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.