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Stalinism next to its bene¬ciaries, women next to men, barely literate peasants
next to literati, anti-Semites next to Jews, Kazakhs next to Russians. The list
of differences could go on and include differentiation according to rank, front,
and arms that typically stratify combat experience and type of motivation in
any modern army. How might Soviet soldiers of such immense diversity have
shared a single motivation? How could we ever think of them in the collective
First we need to take a step back from the assumption that “the Soviet
soldier” fought in the ¬rst place. In a combat situation ¬ghting is only one of
many options, and not the most likely one, given the trauma of killing and the
danger to life and limb this choice entails. Indeed, the other main choices “
¬‚ight, submission “ were real problems of the Soviet ¬ghting forces.177 At
the beginning of the war, millions opted for submission. The tally of Soviet
soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans was, indeed, staggering. “Never in
modern European military history had an army in the ¬eld lost such a high
proportion of its men with so little resistance.”178 Whether one interprets this
phenomenon as motivated by the hopeless military situation or as a result of
anti-Stalinism, or as a combination of the two “ the fact itself is plain enough.179
As the war went on, the likelihood of submission decreased. The majority of
Soviets who became POWs did so during the catastrophic year of 1941. After
the victories at Stalingrad and Kursk in 1943, only a small minority (4 percent
of the total) surrendered. Nevertheless, we still speak of a mass phenomenon “
181,000 soldiers during the years 1944 and 1945.180
Those who argue for a thoroughly “Bolshevik Ivan” should ¬nd at least this
number “ over 400 per day in 1944 “ hard to explain. That disgruntlement

On the many lines of division among those who fought on the Soviet side see Seniavskaia,

Frontovoe pokolenie, 76“77; 93“125; Glantz, Colossus Reborn, chapter 13, esp. 588; Mark
Edele, “Soviet Veterans as an Entitlement Group, 1945“1955,” Slavic Review 65, no. 1 (2006):
111“37, esp. 113“21; ibid., also larger bibliographical footnotes on literature on women sol-
diers (fn. 27, 29). The standard work on the latter is still Svetlana Aleksievich, U voiny “
ne zhenskoe litso (Moscow: Sov. Pisatel™, 1987; reprint 1988, 1998), translated as Svetlana
Alexiyevich, War™s Unwomanly Face (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1988). On the recruiting
base of Guards and mechanized formations, see John Erickson, “Red Army Battle¬eld Perfor-
mance, 1941“1945: The System and the Soldier,” in Time to Kill: The Soldier™s Experience of
War in the West, 1939“1945, eds. Paul Addison and Angus Calder (London: Pimlico, 1997),
Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

(Boston: Little, Brown, 1995), 5“16.
Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917“1991 (New York:

The Free Press, 1994), 284.
See Thurston, “Cauldrons of Loyalty and Betrayal,” 239 (“the argument that surrendering

troops acted out of disloyalty is unacceptable”). For a more nuanced discussion see Shneer,
Plen, 93“172.
Calculated from Alexander Dallin, German Rule in Russia: 1941“1945: A Study of Occupation

Policies (New York: St. Martin™s Press, 1957), 427, fn. 2. There is a range of data circulating
in the literature, but the differences are minor and do not change the assessment presented
here. See, e.g., Streit, Keine Kameraden, 83, 244. The most recent account uses Dallin™s data:
Shneer, Plen, 96.
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

with the regime might have played a role is suggested by individual examples
of soldiers who repeatedly refused to ¬ght and who were also on record as
disconcerted about the Soviet order. Consider the POW who explained that
the “motherland was no longer mine from the ¬rst days of the October Rev-
olution.”181 Or take the peasant from Vynnitsia region in the Ukraine who
disliked the collective farm, grumbled about the hard service in the Red Army,
the poor food, and the bad uniforms (he liked the German equivalents bet-
ter). He also thought it would be best to let the political leaders ¬ght it out
among themselves and leave “the people” out of it “ it made no difference
to him whether Stalin or Hitler ruled the state. He surrendered to the enemy
in September 1941 and became a POW, only to run away from camp, return
home, and live until 1944 on occupied territory. In April 1944 he was drafted
back into the Red Army, deserted in October of the same year, was caught and
put into a penal unit, where he served until a wound took him out of action in
January 1945.182
At the very least, the large numbers of prisoners imply a lack of combat
incentive on a mass level, as Martin Malia has pointed out “ “they could not
have been taken prisoner in such numbers had they had any strong motiva-
tion to ¬ght.”183 It might be misleading, however, to stress motivational and,
hence, ideological factors when trying to explain existential choices on the bat-
tle¬eld. “Combat and soldiering,” Merridale notes, “do not depend on a single
emotional impulse.”184 There were many factors “pushing” Soviet soldiers to
surrender in 1941 “ including, for some, the lack of attraction of the Soviet
system. All were affected by the hopeless battle situations, many mistrusted
the propaganda of their own side about German brutality, and all were faced
with the apparent military and technological superiority of the Germans. Most
Soviet citizens had learned to arrange themselves somehow with the Soviet
system “ a system which allowed only few to “belong” in any uncomplicated
way.185 Why not assume that one would ¬nd an arrangement with another
dictatorship as well? Such reasoning was well known to the regime and its pro-
pagandists “ and they had a straightforward answer.186 “I don™t say it will be
pleasant under the Nazis,” states one potential collaborator in the 1943 movie
She Defends the Motherland, “but we™re accustomed to that. . . . Don™t try to
scare us. . . . Did you see them hang everyone? . . . Oh, sure, maybe the Com-
munists and the Jews. . . . Enough of this rotten Red paradise!” The movie™s
heroine shoots the traitor point blank: “While we live, we ¬ght.”187

Quoted by Thurston, “Cauldrons of Loyalty and Betrayal,” 242.

Revision ¬le on anti-Soviet agitation, GARF f. A-461, op. 1, d. 1820, l. 11.

Malia, The Soviet Tragedy, 283“4.

Merridale, “Culture, Ideology and Combat,” 312.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin™s Peasants; id., Everyday Stalinism; Hellbeck, Revolution on My

Brandenberger, National Bolshevism, 117.

Quoted from Denise J. Youngblood, Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914“2005

(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007), 63“4.
States of Exception 385

Surrender became less frequent already by late 1941 and even more so after
the victories at Stalingrad and Kursk in 1943. One reason were the threats
from the own side. Another was the recovery of the Red Army. But giving
up also became a poor option because the German mistreatment of POWs
soon became known to the troops through one of these peculiar processes of
mass communication where rumor and the reports of escapees went hand in
hand with of¬cial propaganda.188 By “ill-treating and starving our prisoners
to death,” noted one commander in 1942, “the Germans are helping us.”189
The Soviets added their own incentives. In 1941, the military press reported
extensively on what Soviet soldiers could expect when becoming POWs, often
based on the reports of those who had escaped from this hell.190 More force-
fully, commanders used “friendly ¬re” against “deserters” and “traitors” as a
matter of course from the very start of the war.191 Order No. 270 of 16 August
1941 further increased the pressure. Commanders and political workers who
“gave themselves over to the enemy” were considered deserters, “whose fami-
lies are liable to arrest as families of deserters, who have broken the [military]
oath and betrayed their country.” If recovered, these “traitors” were to be shot
on the spot. All other soldiers were told to ¬ght no matter what in encirclement
and to demand the same from their commanders, if necessary by force of arms.
The families of soldiers who “gave themselves over” were to be denied state
aid and welfare payments.192 Further legislation ruled that grown-up members
of the families of those POWs who were sentenced to death should be deported
for ¬ve years.193
Flight was another option used frequently. Soviet soldiers retreating through
their home regions in the Don area took this opportunity to slip away and
return to their villages or to major cities such as Khar™kov, Bogodukhov, or
Belgorod.194 Whenever a region was liberated by the Red Army, the NKVD got
busy ¬nding these people. In 1943, the agency temporarily arrested 582,515
soldiers, among them nearly 43,000 who had left the ¬eld of battle on their
own, 158,585 who had gone AWOL, and 254,922 who did not hold proper

Argyrios K. Pisiotis, “Images of Hate in the Art of War,” in Culture and Entertainment in

Wartime Russia, ed. Richard Stites (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press,
1995), 141“56; Mark Edele, “Paper Soldiers: The World of the Soldier Hero According to
Soviet Wartime Posters,” 89“108; Merridale, “Culture, Ideology and Combat,” 319.
Alexander Werth, Russia at War, 1941“1945, 2nd ed. (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000),

Based on a systematic reading of the coverage in Red Star (Krasnaia zvezda) between June and

the end of October 1941. This central newspaper, while not read by all soldiers, was often
read to small groups by agitators, as Merridale points out in Ivan™s War, 109.
Glantz, Colossus Reborn, 580.

“Prikaz Stavki Verkhovnogo Glavnogo Komandovaniia Krasnoi Armii No. 270 (16 August

1941),” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, no. 9 (1988), 26“8.
Ivashov and Emelin, “Nravstvennye i pravovye problemy plena v Otechestvennoi istorii,”

Report of military correspondent A. Gutman to Agitprop department of Central Committee

(undated, sometime in 1943), RGASPI f. 17, op. 125, d. 130, l. 33“6, here: 33.
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

documents. Another 23,418 were arrested as deserters.195 During similar oper-
ations in the ¬rst three months of 1944, the NKVD arrested 8407 deserters,196
followed by 87823 in July and August.197 The ¬‚ood of desertion of the ¬rst
months of the war might have become a trickle of “a few hundred a month”
after Kursk, but they added up to sizable numbers nevertheless.198
Many of them had slipped away to German-held territory because their own
side had increased the cost for ¬‚ight backward, behind the own lines, from the
¬rst days of the war. In July 1941, the Main Administration of Political Pro-
paganda of the Red Army directed commanders to “explain every day” to
their subordinates that “to abandon a position without order” was a “crime.”
Of¬cers should consider the use of “drastic measures” to enforce discipline “
a reiteration of the rights they had since 1940.199 Two days later, the Special
Sections received the right to shoot deserters on the spot “if necessary.”200 Not
surprisingly, such signals led to physical and verbal abuse and “arbitary execu-
tions.”201 By October 1941, the NKVD alone had shot 10,201 deserters, 3,321
of them in front of their units.202 At around the same time, Stalin pulled back,
blaming those instituting his directives for “the substitution of repression for
educational work.”203 It soon turned out, however, that “education” had little
impact on the tenacity of soldiers confronted with Wehrmacht attacks. A year
later, thus, the regime returned to violence as an encouragement. Disorderly
retreat without explicit order was now threatened by immediate execution
through the so-called blocking detachments, introduced by Stalin™s Order No.
227 of 28 July 1942 (“Panic-mongers and cowards should be exterminated on
the spot!”).204 They were a resurrection of an institution from the Civil War;
that might explain why individual commanders had introduced them ad hoc

Report to Stalin, 8 January 1944, Stalin™s special ¬les, GARF f. r-9541, op. 2, d. 64, l. 9“13,

here: 9“10.
Report to Stalin, 19 April 1944, Stalin™s special ¬les, GARF f. r-9541, op. 2, d. 64, l. 289“90,

here: 289.
Report to Stalin, Fall 1944, Stalin™s special ¬les, GARF f. r-9541, op. 2, d. 67, l. 381“2, here:

Cf. Merridale, “Culture, Ideology and Combat,” 318.

“Direktiva GUPP KA, no. 081,” (15 July 1941), reprinted in Glavnye politicheskie organy

vooruzhennykh sil SSSR, 42“4, here: 43. See also the GKO resolution no. 169ss, 16 July 1941,
signed by Stalin, reprinted in 1941 god. Dokumenty, vol. 2: 472“3.
GKO resolution no. 187ss, 17 July 1941, signed by Stalin. Reprinted in 1941 god. Dokumenty,

vol. 2, 473“4, here: 474.
Zolotarev, ed., Glavnye politicheskie organy vooruzhennykh sil SSSR, 328 n. 28.

Report to Beria, October 1941; reprinted in Khaustov et al, eds., Lubianka: Stalin i NKVD-

NKGB-GUKP “Smersh,” 317“18.
Stalin™s order No. 248, 4 October 1941. Reprinted in Glavnye politicheskie organy vooruzhen-

nykh sil SSSR, 77.
The order is reprinted in Stalin, O Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine, 51“4; quotation: 53. It is

described in detail in Glantz, Colossus Reborn, 571“2; and Erickson, “Red Army Battle¬eld
Performance,” 244. On the blocking units see Merridale, Ivan™s War, 55“6; Glantz, Colossus
Reborn, 570“82, discusses both blocking and penal units in detail. The blocking detachments
existed until October 1944 (Mawdsley, Thunder, 215).
States of Exception 387

even before this order “ they were part of their military repertoire.205 However,
both the blocking units and the penal battalions introduced by the same order
were also, and quite explicitly, modeled on a German invention, which Stalin
found worth emulating because it made soldiers “¬ght better.”206
The tactic of relentless counterattack also relied on violence against one™s
own. It was not unusual for young, inexperienced commanders overwhelmed
by their responsibility to kick subordinates hiding in trenches savagely, try-
ing to abuse them into action.207 Others used the stronger argument of the
handgun: “Right away, our company commander warned us that, if we lay


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