Thursday, August 16, 2007

Red Commanders by Roger Reese

Reese makes many excellent points and I commend him for producing such a fine piece of literature on the Red Army, and specifically the officer corps. I found only one error on his part so far, he claims that battalion commissars were labeled 'kombats' and battalion commanders 'batkoms' while in fact the opposite holds true. A small mistake but one that immediately caught my attention.

What I give the author a lot of praise for is showing how intertwined the officer corps was with the politics of the nation. This is one of the biggest reasons, that the author argues, which allowed the purges of the Red Army to reach such heights. In fact it is his opinion that without the intermingling of party politics with the Red Army the purges might have never come about. I can agree and disagree with this statement. I agree with the fact that one of the biggest reasons Stalin decided to purge the Red Army was because he had a fear of it since it participated in some of the worst deeds under his government. Many high ranking Generals, and certainly the Marshals, were members of the Bolshevik party, and held various posts in party organizations. Because of this many had allegiances to various factions that had been gotten rid of by Stalin (those who followed Trotsky or Zinoviev for example) and it also clouded their perceptions of what their jobs as high ranking officers should have entailed. Where I disagree with Reese is the fact that without these connections to party politics there is still reason to think some of these commanders could have been convicted of "Bonapartism" if they had any friends in the government, for example, or if they had ever expressed anger or disdain for what the party was doing. It will never be known if Reese is correct in his interpretation of this aspect of the officer corps but it is food for thought.

As previously mentioned the higher ranking officers cared little for those subordinate to them and even less for the average enlisted man. This gap would show itself in the fact that many divisions and other formations were not up to the challenges of the future war. Training was not taken seriously nor given the amount of attention and time it deserved. Drunkenness, abuse of subordinates, and other actions which should have been outlawed were allowed. Reese also makes an interesting case for the fact that while the purges most definitely took some talent out of the Red Army this cannot be claimed for every single person discharged, executed, or sent to a GULag camp. He is also correct in the fact that the army itself had blood on its hands when its own military districts started to discharge officers, since they had permission to do so without Moscow's approval, all they had to do was phone in and state who was discharged. An order was also issued to discharge officers of various nationalities, Finns, Koreans, Poles, etc. As this process began it proved too hard to stop, one order issued by Voroshilov was ignored and it took another, coming from the NKO and NKVD to stop the bloodshed and discharges.

This book is also helpful in the fact that Reese gives numbers for those troops discharged as well as those who were then reinstated. There was an affect on the Red Army officer corps but it was not as serious as many claim. Interestingly enough, there were previous purges within armed forces for years before 1937 in which tens of thousands were discharged for various reasons, many times due to their political orientation. The officer corps was suffering throughout the late 1920's and all of the 1930's as the Red Army expanded. Officers were also in short supply and lacking in their training and education, even worse many were being manhandled into the army which created a caste of officers who had no desire to belong to the army nor did they see a future in it. This book is a must for those interested in the Red Army, it gave me (someone who's been reading on the subject for a decade) a brand new glimpse into the Soviet system and the operations of the Red Army officer class, highly recommended!

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