Saturday, February 28, 2009

Red Army During World War II

The following article was posted as an oped at by Professor Ludwik Kowalski. It is posted again here by Professor Kowalski’s permission. I’ve made a few comments below the article. He didn’t give permission for my comments, but I hope he won’t mind:

On November 5, 2008 Sean McCormack, US Department of State spokesman, said that "the missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland are not aimed at Russia."- They are "designed to protect against rogue states."- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's replied that "the United States had made a wrong decision to deploy the third missile defense area in Eastern Europe."- This threat of military escalation reminded me of a note about the Red Army, recently posted on Montclair State University's discussion list. Here is my note again, turned into an oped article.

The basic facts about WWII, as far as The Soviet Union was concerned, are well known. Nazi Germany attacked the USSR in June 1941, penetrating deep into its territory. According to (1), "by December 1941, six months into the conflict, the Red Army had lost four and a half million men."- But the army was able to mount a counteroffensive and two years later Germans were in retreat.. The Soviet Union and its allies (US and United Kingdom) defeated Germany in May of 1945. The total number of soldiers drafted to fight the war was approximately 30 million in the USSR, 10 million in the US and 10 million in the UK. The US material help, to the Soviet Union, amounting to 11 billion dollars, included 14,000 airplanes, 200,000 Studebaker trucks, food and other hardware (1).

The first Soviet offensive took place close to where I lived at the time, about 30 miles north of Moscow. How can I forget the first Studebaker seen or the taste of my first American food (swinaja tushonka)? I also remember that private radios were confiscated as soon as the war started. One can only speculate what would have happened had the population known about initial losses. Likewise, one can speculate what would have happened had people known that numerous warnings of the approaching war were totally ignored by Stalin. Initial losses would probably have been lower if the Red Army had not been purged (in 1937-1938). Three of five marshals, three of four full generals, all twelve lieutenant generals, 60 of 67 corps commanders and 136 of 199 divisional commanders were liquidated at that time. And who was blamed for the initial fiasco? Eight local commanders, including General Pavlov, were "arrested, questioned, scapegoated for cowardliness, and shot"- (1), two weeks after the war started.

The undeniable heroism of Soviet people was mentioned in my book on Stalinism (2). But that was not enough. The more I think about Stalinism the more I am fascinated by it. On one hand it was a political system that killed millions of its own people; on the other hand it was an essential factor in the defeat of another tyrannical system, Naziism. It is not at all obvious that Hitler would have been defeated without the heroic contributions of the Red Army. Stalingrad was just as important as D-day.

It is clear to me that nearly every Soviet soldier had at least one family member who was either deported or killed by Stalin. And yet, many of them fought and died while chanting his name. How can this be explained? This question is asked by a British historian, Orlando Figes (3). The major factor, according to him, was relaxation of the party propaganda of class struggle. Kulaks who had survived persecutions, and their children, became as important as poor workers (proletariat) and poor peasants. The same was true for children of surviving aristocrats and other servants of the tsarist government. It is also significant that "-in 1941, Pravda dropped its peacetime masthead, "-Proletarians of all lands, unite!' The slogan that replaced it was "Death to the German invaders!"- (1).

Figes writes: "The new mood was summarized by Pravda when it argued, in June 1944, in sharp contrast to the Party's prewar principles, that 'personal qualities of every Party member should be judged by his practical contributions to the war effort,' rather than by his class origin or ideological correctness." Poems and songs heard during the war reinforced a natural desire for revenge. All Germans had to be punished for Nazi atrocities. In other words, political and religious control was relaxed. Hundreds of churches were reopened during the war. Appeal to patriotism was reinforced by replacing the old national anthem (the famous Internationale) by a new one emphasizing "indestructible brotherhood of Soviet people united by great Russia." It was also reinforced by replacing the Red Army insignia with old tsarist epaulettes, by popularizing old Russian heroes, such as Suvorov and Kutuzov, etc.

But that was not all; Special Order #227 (issued on July 28, 1942) is also mentioned in (3). That order, "Not a single step backward," was to punish "panickers" and "cowards." Special units were used to shoot soldiers who lagged behind or tried to run away from fighting. How important were these measures? According to the author, they turned out to be ineffective. Defections were reduced when battlefield camaraderie naturally developed during the offensive. Some Soviet people would probably have been less patriotic if they had been aware of deportations of entire nations to Kazakhstan, during the war. Victory was not easy; for every German soldier killed during the war, the Soviets lost three soldiers. According to (1), 8.6 million Soviet soldiers died during the war, including those who lost their lives in Nazi camps.


1) Catherine Merridale, "Ivan's War: Life and Death It The red Army,1939-1945,"- Metropolitan Books, Henty Holt and Company, 2006, New York

2) Ludwik Kowalski, "Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist regime,"- Wasteland Press, Shelbyville, KY, USA

3) Orlando Figes, " The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia,"- Metropolitan Books, Henty Holt and Company, 2007, New York


One of the books I’m reading is How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, the Fatal Errors that Led to Nazi Defeat. It was written by Bevin Alexander, the military historian. Alexander, of course, is not arguing that Hitler should have won the war. He is arguing that he “could” have won the war if he hadn’t made certain mistakes. This is the same Alexander who faulted the U.S. for not preempting Hitler before he got started. I mention this book to say that every nation in the war made mistakes. The U.S. made them by not preparing itself, by adhering to a head-in-the-sand isolationism. Britain and France made the mistake of not preempting Hitler as well. And Hitler as Alexander tells us made the mistake time and time again of trusting in himself rather than in his military experts. But the mistakes Stalin are so alien as to seem inhuman. Why kill off your best military people before engaging a dangerous enemy? Even if one believes that these military people were less loyal to Stalin than they ought to have been (although it is difficult to believe that a thorough examination could have been conducted that ended in so many major officer’s being killed), wouldn’t it have been better to let them fight the war before dealing with their loyalty? Even if they weren’t all that loyal to Stalin, surely they were loyal to the Russian people.

Hitler had a few officers killed after they tried to kill him. The loss of Rommel was significant, but the German’s had essentially lost the war by the time Rommel was forced to kill himself. And on the American side, Patton was kept out of action for awhile after slapping a private, but he wasn’t permanently lost and went back into action later; so there is nothing that took place in any other force I am aware of to compare with what Stalin did.

But the Russian army survived and the German army did not; so why do we have a problem? The particular problem I have is that the Soviet System is the preeminent example of Marxism-Leninism at work; so examples such as this one are telling. This is the sort of thing that happens when Marxism-Leninism is applied. The Great Leader around whom a cult develops can do anything for the sake of the ideal and there is no one to say no to him, at least not with impunity. And what do the “deniers” say about such acts as these? Typically they say that the officers really were guilty. The Kulaks really did oppose Stalinism. Those sent to Gulags really were disloyal. Those convicted at the show trials really were guilty; so all is as it should be. And in a way that is true – it is probably just as it “should be” in a Marist-Leninist system. Which demonstrates to the rest of us that we should do everything in our power to avoid allowing our various countries from adopting such a system, and wherever it exists in the world, whether in discussions such as this one or in acts such as those perpetrated by modern-day Islamists (who admire Stalin’s tactics), we should oppose them – much as we are doing – much as we have done since George Kennan first sent his “Long Telegram.”


Michael Kuznetsov said...

Prof. Kowalski's article is very interesting and sober.
Although, I would like to offer a brief comment on the following phrase from his article:
"It is clear to me that nearly every Soviet soldier had at least one family member who was either deported or killed by Stalin. And yet, many of them fought and died while chanting his name. How can this be explained?"

My comment is:
When trying to interpret the Russian affairs why should the Western public has been willingly listening to whoever: the Germans, French, Britons, Spaniards, Poles, Czechs, Americans, Jews, etc, etc, but not us?
Why not ask the Russians themselves?

Forgive me for the repetition of my own words from another page on this blog, but I have to do this:

I am a genuine 100 percent Russian, I was born in Russia and I have lived for 59 years in the USSR. For 25 years, from 1966 till 1991, I had lived in what is now known as the independent Ukraine, on the shores of the Azov Sea.

I have had dozens, even hundreds of friends and thousands of acquaintances in the (former) Soviet Union. But I have never encountered in the Ukraine anyone of those people whose relatives died from the so-called "Holodomor", i.e. from the alleged "Man-made Famine" in the Ukraine.

Nor have I ever encountered anyone of those people whose relatives were "repressed" by the "murderous tyrant" Stalin.

During my lifetime I have NOT encountered one single person in the USSR (particularly in Russia and in the Ukraine) who did not have at least one member of the family killed by the German invaders. In other words, in Russia there is not a single family left intact by the WW II. For instance, 8 out of 12 members of my own family were killed during the Great Patriotic War by the German Nazists.

At the same time – I emphasize this over and over again – none of my family members or any of my acquaintances' families were "killed" either by Stalin’s "repressions" or by the notorious "Holodomor".
This is my own lifetime experience.

Why not ask the Russians directly why they have chosen Stalin as "Name of Russia" during the recent TV competition?
Every Russian would readily explain to you this "riddle".
But you don't ask . . .
The West prefer better to ask whoever about our country, but not the Russians.


Ludwik Kowalski said...

1) Kuznetsov’s statement about not meeting a single victim of Stalinism is worth reflecting upon.

2) Validity of the quoted phrase depends on the size of the population of the Soviet Union, N1, on the number of victims of Stalinism, N2, and on how many people, N3, is in an average family (including aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) If the ratio of N1/N2 is not very different N3 then the quoted statement is approximately valid.

Ludwik Kowalski