From February 1946 until December 1991, the Soviet Army was in a constant state of battle readiness. Soldiers were drilled 24 hours a day to prepare for a possible western invasion that never came. The ruling caste of the Communist Party of the Soviet-Union was so afraid of losing their power and privileges, that they drilled many young males into desperation. Army lives was very different compared to that of a western soldier. Soviet soldiers did not have free time and could only ask for 10 holidays after serving for two years, 730 days uninterrupted. Military life was hard and unforgiving. Junior conscripts could face a brutal system of bullying called dedovshchina. This became serious after 1967, when two types of conscription were in the army at the same time!
Pro-Soviet propagandists portrayed the Soviet Army as a heroic fighting force. Defenders of the motherland against the evil imperialists of the west. In reality the Soviet Army was not an army for workers and peasants, but a force of a parasitical bureaucracy that ruled over the working class. The official name until 1946 was Workers and Peasants Red Army, a name they took in January 1918. Joseph Stalin changed it to Armed Forces of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, a year after the Second World War. By then very little remained of the original Red Army that fought against western imperialism and the White Movement in the Russian civil war. Stalin had reintroduced ranks and typical military uniforms in the 1930’s. There was little difference between the Soviet Army and a typical capitalist army of the west. Officers enjoyed privileges like their western counterparts and generals had a lifestyle far above that of an average Soviet worker. Party membership also granted you special privileges and there were political officers that made sure all soldiers were loyal to ”Marxist-Leninist” dogma. Soviet soldiers left Hungary and Poland in 1991 and 1992. In reunited Germany, the remnants of the Soviet Army remained until 1994. They came as the Workers and Peasant Red Army and left as the Russian Armed Forces, flying the flag of czarism and the very collaborators who fought with Hitler to destroy the USSR!
The transformation of the Red Army into the Soviet Army took almost 20 years. In the end the army that used to be a force for the proletariat became an oppressive tool of the Stalinist ruling caste. Although the name ”Soviet” means ”Council” the USSR simply used the term as a name for all institutions. Stalin also needed to get rid of the old army name that Leon Trotsky had introduced. The restoration of ranks and the officers corps signaled the end of the original Red Army even before the war. Twenty years after the October Revolution, Stalin killed off most commanders who had build the Red Army from scratch in 1918. This meant that the military was in a dysfunctional state when the ”Red Czar” ordered the invasion of Finland and the Baltic states. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were easily overrun because red soldiers were already stationed there. But Finland put up a fight and resisted the Red Army. More then 350.000 red soldiers were killed during the Winter War. Stalin blamed anybody but himself and ordered another major purge. By the time the Germans were mobilizing for their invasion, the Red Army was unprepared and lacking leadership as new commanding officers were still in school!
After the first army purge in 1937 the Soviet-Union lost five marshals, 13 of 15 army commanders, eight of nine admirals, 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars. Why did Stalin eliminated the Red Army leadership? For the same reasons he purged the All Union Communist Party and the state bureaucracy. Although the ”Red Czar” was in full control he feared the Old Bolsheviks, comrades of Lenin and Trotsky who were still alive. The army was the base of Leon Trotsky, the exiled revolutionary was its first commander from 1918 until 1925. It was thanks to Trotsky that Soviet Russia won the civil war and was able to form the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics in December 1922. Stalin however played a minor role in the planning of the revolution. As People’s Commissar for Nationalities he was tasked to give ethnic minorities the right to speak and write in their native language, free from Russian cultural oppression. Since Stalin was a Russian chauvinist, he did not liked that idea. He wanted to be an army commander and so he participated in civil war. After the Soviet-Polish War of 1921, Stalin left the military and focused on his new position as General Secretary of the communist party. With his rise to power complete by 1927, Stalin feared a possible coup from the army. So he killed off the military leaders who had served under Leon Trotsky. In June 1941, the leadership of the army was in disarray after two major purges!
Fear was part of the military life after the first purge. Soldiers and their commanders were so afraid that they did not spoke out against bad decisions. The most feared were the NKVD political commissars. These henchmen were led by the Heinrich Himmler of the Soviet Union: Lavrentiy Beria, a sexual sadist and rapist. The People’s Commissariat of the Internal Affairs (NKVD) was not build as a secret police force. However it became one in 1934 when all matters of union security were centralized in the organization. Stalin did not liked the first two NKVD leaders, they were purged, expelled and then executed by their own people. Beria was installed as boss in 1938 and he made sure that NKVD troops would have the power to outrank any army commander. By 1941 these units could be identified by their blue hat and trousers. Most red soldiers knew that it was a bad idea to get into a argument with these political commissars. Fear of the NKVD was very common, but their absolute power would also put them at risk once captured by the Wehrmacht. Hitlers famous Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars ordered any captured political commissar to be shot. It is ironic that these henchmen of Stalinist oppression soon became the first victims of the Nazi killing-machine on the Eastern Front!
Stalin realized that this duel leadership between NKVD and regular army commanders made battlefield decisions difficult after the invasion began. So he removed the commissars as co-leaders of the Red Army. They were still positioned in army units but could no longer overrule a military decision. The choice of Stalin to allow actual generals to control the military is what gave him victory in 1945. Hitler never gave his general staff the freedom they wanted. He saw himself as the ultimate war lord, because under his leadership they had conquered most of Europe by 1941. Hitler then made himself supreme commander of the Wehrmacht, which forced his generals to obey any military command the Führer gave. Stalin moved to the background after the disastrous failures of the first months. He became a figurehead and listened to the army reports. But he did not challenged his general staff. With military control reestablished the Red Army started a major offensive and after the victorious battle at Stalingrad, there was nothing to stop them from destroying Nazi Germany!
Soviet propaganda during WW2 was brutal and deeply anti-German. After seeing the horrors of Nazi brutality, many soldiers wanted revenge. The propaganda played on that and reminded the troops that they should feel no sorry for German civilians. As the Red Army crossed into Germany, mass rape of women started. Hate propaganda, personal experiences of suffering at home and an demeaning picture of German women in the Soviet press is what led to the rape. Also we must not forget that talking about sex was taboo in Stalin’s empire. Many young soldiers were in the late teens to early twenties and never had sexual experience nor any sexual education. They raped women from all walks of life. Underage girls, teenagers, adults, elderly, no women was save. It is said that over 2 million German women were raped in the last months of the war. Despite the order of January 1945 not to harm the civilian population, the army leadership was unable to stop the hate feelings and desire for revenge. Only 4.000 officers and regular soldiers were convicted of atrocities committed against German civilians. However the official propaganda never spoke of the mass rape. In the German Democratic Republic, the Red Army was a force of liberation and its soldiers were always the ”good guys”. Women who were raped by them had to keep their mouths shut for almost 40 years!
In 1946 the name of the army was changed from Workers and Peasants Red Army to Armed Forces of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. New uniforms had been introduced in 1943, they resembled the old imperial ones from WW1. Stalin was given a special uniform as Generalissimus of the Soviet Union. However he declined to use the rank and uniform. Despite his cult of personality the ”Red Czar” was not bombastic figure who loved medals, uniforms and titles. Stalin choose to remain a Marshal of the Soviet Union and died as one in March 1953. The highest ranks in the army were among the most privileged elite in the Stalinist caste system. They had access to luxury products like cars and large houses. While average workers in the western world could afford a car and a good home by the 1960’s, most Soviet workers and soldiers were still living by the standards of the 1940’s. Car ownership remained a luxury and many models were based on outdated western designs. It was not until the arrival of the Lada Samara in 1984 that the Soviet car industry started to build more modern looking cars. Still the outdated designs remained in production in Russia until the dawn of the 21 century!
Since conscription was mandatory, many males were forced to serve for three years until 1967. In that year the state introduced a two year conscription. Many of the ”elderly” who were forced to serve the full three years were not happy when the new ones came who had to serve less. A system of bullying started called dedovshchina. The perpetrators are often the ones who are in the last year of service, their victims are the juniors who just started. Those who stand up for themselves are denounced for ”not following tradition” by being ruthlessly exploited. Dedovshchina has survived the collapse of the USSR and in 2006 it was reported that over 300 young soldiers had committed suicide. In 2003 when asked about it, the Russian Armed Forces denied that young conscripts were exploited by senior ones. This system of denial is typical as nobody wanted to admit that the former Soviet Amy was in a deep state of neglect. In 2008 the service period for army conscription was reduced from two years to one year. Major reforms resulted in the removal of the warrant officers and a -75% reduction in the rank of Captain. The officers corps was reduced from 365.000 in 2008 to 220.000 in 2012. Military units were also reduced. Out of 1,890 army units (most from the Soviet period), only 172 remain today!
During the Cold War the Soviet Army was always ready for a potential war. Despite the propaganda from the communist party and their satellites, there was no official NATO plan to invade the USSR and the Eastern Block. The Soviet Army however had one build in 1979, it was called: Seven Days to the River Rhine. In this war scenario the armies of the Warsaw Pact would need seven days to defeat the West-German Army and move up towards the Dutch border. The plan was however a response to a possible nuclear attack by NATO on Poland, which would have killed at least two million people. Since there was no NATO attack plan, the Soviet one was useless. However it is clear that the retaliation strike would have used nuclear weapons on many western-European cities, with the exception of those in France and the UK. Maybe because the Warsaw Pact wanted to avoid hitting countries that own nuclear weapons of their own. The Polish People’s Army was to be the vanguard of the attack. They would have to sacrifice their troops long before any Soviet soldier would participate in the fighting. Warsaw Pact soldiers were kept on high alert for a possible nuclear war, this all ended with the rise of Solidarity Trade Union in Poland and the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989!
In 1956 and 1968, the Soviet Army was used to crush independent governments in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Hungarian Revolution removed the Stalinist regime of Mátyás Rákosi and was about to build a multiparty democracy under the leadership of Imre Nagy. The ruling caste of the CPSU could not accept an independent Hungary that would leave the Warsaw Pact. Soviet soldiers were misled into thinking they would fight a fascist regime and that the Hungarian workers under the leadership of Janos Kadar had asked for their help. 12 year later another independent government was overthrow by the Soviet monolith. This time the Czechoslovak government wanted to reform their system. Alexander Dubček ended state censorship and started to liberalize Czechoslovakia. Hardcore Stalinist members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia feared for their privileges and asked Leonid Brezhnev to intervene. This time the whole Warsaw Pact was called to ”save socialism” in Czechoslovakia. However there was no unity. Albania and Romania objected to a military intervention as was Yugoslavia (who was not part of the pact). Brezhnev also wanted to include the National People’s Army of East Germany (NVA) in the invasion. At the last moment the NVA was not used as the USSR feared that German soldiers on Czechoslovak grounds (only 23 years after the war) would be a bad idea. The armies of the Soviet-Union, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria participated in the invasion. There was no resistance from the Czechoslovak People’s Army, yet five soldiers choose to commit suicide. Again the Stalinist propaganda misled the invading soldiers into thinking they came to ”save socialism”!
”Marxist-Leninist” (Stalinist) dogma was enforced. Any soldier who criticized the line of the communist party was punished. From 1946 until 1956, the army portrayed Stalin as the Great Marshal. That they won the Second World War because of actual generals was not told. Stalin was the great Marshal of the Soviet Union, who had saved the motherland from fascism. When Nikita Khrushchev exposed the crimes of the ”Red Czar” he was slowly removed from both civil society as the army. Lenin became the center of the Red Army. His face was painted on many barracks and Lenin statues were build in military bases. The Lenin in stone became the personification of the whole Soviet-Union. It is very ironic since the actual Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov would have rejected statues and the bourgeois nature of the army. Ulyanov differs greatly from the Lenin of the official state propaganda. The first Soviet government led by him in 1917 abolished the Imperial Russian Army, its uniforms and medals. Stalin however reintroduced many elements from the old imperial army in 1943. Medal and orders started to depict czarist and monarchist leaders such as Alexander Nevsky, Alexander Suvorov, Mikhail Kutuzov, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Fyodor Ushakov and Pavel Nakhimov!
Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) hated these figures as they were part of the czarist machine that oppressed the working class. Average soldiers however never knew the actual Lenin. They were raised with great Russian chauvinism (love for Russia and its leaders both present and ancient) and Stalinist dogmatism. The Communist Party of the Soviet-Union (CPSU) was always right and the soldier had to obey the party line. In December 1989 the end came. Soviet soldiers faced for the first time the actual feelings of working class people. Many were shocked by the anti-Soviet protests, they believed that they were liberators, friends and comrades. 40 years of propaganda and lies had them unprepared for the massive wave of nationalism and anticommunism. In 1991 the Soviet Army was moved out of Hungary, the first country that asked them to do so. Soldiers could see how the Lenin in stone was pulled down and how their red stars were removed. Then on 19 August 1991, Stalinist hardliners inside the communist party and the KGB started a coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. For 48 hours there was confusion as army leaders tried to understand what was happening. Despite the return of Gorbachev, the end of the Soviet-Union was clear. Russian president Boris Yeltsin abolished the USSR in December and forced Gorbachev to resign as union president!
In January 1992, the soldiers of the former Soviet Army were still in their barracks in Eastern Europe. Germany had been reunified since October 1990 and the German Democratic Republic was gone. Hungary and Poland had removed all elements of Marxism-Leninism (Stalinism) from their societies. Soviet soldiers also got to meet a system they were told to reject, capitalism. Suddenly they could buy western products only available to their commanders and generals before 1989. While Eastern Europe embraced the dictatorship of greed and exploitation, inside the barracks it seemed that the USSR had not died. Soldiers were still told to parade and to practice. However the propaganda was gone, the communist party was gone. Uncertainty was common as few soldiers knew how to live in a post-Stalinist world. The new Russian Armed Forces were pulled out of Poland in 92. They entered a Russia that was already in a state of chaos. Boris Yeltsin was selling the whole economy to anybody who wanted it. Since few workers and soldiers had any actual money, the ones who became the new capitalists were former CPSU bureaucrats. In 1993 a major constitutional crisis started as Yeltsin wanted more power at the expense of the Supreme Soviet. The representatives barracked themselves in the Russian White House and rejected the president. Soldiers from the army were told to open fire on the building. In violent clashes between the army and supporters of the Supreme Soviet, it is said that over 2.000 were killed!
With the downfall of the Supreme Soviet, Boris Yeltsin introduced the czarist eagle as new emblem of the Russian Federation. The Russian czarist flag was also remodeled and it started to be painted on army vehicles. Suddenly the symbols that were called reactionary and banned for 70 years were put on uniforms. In the year 1994, the last Russian soldiers were now pulled from Germany. Few had any idea what would happen once they returned to the Russian Federation. Actually nobody was ready for them since the country was in the iron grip of Yetsin’s free market fundamentalism. The soldiers paraded for the last time at the Soviet memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park. By now many understood how difficult life would be in capitalist Russia. It is understandable that few wanted to go home. Life in the Soviet barracks was structured and organized, capitalist Russia was disorganized and chaotic. Once home many soldiers became alcoholics as they tried to forget the suffering under the harsh realities of capitalism. Some were told to fight against their own people in the brutal wars in Chechnya, which killed 14.000 soldiers. After they left the barracks in Hungary, Poland and Germany were left to decay. The new capitalist governments cared nothing for the remnants of the Soviet Army. Today barracks are still around and you can visit them. After 29 years of neglect these empty buildings are a ghostly reminder of an army that is now gone!
They were told to be the vanguard of the working class. The Communist Party of the Soviet-Union drilled them from childhood with militarism, Russian chauvinism and uncritical thinking. As the Stalinist system came down these young soldiers were abandoned by very people that had raised them. From 1991 until 2008, the Russian Armed Forces was in a deep state of neglect. Boris Yeltsin is to blame for this fact as he cared little for the soldiers. It was his successor who started to reorganize things. Vladimir Putin inherited an army that was unsure of itself and its history. The new president started to mix great Russian chauvinism with admiration for what Stalin and his successors did. The Soviet Army became a Russian force in history books, the fight against Hitler and fascism is now a key part of the modern foundation myth. The ”Red Czar” returned as a positive figure in Russia. His face has reappeared while that of Lenin is now gone forever. In 2008 a massive modernization started to keep the army up to date. Today in the year 2018, the Russian Armed Forces has been restored as a functional army. Drilled with Russian nationalism and love for its leaders, the soldiers are once again misled into fighting for a country that is build on exploitation of its working class!
A regime you can call: Czarism with Stalinist characteristics!
Царизм со сталинскими характеристиками