A conversation with Prof. Mark Harrison
"Despite the Soviet economy All Communist ideology can essentially be understood as a war economy." @GijsKessler takes stock of "the biggest economic experiment ever"
Congress at the Center for Economic History, Northwestern University, Chicago
As a revolutionary economy it thrived on crisis and the language used was militaristic as well as revolutionary. 1st Five Year Plan did not focus on armaments to a great degree? Mind you the three great tractor factories were built to allow conversion to tank production
Agreed -- but defence, national power, and fear that future war would undermine the regime from within were decisive motives in collectivisation and first five-year plan
Lenin certainly wanted to reclaim Tsarist borders and export revolution, Soviet-Polish War is example. Stalin advocated Socialism in one country which implies defensive stance. A low GDP/head and high per capita military spending could mean high fear factor instead of aggression.
Defensiveness: OK but (a) against internal as external enemies (b) forward-looking or predictive not reactive (c) willing to maintain permanent war mobilization of the Soviet economy for that end (d) rivalling Germany in war production by 1939 when G was actually at war . . .
True. But how else does a small economy build a big military unless makes a sustained effort? In Motor Vehicles, Soviets have production of 200k by 1938, a national stock of 800k yet the Red Army requirement is for 750k by 1940. By 1941 Red Army 272k plus 200k from civil economy
Agreed -- in 20C sustained effort the only way. Just what Red Army was telling Stalin through 1920s. More detail https://warwick.ac.uk/markharrison/public/cambridge_communism_postprint.pdf …
If one starts from the presumption of a fundamental confrontation between SU and outside world, like SU leadership did, defensive and offensive are two sides of the same medal, like in war.
The issue for historians since "Icebreaker" is that a defensive posture precludes the Soviets launching a spoiling attack on Germany before 1941. If you propose an aggressive expansionist USSR, Icebreaker becomes more credible. Glantz Stumbling Colossus stresses unprepardedness
IMO Uldricks and Gorodetsky discredited Icebreaker long ago. In the borderlands Stalin was revisionist; no master plan to conquer Europe. His preventive wars were against the enemy within: collectivisation, then mass operations
Agreed. Nonetheless Icebreaker remains a good illustration of why USSR posture matters. I would argue for a large, unprepared Red Army with defensive posture yet an offensive doctrine. Stalin fears foreign intervention, prepares for war yet takes opportunities when they present.
Sounds about right. My main target was idea that we can understand Soviet economic goals as civilian productivity and prosperity, making military stuff either incidental or just a burden. They traded A LOT of productivity and prosperity for national power
The valuable insight we gain from this conclusion is that the defence burden dented Soviet economic performance from the very outset, and not just during the final years of the arms race and the Star Wars years, on which such arguments have usually focused.
Do we have overall measure of what this large burden bought in terms of defence? In my period of 1930s Soviet Union was a poor nation with a large army so defence spending did not buy a lot of capability. Poor performance in Poland, Winter War due to Purges and/or poor equipment
Certainly what observers saw at the time
Sounds like right approach. Think it was "Accounting for war" where you argued Food was principal Lend Lease product. IMHO Food is central to SovUn. Control through collectivisation, all those ration categories, grain exports, food shortages. Builds industry and not recycled.
Which actually follows neatly from the circumstance that military needs and production always had the highest priority within the post-plan adhoc allocation of scarce resources.
The reason I ask is that study of the Rear shows poor performance against Japan in Poland in Finland and in June 1941. Yet August 1941 Khrulev affects remarkable improvement in Rear quickly seemingly purely by institutional changes. Capability already existed but badly used.
Does hindsight help us to a more complex picture? Three factors potentially available to explain generally low level of military effectiveness of Red Army in late 1930s -- and I don't know how to weight them
Factor 1: poor country. More than one channel -- maybe, low level of investment in systems for C3I? Maybe, life was cheap, so commanders willing to trade lives for success? If poverty was a significant factor, it was one that could not be changed quickly
Factor 2: repressive regime. Low trust, low morale (given largely peasant army), so little capacity for independent action. Maybe this improved in wartime -- Stalin forced to give more trust to commanders; soldiers became motivated to defend motherland
Factor 3: rapidity of 1930s modernization. Thousands of green officers rapidly promoted, even if NO purges. Some units w/ latest equipment and no idea how to use it, others practised in obsolete systems, tactics; combined ops even more difficult
In wartime the Red Army became an effective fighting force, although the Soviet Union remained a poor country under a repressive regime. Not a new problem! But the solution must cast a backlight on the problems of the Red Army in the late 1930s
Some great issues here - sounds like a worthwhile conference - will look out for proceedings. I like the idea of "predictive": the Winter War does not easily fit a defensive stance: Perhaps "opportunistic aggression" is a better fit.
2 cents: Winter War may be unicum. Sample-approach necessary how many times was there opportunities not taken seems like proper issue
Good point and an intriguing data project. Does not address it directly but from 1870 to early 2000s Russia/SU initiated more bilateral interstate conflicts than ANY other power http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-0289.12008 …. I checked if this worked for subperiods and found it did
That both interesting and reassuring for Braudelians like me. Red Russia was not agressive. Russia full stop is agressive regardless of regime
But still not the whole story. Continuity, yes: Russia always had secretive authoritarian rulers, few natural borders, many neighbours with which to quarrel -- and still has these today Also discontinuity: Only in Soviet period was Russian society so continuously, consistently mobilised. In http://www.correlatesofwar.org data, USSR finally made no. 1 in national material capabilities in 1970s-1980s -- not before, not after
Mobilisation of all sectors of economy, railways to steel. Was this institutional, political and cultural? Did it align with Red Army concept of the Rear - a revolutionary nation in arms?
"In the idea of stability of the Rear is included all that constitutes the life and activity of the whole state-social system, politics, economy, apparatus of production, organisation of the working people, ideology, science, art, morale of the people and other things." Voroshilov
Do you know James Schneider's Structure of Strategic Revolution? He also writes about "stability of the rear" and makes much of Stalin's Civil War experience at Tsaritsyn.
Will get it. Sources are: Turbiville https://history.army.mil/catalog/pubs/70/70-89.html …, Shtab Tyla Krasnoĭ Armii v gody voĭny 1941-1945 - Golushko, Iz istorii sozdaniya organov upravleniya tylom Sovetskoy Armii - Col C SKRYABIN VIZh 7-1979. Am of opinion that Boleshivik concept of "Rear" and nation in a constant state of war preparation led to the economic outcomes that we are discussing. However between 1937 and Aug 41 Rear of Red Army was divided between 4 separate commands so concept of a unitary Rear not applied. This leads to poor performance in Finland etc. Nor did Khrulev have a position between 39 and 41 to change this, he was simply Intendant (responsible for blankets and pots) one of around 10 commands in Rear Directorate. Turbiville promotes idea of Khrulev pushing change. Aug 1941 - Goretskii is the key to forming Main Directorate of Rear. Stalin knows he is Khrulev advisor, former Quartermaster to Tsar, Red Army Chief of Supply in Civil War, etc. Highly experienced aged 71, ideal advisor to young ex 1st Cav Army commisar Khrulev. Stalin says YES! Implication of this is that Red Army goes back to Tsarist type system. Goretskii used 1914 Supply Regs as example to Stalin in crucial meeting. Dr Steve Main says Stalin always kept one expert alive during Purges - eg. Shaposhnikov as Imperial General Staff strategist. Goretskii not purged late 20s as technical expert, not in late 30s as Red Army senior officer albeit retired as Red Professor. Yet he is Tsarist General with Order of St Anne.
Are conference proceedings, podcasts, etc likely to be available in the near future?
Promised, not yet delivered I think.
Weighting of military potential is fraught with issues as technology has to be balanced against numbers so probably comparative approach is best against foreign armies.
For instance made comparison of artillery barrages of British (Op Veritable) Soviet (Vistula-Oder) and German (Kursk) Infantry attacks. British & Soviet deliver same weight of shell. British do it rapidly by guns. Soviet slow & 1/3 are mortars 1/6 rockets. British able to destroy enemy positions throughout depth of position, Soviets lack sufficient heavy guns to destroy rear of position.
Factor 1: Significant tech gaps in inventory = SMGs but old MGs/ AT grenades but no AT rockets / AT guns sub-standard / artillery lacks fire control / lack of radios /... Field Army of 70k men has 3k vehicles 10k horses cf British Inf Division 15k men has 4k vehicles Poor education = fewer NCOs cf with British problems with NCO types all going into RAF. Concentration of resources in few units = Main attack force is Field Armies = basic equipment. Pursuit force = Tank Armies = tanks radios vehicle. Tempo of operations = keep Germans off balance by continual offensives but higher casualties Performance comparison = Sov do well against similar GDP/head countries: Romania, Hungary, Italy Japan but do badly versus higher: Germans Finns
Factor 2: Officer standards low = FWW mentality coupled with repression leds to fixed expensive plans. Glantz half of all 43-45 offensives failed. Casualty rate not really alter from 43 onwards. Bolshevik philosophy of conflict Destroy or be Destroyed drives conflict to brutal level Reaction to German repression = highly brutal war on both sides. Interesting to compare partisan war in Italy Yugoslavia. Repression and casualties rise together.
Factor 3: Agreed. 12 years of modernisation of economy and 3 years of modernisation of armaments with limited industrial base was never going to turn 1917 army into German 1941 army. Nearest comparitor British 1918 or Italian 1940? Agreed re 1930s produced both the success and cost of war. Would a comparison against Italy or Hungary scaled up produce any insights?