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08 August 2019

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rkka

Ah, someone else who's still upset that the Nazis were prevented from conquering all of Poland & occupying the Baltics in 1939.

During the August 1939 Anglo-French-Soviet staff talks in Moscow, the head of the British delegation estimated that If Poland did not have Soviet assistance when the Germans attacked, Poland would only be able to offer 2 weeks of effective resistance.

That was an extremely accurate estimate. By 15 September, Guderian's panzergroup was at Brest, and Kleist's panzer group was on the outskirts of Lvov. Both were over the demarcation line. The Polish army had been cut into 3 groups, incapable of acting in mutual support. The Polish army had suffered 50% casualties, the Germans 2%.

In August 1939, the Polish gvt had a choice:

1) Prompt and utter defeat & conquest by Nazi Germany

2) Accept Soviet assistance.

The Polish gvt decided not to accept Soviet assistance, and so the Soviet gvt decided to allow Herr Ribbentrop to visit.

rkka

"Why should Britain and France have trusted Stalin's Soviet Union?"
As a glance at a map will show, only the USSR could promptly provide Poland immediate military assistance on a scale to significantly delay the total conquest of Poland my Nazi Germany.

"There was also a long history of attempts at subversion and espionage against Western powers by the Soviet Union."

One of the reasons "The Trust" deception worked so well on Western intelligence services is that Western intelligence services were incessantly attempting subversion and espionage against the USSR. You're just upset that those attempts constantly failed.

"It seems very misguided to me to seek improved relations with today's Russia by trying to whitewash Stalin's regime."

"Stalin's regime was incessantly lied about, especially regarding the M-R Pact, just as Putin's government is today. The themes of the lies are similar.

TI

"Accept Soviet assistance."

Given that the Soviet Union proceeded to murder tens of thousands of elites in eastern Poland (ever heard of what happened to those Polish officers taken pow by the Soviets?) and deport even more to labor camps, it seems to me Poland's leaders were proven absolutely correct that Stalin's regime shouldn't be trusted.
Sure, the Nazis with their racial persecution killed many more Poles and actually wanted to destroy Poland as a nation (instead of "only" turning it into a Sovietized people's republic). But that doesn't make the reality of Soviet actions in 1939-1941 any less sordid.

David Habakkuk

All,

It has been argued in this discussion that ‘Stalin’s Soviet Union was still a totalitarian dictatorship and British conservatives were 100% correct to distrust it’; also that ‘the Brit and French Staffs sabotaged military negotiations with the Soviets’.

It was not the British military who sabotaged the negotiations. From a useful short summary on the British ‘Spartacus Educational’ site, explaining the way the debate in Britain changed after the German occupation of the rump of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 rendered central premises of the ‘appeasement’ strategy incredible:

‘The chiefs of staff supported the idea of an Anglo-Soviet alliance. On 16th May, Ernle Chatfield, 1st Baron Chatfield, Minister for Coordination of Defence [he was an Admiral – DH], strongly urged the conclusion of an Anglo-Soviet agreement. He warned that if the Soviet Union stood aside in a European war it might “secure an advantage from the exhaustion of the western powers” and that if negotiations failed, a Nazi-Soviet agreement was a strong possibility. Chamberlain rejected the advice and said he preferred to “extend our guarantees” in eastern Europe rather than sign an Anglo-Soviet alliance.’

(See https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSnazipact.htm .)

The decision to send Admiral Drax, a relatively low level figure, by slow boat to Moscow with no authority to conclude an agreement was the responsibility of the civilians, and above all Chamberlain.

Also quoted in the ‘Spartacus Educational’ piece is that figure’s justification of his position in a letter written to his sister shortly after the German occupation of the rump of Czechoslovakia:

‘I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears. Moreover, she is both hated and suspected by many of the smaller States, notably by Poland, Rumania and Finland.’

The issues involved have contemporary resonance. So, the suggestion that Chamberlain was ‘100% right’ has been made in a succession of articles and books by the GRU defector Vladimir Rezun, who uses the pen name ‘Viktor Suvorov’ – likely, I think, to be a British intelligence asset.

In addition to restating the view held by Chamberlain – partly because he accepted the advice of MI6, incompetent then as now – that Stalin had a long-term strategy aimed at finessing Germany and the Western powers into war, in his writings from 1985 onwards Rezun/‘Suvorov’ has attempted to defend Keitel’s defence at Nuremberg.

According to this, ‘Operation Barbarossa’ only pre-empted an imminent attack by Stalin.

Apologias for ‘appeasement’ are now, it appears, becoming fashionable in rather unexpected quarters. So Ron Unz, whose site I have often found extremely useful, appears to have swallowed Rezun/ ‘Suvorov’ hook, line and sinker.

Meanwhile, according to Christopher Steele’s amanuensis, Luke Harding of the ‘Guardian’, in a December 2018 interview with that figure:

‘From his new home in the UK, Suvorov wrote one of the most influential books of the perestroika era, Icebreaker. When it was published in 1988, his argument was heretical: that Stalin had been secretly plotting an offensive against Hitler’s Germany, and would have invaded in September 1941, or at the latest by 1942. Stalin, he wrote, wanted Hitler to destroy democracy in Europe, in the manner of an icebreaker, thereby clearing the way for world communism. The book undermined the idea that the USSR was an innocent party, dragged into the second world war. Russian liberals supported Suvorov’s thesis; it now has broad acceptance among historians.’

(See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/29/ex-soviet-spy-viktor-suvorov .)

This is the reverse of the truth. Competent Western historians, in particular, those who actually have serious understanding of military strategy, do not agree with the kind of ‘liberals’ to whom people like Harding and Christopher Steele listen.

A pre-eminent – if not the pre-eminent – American historian of the war in the East, Colonel David M. Glantz, published in 1998 a study entitled ‘Stumbling Colossus’, specifically devoted to demolishing Rezun/‘Suvorov.’

Shortly before that figure produced the first version of his thesis, in 1985, the Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky had published a pathbreaking study of the mission of Sir Stafford Cripps to Moscow in 1940-42, based upon deep familiarity with the English archival material.

Greatly disturbed by the way that so many Russian intellectuals were swallowing apologias not just for Chamberlain but for Hitler, Gorodetsky spent the next decade and a half in detailed research designed to demolish these.

Unsurprisingly, he was given access to Russian archives. This, combined with his use of writings and advice from competent Western military historians, including both Glantz and his Fort Leavenworth colleague Bruce W. Menning, produced an account which now actually does have ‘broad acceptance among historians.’

(For a useful summary, and some relevant criticisms, see

https://networks.h-net.org/node/10000/reviews/10279/slepyan-gorodetsky-grand-delusion-stalin-and-german-invasion-russia .)

An interesting feature of this history is that, while it is clear that Stalin gravely miscalculated in the summer of 1941, it turns out that his suspicions of ‘Perfidious Albion’ were hardly without foundation.

A difficulty he confronted was that it can be very difficult to know whether a given pattern of military preparations is an exercise in coercive diplomacy, or indicates that a decision to resort to war has been made. However, the appropriate courses of action may be diametrically opposed, according to which interpretation one adopts.

It is now clear that, until the evidence from Bletchley Park pointed unequivocally to the latter conclusion, the British were pretending to the Russians that they believed Hitler was intending to attack, while actually thinking he was engaged in coercive diplomacy.

As Gorodetsky brings out, one of the few dissenters from the conventional wisdom was the economic historian Michael Postan, then in charge of Russia at the Ministry of Economic Warfare. A Jewish refugee from Bender/Tighina, once part of the Imperial Russian province of Bessarabia, now of the breakaway Transnistria region, he was, rather obviously, not keen on Hitler, but he was also, to put it rather mildly, no friend of communism.

As my late father was a pupil of his, I heard anecdotes about Postan’s views on communism when young. It was thus with a mixture of interest and amusement, that I read, in Gorodetsky’s earlier study, about his attempts to explain to rather stupid British officials, in the period between the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the onset of ‘Barbarossa’, that Stalin’s policy was motivated above all by fear of Germany.

This, he pointed out, had resulted in ‘appeasement’ of Hitler, but there was no reason why this should be permanent – and it was imperative that Britain should not do anything that would jeopardise the possibility of a reversal.

One then comes to an irony. In essence, Gorodetsky’s work is a restatement of the interpretation of Stalin’s policy which was developed, at the time, by the diplomats of the German Moscow Embassy.

His account can usefully be complemented by that given in the 1981 memoir by its sometime official, Hans-Heinrich (Johnnie) Herwarth von Bittenfeld, entitled ‘Against Two Evils.’ (A good quality used copy of this extraordinarily fascinating, and also very readable, book can be purchased for $5, including postage.)

As both Gorodetsky and Herwarth explain, the ‘house view’ of the Embassy was that, in essence, Trotsky was right: that Stalin was indeed betraying the Revolution, and, with judicious encouragement – what one might call ‘appeasement from strength’ – he could be encouraged to betray it some more.

In essence, they thought that he was turning more and more into a ‘national socialist’ – and the spectacle of him killing or sending to the camps all the ‘international socialists’ he could lay his hands on was hardly a matter of great grief to them.

Like Postan, and unlike Chamberlain, the German Moscow Embassy diplomats thought that Soviet policy was dominated by fear of Germany, and they also thought that creating this fear was dumb.

Rather than pushing the Soviets into the arms of Britain and France, in the view of the then German Ambassador, Friedrich Werner, Count von der Schulenberg, the appropriate course of action for Germany was to include in the Anti-Comintern Pact the power against which it had been directed. Doing so would form an invulnerable ‘continental bloc’ of Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union.

Something of this kind could easily have been the result of the preference of figures like Chamberlain for allowing their policy to be dictated by ‘distrust’, rather than serious analysis.

Fortunately for them, Hitler chose to ignore the advice of the German Moscow Embassy diplomats, who told them that, while Stalin was, and was likely to remain, far too fearful to attack Germany, hopes of easy victory would mean ‘finis Germaniae.’

One then comes to the ultimate irony. Without realising it, precisely those Western élites who have spent so much time screeching ‘Munich’ at every opportunity have pursued a policy towards a – no longer communist – Russia based upon precisely the same premises as that of Chamberlain.

Just as the result of the earlier strategy was to push Stalin into the arms of the Germans, the result of the current one has been to push Putin into those of the Chinese.

A ‘continental bloc’ is now, once again, a very real possibility. And there is, I think, not overmuch reason to be confident that we will be saved by Xi Jinping’s disregard of good advice, as we once were by Hitler’s.

rkka

Ok, so you believe that the Polish gvt was correct to reject Soviet assistance in August 1939.

How then would the Nazis be prevented conquering all of Poland & occupying the Baltics when they attacked Poland in the late summer of 1939?

TI

" And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears. Moreover, she is both hated and suspected by many of the smaller States, notably by Poland, Rumania and Finland"

That was absolutely correct. It's also true that Stalin hoped the "imperialist powers", that is Britain/France and Germany, would bleed each other out in a WW1-style conflict, so the Soviet Union could intervene at an opportune moment. Obviously that turned out to be a grave miscalculation.
Frankly, the apologias found here for Stalin and his regime are tiresome. There's a lot to be said for the argument that the current conflict with Putin's Russia is unneccessary, after all Russia today is probably as liberal in its domestic politics as never before in its history, and its foreign policy ambitions seems to be limited to holding on to some influence in its neighbourhood and preventing encirclement by NATO. The situation with Stalin's Soviet Union was very different, there really were genuine and irreconcilable conflicts of interest with that system.

Andrei Martyanov (aka SmoothieX12)

You really have to update yourself on some historic facts. here is a quote from Correlli Barnett--you may Google who this tremendous British historian is. This is his view.

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-OAoptzMBygE/WWEuIpid-cI/AAAAAAAABG8/bWY3n_wRN_0yek4r6Pl7X5t7RA17SVmSQCLcBGAs/s1600/EastEurope.jpg

Andrei Martyanov (aka SmoothieX12)

It's also true that Stalin hoped the "imperialist powers", that is Britain/France and Germany, would bleed each other out in a WW1-style conflict, so the Soviet Union could intervene at an opportune moment. Obviously that turned out to be a grave miscalculation.

Guess three times what Stalin wrote in 1930 about being smashed and being 50 years behind and trying to make it up in 10. You have a peculiar view of the history of Europe in XX century.

and its foreign policy ambitions seems to be limited to holding on to some influence in its neighbourhood and preventing encirclement by NATO.

Hm, isn't it remarkably similar to...Stalin? You obviously forgot just a teeny-weeny fact that Russia is the only country (not even China) which can defeat the United States conventionally in eastern Europe and annihilate her completely in nuclear conflict. So, this little fact dictates, thus, not only similarities but gigantic strategic differences with pre WW II world. It also puts Russia squarely (as admitted by a variety of American professionals, no less) into the position of containment of NATO, which otherwise would have unleashed half-a-dozen new and disastrous wars.

Patrick Armstrong

Thank you David for this, I learned a lot. Unfortunately none of the books you mention is in e-form and I rarely buy actual books any more. I read Icebreaker some time ago and asked Glantz what he thought of it; he dismissed it and that was enough for me (who would dare disagree on these subjects with David Galntz?)
PS What I remember from AJP Taylor's book, when I first heard about the negotiations, was the rather preposterous surname Plunkett-Ernle-Earl--Drax. Stuck in the tiny brain for 50 years now.

rkka

“t. It's also true that Stalin hoped the "imperialist powers", that is Britain/France and Germany, would bleed each other out in a WW1-style conflict, so the Soviet Union could intervene at an opportune moment.”

His overwhelming preference was to ally with them, and together defeat the Slav-exterminating Nazis. Fortunately, he had a Plan B.

“Obviously that turned out to be a grave miscalculation.”

On the contrary. The Pact brought peace with Japan, German machine tools, BF109s & FW190s to test his new MiGs & Yaks against, 22 months of time, and much greater depth.

An Op. Barbarossa starting 100km from Leningrad would have been far more catastrophic than the actual one was.

rkka

"and its foreign policy ambitions seems to be limited to holding on to some influence in its neighbourhood and preventing encirclement by NATO. The situation with Stalin's Soviet Union was very different, there really were genuine and irreconcilable conflicts of interest with that system."

Stalin didn't seem to think so.

In the immediate postwar period, Stalin believed the main threat the USSR faced was a revived Germany in 15-20 years. He was concerned to keep the USSR's favorable geopolitical position for facing that threat, and he was concerned to keep "The Grand Alliance" with the US and the British Empire together. During this period, he continued to refer to the US and British Empire as "our allies"

It wasn't until 1947 that he came to understand that the actual threat the USSR faced was a nuclear-armed Anglosphere determined on global dominance, and on the revival of Germany under its auspices.

https://www.ucis.pitt.edu/nceeer/1987-800-05-McGwire.pdf

Michael MccGwire The Genesis of Soviet Threat Perceptions 1987

ExecutiveSummary

It is an axiom of Western politics that the actions of the SovietUnion created the cold war. So entrenched is this judgment that itcarries a corollary with it: Soviet leaders must realize that theresistance of the West--the practice and philosophy of containment--isan inevitable result of their commitment to expansionism. It isdifficult in Western perspective to imagine that Soviet leaders couldseriously doubt this understanding of the past, however firmly theSoviets may deny it for the sake of public justification. The historical record suggests, however, that the Soviet Union neither intended nor anticipated the intense rivalry that developed.In the wake of World War II, Stalin saw a resurgent Germany in fifteen to twenty years time as the principal threat to Russia, and he soughtto preserve a collaborative relationship with the United States as ameans of containing the threat. It was not until 1947-48 that he acknowledged belatedly and reluctantly that the primary threat was anideologically hostile coalition led by the Anglo-Saxon powers. This evolution of Soviet perspectives very likely has strong contemporary resonance. In 1969 the Soviets again committed themselves to a policy of collaborating with the United States and in 1983 they apparently concluded that such a policy was not feasible. Whether they have also acknowledged, as Stalin did, that the United States poses an imminent danger and whether they will in some measure repeat Stalin's highly belligerent reactions are questions of major significance, and they require cool-headed assessment. However firmly we may reject the ultimate validity of Soviet perspectives, it is distinctly dangerous to misperceive what they in fact are.

johnf

David,

I think there are other contemporary parallels to those you've explained.

To Brexit or not to Brexit.

Just as in the late 30's the London-based British Elite - political, financial and media - were overwelmingly in favour of Appeasement with the full backing of a deeply incompetent MI6, so today that same metropolitan elite - political, financial and media - again with the backing of a deeply incompetent MI6, are deeply opposed to Brexit.

Pro-Brexiteers, like the anti-appeasers, tended to be provincial and working class - hence the Bridgwater by-election etc, or anarchic Tories. Sir Joseph Ball (much more competently) played the part of Alistair Campbell.

Fear was at the root of the elite appeasers (Britain's not up for to it any longer). It was this same fear which got us into the Common Market in the first place and which is now fighting so desperately to keep us in. (|Always aided by the deep incompetence of MI6).

We are approaching new Norway Debates. Will Jeremy Corbyn reprise Clement Attlee's role?

English Outsider

An interesting comparison. Though Great Britain was regarded as a World Power back then so the fumbling around at the start of WW2 did matter. Not sure that what our Great Leaders get up to now is that big a deal. Whatever one thinks of Chamberlain he was rather more heavy duty than May, as Churchill than Johnson.

As I expect you have I've followed the discussion above with great interest. The history one had long regarded as settled science being challenged on all hands. As with the French, the then British position must have been confused by much of our upper and middle classes quite liking Hitler. Not, I think, because they were Blut and Boden enthusiasts, though there was a bit of that in a moderate sort of way, more because the Nazi/Fascist dispensation seemed to offer a way of keeping the working classes and their dangerous Red proclivities at bay. Straight class war. And that's how many in the working class saw it - enthusiasm for industrial production for the British war effort was reckoned to have increased considerably after we found ourselves fighting on the same side as the Soviet Union.


English Outsider

I've suggested below in a reply to "Johnf" that the class war also contributed to Chamberlain's reluctance to ally in good time with Stalin. Looking at the popular novels of the early 20th Century straightforward loathing of the Reds, and often of the Jews as well as associated with the Reds, is very apparent.

Add to this the hangover from the "Great Game" nonsense, that I recollect you have mentioned before, and there was already a potent brew of Russophobia to back up the considerations you mention above.

ben

Today I am the first time here, well done on banning the troll.

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