CHAPTER 6 When Did the Soviet Union Enter World War II? 37
In the event of a general conflict, only one country can win. That country is the Soviet Union. HITLER, 1937 (In conversation with Lord Halifax, Obersalzburg, 19 November 1937)
Everything in the Soviet Union relating to the beginning of World War II is concealed by the impenetrable darkness of state secrecy. Among the many secrets is one which is especially well kept: the date on which the Soviet Union entered the war. In order to conceal the truth, communist propaganda has put about the false date of 22 June 1941.
Communist writers have thought up a multitude of legends about 22 June. I have even heard it said that the USSR was bent on a ‘peaceful’ life when it was set upon. If the inventions of Soviet propaganda are to be believed, the Soviet Union did not enter World War II of its own volition, but was forcibly dragged into it.
In order to make this sound plausible, Soviet propaganda has been compelled to buttress this date with special props. On the one hand, the ‘pre-war period’ was devised to include the two years preceding 22 June, while on the other, we have the invented figure of’1,418 days of war’. Counting back from the day when the war in Europe ended, one inevitably comes to rest, according to forged Soviet computations, on ‘that fateful Sunday’.
It is, however, easy to debunk the myth of 22 June. All that is needed to do this is to tap gently on one of the supports, that of the ‘pre-war period’, for example, for the entire structure to collapse, along with that ‘fateful’ date and the 1,418 days of the ‘great motherland war’. The ‘pre-war period’ never existed. It was invented. Suffice it to recall that during this period all the European neighbours of the Soviet Union fell victims to Soviet aggression. Moreover, the Red Army certainly had no intention of restricting or stopping its ‘liberation campaigns’ into the West at that point (Order No. 400, dated 7 February 1940, of the People’s Commissar for the Defence of the USSR) although by then only Germany lay to the west of the Soviet Union.
In September 1939, the Soviet Union declared itself neutral and, during the ‘pre-war period’, seized territories with populations totalling 23 million people – not bad going for a neutral state. The Red Army and the NKVD perpetrated fearful crimes in these captured territories. Soviet concentration camps were crammed with imprisoned soldiers and officers from a number of European countries. Officer prisoners, and not only the Poles, were shot in their thousands. This is not the action of a neutral state.
Here is a strange state of affairs. Germany attacked Poland, which means that Germany was the instigator of, and participant in, the European and then the World War.
The Soviet Union did the same thing in the same month, but it does not judge itself to have been an instigator of the war. Nor does it consider itself even to have then been a participant in the war. A Polish soldier killed in battle on Polish territory against the Red Army is considered a participant in World War II, as well as its victim, while the Soviet soldier who killed him is regarded as ‘neutral’. If in the same battle a Soviet soldier is killed, then it is judged that he has been killed not in wartime but in peacetime -in the ‘pre-war period’.
Germany seized Denmark and this was an act of war, even although no great battles were fought. The Soviet Union also seized, without firing a shot, three Baltic states markedly similar to Denmark in geographical position, in size of population, in culture and in traditions. But the actions of the Soviet Union are not judged to be acts of war. Germany seized Norway. This was a further act of aggression. But before this happened, the Soviet Union had carved up neighbouring Finland. The list of crimes committed by Germany in the war begins on i September 1939, while the list of the Red Army’s crimes begins for some reason only on 22 June 1941.
Why? During the ‘pre-war period’, the Red Army lost hundreds of thousands of its soldiers in bitter battles. German Army losses in the same period were considerably less. If one judges from losses alone, Germany had more grounds than the Soviet Union for considering itself neutral in 1939 and 1940. The official formula used to give a name to these actions of the Soviet Army in the ‘pre-war period’ is ‘strengthening of western frontier security’.
This is not true. The frontiers were secure, at a time when the neighbours of the Soviet Union were the neutral states of Europe, while there were no common frontiers with Germany, and when Hitler in consequence was totally unable to launch a general attack, and certainly not a surprise attack, on the Soviet Union. Stalin, however, systematically destroyed several neutral states of Europe, thereby establishing a common frontier with Germany. This was not a way of enhancing the security
of the Soviet frontiers.
If we use the formula ‘strengthening of western frontier security’ to describe aggression against six neutral European states — Poland, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania – why do we not use the same formula in relation to Hitler? Did he not enhance the security of his frontiers by occupying neighbouring countries?
It might be objected that in the ‘pre-war period’ the Soviet Union did not wage one continuous war, but a series of wars and invasions separated by intervals. But Hitler also waged a series of wars separated by intervals. Why do we use other criteria when judging him?
It is alleged that the Soviet Union did not formally declare war on anybody in the ‘pre-war period’, therefore it cannot be considered a participant in the war. But Hitler did not always formally declare war. According to the statements made by Soviet propaganda, nobody formally declared war on anybody on 22 June 1941 either. So why is this date accepted as the divide between war and peace?
Soviet propaganda begins its history of the war from the moment when foreign troops appeared on Soviet territory and thus presents the Soviet Union as an innocent victim. Let us stop imagining it as an innocent victim. Let us remember instead those who were really innocent, and who perished in the ‘prewar period’ on the bayonets of the army of ‘liberators’. Let the history of the war be written, not from 22 June, but from the moment when the communist hordes, without any declaration of war, took belligerent action in an already weakened Poland, whose army was trying in a heroic but unequal struggle to stop Hitler’s drive to the east.
Let the history of the war be written, not just from that day, but from the day on which Stalin himself took the decision to start it. At dawn on 1 September 1939, the German Army entered Poland. In the twentieth century, war in Europe automatically means world war. So the war in fact quickly laid hold upon both Europe and almost the whole of the rest of the world. By a strange confluence of circumstances, it was precisely on that very same day of 1 September that the Fourth Extraordinary Session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed a law establishing general liability for military service. Throughout the whole of the Soviet Union’s history, there had never been such a law.
While Hitler was frightening children (and grown-ups), and was looked upon as a monster and an ogre, the Soviet government had in fact got by without any general military-service liability law. Yet as soon as the Non-Aggression Pact was signed, an act was needed to establish a general obligation to perform military service. September 1939 was the beginning of the phoney war in the West. In the same month, a no less phoney peace began in the East.
Why did the Soviet Union need to impose the general obligation to military service? The communists will answer with one voice that it was needed because the Second World War began that day; they did not want to take part in it, but were simply taking precautionary measures. Marshal of the Soviet Union, K. A. Meretskov, was one of the many who asserted that the law was of great significance and was passed ‘in the conditions of World War II which had already begun’. (Na Sluzhbe Narodu, IPL, Moscow, 1968 p. 181)
Let us imagine the Polish-German frontier on that tragic morning – darkness, mist, shooting and the roar of engines. There were few in Poland who understood what was happening, whether it was a provocation or an unauthorized clash which had somehow been self-generated. But at the same moment, the deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR – including shepherds from the mountainous pastures high above the cloud level and distinguished reindeer breeders from nomad camps in the Arctic – were assembled in Moscow. They already knew that it was neither provocation, nor a clash, nor a Polish-German war, nor even a European war, but the beginning of the Second World War; and they immediately met in emergency session to pass the
Yet how can it be explained why these same deputies did not react with identical swiftness when a similar thing happened on the Soviet-German frontier in 1941? On that morning of 1 September, it was not only the Polish government and the governments of western countries who did not know that a new world war had begun. Hitler himself did not know it. He began the war against Poland in the hope that it would only be a local action, like the seizure of Czechoslovakia had been. This is not just Goebbels’ propaganda. Soviet sources say the same thing: ‘Hitler was convinced,’ wrote Air Colonel-General A. S. Yakovlev, who was a personal adviser of Stalin’s at the time, ‘that Britain and France would not go to war over Poland.’ (Tsel’ Zhizni, IPL, Moscow, 1968, p. 212)
Thus Hitler did not know that he was beginning World War II; the comrades in the Kremlin knew it all too well. But it is, of course, a long -way to Moscow. Some deputies needed a week, others as much as twelve days to reach the capital. This means that, in order to discuss the war which had begun in Europe, someone gave the signal to the deputies to gather in the Kremlin before the war began. Indeed, I believe that someone gave this signal even before the Molotov—Ribbentrop pact was signed.
An attempt to establish the exact date on which the Second World War began, and the time when the Soviet Union came into it, inescapably leads us, in fact, to the date of 19 August 1939.
Previously, Stalin had often spoken at secret meetings about his plan to ‘liberate’ Europe. This was first to involve Europe in war, while he himself remained neutral. Then, when the adversaries had exhausted each other, he would throw the whole power of the Red Army into the balance. (Stalin, Vol. 6, p. 158; Vol. 7, p. 14)
The final decision to carry this plan in effect was taken at a session of the Politburo held on 19 August 1939. News about this Politburo meeting and what it had decided reached the Western press immediately. Havas, the French news agency, published a report on the proceedings. Yet how could a record of them fall into the hands of the Western press? There is no sure answer. It might have passed along one of several paths.
One of the more probable is this: one or more Politburo members, frightened by Stalin’s plans, decided to stop him. They could not protest openly. The only way, therefore, of compelling Stalin to renounce his plans might have been to publish his plans in the West. Members of the Politburo, especially those who controlled the Red Army, the war industry, military intelligence, the NKVD, propaganda and the Comintern, were perfectly able to do it.
Such a scenario is not as fantastic as it might first appear. Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were, in 1917, members of the Politburo, published the plans of Lenin and Trotsky in the bourgeois press in order to disrupt the October Coup. We still do not know how the document found its way to the West, but there were a variety of ways it could have got there. Stalin reacted to the Havas agency message with lightning speed and in a highly unusual manner. He published a denial in Pravda. It is a serious document and must be read in full:
THE FALSE REPORT ISSUED BY THE HAVAS AGENCY
The editor of Pravda has put the following question to Comrade Stalin. What is Comrade Stalin’s attitude to the message issued by the Havas agency on ‘Stalin’s speech’, allegedly made by him ‘in the Politburo of 19 August’, at which ideas were supposedly advanced to the effect that ‘the war must be continued for as long as is needed to exhaust the belligerent countries’? Comrade Stalin has sent the following answer:
‘This report issued by the Havas agency, like many more of its messages, is nonsense. I of course cannot know in precisely which nightclub these lies were fabricated. But no matter how many lies the gentlemen of the Havas agency might tell, they cannot deny that a) it was not Germany which attacked France and Britain, but France and Britain which attacked Germany, thereby taking upon themselves the responsibility for the present war;
b) after hostilities began, Germany made peace proposals to France and Britain, while the Soviet Union openly supported these German peace proposals, for it considered, and continues to consider, that only as early an end to the war as possible can bring relief in a fundamental way to the condition of all countries and all peoples; c) the ruling circles in Britain and France rejected out of hand both the German peace proposals and the Soviet Union’s efforts to end the war as quickly as possible.
Such are the facts. What can the nightclub politicians of the Havas agency provide to counter these facts?’ J. STALIN (Pravda, 30 November 1939)
Let the reader make up his own mind as to whether the Havas agency report or Stalin’s denial is nonsense. Stalin himself, in my view, would hardly have wished to repeat this in his own words in a subsequent period. It is interesting to note that copies of the Pravda issue of 30 November 1939 practically no longer exist in the Soviet Union. I was astonished to discover that there was no copy to be found in the special repository of the GRU archives. It had long since been destroyed. I succeeded in finding a copy only in the West.
The unconcealed mendacity of Stalin’s refutation, and his uncharacteristic loss of composure, support the Havas agency version. In this case a nerve of unusual sensitivity was touched and this is why there was such a response to it. During the decades of Soviet power, the Western press wrote a great deal about the Soviet Union and Stalin personally. The Bolsheviks and Stalin himself were accused of every mortal sin. It wrote that Stalin had been an agent provocateur for the police, that he had murdered his wife, that he was a despot, a sadist, a dictator, an ogre, a butcher and much more besides. But not once did Stalin become involved in controversy with the ‘bourgeois hack writers’.
Why then, on only this one occasion, did the normally taciturn and composed Stalin lower himself to indulge in cheap insults? There can only be one answer. The Havas agency had revealed some of Stalin’s best-kept secrets. It did not matter to him what future generations might think about his refutation. (They do not, incidentally, think anything of it at all.) What was important to Stalin at that particular moment was that he should keep his plan secret for the next two or three years until the countries of Europe had become weak through involving themselves in a mutually destructive war.
If we are to accept Stalin’s arguments and if the Havas agency report did simply consist of lies ‘fabricated’ in a ‘nightclub’, we must express our admiration for the Havas agency journalists.
If they really did invent their report, then they did so on the basis of a deep knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, of Stalin’s character, and of a detailed, scientific analysis of the military and political situation in Europe; indeed, they understood the situation far better than Hitler and the leaders of the Western democracies. If the report was invented, then this was an occasion when an invention corresponded entirely to the facts.
Many years later, when the Havas agency report and Stalin’s refutation of it had long been forgotten, thirteen volumes of Stalin’s essays were published in the Soviet Union. These works include his speeches made at secret sessions of the Central Committee. In 1939 the Havas agency journalists did not have any access to these speeches. But the publication of Stalin’s works confirmed that Stalin’s plan was simple and one of genius, and that it was exactly as the French journalists had described it.
As early as 1927, Stalin expressed the view at a closed session of the Central Committee that in the event of war it would be essential to remain neutral until the ‘warring sides have exhausted each other in a mutual conflict which is beyond their strength to sustain’. This view was often repeated subsequently at closed sessions. Stalin considered that in the event of a war breaking out in Europe, the Soviet Union had to become a participant in it, but it must be the last to enter, right at the end of the game in which the adversary had already been weakened to the point of exhaustion.
Although they both had different attitudes towards Stalin, two of his successors, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, interestingly both confirmed that it had been Stalin’s intention to exhaust Europe in war, while preserving his own neutrality, and then to ‘liberate’ it. Stalin’s predecessors said the same thing. When he was laying the foundations of his plan in the narrow circle of his comrades in arms, Stalin simply quoted Lenin and emphasized that it was Lenin’s idea. But Lenin had not been original either. He in his turn scooped his ideas from the inexhaustible supply of ideas provided by Marx.
There is an interesting letter written by Friedrich Engels on 12 June 1883 to Edouard Bernstein: ‘All these layabouts of various kinds,’ he wrote, ‘must first of all fight like dogs among themselves, destroy and compromise each other, and in that way they will be preparing the ground for us.’ Stalin differed from both his predecessors and successors in that he spoke less than they, but acted more. It would be very important to know, were it possible, what Stalin actually said in the Politburo meeting of 19 August 1939. Even although we cannot know the words he spoke, we see his actions and these show far more clearly what he had in mind.
It was only four days after this meeting that the Molotov— Ribbentrop pact was signed in the Kremlin.
The most outstanding achievement ever attained by Soviet diplomacy, it was Stalin’s most brilliant victory in his extraordinary career. ‘I have deceived him. I have deceived Hitler,’ cried Stalin joyfully after the Pact had been signed. (Nikita Khrushchev, Memoirs, Chasidze Publications, 1981) Stalin had indeed deceived Hitler in a way that nobody had deceived anyone else throughout the whole of the twentieth century. Only a week and a half after the Pact had been signed Hitler had a war on two fronts. That is to say, from the very outset of hostilities Germany fell into a situation in which it could only lose the war; or, to put it another way, on 23 August 1939, the day the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed, Stalin had won the Second World War even before Hitler came into it.
It was only in the summer of 1940 that Hitler realized that he had been taken in. He tried to take on Stalin again, but it was too late. Hitler could hope for brilliant tactical victories only, but Germany’s strategic position was catastrophic. Germany again found itself between two millstones. On the one side there was Britain on her inaccessible island, with the United States behind her. On the other side was Stalin. Hitler turned his face to the west, realizing that Stalin was quite clearly preparing an attack and that he could cut Germany’s oil artery in Romania at one blow, paralysing the whole of German industry, and the entire German Army, Air Force and Navy.
Turning his face to the east, Hitler first got strategic air raids and then invasion from the west. It is said that Stalin won only thanks to the help and cooperation given by Britain and the United States, and herein lay his greatness; while being the West’s most virulent enemy, Stalin knew how to use it in order to protect and reinforce his own dictatorship. Stalin’s genius, as we’ve seen, lay in knowing how to divide his adversaries and then knock their heads together. Even in 1939, the free press in the West was already sounding a warning about such a course of events, when Stalin was playing a game of neutrality in words whilst, in deed, playing a very much more dangerous one.