8. Foreign Policy and the Army
1. From “World Revolution” to Status Quo
Foreign policy is everywhere and always a continuation of domestic policy, for it is conducted by the same ruling class and pursues the same historic goals. The degeneration of the governing stratum in the Soviet Union could not but be accompanied by a corresponding change of aims and methods in Soviet diplomacy. The “theory” of socialism in one country, first announced in the autumn of 1924, already signalized an effort to liberate Soviet foreign policy from the program of international revolution. The bureaucracy, however, had no intention to liquidate therewith its connection with the Communist International. That would have converted the latter into a world oppositional organization, with resulting unfavorable consequences in the correlation of forces within the Soviet Union. On the contrary, the less the policy of the Kremlin preserved of its former internationalism, the more firmly the ruling clique clutched in its hands the rudder of the Communist International. Under the old name it was now to serve new ends. For the new ends, however, new people were needed. Beginning with the autumn of 1923, the history of the Communist International is a history of the complete renovation of its Moscow staff, and the staffs of all the national sections, by way of a series of palace revolutions, purgations from above, expulsions, etc. At the present time, the Communist International is a completely submissive apparatus in the service of Soviet foreign policy, ready at any time for any zigzag whatever.
The bureaucracy has not only broken with the past, but has deprived itself of the ability to understand the most important lessons of that past. The chief of these lessons was that the Soviet power could not have held out for 12 months without the direct help of the international – and especially the European – proletariat, and without a revolutionary movement of the colonial peoples. The only reason the Austro-German military powers did not carry their attack upon Soviet Russia through to the end was that they felt behind their back the hot breath of the revolution. In some three quarters of a year, insurrections in Germany and Austro-Hungary put an end to the Brest-Litovsk treaty. The revolt of the French sailors in the Black Sea in April 1919 compelled the government of the Third Republic to renounce its military operations in the Soviet South. The British government, in September 1919, withdrew its expeditionary forces from the Soviet North under direct pressure from its own workers. After the retreat of the Red Army from the vicinity of Warsaw in 1920, only a powerful wave of revolutionary protests prevented the Entente from coming to the aid of Poland and crushing the Soviets. The hands of Lord Curzon, when he delivered his threatening ultimatum to Moscow in 1923, were bound at the decisive moment by the resistance of the British workers’ organizations. These clear episodes are not peculiar. They depict the whole character of the first and most difficult period of Soviet existence. Although the revolution triumphed nowhere outside the limits of Russia, the hopes of its triumph were far from being fruitless.
During those years, the Soviet government concluded a series of treaties with bourgeois governments: the Brest-Litovsk peace in 1918; a treaty with Estonia in 1920; the Riga peace with Poland in October 1920; the treaty of Rapallo with Germany in April 1922; and other less important diplomatic agreements. It could never have entered the mind of the Soviet government as a whole, however, nor any member of it, to represent its bourgeois counteragents as “friends of peace”, and still less to invite the communist parties of Germany, Poland, or Estonia, to support with their votes the bourgeois governments which had signed these treaties. It is just this question, moreover, which is decisive for the revolutionary education of the masses. The Soviets could not help signing the Brest-Litovsk peace, just as exhausted strikers cannot help signing the most cruel conditions imposed by the capitalists. But the vote cast in favor of this peace by the German Social Democrats, in the hypothetical form of “abstention”, was denounced by the Bolsheviks as a support of brigandage and brigands. Although the Rapallo agreement with democratic Germany was signed four years later on a formal basis of “equal rights” for both parties, nevertheless if the German communist party had made this a pretext to express confidence in the diplomacy of its country, it would have been forthwith expelled from the International. The fundamental line of the international policy of the Soviets rested on the fact that this or that commercial, diplomatic, or military bargain of the Soviet government with the imperialists, inevitable in the nature of the case, should in no case limit or weaken the struggle of the proletariat of the corresponding capitalist country, for in the last analysis the safety of the workers’ state itself could be guaranteed only by the growth of the world revolution. When Chicherin, during the preparations for the Geneva Conference, proposed for the benefit of “public opinion” in America to introduce certain “democratic” changes in the Soviet Constitution, Lenin, in an official letter of January 23, 1922, urgently recommended that Chicherin be sent immediately to a sanatorium. If anybody had dared in those days to propose that we purchase the good favor of “democratic” imperialism by adhering, let us say, to the false and hollow Kellog Pact, or by weakening the policy of the Communist International, Lenin would indubitably have proposed that the innovator be sent to an insane asylum – and he would hardly have met any opposition in the Politburo.
The leaders of those days were especially implacable in relation to all kinds of pacifist illusions – League of Nations, collective security, courts of arbitration, disarmament, etc. – seeing in them only a method of lulling the toiling masses in order to catch them unawares when a new war breaks out. In the program of the party, drafted by Lenin and adopted at the Congress of 1919, we find the following unequivocal lines on this subject:
“The developing pressure of the proletariat, and especially its victories in individual countries, are strengthening the resistance of the exploiters and impelling them to new forms of international consolidation of the capitalists (League of Nations, etc.) which, organizing on a world scale the systematic exploitation of all the peoples of the Earth, are directing their first efforts toward the immediate suppression of the revolutionary movements of the proletariat of all countries. All this inevitably leads to a combination of civil wars within the separate states with revolutionary wars, both of the proletarian countries defending themselves, and of the oppressed peoples against the yoke of the imperialist powers. In these conditions the slogans of pacifism, international disarmament under capitalism, courts of arbitration, etc., are not only reactionary utopias, but downright deceptions of the toilers designed to disarm the proletariat and distract it from the task of disarming the exploiters.”
These lines, from the Bolshevik program, constitute an advance estimate, and moreover a truly devastating one, of the present Soviet foreign policy and the policy of the Communist International, with all its pacifistic “friends” in every corner of the Earth.
After the period of intervention and blockade, the economic and military pressure of the capitalist world on the Soviet Union did, to be sure, prove considerably weaker than might have been feared. Europe was still thinking of the past and not the future war. Then came the unheard of economic world crisis, causing prostrations in the ruling classes of the whole world. It was only thanks to this that the Soviet Union could survive the trials of the first five-year plan, when the country again became an arena of civil war, famine, and epidemic. The first years of the second five-year plan, which have brought an obvious betterment of internal conditions, have coincided with the beginning of an economic revival in the capitalist world, and a new tide of hopes, appetites, yearnings and preparations for war. The danger of a combined attack on the Soviet Union takes palpable form in our eyes only because the country of the Soviets is still isolated, because to a considerable extent this “one-sixth of the Earth’s surface” is a realm of primitive backwardness, because the productivity of labor in spite of the nationalization of the means of production is still far lower than in capitalist countries, and, finally – what is at present most important – because the chief detachments of the world proletariat are shattered, distrustful of themselves, nd deprived of reliable leadership. Thus the October revolution, in which its leaders saw only a prelude to world revolution, but which in the course of things has received a temporary independent significance, reveals in this new historic stage its deep dependence upon world development. Again it becomes obvious that the historic question, who shall prevail? cannot be decided within national boundaries, that interior successes and failures only prepare more or less favorable conditions for its decision on the world arena.
The Soviet bureaucracy – we must do it this justice – has acquired a vast experience in directing popular masses, in lulling them to sleep, dividing and weakening them, or deceiving them outright for the purpose of unlimited domination over them. But for this very reason it has lost every trace of the faculty of revolutionary education of the masses. Having strangled independence and initiative in the lower ranks of the people at home, it naturally cannot provoke critical thought and revolutionary daring on the world arena. Moreover, as a ruling and privileged stratum, it values infinitely more the help and friendship of those who are kin to it in social type in the West – bourgeois radicals, reformist parliamentarians, trade-union bureaucrats – than of the rank-and-file workers who are separated from it by social chasms. This is not the place for a history of the decline and degeneration of the Third International, a subject to which the author has dedicated a series of independent investigations published in almost all the languages of the civilized world. The fact is that in its capacity as leader of the Communist International, the nationally limited and conservative, ignorant and irresponsible Soviet bureaucracy has brought nothing but misfortunes to the workers’ movement of the world. As though in historic justice, the present international position of the Soviet Union is determined to a far higher degree by the consequences of the defeat of the world proletariat, than by the successes of an isolated Socialist construction. It is sufficient to recall that the defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1925-27, which untied the hands of Japanese militarism in the East, and the shattering of the German proletariat which led to the triumph of Hitler and the mad growth of German militarism, are alike the fruits of the policy of the Communist International.
Having betrayed the world revolution, but still feeling loyal to it, the Thermidorean bureaucracy has directed its chief efforts to “neutralizing” the bourgeoisie. For this it was necessary to seem a moderate, respectable, authentic bulwark of order. But in order to seem something successfully and for a long time, you have to be it. The organic evolution of the ruling stratum has taken care of that. Thus, retreating step-by-step before the consequences of its own mistakes, the bureaucracy has arrived at the idea of insuring the inviolability of the Soviet Union by including it in the system of the European-Asiastic status quo. What could be finer, when all is said and done, than an eternal pact of non-aggression between socialism and capitalism? The present official formula of foreign policy, widely advertised not only by the Soviet diplomacy, which is permitted to speak in the customary language of its profession, but by the Communist International, which is supposed to speak the language of revolution, reads: “We don’t want an inch of foreign land, but we will not surrender an inch of our own.” As though it were a question of mere quarrels about a bit of land, and not of the world struggle of two irreconcilable social systems!
When the Soviet Union considered it more sensible to surrender the Chinese-Eastern Railroad to Japan, this act of weakness, prepared by the collapse of the Chinese revolution, was celebrated as a manifestation of self-confident power in the service of peace. In reality, by surrendering to the enemy an extremely important strategic highway, the Soviet government promoted Japan’s further seizures in North China and her present attempts upon Mongolia. That forced sacrifice did not mean a “neutralization” of the danger, but at the best a short breathing spell, and at the same time a mighty stimulus to the appetites of the ruling military clique in Tokyo.
The question of Mongolia is already a question of the strategic positions to be occupied by Japan in a future war against the Soviet Union. The Soviet government found itself this time compelled to announce openly that it would answer the intrusion of Japanese troops into Mongolia with war. Here, however, it is no question of the immediate defense of “our land”: Mongolia is an independent state. A passive defense of the Soviet boundaries seemed sufficient only when nobody was seriously threatening them. The real method of defense of the Soviet Union is to weaken the positions of imperialism, and strengthen the position of the proletariat and the colonial peoples throughout the Earth. An unfavorable correlation of forces might compel us to surrender many “inches” of land, as it did at the moment of the Brest-Litovsk peace, the Riga peace, and in the matter of the handing over of the Chinese-Eastern Railroad. At the same time, the struggle for a favorable change in the correlation of world forces puts upon the workers’ state a continual obligation to come to the help of the liberative movements in other countries. But it is just this fundamental task which conflict absolutely with the conservative policy of the status quo.
2. The League of Nations and the Communist International
The rapprochement and subsequent outright military treaty with France, the chief defender of the status quo – a policy which resulted from the victory of German National Socialism – is infinitely more favorable to France than to the Soviets. The obligation to military from the side of the Soviets is, according to the treaty, unconditional; French help, on the contrary, is conditioned upon a preliminary agreement with England and Italy, which opens an unlimited field for hostile machinations against the Soviet Union. The events connected with the Rhineland demonstrated that, with a more realistic appraisal of the situation, and with more restraint, Moscow might have gotten better guarantees from France – if indeed treaties can be considered “guarantees” in an epoch of sharp changes of set-up, continued diplomatic crises, rapprochements and breaks. But this is not the first time it has become evident that the Soviet bureaucracy is far more firm in its struggles against the advanced workers of its own country, than in negotiation with the bourgeois diplomats.
The assertion that help from the side of the Soviet Union is of little consequence in view of the fact that it has no common boundary with Germany, is not to be taken seriously. In case Germany attacks the Soviet Union, the common boundary will obviously be found by the attacking side. In the case of an attack by Germany on Austria, Czechoslovakia, and France, Poland cannot remain neutral for a day. If she recognizes her obligations as an ally of France, she will inevitably open the road to the Red Army; and if she breaks her treaty of alliance, she will immediately become a helpmate of Germany. In the latter case, the Soviet Union will have no difficulty in finding a “common boundary.” Moreover, in a future war, the sea and air “boundaries” will play no less a role than those on land.
The entrance of the Soviet Union into the League of Nations – represented to the Russian population, with the help of a stage management worthy of Goebbels, as a triumph of socialism and a result of “pressure” from the world proletariat – was in reality acceptable to the bourgeoisie only as a result of the extreme weakening of the revolutionary danger. It was not a victory of the Soviet Union, but a capitulation of the Thermidorean bureaucracy to this hopelessly compromised Geneva institution, which, according to the above-quoted words of the Bolshevik program, “will direct its future efforts to the suppression of revolutionary movements.” What has changed so radically since the days of the Magna Carta of Bolshevism: the nature of the League of Nations, the function of pacifism in a capitalist society, or – the policy of the Soviets? To ask the question is to answer it.
Experience quickly proved that participation in the League of Nations, while adding nothing to those practical advantages which could be had by way of agreements with separate bourgeois states, imposes at the same time serious limitations and obligations. These the Soviet Union is performing with the most pedantic faithfulness in the interest of its still unaccustomed conservative prestige. The necessity of accommodation within the League not only to France, but also to her allies, compelled Soviet diplomacy to occupy an extremely equivocal position in the Italian-Abyssinian conflict. At the very time when Litvinov, who was nothing at Geneva but a shadow of Laval, expressed his gratitude to the diplomats of France and England for their efforts “in behalf of peace”, efforts which so auspiciously resulted in the annihilation of Abyssinia, oil from the Caucausus continued to nourish the Italian fleet. Even if you can understand that the Moscow government hesitated openly to break a commercial treaty, still the trade unions were not obliged to take into consideration the undertakings of the Commissariat of Foreign Trade. An actual stoppage of exports to Italy by a decision of the Soviet trade unions would have evoked a world movement of boycott incomparably more real than the treacherous “sanctions”, measured as they were in advance by diplomatists and jurists in agreement with Mussolini. And if the Soviet trade unions never lifted a finger this time, in contrast with 1926, when they openly collected millions of rubles for the British coal strike, it is only because such an initiative was forbidden by the ruling bureaucracy, chiefly to curry favor with France. In the coming world war, however, no military allies can recompense the Soviet Union for the lost confidence of the colonial peoples and of the toiling masses in general.
Can it be that this is not understood in the Kremlin?
The fundamental aim of German fascism” – so answers the Soviet official newspaper – “is to isolate the Soviet Union ... Well, and what of it? The Soviet Union has today more friends in the world than ever before.” (Izvestia, 17/9/35)
The Italian proletariat is in the chains of fascism; the Chinese revolution is shattered, and Japan is playing the boss in China; the German proletariat is so crushed that Hitler’s plebiscite encounters no resistance whatever; the proletariat of Austria is bound hand and foot; the revolutionary parties of the Balkans are trampled in the earth; in France, in Spain, the workers are marching at the tail of the radical bourgeoisie. In spite of all this, the Soviet government from the time of its entrance into the League of Nation has had “more friends in the world than ever before”! This boast, so fantastic at first glance, has a very real meaning when you apply it not to the workers’ state, but to its ruling group. Was it not indeed the cruel defeats of the world proletariat which permitted the Soviet bureaucracy to usurp the power at home and earn a more or less favorable “public opinion” in the capitalist countries? The less the Communist International is capable of threatening the positions of capital, the more political credit is given to the Kremlin government in the eyes of French, Czechoslovak, and other bourgeoisies. Thus the strength of the bureaucracy, both domestic and international, is in inverse proportion to the strength of the Soviet Union as a socialist state and a fighting base of the proletarian revolution. However, that is only one side of the medal. There is another.
Lloyd George, in whose jumps and sensations there is often a glimmer of shrewd penetration, warned the House of Commons in November 1934 against condemning fascist Germany, which, according to his words, was destined to be the most reliable bulwark against communism in Europe. “We shall yet greet her as our friend.” Most significant words! The half-patronizing, half-ironical praise addressed by the world bourgeoisie to the Kremlin is not of itself in the slightest degree a guarantee of peace, or even a simple mitigation of the war danger. The evolution of the Soviet bureaucracy is of interest to the world bourgeoisie in the last analysis from the point of view of possible changes in the forms of property. Napoleon I, after radically abandoning the traditions of Jacobinism, donning the crown, and restoring the Catholic cult, remained nevertheless an object of hatred to the whole of ruling semi-feudal Europe, because he continued to defend the new property system created by the revolution. Until the monopoly of foreign trade is broken and the rights of capital restored, the Soviet Union, in spite of all the services of its ruling stratum, remains in the eyes of the bourgeoisie of the whole world an irreconcilable enemy, and German National Socialism a friend, if not today, at least of tomorrow. Even during the negotiations of Barthou and Laval with Moscow, the big French bourgeoisie, in spite of the critical danger from the side of Hitler, and the sharp turn of the French Communist Party to patriotism, stubbornly refused to stake its game on the Soviet card. When he signed the treaty with the Soviet Union, Laval was accused from the Left of frightening Berlin with Moscow, while seeking in reality a rapprochement with Berlin and Rome against Moscow. This judgment was perhaps a little premature, but by no means in conflict with the natural development of events.
However one may judge the advantages of disadvantages of the Franco-Soviet pact, still, no serious revolutionary statesman would deny the right of the Soviet state to seek supplementary supports for its inviolability in temporary agreements with this or that imperialism. It is only necessary clearly and openly to show the masses the place of these partial and tactical agreements in the general system of historic forces. In order to make use particularly of the antagonism between France and Germany, there is not the slightest need of idealizing the bourgeois ally, or that combination of imperialists which temporarily hides behind the screen of the League of Nations. Not only Soviet diplomacy, however, but in its steps the Communist International systematically paints up the episodical allies of Moscow as “friends of peace”, deceives the workers with slogans like “collective security” and “disarmament”, and thus becomes in reality a political agent of the imperialists among the working classes.
The notorious interview given by Stalin to the president of the Scripps-Howard newspapers, Roy Howard, on March 1, 1936, is a precious document for the characterization of bureaucratic blindness upon the great questions of world politics, and of that false relation which has been established between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the world workers’ movement. To the question, Is war inevitable?, Stalin answers:
“I think that the position of the friends of peace is growing stronger; the friends of peace can work openly, they rely upon the strength of public opinion, they have at their disposal such instruments, for instance, as the League of Nations.”
In these words, there is not a glimmer of realism. The bourgeois states do not divide themselves into “friends” and “enemies” of peace – especially since “peace” as such does not exist. Each imperialist country is interested in preserving its peace, and the more sharply interested, the more unbearable this peace may be for its enemies. The formula common to Stalin, Baldwin, Leon Blum, and others, “peace would be really guaranteed if all states united in the League for its defense”, means merely that peace would be guaranteed if there existed no causes for its violation. The thought is correct, if you please, but not exactly weighty. The great powers who are nonmembers of the League, like the United States, obviously value a free hand above the abstraction of “peace.” For just what purpose they need these free hands they will show in due time. Those states which withdraw from the League, like Japan and Germany, or temporarily take a “leave of absence” from it, like Italy, also have sufficiently material reasons for what they do. Their break with the League merely changes the diplomatic form of existent antagonisms, but not their nature and not the nature of the League. Those virtuous nation which swear eternal loyalty to the League compel themselves the more resolutely to employ it in support of their peace. But even so, there is no agreement. England is quite ready to extend the period of peace – at the expense of France’s interests in Europe or in Africa. France, in her turn, is ready to sacrifice the safety of the British naval routes – for the support of Italy. But for the defense of their own interests, they are both ready to resort to war – to the most just, it goes without saying of all wars. And, finally, the small states, which for the lack of anything better seek shelter in the shadow of the League, will show up in the long run not on the side of “peace”, but on the side of the strongest combination in the war.
The League in its defense of the status quo is not an organization of “peace”, but an organization of the violence of the imperialist minority over the overwhelming majority of mankind. This “order” can be maintained only with the help of continual wars, little and big – today in the colonies, tomorrow between the great powers. Imperialist loyalty to the status quo has always a conditional, temporary, and limited character. Italy was yesterday defending the status quo of Europe, but not in Africa. What will be her policy in Europe tomorrow, nobody knows. But already the change of boundaries in Africa finds its reflection in Europe. Hitler made bold to lead his troops into the Rhineland only because Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. It would be hard to number Italy among the “friends” of peace. However, France values her friendship with Italy incomparably more than her friendship with the Soviet Union. England on her side seeks a friendship with Germany. The groupings change; the appetites remain. The task of the so-called partisans of the status quo is in essence to find in the League the most auspicious combination of forces, and the most advantageous cover for the preparation of a future war. Who will begin it and how, depends upon circumstances of secondary importance. Somebody will have to begin it, because the status quo is a cellarful of explosives.
A program of “disarmament”, while imperialist antagonisms survive, is the most pernicious of fictions. Even if it were realized by way of general agreement – an obviously fantastic assumption! – that would by no means prevent a new war. The imperialists do not make war because there are armaments; on the contrary, they forge arms when they need to fight. The possibilities of a new, and, moreover, very speedy, arming lie in contemporary technique. Under no matter what agreements, limitations and “disarmaments”, the arsenals, the military factories, the laboratories, the capitalist industries as a whole, preserve their force. Thus Germany, disarmed by her conquerors under the most careful control (which, by the way, is the only real form of “disarmament”!) is again, thanks to her powerful industries, becoming the citadel of European militariam. She intends, in her turn, to “disarm” certain of her neighbors. The idea of a so-called “progressive disarmament” means only an attempt to cut down excessive military expenses in time of peace. But that task, too, remains unrealized. In consequence of differences of geographic position, economic power and colonial saturation, any standards of disarmament would inevitably change the correlation of forces to the advantage of some and to the disadvantage of others. Hence the fruitlessness of the attempts made in Geneva. Almost 20 years of negotiations and conversations about disarmament have led only to a new wave of armaments, which is leaving far behind everything that was ever seen before. To build the revolutionary policy of the proletariat on a program of disarmament means to build it not on sand, but on the smoke screen of militarism.
The strangulation of the class struggle in the cause of an unhindered progress of imperialist slaughter can be ensured only with the mediation of the leaders of the mass workers’ organizations. The slogans under which this task was fulfilled in 1914: “The last war”, “War against Prussian militarism”, “War for democracy”, are too well discredited by the history of the last two decades. “Collective security” and “general disarmament” are their substitutes. Under the guise of supporting the League of Nations, the leaders of the workers’ organizations of Europe are preparing a new edition of the “sacred union”, a thing no less necessary for war than tanks, aeroplanes, and the “forbidden” poison gases.
The Third International was born of an indignant protest against social patriotism. But the revolutionary charge placed in it by the October revolution is long ago expended. The Communist International now stands under the banner of the League of Nations, as does the Second International, only with a fresher store of cynicism. When the British Socialist, Sir Stafford Cripps, called the League of Nations an international union of brigands, which was more impolite than unjust, the London Times ironically asked: “In that case, how explain the adherence of the Soviet Union to the League of Nations?” It is not easy to answer. Thus the Moscow bureaucracy brings its powerful support to that social patriotism, to which the October revolution dealt a crushing blow.
Roy Howard tried to get a little illumination on this point also. What is the state of affairs – he asked Stalin – as to plans and intentions in regard to world revolution?
“We never had any such plans or intentions.” But, well ... “This is the result of a misunderstanding.”
Howard: “A tragic misunderstanding?”
Stalin: “No, comic, or, if you please, tragi-comic.” The quotation is verbatim. “What danger,” Stalin continued, “can the surrounding states see in the ideas of the Soviet people if these states really sit firmly in the saddle?”
Yes, but suppose – the interviewer might ask – they do not sit so firm? Stalin adduced one more quieting argument:
“The idea of exporting a revolution is nonsense. Every country if it wants one will produce its own revolution, and if it doesn’t, there will be no revolution. Thus, for instance, our country wanted to make a revolution and made it ...”
Again, we have quoted verbatim. From the theory of socialism in a single country, it is a natural transition to that of revolution in a single country. For what purpose, then, does the International exist? – the interviewer might have asked. But he evidently knew the limits of legitimate curiosity. The reassuring explanations of Stalin, which are read not only by capitalists but by workers, are full of holes. Before “our country” desired to make a revolution, we imported the idea of Marxism for other countries, and made use of foreign revolutionary experience. For decades we had our émigrés abroad who guided the struggle in Russia. We received moral and material aid from the workers’ organizations of Europe and America. After our victory we organized, in 1919, the Communist International. We more than once announced the duty of the proletariat of countries in which the revolution had conquered to come to the aid of oppressed and insurrectionary classes, and that not only with ideas but if possible with arms. Nor did we limit ourselves to announcements. We in our own time aided the workers of Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Georgia with armed force. We made an attempt to bring aid to the revolting Polish proletariat by the campaign of the Red Army against Warsaw. We sent organizers and commanders to the help of the Chinese in revolution. In 1926, we collected millions of rubles for the aid of the British strikers. At present, this all seems to have been a misunderstanding. A tragic one? No, it is comic. No wonder Stalin has declared that to live, in the Soviet Union, has become “gay.” Even the Communist International has changed from a serious to a comic personage.
Stalin would have made a more convincing impression upon his interviewer if, instead of slandering the past, he had openly contrasted the policy of Thermidor to the policy of October.
“In the eyes of Lenin,” he might have said, “the League of Nations was a machine for the preparation of a new imperialist war. We see in it an instrument of peace. Lenin spoke of the inevitability of revolutionary wars. We consider the idea of exporting revolution nonsense. Lenin denounced the union of the proletariat with the imperialist bourgeoisie as treason. We with all our power impel the international proletariat along this road. Lenin slashed the slogan of disarmament under capitalism as a deceit of the workers. We build our whole policy upon this slogan. Your tragi-comic misunderstand” – Stalin might have concluded – “lies in your taking us for the continuers of Bolshevism, when we are in fact its gravediggers.”
3. The Red Army and Its Doctrines
The old Russian soldier, brought up in the patriarchal conditions of the rural commune, was distinguished above all by a blind herd instinct. Suvorov, the generalissimo of Catherine II and Paul, was the unexcelled master of an army of feudal slaves. The great French revolution shelved forever the military act of the old Europe and of tzarist Russia. The empire, to be sure, still continued to add gigantic territorial conquests, but it won no further victories over the armies of civilized nations. A series of external defeats and inward disturbances was needed in order to transmute the national character in their fires. The Red Army could only have been formed on a new social and psychological basis. That long-suffering herd instinct and submissiveness to nature were replaced in the younger generations by a spirit of daring and the cult of technique. Together with the awakening of individuality went a swift rise of the cultural level. Illiterate recruits became fewer and fewer. The Red Army does not let anybody leave its ranks who cannot read and write. All sorts of athletic sports developed tumultuously in the Army and around it. Among the workers, officials and students in the badge of distinction for marksmanship enjoyed great popularity. In the winter months, skis gave the regiments a hitherto unknown mobility. Startling successes were achieved in the sphere of parachute-jumping, gliding, and aviation. The arctic flights into the stratosphere are know to everybody. These high points speak for a whole mountain chain of achievements.
It is unnecessary to idealize the standard of the Red Army in organization or operation during the years of the civil war. For the young commanding staff, however, those were years of a great baptism. Rank-and-file soldiers of the tzar’s army, underofficers and corporals, disclosed the talents of organizers and military leaders, and tempered their wills in a struggle of immense scope. These self-made men were more than once beaten, but in the long run they conquered. The better among them studied assiduously. Among the present higher chiefs, who went clear through the school of the civil war, the overwhelming majority have also graduated from academies or special courses. Among the senior officers, about half received a higher military education; the rest a cadet course. Military theory gave them the necessary discipline of thought, but did not destroy the audacity awakened by the dramatic operations of the civil war. This generation is now about 40 to 50 years old, the age of equilibrium of physical and spiritual forces, when a bold initiative relies upon experience and is not yet quenched by it.
The party, the Communist Youth, the trade unions – even regardless of how they fulfill their socialist mission – the administration of the nationalized industries, the co-operatives, the collective farms, the Soviet farms – even regardless of how they fulfill their economic tasks – are training innumerable cadres of young administrators, accustomed to operate with human and commodity masses, and to identify themselves with the state. They are the natural reservoir of the commanding staff. The high pre-service preparation of the student creates another independent reservoir. The students are grouped in special training battalions, which in case of mobilization can successfully develop into emergency schools of the commanding staff. To measure the scope of this source, it is sufficient to point out that the number of those graduated from the higher educational institutions has now reached 800,000 a year, the number of college and university students exceeds half-a-million, and that the general number of students in all the scholastic institutions is approaching 28,000,000.
In the sphere of economics, and especially industry, the social revolution has provided the enterprise of national defense with advantages of which the old Russia could not dream. Planning methods mean, in the essence of the matter, a continual mobilization of industry in the hands of the government, and make it possible to focus on the interests of defense even in building and equipping new factories. The correlation between the living and mechanical forces of the Red Army may be considered, by and large, as on a level with the best armies of the West. In the sphere of artillery re-equipment, decisive successes were obtained already in the course of the first five-year plan. Immense sums are being expended in the production of trucks and armored cars, tanks, and aeroplanes. There are at present about half-a-million tractors in this country. In 1936, 160,000 are to be put out, with a total horsepower of 8.5 million. The building of tanks is progressing at a parallel rate. The mobilization plans of the Red Army call for 30 to 45 tanks per kilometre of the active front. As a result of the Great War, the navy was reduced from 548,000 tons in 1917 to 82,000 in 1928. Here we had to begin almost from the beginning. In January 1936, Tukhachevsky announced at a session of the Central Executive Committee: “We are creating a powerful navy. We are concentrating our forces primarily upon the development of a submarine fleet.” The Japanese naval staff is well-informed, we may assume, as to the achievements in this sphere. No less attention is now being given to the Baltic. Still, in the coming years, the navy can pretend only to an auxiliary role in the defense of the coastal front.
But the air fleet has advanced mightily. Over two years ago, a delegation of French aviation engineers was, in the words of the press, “astonished and delighted by the achievements in this sphere.” They had an opportunity in particular to convince themselves that the Red Army is producing in increasing numbers heavy bombing planes for action on a radius of 1,200 to 1,500 kilometres. In case of a war in the Far East, the political and military centres of Japan would be subject to attack from the Soviet coast. According to data appearing in the press, the five-year plan of the Red Army for 1935 contemplated 62 air regiments capable of bringing simultaneously 5,000 aeroplanes into the line of fire. There is hardly a doubt that the plan was fulfilled, and probably more than fulfilled.
Aviation is closely bound up with a branch of industry, almost nonexistent in tzarist Russia, but lately advancing by leaps and bounds – chemistry. It is no secret that the Soviet government – and, incidentally, the other governments of the world – does not believe for a second in the oft-repeated “prohibitions” of the use of poison gas. The work of the Italian civilizers in Abyssinia has again plainly shown what these humanitarian limitations of international brigandage are good for. We may assume that against any catastrophic surprises whatever in the sphere of military chemistry or military bacteriology, these most mysterious and sinister enterprises, the Red Army is as well-equipped as the armies of the West.
As to the quality of the articles of military manufacture, there may be a legitimate doubt. We have noted, however, that instruments of production are better manufactured in the Soviet Union than objects of general use. Where the purchasers are influential groups of the ruling bureaucracy, the quantity of the product rises considerably above the average level, which is still very low. The most influential client is the war department. It is no surprise if the machinery of destruction is of better quality, not only than the objects of consumption, but also than the instruments of production. Military industry remains, however, a part of the whole industry and, although to a lesser degree, reflects its inadequacies. Voroshilov and Tukhachevsky lose no opportunity publicly to remind the industrialists: “We are not always fully satisfied with the quality of the products which you supply to the Red Army.” In private sessions, the military leaders express themselves, we may assume, more categorically. The commissary supplies are, as a general rule, of lower quality than the munitions. The shoe is poorer than the machine gun. But also the aeroplane motor, notwithstanding indubitable progress, still considerably lags behind the best Western types. In the matter of military equipment as a whole, the old task is still there: to catch up as soon as possible to the standard of the future enemy.
It stands worse with agriculture. In Moscow, they often say that since the income from industry has already exceeded that from agriculture, the Soviet Union has ipso facto changed from an agrarian-industrial to an industrial-agrarian country. In reality, the new correlation of incomes is determined not so much by the growth of industry, significant as that is, as by the extraordinarily low level of agriculture. The unusual lenience of Soviet diplomacy for some years toward Japan was caused, among other things, by serious food-supply difficulties. The last three years, however, have brought considerable relief, and permitted in particular the creation of serious military food-supply bases in the Far East.
The sorest spot in the army, paradoxical as it may seem, is the horse. In the full blast of complete collectivization, about 55 per cent of the country’s horses were killed. Moreover, in spite of motorization, a present-day army needs, as during the time of Napoleon, one horse every three soldiers. During the last year, however, things have taken a favorable turn in this matter: the number of horses in the country is again on the increase. In any case, even if war broke out in the coming months, a state with 170 million population will always be able to mobilize the necessary food resources and horses for the front – to be sure, at the expense of the rest of the population. But the popular masses of all countries in the case of war can, in general, hope for nothing but hunger, poison gas, and epidemics.
* * *
The great French Revolution created its army by amalgamating the new formations with the royal battalions of the line. The October revolution dissolved the tzar’s army wholly and without leaving a trace. The Red Army was built anew from the first brick. A twin of the Soviet regime, it shared its fate in great things and small. It owed its incomparable superiority over the tzar’s army wholly to the great social revolution. It has not stood aside, however, from the processes of degeneration of the Soviet regime. On the contrary, these have found their most finished expression in the army. Before attempting to describe the possible role of the Red Army in a future military cataclysm, it is necessary to dwell a moment upon the evolution of its guiding ideas and structures.
The decree of the Soviet of People’s Commissars of January 12, 1918, which laid the foundation for the regular armed forces, defined their objective in the following words:
“With the transfer of power to the toiling and exploited classes, there has arisen the necessity to create a new army which shall be the bulwark of the Soviet power ... and will serve as a support for the coming socialist revolutions in Europe.”
In repeating on the 1st of May the Socialist Oath – still retained since 1918 – the young Red Army soldier binds himself
“before the eyes of the toiling classes of Russia and the whole world” in the struggle “for the cause of Socialism and the brotherhood of nations, not to spare his strength nor even his life itself.”
When Stalin now describes the international character of the revolution as a “comic misunderstanding” and “nonsense”, he displays, besides all the rest, an inadequate respect for basic decrees of the Soviet power that are not annulled even to this day.
The army naturally was nourished by the same ideas as the party and the state. Its printed laws, journalism, oral agitation, were alike inspired by the international revolution as a practical task. Within the walls of the War Department, the program of revolutionary internationalism not infrequently assumed an exaggerated character. The late S. Gussev, once head of the political administration in the army and subsequently a close ally of Stalin, wrote in 1921, in the official military journal:
“We are preparing the class army of the proletariat ... not only for defense against the bourgeois-landed counter-revolution, but also for revolutionary wars (both defensive and offensive) against the imperialist powers.”
Moreover, Gussev directly blamed the then head of the War Department for inadequately preparing the Red Army for its international tasks. The author of these lines, answering Gussev in the press, called his attention to the fact that foreign military powers fulfill in a revolutionary process, not a fundamental, but an auxiliary role. Only in favorable circumstances can they hasten the denouement and facilitate the victory.
“Military intervention is like the forceps of the physician. Applied in season, it can lighten the birth pains; brought into operation prematurely, it can only cause a miscarriage.” (December 5, 1921.)
We cannot, unfortunately, expound here with sufficient completeness the history of this not unimportant problem. We remark, however, that the present marshal, Tukhachevsky, addressed to the Communist International in 1921 a letter proposing to create under his presidency an “international general staff.” That interesting letter was then published by Tukhachevsky in a volume of his articles under the expressive title: The War of the Classes. The talented, but somewhat too impetuous, commander ought to have known from printed explanations that
“an international general staff could arise only on the basis of the national staff of several proletarian states; so long as that is impossible, an international staff would inevitably turn into a caricature.”
If not Stalin himself – who in general avoids taking a definite position upon questions of principle, especially new ones – at least many of his future close associates stood in those years to the “left” of the leadership of the party and the army. There was no small amount of naive exaggeration, or, if you prefer, “comic misunderstanding”, in their ideas. Is a great revolution possible without such things? We were waging a struggle against these left “caricatures” of internationalism long before it became necessary to turn our weapons against the no less extreme caricature involved in the theory of “socialism in a single country.”
Contrary to the retrospective representations of it, the intellectual life of Bolshevism at the very heaviest period of the civil war was boiling like a spring. In all the corridors of the party and the state apparatus, including the army, discussion was raging about everything, and especially about military problems. The policy of the leaders underwent a free, and frequently a fierce, criticism. On the question of certain excessive military censorships, the then head of the War Department wrote in the leading military journal:
“I willingly acknowledge that the censorship has made a mountain of errors, and I consider it very necessary to show that respected personage a more modest place. The censorship ought to defend military secrets ... and it has no business interfering with anything else.” (February 23, 1919.)
The question of an international general staff was only a small episode in an intellectual struggle which, while kept within bounds of the discipline of action, led even to the formation of something in the nature of an oppositional faction within the army, at least within its upper strata. A school of “proletarian military doctrine” to which belonged or adhered Frunze, Tukhachevsky, Gussev, Voroshilov, and others, started from the a priori conviction that, not only in its political aims but in its structure, strategy and tactic, the Red Army could have nothing in common with the national armies of the capitalist countries. The new ruling class must have in all respects a distinct military system; it remained only to create it. During the civil war, the thing was limited, of course, chiefly to protests in principle against the bringing into service of the “generals” – former officers, that is, of the tzar’s army – and back-kicking against the high command in its struggle with local improvisations and particular violations of discipline. The extreme apostles of the new word tried in the name of strategic principles, of “maneuverism” and “offensivism” pushed to that absolute, to reject even the centralized organization of the army, as inhibiting revolutionary initiative on future international fields of battle. In its essence, this was an attempt to extend the guerilla methods of the first period of the civil war into a permanent and universal system. A good many of the revolutionary commanders came out the more willingly for the new doctrine, since they did not want to study the old. The principal centre of these moods was Tzaritzyn (now Stalingrad), where Budenny, Voroshilov, and afterward Stalin, began their military work.
Only after the war ended was a more systematic attempt made to erect these innovations into a finished doctrine. The initiator was one of the outstanding commanders of the civil war, the late Frunze, a former political hard-labor prisoner, and he was supported by Voroshilov, and to some extent by Tukhachevsky. In essence, the proletarian military doctrine was wholly analogous to the doctrine of “proletarian culture”, completely sharing its metaphysical schematism. In certain works left by the advocates of this tendency, this or that practical prescription, usually far from new, was arrived at deductively from the standard characteristics of the proletariat as an international and aggressive class – that is, from motionless psychological abstraction, and not from real conditions of time and place. Marxism, although acclaimed in every line, was in reality replaced by pure idealism. Notwithstanding the sincerity of these thought wanderings, it is not difficult to see in them the germ of the swiftly developing self-complacence of a bureaucracy which wanted to believe, and make others believe, that it was able in all spheres without special preparation and even without the material prerequisites to accomplish historic miracles.
The then-head of the War Department answered Frunze in the press:
“I also do not doubt that if a country with a developed socialist economy found itself compelled to wage war with a bourgeois country, the picture of the strategy of the socialist country would be wholly different. But this gives no basis for an attempt today to suck a ’proletarian strategy’ out of our fingers ... By developing socialist, raising the cultural level of the masses ... we will undoubtedly enrich the military art with new methods.”
But for this it is necessary assiduously to learn from the advanced capitalist countries, and not to try to
“infer a new strategy by speculative methods from the revolutionary nature of the proletariat.” (April 1, 1922.)
Archimedes promised to move the Earth if they would give him a point of support. That was not badly said. However, if they offered him the needed point of support, it would have turned out that he had neither the lever nor the power to bring it into action. The victorious revolution gave us a new point of support, but in order to move the Earth it is still necessary to build the levers.
“The proletarian military doctrine” was rejected by the party, like its elder sister, “the doctrine of proletarian culture.” However, in sequel, at least so it appears, their destinies diverged. The banner of “proletarian culture” was raised by Stalin and Bukharin, to be sure without visible results, in the course of the seven-year period between the proclamation of “socialism in one country” and of the abolition of all classes (1924-31). The “proletarian military doctrine”, on the contrary, notwithstanding that its former advocates soon stood at the helm of state, never had any resurrection. The external difference in the fates of these two so-closely-related doctrines is of profound significance in the evolution of Soviet society. “Proletarian culture” had to do with imponderable matters, and the bureaucracy was the more magnanimous about granting this moral compensation to the proletariat, the more rudely it pushed the proletariat from the seats of power. Military doctrine, on the contrary, goes to the quick, not only of the interests of defense, but of the interests of the ruling stratum. Here there was no place for ideological pamperings. The former opponents of the enlistment of the “generals” had themselves meantime become “generals.” The prophets of an international general staff had quieted down under the canopy of the general staff of a “single country.” The “war of the classes” was replaced by the doctrine of “collective security.” The perspective of world revolution gave place to the deification of the status quo. In order to inspire confidence in possible allies, and not overirritate the enemies, the demand now was to differ as little as possible, no matter what the cost, from capitalist armies. Behind these changes of doctrine and repaintings of facade, social processes of historic import were taking place. The year 1935 was for the army a kind of two-fold state revolution – a revolution in relation to the militia system and to the commanding staff.
4. The Abolition of the Militia and the Restoration of Officers’ Ranks
In what degree do the Soviet armed forces, at the end of the second decade of their existence, correspond to the type which the Bolshevik party inscribed upon its banner?
The army of the proletarian dictatorship ought to have, according to the program,
“an overtly class character – that is, to be composed exclusively of the proletariat and the semi-proletariat layers of the peasantry close to it. Only in connection with the abolition of classes will such a class army convert itself into a national socialist militia.”
Although postponing to a coming period the all-national character of the army, the party by no means rejected the militia system. On the contrary, according to a resolution of the 8th Congress (March 1919): “We are shifting the militia to a class basis and converting it into a Soviet militia.” The aim of the military work was defined as the gradual creation of an army “as far as possible by extra-barrackroom methods – that is, in a set-up close to the labor conditions of the working class.”
In the long run, all the divisions of the army were to coincide territorially with the factories, mines, villages, agricultural communes, and other organic groupings, “with a local commanding staff, with local stores of arms, and of all supplies.” A regional, scholastic, industrial, and athletic union of the youth was to more than replace the corporative spirit instilled by the barracks, and inculcate conscious discipline without the elevation above the army of a professional officers’ corps.
A militia, however, no matter how well corresponding to the nature of the socialist society, requires a high economic basis. Special circumstances are built up for a regular army. A territorial army, therefore, much more directly reflects the real condition of the country. The lower the level of culture and the sharper the distinction between village and city, the more imperfect and heterogeneous the militia. A lack of railroads, highways, and water routes, together with an absence of autoroads and a scarcity of automobiles, condemns the territorial army in the first critical weeks and months of war to extreme slowness of movement. In order to ensure a defense of the boundaries during mobilization, strategic transfers and concentrations, it is necessary, along with the territorial detachments, to have regular troops. The Red Army was created from the very beginning as a necessary compromise between the two systems, with the emphasis on the regular troops.
In 1924, the then-head of the War Department wrote:
“We must always have before our eyes two circumstances: If the very possibility of going over to the militia system was first created by the establishment of a Soviet structure, still the tempo of the change is determined by the general conditions of the culture of the country – technique, means of communications, literacy, etc. The political premises for a militia are firmly established with us, whereas the economic and cultural are extremely backward.”
Granted the necessary material conditions, the territorial army would not only not stand second to the regular army, but far exceed it. The Soviet Union must pay dear for its defense, because it is not sufficiently rich for the cheaper militia system. There is nothing here to wonder at. It is exactly because of its poverty that the Soviet society has hung around its neck the very costly bureaucracy.
One and the same problem, the disproportion between economic base and social superstructure, comes up with remarkable regularity in absolutely all the spheres of social life, in the factory, the collective farm, the family, the school, in literature, and in the army. The basis of all relations is the contrast between a low level of productive forces, low even from a capitalist standpoint, and forms of property that are socialist in principle. The new social relations are raising up the culture. But the inadequate culture is dragging the social forms down. Soviet reality is an equilibrium between these two tendencies. In the army, thanks to the extreme definiteness of its structure, the resultant is measurable in sufficiently exact figures. The correlation between regular troops and militia can serve as a fair indication of the actual movement toward socialism.
Nature and history have provided the Soviet state with open frontiers 10,000 kilometres apart, with a sparse population, and bad roads. On the 15th of October, 1924, the old military leadership, then in its last month, once more urged that this not be forgotten:
“In the next few years, the creation of a militia must of necessity have a preparatory character. Each successive step must follow from the carefully verified success of the preceding steps.”
But with 1925 a new era began. The advocates of the former proletarian military doctrine came to power. In its essence, the territorial army was deeply contradictory to that ideal of “offensivism” and “maneuverism” with which this school had opened its career. But they had now begun to forget about the world revolution. The new leaders hoped to avoid wars by “neutralizing” the bourgeoisie. In the course of the next few years, 74 per cent of the army was reorganized on a militia basis!
So long as Germany remained disarmed, and moreover “friendly”, the calculations of the Moscow general staff in the matter of western boundaries were based on the military forces of the immediate neighbors: Rumania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Esthonia, Finland, with the probably material support of the most powerful of the enemies, chiefly France. In that far-off epoch (which ended in 1933), France was not considered a providential “friend of peace.” The surrounding states could put in the field together about 120 divisions of infantry, approximately 3,500,000 men. The mobilization plans of the Red Army tried to insure on the western boundary an army of the first class amounting to the same number. In the Far East, under all conditions in the theatre of war, it could be a question only of hundreds of thousands, and not millions. Each hundred fighters demands, in the course of a year, approximately 75 men to replace losses. Two years of war would withdraw from the country, leaving aside those who return from hospitals to active service, about 10 to 12 million men. The Red Army up to 1935 numbered in all 562,000 men – with the troops of the GPU, 620,000 – with 40,000 officers. Moreover, at the beginning of 1935, 74 per cent, as we have already said, were in the territorial divisions, and only 26 per cent in the regular army. Could you ask a better proof that the socialist militia had conquered – if not by 100 per cent, at least by 74 per cent, and in any case “finally and irrevocably”?
However, all the above calculations, conditional enough in themselves, were left hanging in the air after Hitler came to power. Germany began feverishly to arm, and primarily against the Soviet Union. The prospect of a peaceful cohabitation with capitalism faded at once. The swift approach of military danger impelled the Soviet government, besides bringing up the numbers of the armed forces to 1,300,000, to change radically the structure of the Red Army. At the present time, it contains 77 per cent of regular, or so-called “kadrovy” divisions, and only 23 per cent of territorials! This shattering of the territorial divisions looks too much like a renunciation of the militia system – unless you forgot that an army is needed not for times of peace, but exactly for the moments of military danger. Thus, historic experience, starting from that sphere which is least of all tolerant of jokes, has ruthlessly revealed that only so much has been gained “finally and irrevocably” as is guaranteed by the productive foundation of society.
Nevertheless, the slide from 74 per cent to 23 per cent seems excessive. It was not brought to pass, we may assume, without a “friendly” pressure from the French general staff. It is still more likely that the bureaucracy seized upon a favorable pretext for this step, which was dictated to a considerable degree by political considerations. The divisions of a militia through their very character come into direct dependence upon the population. This is the chief advantage of the system from a socialist point of view. But this also is its danger from the point of view of the Kremlin. It is exactly because of this undesirable closeness of the army to the people that the military authorities of the advanced capitalist countries, where technically it would be easy to realize, reject the militia. The keen discontent in the Red Army during the first five-year plan undoubtedly supplied a serious motive for the subsequent abolition of the territorial divisions.
Our proposition would be unanswerably confirmed by an accurate diagram of the Red Army previous to and after the counterreform. We have not such data, however, and if we had we should consider it impossible to use them publicly. But there is a fact, accessible to all, which permits of no two interpretations: at the same time that the Soviet government reduced the relative weight of the militia in the army to 51 per cent, it restored the cossack troops, the sole militia formation in the tzar’s army! Cavalry is always the privileged and most conservative part of an army. The cossacks were always the most conservative part of the cavalry. During the war and the revolution, they served as a police force – first for the tzar, and then for Kerensky. Under the Soviet power, they remained perpetually Vendean. Collectivization – introduced among the cossacks, moreover, with special measures of violence – has not yet, of course, changed their traditions and temper. Moreover, as an exceptional law, the cossacks have been restored the right to possess their own horse. There is no lack, of course, of other indulgences. Is it possible to doubt that these riders of the steppes are again on the side of the privileged against the oppressed? Upon a background of unceasing repressions against oppositional tendencies among the workers’ youth, the restoration of the cossack stripe and forelock is undoubtedly one of the clearest expressions of the Thermidor!
* * *
A still more deadly blow to the principles of the October revolution was struck by the decree restoring the officers’ corps in all its bourgeois magnificence. The commanding staff of the Red Army, with its inadequacies, but also with its inestimable merits, grew out of the revolution and the civil war. The youth, to whom independent political activity is closed, undoubtedly supply no small number of able representatives to the Red Army. On the other hand, the progressive degeneration of the state apparatus could not fail in its turn to reflect itself in the broad circles of the commanding staff. In one of the public conferences, Voroshilov, developing truisms in regard to the duty of commanders to be models to their men, thought it necessary just in that connection to make this confession: “Unfortunately, I cannot especially boast”; the lower ranks are growing while “often the commanding cadres lag behind.” “Frequently the commanders are unable to answer in a suitable manner” new questions, etc.
A bitter confession from the most responsible – at least formally – leader of the army, a confession capable of evoking alarm but not surprise. What Voroshilov says about the commanders is true of all bureaucrats. Of course the orator himself does not entertain the thought that the ruling upper circles might be numbered among those who “lag behind.” No wonder they are always and everywhere shouting at everybody, and angrily stamping their feet, and giving order to be “at your best.” In simple fact, it is that uncontrolled corporation of “leaders” to whom Voroshilov himself belongs which is the chief cause of backwardness and routine, and of much else.
The army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases, usually at a higher temperature. The trade of war is too austere to get along with fictions and imitations. The army needs the fresh air of criticism. The commanding staff needs democratic control. The organizers of the Red Army were aware of this from the beginning, and considered it necessary to prepare for such a measure as the election of the commanding staff.
“The growth of internal solidarity of the detachments, the development in the soldier of a critical attitude to himself and his commanders ...” says the basic decision of the party on military questions, “will create favorable conditions in which the principle of electivity of the commanding personnel can receive wider and wider application.”
Fifteen years after this decision was adopted – a span of time long enough, it would seem, for the maturing of inner solidarity and self-criticism – the ruling circles have taken the exactly opposite turn.
In September 1935, civilized humanity, friends and enemies alike, learned with surprise that the Red Army would now be crowned with an officers’ hierarchy, beginning with lieutenant and ending with marshal. According to Tukhachevsky, the actual head of the War Department,
“the introduction by the government of military titles will create a more stable basis for the development of commanding and technical cadres.”
The explanation is consciously equivocal. The commanding cadres are reinforced above all by the confidence of the soldiers. For that very reason, the Red Army began by liquidating the officers’ corp. The resurrection of hierarchical caste is not in the least demanded by the interests of military affairs. It is the commanding position, and not the rank, of the commander that is important. Engineers and physicians have no rank, but society finds the means of putting each in his needful place. The right to a commanding position is guaranteed by study, endowment, character, experience, which need continual and moreover individual appraisal. The rank of major adds nothing to the commander of a battalion. The elevation of the five senior commanders of the Red Army to the title of marshal, gives them neither new talents nor supplementary powers. It is not the army that really thus receives a “stable basis”, but the officers’ corps, and that at the price of aloofness from the army. The reform pursues a purely political aim: to give a new social weight to the officers. Molotov thus in essence defined the meaning of the decree: “to elevate the importance of the guiding cadres of our Army.” The thing is not limited, either, to a mere introduction of titles. It is accompanied with an accelerated construction of quarters for the commanding staff. In 1936, 47,000 rooms are to be constructed, and 57 per cent more money is to be issued for salaries than during the preceding year. “To elevate the importance of the guiding cadres” means, at a cost of weakening the moral bonds of the army, to bind the officers closer together with the ruling circles.
It is worthy of note that the reformers did not consider it necessary to invent fresh titles for the resurrected ranks. On the contrary, they obviously wanted to keep step with the West. At the same time, they revealed their Achilles’ heel in not daring to resurrect the title of general, which among the Russian people has too ironical a sound. In announcing the elevation to marshals of the five military dignitaries – choice of the five was made, to be it remarked, rather out of regard for personal loyalty to Stalin than for talents or services – the Soviet press did not forget to remind its readers of the tzar’s army, its “caste and rank worship and obsequiousness.” Why then such a slavish imitation of it? In creating new privileges, the bureaucracy employs at every step the arguments which once served for the destruction of the old privileges. Insolence takes turns with cowardice, nd is supplemented with increasing doses of hypocrisy.
However surprising at first glance the official resurrections of “caste and rank worship and obsequiousness”, we must confess that the government had little freedom of choice left. The promotion of commanders on a basis of personal qualification can be realized only under conditions of free initiative and criticism in the army itself, and control over the army by the public opinion of the country. Severe discipline can get along excellently with a broad democracy and even directly rely upon it. No army, however, can be more democratic than the regime which nourishes it. The source of bureaucratism, with its routine and swank, is not the special needs of military affairs, but the political needs of the ruling stratum. In the army, these needs only receive their most finished expression. The restoration of officers’ castes 18 years after their revolutionary abolition testifies equally to the gulf which already separated the rules from the ruled, to the loss by the Soviet army of the chief qualities which gave it the name of “Red”, and to the cynicism with which the bureaucracy erects these consequences of degeneration into law.
The bourgeois press has appraised this counterreform as it deserves. The French official paper, Le Temps, wrote on September 25, 1935:
“This external transformation is one of the signs of a deep change which is now taking place through the Soviet Union. The regime, now definitely consolidated, is gradually becoming stabilized. Revolutionary habits and customs are giving place within the Soviet family and Soviet society to the feelings and customs which continue to prevail within the so-called capitalist countries. The Soviets are becoming bourgeoized.”
There is hardly a word to add to that judgment.
5. The Soviet Union in a War
Military danger is only one expression of the dependence of the Soviet Union upon the rest of the world, and consequently one argument against the utopian idea of an isolated socialist society. But it is only now that this ominous “argument” is brought forward.
To enumerate in advance all the factors of the coming dogfight of the nations would be a hopeless task. If such an a priori calculation were possible, conflicts of interest would always end in a peaceful bookkeeper’s bargain. In the bloody equation of war, there are too many unknown quantities. In any case, there are on the side of the Soviet Union immense favorable factors, both inherited from the past and created by the new regime. The experience of intervention during the civil war proved once more that Russia’s greatest advantage has been and remains her vast spaces. Foreign imperialism overthrew Soviet Hungary, though not, to be sure, without help from the lamentable government of Bela Kun, in a few days. Soviet Russia, cut off from the surrounding countries at the very start, struggled against intervention for three years. At certain moments, the territory of the revolution was reduced almost to that of the old Moscow principality. But even that proved sufficient to enable her to hold out, and in the long run triumph.
Russia’s second greatest advantage is her human reservoir. Having grown almost 3,000,000 per year, the population of the Soviet Union has apparently now passed 170,000,000. A single recruiting class comprises about 1,300,000 men. The strictest sorting, both physical and political, would throw out not more than 400,000. The reserves, therefore, which may be theoretically estimated at 18 to 20 million, are practically unlimited.
But nature and man are only the raw materials of war. To so-called military “potential” depends primarily upon the economic strength of the state. In this sphere, the advantages of the Soviet Union by comparison with the old Russia are enormous. The planned economy has up to this time, as we have said, given its greatest advantages from the military point of view. The industrialization of the outlying regions, especially Siberia, has given a wholly new value to the steppe and forest spaces. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union still remains a backward country. The low productivity of labor, the inadequate quality of the products, the weakness of the means of transport, are only to a certain degree compensated by space and natural riches and the numbers of the population. In times of peace, the measuring of economic might between the two hostile social systems can be postponed – for a long time, although by no means forever – with the help of political devices, above all the monopoly of foreign trade. During a war the test is made directly upon the field of battle. Hence the danger.
Military defeats,although they customarily entail great political changes, do not always of themselves lead to a disturbance of the economic foundations of society. A social regime which guarantees a higher development of riches and culture, cannot be overthrown by bayonets. On the contrary, the victors take over the institutions and customs of the conquered, if these are beyond them in evolution. Forms of property can be overthrown by military force only when they are sharply out of accord with the economic basis of the country. A defeat of Germany in a war against the Soviet Union would inevitably result in the crushing, not only of Hitler, but of the capitalist system. On the other hand, it is hardly to be doubted that a military defeat would also prove fatal, not only for the Soviet ruling stratum, but also for the social bases of the Soviet Union. The instability of the present structure in Germany is conditioned by the fact that its productive forces have long ago outgrown the forms of capitalist property. The instability of the Soviet regime, on the contrary, is due to the fact that its productive forces have far from grown up to the forms of socialist property. A military defeat threatens the social basis of the Soviet Union for the same reason that these bases require in peaceful times a bureaucracy and a monopoly of foreign trade – that is, because of their weakness.
Can we, however, expect that the Soviet Union will come out of the coming great war without defeat? To this frankly posed question, we will answer as frankly: If the war should remain only a war, the defeat of the Soviet Union would be inevitable. In a technical, economic, and military sense, imperialism in incomparably more strong. If it is not paralyzed by revolution in the West, imperialism will sweep away the regime which issued from the October revolution.
It may be answered that “imperialism” is an abstraction, for it too is torn by contradictions. That is quite true, and were it not for those contradictions, the Soviet Union would long ago have disappeared from the scene. The diplomatic and military agreements of the Soviet Union are based in part upon them. However, it would be a fatal mistake not to see the limits beyond which those contradictions must subside. Just as the struggle of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties, from the most reactionary to the Social Democratic, subsides before the immediate threat of a proletarian revolution, so imperialist antagonisms will always find a compromise in order to block the military victory of the Soviet Union.
Diplomatic agreements, as a certain chancellor with some reason once remarked, are only “scraps of paper.” It is nowhere written that they must survive even up to the outbreak of war. Not one of the treaties with the Soviet Union would survive the immediate threat of a social revolution in any part of Europe. Let the political crisis in Spain, to say nothing of France, enter a revolutionary phase, and the hope propounded by Lloyd George in savior-Hitler would irresistibly take possession of all bourgeois governments. On the other hand, if the unstable situation in Spain, France, Belgium, etc., should end in a triumph of the reaction, there would again remain not a trace of the Soviet pacts. And, finally, if the “scraps of paper” should preserve their validity during the first period of military operations, there is not a doubt that groupings of forces in the decisive phase of the war would be determined by factors of incomparably more powerful significance than the oaths of diplomats, perjurers as they are by profession.
The situation would be radically different, of course, if the bourgeois allies received material guarantees that the Moscow government stands on the same side with them, not only of the war trenches, but of the class trenches, too. Availing themselves of the difficulties of the Soviet Union, which will be placed between two fires, the capitalist “friends of peace" will, of course, take all measures to drive a breach into the monopoly of foreign trade and the Soviet laws on property. The growing “defensist” movement among the Russian white émigrés in France and Czechoslovakia feeds wholly upon such calculations. And if you assume that the world struggle will be played out only on a military level, the Allies have a good chance of achieving their goal. Without the interference of revolution, the social bases of the Soviet Union must be crushed, not only in the case of defeat, but also in the case of victory.
More than two years ago, a program announcement, The Fourth International and War, outlined this perspective in the following words:
“Under the influence of the critical need of the state for articles of prime necessity, the individualistic tendencies of the peasant economy will receive a considerable reinforcement, and the centrifugal forces within the collective farms will increase with every month ... In the heated atmosphere of war, we may expect ... the attracting of foreign allied capital, a breach in the monopoly of foreign trade, a weakening of state control of the trusts, a sharpening of competition between the trusts, conflicts between the trusts and the workers, etc. ... In other words, in the case of a long war, if the world proletariat is passive, the inner social contradictions of the Soviet Union not only might, but must, lead to a bourgeois Bonapartist counterrevolution.”
The events of the last two years have redoubled the force of this prognosis.
The preceding considerations, however, by no means lead to so-called “pessimistic” conclusions. If we do not want to shut our eyes to the immense material preponderance of the capitalist world, nor the inevitable treachery of the imperialist “allies”, nor the inner contradictions of the Soviet regime, we are, on the one hand, in no degree inclined to overestimate the stability of the capitalist system, either in hostile or allied countries. Long before a war to exhaustion can measure the correlation of economic forces to the bottom, it will put to the test the relative stability of the regimes. All serious theoreticians of future slaughters of the people take into consideration the probability, and even the inevitability, of revolution among its results. The idea, again and again advanced in certain circles, of small “professional” armies, although little more real than the idea of individual heroes in the manner of David and Goliath, reveals in its very fantasticness the reality of the dread of an armed people. Hitler never misses a chance to reinforce his “love of peace” with a reference to the inevitability of a new Bolshevik storm in case of a war in the West. The power which is restraining for the time being the fury of war is not the League of Nations, not mutual security pacts, not pacifist referendums, but solely and only the self-protective fear of the ruling classes before the revolution.
Social regimes like all other phenomena must be estimated comparatively. Notwithstanding all its contradictions, the Soviet regime in the matter of stability still has immense advantages over the regimes of its probable enemies. The very possibility of a rule of the Nazis over the German people was created by the unbearable tenseness of social antagonisms in Germany. These antagonisms have not been removed, and not even weakened, but only suppressed, by the lid of fascism. A war will bring them to the surface. Hitler has far less chances than had Wilhelm II of carrying a war to victory. Only a timely revolution, by saving Germany from war, could save her from a new defeat.
The world press portrayed the recent bloody attack of Japanese officers upon the ministers of the government as the imprudent manifestation of a too flaming patriotism. In reality, these attacks, notwithstanding the difference of ideology, belong to the same historic type as the bombs of the Russian Nihilists against the tzarist bureaucracy. The population of Japan is suffocated under the combined yoke of Asiatic agrarianism and ultramodern capitalism. Korea, Manchukuo, China, at the first weakening of the military pincers, will rise against the Japanese tyranny. A war will bring the empire of the Mikado the greatest of social catastrophes.
The situation of Poland is but little better. The regime of Pilsudski, least fruitful of all regimes, proved incapable even of weakening the land slavery of the peasants. The western Ukraine (Galacia) is living under a heavy national oppression. The workers are shaking the country with continual strikes and rebellions. Trying to insure itself by a union with France and a friendship with Germany, the Polish bourgeoisie is incapable of accomplishing anything with its maneuvers except to hasten the war and find in it a more certain death.
The danger of war and a defeat of the Soviet Union is a reality, but the revolution is also a reality. If the revolution does not prevent war, then war will help the revolution. Second births are commonly easier than first. In the new war, it will not be necessary to wait a whole two years and a half for the first insurrection. Once it is begun, moreover, the revolution will not this time stop half way. The fate of the Soviet Union will be decided in the long run not on the maps of the general staffs, but on the map of the class struggle. Only the European proletariat, implacably opposing its bourgeoisie, and in the same camp with them the “friends of peace”, can protect the Soviet Union from destruction, or from an “allied” stab in the back. Even a military defeat of the Soviet Union would be only a short episode, in case of a victory of the proletariat in other countries. And on the other hand, no military victory can save the inheritance of the October revolution, if imperialism holds out in the rest of the world.
The henchmen of the Soviet bureaucracy say that we “underestimate” the inner forces of the Soviet Union, the Red Army, etc., just as they have said that we “deny” the possibility of socialist construction in a single state. These arguments stand on such a low level that they do not even permit a fruitful exchange of opinions. Without the Red Army, the Soviet Union would be crushed and dismembered like China. Only her stubborn and heroic resistance to the future capitalist enemy can create favorable conditions for the development of the class struggle in the imperialist camp. The Red Army is thus a factor of immense significance. But this does not mean that it is the sole historic factor. Sufficient that it can give a mighty impulse to the revolution. Only the revolution can fulfill the chief task; to that the Red Army alone is unequal.
Nobody demands of the Soviet government international adventures, unreasonable acts, attempts to force by violence the course of world events. On the contrary, insofar as such attempts have been made by the bureaucracy in the past (Bulgaria, Esthonia, Canton, etc.), they have only played into the hands of the reaction, and they have met a timely condemnation from the Left Opposition. It is a question of the general direction of the Soviet state. The contradiction between its foreign policy and the interests of the world proletariat and the colonial peoples, finds its most ruinous expression in the subjection of the Communist International to the conservative bureaucracy with its new religion of inaction.
It is not under the banner of the status quo that the European worker and the colonial peoples can rise against imperialism, and against that war which must break out and overthrow the status quo almost as inevitably as a developed infant destroys the status quo of pregnancy. The toilers have not the slightest interest in defending existing boundaries, especially in Europe – either under the command of their bourgeoisies, or, still less, in a revolutionary insurrection against them. The decline of Europe is caused by the very fact that it is economically split up among almost 40 quasi-national states which, with their customs, passports, money systems, and monstrous armies in defense of national particularism, have become a gigantic obstacle on the road of the economic and cultural development of mankind.
The task of the European proletariat is not the perpetuation of boundaries but, on the contrary, their revolutionary abolition, not the status quo, but a socialist United States of Europe!