Why They Fought: Motivation, Legitimacy and the Soviet Partisan Movement

Kenneth Slepyan


Although Soviet citizens were alienated from the Stalinist regime before World War II, hundreds of thousands became partisans, waging a bitter guerrilla struggle against the German occupation. The partisans, including Communists, former Red Army soldiers, and ordinary civilians, were motivated to fight because of political commitment, local, ethnonational and Soviet patriotism, hatred of the enemy, and a desire to avenge atrocities. Soviet propaganda linked the partisans' personal motivations to national objectives, helping to form a bond between citizen and state. The experience of partisan war confirmed important elements of the Stalinist world-view, and demonstrated the efficacy of Stalinist policies. Hence, for many partisans, shared interests with the state and the experience of guerrilla war helped to legitimate the Soviet regime.

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