Economic Gradualism and National Defense, 1932-45

Mongolia Table of Contents

The New Turn Policy, 1932-40

The new policy of socioeconomic gradualism--the New Turn Policy--continued until the mid-1940s, when Mongolian socialism entered its modern stage of collectivization and economic growth. The Ninth Party Congress in September and October 1934 pronounced the New Turn a success, but it became obvious that this gradualism actually had been determined by the basic Soviet need to maintain Mongolia as a stable buffer state against either Japanese or Chinese expansion. At the beginning of this period, the Soviets did not want to enlarge Mongolia's small-scale industries because this might provide a further incentive for Japanese invasion. Instead, Mongolia's raw materials were used to strengthen the Soviet Union, while Soviet Red Army units and a large cavalry-oriented Mongolian People's Revolutionary Army were deployed to defend Mongolia against attack.

On November 27, 1934, a Mongolian-Soviet "gentlemen's agreement" was reached that provided for mutual assistance in the face of Japanese advances in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. In January 1935, Soviet troops reentered Mongolia as Japanese forces began to probe the Mongolian-Manchurian border. On March 12, 1936, the 1934 agreement was upgraded when the ten-year Mongolian-Soviet Treaty of Friendship--which included a mutual defense protocol--was signed. The pact did not mention Chinese sovereignty over Mongolia, and Moscow ignored Chinese protests.

In addition to concluding defense treaties with the Soviet Union, Mongolia concentrated on building its army with Soviet guidance and military aid. In 1936 military expenditures were doubled, and by 1938 more than half of Mongolia's budget was for defense. The government built paved roads, extended railroads, and established military air bases and communication lines, all with Soviet aid. Military equipment and training also were supplied by the Soviet Union. It is estimated that during World War II the Mongolian Army numbered between 80,000 and 100,000 troops, a huge percentage of the total population of 900,000.

Security concerns and a more conservative economic approach prevented major advances in stock raising and other internal development during this period. A few small Mongolian-Soviet enterprises were initiated to support the war economy. The abandonment of agricultural communes and the return to private enterprise signaled a trend toward gradualism. Voluntary producers' cooperatives were encouraged, but they remained small until the 1950s. Only a few state farms were started. Apart from some veterinary and credit assistance, the government made few efforts to support the nomads, and by 1941 herds had reached the highest recorded growth in Mongolian history. Consumer cooperatives continued to expand, and the state controlled the rest of internal trade.

The policy of gradualism was particularly ineffective in education. In 1941 an estimated 90 percent of the people were illiterate. In 1942 the country's first university--Choybalsan University, later renamed Mongolian State University--was established in Ulaanbaatar, but the spread of general education had to await the late 1940s and the 1950s. The first large-scale literacy program did not begin until 1947.

Despite the government's official policy of not overtly persecuting religious beliefs, its antireligious campaign continued slowly but relentlessly. Emphasis was placed on ideological and economic persuasion, which curtailed monastic growth and induced monks of lower rank to return to secular life. Government representatives were attached to monasteries to monitor their activities, construction of new monasteries was forbidden by law, the enrollment of minors was disallowed, and monks became eligible for military service. Many monasteries were destroyed; others were converted to secular use. Methods of suppression became especially bloody in the second half of the 1930s. In 1935 abbots and monks of higher rank were tried publicly; in 1937 and 1938, about 2,000 of them were executed. Thousands of others were arrested and jailed. The financially shattered monasteries gradually were closed in the period 1938 to 1939.

The campaign against the Buddhists was largely successful. Within two decades, the resident monastic population was reduced from about 15,000 to approximately 200 monks. A handful of small monasteries and one large institution were all that were left physically of what had been, at the century's start, the best organized and most intellectual force in Mongolian life.

There also were renewed purges in the inner party ranks in 1937 to 1939. Minor rebellions continued to plague the government, and uncooperative political leaders increasingly were accused of aiding the opposition or the Japanese. One after the other, many top party and government officials fell from power and were executed or were imprisoned. By 1939 Choybalsan had emerged as the premier, the minister of war, and the undisputed leader of Mongolia. It later was acknowledged, in 1956 and in 1962, that Choybalsan had "committed serious errors" and had established a "personality cult" during this period.

In March and April 1940, the Tenth Party Congress met. Although it confirmed Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal as general secretary, Choybalsan continued to be the predominant force in the party. The ensuing Eighth National Great Hural adopted a new state constitution, which, however, made no basic alterations in the 1924 constitution. Although it emphasized the new Mongolian authority structure, the bypassing of capitalism, and the necessity of overall state planning, the 1940 constitution did not change the policy of gradualism. Private ownership, especially of livestock, was allowed until the turn to total communization began in late 1947.

National Defense, 1940-45

As political and religious purges finally drew to a close, the international situation worsened. Fighting had broken out, in May 1939, with Japanese forces based in Manchukuo. That summer a Japanese army invaded eastern Mongolia. Soviet General Georgi Zhukov commanded the Soviet-Mongolian army that met this invasion. Between May and September 1939, there was large-scale ground and aerial fighting along the Khalkhyn Gol, a river in northeastern Mongolia. The Mongolian troops and their Soviet allies severely defeated the Japanese, who may have sustained as many as 80,000 casualties compared with 11,130 on the MongolianSoviet side. Hostilities ended on September 16, 1939. The Soviet Union and Japan signed a truce, and a commission was set up to define the Mongolian-Manchurian border. Although Japan did not invade again, it did mass large military forces along the Mongolian and the Soviet borders in the course of the war, while continuing its southward drive into China.

The Soviet position in Mongolia was now fully consolidated. Throughout World War II, Choybalsan followed Moscow's directives, and Mongolia supported the Soviet Union with livestock, raw materials, money, food, and military clothing. The Mongolian army was maintained intact throughout the war; it served as an important buffer force in the Soviet Far East defense system, but it did not actually join the Red Army. Moreover, the Soviets, on the occasion of the April 13, 1941, Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact, obtained a commitment from Japan to respect Mongolia's territorial integrity.

Modernizing the army and keeping it at peak mobilization was a heavy drain on the nation's undeveloped economy and small population. Even so, the party leaders pressed on with what limited social progress they could manage in a wartime situation. As more teachers became trained, literacy began to accelerate, and government efforts to assist the herdsmen in sheltering, feeding, and caring for their livestock continued. Stock raising bore the major war burden, however, and with large Soviet requisitions to fill, herd totals fell sharply during the war.

Mongolia's wartime neutrality ended in the closing days of World War II. On August 10, 1945, two days after the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan, Mongolia also declared war on Japan. The Mongolian army, some 80,000 strong, joined Soviet troops in invading Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. On August 14, 1945, in the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, China agreed to recognize the independence of Mongolia within its "existing boundary," provided that a plebiscite confirmed the Mongolian people's desire for independence. Mongolia obliged, and in an October 20 referendum, 100 percent of the electorate voted for independence from China. On January 5, 1946, China recognized Mongolian independence and, on February 14, agreed to exchange diplomatic representatives. None, however, were exchanged. The ensuing Chinese civil war and the victory of the Chinese communists over the Guomindang government in 1949 led instead to Ulaanbaatar's recognition of the new People's Republic of China.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress