Tuesday 22 June marked the eightieth anniversary of Operation Barbarossa — “When Soviets Turned The Tide Against Nazi Tyranny”, as that day’s Morning Star put it. Or to be simpler: when Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded the USSR.
The first thing to note is that although 22 June was the eightieth anniversary of German troops crossing the USSR’s border, the respected bourgeois historian Antony Beevor (in his 1998 book Stalingrad) points out that it was on the morning of 21 June 1941 that Moscow became aware of huge military preparations along the frontiers from the Baltic to the Black Sea:
“As the morning passed, more and more urgent messages arrived from Moscow demanding news. There was an atmosphere of repressed hysteria in the Kremlin as the evidence of German intentions mounted, adding to more than eighty warnings received over the previous eight months,” writes Beevor.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, the German ambassador expressed astonishment that the Russian leaders did not understand what what happening: over two weeks before he had warned the Russian ambassador in Berlin that Hitler planned to invade. Stalin had dismissed the warning as disinformation from Winston Churchill.
And yet John Ellison in one of three lengthy articles in the Morning Star claims: “No demands or direct warnings from Berlin to the Stalin-led Soviet Union leadership preceded the invasion.” Phil Katz (of the CPB’s History Group) in another article in the same paper (22 June) goes further and claims that: “Nowadays the talk among some schools of history and revisionist politicians is only of Soviet lack of preparation, bumbling... [and] Stalin’s ‘mental breakdown’”. In fact there is strong evidence that Stalin did have some kind of breakdown after the fall of Minsk on June 28: according to foreign minister Molotov, Stalin was bewildered and disorientated. “Everything’s lost. I give up. Lenin founded our state and we’ve fucked it up!” he cried before disappearing for two days.
Astonishingly, in the face of all this evidence, Katz still feels able to declare: “It is amazing that some historians today claim that Stalin was so easily deceived about Hitler’s war aims, that he was caught by surprise and was apparently unable to believe his own intelligence services”. Yet the evidence of all reputable historians (i.e. not Stalinist hacks like Katz) is that this is exactly what did happen.
Ellison is at least honest enough to acknowledge that: “The disaster… was enormous. Stalin’s refusal to accept that war was coming earlier than he anticipated, his paranoid pre-war officer corps purges, a Red Army strategy of of ‘offensives only’ in response to attack and technical inadequacies in military preparations, all contributed to the rapid advance of Nazi forces and the capture of millions of Soviet soldiers.”
But it’s the slightly less than two years that preceded Operation Barbarossa that leaves the Morning Star’s writers either completely silent or parroting a long-discredited “line”. Katz in his 22 June article can’t bring himself to even mention the Hitler-Stalin Pact, describing the period between 1939 and 1940 as having been “characterised as a ‘phoney war.’ During this period the Soviets fought a ‘winter war’ against pro-fascist Finland” — conveniently ignoring the fact that when Finland was invaded by Russia in November 1939 it was Russia that was “pro-fascist” in the sense of being allied with the Nazis, not Finland! (After the “winter war”, Finland allied with Germany, and then switched to the Allies in 1944).
Ellison at least mentions the pact, but explains it away thus:
“It meant that [Hitler] could concentrate first on war against the refusers of collective security, while the Soviet Union was to be allowed more territorial security through occupying eastern Poland, forced rectification of its border with prospective Nazi ally Finland [that misleading half-truth again! — JD] to protect Leningrad, and later occupation of the Baltic republics.
“Though referred to often as ‘Hitler’s ally’, the Soviet Union remained formally and actually neutral until invaded.”
This is standard Stalinist apologia for the pact, though few informed people these days take it seriously. For a start, that much-vaunted “neutrality” is a fiction: its effect on the policy of the Comintern [Stalin’s international] and of Communist Parties everywhere was not “neutrality”: it meant making pro-Hitler propaganda, denouncing other governments for failing to respond to Germany’s “desire for peace”.
In Europe, Scandinavia and the Low Countries it meant clearing the way for Hitler. As the reputable bourgeois historian Roger Moorhouse puts it in his book The Devils’ Alliance: “Poland was invaded and divided between Moscow and Berlin. With Hitler’s connivance, the independent Baltic states were occupied and then annexed by Stalin... Finland, too, was invaded and conquered by the Red Army. When Hitler turned west, invading first Scandinavia, then the Low Countries and France, Stalin sent his congratulations. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, the Nazis and the Soviets traded secrets, blueprints, technology and raw materials.”
The evidence is that Stalin, prior to Barbarossa, had expected and hoped for a Nazi victory in the war. The rapid defeat of France in 1940 (making war on a second front possible for Hitler) and the intelligence he was receiving, should have warned him about Hitler’s intentions toward Russia. But by then, Stalin was committed, relying on hope and self-delusion.
We can admire the enormous courage of the Russian people and the Red Army — but not the criminal Stalin, still honoured and excused by the Morning Star.