CHAPTER 4 Why Stalin Partitioned Poland 25
We are doing something which, if it succeeds, will overturn the whole world and liberate the entire working class. STALIN (Sochineniya, Vol. 13, p. 41)
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany suddenly attacked the Soviet Union. That is a historical fact. It is, however, a very strange fact. Before the Second World War, Germany did not have a common frontier with the Soviet Union. Consequently, Germany could not then have made an attack, still less a sudden one.
Germany and the Soviet Union had been separated by an uninterrupted buffer of neutral states. Before a Soviet—German war could take place, one condition above all others was necessary. The buffer of neutral states had to be destroyed. But who exactly destroyed this buffer; and why?
The buffer between Germany and the Soviet Union consisted for most of its length of at least two countries. Only at one point was it formed by one country: Poland. Poland was the shortest, most direct, most level and most convenient route lying between the Soviet Union and Germany. It was the narrowest part of the dividing wall. It is not hard to understand that it is precisely through here that any potential aggressor, intent on a Soviet—German war, would have to try to force a corridor.
On the other hand, if either the Soviet Union or Germany did not want such a war, they would have to use all the strength of their armed forces, all of their national wisdom and all the force of their international authority to keep the enemy off Polish territory. If the worst came to the worst, war would have to be waged in Poland itself, so as to prevent an approach towards either frontier.
Hitler had declared his warlike intentions quite openly. Stalin was quick to call him publicly, a cannibal. Hitler of course could not attack Stalin, since they did not share a common frontier. So Hitler proposed to Stalin that they make a joint effort to breach the wall that divided them. Stalin accepted this proposal with delight. He knocked down the Polish wall with enormous enthusiasm and forced a corridor in Hitler’s direction. Hitler’s motives towards Poland, as laid out in Mein Kampf, are understandable. But how can Stalin’s actions be explained?
The first explanation, according to Soviet propagandists, is that, after having torn Poland to pieces and drowned it in blood, USSR moved her frontier westwards, that is, strengthened her security. This is a strange explanation. The Soviet frontier was indeed moved westwards by 200-300 kilometres, but at the same time Germany moved its frontier some 300-400 kilometres eastwards.
As a result of this, the security of the Soviet Union was not enhanced; on the contrary, it was diminished. But this apart, there was an entirely new factor. This was the common Soviet-German frontier and hence the direct possibility of war, including a war of surprise attack.
The second explanation is that by stabbing Poland in the back at a time when she was engaged in a desperate struggle with the Nazis, USSR tried to delay the outbreak of the Soviet—German war. This is like saying that USSR started a fire in her neighbour’s house in the expectation that it would not spread to hers.
The third explanation is that the unwillingness of France and Britain to sign a treaty with the USSR left Stalin with no option but to come to terms with Hitler. But why should France and Britain defend the Soviet Union, when the Soviet Union had proclaimed that its main aim was to overthrow democracy everywhere, including in France and Britain?
The West did not care whether Hitler went east or not. The countries of Eastern Europe certainly did. If Hitler turned eastwards, they would be his first victims. Therefore the Eastern European countries were the natural allies of the Soviet Union. An alliance should be sought with them against Hitler. But Stalin did not seek such alliances. In cases where treaties did exist, the Soviet Union did not carry out her obligations. Stalin could have remained neutral, but chose instead to stab in the back those countries engaged in a struggle with fascism.
Once he had forced a corridor through the dividing wall, Hitler thought that he had done enough. He then turned his attentions to Western Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. What ought Stalin to have done, faced as he was with a breach in the wall some 570 kilometres wide and time in hand? He should have hastily reinforced his defences. The old frontier was a powerful line of fortified regions. It should have been strengthened and improved without delay. In addition to this, a second line of defence should have been built, and a third, and a fifth, and more.
Mines should have been laid at once on roads, on bridges and in fields. Anti-tank ditches should have been dug and given anti-tank artillery cover. But none of this happened. Some time later, in 1943, the Red Army was preparing to repel an enemy attack in the Kursk Salient. Within a short period of time, Soviet troops succeeded in creating six continuous defensive strips – one behind the other – on a vast front, to a total depth of 250-300 kilometres.
Each kilometre was saturated with trenches, dugouts, communication trenches, concealment shelters and gun positions. The average density of anti-tank and anti-infantry mines per kilometre was as high as 7,000, while the density of anti-tank weaponry reached the exceptionally high level of 41 guns in every kilometre, not counting field and antiaircraft artillery, and tanks, dug into the ground. Thus a truly impenetrable defence was set up from scratch in a very short space of time in the open field.
In 1939 conditions which favoured defence were considerably better than in 1943. There were impassable forests, rivers and marshes. There were few roads and a lot of time. Nevertheless, at that moment the SovietUnion stopped producing anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. Instead of rendering the area impassable, it was immediately made more passable. Roads and bridges were built in it, and the railway network was extended, strengthened and improved. Previously existing fortifications were demolished and covered with earth.
Ilya Starinov, a GRU colonel involved in this process, described what he saw: The situation was becoming absurd. When we were faced by weak armies of comparatively small countries, our frontiers were really well and truly safe. When Nazi Germany became our neighbour the defensive installations put up by the engineers along the former frontier were abandoned and even partially dismantled. (I. Starinov, Miny Zhdut Svoego Chasa, p. 186)
The military engineering directorate of the Red Army indented for 120,000 delayed-action railway mines. In the event of an invasion by the German Army, this quantity would have been quite sufficient to paralyse the entire railway network behind enemy lines, upon which the Germans would have been totally dependent. But instead of the number of mines ordered, only 120 arrived. (Starinov, op. cit.)
Yet the mine is a very simple, very cheap and very effective weapon. The production of mines in the Soviet Union was enormous, but it was curtailed after the passage had been forced through the wall. One breach in the wall was enough for Hitler. It was not enough for Stalin. Hitler, with Stalin’s help, destroyed the authority of the state in only one country forming part of the dividing buffer. Stalin, without anybody’s help, achieved this in three other countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, attempted to do the same in a fourth, Finland, and actively prepared to repeat the performance in a fifth country, Romania, after having seized a vast tract of Romanian territory.
Only ten months after the ‘non-aggression’ pact was signed and by Stalin’s own efforts, the dividing buffer from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea had been completely shattered. There no longer remained any neutral countries between Stalin and Hitler and thereby the conditions needed for attack were created. During this short space of time, all of Stalin’s western neighbours had become his victims. The appearance of Soviet troops in Lithuania meant that they had moved on to the real German frontier.
Previously, the Soviet-German border passed through Polish-occupied territory. Now, Soviet troops had moved on to the frontier with East Prussia. Communist historians have tried, though without any success, to devise answers to the question as to why Stalin agreed to help Hitler force a corridor through Poland. The question as to why Stalin smashed the entire buffer is one which they prefer not to raise. But Stalin himself gave a clear and precise answer to that unasked question:
History states [wrote Stalin] that when one country wants to go to war with another, even one which is not a neighbour, then it begins to seek frontiers across which it would be able to reach the frontiers of the countries it wishes to attack. (Pravda, 5 March 1936)
Did the Red Army intend to stop on the borders once it had reached them? Here is S. K. Timoshenko, Marshal of the Soviet Union, on the subject:
In Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the power of the landowners and capitalists, so hateful to the workers, has been abolished. The Soviet Union has grown significantly and has moved its frontiers westwards. The capitalist world has been compelled to yield and give ground. But it is not for us fighters of the Red Army to give ourselves airs or rest on our laurels! (Order of the People’s Commissar of Defence, No. 400, 7 November 1940)
This is neither a speech nor a Tass report. It is an order of the Red Army. To the west of the Soviet borders lay only Germany and countries allied to her. Could the frontiers be moved further westward, at the expense of Germany?
The Pact and its Results – 31