Stalin's Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army, 1925-1941 (Modern War Studies Series)

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Under Joseph Stalin's iron-fisted rule, the Soviet state tried to forge an army that would be both a shining example of proletarian power and an indomitable deterrent against fascist aggression. In reality, Roger Reese reveals, Stalin's grand military experiment failed miserably on both counts before it was finally rescued within the crucible of war.

Reese greatly expands our understanding of the Red Army's evolution during the 1930s and its near decimation at the beginning of World War II. Counter to conventional views, he argues that the Stalinist state largely failed in its attempt to use military service as a means to indoctrinate its citizens, especially the peasantry. After 1928, the regime's recruits became increasingly disenchanted with Stalin's socialist enterprise-primarily due to the disheartening changes brought on by collectivization and dekulakization. In effect, these reluctant soldiers turned their backs on both the army and Communist Party leadership, neither of which regained credibility until after World War II.

The soldiers' alienation and hostility, Reese demonstrates, was most clearly manifested in the highly volatile tensions between officers and peasant recruits following the military's chaotic expansion during the 1930s. Those tensions and numerous internal conflicts greatly undermined the regime's effort to create a well-trained, cohesive, and politically indoctrinated army. In place of this ideal, the regime stumbled along with a disunited and ineffective fighting force guided by outdated doctrines and led by an undeveloped officer corps. All of those elements made the Soviet Union particularly vulnerable to the devastating military disasters of 1941.

Along the way, Reese persuasively dispels a number of myths. He shows, for example, that the Red Army's humiliating defeats at the start of the war were not, as many still believe, due to Stalin's bloody purges of the officer corps during the 1930s nor to overwhelming German military and economic superiority. Stalin, Reese argues, was only one of many key influences on the Soviet's disorganized effort to field an effective fighting force. And, while the Red Army was actually technologically superior to the Wehrmacht, the Germans made far better strategic and tactical use of their forces to overwhelm the poorly-led Soviets.

A fascinating portrait of an army at war with itself, Reese's study illuminates the daily lives of soldiers, officers, and civilians and forever changes the way we look at the relation between political motives and military needs in the early Soviet state.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In June 1941, the Soviet Army was the largest in the world and had a huge supply of advanced mechanical equipment. Yet within a few months, it would be all but destroyed by a numerically inferior Wehrmacht, suffering over 5,000,000 casualties and prisoners. What happened? Conventional wisdom and studies blame the infamous purges of high level military officers of 1937-38, as well as Stalin's intransigence in tactical and strategic matters. Reese's unique study, however, starts from the bottom up. He shows how this huge crowd of conscripts, mostly semiliterate peasants and largely disaffected, were closer to a rabble than an army. With recently released statistics, he shows how most of the army members who were technically trained to employ and maintain the new equipment had been drafted back into Stalin's industrial expansion efforts. Another interesting sidelight is Stalin's dissolution in 1935 of the territorial (part-time reserve) forces. These could have filled gaps in the undermanned regulars (often only 40%-60% of authorized strength) and possibly helped to stem the German tide. This thoughtful and well-written work is full of detail and statistics not found elsewhere. It is an intriguing study and a fast read for both the scholar and the layperson. Photos not seen by PW. (July)
A study of the Red Army's evolution during the 1930s and its near decimation at the beginning of WWII, illuminating the daily lives of soldiers, officers, and civilians and analyzing the relation between political motives and military needs in the early Soviet state. Counter to conventional views, the author argues that the state failed in its attempt to use military service as a means to indoctrinate citizens, especially the peasantry. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700607723
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 8/28/1996
  • Series: Modern War Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents



1. Organization and Training of the Regular Army and Territorial Forces

2. Daily Life, Conditions of Service, and Discipline

3. PUR and the Army: The Nonmilitary Side of Military Service

4. The Red Army Officer Corps

5. The Purge and Further Expansion

6. The Last Eighteen Months of the Red Army: November 1939 to June 1941

7. The Predictable Disaster and the End of the Red Army: 22 June to December 1941



List of Military Units


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