Containment Beyond the Cold War
How Washington Lost the Post-Soviet Peace
THERE is in train today a development without parallel in history--a war which has as its frank objective the overthrow of all the parliamentary governments of the world and their replacement by Communist dictatorships centrally controlled in Moscow. The distinguishing characteristic of the campaign is the interchangeability of political and military weapons. A "peace offensive" in Moscow, a cultural conference in Warsaw, a strike in France, an armed insurrection in Czechoslovakia, the invasion of Greece and Korea by fully equipped troops--all are instruments of one war, turned on and turned off from a central tap as a gardener plays a hose up and down a piece of land on which he is nurturing a crop, watering some plants lightly, some heavily.
The theory of a "unified" war directed by a supreme central intelligence, in which political and military instruments are used indifferently to suit a particular object in the pursuit of a gigantic plan, was first and most comprehensively advanced by the German general, Carl von Clausewitz in his book, "On War," in the early nineteenth century. It is not surprising that in an effort to understand the current Soviet campaign and to find a means of thwarting it, Americans have turned to Clausewitz for such illumination as he may offer, and that references to his aphorisms on the relation of war and politics are everywhere heard.
The concept that underlies the whole of Clausewitz' discussion of the nature of war is, quite simply, that "war is an act of social life"--that is to say, that it is not an act performed by military men only, but is an expression of the conflict of ideas, objectives and way of life of an entire society with those of some other society. Conflict by high explosives is thus merely one aspect of a war, and is resorted to when and if it helps achieve some particular objective which cannot be achieved in any other way.
Clausewitz elaborated this idea at length, and expressed it in various ways. In his best known passage he put it thus: "We see, therefore, in the first place, that under all circumstances War is to be regarded not as an independent thing, but as a political instrument; and it is only by taking this point of view that we can avoid finding ourselves in opposition to all military history. This is the only means of unlocking the great book and making it intelligible. Secondly, this view shows us how Wars must differ in character according to the nature of the motives and circumstances from which they proceed."
From this Clausewitz reasoned that, generally speaking, there are two kinds of wars--those in which the object is the overthrow of the enemy, and those in which the object is merely to make some conquests on the frontier of his country or to win booty of some kind and gain advantages in negotiations.
Obviously, this is a point of view, not a set of answers to concrete political and military questions, and there is room for much misunderstanding in these generalizations. "On War" is unfinished, an elaborate treatise on strategy and tactics written before the day of railroads or even of the rifled gun barrel, and largely out of date in its strictly military aspects. Though the work is full of sharp insight into the nature of war, expressed in many striking phrases, long stretches of the eight books which comprise it are dull reading today. It has never been published in full in the United States.[i] The upshot is that Clausewitz' ideas tend to be discussed in terms of famous quotations, all too often with little regard for the meaning he intended to convey. Thus one historian recently cited Clausewitz to prove that final decisions in war must be made on military grounds, though Clausewitz wrote the eight books of "On War" in order to prove the opposite. And, in what is surely one of the most remarkable feats of interpretation on record, Ellsworth L. Raymond quoted a passage from the work of the Soviet strategist Marshal Shaposhnikov, author of the book, "The Brain of the Army," which has exerted much influence upon the rulers of Russia, in order to show that "a revolutionary change" in military philosophy had turned the Soviet Union away from Clausewitz. The quoted passage was in fact a tissue of phrases from Clausewitz, including his premise that war is an act of social life. Rear Admiral Zacharias apparently took over Mr. Raymond's interpretation in his book, "Behind Closed Doors." The costly popular assumption that Soviet doctrine had separated "political" from "military" instruments of war and was depending solely on the political was a result of failure to estimate correctly Clausewitz' place in Soviet strategy.
Furthermore, since Clausewitz makes no attempt to distinguish between "right" and "wrong" in his study of war, his amoral tone, with its connotations of aggressive militarism, has understandably enough caused a great many people to dismiss his ideas out of hand, as the very embodiment of evil in modern times. And for the group of writers represented by the British military critic, Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, Clausewitz has come to typify the major obstacle to a program of "limiting" and humanizing war--a question which bears very importantly on aspects of United States policy.
Before attempting to pass judgment on Clausewitz, then, let us try to understand as clearly as possible what it was he really said, or intended to say; but let us also try to get our minds around it as it might seem from the angle of the Kremlin--that is to say, as it would seem today to a group of implacable men prosecuting a world-wide insurrection.
To say that Clausewitz' body of ideas provides the best description there is of the Soviet Russian method of making war is not to imply that the Soviet leaders adopted this objective, and developed the instrument of "unified" war for achieving it, because they had at some time read the book written by this German Major General. Nonetheless, we do know that the Russian Marxists have studied Clausewitz with care, and have appropriated his ideas, and even his actual words, very freely. Engels, Karl Marx's great collaborator--called "the general" by his associates--was a devoted student of Clausewitz. Lenin seems to have come upon Clausewitz' work about the time the First World War was beginning, and the notebook which he kept is evidence of the zest with which he devoured it. Long excerpts, stabbed with marginal notations and interlineations, are included alongside the extracts from Marx and Engels. The Soviet Government published Lenin's notebook on Clausewitz in 1933. It is interesting to see that though Lenin paid little or no attention to the military detail--the chapters on "Camps," "Marches," "Cantonments," etc., he paused at and copied the passages dealing with the need of boldness in war. Of the axiom about war as a continuation of policy he said: "The Marxists have always considered this axiom as the theoretical foundation for the meaning of every war."
But the most interesting and recent evidence of the significance which the Soviet strategists attach to Clausewitz today is the letter which Stalin wrote to the Soviet military historian, Colonel Razin, in 1946, in order to define the Communist line toward Clausewitz with unimpeachable authority. The letter was published in February 1947 in the magazine Bolshevik. Because of Stalin's peculiar talent for making plain things seem contradictory and confusing, while at the same time bringing to bear upon them a good deal of horse sense, it must be read in some detail to be understood:
Respected Comrade Razin!
I have received your letter of January 30th on Clausewitz and your brief theses on war and military art.
1. You are inquiring whether Lenin's propositions evaluating Clausewitz are obsolete?
In my opinion, the question is incorrectly formulated.
Under such a formulation of the question it is possible to think that Lenin analyzed Clausewitz' military doctrine and military works, gave them a military appraisal and left us a heritage of a set of guiding propositions on military problems, which we have to accept. Such a formulation of the question is incorrect for, in fact, there do not exist any such "propositions" by Lenin on Clausewitz' military doctrine and his works.
In distinction to Engels, Lenin did not consider himself an expert in military matters. . . . During the civil war, Lenin had obliged us, then young comrades in the Central Committee, "to thoroughly master the knowledge of military art." As for himself, he frankly declared to us that it was too late for him to study military art. In this lies the proper explanation of the fact that in his references to Clausewitz and remarks on Clausewitz' books, Lenin did not touch upon the strictly military problems, such as the problem of military strategy and tactics, and of the inter-relationship between advance and retreat, defense and counteroffensive, etc., etc.
What did interest Lenin in Clausewitz, then, and what did he praise him for?
He praised Clausewitz first of all, because, as a non-Marxist, Clausewitz, who enjoyed the reputation of an expert on military art in his time, had confirmed in his works the familiar Marxist thesis that there is a direct connection between war and politics, that politics gives birth to war, that war is the continuation of politics by violent means. The reference to Clausewitz was necessary for Lenin in this connection in order once more to convict Plekhanov, Kautsky and others of social-chauvinism, of social-imperialism.
Further, he praised Clausewitz for confirming in his works the thesis, which is correct from the Marxist viewpoint, that under certain unfavorable circumstances the retreat is as appropriate a form of strife as the advance. Lenin needed the reference to Clausewitz here in order once more to refute the "left" Communists, who did not recognize retreat as a legitimate form of struggle.
Consequently, Lenin approached Clausewitz' works not as a military man, but as a politician, and was interested in those problems in Clausewitz' works which demonstrated the connection between war and politics.
Thus, in the question of criticism of Clausewitz' military doctrine, we, Lenin's heirs, are not bound by instructions from Lenin limiting our freedom of criticism. . . .
2. Should we criticize Clausewitz' military doctrine in accordance with its substance? Yes, we should. From the viewpoint of our interests and of those of military science of our time, we are obliged to criticize not only Clausewitz, but also Moltke, Schlieffen, Ludendorff, Keitel and other bearers of military ideology in Germany. . . .
What must be noted in particular about Clausewitz is that he is, of course, obsolete as a military authority. Strictly speaking, Clausewitz was the representative of the hand-tool period of warfare. But we are now in the machine age of warfare. The machine age undoubtedly demands new military ideologists. It is ridiculous to take lessons from Clausewitz now. . . .
In our criticism we must be guided not by separate propositions and utterances of the classics, but by the famous instruction which Lenin gave us in his time:
"We do not regard Marx's theory as something completed and untouchable; we are convinced, on the contrary, that it has merely laid the cornerstone of that science, which Socialists must move further in all directions, unless they want to be left behind by life. . . ."
This approach is even more obligatory for us with respect to the military authorities.
3. Because of the schematic character of your brief theses on war and military art, I am able to offer only some general remarks. The theses contain too much philosophy and too many abstract propositions. Clausewitz' terminology for the grammar and logic of war grates on the ear. The problem of the party aspects of military science is put too primitively. Dithyrambs in Stalin's honor grate on the ear--it is simply awkward to read them. Consideration of the counteroffensive (not to be confused with the counterattack) is absent. I am speaking of the counteroffensive after a successful enemy advance which, however, failed to yield decisive results, during which the party on the defensive collects forces, launches a counteradvance and inflicts upon the antagonist a decisive defeat. I think that a well-organized counteroffensive is one of the most interesting forms of offensive. As an historian, you should take an interest in this. . . .
February 23, 1946.
Obviously there is a good deal of counterpoint in this composition, but the major theme is sounded at the beginning. Stalin carefully reformulates the question that has been put to him--whether Lenin's propositions evaluating Clausewitz are obsolete--in order to distinguish between Clausewitz' "strictly military" doctrines and his view of the relation of war and policy. The latter is thus saved from attack. Though Stalin probably underestimates Lenin's knowledge of military problems, he is quite right in saying that, as we have noted, Lenin paid no attention to the chapters of "On War" dealing with strictly military matters. Stalin's references to the "'left' Communists who did not recognize retreat as a legitimate form of struggle" is, apparently, a shot at Trotsky, and an unjust one; and Stalin's blunderbuss attack on German military science, which brings down Moltke, Schlieffen, Ludendorff and Keitel in one bag, is also rather unreal. (Schlieffen is distinguished among these generals precisely for his disregard of Clausewitz' doctrine; and Keitel's relationship with Hitler is still another story.) But we need not follow those involutions of Stalin's thought. It is plain that Stalin has chosen to emphasize three things about von Clausewitz: 1, that his strictly military precepts are out of date; 2, that his theory of the relation of war and policy is relevant and important; and 3, that his views on the counteroffensive are worth special attention. No better estimate of the timeliness of "On War" could be made. Let us, therefore, examine these particular aspects of Clausewitz' work which Stalin recommends to our attention.
To see Clausewitz as he was, it is necessary to see him against the background of his own time. Despite the associations that cluster about his name, he is not an unattractive figure. Carl von Clausewitz was of Polish descent, from a family in East Silesia. His father was a doctor, and an officer in the army of Frederick the Great. His patent of nobility, by which he was enabled to hold a commission in the Prussian Army, was of doubtful validity; Clausewitz never felt that he was one of the Prussian Junkers, nor did they. His portrait, drawn in his thirties apparently, shows a man with a sensitive, open face and a mass of curly hair--with features rather resembling the poet Shelley. He is far from being Shelley--but he is also quite unlike the conventional figure of the bullet-headed German general.
He was born in 1780, and entered the Prussian Army as a cadet at the age of 12. He fought in the wars of the monarchical coalition against France, and then the Napoleonic Wars, and was wounded and captured. His quickness and intelligence caught the attention of General Scharnhorst, and after 1807 he was closely associated with Scharnhorst and Field Marshal Gneisenau in the effort of reform of the Prussian Army which followed the cataclysmic defeat of Prussia at Napoleon's hands on the battlefield of Jena.
Gneisenau and Scharnhorst (neither of them Prussians, incidentally) were men of vision, and they perceived that a revitalized Prussian army could be created only on the basis of a revitalized nation. With the collaboration of the statesman, Baron Stein, they sought to bring the Prussian peasant out of his feudal condition and to introduce some degree of self-government in the Prussian state. They succeeded partially, but their effort at reform was overtaken by the reaction which followed the downfall of Napoleon. General von Clausewitz, their protégé, fell under the suspicion and, in fact, the open enmity which the Prussian nobility entertained for these reformers. When he was appointed director of the Prussian War School in Berlin in 1818, through the interposition of Gneisenau, the hostility of the nobility was too strong to permit him to carry out the changes in curriculum which he envisaged. He was not permitted even to lecture. Like not a few famous writers, he took to the pen because all other activity was closed to him. It was at this period that he wrote "On War." He died suddenly, of cholera, in 1831 and the book, much of which he considered only an outline of the volume he intended to write, was prepared for publication by his wife.
"On War" is a work of genius. The wonder is not that it has infusions of dialectic, but that, considering the scope of the subject which it undertakes to treat, it is so unpedantic and sensible. Some of the detail that seems wearisome today was, indeed, inserted reluctantly by von Clausewitz in order to dispose of the intricate ratiocinations of the eighteenth century military writers, who had reduced warfare to a geometrical science--so they thought--and developed a marvellous jargon for elucidating its mysteries. (In pursuit of the concept of the "key position" of Europe, for example, supposedly the highest source of its waters, one strategist had found himself ensconced triumphantly on the tallest peak of the Swiss Alps with his troops--fortunately creatures of paper and ink only. "In general," said Clausewitz dryly, "the best key to the country lies in the enemy's Army.") And he apologized for the unspectacular nature of his own demonstration: "The reader expects to hear of angles and lines, and finds instead of these citizens of the scientific world, only people out of common life, such as he meets with every day in the streets."
That is the measure of the originality of his book. "On War" deals with human beings. It is the first study of modern war in which the factor which we know by the term "morale" is held to be almost everywhere decisive.
Clausewitz addresses himself to those who are, or who intend to be, the commanders; and he will permit them to set for themselves nothing but the highest standards. He is dealing with war, and he does not paint a pleasant picture. "It is the whole feeling of the dissolution of all physical and moral power, it is the heartrending sight of the bloody sacrifice which the Commander has to contend with in himself, and then in all others who directly or indirectly transfer to him their impressions, feelings, anxieties and desires," he says. But what makes this self-command possible, he continues, is, simply--intelligence: "This counterpoise [to the "excited passions"] is nothing but a sense of the dignity of man, that noblest pride, that deeply-seated desire of the soul always to act as a being endowed with understanding and reason." This is not rhetoric; Clausewitz develops the theme with insight into the strengths and weaknesses of men. "Men who have little intelligence can never be resolute," he repeats. "There is nothing more common than to hear of men losing their energy on being raised to a higher position, to which they do not feel themselves equal; but we must also remind ourselves that we are speaking of preëminent services." He was looking for greatness.
It is for this reason that he emphasizes the importance of theory. He puts it thus: "In real action, most men are guided merely by the tact of judgment which hits the object more or less accurately, according as they possess more or less genius. This is the way in which all great Generals have acted, and therein partly lay their greatness and their genius, that they always hit upon what was right by this tact. Thus also it will always be in action, and so far this tact is amply sufficient. But when it is a question, not of acting oneself, but of convincing others in a consultation, then all depends on clear conceptions and demonstrations of inherent relations." In short, if you want other men to take over your ideas, you have to have an intelligible theory.
Many misunderstandings of Clausewitz stem from a failure to note the method by which he develops his argument. His procedure is, first, to trace the lines of the "absolute"--by which he means the abstract--concept of whatever aspect of strategy he is considering; then to show how, in practice, things are likely to be different from this abstract picture of them; and then to return to the theoretical perfection to see what lessons it offers for improving practice. Thus in theory, says Clausewitz in Book VIII --"Plan of War," which is the heart of his doctrine--war is an unceasing act of "utmost violence," which starts in full fury, rages without pause in a series of increasingly desperate combats, until it comes to the climax, which is the annihilation of the enemy. But, in fact, once the "probabilities of real life" take the place of abstractions, the act of war is different. There is in actual warfare little direct movement to the goal, and there is usually a vast confusion of purposes. "The normal act of war is doing nothing;" and, moreover, there are wars of all degree of importance and energy, from "wars of extermination" down to the use of an army merely for intimidation.
Obviously, something intervenes to alter the "absolute" picture of war. Clausewitz points out that in practice two factors thus intervene. On the battlefield there is "friction"--the word he gives to rain, snow, mud, fatigue, timidity, false reports--everything that goes wrong. But, more importantly, there is politics. Clausewitz never uses the term "politics" in the sense in which it is common in Anglo-Saxon countries, with the invidious connotations of patronage, pull, "ward politics." The political element for him is the purposive element--human reason as contrasted with blind, brute rage. Politics thus is responsible for the cross purposes, the clash of plans, the inefficiency, the uncertainty of aim. It is likewise responsible for whatever intelligence there is in war.
Clausewitz points out that except among complete savages, war can never be an act of utter senselessness. The object of war remains combat: "the bloody solution of the crisis, the effort for the destruction of the enemy's force, is the firstborn son of War." But it is also true that: "If we speak of the destruction of the enemy's armed force, we must expressly point out that nothing obliges us to confine this idea to the mere physical force; on the contrary, the moral is necessarily implied as well, because both in fact are interwoven with each other, even in the most minute details, and cannot be separated." In short, the distinguishing characteristic of a "perfect" war would be that both political and military means were used harmoniously for the accomplishment of one, great, clear plan. In order that they may be so used, the political must predominate. Policy uses war. That is Clausewitz' principal contention. He concludes thus:
If War belongs to policy, it will naturally take its character from thence. If policy is great and powerful so also will be the War, and this may be carried to the point at which War attains to its absolute form.
It is only through this kind of view that War recovers unity; only by it can we see all Wars as things of one kind and only thus can we attain the true and perfect basis and point of view from which great plans may be traced out and determined upon.
There is upon the whole nothing more important in life than to find out the right point of view from which things should be looked at and judged of and then to keep to that point, for we can only apprehend the mass of events in the unity from one standpoint, and it is only the keeping to one point of view that guards us from inconsistency.
These are passages copied and underscored by Lenin, to whose mind they were congenial.
Lenin underscored, too, the passage in which Clausewitz summed up his argument: "War is to be regarded as an organic whole, from which the single branches are not to be separated and in which therefore every individual activity flows into the whole." Or, as we might say--hot or cold, it is still one war.
What shall we say of this doctrine? How shall we criticize it?
It is apparent that the search for the perfect war is a dangerous ideal. Clausewitz was not seeking to glorify war, and long before Tolstoy or Shaw had debunked war he derided the popular notion that the symbol of the battlefield is a hussar at full gallop brandishing a sword over his head. "Usually before we have learnt what danger really is, we form an idea of it which is rather attractive than repulsive," he remarked caustically. But for all his good sense, he was, at the end, carried away by the enchantment of his own investigation--the possibility of finding the man who could make war in fact as perfect an instrument for the realization of state purposes as it can be shown to be in theory. Book VIII--"Plan of War"--is the clearest directive ever written for the waging of aggressive war. It is not surprising that, for Clausewitz, only one man had succeeded in laying hands on this shining instrument--Napoleon, "the very god of war," as he called him. Nor is it surprising that in the nineteenth century Clausewitz' greatest disciple became Bismarck, and in the twentieth, the leaders of the three Great Power dictatorships which have destroyed the peace of the world--the Imperial Japanese, the Nazi German and the Communist Russian. What is perhaps astonishing is the candor with which the Soviet weekly journal New Times for December 21, 1949, celebrating the 70th birthday of Marshal Stalin with an article "Stalin's Military Genius," by Major General F. Isayev, uses as the yardstick for measuring Stalin's military achievements the very criteria which Clausewitz in "Plan of War" employed to exalt the genius of Napoleon.
General Isayev's remarkable encomium repays examination in more detail; but first, let us note that the distinction between the two kinds of war, on which Clausewitz laid so much emphasis--"absolute" war which seeks the overthrow of the enemy, and "limited" war, which seeks to use an army to win booty or concessions of some kind--has tended to disappear in our time. But it has done so precisely because, as Clausewitz insists, war is an act of social life--and because, as a result of the technological developments of the past 50 years or so, society has now come to be world-wide. Clausewitz never foresaw the industrialization of society, or guessed the degree of bitterness and horror with which this would endow the act of war. There are, indeed, "small" wars even now which do not become world-wide, as we have seen and no doubt always shall see; but no one dares draw an easy breath until they have been terminated. Unpalatable though the idea may be, Clausewitz' premise remains irrefutable. For 1950 even more plainly than for 1812, the recognition that war is a social act is the key that unlocks the great book and makes it intelligible. The scope of the political objective is the measure of the scope of a war. "If policy is great and powerful, so also will be the War."
In the shadow of the Soviet world insurrection, some who are very sincere, and some who are not, suggest that the nations of the world can at least mitigate these dangers by an agreement to return to "limited" warfare, following the precedents of the eighteenth century. No one will deny that of all the wars in history, the "languid and parsimonious" wars of the eighteenth century are the least repellent. But the problem for democratic nations is not merely how to obtain from the Politburo an agreement that will be kept; the problem of reverting to an eighteenth century kind of war is the problem of reverting to an eighteenth century kind of society.
We may note in this connection that Clausewitz' patron, Field Marshal Gneisenau, served as a young officer with the German mercenaries in the American War for Independence, and was deeply impressed by the contrast between the "open order" combat of the Americans and the "line" of the German and British troops. The seed of Clausewitz' concept of war as a social act lies in the contrast. The Americans fought from behind trees and stone walls, not because they held a particular political theory, but because that was the most effective tactic for untrained soldiers and skilled marksmen in such country; but the use of such tactics nonetheless was a direct expression of their own social order. They were able to adopt them because they were fighting of their own volition, for their own farms and their own country--in their eyes one and the same thing. The Hessians could not adopt such tactics for the simple reason that if the soldiers were once permitted to disperse they would never come together again.
At this time, European armies were still organized on the principles of Frederick the Great, whose armies were composed of mercenaries, serfs or vagabonds. Frederick was capable of inspiring devotion and great feats of endurance from his men, yet the primary fact of the army organization was that the soldiers would instantly desert if they got the chance; forage parties could never be allowed, for example, and night encampments were never made near a wood. Discipline was ruthless and terrible (Frederick's officers were instructed to make the troops fear the "corporal's cane" more than the guns of the enemy) and when these troops lined up, elbow to elbow, for volley firing, an officer or non-commissioned officer stood one pace behind them, instructed to plunge his sword or bayonet into the back of any man who stepped from line. Eighteenth century war "by code" was an expression of an hierarchial, pastoral society, plus an exact but momentary balance of power in Europe which prevented any one nation from pushing its conquests beyond a certain point. To talk of limiting war in this way in 1950 is to play with abstractions. The concept of limited war has meaning only for the aggressor, who of course would prefer to destroy his victims one by one. The present threat to civilization does not lie in the nature of the atom, but in the nature of Communist policy.
In a passage of Book VI, "Strategic Defense," Clausewitz discussed the paradoxical fact that fighting between armies does not begin until the country which is attacked resists the invader. He wrote acidly: "A conqueror is always a lover of peace (as Bonaparte always asserted of himself); he would like to make his entry into our state unopposed." Lenin had copied this in his notebook, and beside it put the delighted notation: "Ah! Ah! Witty!" It is significant to note that in his interview with H. G. Wells in 1934, Stalin remarked that "Communists do not in the least idealize methods of violence. . . . They would be very pleased to drop violent methods if the ruling class agreed to give way to the working class." Like many another humorist, Marshal Stalin was borrowing his joke. Clausewitz, however, was less cynical than the instigator of the Korean invasion and the Stockholm "peace petition." Is it not precisely because of this final irony by which, under the law of the jungle, the victim will be punished for resisting, that civilized society has no choice but to insist that the use of aggressive war as an instrument of policy is a crime?
The second aspect of Clausewitz' thought that Marshal Stalin recommended to our attention is his study of the counteroffensive. In the concrete illustrations for the argument of "On War," Clausewitz ranges widely, but his major sources of examples are two--the wars of Frederick the Great and the wars of Napoleon; and of them all, the Russian campaign of 1812 (in which Clausewitz fought as one of the "free German" corps on the Russian side) is the most often and most importantly cited. "On War" is the great, doctrinal expression of that triumph of Russian arms.
Marshal Stalin is not unaware that his own strategy in the defense of Russia against German attack, at Moscow and at Stalingrad, has already become a classic instance of the validity of Clausewitz' principles of the counteroffensive--in brief, to trade space for time, to raise new armies, to enlist the people against the invader in guerrilla warfare, to recognize the culminating point of the enemy's advance, and then to advance against him. Clausewitz thought of the defensive not as a passive method of resisting the enemy but as an active strategy for destroying him, and so the Soviet command employed it.
In Major General Isayev's article on the occasion of Stalin's 70th birthday last December, Clausewitz' name nowhere appears; nor does Shaposhnikov's. The Russian leaders are not in a mood for passing credit around (one reason, among others, for Stalin's circumlocutions in the letter to Colonel Razin). But we may note that in the chapter of Book VIII which he called "Interdependence of the Parts in War," Clausewitz spelled out his prescription for the waging of an "absolute" war (i.e., one that is theoretically perfect) in the following particulars:
1. At the commencement of every war its character and main outline shall be defined according to what the political conditions and relations lead us to anticipate as probable.
2. The whole series of combats must follow one another in rapid and mounting succession.
3. The Commander should have clearly in view "the object to which every line must converge."
4. The Commander must possess the art of selecting from among an infinite multitude of objects and relations the "center of gravity" of the enemy's strength, i.e., whether it be the enemy's army, his capital, "the unity of interests" (as in a confederacy), public opinion (in an insurrection), etc. The genius of the Commander lies in his ability to locate this center of gravity and direct his blows against it.
5. "If the enemy loses his balance, no time must be allowed for him to recover it. There must be a continued and irresistible following up of victory."
For Clausewitz, only Napoleon possessed the genius for carrying on war in this way: "We might doubt whether our notion of its [i.e., war's] absolute character or nature was founded in reality, if we had not seen real warfare make its appearance in this absolute completeness just in our own times," he says. "After a short introduction performed by the French Revolution, the impetuous Bonaparte quickly brought it to this point. Under him it was carried on without slackening for a moment until the enemy was prostrated, and the counter stroke followed almost with as little remission."
In his article, "Stalin's Military Genius," General Isayev takes as his premise the interdependence of political and military (in accordance, of course, with Marxist dialectics no less than with Clausewitz): "Unity of political and military strategy is one of the most characteristic features of J. V. Stalin, both as a great statesman and a great leader of armies. In Comrade Stalin alone does modern history see for the first time a great leader who combines the genius of a statesman and military leader of the new type." More concretely, in his view, Stalin's leadership is marked by the following characteristics:
1. His farsightedness and breadth of vision in planning the war as a whole. ("How far into the future peered the eagle gaze of our great leader.")
2. His ability to deal the enemy blows of "mounting force."
3. His elaboration of a "new type of strategy, which supplanted the old and obsolete linear strategy."
4. The use of surprise against the enemy.
5. The use of the method of active defense in depth, while at the same time mobilizing the main forces, thus enabling Russian armies to pass to the counteroffensive.
6. Above all, the ability to choose the right direction for the main blow. "The unsurpassed faculty displayed by Comrade Stalin both in the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War of properly selecting the direction for the main strategic blow is the basic characteristic of the Stalin school of military leadership."
Whether General Isayev had actually looked up Clausewitz' "Plan of War," in his desire to place Comrade Stalin's military accomplishments in as magnificent a frame as possible, and deliberately modeled his composition upon it, or whether he drew on Shaposhnikov or on some other Soviet writer who had borrowed from Clausewitz, we need not try to guess. The evidence of Soviet enchantment with the Napoleonic lineaments in the 33rd year of the Bolshevik Revolution is all the more revealing if unwittingly offered.
It seems evident that Soviet strategic thought has hardened into a pattern. In the official view, the Soviet Union is the one nation in the world, led by the unique military genius of modern times, which has succeeded in turning what it professes to believe is an invasion-proof defensive position into an irresistible weapon of attack. It alone possesses a strategy of a new type, in which the entire economic, moral and military potential of the nation is enlisted for the attainment of a clear and overriding goal. "The Anglo-American warmongers are plotting a new world war with the aim of establishing their supremacy over the whole world," concludes General Isayev. "But their strategy is as defective as was the strategy of the German-Fascist invaders. The time has long passed when the leaders of the bourgeois armies could contribute anything new and progressive in the sphere of strategy. They cannot, because their aims in war run counter to the development of human society."
If there is no hope of persuading the rulers of the Soviet Union to change their minds, then at least there is stimulus for our own thinking in knowing the outline of the early nineteenth century doctrine which governs their strategy.
[i] An excellent abridged edition was published in the Modern Library in 1943, now out of print. The work was first published in English in a translation by Colonel J. J. Graham in 1873, (London: Kegan Paul). Quotations in this paper are from the 1940 edition.