CHAPTER 2 – The Main Enemy
If there is one place where a start can be made to arouse Europe to revolution, that place is Germany . . . and victory of the revolution in Germany will guarantee the victory of world revolution. STALIN (Sochineniya, Vol. 6, p. 267)
In 1923, Germany was again on the brink of revolution. Lenin was no longer taking part either in governing the USSR or directing the Comintern. Stalin had seized almost all the reins of government, although the fact that he had done so had not yet been grasped by the country, the world, or even by his rivals.
This is how Stalin himself described his role in the preparations which were being made for revolution in Germany in 1923 : ‘The German Commission of the Comintern, consisting of Zinoviev, Bukharin, Stalin, Trotsky, Radek and a number of German comrades, took a series of specific decisions that direct assistance be given to the German comrades to enable them to seize power.’ (Speech to the Plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission of the VKP (b), 1 August 1927)
Boris Bazhanov, Stalin’s private secretary, gave a more detailed description of these preparations. The resources which were allotted to them were enormous. The Politburo decided at a secret meeting that nothing would be spared. All communists of German extraction living in the Soviet Union were prepared for action, as were all communists who spoke German. They were sent to Germany to do clandestine work. It was not just rank-and-file communists who were moved into Germany. Top-ranking Soviet leaders, including Vassily Schmidt, a Soviet People’s Commissar, Joseph Unschlikht, deputy chairman of the GRU2 and future head of military intelligence, and Karl Radek and G. L. Pyatakov, then members of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, were all sent to Germany as well. N. Krestinsky, the plenipotentiary representative, or ambassador in Germany, set to work with feverish intensity.
The Soviet Embassy in its entirety became the nerve centre for organizing the revolution: instructions from Moscow, a flood of money which was immediately spent on mounds of communist literature, and an avalanche of arms and 2 The Soviet Secret Police frequently changed its initials; this was another variation of the NKVD or the KGB. ammunition all flowed through the Embassy. ‘Unschlikht was given responsibility for recruiting, equipping and organizing the armed insurrectionist detachments which would carry out the coup d’etat.
He was given the added responsibility of organizing a German secret-police force and of exterminating the bourgeoisie and the enemies of the revolution after the coup had taken place.’ (B. Bazhanov, Memoirs, Paris 1980; p. 67)
The Soviet Politburo worked out the blueprint for the coup in detail and ratified it. The date on which it was to take place was fixed for 9 November 1923. But the revolution did not happen. The reasons for this were many. First, the great bulk of the German populace chose the golden mean. They favoured the Social Democrats. The Communist Party did not have the support it needed among the masses. What is more, the Party was split into two factions, and as Lenin and Trotsky saw it, the Party leaders were not displaying sufficient determination. Secondly, Germany and the Soviet Union did not share a common frontier.
As they had found four years previously, Poland lay between their two countries. Had there been a common frontier, then the Red Army would have been in a position to help the German Communist Party and its indecisive leaders.
The third and perhaps most important reason was that Lenin was dying, and for some time previously had ceased either to govern the Soviet Union or lead the world revolution. Lenin’s heirs were many – Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov and Bukharin. Alongside these obvious rivals worked the modest Stalin, whom no one saw as an aspirant to power, but who, in Lenin’s words, had already ‘concentrated unlimited power in his own hands’. (Political Will, 1923)
The 1923 German revolution was directed from the Kremlin, but a fierce fight over who should control the world revolution was already under way. Not one of the evident claimants for power wanted to see his opponent in the role of leader of the German and therefore the European revolution. They jostled one another at the helm, issuing conflicting instructions to their subordinates. No one in such circumstances would end as victor. Wisely, Stalin did not join the helmsmen in their scramble for power. Instead, he decided first of all to devote his entire attention to consolidating his personal authority beyond all dispute.
In the years which immediately followed, Stalin demoted from the highest level of the Party all those who aspired to the post of leader, pushing them down to increasing depths until they ended up in the cellars of the Lubyanka jail. Once he had seized power, Stalin removed all obstacles standing in the way of the German revolution. He brought order to the German Communist Party and compelled it to carry out Moscow’s instructions without question. He established a common frontier with Germany. He annihilated German social democracy. His position was both simple and based upon principles: it was necessary to fight against the Social Democrats and the pacifists, who were distracting the proletariat from revolution and war.
On 7 November 1927, Stalin launched a slogan which said, ‘It is impossible to finish with capitalism without first finishing with social democratism in the workers’ movement.’ (Pravda, No. 255, 6/7 Nov 1927) The following year Stalin declared that the communists’ main task was to fight against social democracy: ‘first of all, the struggle with social democratism along all lines, including and following from this the exposure of bourgeois pacifism’. (Stalin, Sochineniya, Vol. 11, p. 202)
Stalin’s attitude towards those who openly favoured war with, for example, the German Nazis, was just as simple and understandable. The Nazis had to be supported: leave it to the Nazis to eliminate the Social Democrats and the pacifists; let the Nazis start another war and destroy every state in Europe, every political party, every parliament, every army and every trade union. In 1927 Stalin already foresaw that the Nazis would come to power and he considered that this would be a positive event. ‘It is precisely this fact which will lead to an exacerbation of the internal situation in the capitalist countries and to the workers coming out in favour of revolution.’ (Stalin, Sochineniya, Vol. 10, p. 49)
Stalin supported the Nazis. Zealous Stalinists, such as Herman Remmele, who was a member of the Politburo of the German Communist Party, was quite open in his support of the Nazis, then eager for power. The part which Stalin played in the Nazis’ seizure of power in Germany was considerable. As Leon Trotsky said in 1936: ‘Without Stalin there would have been no Hitler, there would have been no Gestapo!’ (Bulletin of the Opposition (BO), Nos. 52-53, October 1936)
Another statement he made in November 1938 reveals Trotsky’s shrewdness and his knowledge of the point at issue. ‘Stalin finally untied Hitler’s hands, as well as those of his enemies, and thereby pushed Europe towards war.’ He said this at a time when Chamberlain was rejoicing that there would be no war, Mussolini was regarding himself as a peacemaker and Hitler still had no intention of issuing a directive to attack Poland, even less France. At the moment when Europe was heaving a sigh of relief in the belief that there would be no war,
Trotsky already knew both that war would quickly come and who would be to blame for it. On 21 June 1939, intensive negotiations directed against Germany were then taking place between Britain, France and the Soviet Union. There was nothing to indicate that any surprises or complications might possibly be in store. ‘The Soviet Union,’ Trotsky said at the time, ‘will move up to the German frontiers in all its massed strength just at the moment when the Third Reich becomes involved in the conflict for a new repartition of the world.’ And indeed it was to happen precisely like that.
Germany would fight in France, while Stalin, ‘with all his massed strength’, would crush the neutral countries on his western frontiers, thereby bringing himself nearer to the German border. On that same day of 21 June 1939 Trotsky made an even more extraordinary prophecy— that in autumn 1939 Poland would be occupied and that Germany intended to attack the Soviet Union in autumn 1941.
Trotsky made one minor error in being only a few months out as to when the war would begin against the Soviet Union. We shall see later that Stalin also made the same mistake. Today, when we read some fifty years later the general pronouncements and predictions which Trotsky made, we can appreciate their accuracy. But this raises the question, how did he know all this? There is nothing secret about Trotsky. He had been one of the leaders of the communist coup d’etat. He was the creator of the Red Army and its leader. He had been the Soviet representative at the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk. He was the first head of Soviet diplomacy. He was, along with Lenin, a recognized leader of the Soviet Union and leader of the world revolution.
So he already knew very well what communism was, what the Red Army was and who Stalin was. Trotsky said that all his predictions were based on overt Soviet publications and in particular on the statements of George Dimitrov, the secretary of the Comintern. Trotsky was the first person to understand Stalin’s game, which was not understood by Western leaders, nor in the beginning even by Hitler. The game was quite simple. Trotsky himself became its victim and for that reason understood it.
Working in league with Zinoviev and Kamenev, Stalin, creating a new group to activate prejudice against his fellow-revolutionary, removed Trotsky from power. Next, working in league with Bukharin, Stalin removed Zinoviev and Kamenev. Then Stalin kicked out Bukharin as well. Stalin followed this up by using Henrik Yagoda to remove Felix Dzerzhinsky’s generation of Chekists. Then, using Nikolai Yezhov as
leverage, he discarded Henrik Yagoda and his generation in their turn. With the help of Lavrenty Beria, Stalin finally ousted Yezhov and his generation. Stalin continued to play the same game in the international arena and Trotsky saw this too.
For Stalin, German Nazism was an instrument which would break a path for the revolution through the solid ice – an icebreaker. German Nazism could begin the war and the war would lead to revolution. Let the icebreaker break Europe! Hitler could do what it did not suit Stalin to do. Stalin stated in 1927 that the second imperialist war was quite unavoidable, just as unavoidable, in fact, as the entry of the Soviet Union into that war. However, he did not want to take part in it himself from the first day. ‘We shall move, but we shall be the last to move, in order to throw our weight on to the scales and tip the balance.’ (Stalin, Vol. 7, p. 14)
In Europe Stalin needed crises, wars, destruction and hunger. Hitler could achieve all this for him. The more crimes Hitler committed in Europe, the better it would be for Stalin and the more reason he would have one day to send the Red Army into Europe as her liberator. Trotsky understood all this before the Second World War began and before Hitler became Chancellor. ‘Let them come to power,’ said Trotsky in 1932, explaining what Stalin’s attitude was to the German Nazis, ‘let them compromise themselves, and then . . .’
From 1927 onwards, Stalin made every effort to support the Nazis who were then striving for power, although he did not of course do so publicly. After 1933, Stalin would do everything possible to push the Nazis towards war. When they entered the war, Stalin would order communists living in democratic countries temporarily to become pacifists, to demoralize the armed forces of the Western countries, to open the way for the Nazis and to capitulate to them with demands that the ‘imperialist war’ should be stopped, while at the same time undermining the war effort of their own countries and governments.
When he moved his icebreaker – German Nazism – against democratic Europe, Stalin had already passed the death sentence on it. Stalin had been planning to liquidate the Nazis for five years before they took over in Germany. ‘Smash fascism, overthrow capitalism, establish Soviet power and free the colonies from slavery.’ (Stalin, Sochineniya, Vol. n, p. 202)
Fascism was the hangman of Europe. Stalin supported the hangman, but even before the hangman had begun his work, Stalin had prepared the same fate for the hangman as awaited the hangman’s victims.
Why Arms for the Communists? 14