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[John G. Wright]

The Soviet “War Potential”

(May 1941)

From Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 4, May 1941, p. 124–125.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Free Europe, a fortnightly review of (so-called) international opinion, contains three articles on Soviet War Potential by Anatole Baikaloff. (Issues of Dec. 13th, 1940 and following). He takes up the three factors in war potential: the military, the industrial and the morale.

The peacetime strength of the Red Army is 2.5 million with 7 million trained reserves and 25 million total available manpower. But numbers alone mean little. Huge armies inadequately equipped, badly trained and led, are mere cannon-fodder. The Finnish War showed an insufficient soldier training. But the weakest point was the shortage of officers and their technical inefficiency. At the beginning of 1937 (official Soviet data) there were 46,500 officers of all ranks. 4,500 of these had served in the old imperial army; 26,000 were trained in Soviet military schools: 16,000 were promoted from the ranks after a short perfunctory training:. Only 15% of the colonels and generals had passed through military academies. These figures show an insufficiency of officers even for a peace-time army.

According to information of the French General Staff, the purge begun in May 1937 affected no less than 30,000 officers who were either shot, imprisoned or otherwise removed from the army. The higher ranks suffered the most. Here are those liquidated: 3 marshals out of 5; 13 army commanders out of 19; 65 corps commanders out of 85; 110 divisional commanders out of 180; 202 brigade commanders out of 406. Time has been too short to repair the damage of this massacre in the last two years. A major war would require 300 divisions and there are too few officers available. Very few are now able to work out strategic plans or tactics or to conduct operations. In the Finnish War the High Command directed operations most incompetently. Only the good fighting qualities of the ranks and their dogged tenacity averted a major disaster. Tactical successes were achieved only after securing the services of German experts. The Red Army could undertake large-scale operations against a first-class military power if the plan of operations were drawn up by foreign experts, but would the Allies spare the time and would the Kremlin deem it advisable?

The number of military machines at the disposal of the army are sufficient. On June 1, 1940, there were 30,000 airplanes including 18,000 first line bombers and fighters; 20,000 tanks of all sizes; several thousand armored cars; a sufficient number of field and heavy guns; a large fleet of trucks and lorries. But the troops are not familiar with the working of their equipment and not trained to handle them efficiently. They show rough and careless handling. Clothing and footwear are of very poor quality. Discipline suffered greatly from dual command. The political commissars interfered with purely military matters and undermined the authority of the commanding officers. The GPU is feared and hated by officers and men. Many were murdered by their own subordinates during the campaign. At the beginning of August 1940 these commissars were abolished. But the higher ranks were not affected by this reform. Stalin does not trust his officers and they are spied on now as before. Thus the action and initiative of the commanding officers is very limited. The Red Army is by no means a first class army.

Transport is the big Russian problem. The coefficient of traffic density was 1.13 in 1913. In 1938 it was 3.90 as against 1.08 in the US; 0.83 in England; 1.17 in Germany. Even during peacetime the railroads are considerably overloaded. They could not stand a war-strain and their breakdown would bring an industrial halt. There is a shortage of engines, trucks, carriages, rails. There are no good motor roads and road transport is insignificant. There are only 17.5 million horses in 1938 as against 35.8 in 1916. Russia lacks copper, zinc, tin, aluminum, lead and rubber. The weakest link is agriculture which hardly meets the low level of peace needs.

The factor of morale is worst of all. The workers and peasants are no better than serfs. The cost of living is going up and wages down. Youth are now deprived of education. According to the Soviet press itself, the new decrees cut short the studies of some 600,000 students. Pupils in secondary schools have to pay 200 rubles per year, in universities and technical schools 400 rubles. This rule was applied even to pupils and students in their last year. In some provincial universities and technical colleges 80% were obliged to quit and seek employment. Boys of 14 to 17 were conscripted for labor. After one year’s training they are obliged to work for four years anywhere they are sent. In short, Russia is a volcano ready for revolt.


Last updated: 4 November 2015