ARTICLE: “If the war is tomorrow”: Soviet military-political leadership’s ideas about the political character of the future war (late 1920s—1941) (in Russian)

Published in Klio, no. 1 (St. Petersburg, 2008): 99–105.


The study of themes such as the views of the military-political leadership of the USSR about the future war in the 1920s to the 1930s, is only now beginning. Until recently researchers have given almost no special attention to an intellectual and mental background of the events of the specified period. Meanwhile, for the understanding of our past, including the history and prehistory of the war on the Eastern Front in 1941–1945, studying the prewar views is essential.

Wars do not break out suddenly. Throughout human history, wars have often been the conclusion of long and complex processes including force development, the content and direction of which is determined by the views of how and to what end these forces would be used. It is important to note that a complex of such ideas, which can be regarded as a prognostic image of the future war, exists in any country that has its own army, even if it has no plans in the foreseeable future to conduct any particular war with any of its neighbors (otherwise an army is simply not needed). These ideas make a foundation for concrete decisions on different questions of force development and of preparation for future wars. Accordingly, the outcome of a war largely depends on how its realities relate to the prewar predictions.

The war between the USSR and Germany is no exception. The Soviet Union began to prepare for the coming battle with “world imperialism” well before the outbreak of World War II. Therefore, the study of views of the future war that existed in the prewar years in the Soviet military and political leadership, would help scholars to link the individual assessments, projects and solutions into a coherent picture, to understand more deeply the logic of the Soviet leadership’s actions on the eve of the Second World War and after it began, which, in its turn, is a prerequisite for a more objective assessment of the causes of the Red Army’s defeats in 1941–1942.

The present article is devoted to one of the key components of the image of a future war: the nature of its political character, including the Soviet Union’s aims therein, as well as the list of potential enemies. Virtually, it is these ideas that determine the political aims of the future war, and this is of great importance in development of the military doctrine and strategy.

At the beginning of the period being studied, the views of the military and political leadership of the USSR on the political nature of future war and the list of potential opponents were rather general and abstract, and were due to purely ideological reasons, perhaps even to a greater extent than the real situation. However, by early 1941 there was a gradual shift from general to more specific concepts. Thus, the older idea of a future war as a repulsion of aggression from a coalition of capitalist states (alternatively—as an involvement or even a voluntary intervention of the Soviet Union into the war between the capitalist countries) was replaced by the idea that a drastic battle with Nazi Germany was inevitable, despite the non-aggression pact.

In addition, there was a change in perceptions about world revolution: if earlier it seemed to be an inevitable reaction of the international proletariat to the outbreak of a large-scale war, especially against the Soviet Union, its implementation was now thought likely to be a result of a smashing offensive of the Red Army. It should also be noted that the possibility of the USSR’s entry into the war on its own initiative was not excluded throughout the period. This idea continued to exist in the first half of 1941 as well. At the same time the question of whether a political decision to attack Germany was actually made, should appear as incorrect a priori because such a decision could be, by definition, only if the troops were ordered to assume the offensive. Until the completion of the strategic deployment, such an order could not be given.

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