Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Russian was the Red Army?

Norman Davies on page 210 of No Simple Victory, writes,

“’The Russians’, as the Red Army was almost universally known outside the USSR, subsumed people from seventy official nationalities. According to Soviet statistics, Russians made up between 55 and 60 percent of the Soviet population. This meant that 40-45 per cent were non-Russians. According to Red Army practice, however, Russian were given precedence in the officer corps, and according to Russian customs, Byelorussians and Ukrainians were counted as Russians. The most one can say, therefore, is that the Red Army was a Russian-led army, and that Russian was the language of command. (It changed its name to ‘the Soviet Army’ in 1944.)"

ON page 211, Davies writes, “Western commentators have been particularly slow to grasp the difference between Soviet theory and practice. It’s true that the Bolshevik leaders dreamed of creating a new nation of Homo sovieticus – Communist by loyalty and Russian by culture. Yet the dream never came near to realization. The Soviet population never took on the characteristics of the American melting pot, in which all previous cultures and ethnic differences could be broken down. Instead, throughout the USSR, coherent blocks of non-Russian, and frequently anti-Russian, national groups held their ground in their own homelands and republics. Under Stalin, they were coerced into participating in all the regime’s ventures, including the Second World War. But whenever the chance came, in 1918-21 or later, under Gorbachev, they broke away in droves, and created a dozen sovereign nation states. To call them all ‘Russians’, instead of Soviets, is simply to miss the point. This fact, which has become common knowledge since the collapse of the Soviet Union, was not widely appreciated in 1939-45.” . .

“The Central Asians should also be treated as a special case. Their homelands in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan were far removed from the conflict in Europe, and they had little immediate interest in sending their young men to be slaughtered in the German war. Yet, though racially similar, they were deeply divided among themselves by languages and traditions, and they could form no common front against the Moscow-led juggernaut. What is more, Soviet rule had broken the bonds of traditional societies and of Islamic solidarity, and a huge demographic boom was putting the first sons of the modernizing Central Asian republics at the disposal of the Red Army. When fighting the Soviets, ordinary Germans imagined that they were fighting ‘Russland’, whilst Nazi racists boasted that they were stemming the tide of the ‘hordes of Asia’ or of ‘the successors of Genghis Khan’. Ironically, as the war wore on, the Nazi nightmare came ever closer to reality. Columns of olive-skinned, narrow-eyed oriental youths increasingly refilled the depleted Soviet ranks, and the composition of the Red Army visibly shifted. What enemies and allies alike continued to call ‘the Russians’ was, if truth be told, Eurasia on the march.”


I am from the “American melting pot,” and happy to be here; so I am not critical of “nationalities” working together as they did in the Red Army during World War II. But I did have the impression in reading Michael Kuznetsov’s blog, http://www.russian-victories.ru that the Red Army was pretty much entirely Russian. He uses that expression “100% Russian” about himself, and some place in the blog says something along the lines of present-day Russian being 80% pure Russian, and that does seem to be supported by the CIA Factbook which lists the ethnicity of present day Russia as “Russian 79.8%, Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 2%, Bashkir 1.2%, Chuvash 1.1%, other or unspecified 12.1% (2002 census)” So I don’t doubt that Michael is 100% part of the 79.8% that is Russian, but I do doubt that the Red Army was 100% Russian, or anything approaching that.

We can’t even say that Davies upper figure of 60% Russian for the Red Army means “Russian” as that term is used in Russia today. For Davies, as quoted above, tells us that “Byelorrussians and Ukrainians were counted as Russians.” So the 50-60% Russian ethnicity of the Red Army in World War II included Ukrainians and Byelorrussians.

I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Perhaps present day Russia is 79.8% “pure Russian,” but the Red Army during World War II wasn’t 79.8 % “pure Russian.” In fact if we were somehow able to subtract the Ukraine and Byelorrussia, the Pure might be well below 55%.

Now, as I said, I’m from “melting pot” America so I have no problem with the composition of the Red Army, but being “100% pure white Russian” seems to mean something to Michael Kuznetsov, so I wonder how what I have written plays out in his thinking.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Please show me exactly where I claim, by your words, that the RED ARMY consisted of 100 per cent Russians, and I will immediately rectify it.
Although, I have re-visited my website and failed to detect such phrases.
If you mean the fact that I prefer mainly speak about Russians, it is very simple to understand.
As I have already said, the principal aim of my website is to make the West acquainted with specifically Russian traits of national character.
Not because the Russians are, allegedly, "better" than Georgians, or Tatars, or Jews, or Bashkirs, etc.
Not at all.
I am telling the readers about what I know from my own experience and that is all.
If I were a Tatar, I would most likely say about the Tatarian specific national traits, habits and customs, but I am not a Tatar.
I have known little about the Tatar soul.
You see?

So, I repeat: show me where I write that the RED ARMY consisted of 100 percent Russians and I will immediately remove the wrong words.

Thank you for your attention.