Soldiers Committees

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Soldiers’ Committees

 

elected political organizations in the Russian army.

Soldiers’ committees arose after the February Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution of 1917. Similar in character to the soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies, they worked closely with the soviets, acknowledged the soviets’ leadership, and took part in the work of the local and all-Russian congresses of soviets. During the democratic stage of the revolution, the soldiers’ committees were the organs of revolutionary-democratic power of the masses of soldiers. As the committees were Bolshevized, they came increasingly to support the socialist revolution; after the triumph of the socialist revolution, they were made the organs of Soviet power in the army.

On Mar. 1 (14), 1917, Order No. 1 of the Petrograd Soviet called for the creation of soldiers’ committees. In accordance with the order, committees of “elected representatives from the lower ranks” were elected in the units of the Petrograd garrison and on the ships of the fleet. Units met without obtaining permission and elected local soldiers’ committees; similar meetings at various levels—brigade, division, corps, army, and front—elected committees appropriate to these levels. Rear units were represented in the combined soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies of the cities. In political actions, the troops were subordinate to the soldiers’ committees and the soviets of soldiers’ deputies. The soldiers’ committees assumed supervision over arms use. The Bolsheviks supported the formation of soldiers’ committees; in March 1917 the Bureau of the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B) stressed the necessity of democratizing the army.

The army and navy command attempted to forestall the creation of soldiers’ committees and to arrest those who had disseminated Order No. 1. For its part, the Central Committee of the Constitutional Democratic Party demanded that the order be rescinded. However, the revolutionary movement in the army forced General Headquarters and the War Ministry of the bourgeois Provisional Government to issue orders authorizing the creation of soldiers’ committees. In the period March-May 1917, there were as many as 50,000 soldiers’ committees, with approximately 300,000 members, in the army in the field.

The General Headquarters and the War Ministry attempted to limit the committees’ role to one of support for the command staff in, among other things, raising the army’s combat readiness, improving discipline, contributing to military administration, and conducting cultural and educational work. The committees’ decisions required confirmation by the appropriate commanding officers. Officers were brought into the committees in order to place the committees under bourgeois authority and command. More than 16,000 officers and military officials, together with 130,000 soldiers, sat on the soldiers’ committees of the Western and Southwestern fronts.

In the period February-June 1917 the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s) enjoyed an even greater predominance in the soldiers’ committees than in the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies—a fact attributable to the peasant and petit bourgeois origins of most of the soldiers. The Mensheviks and SR’s opposed such measures as the democratization of the army and the elimination of economic dislocation; as a result, the soldiers and sailors stepped up their revolutionary activity and, with it, their attempts to elect new soldiers’ committees. The Bolsheviks organized their own groups within the committees. During the period of dual power, many soldiers’ committees came under Bolshevik leadership, especially where proletarian influence over the troops was strongest, as in the garrisons of several large industrial centers, the Baltic Fleet, and the Latvian regiments.

After the failure of the June offensive of 1917, after the July Days of 1917, and particularly after the defeat of the Kornilov revolt, the Bolshevization of the soldiers’ committees began in earnest, especially in the rear garrisons, in the Baltic Fleet, and on the Northern and Western fronts, such as in the Central Committee of the Baltic Fleet, the army committees of the Fifth Army and 42nd Army Corps, the oblast committee of the army, navy, and workers of Finland, and Iskolastrel (Executive Committee of the Joint Soviet of Latvian Rifle Regiments).

During the October Revolution of 1917, elections to the soldiers’ committees were held once again. The soldiers’ committees assumed full power over the troops, as was confirmed by the Council of People’s Commissars’ decree of Dec. 16,1917, On the Elective Principle and Organization of Power in the Army. Under Bolshevik leadership, the soldiers’ committees played no little role in carrying through the final democratization of the army and in bringing to the fore the leading soldiers and sailors in the Red Army and Navy. As units of the prerevolutionary army were demobilized, the soldiers’ committees were phased out.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Pis’ma iz daleka, Pis’mo 3.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol.31.
Lenin, V. I. Zadachiproletariate v nashei revoliutsii. Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Rech’ k soldatam na mitinge v izmailovskom polku, 10 (23) aprelia 1917 g.”ft/d.
Lenin, V. I. “Soldaty i zemlia.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. Ibid., pp. 193–206.
Lenin, V. I. “Voinai revoliutsiia.” Ibid., vol. 32.
Lenin, V. I. “Bol’shevizm i ’razlozhenie’ armii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Krizis nazrel.” Ibid., vol. 34.
Lenin, V. I. “Radio vsem.” Ibid., vol. 35.
Lenin, V. I. “Voprosy delegatam obshchearmeiskogo s”ezda po demobilizatsii armii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. Ibid., pp. 36–38. Gaponenko, L. S. Soldatskie massy Zapadnogo fronta v bor’be za vlast’ Sovetov (1917). [Moscow] 1953.
Golub, P. A. Partiia, armiia i revoliutsiia. [Moscow, 1967.]
Kapustin, M. I. Soldaty Severnogo fronta v bor’be za vlast’ Sovetov.
Moscow, 1957. Khesin, S. S. Okliabr’skaia revoliutsiia i flot. Moscow, 1971.
Miller, V.. I. Soldatskie komitely russkoi armii v 1917 g. Moscow, 1974d.

P. A. GOLUB

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.