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The Soviet Philosophy of War
Marx and Engels can be rightly called the fathers of modern total war.
The more deeply political a war, the more "military" it seems; the less
deeply political it is, the more "political" it seems.
V. I. LENIN
Few issues divided Western observers as sharply during the Cold War as how to explain the intellectual basis of Soviet military thought. Opinion varied from an overly mechanistic view that Marxism-Leninism explained almost everything to an excessively ethnocentric view that it explained nothing. The character of modern military technology, in this latter view, removed the ideological factor; moreover, Soviet military forces could be explained primarily as a reaction to U.S. military programs. A third view, a "political cultural" explanation, was occasionally invoked to explain Soviet behavior that was inconsistent with the second view: frequent foreign invasions over the centuries had inbued Soviet military thinking with defensive paranoia. The first view held sway in U.S. policy-making circles during the 1950s but gave way to the second and third views during the 1ate 1960s and through the 1970s.
By the early 1980s, the Soviet Armed Forces were the largest in the world by every measure--in manpower, in numbers of weapons, in varieties of weapons, in mobilization potential, and in the size of their military industrial base. To be sure, they lagged behind the U.S. armed forces and several NATO militaries in the quality of many categories of weapons, equipment, and manpower, but they were ahead in a few qualitative categories and equal in several others. The vast quantitative advantages held by the Soviet military cannot be explained as the result of a simple action-reaction U.S.-Soviet arms race. Nor is the "political culture" explanation, which imputes only defensive motives to Russia's obsession with large forces, an adequate rationalization. In fact, the Imperial General Staff proudly reported to the tsar that between 1700 and 1870 the army had fought thirty-eight wars, all them offensive but two. Both explanations may account for aspects of the Soviet military buildup, but ideology has to be reintroduced as a critical determinant, though not in the mechanistic sense that it was too often understood. Marxism-Leninism, as the official basis for Soviet military policy, identified the "threat"--the probable enemy against which Soviet forces were sized and designed to fight. It provided a prism through which military policy was consistently refracted. It also claimed to provide a scientific explanation of war as a social phenomenon, its purpose, its necessity, its essence, and finally, a view of how it could eventually be banished from human relations.
The truth or falsity of this official ideological view of war is finally beside the point. Its importance lies in the intellectual hegemony it held within the highest ranks of the Soviet political and military leadership. In the course of a few years, from 1985 to 1992, the dramatic changes in Soviet military policy were fundamentally at odds with all these ideological precepts. The psychological dissonance they created in the minds of the senior military leaders is difficult to exaggerate. The Marxist-Leninist philosophy of war formed the dominant cognitive system through which the generals perceived the rapid changes being thrust upon them, and their reactions and policy arguments are only partially comprehensible without an understanding of that system. A look at the intellectual roots of that philosophy of war, therefore, is the essential point of departure for an account of the demise of the Soviet military.
Soviet Thinking About War
Marxism is itself a theory of war. The foundation of the theory was already maturely developed in Marx's early manuscript The German Ideology, jointly written with Frederick Engels in 1846. In this short treatise Marx articulates his concept of "alienation," the key to his theory of class struggle. Man's alienation from man is the consequence of "private ownership of the means of production," a material relation determined by the economic system of each historical epoch: the master versus the slave, the feudal lord versus the peasant, the bourgeois capitalist versus the propertyless urban worker. In the epoch of slave-labor economies, the "exploitation" by the owner of the slave produced a relationship in which the two were alienated from one another, one knowing only the fruits of production without the experience of labor, the other knowing only the labor while being denied its fruits. Both were unfulfilled, condemned to alienation inherent in the economic relationship that bound them together. In the feudal epoch, alienation was perpetuated because private ownership of the means of production survived in a new form. And it survives into the capital epoch as well. This objective economic reality, alienating man from man, forms the basis for "class interests" and the motivation for "class struggle." Class struggle, of course, leads to violent revolution, and revolutions are a form of warfare, which eventually brings the collapse of each historical epoch, distinctive in its methods of production and its level of technology. War, in Marx's theory of historical development, is a vehicle of change--the phenomenon that propels history--and the objective source of all war is found in the private ownership of the means of production. The Communist Manifesto of 1849 has this theory of war deeply embedded in its text.
Later, in his history of the civil war in France, 1870-71, Marx offered a further elaboration of the theory as it applied to the bourgeois epoch in which nation states fought wars against each other. This conflict demonstrated, as Marx saw, that wars do not always have a progressive outcome. The decisions of leaders of classes play a key role in determining whether or not they are progressive or reactionary in their consequences. Marx chided French revolutionary leaders of the Paris commune for nationalist patriotic sentiments and their failure to recognize that the bourgeois governments of France and Germany were merely defending the class interests of their ruling capitalist classes. The interests of the working class transcended national boundaries, and for a truly socialist revolution to occur, the war had to be expanded across state boundaries so that the working classes could join in defending their shared interests in ending exploitation. The French workers should have made common cause with German workers to defeat bourgeois regimes in both countries, but their leaders in Paris, lacking Marx's "scientific" understanding of the historical process, made erroneous decisions that brought about the defeat of the Paris commune.
Lenin went beyond Marx, however, by adding the concept of alliances between the working class and other oppressed classes in a common struggle against the ruling class. In his 1905 essay Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (1905), he called for joining the Russian peasantry in an alliance with the working class. The Russian working class was too small to expect to win a revolution alone in the feudal Russian empire. Lenin considered the Russian bourgeoisie both too small and too weak to be worthy of a revolutionary alliance. Moreover, they showed no inclination to play their proper historical role by overthrowing the tsar and establishing a bourgeois regime. The very large Russian peasantry, by contrast, was in a revolutionary mood, and although it was what the Marxists termed a "petty bourgeois" class in the sense that peasants wanted private ownership of their land as the reward for revolution, it was historically progressive in that it opposed the oppressive feudal landowning class. This reality made it possible, Lenin argued, for the workers and peasants to ally against the regime, and if they did, they certainly possessed the strength to win a revolution. Moreover, they could shunt aside the Russian bourgeoisie, skipping over the capitalist epoch. A victorious revolution in Russia was bound, in Lenin's judgment, to be accompanied by a revolution in Europe, particularly in Germany, France, and Britain, where the working classes were large and most advanced. The two revolutions could then be united, the European working class joining with the Russian working class, making a union that would outweigh the political power of the Russian peasantry after the revolution, when it would show its bourgeois character and demand private ownership of land.
Lenin later generalized this tactic of class alliances on a global scale. In his 1916 essay "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism," he explained colonial wars as struggles among the leading capitalist states for markets in the rest of the world. In the process, capitalism had reached a new stage, transcending the bourgeois nation state, consisting of a single global economic system. Capitalism's objective nature required war; its dynamic character propelled the ruling capitalist classes of nation states into violent struggles over colonial markets extending into the backward regions of the world. The resulting global integration of the capitalist economic system demanded, in Lenin's view, a broader interpretation of the international class struggle, one that exposed the revolutionary potential not just in Europe's large working class but also in the progressive classes in the colonial countries.
Thus Lenin's theory of imperialism provided the seeds of a future Bolshevik strategy for the "international class struggle," going beyond Marx's concern for a scientifically informed consciousness within a single worldwide class of propertyless workers of its objective common interest in a political revolution, searching for other classes and groups as tactical allies of the working class. Colonial countries had not yet experienced bourgeois revolutions. Local national liberation movements, notwithstanding their bourgeois character, could, by fighting for their independence, become objective allies of the weak local working classes in those countries. In the context of colonialism these nationalists were objectively "progressive" political forces. Furthermore, because capitalism had become a world imperialist system, revolutions in the colonies might: well break the "weakest link" in imperialism's chain of colonies, enabling a war in the colonies to bring down the whole imperialist structure and to spread revolution to imperialism's center in Europe. With this ideological arrow in his quiver, Lenin could call for Social Democratic support of so-called "national liberation wars" in colonial countries. And he could justify his assertion that a world socialist revolution could begin in backward Russia, where the working class was extremely weak. He could cogently argue that he had not abandoned Marxism but was developing it creatively to identify "objective" revolutionary potential, not just in Europe but more widely, by appreciating the "law of uneven historical development," which explained that different countries and societies could be at different levels of economic development and therefore in different historical epochs at the same time.
The complexities confronting this global application of Marxism were enormous--especially how to deal with allied "progressive" classes when they turned "reactionary" after a revolution--but Lenin's unlimited faith in the scientific nature of Marxism convinced him that there were solutions if Marxism were properly used to discover them. Most important for our purposes here is that all of this theorizing centered on wars, wars of several kinds, wars throughout the world. Lenin had not missed the key feature of Marxism: it was, at root, a theory of war.
All theories have their epistemological and philosophical grounds. Obviously, Marx's philosophy of war is first of all eschatological. War has an immanent character, carrying mankind toward an ultimate goal. For both Marx and Lenin, war provides the motor for historical progress because it is an expression of class struggle. It is not something to be prevented before the socialist epoch has been reached. Moreover, man cannot avoid war in the capitalist and earlier stages of history, where private ownership of the means of production is the foundation of economic relations, ensuring man's alienation from man and class struggle. In fact, wars that advance societies through the various stages of development are "progressive," that is, "just wars." Unjust wars are those fought by ruling classes to prevent progressive development. While he was explicitly claiming that he held a scientific view of war, Marx was also implicitly taking a moral view. Although war is materialistically determined, it has both moral and immoral sides. In other words, war serves the inexorable laws of historical development and at the same time confronts man with moral choices, but not in the bourgeois sense of allowing all individuals to make morally correct choices in choosing sides. Marx's moral choices are open only to those who comprehend his scientific explanation of war, allowing them to distinguish between progressive wars, which are just, and reactionary wars, which are unjust. Those who are scientifically enlightened acquire an obligation both to promote progressive wars and to work for the achievement of scientifically based peace, the end of all war. How is that to be accomplished?
As Lenin put it forcefully in "What Is to Be Done?" Social Democratic self-consciousness allows the working class to understand that private ownership of means of production is the cause of class conflict, of exploitation, and of war. Armed with this scientific insight, the international working class and its leadership vanguard, a Marxist revolutionary party, could carry through a political revolution, end the system of private ownership, and create genuine socialism and the permanent peace that would come through the elimination of the private. Scientifically based peace, therefore, requires the end of capitalism and its foundation, private property. By ideological definition, "peace-loving forces," as later Soviet rhetoric would label them, are political groups determined to use violent revolution to destroy economic systems based on private ownership. This choice of terms, of course, had the tactical advantage of deceiving the politically naive in capitalist countries who understood "peace-loving" to mean something quite different, utopian in nature--like the utopian socialism upon which Marx heaped such scorn.
The inherent determinism in this eschatological philosophy of war appears to make unnecessary the voluntarism that Lenin proclaimed essential for revolutionary leadership. Precisely this ideological paradox confronted the Russian Marxists at the turn of the twentieth century. What role should their party play within the feudal conditions of the Russian empire to be? Should they let the laws of history work their predetermined progressive ways? Or should they exercise voluntarist leadership to advance historical development more effectively? This well-known dilemma, of which the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions chose opposite horns, has been the subject of a vast literature, but here it is noteworthy only in connection with the later official Soviet Marxist-Leninist philosophy of war. Lenin insisted on a strong voluntarist component in his Marxism, while his opponents were less convinced that so much voluntarism was compatible with historical materialism. Although the party's split into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions involved more than the issue of voluntarism versus determinism alone, it did play a significant role. It would incline most Social Democrats in 1917 to believe that a socialist revolution was impossible in Russia. Russia first had to go through a bourgeois-capitalist epoch. For them the collapse of the old regime was the dawn of a long bourgeois epoch. Lenin took the opposite view, holding that a socialist revolution was entirely possible in Russia if the working class leadership exercised its free will to take power based on a two-class alliance of workers and peasants.
Lenin could offer a strong a justification for his political voluntarism in Marx's writings. The Communist Manifesto itself described the socialist revolution as a conscious human act, one possible only when the working class possessed a scientific understanding of the laws of history, not something that it would carry through mindlessly, propelled by material conditions alone. Moreover, Marx's work distinguishes "Communists" as the leaders, "the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country that pushes forward all others." In his history of the civil war in France, he again emphasized the role of leadership, blaming the leaders of the Paris commune for making the wrong choices. A rigid determinist could not logically make such charges. It is difficult to fault Lenin's reading of Marx on this point. Indeed, Marx provided an unambiguous role for human voluntarism in making revolutions and conducting class warfare. Lenin, however, went beyond Marx to buttress this voluntarist component with the ideas of Germany's best-known military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz.
Clausewitz treats war epistemologically as an instrument in the hands of the leaders of states. They try to use it purposefully, to achieve political goals, though they often fail. War, therefore, is not some phenomenon apart from man, like stormy weather or disease, a destructive affair against which man can only try to limit harm to himself. Nor does it serve some divine purpose, leading man toward heaven or utopia. It is man's creation, his policy instrument, and its purposes are his political purposes. This strongly voluntarist aspect of Clausewitz's philosophy, however, is not unconstrained. Leaders can choose to start wars for strategic purposes, but they are never fully in control of all the variables affecting the course and outcomes of wars. The imponderables in war are numerous, making it a very difficult policy instrument to use effectively.
Lenin openly acknowledged Clausewitz's profound influence on him. He read On War in 1915 while living in Switzerland, and his lengthy and approving notes on the book indicate the intellectual seriousness with which he treated Clausewitz's ideas. At the time, Lenin was involved in quarrels over the essence of Marxism and its relationship to Hegel. He was also smarting with anger at the European Social Democrats who sided with their national governments in the war instead of leading the workers against those governments and making it the class war that, in his view, it already was. Thus several things in On War appealed to him, not least that Clausewitz was influenced by Hegel and had adopted Hegelian affectations in his style of thinking. Most important for Lenin, though, was a correct Marxist understanding of World War I. He was convinced that the war was objectively a conflict between the international working class and international capitalism, even if most of his fellow Social Democrats accepted the bourgeois view that it was a struggle among nations.
Lenin enthusiastically agreed with Clausewitz's view of war as politics, as an instrument of policy for imposing one's will on an opponent. Although he did not himself put it so explicitly, Lenin effectively adopted Clausewitz's "paradoxical trinity" for characterizing the major components in a state's use of war. In Clausewitz's words, "As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity--composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone. The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government."
Put another way, Clausewitz's "trinity" consists of (1) the popular emotions of the "nation" (as peoples were more often calling themselves in nineteenth-century Europe); (2) "the fog of war" (Clausewitz's better-known term for chance and probability) surrounding the army on the battlefield; and (3) the attempt of government (the cabinet and the general staff, as he defines it elsewhere) to impose rationality on war for its own political purposes. The nation provides the psychological energy for combat. The fog of war is the physical context of armed struggle, signifying that war's dynamics are highly problematic, not subject to the simple mechanical laws that Henri de Jomini, Clausewitz's contemporary, tried to devise. The cabinet and the general staff impose purpose and rationality on the nation's passion through strategic direction for achieving political aims with war. The weather metaphor, "fog," when viewed from the perspective of modern meteorological science, suggests probability theory, not Newtonian laws of mechanics, as the appropriate concept for understanding what commanders face on the battlefield. Precisely Clausewitz's resort to the mathematics of probabilities--"the play of chance and probability"--reveals the fundamental difference between Clausewitz and other military theorists of his day. Victory in war cannot be achieved by applying geometry and mechanical "laws of solids," as a civil engineer does in building a bridge. Rather it is more like anticipating and dealing effectively with weather that interferes with or facilitates one's purposes, something that can be partially understood by rational analysis and mitigated by human judgments, yet remains fraught with uncertainties and surprises.
In Lenin's view, all politics is a vast battlefield of class struggle and revolution. It is messy and often unpredictable, involving setbacks, yet guided by comprehensible scientific processes--not simple propositions like those of Euclidian geometry and Newtonian physics, but more analogous to large numbers of apparently random events which can be comprehended approximately by theories of statistics and subjected to human rational action informed by conceptually appropriate theories and analysis.
In Clausewitz, Lenin found a theory that combined the role of leadership with the vast and problematic forces of political struggle. Those forces have an internal logic uncovered in Marx's dialectical materialist interpretation of history, but that logic is not purely mechanistic in the sense of engineering principles. Random variables and human choice are also part of it. Humans who understand the general logic of these forces, however, can act in rational ways to achieve preferred outcomes. Lenin recognized that Clausewitz was onto something with his tough-minded empirical observations, coupled with his Hegelianism, even if he did not have the benefit of Marx's scientific insights.
Clausewitz's trinity was easily adaptable to Lenin's own scheme of war and politics. Lenin's concept of the Bolshevik party's leadership role fit neatly into the role Clausewitz gave to the government for the rational pursuit of political objectives with military means. The revolutionary party provided the working-class movement with rational leadership, based on its knowledge of Marx's scientific theory of history and on its shrewd exercise of the political free will that Marx envisioned for those carrying through a socialist revolution--that is, a war to end all wars. Certainly Lenin's vision of politics fit Clausewitz's fog-of-war metaphor with its "play of chance and probability." Lenin's "Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder (1920) was aimed at European Social Democrats who interpreted Marxism in a purely mechanistic fashion, just as Clausewitz implicitly criticized the excessively mechanistic character of thinking by Jomini and other contemporary military theorists). Although the problematic component of the trinity would appear to be "the people," because Clausewitz's did not distinguish among classes, Lenin could manage the omission. Clausewitz lived in the very time when the modern nation state was maturing in Europe, and logically, he assumed that warring opponents are states. He could not be expected to realize that "transnational" warfare between classes would soon transcend "international" warfare between states. Lenin merely had to substitute "class" for "the people" and the "party" for the "government" to adapt Clausewitz's trinity to a Marxist framework. Lenin's actions after he took power in Russia can be effectively explained with this trinity--propagandizing and agitating the international working class (primordial violence, hatred, and enmity), recognizing the vicissitudes of class conflicts (the play of chance and probability), and founding communist parties world-wide under Moscow's leadership to lead the international working class in revolution (subordination as an instrument of policy).
In light of this remarkable overlap of theories of war and revolution, Clausewitz's canonization in the church of Soviet military theory is not surprising, but his status as a saint always remained conditional, as a basic text used for educating Soviet officers on ideological matters makes clear:
"With reference to wars," Lenin wrote, "the main thesis of dialectics . . . is that `war is simply the continuation of politics by other (i.e., violent) means.' Such is the formula of Clausewitz, one of the greatest writers on the history of war. . . . And it was always the standpoint of Marx and Engels, who regard any war as the continuation of the politics of the powers concerned--and he various classes within these countries. . . .
"We see that in expounding the essence of war, Lenin refers to Clausewitz . . . . And this is only logical, for Clausewitz's research into the relation of wars to politics and his formula about war being a continuation of politics by violent means were an indubitable contribution to the development of military thought at the time.
"It would, however, be a gross error to think that the views on the essence of war held by Marxism-Leninism are identical with those propounded by Clausewitz. On the contrary, there is a fundamental difference between them . . . in their understanding of politics, of its class nature."
As the Soviet military entered its last six years of existence, its leaders were steeped in this philosophy of war. They were imbued with both an eschatological and an instrumental view of war. Yet they were not unique in appropriating a seemingly contradictory amalgam of theoretical viewpoints. As Michael Howard has cogently explained, liberalism has always been torn between incompatible theories of war, far less compatible then those held by the Soviet leadership. From Erasmus to the present, liberal thinkers have viewed war as evil, a thing to be banished through pacifism, arms control, or an appeal to human morality. Yet at times liberals have resorted to war for political aims, in the Clausewitzian tradition, clothing such wars in the garb of crusades for higher moral purposes. Much Western analysis of Soviet military policy has dismissed the eschatological component of the Soviet theory of war, assuming that Soviet generals do not really believe their own ideological propositions. The same can be said of Western military leaders. Do they really believe in Western liberalism's antipathy for war as an instrument of policy? Perhaps many do not, but the hegemony of that idea remains operational for military policy making in Western democracies. For practical purposes Western generals most often act as though they do believe the liberal assumptions about war, even if they do not consciously consider the matter in philosophical terms. The same must said for Soviet military leaders. When I interviewed several of them, most could not easily articulate the theoretical propositions of Marxism-Leninism on war, but a few could, particularly those who worked at the General Staff level. Political officers, of course, were the most articulate on these matters. The compelling conclusion, therefore, seems to be that the propositions of the official ideology held hegemony over their thought whether or not every one of them was conscious of it.
Although Western scholars have too often denied or ignored it, Marxism-Leninism is indeed a significant factor in any an explanation of why the Soviet Union built such large military forces and why they devised the kinds of war plans they did. Based on a class analysis, the General Staff could easily identify the "threat" against which it had to plan for war. The "probable enemy" included all countries in which private ownership of the means of production existed. The number of such countries was quite large, forming a great encircling ring around the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact allies, and other socialist states.
Moreover, the Communist Party consistently emphasized such class analysis in its strategic guidance to the military, and its practical articulation was fairly consistent throughout Soviet history. Lenin first devised the ideological basis for formal diplomatic relations with imperialist states shortly after the end of the civil war. In 1919 he had founded the Communist International (Comintern), an organization controlling all foreign communist parties. The Comintern became his mechanism for coordinating the revolutionary work of the international working class through a network of responsive communist parties on a transnational basis. Parallel to this linkage, he sought peace with the imperialist states through formal diplomatic ties, realizing his first success with the establishment of diplomatic relations with Germany at Rapallo in 1922. Within the context of peaceful state-to-state relations with the West, he sought economic assistance for the Soviet state. Within the context of party-to-party relations, he sought revolution, foremost in Germany. In the colonial areas, communist parties were instructed to seek political alliances with local nationalist bourgeois parties for the purpose of inspiring revolts against the European empires. All these policies flow consistently from his development of Marxism in his own thinking before the revolution. They make sense as a strategy only in that context; otherwise they are not only incomprehensible but also look contradictory, even absurd.
This strategy, of course, was designed to gain a so-called "breathing space" during which the Soviet Union could prepare for the inevitable military show-down with the imperialist states of the world and the complete victory of socialism. Although Lenin used the term "peaceful cohabitation," the strategy soon became known as peaceful coexistence, and it was continued actively until 1928, when Stalin, without renouncing it, created a war scare, essentially letting the strategy lapse until after Hitler took power in Germany. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 has generally been seen as a second abandonment of this strategy, but a strong case can be made that the alliance with Germany was the product of Stalin's adaptation of this well-established ideological formula. In the immediate postwar period, Stalin's formula was a "two camp struggle," the socialist camp versus the imperialist camp, but by the mid-1950s, Khrushchev, as part of his de-Stalinization campaign, revived "Leninist norms" in Soviet foreign policy, making peaceful coexistence once more its "general line." In substance it involved most of the same components as in the interwar period, but the Comintern, abolished in 1943 by Stalin, was no longer the vehicle for controlling foreign communist parties, and "polycentricism"--the Western description of competing centers of communist orthodoxy--began to emerge, as Yugoslavia and China challenged Moscow's leadership of the international communist movement.
In the Third Party Program, promulgated at the Twenty-second Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1961, peaceful coexistence was defined as "a specific form of the international class struggle." This formulation made clear to any properly trained communist that "peace" meant the final victory of the socialist camp--not a "bourgeois peace," but rather scientifically based peace in the Marxist-Leninist sense. In other words, the prospect of a military showdown with imperialism was not to be discounted. Khrushchev had revised Lenin's assertion that a war with imperialism was inevitable, based on the advent of nuclear weapons, but that revision did not wholly discount the possibility. War might be avoided, however, as the Soviet military changed the "correlation" of military forces between the socialist and imperialist camps to provide an edge so large that imperialist leaders would not dare resort to use of nuclear weapons. We shall return to the issue of the role of nuclear weapons, but here it must suffice to note Khrushchev's ideological revision. Otherwise, "peaceful coexistence as a specific form of international class struggle" became once again the policy context for Soviet military planning, and it remained so until Gorbachev's radical revision of the concept of peaceful coexistence in 1987.
The Programmatic Implications of
the Soviet Philosophy of War
In the postwar period, therefore, especially after Brezhnev came to power, Soviet military planning was based on the assumption that a world war could break out, and if it did, the Soviet Union and its communist allies, especially those in the Warsaw Pact, would confront the entire capitalist world as one great hostile coalition. Such planning was also based on a firm commitment to taking the offensive at the very outbreak of hostilities. This belief in the primacy of the offensive form of warfare goes back to the formulation of a specifically Marxist military doctrine sponsored by Mikhail Frunze, briefly the commissar of war in the mid-1920s. Stalin's lapse from this orthodoxy between 1938 and 1941, to be sure, was an embarrassment explained away by the gross distortions of official Soviet historiography, but after World War II, the primacy of the offensive was once again asserted in Marshal V. D. Sokolovskii's volume Military Strategy, taking into account the advent of nuclear weapons, rocketry, and cybernetics and their revolutionary impact on the nature of warfare. Given such a doctrinal outlook, the General Staff saw as its war planning task the design of swift offensives into Europe, into Northeast Asia, and possibly, but with a much lower priority, into Southwest Asia and the Middle East. The plan also required being able to survive a U.S. nuclear attack on the Soviet homeland, as well as to deliver a nuclear attack on the United States. Finally, it meant coping with and eventually defeating the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic and the Pacific.
These were huge tasks, much larger than a traditional "balance of power" strategy would have demanded and many times larger than a realistic assessment of the actual military threats to Soviet territory would have dictated. They required huge forces, forces structured quite differently from U.S. and NATO forces, which were designed to defend initially and to depend on mobilization of large ground forces after the outbreak of hostilities. Apparently the initial Soviet aim was to match the United States and NATO in particular types of weapons and forces--for example, bombers, ballistic missiles, and submarines--but in numbers of weapons and forces, mere equity was obviously considered inadequate. Soviet inventories of new tanks, artillery, air defense missiles, tactical ballistic missiles, tactical combat aircraft, and others soon exceeded U.S. and NATO inventories by very large margins. Difficult additional questions arose. How long would a third world war last? What phase of the war and what specific operations would be decisive? What kinds of forces would be most critical? Different answers to these questions would yield different Soviet force requirements. Ideologically based answers generated requirements for staggeringly large and modern forces.
Clearly the ideology, as it defined the socialist and imperialist camps, dictated the number and location of the likely opponents and allies. It also dictated the preference for the offensive after Frunze won the debate over the issue in the 1920s, resting his case heavily on ideological grounds. At the same time, new technologies were influencing force requirements, both in quantity and in quality. The U.S. lead in the new technologies gave the military force-building competition an "action-reaction" character, but it explains only limited features of the profile of Soviet forces. The eighteen active and ten reserve U.S. divisions hardly prompted a Soviet ground force structure capable of rapidly deploying more than two hundred divisions. And the extremely modest U.S. and NATO air defense structure cannot explain the thousands of Soviet surface-to-air missile systems. Geographic differences and offensive versus defensive planning must be taken into account, but only the official ideology provided an adequate rationale for the whole of the Soviet force structure.
Some Western analysts have tried to explain the unusually large Soviet force structure as the consequence of interservice bureaucratic rivalries. Interviews of former Soviet officers and party officials reveal a complex and strong bureaucratic dynamic, but it was not analogous to the mirror-image inferences of bureaucratic politics in the U.S. defense establishment. In the 1950s the Ministry of Defense appears to have driven the military-industrial sector to meet its newly devised weapons requirements. By the late 1970s, however, the military-industrial sector was pushing its products on an often reluctant Ministry of Defense. Certain important aspects of the Soviet military buildup can be explained as the result of bureaucratic dynamics, but the ideology was the rationale for creating the bureaucratic structures in the first place.
A combination of all the traditional hypotheses is needed to explain the size of Soviet forces, but the least relevant of them is that Russians remained obsessed with insecurity based on a history of frequent foreign invasions based on a long historical experience. The experience of Hitler's surprise attack in World War II undoubtedly remains etched on the Russian public mind, but the earlier historical record does not support this popular proposition. Russian invasions of neighboring states were far more numerous than were invasions of Russia.
In sum, a unique philosophy of war took strong roots early in the Soviet regime. Marxism provided its eschatological component, a pseudoscientific theory of historical development. Marx admitted borrowing heavily from Hegel but insisted that he had turned Hegel on his head by basing his theory on "materialism" rather than "idealism," as Hegel had done. Lenin formalized the voluntarist component of theory by underscoring Marx's own assumptions that a socialist revolution depended on the proletariat's class consciousness and understanding of the laws of history. Most important, Lenin devised the theory of a revolutionary party for inducing such class consciousness in the proletariat and leading it to victory by using violence in a purposeful fashion. In borrowing from Clausewitz, Lenin actually inverted Clausewitz's theory--turned him on his head, just as Marx claimed to have done to Hegel, by basing politics on war (revolution) instead of war on politics. War, for Lenin, was not just the continuation of politics by other means; it was the essence of politics, domestic and international, because it was the product of class struggle. Politics could only be warfare of a greater or lesser intensity of class struggle until the final victory of socialism. At that point, war would disappear from human relations.
This understanding of Leninism, though not traced to Lenin's fascination with Clausewitz and to its roots in Marxism, was obvious to Lenin's contemporary and fellow revolutionary Victor Chernov, the theoretician of the Social Revolutionary Party (a powerful rival to the Bolshevik Party in 1917). He wrote in the newly launched American journal Foreign Affairs, on the occasion of Lenin's death in 1924, "It has been said that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Lenin would undoubtedly have reversed this dictum and said that politics is the continuation of war under another guise."
When Gorbachev came to power, he faced a party and a military leadership that had deeply internalized this philosophy of war, not always fully conscious of the degree of internalization. His new "defensive doctrine," therefore, clashed both with the subconscious hegemony of this philosophy and with its conscious articulation in the education of military and party.
|List of Illustrations|
|List of Abbreviations|
|1||The Soviet Philosophy of War||1|
|2||Party, State, and Military Structure||16|
|3||How the Military Was Manned||38|
|4||The Permanent War Economy||49|
|6||Deciding to Change Course||88|
|7||Defensive Doctrine and Arms Reductions||118|
|8||Glasnost and the Public Debate||147|
|9||Legislating Military Reform||173|
|10||The Intractable Party-Military Connection||203|
|11||The Intractable Military-Industrial Sector||223|
|12||The Army and Maintaining Domestic Order||244|
|13||From Force Reductions to Disintegration||272|
|14||The August Crisis||305|
|15||Illusions of Another Chance||347|
|16||The Illusion of the CIS Armed Forces||375|
Posted November 15, 2001
There's plenty in this book, but it's a hard slog. You need to know a lot about the organization of the Soviet economy, and that means a lot of bureaucracies and unfamiliar names. There are some very interesting chapters on Soviet war plans, nuclear strategy, and the Marxist-Leninist approach to war and peace. Gorbachev comes off looking like a real bungler, and Yeltsin an opportunist (not that I necessarily disagree). Odom also spends a good bit of time feuding with other writers on Soviet affairs. I worked my way through it, but I probably wouldn't have bought if I had known what it was like.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.