Bolsheviks of military affairs: Stalin's high commands, 1934-40
Changes in the structure and make-up of the Red Army high command during the interwar years were impelled by general political and ideological imperatives. In particular, the Stalin leadership's oscillations between alternative approaches to building and defending socialism affected the high command as well as the military establishment as a whole.The creation of the Main Military Council in 1938 was emblematic of the Red Army's "Bolshevization"---realization and enforcement of the supremacy of Stalinist values---a cardinal aim of the military aspect of the Great Purges. This collegiate leadership body was constituted to give top Party authorities a direct and commanding voice in military affairs.In conjunction with the consolidation of the Stalinist political system, the high command's forced make-over in 1937--38 elevated political and ideological factors over professional and technical ones in its composition and decision-making. The reorientation of the border fortification program in 1939--40 exemplifies the instability and incoherence brought to the high command's direction of the Red Army by its own Bolshevization. Ruinous military planning and policy decisions by Stalin and the revamped high command not only wrecked the integrity of all of the fixed defenses in the western USSR in June 1941, but largely nullified Stalin's success in gaining a sizeable territorial buffer for his country on the eve of a cataclysmic war.Finally, the pre-war history of the Red Army and its high command reveals deep fault-lines in the Soviet military enterprise. Certain central ends of the regime ultimately were at odds: for example, the Stalin leadership sought to make the command staff a disciplined arm of the Party, yet it also wished to have established, fit, and self-possessed professional commanders at its disposal. The fundamental nature of such intractable dilemmas of Soviet military development strongly suggests that the regime was incapable of fielding a combat-effective army before 1942--43, that is, until the specter of the socialist system's imminent demise had compelled Stalin to place the pursuit of military effectiveness above all else until victory was his.
- History