding by all instances of tasks facing them. That enables the entire power vertical to operate as a single whole to achieve aims it has to achieve. If “bad initiative” unexpectedly crops up at some level of power, the unity will instantly fall apart, the graph will become distorted, and governance efficiency will decline.

A third factor in good governance is clear-cut delimitation of powers between different instances with an authorization of reasonable initiative so that, as the brilliant Russian military leader Field Marshal P.A. Rumyantsev bequeathed, one should “not go into detail beneath only a conjecture about possible cases, against which a reasonable military leader knows precautions on his own, nor tie the hands.” (10)

Accordingly, a successful solution of these three problems will automatically deal with such a difficult governance matter as initiative, that is, its utility or harm in some or other cases. Since “initiative is a phenomenon of impromptu nature,” (11) it is very hard to draw the “boundary between permissible initiative and fatal self-will.” But it is not our case where the initiative comes from a responsible and professional leader. A.A. Kersnovsky writes this about the appropriateness of initiative at different levels in military art: “It is appropriate and desirable in tactics, can be allowed with difficulty in Operatics, and is absolutely intolerable in Strategy. Each improvisation is the enemy of organization; it is admissible in small things, changing them for the better (in tactics, when applied to military affairs), but it is harmful in essence (in military affairs, in Operatics and in Strategy) … A virtue for a tactician, initiative turns into a vice for a strategist.” (12)

In our case this can be illustrated in the following way: the smaller a chief, the faster his initiative will be realized below, the less deformed the graph itself will be, because its lower part alone will be involved. A reasonable initiative will rather quickly make the “power line” even more straight. The higher the chief, the greater fluctuation of the line will be caused by his initiative, and a very long time will be needed for the “balance of power” to be restored. And that may prove quite fatal (particularly so in military affairs).

In wartime, the soonest possible replacement of wounded or killed commanders will be a very urgent matter. In this case, too, the correctness of Suvorov’s governance canons is proved to the full. When disabled, a commander will be replaced by a lower-level one, who is practically prepared to perform his functions and will get the necessary rights along with the appropriate duties. Of course, it will not be an absolutely equal replacement, but a qualified one to the sufficient degree.

In the case of despotic or democratic governance, a disabled commander is replaced by a lower-level officer, who is unable to solve practically any problems a higher-level commander can, for his “amount of rights” is almost the same as before, while his duties multiply by an order of magnitude. Besides, no one let him in on plans of the higher-level command under despotic governance, while in a democracy (where chiefs have actually the same rights at all levels) he was not particularly keen to know them.

It is worth noting that Suvorov’s army and state government canons are particularly topical in postindustrial and information society of our day. It is not accidental either that many outstanding Russian scientists and designers were subconsciously guided by those canons as they developed automatic control systems. Take, for example, first person principle declared by Academician V. Glushkov, head of State Automated System project, or the requirement that information be equally distributed by volume and degree of generalization (which fully fits in with Suvorov’s ideal governance scheme).

If Suvorovian canons are ignored or seriously distorted in a vertical of state power or a system of command and control of troops (forces), no amount of new and latest information technologies will help to secure the due quality of governance. ACS developers have long known that failure is imminent where the “golden rule of automation”–you cannot automate disorder–is breached.

In conclusion, one would like to wish that the Suvorovian graphs reflecting the army and state governance canons, along with the immortal The Science of Victory, be included in all textbooks to be used by those who will engage in theory and practice of governing the Russian State and its army.


1. I.I. Rostunov, Generalissimus Aleksandr Vassilievich Suvorov. Zhizn i polkovodcheskaya deyatelnost, Voenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1989; Zhizn i voyennye deyaniya generalissimusa knyazia Italiyskogo grafa Aleksandra Vasilievicha Suvorova-Rymnikovskogo, Transl. by I.N.M. from 1799 London French edition, Moscow, 1800; and others.

2. A. Suvorov, Nauka pobezhdat’. S nami Bog, Publishing Center “Ankil-voin,” Moscow, 1996, p. 1.

3. Ibid., p. 14.

4. Ibid., p. 17.

5. Ibidem.

6. Ibid., p. 19.

7. Ibid., p. 33.

8. Ibid., p. 37.

9. A.V. Suvorov–velikiy syn Rossii, Triada-X Publishers, Moscow, 2000.

10. Quoted from: “Filosofiya voyny,” Rossiiskiy voyennyi sbornik, Publishing Center “Ankilvoin,” Moscow, 1995, p. 98.

11. Ibid., p. 65.

12. Ibidem.


Candidate of Philosophical Sciences

(a) Here and hereinafter the article shows drawings made by A. V. Suvorov in person.

(b) The Science of Victory provides a very interesting comment to this graph, which is a good illustration of the above: “It is not without interest to compare squares of personal rights under different kinds of governments. For example, a senior soldier’s square under limited government is almost the size of a colonel’s square under autocratic government and a leader’s under the despotic. This will not seem odd if we recall how peremptorily (though, of course, deservedly) the despotic Sultan hanged his Great Vizier for the Prut campaign, and how under the limited government of King Poniatowski superiors used to address Polish soldier as Pane Yoinierzu (that is, Mr. Soldier), while under autocratic government superiors would not address the word “Mister” even to an officer, but would just call a subordinate by his rank, which is only natural, for can a subordinate be the master in relation to his superior?”

(c) That there is no moral principle in republican government is evident from the inscription “Finger of God” on the left, which means that the republican form of government is “punishment for the people’s contempt for God’s Law.”

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