Response to Joshua P. Kiok

Against the Current, No. 9, May/June 1987

R.F. Kampfer

I MUST APOLOGIZE for the long delay in responding to your letter. In fact, this article represents my second response. The first, written several months ago, dealt primarily with the military consequences of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, an aspect I find highly interesting, although it has largely been ignored or misunderstood. My editors, however, felt that I should devote more attention to the political questions, which other commitments have prevented me from doing until now.

For purposes of this discussion, let us assume that the Soviet Union in 1939 was some type of socialist or workers’ state. Let us also assume that whatever strengthens the Soviet Union advances the world revolution. (I’m sure you realize that I don’t share these assumptions.) My intention is to show that the pact cannot be justified even by giving Stalin the benefit of every doubt.

How Is This State Different?

One of the Bolsheviks’ basic principles was that the support of the international proletariat was, in the long run, more crucial to their survival than the Red Army. This was not a dogma, but a guide to strategy. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 showed how much the Bolsheviks were willing to sacrifice in hopes of promoting a revolution in Germany.

The war with Poland in 1920 was not terminated because of any decisive military defeat (despite Budenny’s blunders) but because the expected pro-Soviet revolt of the Polish proletariat did not occur. For the Red Army to slaughter the workers of Warsaw, even though they were wrong-headedly siding with Pilsudski, would have entailed a political defeat that outweighed the military victory.

The military victories in the early revolutionary years of the half-trained, poorly-armed, and underfed Red Army were only possible because of the political support they won: among the ranks of their opponents, both White and foreign; among the population on whose territory the war was fought; and among working people all over the world.

Accordingly, one must look primarily at the political effects of the Stalin-Hitler Pact upon the European workers who were about to be directly involved in the coming war. Did it strengthen their warm feelings towards the Soviet Union? Did it cause one bourgeois or fascist state to fear that an attack upon Russia would provoke a revolution at home? Or did it have the opposite effect?

How Is Fascism Different?

In order to properly appreciate the impact of the non-aggression treaty upon the Communist movement, one must take in­ to account the previous Comintern assessments of fascism.

During the Third Period (1928-1934) Stalinists denied that there was any difference between fascism and bourgeois democracy or social democracy (the theory of social-fascism!). In fact, social democracy was held to be “more dangerous than fascism” since it was more attractive to workers. The most dramatic result of this farcical and sectarian policy was to divide and disarm the German working class, allowing Hitler to effortlessly mop up the second largest Communist Party in the world.

In belated recognition of this disaster, the Popular Front (1935-1939) was invoked. Now fascism was viewed, not as a specific variety of capitalism, but as some bestial or demonic aberration, so heinous that the class war must be suspended so that Communists, Socialists, anarchists and the democratic (or even not so democratic) bourgeoisie could join hands to destroy it. This broad unity was reflected on the international scale by Stalin’s attempts to form military alliances with several capitalist states.

There are a number of reasons why the Popular Front had only limited success. The Socialists had not forgotten the Third Period and were naturally suspicious of Communist motives. These suspicions were strengthened by the horrendous slaughter of real or potential dissidents within the Comintern, as well as the Communists’ ruthless suppression of fellow anti-fascists in Spain.

Nor is it surprising that the bourgeois democracies kept Russia at arms’ length. England and France never trusted each other, why should they trust Russia?

This is not to excuse the criminal stupidity of France and England in failing to foresee German intentions. However, we shall see that Stalin fully shared that criminal stupidity.

The Impact of the Treaty

The present world-wide controversy over Reagan’s dealings with Iran are a pale shadow compared to the turmoil that the Hitler-Stalin Pact provoked. Never before, or after, in its history was the Soviet Union so isolated.

Even the most slavish sycophants in the Comintern found it hard to grasp the enormity of the shift. They fell into line as soon as it was spelled out to them but, as will be shown below, their initial reactions were quite different.

Those forces in the British and French governments, and in the Second International, who favored a united front with Russia were bitter about a betrayal which left them looking like f0ols. Their rightwing opponents crowed triumphantly that all their previous suspicions toward Stalin had been confirmed.

The powerful French CP was suppressed with hardly a hand raised in its defense. The British CP was weakened to the point where it was not worth suppressing. In exchange for a Nazi promise, Stalin had traded away any hope of a. united front-from “above” or “below.”

What the Pact Really Meant

The pact was not simply a non-aggression treaty, or even a deal to carve up Eastern Europe, although this was not clear to the Comintern at first. According to the first statement issued by the French CP,

“If Hitler unleashes war despite everything, let him be aware that the people of France will stand united against him, with the Communists at the front ranks, defending the country’s security, the freedom and independence of all peoples. That is why the Communist Party approves the measures taken by the government to protect our borders, and, if necessary, to speed the required aid to the threatened nation to which we are bound by a treaty of friendship.” (Poland)

Similar sentiments were expressed by the British, Italian and Belgian CPs. Very quickly, however, Soviet “neutrality” became increasingly pro-German.

Russian disapproval with the “Sitzkrieg” was only belatedly discovered after the German invasion of June, 1941. For the duration of the Pact, the Comintern loudly, emphatically and repeatedly demanded that Britain and France make peace with Germany! When they refused to do so, the entire blame for the war was placed on them, and Poland!

You will not find this in any of the postwar Communist histories, one must go back to the original sources. According to Molotov:

“If we consider the European great powers today, Germany is a state that aspires to a rapid cessation of the war and desires peace, while Britain and France, which only yesterday were declaiming against the aggressor, favor the continuation of the war and are against the conclusion of peace.”

“A strong Germany is an essential, even preliminary, condition for lasting peace in Europe.”

“Hitlerite ideology, like any other, can be accepted or rejected: this is a matter of personal political ideas.”

This line was maintained even in those countries under German occupation. The Czechoslovaks were told that their main enemy was the exiled Benes government, not the Gestapo or the Todt Commission, who were referred to as “German workers in uniform.” The French CP, following the fall of France, refused to oppose the German occupation and applied to the Nazis for permission to resume publication of L’Humanite (which was refused due to objections from the Vichy government). The Belgian CP, however, was granted legal status by the Germans. The Greek CP called for fraternization with the Italian invaders.

Even the German Communist Ulbricht could say (from Moscow): “The revolutionary workers and progressive forces of Germany have no intention of exchanging the present regime for national and social oppression imposed by British imperialism and the pro-British circles of German big capital.” That one side was busy slaughtering them in concentration camps while the other might release them was a minor detail, beneath notice.

The greatest irony is that if Britain had made peace with Germany, as the Comintern demanded, the German invasion of Russia would have come much sooner and much stronger than was actually the case. Nor was Russian aid to Germany limited to propaganda. In the face of the British blockade (which Molotov strongly denounced) Russian exports of cattle, grain, oil and coal were crucial to the German war effort. Even strategic metals, such as duraluminum, were exported, despite being badly needed by the Red Army.

The most tragic “export” of all, however, took place in February 1940. Some 500 Germans who had been imprisoned during the Great Purge, almost all Communists, and many Spanish Civil War veterans, were transferred from Siberia to Brest-Litovsk and handed over to the Nazis. Very few came out of the concentration camps alive. Would any amount of “additional space and time” justify such an action?

It is perfectly true that some forces in Britain and France would have liked to sit it out while Germany and Russia went to war, although even some reactionaries could see that whoever won such a conflict would be a far more dangerous adversary.

One expects such cynical, amoral behavior from capitalist regimes. For a “workers’ state” to cold-bloodedly seek advantage by promoting the butchery of fellow-workers in Europe is a very different thing to me, and I hope to you as well.

The Military Question

The last line of defense for the pact is that it gave Russia an extra twenty-two months to prepare for the coming German invasion. It could have, but it did not. It is my contention that Russia was in a strategically worse position in 1941 than it had been in 1939.

As I stated in my column, the deployment of the Red Army from their previous, fully-developed defensive positions to Eastern Poland and the Baltic states weakened Russia almost fatally when the war began. This weakness was compounded both by the static, linear defensive formations favored by Timoshenko and Voroshilov, and the dispersal required to maintain control over a hostile population.

The pact did not “place the German war machine an additional 150-200 miles westward”-it placed the Red Army 150-200 miles westward, where the Germans could reach it.

Had the Wermacht been forced to cross the buffer states before engaging the Red Army, even with their full cooperation (unlikely), they would have totally lost the element of surprise. The Russians would have been able to see where the main attacks were going to fall in time to prepare for them.

A Panzer division of 1941 was relatively fast, but its range was quite short in terms of Eastern Europe. It had to be close enough to its objective to smash its opponent’s forces before outrunning its horse­ drawn supply columns.

To make a personal analogy: if one is faced with a potential opponent armed with a knife, one either keeps away until his intentions become clear, or one attacks first. One does not come within his reach and wait for him to make the next move. This is precisely what the Red Army did, a full year after Guderian graphically showed what happens to armies that take such liberties. They paid very dearly for their mistake.

There are other observations I could make on the military situation, ranging from the Finnish War to the Maginot line. If you are interested I will communicate them to you privately, but there is not as much interest in military history as there should be among most ATC readers.

Many historians feel that Stalin’s failure to make effective preparations against a German attack, or to heed repeated warnings that the attack was coming, was due to fear that such preparations might themselves provoke Germany to declare war. I have no interest in speculating, but if that’s true, I don’t know what you could call it besides appeasement on a grand scale.

If you are interested in going into the subject of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in more detail, there is not much material available in English. I recommend Stalin and the European Communists by Paolo Spriano (Verso, 1985) and The Russo-German Alliance by A. Rossi [Angelo Tasca] (Beacon Press, 1951).

May-June 1987, ATC 9

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