UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


1917-1929 - Red Army of Workers and Peasants (RKKA)

A new army, the Workers and Peasants' Red Army, was created. The Proletarian dictatorship was like the dictatorship of other classes in that it arose from the necessity of suppressing the armed resistance of the class that lost its political supremacy. The fundamental difference between proletarian dictatorship and that of other classes, such as the dictatorship of the great landowners of the Middle Ages and that of the capitalist class in all civilised capitalist countries, was simply that the two last-named dictatorships were a forcible suppression of the resistance of the majority of the population, the working masses, whereas proletarian dictatorship is a forcible suppression of the resistance of the exploiters—i.e. of an insignificant minority of the population—the landlords and capitalists.

Not only under the monarchy, but even in the most democratic bourgeois republics, the army was an organ for oppression. Only Soviet Government, as the established State organisation of the classes oppressed by capitalism, was seen as capable of abolishing the dependence of the army on bourgeois leadership, and of really amalgamating the proletariat with the army, of arming the proletariat and disarming the bourgeoisie, without which conditions the victory of Socialism would be impossible.

A new task for the traditionally antimilitarist Bolshevik movement, it was several months before Lenin's group learned the rules of effective military organization. The first orders following the November upheaval were propagandist^ and unrealistic. The decree of December 29 [16], 1917 provided for election of commanders by the troops; the decree of January 28 [15], 1918, was intended to create an army on a voluntary basis; applicants for enlistment in the army required "recommendations," and only "toiling" people (meaning no members of families of privileged classes) would be accepted.

After a rapid demobilization of the old army, the new RKKA, or Red Army of Workers and Peasantswas organized by Trotsky in the spring and summer of 1918. The new government was rather radical in regard to titles and privileges in the army. The very terms "general," "major," "captain," "officer," and others were forbidden. The decree of December 29 [16], 1917 by the Council of People's Commissars said:

"Carrying out the desire of the revolutionary people for the speedy and determined abolition of all remnants of former inequality in the army, the Council of People's Commissars resolves:

( 1 ) All ranks and titles in the army, starting with that of corporal and ending with that of general, are abolished. The Army of the Russian Republic henceforth consists of free and equal citizens, bearing the honorable rank of soldier of the revolutionary army.

(2) All privileges connected with former ranks and titles, as well as all external distinctions, are abolished.

(3) All addressing by title is abolished.

(4) All orders and other insignia are abolished. . . ."

Universal conscription was introduced, but special measures had to be taken to obtain commanders for the army and insure their loyalty to the one-party regime. Simultaneously with the introduction of compulsory military training for the workers and poorer peasants the practice of electing officers was abolished. The Bolshevik military authorities now began to talk about the harmful and disruptive influence of army committees very much as Kornilov, Denikin and the old officers had spoken in 1917; and strict obedience to the orders of the officers gradually became embedded in the discipline of the Red Army.

The Red Army which emerged during the Civil War relied heavily upon tsarist military specialists for combat leadership, staffing, and training. It was questionable, however, whether the officers of the old army, if ordered into the new military force, would be loyal to the Soviet government. A number of party leaders wanted the Red Army to be led by Communists or "proletarians"; Lenin and Trotsky disagreed with this view. Trotzky insisted that without the old officers no regular army worthy of the name could be formed. However, Trotzky insured the loyalty of the majority of the former officers by an adroit mixture of cajolery and terrorism. He did not resort to the coarse abuse of the officers with which some of the cruder Petrograd Communists, such as Zinoviev, Volodarsky and Lashevitch, endeavored to reconcile the proletariat to the necessity of employing them.

Between 12 June 1918, and 15 August 1920, a total of 48,409 former officers were taken into the Red Army. A number of former officers who refused to join the Red Army, or who deserted after joining, were shot. The families of the deserters were often arrested. Many former officers who refused to support the Communists succeeded in escaping to the South, however, where a White Army was being organized.

By the end of the Civil War about one-third of all Red Army officers were such voenspetsy, and in the higher ranks the ratio was even greater. The forging of this union between the new Bolshevik government and the tsarist military specialists had not been easy. Lenin and his new Commissar of War, L.D.Trotsky, had faced criticism from left-wing advocates of partisan warfare and critics who doubted the loyalty of the tsarist officers.

A very important role in the Red Army was played by the political commissars, who were supposed simultaneously to watch out for the political loyalty of the officers, to take charge of Party work in the units and to carry on political propaganda and educational work among the peasant recruits. The commissar was not supposed to interfere with the operative orders of the commander; but he was empowered to take drastic action if he suspected treason. As the civil war went on, an elaborate Communist Party organization was built up in the Army; so-called political departments were formed on every front and in every army.

By the end of 1918 with the help of the military specialists the Soviet Republic had raised an army of 300,000 men, instituted conscription, created a main staff to direct the war, initiated the publication of Voennoe delo, formed a military-historical commission to study World War I and later the operations of the Civil War, and begun creation of the Academy of the General Staff. The Red Army did not need young Fredericks or Napoleons. The basic education of junior officers was to consist of teaching them uniform tactics so that they might be "good executors" of orders. Many junior officers suffered from that independence of action, associated with the partizanshchina, out of which many Red Army units emerged.

The reintroduction of compulsory military service helped to create an army of large dimensions. In August 1918 it numbered 331,000; this figure increased to 550,000 on September 5 and to 800,000 by the end of the year. "We decided to have an army of a million men in the spring. Now we need an army of three million. We can have it and we will have it" [declared Lenin on October 4, 1918.] Lenin's desired figure of 3,000,000 was reached on January 1, 1920; and during 1920 the Army continued to grow until it amounted to about five and a half million.

Discipline in the new army was weak and loyalty doubtful. Desertions reached huge proportions despite the severe punishment meted out to deserters. According to official Soviet figures there were 2,846,000 deserters during the years 1919 and 1920. Of these 1,543,000 appeared "voluntarily" in response to proclamations promising them immunity if they joined the ranks before specified dates, while about a million were caught in raids which were regularly organized in towns and on the railroads. During the last seven months of 1919, 4,112 deserters were sentenced to death, but only 612 were actually executed, according to official figures. During the same period 55,000 deserters were sent to punishment units, where they were subjected to a very severe disciplinary regime.

The Civil War was qualitatively different from World War I on the Western and Eastern fronts. The Imperial Army had suffered from economic backwardness and isolation, enduring a shell crisis in 1915 that reduced its combat capabilities. The Red Army had to confront the utter disintegration of the national economy. Revolution, civil war, international boycott, and foreign intervention combined to undermine the national economy. The regime's response, War Communism, was less social utopia and more a form of barracks socialism, in which all resources were organized to field a mass army, equipped with the most basic instruments of industrial war - the rifle, machine gun, and field artillery.

Even in the procurement of these vital weapons the level of production fell sharply in comparison with what had been achieved by Russian industry during World War I. Thus, in 1920 the production of rifles was only one-third of that in 1917.45 It was the Whites who, thanks to foreign assistance, fielded in small quantities the latest weapons of war, especially the tank.46 By the end of the Civil War the Soviet Republic put into the field a ragged force of 5.5 million men.

The Russia over which the Reds, Whites, and Greens struggled might be described as a few island-cities in a sea of peasant villages. The cities emptied as the links between town and countryside collapsed. Red Guard detachments swept through Tiutchev's "poor villages," seizing grain and recruiting soldiers. Red Terror and White Terror mounted in scale and intensity. At times it was difficult to distinguish between combatants and brigands.

The Red and White armies were notoriously unstable, with a persistent problem of desertion. In 1920, as Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky prepared the Western Front for an offensive, he instituted a campaign to extract 40,000 deserters from Belorussia's villages for service. Within a month the Western Front found that it had extracted 100,000 deserters, whose presence taxed the supply and training capacity of the front. Such reinforcements were unstable in the attack and tended to vanish at the first sign of disaster.

One of the most conspicuous developments of the Civil War was the resurgence of cavalry as a combat arm. Russian cavalry had not distinguished itself particularly during World War I. Now under civil war conditions, cavalry recovered its place as the combat arm of a war of maneuver. The loyalty of the Don Cossacks and the support of many senior cavalry commanders gave the Whites substantial initial advantages in the use of this arm. Trotsky's famous call, "Proletarians to horse!" initiated the process of creating a Red Cavalry.52 Soviet cavalry units were raised from the beginning of the war. However, greater attention was paid to creating troop cavalry detachments to provide the eyes and security screens for the newly formed infantry divisions. Army cavalry, cavalry units organized into independent brigades and divisions, were gradually formed into corps and later into armies.

Strategic cavalry repeatedly played the role of shock force, striking deep into the enemy rear, disrupting his command and control, and demoralizing his forces. Among the most celebrated of these operations were those in the Ukraine in June-July 1920, when the Konarmiya was redeployed from the Caucasian Front to the Southwestern Front to form the strike group for a drive to liberate Kiev and push the Poles out of the Ukraine. At the start of the operation, Budennyî's Konarmiya had 18,000 sabers, 52 guns, 350 machine guns, 5 armored trains, an armored car detachment, and 8 aircraft. The Polish Third Army was spread thin and had few effective reserves.

The Red Cavalry's success at Rovno set the stage for one of the most controversial and frequently studied operations of the Civil War: Marshal Tukhachevsky's general offensive of July-August 1920, in which his Western Front struck beyond the Vistula to threaten Warsaw. Pilsudski's counterattack, coming at the very gates of Prague and resulting in the destruction of major Soviet formations pinned against the Polish-East Prussian border, became known as the Miracle of Warsaw. More realistic Soviet assessments of the campaign doubted this implied connection between the Vistula and the Marne and said that the "miracle" was that the bedraggled, unfed, poorly armed, ragtag divisions of the Western Front had gotten as far as they had. Tukhachevsky's general offensive took place without adequate reserves, effective command and control, and logistical support. Believing his own theory about "revolution from without," Tukhachevsky fell into the trap of assuming that the psychological weight of the advance would break the will of the Polish defense without his having to destroy those forces in the field.

For over a decade a spirited, often polemical, positive, but finally lethal debate among the leadership of the Red Army laid the foundations for the development of Soviet operational art, the theory of deep operations, and the mechanization of the Red Army. Aleksandr I. Verkhovsky (1886-1938), an officer of the tsarist general staff (genshtabisty), Minister of War in the Provisional Government in September-October 1917, and military specialist (voenspets) from 1919, saw those debates as a three-way contest among conservatives, realists, and futurists.

In the 1920s Verkhovsky taught in and directed the Tactics Department at the Military Academy of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants (RKKA). He identified reform-minded, voenspetsy professors like himself as the "realist," engaged in "a war on two fronts." They had to contend with conservatives, who wanted to maintain past concepts because they were sanctioned by history and the unchanging laws of military science, and the futurists, who on the basis of the Revolution and Civil War put their faith in crude military means and political agitation and trusted in class struggle to ignite revolution behind the enemy's lines.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 18-09-2018 18:37:59 ZULU