Order Up! #227, Please Step Forward! (and definitely not back)

not one step back
“Not one step Backwards!” Image Source

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.”

Iosif Stalin, Order No. 227. July 28, 1942 

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



7 thoughts on “Order Up! #227, Please Step Forward! (and definitely not back)

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  1. I’ve always been fascinated by this order – especially when Stalin was sending in troops who had to share rifles and single ammunition clips in pairs. What else did he expect other than for them to try to run away from their superior armed German counterparts? This order is also just so…Soviet in nature. Great post!


  2. I agree that the tone of Order 227 is remarkable. Do you think it reflects just how dire the situation was at the time? As beleaguered as Britain was, the country was not facing a land invasion and the kinds of staggering retreats that defined the first months of the war for the Soviets. It’s almost as though the unspoken follow up to “Not One Step Back” is “or we’ll be finished.”


  3. I love your analysis and comparison with the propaganda from the Five-Year plans- it really makes the tone stand out. I would imagine that Stalin knew how dire the situation was and knew that he could use that to motivate the population in defense. Great job!


  4. I really like the title of this blog post. It definitely caught my attention. Thank you for including a portion of the 227 order! It really put things into context. Also, I’m not sure if Stalin using the idea of “imminent defeat” as motivation was a good idea. That doesn’t seem very motivating to me.


  5. I liked your analysis of the nature of Stalin’s order as opposed to other rhetoric going on at the time. It sounds like he didn’t have much of a choice to be cynical – he couldn’t afford to let the Red Army think they have the advantage.


  6. First, I love the title of this post. You did an excellent job of providing an analysis of this order and I love the inclusion of the direct quote. I also like how you compared this rhetoric to other leaders of the time to understand two different approaches. Great job!


  7. You always have the best titles for your post, which is totally appreciated because of how well you write your posts. The analysis provides a solid examination of how Stalin succeeded at defeating the Nazis. His strategies focused strongly on the mistakes that were made in previous battles, which created a sense of hope that united the country. I love how you brought in excerpts from this order because it gave a foundation to your analysis which made it a strong blog. Good job!


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