All Wars Are Civil Wars

One side brings a knife, the other brings a gun. One side invades Poland, the other runs down Berlin while destroying anything in its path. One side begins systematically destroying its own citizens, the other does the same. Edele and Geyer describe a concept they dubbed as “interior and exterior fronts”, ((Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009.  349)) and further categorize the conflict between Russia and the Soviet Union as a multi front war, fought both on the line between the two nations, and within the respective countries. Their discussion led me to consider the potential consequences of this sort of mentality.

Both the Russians and the Germans engaged in a form of combat against their own people in order to improve the strength of their armies in the front, and the resolve of the citizens back home. The Germans engaged in a civil war against the Jews, while the Soviets engaged in a civil war of sorts against anyone that they viewed as weak, detrimental, or not committed enough to the beliefs of their “republic”. In addition to this rampant destruction within their own borders (the “civil war” aspect of Edele and Geyer’s statement), the escalation and radicalization of both of these countries led to a “destroy or be destroyed’ mentality.((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 356)) In a foreign and domestic sense, did this attitude cost the Germans and Soviets too much? Did the “interior and exterior” fronts of the war, combined with the escalation and radicalization, end up costing Germany the war, and the Soviets precious lives and infrastructure that took years to re-build?

Think about it: the German government spent millions on the development of the infrastructure necessary to carry out the holocaust. In addition to construction costs, the Germans had to funnel personnel, food, money, weapons, and medical staff into these camps in order to make them run properly. Had the Germans avoided this “civil war”, Hitler and the German army would’ve been equipped with valuable assets. Assets that, perhaps, when applied properly, would’ve turned the tide of the eastern front in favor of the Axis. The Soviets, too, lost a lot because of their interior activities. By deporting hundreds of thousands of individuals to the gulag, they robbed themselves of able bodied soldiers. Perhaps, with those men and women on the line, fewer lives would’ve been lost during the German advance.

A New Society: Modernity in Soviet Russia

For most of Europe in the 19th century, modernity was seen as the emergence of nation-states, the establishment of a parliamentary democracy, and the rise of capitalism. Imperial Russia and Soviet modernity differed from this concept. Instead, their modernity focused on Enlightenment ideals such as the belief in progress, a focus on reason, and the belittlement of religion and tradition. The inclusion of Russian modernity broadens the definition parameters of this obscure term. The Soviet Union encompassed mass politics, population management, and socialism.

Anthony Gidden defines modernity as the establishment of abstract systems to measure time and space. In other words, reordering tradition to scientific and medical expert systems. In Russia, these expert systems consist of rationalizing economic production, and reorganizing the population and society. Mass politics were a major influence in Russian culture during the 19th and 20th century. In Hoffman’s article, he argues that in order to be visible to the public, experts had to employ myths and “make a participatory but nondemocratic form of politics. Experts did this by inventing traditions, specifically folk culture, in order to promote certain ideologies. These soviet experts sought to reorganize and retrain the citizens in order to make these valuable assets. The ultimate goal of citizenship was to be rational and productive. For ultimate productivity, the Russian government insisted on population management. To them, the citizens were statistics on a map. The Soviet Union introduced tactics such as sterilization in order to keep citizens at maximum efficiency. Socialist ideology played a huge part in Russian society. Socialism was a product of European modernity. Things such as elimination of private property, unequal distribution of wealth, and economic exploitation were a response to Europe’s modernity. The Soviet Union chose national interest over individual interest in order to improve the society as a whole. For the Russian government reshaping, disciplining, and mobilizing the population in order to meet industrial and welfare needs characterized modernity. As Hoffman points out, “Soviet socialism responded to challenges and aspirations of Europeans modernity.”