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Stalin’s War by Sean McMeekin

 

Even after reading two volumes of Steven Kotkin’s thorough and excellent  biography of Stalin, I am still surprised at the extent of Stalin’s evil. Take a passage from Sean McMeekin’s “Stalin’s War” for example. The USSR invaded portions of Romania in 1940, on no other grounds than Stalin could get away with it, Hitler was still his ally, and the British and French were powerless.

 

“In the first two weeks after the Soviet invasion, 51,391 ex-Romanian citizens were taken into custody by occupation authorities. By August 2, 1940 the total had surpassed two hundred thousand. By year’s end, three hundred thousand Romanians had been deported from Moldova SSR to Gulag camps in the Soviet interior.”

Can you imagine what it means in terms of repressive power, trains, track, locomotives and feeding, to arrest, process and deport 300,000 people? And for no reason other than they belonged to the wrong social and economic classes.

Okay so you get the point.

McMeekin has stood the usual recital of World War 2 on its head, and it is time that this was done.

Until recently we have been obsessed with Hitler, to the relative exclusion of the other villain, Stalin. There were several reasons for this. First Germany is nearer to the English speaking world and started off more civilized and fell faster into totalitarian makeover than Russia. Second, the Germans were defeated in 1945 and their records were opened since then, whereas Russian archives were only opened since the fall of Communism in 1990. By then the momentum to blame all of WW2 on Hitler had become unstoppable, even though Stalin  played a hugely important role in abetting Hitler in the early stages of the war and the Japanese operated their conquering empire in complete independence of either. And third, not to be underrated, there has always been granted to communism a free pass from criticism by most of the political Left, that operates to this day.

McMeekin’s thesis is to stand the usual accounts on their heads, to situate Stalin as the chief winner in WW2, as the chief villain, as the promulgator of much more extensive evil, and to see Hitler’s Germany as the tool of the USSR, up until it betrayed Stalin by invading the USSR in 1941. Who was the economic colony of whom, asks McMeekin? Who was utterly dependent on Soviet oil and raw materials for its war making?

I am not sure I will agree with all of McMeekin by the time I have finished Stalin’s War. Nevertheless I welcome the refreshingly new perspective that restores to us a vision that was present at the time, before the heroic narratives of Churchill and those of British and American historians came to predominate,  that between Hitler and Stalin there was only a choice of which kind of murderous tyranny would kill you.

McMeekin draws our attention to the oft-forgotten obvious fact, that Stalin killed millions more people than Hitler, was granted more time to do it in, and was convinced of the need to act this way to bring about a claptrap utopia of poverty and repression.

I am enjoying McMeekin’s Stalin’s War. I hope you will read it too.

 

I saw this thirty years ago and it is still relevant

Soviet life as seen by Yuri Bezmenov, a Novosti journalist – a KGB outfit – before the fall of Communism. His words still ring true about the system he served. But his comments about how western societies are being undermined are of particular relevance. Eventually he found work in Montreal as a broadcaster for CBC International. CBC management investigated him when the Russian ambassador complained about him.

Bezmenov’s discussion of Soviet cultural subversion is priceless. This starts after minute 27:00 of the interview. First rule was to keep Western journalists drunk for their entire stay. Select journalists by the extent to which they were pliable. His description of the journalists was that they were “useful idiots”. Why would they bring lies back to their own population, he asks? Fear of the Soviet Union. Fear for their jobs. The economic incentive to lie about Russia and earn money as “Sovietologists”.

The journalists visited a kindergarten in Siberia  that was actually the place where the children of political prisoners were being held. The internal passports for travel, which were criticized when applied to South African blacks, go unmentioned when they are shown to apply to all Soviet citizens. A photo of Bezmenov beside the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi will make you wonder who was the better manipulator of opinion.

Part of his job in India was to compile lists of influencers (journalists, professors etc.)  who – as he later found out – would be slated for execution if the Soviets ever took over. He was told never to bother with leftists, but to concentrate on self important psychopaths, whose self importance drives them, as the real agents of destabilization. Leftists will turn into the worst enemies of the revolution. The moment the useful idiots have served their purpose, they are to be executed, exiled, or imprisoned. They will never come to power.

“There are no grass roots revolutions, period”.

He escaped in India from the KGB by disguising himself as a hippie. (Pronounced “kheepi”)

The discussion of ideological subversion starts at 1:07. The main work of the KGB was in intelligence; 85% of the work was psychological warfare to change the perception of reality so that no one is able to come to sensible conclusions as to their self interest and the interests of their society.

  • Demoralization, which takes place  over a period of 3 generations, begins at 1:20, Agents of demoralization are to be shot when the takeover is complete. “In future these people will be squashed like cockroaches”. The demoralization process is basically complete, said Bezmenov over 30 years ago. Exposure to true information has no effect any longer.
  • Destabilization takes two to five years. The influence of Marxist Leninist ideas is strong and takes years to turn around.
  • Crisis, which could take six months
  • Revolution
  • Normalization, the process of getting used to the new state of affairs, which takes forever.

 

As I may have said, I used to think that Bezmenov was a crank. Now I think he was describing, from a Soviet point of view, the fantasy of leftist takeover. The Soviet Union is gone now, but the disaster is still unfolding, more rapidly then ever. Bezmenov thought that the Soviet Union would bring about the revolution, but we are doing this to ourselves. “You have precious little time to save yourselves”.

“You don’t need espionage any more.”

I had thought with the evaporation of Soviet Union in 1990, that it was over, but the mutant virus of communism  spread even more rapidly.

 

 

 

 

Stalin – Steven Kotkin’s biography

Mass Murderer Stalin Goes to His Grave - On This Day

 

I cannot recommend enough Steve Kotkin’s massive and fascinating biography of Stalin. I have just finished volume 2 minutes ago.

For me the book was like the  piece of the jigsaw puzzle that links large sections of the whole in a way you had not seen before.

In this case, the pieces linked were the histories of Japan, China, Poland, Germany, France, the British Empire in the 1920s and 1930s. Stalin and the Soviet Union stand at the centre of the 20th century. What to do about communism was the central issue for both Hitler and then the USA, after the downfall of Nazism. Their approaches were hugely different, of course.

Among the many benefits of Kotkin’s book is the reshaping of one’s ideas about the history of the twentieth century, by relocating it away from the Atlantic powers towards Asia.

He conclusively dispels several false ideas about WW2 and collectivization that have been propagated over time.

Above all, Kotkin’s massive research elucidates the key points of the regime of the world’s most terrible dictator, Hitler not excepted, in my opinion. Read the book and see for yourself whether you agree. The style is easy and straightforward. The scholarship is profound.

His main points are that

  1. Stalin was a believing Marxist Leninist, always;
  2. He was a very bad man, though hugely capable.

Kotkin is the complete master of the details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memoirs of a Wartime Interpreter

I commend to your attention the Memoirs of a Wartime Interpreter, from the Battle for Moscow to Hitler’s Bunker, by Yelena Rzhevskaya.

Rzhevskaya is the pen name of Yelena Kagan, who took her name from the titanic battles that occurred in and around the city of Rzhev, west of Moscow, in the years 1942-1943. In that first winter of desperate struggles between the Soviet red army and the Nazis, Rzhevskaya was assigned to be a translator for a Soviet army brigade. Her job was translate captured German documents for her military bosses, and to assist in the interrogation of German prisoners captured in snatch and grab operations.

Rzhevskaya is a skilled writer. Most important, she never lost her humanity. Her attitudes were those of a young patriot whose country had been invaded by a people bent on the enslavement of her countrymen and in her case, being Jewish, her extermination. She evinces curiosity towards German prisoners, even at times human sympathy, but nothing is out of place, no emotion is false, nothing is disproportionate. It is strange to be sharing a cabin with a peasant woman still trying to feed her kids in the midst of absolute devastation in a -30C winter, the colonel in the next room and a German prisoner sitting in despair, not knowing whether he would be shot or not. (He was not).

Rzhevskaya was in Berlin in 1945 and was among the very first to explore Hitler’s bunker and to capture documents detailing the thinking of the high command and senior nazis, such as Goebbels, the propaganda chief. Extracts from Goebbels diaries reveal him to be a complete swine. More importantly, the diaries reveal what I had read elsewhere but never was sure was true, namely that Hitler took the risk of attacking Russia because he thought that this was the best way to knock England out of the war. After Stalin had slaughtered the heads of his own army in the purges of 1936-37, and after the Red Army performed so dismally in the war against Finland in 1940, Hitler thought he could knock out Russia in six months. He might well have done so had his invasion not been delayed by his drive through Greece in early 1941, which threw the Brits out of that country. Churchill’s much-disputed diversion of tanks and material to Greece from North Africa may have had huge long term consequences for Russia’s survival and hence the war.

Rzhevskaya’s book deals extensively with the search for Hitler’s remains and the absurd cover up by Stalin of the fact that Hitler’s jawbone had been found and identified, largely through the work of the young Miss Rzhevskaya, some cooperation from Hitler’s dentist’s assistant, and a great deal of good luck, in the shattered wreck of Berlin in the days immediately after it had been conquered.

Why Stalin thought it important to keep Hitler’s certain death a mystery, and then deceive his chief military commander Georgiy Zhukov about it, remains unanswered. Rzhevskaya infers from Stalin’s behaviour that, aside from what uses reality had for Stalin, it had no independent validity or even existence. That seems a likely explanation for why he could slaughter 20 million of his own citizens and still sleep well at night.

The depiction of the behaviour of Hitler in his last days given by Rzhevskaya is like that of that scene in The Downfall where Hitler rants at his generals for the missing division of General Steiner which was supposed to save the Reich. Only the actual behaviour of Hitler and his entourage was even worse, according to the records Rzhevskaya unearths. The air of fantasy, the corrosion of all human feeling save desperation and sycophancy, and the booming echo of Soviet artillery landing on the bunker, are well captured. Excerpts from Goebbels’ diaries in the days before the Soviet invasion reveal him to be a repulsive creep, who worked for an even more repulsive creep.

Throughout the book, Rzhevskaya reveals her humane and decent nature. For students of war, for armchair generals, for the curious, this book is a profound experience.