You are on page 1of 15


2016 | WORLD

Past Is Prelude: Stalin Was Right About

National Defence (II)
See Part I

In 1922 the dominant leader of the Bolshevik revolution, Vladimir Lenin, fell gravely ill; in
January 1924, he died. Lenins disappearance led to a struggle for power, notably
between Trotsky and Stalin. The struggle for power was long and ruthless. Trotsky was
no match for Stalin. As in the west, domestic politics in Moscow often took precedence
over foreign policy. But at the end of the 1920s Stalin had won the struggle for power;
he could more freely turn his mind to the defence of the Soviet Union against its
external adversaries. He sought to modernise backward Soviet Russia by smashing all
opposition in his way and imposing collectivisation of agricultural lands and breakneck
We can go slower, said oppositionists, like Nikolai Bukharin, and industrialise and
collectivise more gradually. There is no time for that, Stalin replied, sweeping away
the oppositionists reservations.
To slacken the tempo would mean falling behind. And those who fall behind get beaten.
But we do not want to be beaten. No, we refuse to be beaten! One feature of the history
of old Russia was the continual beatings she suffered because of her backwardness.
She was beaten by the Mongol khans. She was beaten by the Turkish beys. She was
beaten by the Swedish feudal lords. She was beaten by the Polish and Lithuanian
gentry. She was beaten by the British and French capitalists. She was beaten by the
Japanese barons. All beat her because of her backwardness, military backwardness,
cultural backwardness, political backwardness, industrial backwardness, agricultural
backwardness. They beat her because to do so was profitable and could be done with
impunity. Do you remember the words of the prerevolutionary poet: You are poor and
abundant, mighty and impotent, Mother Russia. Those gentlemen were quite familiar
with the verses of the old poet. They beat her, saying: You are abundant; so one can
enrich oneself at your expense. They beat her, saying: "You are poor and impotent,
so you can be beaten and plundered with impunity. Such is the law of the exploiters-to
beat the backward and the weak. It is the jungle law of capitalism. You are backward,
you are weak - therefore you are wrong; hence, you can be beaten and enslaved. You
are mighty-therefore you are right; hence, we must be wary of you. That is why we must
no longer lag behind.
Its a long quotation, but worth repeating, because change a few words here and there,
who can say Stalin was wrong? We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced
countries, Stalin concluded: We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we
do it, or we shall be crushed.
The law of the exploiters, said Stalin. There is a more generic term: in French it is the
loi du plus fort, or the law of the strongest. You can see this law being applied
everywhere by the United States and its European vassals. No one is spared. Look at
what has happened to Greece, now a colony within American colonised Europe. Look at
Brazil, Argentina, or Honduras. Or Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria; the list, by no
means complete, is long and growing.

So the USSR industrialised and grew stronger at great cost to its people. During the
1930s Soviet Union sought to organise a coalition of states against the rising danger of
Nazi Germany. At first, Moscow had some modest successes, but one by one, the
members of the proposed coalition dropped away, the United States, France, and
Britain, being the most important would-be allies who would not work with the Soviet
Union. The great question of that low, dishonest decade was who is enemy no. 1,
Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia? Western elites, apart from white crows, got the
answer wrong. Western admiration for Nazi Germany, sometimes open, sometimes
concealed, led them to believe they could bargain with German fascists and set them up
as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. We know how that worked out.
After signature of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact in August 1939 Stalin himself
tried to walk the tightrope of appeasing Hitler. And again, we know how that worked out.
The Grand Alliance was finally organised in 1941, a shotgun marriage, forced upon
unwilling partners by desperation, to stave off the military threat of Nazi Germany.
President Franklin Roosevelt, and thank heavens for him, appears to have been a
willing partner of the Soviet Union, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill, less so. He
had a schizophrenic attitude toward the USSR: was it an ally or a barbarian? One never
knew with Churchill. He seemed to shirk the fight when it came to giving real assistance
against the Nazi Wehrmacht, constantly putting off a Second Front, until Roosevelt
sided openly with Stalin at the Teheran conference in late 1943. By that time the Red
Army had been fighting the ground war almost alone against the Wehrmacht at
horrendous cost.

Soviet public opinion wondered whether the western allies would ever launch a second
front. What kind of allies do we have? asked one nave soldier, letting us do all the
fighting against the Wehrmacht. In the days following the anniversary of Operation
Barbarossa, 22nd June, its a good question to remember.

Sovietophobia remained strong in both the United States and Britain. British generals
hated the Soviet Union, and did not hide their animosity. Churchill, who was no
Roosevelt, had trouble hiding his fear of the Soviet crocodile. In the British Foreign
Office, not a bastion of Sovietophilia, officials worried about the raving British generals
who could set back Anglo-Soviet relations by 100 years. Those officials were right to
worry. If you start the clock in 1917, the centennial comes up next year, not exactly a
date to celebrate.
Perhaps, the people in Moscow making Russian foreign policy should keep in mind the
history of western-Soviet and western-Russian relations since 1917. With the partial
exception of the Grand Alliance, this history is one of unrelenting western hostility
toward Russia before 1941 and after 1945. Lets call it Acts 1 and 2 of the Cold War.
Why does the west hate us? a Russian student asked me not so long ago. I started to
explain the long history of Russophobia and Sovietophobia.

Well, you know, I then quipped facetiously, the Europeans have become so
accustomed to being on their knees to the United States. They look with horror at
Russia, not bowing to Mammon.
What do you think you are doing? they exclaim. Get down get down on your knees.
Who do you think you are? Are you too good to bow before the US?
The Europeans dont like to be reminded of their pusillanimous submission to
Washington, I continued, disregarding their own economic, political, and security
And this brings me back to Stalins comments back in 1931. Be strong or be
crushed,he said to his fellow citizens. His methods were self-destructive without a
doubt, but the basic principle was right. Russia faces the same choices now; be strong
or be crushed. The US government knows and respects only one law, the law of the
strongest. Conciliatory gestures in the Donbass, or Syria, or elsewhere can only be selfdefeating.
You are weak, the Americans think: sanctions, NATO encirclement, missiles in
Romania and Poland, exclusion from the Olympics, FIFA troubles will weaken you
further. We can break you. And if there is any price to pay, its the Europeans who will
pay, not us. Putin likes to talk about his western partners. Its sarcasm, one
imagines. When President Putin speaks his mind, its clear he has no illusions about US


Past Is Prelude: Stalin Was Right About

National Defence (I)
I trust readers will forgive the provocative title, but I want to get your attention as well as
to make a point. And dont worry I am not a died-in-the-wool Stalinist ready to see all the
victims of the Great Purges as justly tried and punished.

My point is that western-Soviet-Russian relations have changed little over the last 99
years. In 1917 there was a great revolution in Russia. In March the Tsar Nicholas II
abdicated; in November 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power. Europe was at war at the
time. Russia was an ally, amongst others, of France, Britain, and more lately the United
States, against Wilhelmine Germany and the Central Powers. The so-called Allies
worried of course about the abdication of the tsar. What will happen next? they
wondered. None too sure, Britain and France studied the possibilities of a separate
peace with Germany at Russian expense.
That was a mild reaction compared to what happened after the Bolsheviks seized power
in November.
What? The Bolsheviks have taken power in Petrograd? Ha, ha, they wont last more
than a few days. That expectation proved wrong.
Stupefaction seized hold of politicians and generals in Paris, London,
Washington. Gawd, how is it possible? How could these anarchists and coffee
house philosophers take power in Russia? The Bolsheviks called for World Revolution,
transforming the Great War between states into a war between classes. They annulled
the tsarist state debt and nationalised banks and industry. It was a nightmare for the
West. The world was being turned on its head. The first principles of Capitalism were
trampled. The Bolsheviks encouraged the lower orders of society to think that it was
they who should govern. Its anarchy, exclaimed Robert Lansing, the US Secretary of
State, and dangerous!
The blockade around Germany was extended to Soviet Russia. Nothing should get in or
out. Bolshevism was a plague; Russia, a plague house. The bacillus of Bolshevism had
to be snuffed out before it could spread.
Send in the bailiffs, demanded western bankers and investors. British, French, and
US troops were sent to the four distant corners of Russia, to Murmansk and
Arkhangelsk in the north, to the Caucasus and Central Asia in the south, to Vladivostok
in the east. Japan landed some 70,000 troops. They ranged as far north as Khabarovsk
and as far west as Lake Baikal. Would Russia be carved up like China and colonised?
No! It would not. The Bolsheviks defended the new Soviet republic tenaciously. In July
1918 the Bolsheviks barely clung to power. By the end of that summer, a new Red
Army, led by a courageous Bolshevik, Lev Davidovich Trotsky, was driving back White
Guard forces away from the Soviet heartland.
When the Great War ended on the Western Front in November 1918, the French and
British general staffs thought they would have twenty divisions available to send to
Russia to destroy the Soviets. The spirit of the Bolsheviki is lurking everywhere, said

the US president Woodrow Wilson. Hurry, we have to crush the Soviets before its too
The twenty Anglo-French divisions for Russia were far too optimistic an estimate.
Having escaped the western abattoir, common soldiers had no interest in going to
another in Russia. Especially the French French divisions were sent to southern
Russia, and large elements of the French fleet were stationed at Sevastopol in the
Black Sea. First the soldiers, then the sailors mutinied. Young women offered sex to
soldiers and sailors on leave in the port city of Odessa in exchange for spreading
propaganda amongst their comrades. The commander-in-chief of French forces said
the brothels of Odessa were the most dangerous nests of Bolshevik propaganda in
the zone of occupation. You can see why. He warned of a Sicilian vespers, a
massacre, if his forces were not withdrawn.
French intervention against the Bolsh proved to be a catastrophe. Mutinous sailors
hoisted the red flag on French warships. Vive les Soviets! they declared.
The complete failure of a ridiculous adventure, one French general commented.
So it was. But western Sovietophobia was unrelenting. The French government
launched a policy of containment, the so-called the cordon sanitaire, to keep
Bolshevism locked up in Russia. A wall would be built from the Baltic to Black Seas of
East European states, notably Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, armed and
supported by France to keep Russia out of Europe. Does it sound familiar?
The British government invested more than 100 million in arming White Guard armies.
The spring of 1919 was the high spring of the Red Scare. In 1919 the French right
fought national elections based on the Red Scare. The Bolsh was a bloodthirsty killer,
with a knife in his teeth, ready to plunder the capitalist west.

Whether in France, or in Germany, or in the United States, the images were the same:
the unwashed ruffian, with a long knife in one hand and a smoking bomb in the other
threatened bourgeois civilisation.

The Red Army beat the White Guards and their foreign interventionist quartermasters.
In April 1920 White Poland launched an offensive into Byelorussia and the Ukraine with
a French wink and nod.

The goal was to make Kiev a Polish city and to re-establish the Polish frontiers of 1772.
The Soviet government summoned its people to fight the Polish invasion. The Poles
could not hold Kiev and were forced back to the outskirts of Warsaw before the Red
Army in turn suffered defeat. The Russo-Polish war was the last gasp of foreign
intervention, leading to an inconclusive peace, unsatisfactory to both sides.
The civil war in Russia ended; it made the American civil war look like childrens play.
Millions died. The old tsarist society was destroyed. The Bolsheviks had won, but really
they had lost for everything was in ruins. Neo-liberal western historians deplore
gratuitous Bolshevik violence. The Bolsheviks were putschists, with no popular
support. The Russian Revolution was an accident, due to the passiveness of the
masses. The neoliberal narrative works only by forgetting that great revolutions do not
come from nowhere. Violence begets violence. The Russian peasantry endured
hundreds of years of serfdom and repression; the small Russian working class was
treated like convict labour. Centuries of tsarist violence against the masses,
exacerbated by the butchery of the Great War, led to revolution, which the Bolsheviks
rushed to control and direct. The Allied interventionists shot Bolsheviks on sight and

boasted of hanging the rest from a long line of gallows. That was not violence of course;
it was righteous punishment of anarchists and plunderers. The Allied bailiffs were sent in
to restore capitalist civilisation and impose indemnities. They planned to control
Russia as they then controlled China. Soviet Russia became defender of the revolution
and defender too of Russias independence.

Blood was blood, but trade was trade. Would bygones be bygones between the West
and Soviet Russia after the end of the civil war? Each side had need of the other if for
no other reason than trade. Does this sound familiar? Money talks was a principle
that didnt and still does not work in Russian-western relations. There would be no

bygones be bygones. If open war failed against Russia, a hybrid war this is what we
call it now continued. If the Allied blockade against Soviet Russia was formally lifted, a
credit blockade continued. Credit fuelled international trade and Soviet Russia
desperately needed it to buy in the West to rebuild the ruined Russian economy. The
Entente idea was to trade with the Bolsheviks on a cash and carry basis only, compel
the Soviet government to exhaust its gold and foreign exchange reserves, and bring it to
its knees. The damned, impudent Bolsh would be forced out or forced to convert to
capitalism. The West would make Soviet Russia eat the nasty porridge of capitalism
with a splintery wooden spoon, like it or not. Apart from appearances, has anything
really changed since the 1920s? Its still the splintery spoon and still western (read US)
values to be swallowed.
The Soviet side sent it best diplomats to the west, highly-educated and multilingual, to
negotiate with the West. Accept us as we are, they proposed, just as we must
accept you as you are.
We need to trade and so do you. Common interests outweigh our differences. Lets
explore the former and try to settle the latter. No, replied the Americans, the British and
the French. They banged their splintery wooden spoons on the table and demanded full
satisfaction of their demands, complete capitulation, or else no deals, no settlements.
They used the red scare to win elections against the left. They sacrificed the interests of
investors hoping for a settlement of the tsarist debts. They discouraged trade and credit
for trade with the Soviet Union. Does it all sound familiar?
(To be continued)