Although the subject constantly discussed in texts and within our discussion is in regards to “the people” and those workers and peasants who are running the activities and movements that allowed for the Revolution in 1917 to occur, little sometimes is mentioned about those who were sworn members of the Imperial Russian Army during this time of unrest and major change. In this brief post, I mainly use the resources within Seventeen Moments of Soviet History (1917) webpage in regards to the “Revolutions in the Army.”
This is not to really look into the discussion of whether to continue the war, that subject is clearly covered and most likely is a good point of discussion for other blog entries, rather this examines the short-term and long-term evidence of how exactly the army went through a transition of power and what things were lost and gained during the revolution in terms of military control. It is held highly to my belief that there are two schools of thought in regards to the relationship of the civilian government and the military. First, in order for the civilian government to be legitimate and successful both domestically and internationally, it must have the backing of the military with near unquestioned loyalty. Secondly, the military must at all times respect that is just another political tool of the civilian government and that they should not interject themselves into any affairs in regards to political turmoil. These two ideas are very interconnected and examining how they worked during the Revolution and transition during 1917 is a topic that I believe is essential.
Following the February Revolution, “The most immediate and tangible effect of the Revolution on the army was Order No. 1 issued by the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on March 1, 1917 and approved under duress by the Provisional Government. Among other things, the Order called for the election of soldiers’ committees under whose disposal all arms were to be placed.” (1917: Revolution In the Army). The problem with these changes though was the intimidate process of mass desertion, replacements within the officers ranks for various reasons depending on the situation, location, and involvement in an ongoing World War that had yet to fully cease. Even within a month a report was issued that proved not promising to holding the two essential elements I expressed earlier in regards towards the relationship between a civilian government and the military.
With a loss of soldiers returning home to fight for land that might become available along with political turmoil and movements that they felt the need to become engaged in, it is not surprising in the report of the troops given October 13, 1917 continued to show worsening conditions of what was one of the largest and most powerful armies emerging during this era of history.
Although we know that through the rise of the Global Great Depression in the 1930s, along with other major developments and of course World War II, the USSR would eventually have one of the most powerful military’s ever to exist in the history of mankind, it is the close examination of these few months, the reports made by the upper level officers, the decisions made by the masses in the military’s lower ranks, that really show how unorganized and unsuccessful the initial transition of military power was from Imperial Russia to the Provisional Government of the USSR.
To examine a different way that the military transition between two major governmental structures and powers occurred I would personally recommend this book for those interested. It still falls within the realm of Soviet/Russian 20th century history and also is a good epilogue to the entire Cold War from the Russian domestic perspective.
Authors note for citations: The following are the permanent links in order of when they appear in the text as hyperlinks
Citation for picture: Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis, Paul Paret: Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992.
7 Responses to A Movement of an Army: The War, The Revolution, The Choice
Terrific use of primary sources in this post, which raises important issues about the relationships between the military and (civilian) government in a number of historical contexts. For the summer and fall of 1917, the relationship was complicated in ways that surpassed even the confusion of the Soviet collapse of 1991, as the rank and file soldier’s willingness to continue to fight for the glory of a dissolving Empire eroded even as support for more radical solutions to Russia’s future gained currency. While many officers remained loyal to the Provisional Government and willing to fight, neither of those causes appealed to the common soldier.
‘what was one of the largest and most powerful armies’ – I think that is an overstatement. The Russian army (to this day actually) consists in its infantry largely of “mushiks” (‘peasants’). While these nowadays are literate back then they were not. They were just suppressed by their officers and NCOs, ‘motivated’ with bad food and filthy living quarters. This is why they deserted in droves when the command structure became brittle. And later when the Soviet Union began to stabilize they still needed political commissars, i.e. overseers from the party, to keep the Army in check.
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