The Entitlement Warriors

SovietArmy

The Soviet veterans of the Great Patriotic War, though united through the fight for entitlements, differed greatly in generational experience and social welfare. The frontline generation, born between 1923 and 1927, “had not been established in adult life before the war and by 1945 had not learned much more than ‘shoot, throw grenades, and creep around’ on their bellies, as the veteran author Viktor Nekrasov put it” (Edele, 2006, p. 113). The middle generation, born between 1905 and 1922, already had a footing in Soviet society, and many had families and homes to return to after the war. Finally, the “double veterans,” born in 1904 and earlier, were predominately career military men who had participated in a combination of World War I, the Russian Civil War, and World War II. Despite these differences, the veterans were collectively seen as a ‘new social entity’ throughout the first decade after 1945” (Edele, 2006, p. 112). Though Stalin suppressed the veteran problem and promoted the patriotism of the war, it did not silence the entitlement group’s pursuit of policy reform.

SovietCrowd
Soviet soldiers returning to Moscow in 1945

The problem is one that has plagued veterans throughout history: soldiers are politically thanked for service, but left on their own accord to integrate back into society without practical compensation from the government. In the Soviet state, the issue was rooted in a lack of infrastructure and a struggling economy that simply could not support its military even if it wanted to.  In many ways, the post-war period was a testament to the failures of the Soviet socialist framework. Immediately following the war, soldiers had basic privileges like free travel, exclusive housing, and pensions. However, in 1947 the entitlements were canceled by the state, and exceptions were made for a limited number of high-ranking military officers. There have been various theories about the motives behind the cancelations, but the state publicly attributed the policy shift to the will of the veterans themselves. However, the protests and formations of veteran groups in the aftermath show that these entitlements were essential to the survival of poor and homeless military men and women, not simply greedy demands. It is important to remember that the Soviet state itself was in physical and economic ruin, as nearly “1,710 cities and towns as well as more than 70,000 villages had been razed to the ground. The economic cost of the devastation was estimated as totaling more than twenty times the national income of 1940” (Edele, 2008, p. 3). Stalin, fearing the awakening of another Decembrist-like movement, discouraged veteran memoirs and public interest in the horrors of battle. “Postwar Stalinism was marked by an attempt to replace the memory of mass suffering and mass heroism with a narrative which focused on Stalin’s role as leader and ‘War-Heroin-Chief’” (Edele, 2008, p. 3). The reform movement for veteran entitlements did not see results until after Stalin’s death in 1953, as his authoritative ruling placed state economic power over the living conditions of veterans.  

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Sources:

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1947-2/veterans-return/

Edele, M. (2006). Soviet Veterans as an Entitlement Group, 1945-1955. Slavic Review,65(1), 111–137. http://doi.org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/10.2307/4148525

Edele, M. (2008). Soviet Veterans of the Second World War: A Popular Movement in an Authoritarian Society, 1941-1991. OUP Oxford. https://books.google.com/books?id=W__8edWbKGcC&pg=PA36&lpg=PA36&dq=soviet+veterans+great+patriotic+war+edu&source=bl&ots=5brhsALD5N&sig=ByQb8KeAdViigYnQwUFbUpbnk3M&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjey9GDoMvLAhUG0h4KHcGMBhw4ChDoAQg0MAQ#v=onepage&q=veteran&f=false

Tsizikova, J. (2011). Where have all the women combatants gone? the realities of soviet female veterans in the immediate post world war two period (Order No. 1504928). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (910888151). Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/docview/910888151?accountid=14826

Photos:

https://www.google.com/search?q=soviet+world+war+2+veterans&espv=2&biw=1334&bih=728&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjwmM7Kz8rLAhUKPz4KHQ2FBkcQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=cKPu5ZW1f391jM%3A

http://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/photo/2011/10/world-war-ii-after-the-war/w04_3d09a420/main_900.jpg?1420518686

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5 thoughts on “The Entitlement Warriors

  1. I wrote about the same topic and it’s just fascinating that veteran problems aren’t just a modern phenomenon, but a historical one. I compared their struggles when they returned to the struggles of many American veterans today with the VA. I also thought it was fascinating that Stalin through Russian POWs into the Gulag System for “treason”. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Interesting post. It really speaks to how this is a trend throughout history, where veterans have a hard time coming back from war and establishing themselves when all they know as careers is how to fight. This difficulty I imagine is only magnified in a situation like the Soviet Union where so much of the economy was destroyed and many of these soldiers had lived through the 30’s, which plagued their pre-war lives with chaos and did not provide for the best environment to educate oneself. Great job

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  3. I found this very interesting. It is something I think we can relate to in terms with our own military veterans. The fact that the Soviet state even attempted to provide extensive welfare to veterans after the war is quite surprising. It’s not surprising that eventually these entitlements came to an end because of the state of the Soviet Union following the war.

    I also find it interesting that Stalin effectively tried to suppress the horrors of the war despite the fact that millions of Soviets were involved in the war effort.

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  4. You made a great observation on the struggle that veterans go through when they leave service. It’s very interesting to see that veterans have struggled to assimilate in Soviet Russia as they do in the United States today. Taking away veterans’ benefits would be a policy disaster in the United States. I wonder how the veterans coped in Soviet Russia and if any organizations helped them out.

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  5. I like the fact that this post can be compared to today’s problem in this country. That being said it is easier to relate to this post and understand the struggle that services members went through.

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