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The Soviet Volunteers
Modernization and Bureaucracy in a Public Mass Organization
By William E. Odom
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1973 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
The Doctrinal Heritage
By the period of the First Five Year Plan, Osoaviakhim was being openly proclaimed as the broad mobilization reserve for the Red Army, although it did not assume this role at its inception. The concept of creating military reserves in the context of a mass voluntary organization was not formulated at a single juncture in the making of Soviet military policy nor was it meant in its original form to be wholly a matter of military policy. Rather, the decision to establish the Society in 1927 was the consequence of an array of factors, many of which came to light in the debate over a proper defense posture. That debate took place in an environment of numerous resource constraints, both human and material. Its participants cast their arguments in Marxian categories and analytical concepts developed by the Social Democrats of both Europe and Russia but modified by the Bolshevik experiences during and after the seizure of power.
The course of the civil war and the first years of the New Economic Policy brought the Bolsheviks to grips with more than the realities of devastation by the war. The educational and technical backwardness of Russia, the enduring features of the traditional peasant society and its deeply rooted values, the desperate condition of the economy, and the innovations in military technology that appeared in the course of the World War, all contributed to the general realization that the preconditions for a socialist society were hardly present in Russia. (Most Russian Marxists, certainly Lenin, had maintained no illusions on this point, but Bukharin and other left Bolsheviks in 1918 were overly sanguine for a time.) What the Russian bourgeoisie had failed to accomplish in their brief historical epoch would have to be hastily achieved under socialist leadership.
Thus the Bolsheviks found themselves in a dilemma not unlike that of the elites bent upon modernization in many of the developing states of the twentieth century. They desired to possess the economic and cultural attributes of the modern industrial societies of the West; yet they perceived the West as bent upon destroying or exploiting them. The ambivalence in this perception can induce a sense of urgency, a single-mindedness of purpose, a distrust of spontaneous societal development, and, in the Bolshevik case in particular, an incredible confidence in planning and organizational techniques for finding novel institutional means which promise a short-cut to the resolution of problems. The use of mass voluntary organizations as an aspect of military policy provides one example of innovation in military organization. But it was also related to domestic military politics, the problem of integrating the armed forces with civil institutions, one that has proved difficult to solve in many developing states.
The trend in European states, including Russia, since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has been toward specialization of the military defense function of the state. Feudal militias gave way to kings' standing armies. The technological advances in weaponry and transportation in the nineteenth century made differentiation of the state's military activities seem all the more imperative. Clausewitz gave this functional delineation its most eminent theoretical articulation. In order to integrate the military with other government functions, however, he tried to confine the military to a role as exclusively an instrument of foreign policy. The modern states have more or less followed his approach in defense organization.
There are serious weaknesses in Clausewitz's conceptualization. It directs primary attention to interstate relations and tends to ignore inter-institutional domestic politics. Moreover, it has proved difficult if not impossible to establish the demarcation between political and military prerogatives in policy decisions. James Harrington, the seventeenth-century English political theorist, recognized clearly the problem of the military's place in domestic politics, and in a sense anticipated the coming military-civil institutional division. Harrington noticed that emerging strong central governments had mobilized large armies in their struggle with the landed aristocracies. Such armies' claims on states' resources (for Harrington this primarily meant land) caused a political imbalance and posed a severe threat to stable government. How to avoid the imbalance? Simply abolish the army and rely on a militia. At the IX Party Congress in 1920, Trotsky's proposal to resort to just this solution was accepted. Trotsky pointed out the enormous economic burden a regular army would place on the state, and his case for a militia has much in common with Harrington's view.
It was hardly possible for the Bolsheviks to resolve the problem of defense in such an easy fashion. Although a mixed militia and regular force structure was chosen, Trotsky's scheme became the subject of heated debate in the party and Red Army hierarchy. As a consequence of the quarrels, the question of the domestic politics of the military establishment came under serious scrutiny and a search was begun for new ways to institutionalize the state's defense function. The first new institution of the Soviet state that received major attention and demonstrated the Bolshevik capability for effective organizational leadership had been the Red Army. At the end of the civil war, they essentially dismantled it and began anew, structuring it as best they could in coordination with the host of other institutional developments that had to be managed.
Because it was in the context of this vast undertaking of institution building that mass voluntary defense societies emerged, it is useful to review the leadership's conceptualization of the tasks it faced and the constraints it confronted.
The Bolsheviks, in designing a military policy and structuring the Soviet military institutions, claimed originality from the first. At the VII Party Congress in March 1918, ten theses were promulgated as guidance for building a new state apparatus. In explicit contrast to the functional divisions in parliamentary democratic governments, the Soviets applied a principle of integration. The executive and legislative functions were to be combined as one task for the Soviet apparatus. Not only was there to be horizontal integration but vertical as well; the general population was to be drawn into the Soviet apparatus on a mass basis, linked more tightly with it than in democratic states of the West. Special attention was given to the armed forces. Following the ideological lore of Social Democracy concerning the military question, largely founded on Engels's formulations, and perhaps on Lenin's essay of 1917, State and Revolution, Soviet military structures were not to be isolated from the mass of the populace. Structural separation in the bourgeois states had permitted the use of the military as a repressive instrument in the hands of a ruling minority. According to the lore, the upheaval of revolution would involve arming the masses. Thus the theses on Soviet power declared that "the Soviets are armed workers and peasants" and represent the first step toward a classless "armed people."
The civil war forced the Bolsheviks to mobilize and train a large army, over five million in strength, but the principles set down at the VII Party Congress were not entirely dismissed. At the VIII Party Congress in 1919, the military question once more occupied a central place on the agenda. The resolution taken on the matter was rhetorically cast as an answer to the charge that the Red Army was hardly a classless all-people's militia divorced from military camps and barracks. It provided a critique of the Social Democratic program that had prescribed an all-people's militia, the soldiers quartered in their own homes, carrying on their normal industrial production tasks, and devoting to military training enough time from their non-working hours to maintain an effective defense organization. The mistake of the old program, it was argued, had been to pose the question as a choice between bourgeois barracks-type armies and an all-people's militia. "When civil war breaks out, an all-people's militia loses its meaning." Because the toiling classes had seized power in Russia, it was possible to use the state apparatus, particularly a newly recruited proletarian "class army," to defend the power of the revolution. The civil war left no choice but to build a new army of the barracks type for defense of the working class interests. The resolution carefully maintained, nevertheless, that the party had not abandoned the concept of an all-people's militia. It admitted that in an atmosphere of "healthy industry" the best possible army could be built "on the basis of obligatory training of workers and toiling peasants in conditions near their everyday labor." But the present class war, it was asserted, is a transitional phenomenon requiring a barracks-type class army and mass mobilization. After the transition, when a militia would become appropriate, it had to involve more than limited individual training. Units up to division in size would be organized and exercised. At the next party congress, in 1920, the Bolsheviks made it clear that they had indeed not forgotten the militia scheme and would try to implement it in the aftermath of the civil war.
Three organizing principles emerge from the resolution of the VIII Party Congress, which find repetition at later congresses and in much of the published record of views in the party hierarchy on military force structure. The first is "universal military training" (the Russian acronym is vseobuch). It expressed the notion that every citizen should receive military training of an elementary sort but not necessarily by serving in a full-time military unit. It amounted to the continuation under Soviet power of what had been the practice of the Red Guard training conducted under the guidance of the Bolshevik Military Organization in 1917.
The second principle is the concept of providing military training without taking the recipient away from his home and place of labor. The expected advantage, of course, was that military manpower requirements would not essentially compete with or deny manpower to the industrial production process. Industrial labor's organization, work discipline, technical skills, and population density had already created conditions not dissimilar to barracks life. The concept of extra-barracks military training allowed the regime to take advantage of these conditions and to avoid both the costs of additional resource outlays and the disruption of the worker's productive activity that regular army service would entail. The terms "outside of barracks" and "outside of forces" are part of this concept and are frequently used in Soviet literature in discussing force structure. The term vnevoiskovik is a neologism deriving from the concept and referring to a person who receives his military training without a long term of full-time military service.
A third principle, the class nature of the army, is also worth underscoring because of its wide use in the discussion of military policy. It is generally recognized that the Bolsheviks made much of class identity as an index of objective political reliability, and one might be tempted to dismiss it as misleading metaphysical nonsense. Certainly its ambiguity has allowed incredible elasticity in its use. In fact the new Red Commanders of the Red Army adeptly invoked the class criterion to justify a large regular army for carrying the revolution beyond Soviet borders. Nor have Soviet historians made lucidity a virtue in their discussions of the class nature of the Red Army and in the deductive syllogisms about a so-called "army of a new type." But a rationale may be gleaned from the way the standard was used in practice during the demobilization after the civil war and throughout the 1920's. Implicitly the class criterion came to identify soldiers who were literate or had become so during service, who had become somewhat "modernized" through military service (modernized in the sense that Lucian Pye has used the term in discussing armies in underdeveloped countries). That is, military skills and experience had modernized the soldier with respect to the village traditional society from which he came. Trotsky displayed a keen awareness of this modernizing effect on peasants in articulating his program for militarizing labor, using armies for organizing and supervising portions of the economy's labor force. After the civil war it became policy to treat the ex-Red Army soldier as a source of cadre for soviet work in the villages and among the national minorities. In effect the class criterion meant two things: first political loyalty; second, possession of skills and knowledge useful for overcoming Russian industrial backwardness.
All three of these principles concerned the integration of the military with civil society. It is not the intention here to ascribe a causal role to the ideological baggage that the Bolsheviks brought to the modernization process in Russia; rather it is necessary to clarify how they related their ideological parlance to that process. In one respect their perspectives were more advanced than contemporary views in the West. They focused sharply on the old problem James Harrington had identified with the emerging king's armies: what are the implications for domestic politics?
As mentioned earlier, the Clausewitzian description of the military function in a state, combined with the increasing requirements for role differentiation as new technology was adapted to military use, had not encouraged significant theoretical attention to new ways to integrate the growing military institutions in the political, economic, and social systems of the state. Engels, therefore, was somewhat unique in trying to conceptualize this integration process in the mid-nineteenth century. He insisted, perhaps quite rightly, that armies are a reflection of political and social systems, not something apart; but he rested his analysis on the assumption that the material and technological conditions of the society are the lone determinants of the structural integration. The essential and useful point is attention to the domestic politics of the military.
It was natural for this point to remain central in the ideology of European Social Democracy. Revolutionaries calculating the overthrow (or merely predicting this outcome) of domestic regimes had to reckon with the armies of those regimes. They knew, too, that the problem of the military did not necessarily vanish with the demise of the old regime, and they constantly warned against the danger of Bonapartism.
The Party Program (1919) formally committed the Bolsheviks to deny the military a separate existence and to insure its political and institutional integration in the Soviet order. Not only was a major section of the program devoted to the military question, but the section also included fairly specific operational guidance on the policy of integration. Point (4), for example, prescribed that:
As a counter-balance to the older order of things in the army, the following changes are necessary: shorter periods of barracks training, barracks to be nearer to the type of military and military-political schools, closer connection between military formations and mills, factories, trade unions and organizations of the poorest peasantry.
The experience of the civil war, the failure of revolution to materialize in Western Europe, Bolshevik perceptions of a hostile external environment, and domestic events such as the Kronstadt and Tambov revolts were among the factors that led the Bolsheviks to decide to retain a certain level of regular forces in the 1920's. They did not, nevertheless, dismiss entirely the guidance of the party resolutions and the new party program. Trotsky's plan for demobilization was followed in spite of the "military opposition." Frunze, among Trotsky's opponents and his successor as head of the Red Army, did not essentially modify the territorial militia program but rather became its vigorous proponent. The implementation initially followed both the class principle and the concept of organizing militia formations to conform with the location of industry. Moscow, Petrograd, and the Urals, where industry and industrial population were relatively dense, were the areas first to receive militia formations.
But the militia scheme proved temporary and was completely abandoned in the 1930's. If the ideological preconceptions had been sufficient to call Bolshevik attention to the problem of integrating a modern military establishment into the society, they were hardly adequate in establishing the structural designs of organization which could provide a solution. Mass voluntary societies were part of the innovation in civil-military linking that the Bolsheviks devised to give practical content to verbalized abstractions.
Excerpted from The Soviet Volunteers by William E. Odom. Copyright © 1973 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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