Russia has always had a massive army. It currently has about 1,000,000 active members with another 2.5 million in reserve. Back during the February Revolution, however, it was even bigger. The Imperial Russian Army was roughly seven and a half million strong in 1917, most of whom were peasants. This huge organization underwent massive changes in just a short amount of time.
The first major changes within the Russian Army came with “Order No. 1”. Order No. 1 was a “harbinger of social revolution in the army.” (Freeze 277) This order set up elected committees from the enlisted personnel within the various levels of the army i.e. company, battalions, regiments and so forth. These committees had complete control over their unit’s weapons and they were told under no circumstances were they to give them to their officers. Personally, I can see a few problems with this arrangement but that is neither here nor there. Order No. 1 also gave off duty soldiers the same rights as their civilian counterparts. The last major change that came with Order No. 1 was the removal of honorifics that came with rank. No longer would officers be called things such as “Your Honor” or “Your Excellency” but rather “Mister Colonel” or “Mister General”.
What did this mean for the revolution and society as a whole? One of the first things that comes to my mind is that now the army can’t be used as a tool of repression. One of the rules that came with Order No. 1 is that the army will not follow orders that contradict the mission of the Soviet Party. This means the provisional government cannot order the army to come in and stop the revolution. Second, back then, just like today, the military is used as a sort of “testing grounds” for society. The introduction of committees into the Russian Army is the first step down the path that led to the massive bureaucracy found only in the Soviet Union. Also, the removal of honorifics in the army led to the eventual equality of everyone as “Comrade”. The changes that occurred in the Russian Army are the prelude to the greater changes that occur within the Soviet Union
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
(A picture of Order No.1)