Militarization of the Soviet Union

Review: Miller on Stone

David R. Stone. Hammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union 1926-1933. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. viii + 287 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-7006-1037-5.

Reviewed by Lohr E Miller, Louisiana State University.
Published by H-Russia (January, 2002).

The Crime of Moderation

David R. Stone's Hammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union 1926-1933 examines the politics and economics of military growth during the First Five-Year Plan. Where other studies of this crucial period in Soviet history have focused on the intra-Party intrigues that brought Stalin to absolute power, on the horrors of collectivization, or on the chaos of Stalinist industrialization, Hammer and Rifle looks at the place of the Red Army in Stalin's plans for a newly-industrialized Soviet Union and explains how the Soviet military came to be the factor that justified rapid industrialization. The Soviet Union never became a state politically dominated by its military, as the fates of Tukhachevskii, Bliukher, and Zhukov would make clear. But the Red Army did become an immensely powerful force in the Soviet economy--"a taskmaster, customer, and patron of immense influence" (p. 6). By 1933, Stone argues, the Soviet military had emerged as a political lobby strong enough to demand a vastly disproportionate share of scarce resources. In Stone's phrase, while the whole of Soviet industry suffered from deep and self-inflicted wounds, the Red Army alone had the power to guarantee that its industrial suppliers received whatever economic medication they needed to keep producing.

Stone points out the disarray and technical backwardness of the Red Army after the end of the Civil War. The army that had kept the Bolsheviks in power was still a World War One force in the mid-1920s, and far weaker than its tsarist predecessor. It was also an army that had been defeated at the gates of Warsaw--an army well aware of its weaknesses. The Red Army in the NEP era was all too aware of both its own deficiencies and of the limits imposed on the military budget by financial policies designed to stabilize the ruble. The vision of future war developed by Mikhail Frunze, P.P. Karatygin, and other Bolshevik military thinkers in the 1920s called for erasing much of the distinction between civilian and military production and for placing military representatives throughout the Soviet economy. A Marxist analysis of warfare in a modern industrial economy, Frunze and Karatygin argued, showed that the military must have a leading voice in industrial planning and be given privileged access to industrial production. Stalin's idea of "socialism in one country", first articulated at the end of 1924, meant that the USSR would have to rely only on its own resources to defend itself against a hostile capitalist world. Stone sees the Red Army's drive for re-armament as a key element in Stalin's political victory against the Bolshevik Right, arguing that the army's opposition to Aleksei Rykov's call for fiscal discipline in defense spending was as important in Stalin's consolidation of power as the split between Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin over peasant policy.

The Bolshevik expectation of an eventual apocalyptic war with the capitalist world made the Red Army's claim on economic resources easier for Party elites to accept, and, equally, made criticism of Stalin's Five-Year Plan more difficult. Fear of attack from abroad--Stalin's fear of attack by a Polish-led Baltic coalition in 1930, the Manchurian crisis of 1931--led to calls for rapid military expansion and helped create a climate where any criticism of a breakneck industrialization could be seen as "wrecking". Questioning the Plan or the military rationale behind it was tantamount to treason. In Stone's telling phrase, "moderation became criminal." By the end of the First Five-Year Plan, the Red Army had achieved a pre-eminent place within the Soviet economy, a place it would hold until the Soviet Union itself disintegrated at the end of the 1980s.

Stone portrays in vivid detail the production shortfalls, planned chaos, and quality failures of military production in the early 1930s, and he quite rightly stresses the human cost of Stalin's industrialization. Hammer and Rifle is a well-researched and documented discussion of the expansion of the Soviet military economy, of the creation of an economy that even in its last days could produce world-class fighter aircraft like the Sukhoi Su-27 but could never find the resources to produce a reliable home refrigerator. Stone's critique of Red Army re-armament, though, has its military weaknesses. He argues that re-armament took place six or seven years "too early" for the Great Patriotic War, thus burdening the USSR with masses of obsolete equipment in June 1941. Yet given Stone's own presentation of Stalinist fears of imminent war, immediate production was politically imperative. And Stone does underrate the equipment actually produced in the early and mid-1930s. While much of the Soviet air force was indeed obsolescent at the outbreak of the war, the tanks produced in the mid-1930s--the T-26 and the BT series--were in fact qualitatively as good as the majority of the tanks fielded by German armoured formations in 1941.

Hammer and Rifle fails to fully explore the intricacies of the symbiosis established between the Red Army and civilian economic planners, and while Stone sees the Soviet Union as a militarized society that lies outside the usual forms of militarism in the classic typology created by Volker Berghahn, he does not really develop his own ideas about a peculiarly Soviet form of militarism. Nonetheless, Stone has succeeded in putting the Red Army into a leading role in Stalin's consolidation of power and in producing a well-written and detailed description of the military side of the First Five-Year Plan.

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