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George Breitman

Doolittle Report Attacked by Caste-System Defender

(22 June 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 25, 22 June 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last month the Doolittle Board issued a report recommending the elimination of some of the differences in living conditions and privileges between officers and enlisted men. The War Department, which had appointed the Board, shrugged its shoulders in contempt when the report was issued.

Now Hanson W. Baldwin, military editor of the N.Y. Times and unofficial spokesman for the big brass, has come out with a blistering attack charging that adoption of the Doolittle Board’s report would turn the Army into “an armed mob.”

The Board had favored among other things “social fraternization” between officers and enlisted men, and had discussed without recommendation possible abolition of the “official gap or line of demarcation between the so-called officer and enlisted groups.”

“These are dangerous suggestions,” Baldwin shrieked on June 12. “... An officer corps must be the heart and soul of any army. Abolish it, minimize its importance, try to merge it with enlisted ranks and you have no army.”

To prove this point, Baldwin refers to historical precedent – the Red Army. Since this same point is made in the Doolittle report, and was recently emphasized in articles by officers in Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post, it is worth examining here:

“The Russians tried it, and for years there were no titles, no real badges of rank, no salutes and no distinction between officer and enlisted man in the Red Army,” Baldwin continues. “These regulations and the political commissars made the pre-war Russian Army an armed mob and cost Russia dearly in the first Finnish campaign and in the first years of the struggle against Germany.”

It is time this widely spread myth was punctured. The Red Army regulations abolishing the privileges of the officers had nothing whatever to do with the results in the Finnish war. That war took place in 1939–40. But the regulations referred to with such horror by Baldwin were rescinded as far back as 1935, when the reactionary Stalin bureaucracy restored the officer corps, and all the special officer privileges and rank which Baldwin thinks is so necessary for an army.

When the Red Army went into the second world war, it was hard to distinguish, so far as officer-enlisted men regulations were concerned, between it and the U.S. or German armies. And yet it suffered serious defeats in the first stage of the war.

Can’t Baldwin’s historical example thus be turned against him? For in the Red Army’s early days, under Lenin and Trotsky, when it was the most democratic army and had the highest morale in the world, this army succeeded in defeating the efforts of all the imperialist armies to destroy the Russian Revolution.

The Use of Rank

How can you have an effective army when you remove these “incentives to leadership,” that is, officer privileges, Baldwin demands? Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army, answered this question 10 years ago when he denounced Stalin’s restoration of the officer corps:

“The restoration of hierarchical caste is not in the least demanded by the interests of military affairs. It is the commanding position, and not the rank, of the commander that is important. Engineers and physicians have no rank, but society finds the means of putting each in his needful place.

“The right to a commanding position is guaranteed by study, endowment, character, experience, which need continual and moreover individual appraisal. The rank of major adds nothing to the commander of a battalion. The elevation of the five senior commanders of the Red Army to the title of marshal gives them neither new talents nor supplementary powers.

“It is not the army that really thus receives a ‘stable basis,’ but the officers’ corps, and that at the price of aloofness from the army. The reform pursues a purely political aim: to give a new social weight to the officers ...” (The Revolution Betrayed, Pioneer Publishers)

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