Archive | June, 2004
June 30, 2004

The latest addition to my collection of Soviet militaria!

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OMG! I bought a gun!

Yes, it’s true! Yesterday I purchased a true piece of history – a Russian Mosin Nagant M-91/30 rifle. The M-91/30 was the standard infantry rifle of the Soviet Army in the Great Patriotic War (known to us Americans as World War II). Due to California gun laws, I have to wait 10 days before I can bring it home, therefore I will not have any pictures of it posted here until July 10. Here’s a picture of someone else’s Mosin, though:

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Kat went with me to buy it, and it turned out that the salesman was a former classmate of ours from St. Theresa School. How random is that??? Anyways…

A brief history of the M-91/30:
In the years following the Civil War the Red Army wanted a standardized weapon for their troops. This was due to the fact that dozens of different weapons were in use following the Civil War and keeping them all supplied with ammunition was very difficult. A committee began work on modernizing the M-1891 in early 1924. The first trial weapons were made in 1927. The final design was adopted in on 10 June 1930, by the head of the Red Army’s armaments department Ieronim Uborevich.

The primary focus of the new weapon was ease of production. To achieve this end the weapon was to have different front and rear sights, a rounded receiver, and metric measurements. The barrel was also shortened by 5mm and a new bayonet was added. These changes transformed the old M-1891 into a modern weapon that gave the Red Army a weapon was both easy to produce and use. The M-91/30 took only 13 hours to produce and its initial production run was 102,000 rifles in 1930.

The first uses of the M-91/30 in combat was during the Spanish Civil War where they were sent as foreign aid. They were also widely used in the repressive actions of the Stalinist regime. It also saw extensive use in the border conflicts with the Japanese in Manchuria and the Winter War.

With the outbreak of hostilities with the German Army in 1941, weapons production became the focus of Soviet industry. In this regard the M-91/30 proved to be the most widely manufactured Soviet weapon of the war. More than 12 million rifles and carbines were made in Izhevsk and Tula during the war.
By the end of the war over 17,475,000 M-91/30 rifles had been manufactured.

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Soviet troops march to the front with their Mosins, Leningrad 1941.

June 22, 2004

June 22, 1941: Germany launches Operation Barbarossa

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(Russian troops, Summer 1941)

On this day in 1941, over 3 million German troops invade Russia in three parallel offensives, in what is the most powerful invasion force in history. Nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, and 7,000 artillery pieces pour across a thousand-mile front as Hitler goes to war on a second front.

Despite the fact that Germany and Russia had signed a “pact” in 1939, each guaranteeing the other a specific region of influence without interference from the other, suspicion remained high. When the Soviet Union invaded Rumania in 1940, Hitler saw a threat to his Balkan oil supply. He immediately responded by moving two armored and 10 infantry divisions into Poland, posing a counterthreat to Russia. But what began as a defensive move turned into a plan for a German first-strike. Despite warnings from his advisers that Germany could not fight the war on two fronts (as Germany’s experience in World War I proved), Hitler became convinced that England was holding out against German assaults, refusing to surrender, because it had struck a secret deal with Russia. Fearing he would be “strangled” from the East and the West, he created, in December 1940, “Directive No. 21: Case Barbarossa”–the plan to invade and occupy the very nation he had actually asked to join the Axis only a month before!

On June 22, 1941, having postponed the invasion of Russia after Italy’s attack on Greece forced Hitler to bail out his struggling ally in order to keep the Allies from gaining a foothold in the Balkans, three German army groups struck Russia hard by surprise. The Russian army was larger than German intelligence had anticipated, but they were demobilized. Stalin had shrugged off warnings from his own advisers, even Winston Churchill himself, that a German attack was imminent. (Although Hitler had telegraphed his territorial designs on Russia as early as 1925–in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.) By the end of the first day of the invasion, the German air force had destroyed more than 1,000 Soviet aircraft. And despite the toughness of the Russian troops, and the number of tanks and other armaments at their disposal, the Red Army was disorganized, enabling the Germans to penetrate up to 300 miles into Russian territory within the next few days.

Exactly 129 years and one day before Operation Barbarossa, another “dictator” foreign to the country he controlled, invaded Russia–making it all the way to the capital. But despite this early success, Napoleon would be escorted back to France–by Russian troops.
Source: The History Channel

Also, an interesting article: “It’s Not PC to Remember the Soviets Lost More Soldiers Breaking the Back of the Nazi Army than We Did”

June 18, 2004

Welcome to Comrades with new websites

Rejoice, for Molly has started a Xanga! (She has yet to actually post anything, though).

James Gilbreath, who took over as co-director of GW for Clark after I left DC, is running for state representative in Texas. Check out his site and throw some money his way.

Pavle has recently arrived in Moscow and is most likely on a train heading to St. Petersburg right now. He’s spending his summer interning at the Kunstkammer Museum in St. Pete (if you’ve ever been to St. Pete, yes, it’s the museum with the mutant babies preserved in glass jars). Anyways, it’s Pavle’s first time in Russia, so go visit his blog for some stories about his adventures in “Leningrad.” Since I will not be spending my summer in Russia this year, I am being forced to live vicariously through Pavle. Have fun, comrade!

June 17, 2004

I don’t understand why I sleep all day and I start to complain that there’s no rain

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Hey, the title is from “No Rain” by Blind Melon…how can you forget Blind Melon?

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Anyways, I’m really bored with this weather. The triple digits aren’t that bad…just wait till August, when it’s extremely hot…I just wish it would rain one of these days…come on, give me some rain…just for a few hours. I love when it rains in the desert…

I suppose I’ll get enough rain in London, though, so maybe I should relish this dry weather. Hmm…no…would still like some rain to break up the monotony of this dry heat.

Office Depot has been incredibly hot lately. The customers always complain about the lack of A/C (“Oh, glad you noticed…at least you don’t have to be in this building for 8 hours.”) The problem is, our A/C is controlled by corporate HQ in Florida (You know how the crazy California employees like to blast that A/C and rack up huge electricity bills) so we can’t do anything about it. How lame. I should have the 5th installment of Adventures in Customer Service up soon…maybe within a day or two.

June 10, 2004

The fall of communism: Reagan’s legacy?

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On June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, passed away at his home in Bel Air, California.

One of my earliest memories of Ronald Reagan was when my parents and I watched Reagan’s Presidential motorcade make its way down Monterey Avenue in Palm Desert. Reagan was good friends with Walter Annenberg and often vacationed at Annenberg’s Rancho Mirage estate. While I don’t recall the exact date when I saw Reagan’s motorcade, I assume he was in town to visit with the Annenbergs. Nevertheless, I do recall a large amount of people lining the sidewalk, ready to see the President’s limo pass by. It was an exciting event back then…it wasn’t until living in Washington that I would look upon the Presidential and Vice-Presidential motorcades as frequent annoyances. When the motorcade finally passed us, I remember squealing “Mom, the President waved to me!” Ah, to be a little kid again…

But fast forward to the present day, or at least to the past three years, a majority of which I spent studying Soviet/Russian politics and history at GWU. It was there that I became incredibly frusturated with the conservative camp’s proclivity to credit President Reagan for the dissolution of the Soviet Union and fall of other communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe. Statements such as “Reagan won the Cold War” or “Reagan masterfully engineered the downfall of the USSR” and my personal favorite, “Reagan pushed the USSR towards bankruptcy” are constantly trumpeted by conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, and TV pundits who know little about the history of the Soviet Union. If you repeat something long enough, though, then perhaps the American public will begin to accept it as the truth. This is exactly what has happened, and with Reagan’s recent death, the lie has become even louder.

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If Reagan did not singlehandedly bring an end to the Soviet Union, then what did? I present a few reasons below…

Economics: By the 1980s, the Soviet economy was showing serious problems in all sectors of its economy, but these problems were most prevalent in agriculture and oil production. The USSR, in fact, was forced to import grain from the U.S. and Canada to feed its population. Most importantly, though, was the USSR’s slow rate of technological modernization in an era that was increasingly dominated by high-tech products from the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan. Soviet industry continued to rely on technology that had been formulated decades ago, and the scarce supply of computers was distributed to only the most trusted Soviet workers (scientists, etc).

Of course, there were serious structural weaknesses that were built into the Soviet economy, chief among those being the command style economy. In such an economy, the ability to output a product in large quantities was more important that actually producing a quality good. There was no room for innovation in such an economy, as factory managers simply followed the orders that were passed down to them from the bureaucrats in GOSPLAN. (“Hmmm…I could try implementing these new production techniques that might speed up the output of the factory goods, but what if it fails? I’ll lose my job, my dacha, and my car. And even if it does work, then GOSPLAN will set even higher quotas for next year. I think I’ll just stick with what I do every year.”) Furthermore, there was no rational relationship between supply and demand – this, too, was determined by Moscow bureaucrats. A majority of Soviet industry was geared towards producing weapons for the military or other heavy industry machinery. None of these products satisfied Soviet consumers who desired the same blue jeans, cars, and kitchen appliances that were commonplace in the Western countries.

As I mentioned above, agriculture was an especially problematic sector of the Soviet economy. In the 1930s, farmers were forcibly collectivized and the “wealthier” peasants (the kulaks, who were among the most efficient farmers in the USSR) were liquidated by the Soviet security services. The peasants that lived on collective farms devoted a majority of their time to tending their own personal gardens instead of the community crops, and a large percentage of crops simply rotted in the fields. The crops that eventually made it to the large cities would sit for months in warehouses, where another large percentage would be lost to spoilage.

Since the USSR could continue to export its vast amounts of oil to other countries for hard currency, it would basically use these earnings to cover up the shortfall produced by its problematic sectors of the economy. The USSR would then use this hard currency to purchase machinery and grain from other countries, and continued to neglect any real attempts to reform agriculture or heavy industry.

It is quite conceivable that the Soviet economy could have continued to perform miserably for decades without any political crisis enveloping the nation. And then along came Gorby…

Glasnost and Perestroika: While serving as an agriculture official, Mikhail Gorbachev experienced firsthand the problems of collective agriculture. When he came to power as the General Secretary of the Communist Party, he unleashed a set of reforms known as glasnost and perestroika.

Perestroika, which means “restructuring” in Russian, was Gorbachev’s campaign to reform the Soviet economy. Gorbachev did not strive to abandon socialism – he simply wanted to reform the most inefficient sectors of the economy and raise the standard of living in the Soviet Union. He pushed through reforms that allowed for private farming and cooperative business ventures. Gorbachev hoped that these cooperatives, which were really the first private businesses in the USSR, would provide goods and services that were in high demand by consumers (but the Soviet state by itself did not have the resources to meet this demand). In the realm of state owned enterprises, Gorbachev enacted measures that transferred decision making power from GOSPLAN bureaucrats to the factory directors themselves. The result, then, was an chaotic hybrid economy that included both capitalist and communist characteristics.

Glasnost, (“openness”) was Gorbachev’s campaign to relax media censorship. The aim of glasnost was to allow for some criticism of the government and more open discussion about past atrocities committed by the Soviet state. Gorbachev intended to use glasnost as a platform to attack the “old guard” Communist Party members that were vehemently opposed to his economic reforms. With their reins loosened, the Soviet media began to report on corruption, waste, bribery, and other problems that plagued Soviet enterprises and public services. The highlighting of such problems called into doubt the Communist Party’s claim that the USSR was a shining example of socialism. Unfortunately for Gorbachev, glasnost soon spiraled out of control. Ethnic groups in the Soviet Republics used the freedoms provided by glasnost to air their grievances with the Soviet government and demand greater freedoms from Moscow. Tensions flared between various ethnic groups in the USSR, and Gorbachev responded by sending Soviet troops to quell the rising tide of violence. Such actions, though, only exacerbated the situation, and groups within the Soviet Union formed popular fronts to demand independence.

Demokratizatsiya: Another goal of Gorbachev’s was to infuse new “progressive” blood into the ranks of the Communist Party. He hoped that by doing so, he could bypass the “old guard” Communists and more easily enact his economic and political reforms. Gorbachev did not intend to create a multiparty electoral system, but much like glasnost and perestroika he was unable to control the forces unleashed by demokratizatsiya. The constitutional provision that assigned a leading role to the Communist Party was eliminated, and political movements/parties across the USSR began to compete with each other for seats in the Supreme Soviets of each republic.

Of course, the above are merely a few (although, in my opinion, the most important) of the reasons for the decline of Soviet power and the eventual breakup of the USSR. The list is endless: Afghanistan, the Helsinki Agreements, the Sinatra Doctrine, the hardliner coup against Gorbachev, the rise of Boris Yeltsin and “take all the sovereignty you can swallow,” Ostpolitik, human rights groups…etc, etc. To expound upon all of these in one blog post would be impossible…there are tons of books that focus on the collapse of the USSR…pick up one of these and you will see that the fall of the Iron Curtain cannot be credited to a man that lived comfortably at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. In fact, to do so would be an insult to those citizens that fought against the communist regimes that denied them their basic freedoms.

Ultimately, Reagan did not win the Cold War…he was a bit player in a long drawn out contest between two great superpowers, one of which collapsed due to its poor economic performance, imperial overstretch, and failed political reforms. That Reagan is given so much credit for ending communism is ridiculous, and only adds to his cult of personality that continues to grow with each passing year.

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