Air University Review, January-February 1981
Dr. Joseph E. Thach, Jr.
Over two decades ago, one of the West’s pioneer Sovietologists, the late Professor Bertram D. Wolfe of the Hoover Institution, observed that three primary "levers of power" had ensured the accrual of power and stability to the Soviet state throughout its history: the Communist Party apparatus, the secret police, and the armed forces. In his classic work, Communist Totalitarianism: Keys to the Soviet System (Boston, 1956), Wolfe further contended that other power foci among the Soviet party-state bureaucracy remained either minimal or transitory in comparison to this triad of power levers, especially in their respective abilities to influence policymaking within the Soviet leadership elite.
Since the publication of Wolfe's work, there have been considerable and progressively more sophisticated efforts among the Western analytical community to better define the inner workings of this Soviet politico-military elite. In recent years, the "interest group" approach has resulted in a sharper definition of the Soviet system’s internal dynamics, with analytical appraisals of the interaction of these rival and symbolic elite subgroupings. It is also apparent, however, that Wolfe’s trio of party, secret police, and military continues to wield a substantial measure of power and influence at the highest levels of the Soviet system which, to a great degree, further ensures the overall stability of the entire party-state structure.
With respect to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the primus inter pares of Wolfe’s trio of power levers, it may be safely stated that no Soviet leader has controlled the vast and intricate party apparatus quite so absolutely as Joseph Stalin. Most Western analysts of the Soviet scene agree that his three-decade grip over the CPSU and hence the Soviet state system was one of the most ruthless and absolute regimes in the entire history of Russia, Communist or Tsarist. Whether he acted as CPSU General Secretary or Soviet Premier, all power and vital decisions emanated directly from Stalin and in his name.
One contemporary school of thought contends that Stalin was much more the traditional statist than revolutionary, even with his numerous excesses after he had gained control of the party-state leadership. In a recent work, Professor WiIliam O. McCagg, Jr., attempts to clarify this paradoxical image of Stalin with particular focus on the complex period between late 1943 and mid-1948, during which the U.S.S.R. made a difficult transition from total war to an uneasy victor’s peace.* McCagg contends that key patterns of Soviet political behavior demonstrate that Stalin was a "force of order [as opposed to a force of movement]" in both foreign and domestic affairs over that five-year period. He further maintains that this dual image of Stalin, i.e., ‘‘statist ‘vis à vis’ revolutionary,’’ not only confused both Western leaders and high-level CPSU apparatchiki but also disoriented foreign communists since "even the Titos and Maos fervently believed that in their opposition to Stalin they were really doing what Stalin wanted—that somehow there could be no real conflict between their ‘revolution’ and Stalin’s.’’ (pp. 14-15)
*William O. McCagg, Stalin Embattled: 1943-1948 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978, $1895), 423 pages.
With regard to the origins of the Cold War, a widely discussed and hotly debated historical issue in itself, McCagg’s thesis is that Stalin encountered considerable difficulty in reasserting his absolute control over the Soviet party-state apparatus during the latter part of World War II and the early postwar years. Even if supported by various sources, mere statement of this thesis makes his work appear more tightly organized than it actually is. Similarly, a good portion of his supporting evidence appears rather tangential to his major argumentary proofs. While it may have been true, for example, that the Soviet people justifiably anticipated a higher quality of life in postwar U.S.S.R., there is precious little evidence that Stalin’s absolute control of the party-state machine was, in fact, threatened even to a minor degree because of these rising expectations. Nor is there much proof that foreign communist leaders manifested anything other than total loyalty to and dependence on the U.S.S.R. Yugoslavia, the sole exception, was expelled from the Soviet bloc in 1948 but only after a two-year period of intensive dialogue between Stalin and Tito. In this manner, then, the work appears somewhat tendentious and uneven in its presentation of both facts and findings.
The author’s presentation of Stalin’s apparent perspectives on peace and war is also open to serious question. While McCagg claims that Stalin established the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform ) in September 1947 primarily because of his alleged dread of an Anglo-American attack, this move also did much to heighten awareness in Western Europe and the United States of Soviet ambitions beyond the Iron Curtain. Therefore, it helped spark the consolidation of Western resolve that led to the eventual creation of the NATO alliance during the 1948-49 Berlin blockade. McCagg’s attempt to link Stalin’s 1950 essays on linguistics to the outbreak of the Korean conflict and the Soviet dictator’s risk of a possible worldwide conflict with those hostilities merely to placate his party critics are both uncharacteristic of Stalin as a Soviet leader and of contemporary events within the CPSU and the Soviet state. This correlation of events also is open to question, particularly after the Zhdanovshina of 1946-48, when Stalin either removed or otherwise intimidated his potential rivals. Consequently, Stalin’s role in the origins of the Korean War and other pressures on the West are much more symptomatic of his absolute power than of any possible instabilities or vulnerabilities within his regime. While this work examines a highly interesting period in Soviet affairs, its analysis and conclusions still fall short of the mark as the last word on the subject.
The key role of the secret police apparatus, the second of Wolfe’s perceived ‘‘power levers,’’ has revealed itself in many variations throughout the sixty years of Soviet rule. If KGB involvement in the official campaign against domestic dissidents has gained global attention over recent years, the employment of internal terror to ensure systemic stability has been recognized as consistent with the Soviet past. For example, the secret police/internal security apparatus has played a particularly significant role in the large-scale suppression of various Soviet nationalities and ethnic minorities. Initiated on even the slightest pretext of anti-Soviet activity, these campaigns have been particularly well documented in Western writings.
A noted Russian emigré historian, Aleksandr M. Nekrich, provides a detailed account of the massive deportation of nearly two million Soviet citizens from the Crimea and the Caucasus during the latter part of World War II.* Nekrich was forced to emigrate after his 1966 book, June 22, 1941, placed him in considerable disfavor with the Brezhnev regime for its scathing portrayal of Stalin’s failure to adequately prepare his nation to meet the Nazi invasion. As a very prominent Soviet historian, Nekrich had considerable access to source materials on these forced emigrations. From his own wartime Red Army service, where he first learned of these tragic events from actual participants, Nekrich maintained a continued interest in this affair at great personal risk over the next two decades as he conducted numerous interviews with victim and executor alike.
*Aleksandr M. Nekrich, The Punished Peoples: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978, $10.95), 238 pages.
Since he prepared the original manuscript while still in the Soviet Union, it naturally reflects little evidence of postwar Western scholarship on the subject (particularly the works of British author Robert Conquest) and no mention whatsoever of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s topical coverage in his Gulag Archizpelago. If the work lacks a bibliography, Nekrich compensates for it with an in-depth discussion of source materials, the majority of which are little known in the West.
To be sure, Nekrich portrays the plight of the Crimean Tatars and the Chechen-Ingush and Balkars in the Caucasus in very stark terms. Under heavy German pressures to form anti-Soviet combat units after their homelands were overrun, these ethnic groups resisted in spite of numerous arrests, executions, and other intimidating measures during the Nazi occupation. Unfortunately, the Soviet leadership presumed otherwise after the tide of war had turned and initiated the massive NKVD-led deportation of these peoples to Central Asia. Beyond that tragic affair, Nekrich covers the very minimal official Soviet efforts in the post-Stalinist era to implement laws that exonerated these nationalities and guaranteed the restoration of their homes and rights. The various groups experienced delays in returning to their homelands of up to five years; for the Crimean Tatars, official relocation still has not taken place. The complicity of the Soviet secret police apparatus, in both the massive deportations and the later delays in restoring the minorities’ lawful rights, is particularly apparent as is Nekrich’s underlying inference that the Great Russian-dominated Soviet party-state apparatus continues to mistrust its non-Russian subjects. If the work has some basic shortcomings (mainly focused on the need to further refine its findings after Nekrich arrived in the West), it does have much to offer in showing the extreme measures that the Soviet elite has taken in order to ensure its internal stability.
As for the final power lever, it may be argued that the Soviets themselves have provided extensive source materials on their vast and modern military establishment. Two such works, key translations in the U.S. Air Force "Soviet Military Thought" series, go a long way in characterizing the Soviet Armed Forces in terms of their contemporary strategy, doctrine, missions, and organizational structure. The first of these, by the late Minister of Defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union A. A. Grechko (1903-76), portrays the Soviet military establishment as a leading instrument of Soviet power and policy since the Bolshevik Revolution.* In particular, Grechko made a concerted effort to identify and discuss the major sources of Soviet military power, the most prominent of which he characterizes as:
*Marshal of the Soviet Union A. A. Grechko, The Armed Forces of the Soviet State (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1977, $3.25), 349 pages.
—The innate "superiority" of Soviet military science;
—Soviet "scientific-technological progress" in modern weapons development;
—Intensive training and readiness programs;
—Firm support for national defense programs by the Soviet national economic and social sectors; and
—The CPSU’s "outstanding leadership and direction’’ of the Soviet military.
If there is a familiar ring to this factorial quintet, it is probably because it represents an updated version of Stalin’s "Five Permanent Operating Factors" that guided Soviet military doctrine during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 and well into the postwar period.
Grechko covers in sequence the Soviet Armed Forces’ historical development from 1917 to the l970s (Chapters 1-3), the military impact of Soviet society, its national economic and technological sectors (Chapters 4 and 5), military C3 I systems (Chapters 7 and 8), and other vital areas such as military training, political indoctrination, and troop morale activities (Chapters 6, 9, and 11). Separate coverage of the principles of Soviet military science (Chapter 10) and international military cooperation among the "socialist community," i.e., pro-Soviet Communist states (Chapter 12) completes Grechko’s survey.
With an extensive discussion of the Soviet Armed Forces’ five components by role and mission, he especially emphasizes the current Soviet capabilities for warfighting and war survival. Likewise, his comments on Soviet civil defense assert that it "plays a great part in unifying the Armed Forces and the people" and that its capabilities "will give inestimable help to the Armed Forces in winning victory over the enemy by insuring the defense of the rear and the normal functioning of the national economy." (p. 135) Coupled with the contextual stress on the Soviet military’s much improved technological capabilities to conduct modern warfare at both the strategic and theater levels of operations, these comments clearly demonstrate the vast impact of the post-1960 "Revolution in Military Affairs" on all of its force components. If not the intellectual equal of Marshal V. D. Sokolovskiy’s earlier Soviet Military Strategy, Grechko’s work does remain the most recent official Soviet view of its military forces and deserves careful consideration in the West as the U.S.S.R. enters the 1980s.
The other work, Colonel A. A. Sidorenko’s The Offensive, served as the initial volume for the U.S. Air Force translation series in l973.* Published about the time of the October 1973 Middle East War when Soviet-trained Arab forces demonstrated the sophisticated efficiency and offensive orientation of modern Soviet combat technology and tactical operations, the volume served as a doctrinal counterpiece which helped alert the West about the grave threat posed by the Warsaw Pact’s general purpose and theater nuclear forces. First published in the U.S.S.R. three years earlier, the prize-winning treatise represented a veritable literary watershed for its presentation of Soviet combat doctrine during the first decade of the still developing ‘‘Revolution in Military Affairs" period. Its major conceptual emphasis on surprise, round-the-clock combined arms operations, high rates of advance, massive nuclear and conventional firepower, and the ordered echelonment of strike forces for the conduct of either nuclear or conventional operations reflects the very essence of Soviet military doctrine for modern warfare. The dynamic and aggressive nature of Soviet offensive doctrine is further underscored in its expressed aims to destroy enemy ground forces by means of large-scale, combined arms assaults which are intended from the outset to be "bold, decisive, full of initiative and calculated for the rapid destruction of the enemy." (p. 140) Sidorenko also stresses that superior military technology is not sufficient in itself to guarantee success in battle; rather, "war is waged by people, and man always was and will remain the deciding force in armed conflict.’’ In his view, "ideological stability and conviction of the correctness of the cause" is at least as important to the Soviet military as its modern weaponry and combat doctrine. (p. 222)
*Colonel A. A. Sidorenko, The Offensive (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1973, $1.70), 228 pages.
Like Grechko, his stress on the CPSU’s dominant role over the entire Soviet politico-military sphere represents neither idle boast nor mere flattery. Rather, it indicates that the CPSU has been and remains the clear master of the entire Soviet State system. If the military and the secret police continue to wield such extensive influence and power, their full subordination to the CPSU leadership elite must not be ignored or underplayed as the U.S.S.R. enters the l980s.
Major Joseph E. Thach, Jr., USAR (Military Intelligence), (Ph.D., Georgetown University), is Senior Information Specialist, OASD Public Affairs for the Department of Defense. With a doctorate in Russian history, he was an elected member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a Soviet area analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has published book reviews on military and Soviet affairs in Russian Review, Naval War College Review, Parameters, Armor, and Strategic Review. Dr. Thach is a graduate of U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer Program (U.S.S.R), Air War College, and Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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