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George Stern

On the War Fronts

Red Army Forces Still Intact

Soviet Masses Are Fighting to Defend October’s Gains

(July 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 30, 26 July 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Red Army has taken the full impact of the Nazi war machine for more than five weeks. It has given way slowly, yielding territory at terrific cost to the invaders. The main forces of the Red Army are still intact and so long as it is not dispersed and destroyed, Hitler’s major military objectives in his Eastern campaign remain unrealized. This is the central military fact of the present situation in the war.

The quality of Red Army resistance to the Nazi machine has “surprised” the military experts. Those who looked for a swift Nazi victory in a matter of weeks have had to revise their timetable guesses. The capitalist press has given grudging recognition to the fact that of all the countries invaded by Hitler, the Soviet Union alone has not provided him with the help of a fifth column. The Nazi armies are marching into territory stripped bare. Every Red Army soldier fights fiercely to the last.

Behind the propaganda fog fog of the communiques and the sparseness of direct reports we can see one thing clearly: the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union have surged forward in defense of their revolutionary conquests. The years of slow strangulation at the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy could not and did not dissipate the profound energies and resources imparted to these masses by the October revolution. And this will become an even more marked and perhaps decisive feature of the war should Hitler succeed in conquering the principal areas of Western Russia.

Stalin’s Latest Moves

Several moves made by Stalin last week provided a refraction of this mass surge – for the very first to feel its effects would be the Stalinist bureaucracy itself. The war mobilized into the Red Army millions of workers and peasants. It placed these great masses in a somewhat better position in facing the bureaucracy. The war has undoubtedly brought forward in the ranks the veteran fighters of the revolution who still exist in their many thousands despite the Stalin purges.

This very fact constitutes a prime danger for the bureaucracy, for the Stalin machine. And Stalin’s re-institution of the political commissar system in the Red Army is his way of trying to meet that danger. The political commissar system, first used during the civil war of 1918–22, was instituted at a time when the young Bolshevik revolution was still utilizing the services of many Czarist officers and unstable and unreliable army elements. The political Commissars represented the Bolshevik Party and the masses of the soldiers at the officers’ council tables. The system worked and served its purpose.

Today the use of political commissars could mean the establishment of a vast propaganda machine at the front aimed at the Nazi army. But this is not what Stalin is aiming at. In Stalin’s hand this system becomes a weapon of the bureaucracy, Stalin’s own police force placed on guard against anti-bureaucracy tendencies in the ranks of the Red Army, among officers and men alike.

Stalin’s Lackeys Fail Him

The other significant political development was the further contraction of the Kremlin hierarchy under which Stalin personally took over the Defense and the National Security commissariats. This too is a reflex of the danger to the bureaucracy inherent in the war situation.

Just as he was compelled to assume the premiership himself under the threat of the invasion, Stalin is compelled to assume full personal responsibility for his military and police machines. The lackeys he has gathered around him in these years of degeneration are not men who can be trusted in time of crisis to defend either the bureaucracy itself or the broader interests of the country at war.

Stalin’s Conservatism

The political weapons placed in the hands of the Red Army and the Soviet masses by the October revolution have not yet been used in the war against the Nazi invaders. Stalin knows that to arouse the German and European masses to revolutionary upsurge is just as mortal a danger to him as the Nazis are. Thus, even in the midst of the war crisis itself, he remains what he has always been, a stone around the neck of the revolution.

Yet the gathering forces are there and will prove stronger than him. Out of the still untapped resources of the revolution will come the forces that will defeat Hitler.

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Last updated: 27 May 2016