This poster has hung on my brother’s wall for as long as I can remember. Every time I see it I think: America, Army, and Service to Nation; Never have I thought of Russia, until today.
My first thought when I saw this poster was Uncle Sam and I was perplexed at Russia’s use of western, capitalist countries’ posters. However, a fellow classmate enlightened me about the deeper meaning behind this poster. The Russian government did not just simply copy and paste the Uncle Sam format with intentions of mimicking the poster but rather they saw the success in the universality of the poster. This format and verbiage, calls on the common man to be apart of something bigger than himself or his land, to be apart of a bigger goal for his country. Clearly the propaganda and recruitment tactics worked for the United States and Britain, so why couldn’t the Russian Red Army give it a whirl? But before I get to the Red Army’s recruitment tactics, I have to go back to how the Red Guard dissolved and left room for the Red Army to form.
Lenin did not believe that a standing army was appropriate to preside over the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic and thus dissolved the Russia Imperial Army, including units of the Red Guard, before the negotiations of the Treaty at Brest Litovsk had even concluded. On January 15th, 1918, Sovnarkom ordered that an army be formed of hard-working, “class-conscious” volunteers. Trotsky carried out the order of forming a Red Army but did not follow all of the decree. With the assistance of General M.D. Bonch-Bruevich, he recruited former tsarist officers because of his and the Military Council’s belief that having an Army of “politically reliable military commissars in April 1918 would help to both ensure the loyalty of the military commanders and to overcome resistance from rank-and-file soldiers to their commands.” (Red) Universal Military training was also implemented in April 1918.
Trotsky and the Military Council did not follow through entirely in line with the hopes of the Sovnarkom, and certainly not with Lenin’s belief that a standing army was inappropriate. However, despite their seeming disregard for orders, they believed in their actions and believed in their possible future success. They believed that the loyalty and reliability of recruiting former tsarist officers would create order within the army that could withstand opposition and be successful. The below poster as well as the motivational and upbeat tone and rhythm of the Army’s theme song portrays their belief in the probability of Russian victory, with the new loyal and reliable army.
The Red Army continued to grow despite draft evasions and defections, and even reached a standing army size of three million in 1919. The most significant benefit to being a soldier in the Red Army was that the Russian government provided rations and farm work assistance to their families. Their being paid was second to the stability and comfort that rations and farm work assistance provided in their lives. It was a comfort that many of these men had never in their lives felt, considering their peasant status. The climbing of the social ladder for these soldiers as well as the formation of a standing army left a lasting impact on Russian history. Not all Russian leaders had such faith in the Red Army but ultimately it was able to implement long-term social development in the lives of the soldiers and their families as well as political development in the power that comes with having a standing army.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed., New York, Oxford UP, 2009.
“Red Guard into Army.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, Michigan State University, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/red-guard-into-army/. Accessed 11 Feb. 2018.
This post was featured in our course blog’s “Comrade’s Corner” chosen by the editorial team.