Stalin’s Order No. 227 is infamous for the phrase “Not One Step Back!” and for beginning the catalytic events that ultimately changed the outcome of the war to the favor of the Soviet Union (USSR). Within the Order No. 227 there are direct orders from “The Supreme Command of the Red Army” to prevent and condemn not only the retreat of the Soviet Army, but the thought of retreat itself. I think the most interesting part of the order was Stalin’s direct reasoning for it, which he clearly states in portions of the first half:
“The enemy feeds more and more resources to the front, and, paying no attention to losses, moves on, penetrates deeper into the Soviet Union, captures new areas, devastates and plunders our cities and villages, rapes, kills and robs the Soviet people.”
“The people of our country, who treat the Red Army with love and respect, are now starting to be disappointed with it, lose faith in the Red Army, and many of them curse the Army for its fleeing to the east and leaving the population under German yoke.”
“We no longer have superiority over enemy in human resources and in bread supply. Continuation of retreat means to destroy us and also our Motherland. Every new piece of territory that we leave to the enemy will strengthen our enemy and weaken us, our defenses, our Motherland.”
There are many other parts of the order that I could pull that consist of the same despairing tone. I was incredibly surprised by this: Stalin was using the imminent defeat of the USSR should the Red Army not prevail as motivation to continue. I can’t recall seeing this phenomenon anywhere else. For example, the United Kingdom (military and civil society alike) under Churchill were (supposedly) rallied by the phrase “Keep calm and carry on”, which wasn’t necessarily pessimistic by nature. During the war, many countries and their leaders used propaganda that reinforced the strength and capability of their militaries and the public society to support it. In Order No. 227, Stalin confronts both the military (Red Army) and the public, pointing out their current incapabilities and need for support. He directly cites losses of land, resources, and manpower without sugar-coating. This is in contrast to his strategy of exaggerating successes during the implementation of his 5-year plans just years before.
From the USSR’s eyes, the outcome of the war looked soberingly bad before the successful defense of Stalingrad in (1942-43). Stalin was desperate for a more united, publicly supported, and successful defensive front. This order couldn’t have been given any later, or else the USSR may have been lost to Nazi Germany.
Image source: https://medium.com/@HerrVictorArtagnan/advance-a3d87b16f20e#.kvzh1thy2