Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Red Army

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As late as 1988, the Soviet Union was churning out anti-imperialist propaganda, including deputy chief of the Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy, Alexei Sorokin’s, short tract on the virtues of the Red Army entitled “The Soviet Army—The Army of the People.” Sorokin’s pamphlet gives readers a concise history of the accomplishments of the USSR’s armed forces, but the pamphlet’s cover photo of a Russian soldier being given flowers by a peasant woman a kiss by a little peasant girl.

Moscow's Annual Victory Parade In Red Square

At bottom, the author contends that the Red Army was better than its Western counterparts in that it was an instrument of popular sovereignty and revolutionary morality rather than one of imperialism and capitalist aggression. While ignoring Trotsky’s colossal contributions to its formation, the author notes that Lenin called upon the people to defend the Revolution against German militarists, foreign interventionists, and counter-revolutionaries. (Marx and Engels had already given theoretical justification to Lenin’s resolve to suppress inevitable counter-attacks of the landlord class and its international allies).

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Political enlightenment lay at the heart of Red Army successes: Communist Party members stiffened the resolve of ordinary soldiers and ensured the loyalty of former tsarist officers whose expertise, the author admits, proved invaluable to the inexperienced Red Army officer class. At first, the author claims that the military strategy was decided by Lenin and a small group of senior Party officials, although this gave way to a unified command system in the middle of the 1920s. As literacy expanded dramatically as a result of communist educational ideals, the Soviet Army became increasingly efficient. The 1920s also saw the Army implementing a system of formal bigotry against anyone who was not fortunate enough to hail from the working classes (although this principle of exclusion was later revoked when class differences had been “ended”).

Soviet Prisoners

The growing power of the Soviet army eventually led to the country’s greatest triumph, the defeat of the mighty NAZI war machine. Interestingly, Sorokin notes that the Germany armed forces had grown strong as a result of the investment by America and its allies in the German economy during the interwar years, but skips over Stalin’s nonaggression pact with Germany, as well as the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or indeed the Russian invasion of Poland and other Eastern European states before operation Barbarossa. However, the author’s adjective for the premeditated attack by German is “perfidious,” a term that at least hints at the embarrassing fact that Communist Russia had some reason to expect cooperation from Hitler.

At any rate, Sorokin rightly attests to the heroism of the Soviet Army, and the brutality of the invading forces that can be linked to the deaths of 20 million Soviet citizens. Clearly, the Revolution—indeed all revolutions—need defending. Witness the unfortunate demise of the interwar experiments with communism such as that of Hungary and Bavaria.

Sorokin is rightly proud of the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War and battles such as Moscow, Stalingrad and Leningrad, and the role the Red Army played in the liberation of 13 different European and Asian nations. One of his ongoing themes is that Communist Party members were particularly heroic in such battles and suffered disproportionate losses relative to ordinary Russian citizens, a theme that must have been appealing to old line Bolsheviks in the age of glasnost and perestroika.

Soviet successes were also predicated on the superiority of Communist principles. Collectivized farms even produced more food for the army than would have otherwise been the case. The author acknowledges allied assistance but notes that Russia was responsible for the great bulk of German losses. Of course, Sorokin says very little about American leadership in the Pacific War, and says nothing about the Lend-Lease program. In fact, Sorokin insists that the Soviets played a large role in the Japanese capitulation owing to the Soviet route of its one million man Kwangtung army. Moreover, he says that the American decision to drop the bomb was meant to intimidate Russian and the world rather than to win the war against Japan. Needless to say, Sorokin says nothing at all is said about Stalin’s disastrous military decisions in the opening phases of the war.

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Coming to the present, the author underscores that the Soviet armed forces are distinct from those of the West. They are peaceful, popular with ordinary people, scientifically managed, inseparably linked to the Communist Party, and supportive of revolutionary aspirations in the developing world. Under Gorbachev, the armed forces were withdrawing from Afghanistan (which he asserts, with some defensiveness, they were right to aid), making significant efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, and maintaining the “shield of socialism,” i.e., the Warsaw Pact.

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