861.00/3–1147: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Smith) to the Secretary of State


747. Department has undoubtedly been struck by fact that exchange of letters between an obscure Colonel-Professor of a Soviet military academy and Stalin, which took place last year, was not published until current issue of Bolshevik (Embtel 716, March 9).1 We can only speculate regarding reasons for delay in making public this significant exchange on politico-military theory. Most plausible explanation is perhaps that publication is part of current general campaign to bring all ideology more strictly into Stalinist line.

Razin’s letter is outstanding example of constricted mentality of many leading Soviet thinkers. Unremitting emphasis on dogma and orthodoxy has produced a medieval scholasticism, effect of which on Soviet life is often underestimated.

This tendency toward Marxist scholasticism is not new. Lenin warned against it. Stalin has also. His reply to Razin is but another criticism of pedantic approach to vital problem of politico-military theory, another demand that Soviet leaders approach Marxist doctrine as a developing ideology to be applied pragmatically and flexibly to changing world conditions.

Therein lies a major Soviet dilemma. Stalin demands intellectual imagination and creativeness in all fields from poetry to strategy. At [Page 544] same time, he insists on strictest adherence to vaguely defined orthodoxy, deviation from which is punished without mercy. Result of these conflicting demands on the Razins of Russia—and they number in the millions—is to toe orthodox line and leave creative excursions to those in Kremlin, those who know Stalin’s interpretation of changing world conditions. It should be added that persons engaged in physical sciences are by and large exempt from this dilemma.

Only new concept advanced in Stalin’s reply to Razin was that dithyrambs in Stalin’s honor are embarrassing to read. Having permitted for years an unremitting flood of florid adulation, this apparent manifestation of modesty might come as a distinct surprise to the reader were it not followed by another paragraph inviting by implication, a dithyramb on the Stalinist concept of the counter-offensive. However, there have recently been symptoms of a trend towards deemphasizing himself and spreading apparent authority among his disciples.

It has recently been apparent that Stalin regards himself as a strategist superior to his marshals. In his reply to Razin, however, he plainly implies that he is a greater strategist than either Lenin or Clausewitz. He obviously considers himself as the great master of strategy of retreat and counteroffensive.

Finally, it is not surprising that Stalin stressed again, by [the?] direct connection between war and politics, and it is illuminating to apply what Stalin has to say in this letter about military strategy to political situations, particularly with regard to strategy of retreat and counteroffensive.2

Copies of exchange are being forwarded to indicated missions by pouch.

Department repeat to Nanking and Tokyo.

  1. Not printed. The letter from Col. Evgeny Andreyevich Razin to Stalin was dated January 30, and Stalin’s reply was dated February 23, 1946. Both were printed in Bolshevik, No. 3, for February 1947. Translations of both letters were sent to the Department in despatch 976 from Moscow on March 8, not printed. Razin was a professor in the Voroshilov General Staff Academy, who asked Stalin for clarification of two questions: 1. Have not Lenin’s propositions in appraisal of Clausewitz’ military theories become outmoded? and 2. What attitude must one take toward the military-theoretical heritage of Clausewitz? In his lengthy reply Stalin thought the first question was incorrectly stated. Lenin did not consider himself a military expert His heirs were not bound by any directives of Lenin limiting freedom of criticism. To the second question, Stalin said it was necessary to criticize the military doctrines of Clausewitz. Under present military science in the machine age of war, he had become outmoded as a military authority, and new military ideologies were required. “It is ridiculous to take lessons now from Clausewitz.” Stalin took occasion in this letter to administer an apparent rebuke to extravagant laudation of himself: “Dithyrambs in honor of Stalin grate on [the] ear—they are simply embarrassing to read.”
  2. Stalin’s reply elicited interest within the Department of State. Mr. Thompson, Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs, wrote in a memorandum of March 12 that recent reports on internal conditions within the Soviet Union “are sufficiently disquieting to justify the hypothesis that the pressure of internal events may be such as to force the Politbureau [the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist party] to consider a less aggressive position in foreign policy to concentrate on internal problems. If such is the case, then Stalin’s letter would serve to prepare the faithful for such a change of course and would indicate to them that it was merely a tactical retreat.” (861.00/3–1247) There was also a pertinent article in the New York Times, March 9, 1947, p. 14, col. 1.