Peter Petroff, Labour, July 1937

The Tragedy of the Red Army
(late Chairman of the Political Section of the Supreme Military Inspection of the Red Army)

Source: Labour, July 1937, p.272;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The wholesale shooting of famous old revolutionaries, and the crusade against hundreds and thousands of Communists who had played a part in the Revolution or attained a certain prominence in the great work of the economic reconstruction of the country, has tended to alienate the sympathies and to damp the enthusiasm of the international Labour Movement for the Soviet Union.

Now the slaughtering and defamation of the popular generals who had emerged from the Civil War, and the feverish purge of the Red Army, has shocked the statesmen and military leaders of Europe’s democracies. Stalin has dealt a severe blow to the prestige and the military strength of the Soviet Union.

Soviet Russia was rightly regarded as a bulwark of Peace, and the indomitable Red Army as an integral part of the defence system of European democracy against aggressive Fascism. It is, therefore, only natural that a deep feeling of pessimism should seize democratic Europe.

The Red Army is at present perhaps the strongest army in Europe, being drawn from a, population of 170,000,000. However, its strength rests not alone on its numbers, its modern equipment, and new methods of organisation.

The Red Army is a child of the Revolution, stamped out of the ground under fire during years of civil war while revolutionary Russia was beset by a world of enemies.

It is a unique force. The revolutionary spirit permeating both officers and men made it invincible.

Standing armies came first into being under feudalism. The feudal lords sent their peasant serfs into the army, there to be commanded by members of the feudal caste.

Under capitalism, armies conscripted from all classes of the population placed the sons of the people under the command of those enjoying the privileges of “property and education.”

Thus the structure of the modern armies seems now out of date, and is in direct contradiction to modern democratic ideas. The Red Army had overcome this contradiction.

For the first time in a conscript army the antagonism between officers and men had disappeared. And this not only in the Napoleonic sense that “every soldier carries a Marshal’s baton in his knapsack,” but also in the wider sense that officers and “men” freely mix as equals in a brotherly manner. Until Stalin’s recent “reforms” there were no ranks, no saluting.

During the Civil War, when the various partisan detachments were forged into a modern mass army, Tsarist officers were called upon to help in this great task. Many of them could not be trusted. The institute of political military commissars was created. These military commissars were “the guardians of the unity between the Red Army and the workers’ and peasants’ regime.” Every commissar was responsible for the loyalty of the commanding officer of his unit and for the morale of his troops. In case of treachery he had the right to shoot the treacherous officer for whose loyalty he answered with his own head.

Now the overwhelming majority of officers are those who have emerged from the Civil War. As commanders or commissars of various units, they had shown their loyalty and abilities in the battles against the armies of the White generals and foreign invaders. Since that time they have passed through Soviet military schools and academies. They combine extensive experience and theoretical knowledge with loyalty to the Revolution.

The rank and file of the Red Army are recruited from the young generation to whom the Civil War is history. Much is being done for their general and political education during their period of service. The military training they receive is excellent, and they are expected to supplement it by reading. For this purpose an extensive popular literature on technical military subjects has been created which is much in demand. A spirit of comradeship prevails throughout the army; the redarmist feels himself as part of the people, and the international outlook common amongst Red Russians permeates the army.

Based upon the economic background and the technical achievements of the first and second five-years'-plan, the Red Army of the Soviet Union has grown into a formidable force with whom both Japan and Nazi Germany has to reckon.

Now Stalin has set out to destroy the very soul of the Red Army. He desires to replace the loyalty to the Revolution and to the people by loyalty to himself and to his bureaucracy, the spirit of internationalism by a narrow patriotism. So we witness in the Red Army the same campaign of extermination of people with revolutionary traditions and of popular figures which has been going on for a long time in the Party and the civil administration.

Tukhachevsky, the commander of the famous Fifth Army that triumphed over Koltchak; I.N. Smirnoff, the Chairman of the Revolutionary-Military Council of that army; and Holzman, who disorganised the rear of Koltchak’s forces, have now all been shot. Uborevitch, who fought against Denikin in the Ukraine, and was looked upon as the future commander of the western front in the event of Nazi aggression, as well as other popular Soviet commanders, shared this tragic fate. They are being replaced by nonentities like Dybenko, who has won military laurels in Stalin’s eyes by once attempting to resist Trotsky’s measures against banditism at the southern front

The shooting of the popular generals, and the vile campaign of slander and defamation against the dead men, must inevitably have a demoralising effect on the Red Army. This can be useful only to the fascist enemies of the Soviet Union.

The wrecking of the Red Army upsets the balance of power in Europe. It creates a favourable situation for the manoeuvres of Hitler and Mussolini, which they will be quick to exploit.

Stalin’s wrecking policy places the democratic countries of Europe in a very difficult position. The ravens of reaction are out. The influence of German nazism and Italian fascism is growing. Their supporters in France and Britain are rejoicing. They are working feverishly behind the scenes for a “western pact,” for an understanding with the Fascist countries.

The democracies may be forced, in consequence, to double their expenditure on armaments. The question of conscription, of prolonged military service, will forcibly arise.

Thus Stalin’s mad “purge” will affect not only the safety of the Soviet Union, but also the standard of living and the personal liberty of the working class in every democratic country in Europe!