Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

George Breitman

Red Army Morale Astonishes Its Enemies

But Soviet Soldiers Fight Bravely Because They Have Something Worth Defending

(9 August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 32, 9 August 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On several occasions since the outbreak of the Nazi-Soviet war, the Nazi authorities have sought to explain the holding up of their war machine on the Eastern Front by the unusual way the Red Army soldiers fight back.

The New York Times of July 31 carries a story telephoned by their Berlin correspondent, C. Brooks Peters, containing the most recent of these “explanations”:

“The Russians, the Germans reiterate, simply do not fight according to the European rules of war. Regardless of the hopelessness of their positions, they allow their troops to be slaughtered rather than capitulate, it is asserted. Communist education and national administration for the last twenty years, the Germans add, have killed the souls of all Russians.

“For that reason, they continue, there is no possibility of the Russian armies suffering from a collapse of morale, because all the prerequisites of such a collapse are lacking’ as a result of the bestializing of the individual that has occurred in Russia.”

The predictions of “victory within six weeks” made by the Nazis and echoed by “informed” U.S. generals and military experts have fallen to the ground. They made their estimates on the basis of the weaknesses wrought by the Kremlin bureaucracy through its purges and repressions, and on the slow start of the Red Army in the 1939 Finnish war, a campaign toward which the Soviet masses for the most part had been lethargic. But they completely disregarded the other side of the picture. Leon Trotsky, because he understood that whole picture, often stated that the outbreak of a capitalist war against the Soviet Union would at the very beginning bring forth the strongest defensist tendencies in the country.

Trotsky’s Prediction Now Comes True

In 1934 he wrote in War and the Fourth International (and he repeated this thought many times thereafter):

“Within the USSR war against imperialist intervention will undoubtedly provoke a veritable outburst of genuine fighting enthusiasm. All the contradictions and antagonisms will seem overcome or at any rate relegated to the background. The young generations of workers and, peasants that emerged from the revolution will reveal on the field of battle a collossal dynamic power ...”

Trotsky was able to foresee this stubborn resistance chiefly because he understood the class character of the first worker’s state and as a result the determination of the workers and peasants, even under the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy, to hold on to what they have.

Of course the Red Army soldiers don’t fight “according to the European rules of war.” That isn’t because they have a different military technique or different kinds of weapons, but because, unlike the European armies, the soldiers have something to fight for, and they know it!

The “European” armies (and this includes the United States and all other capitalist armies as well) have a different morale because they are made up of workers and farmers who don’t want imperialist Wars, who know they have nothing to gain because after the war as well as before, they will be victims of the same depressions, hunger and exploitation. They know that it is not the people who will benefit from the results of the war, but their masters, the imperialists, and thai the lives of the worker-soldiers are being thrown away in a cause that is not theirs.

That is why the soldiers in the “democratic” armies do not fight with any conviction. That is why they don’t feel ready to sacrifice their lives. That is why their main thought is to get cut of the army arid go back to their homes. That is why they have no confidence in their military leaders.

That is why the French army marched off to war, even against Hitler and everything hateful that he represents, with no cheers or enthusiasm; observers noted only lethargy. That is why in America today there is so little popular support of Roosevelt’s war plans. That is why the American draftees these past few weeks have been so resentful toward the presidential proposal to extend the term of their service indefinitely.

Nazi Army Is “European” Too

It is true that up to this point in the war the Nazis have maintained a certain high discipline in their armies, which would seem to indicate a much higher morale than is present in the armies of the democratic imperialists.

This morale, however, is only skin deep, and can disappear overnight. It was fostered by Hitler’s great successes, including the “peaceful” successes of 1933-1939 against the “democracies.” It continues to exist because the German soldiers know what happens to the vanquished in imperialist wars. They have suffered one Versailles Treaty already; they are desperately fighting to prevent another.

But once the series of Hitler victories is broken and the myth of Nazi invincibility exposed, and once the fear of another Versailles in the event of defeat is removed, discipline and morale in the Nazi army will fall even lower than in the armies of the “democracies.” Because fundamentally the German army too fights “according to European rules of war” and is made up of men who know they are not fighting for their own interests.

The Red soldiers, on the other hand, not only have something to fight against, as do all the other armies (against a semi-slave status under Hitlerism, or a semi-slave status under another Versailles Treaty), but they also have something to fight for.

What the Red Army Defends

The October revolution of 1917 destroyed the political power of the capitalist class, and then destroyed its economic power. The factories and industries were taken away from the bosses by the state, and the economy was nationalized. The peasants took the large estates away from the landlords and the land went to the peasants who tilled it. In spite of all the crimes and blunders of the Stalinist bureaucracy since then, the economic foundation established by the Russian Revolution still exists. It is this for which the Soviet troops are willing to give their lives rather than capitulate.

When the Red Army soldier fights the Nazi legions, he knows that he is not doing it for the benefit of a gang of bosses who will continue to exploit him after the war just as viciously as before. He knows that he is fighting for himself and his children; to preserve what he has left of the greatest revolution of all time, the nationalized economy which must exist and be extended before society can go ahead to socialism, peace and plenty.

The experiences of the last twenty years have not “killed the souls of all Russians” nor bestialized the individual. On the contrary, these experiences have shown the Russian masses the superiority of living in a workers’ state, even though isolated and, degenerated under Stalinism. Because they have freed themselves from the bestialization of capitalism and opened up the possibilities for a new life, they are ready against the greatest odds and with inferior military equipment, as in the civil war days following the October revolution, to fight until death to protect what they have already won.

Red Army Fights Despite Stalinism

The Nazis see in this great defensive struggle by the Soviet masses only “dead souls” and “bestialized individuals.” History however will decide differently and will record it as the beginning of the awakening of the masses of the world in World War II.

It is not that the Soviet workers live in a perfect state. No one knows better than they what is wrong with the regime whose foreign policies have done so much to alienate the sympathies of the workers of the world from the Soviet Union. No one knows better than the Soviet workers how this bureaucracy has fastened itself onto the state, sapped its energies and re – sources and weakened the nationalized economy.

They have seen with their own eyes the destruction of the Soviets, the emasculation of the trade unions, the elimination of workers’ democracy, and the transformation of the Communist Party from a party of Bolshevism to a mere docile figurehead for the bureaucracy.

But in spite of all this, they have something to defend. They know that if imperialism defeats them, not only won’t they get back the political rights and workers’ democracy usurped by Stalinism, but that they will also lose the economic foundations that they still have.

Stalinists Silent on Class Nature of Red Army Morale

And when we consider how heroically they are fighting, we can correctly say that in their own language, spoken with the rifle and tank, the Soviet masses show a much clearer understanding of the historic processes of liberation than do the learned professors and lawyers who excel at “socialist” warmongering.

These “socialist” gentlemen find the task of herding the workers into the war in the “democracies” a far from easy one. But the Soviet masses, living on a progressive economic foundation, even though they have been robbed of their democratic rights, not only rush to the front but continue to fight when .it means almost certain death.

It is only the Trotskyists who understand, explain and support the real reasons for the great defensist struggles of the Soviet workers.

The Stalinists, who are afraid to speak in class terms, do not give the real reasons because it would offend the imperialists on whom they are placing so much confidence; and because it would open the eyes of the workers in the democracies, whom the Stalinists are urging to support the imperialists in the war, to the fact that they have nothing to fight for until they too establish a workers’ state.

Those “radicals” – in reality counter-revolutionists – who are indifferent to the outcome of the military struggle between the Red Army and Hitler also have nothing to say about the reasons for the S6viet workers’ fighting enthusiasm, because it ill fits their pseudo-revolutionary theory that the Soviet workers should not defend the Soviet Union.

A Program for Soviet Victory

Nevertheless, the resistance of the Soviet masses by itself cannot insure Soviet victory. For that a program is necessary.

This program must call for (1) the institution of a. revolutionary policy toward Germany, and (2) the extension of workers’ democracy, control and rights in all spheres of Soviet life.

Such a policy would include the open perspective of revolutionary unity of the Soviet working class with the German working class; a pledge that the Soviet Union would oppose another Versailles Treaty at the expense of Germany; propaganda for the proletarian revolution in Germany and the Socialist United States of Europe.

The morale and strength of the Soviet masses would be raised to the heights by the revival of workers’ democracy – the restoration of the Soviets and democracy in the trade unions, the legalization of all pro-Soviet political parties, the release of all pro-Soviet political prisoners and their return to their rightful places in the army and industry.

If the masses are waging such a heroic struggle for a degenerated workers’ state, how much more courageously will they strain all their energy and resources when they feel that political power belongs to them and not to the bureaucrats! When they feel that they have the right to determine the important questions, when they feel that their success on the battlefields will not merely bring back the status quo, but will facilitate the extension of the revolution to advanced capitalist countries and result in a socialist world that will forever destroy the possibility of imperialist invasion.

With the adoption of this program, the struggle of the Soviet masses would indeed be transformed from what is still essentially a defensive fight, to maintain what they already have, into an aggressive offensive to gain what they want: workers’ democracy inside the Soviet Union and the assistance and collaboration of workers’ states in the rest of the world.

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 25 May 2016