The Cold War Revisionists Kayoed
Richard C. Raack
NEW BOOKS DISPEL MORE HISTORICAL DARKNESS
Many books on the still-controversial history of the early cold war have recently appeared. The best reflect their authors’ encounters with suddenly available documents from the former East Bloc archives. Many deal with Stalin and Europe, and above all, with Germany, the intended jewel of a Marxist-Leninist Europe. The contents of those archives, which began to open to independent scholars around 1989, are at last being used to clarify the major historical themes of this century.
The move to a more exact history of recent times will not be easy. For some years now, writers publishing without benefit of those archival documents, working from limited, most often Western, bibliographies and sources, have staked firm positions on the central historical questions of our time. Yet as our century began to wane, they had become unable to bring much new historical understanding to the period. Some, I shall complain, never had much to add, only misinformation to spread.
Documentation is what underlies all history. Absent the solid document behind it, history becomes at best informed guesswork. Now, with the availability of new factual material from the recently opened archives to underpin history’s narrative firmly, we are moving tar beyond what was accomplished only yesterday in the understanding of twentieth-century diplomatic history. A great deal of what is old will be quickly upended, if it has not already been. Some professional reputations are already threatened. From that personal basis some writers will stonewall against broadcasting the new findings. Others, because the rewards are likely to go to those who can mine the newly available foreign records, will abandon what they have been doing to seek new careers. For the new history of the cold war is likely to be the opposite of what has for all too long been written in the schools of “political correctness”–terminology popular now in the ironic sense in the West, but originally, I believe, attributable to Stalin, and prescribing his view, from the Kremlin.
Possessing the foreign-language background that has helped them turn those newly available foreign archives into a bounty of information, most of the writers I discuss in this article have seized the occasion now offered. Their new books offer a splendid opportunity for a collective review for readers who want to know what is new about some centrally important fields of history, especially about the early cold war and its origins in the events of World War II.
Vojtech Mastny, one of the recent authors on Stalin’s foreign adventures, has come to a conclusion that has rendered many earlier, self-blinded, American “revisionist” writers on the early cold war,” and not a few others, at last hors de combat. His is hardly the first voice to be successfully raised against them, but in the end, and only after pages of Byzantine tergiversations along the way to his conclusion, Mastny at last makes his telling point. He does it almost firmly and fixes it soundly in the Kremlin’s own record, even if, at the relatively recent date of his publication, he is still uncertain about whether Stalin ran an evil empire. But were he firm and unequivocal on the latter point, what unusual, and distinctly unacademic, company he might be driven to keep!
Some of the intellectual company, obviously incorrect indeed, that all but one of these recent authors meticulously avoid keeping is that of the international society–almost all members outside the North American and Western European academic pale–that has been researching and publishing on Stalin’s alleged plan for carrying the war by way of yet another Red Army attack to the west. (The first three Red Army assaults had been on Poland in 1920 and 1939, and on Finland in 1939.) His intended war, so the partisans of this history argue, would have likely come in 1941 or 1942, that is, as part of the aftermath of the 23 August 1939 Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler. Only one of the writers mentioned below writes as if he had heard of the raging debate on that subject, now carried on in a number of languages. That may suggest that the others’ research is far from up to date, or very narrowly focused, or–surely the likeliest explanation–that they had no wish to hear of the subject or deal with it.
Stalin’s plan for a war to the west before Hitler attacked him in June 1941 has by now been extensively documented and told. I had a part in that endeavor (Stalin’s Drive to the West: 1938–1945, and in subsequent articles in the spring and fall 1996 issues of World Affairs).(1) So did the Soviet emigre historian Viktor Suvorov, writing at far greater length in three volumes.(2) So did Austrian writer Ernst Topitsch and German historians Joachim Hoffmann and Walter Post.(3) Now Columbia University Press has at last published Pariahs, Partners, Predators. German-Soviet Relations, 1922-1941, by the late Aleksandr Nekrich, formerly of the Harvard Russian Research Institute.(4) Nekrich has real substance to add. Younger Russian historians Vladimir Nevezhin and Mikhail Mel’tiukhov, among others, have contributed essential findings to the lively discussion of the alleged scheme in Russian historical periodicals. Although the historical debate has flourished in the popular press in Russia and Germany, the unnatural silence on the subject over here has been broken only by the daring of Stanford and Columbia presses and the editors of World Affairs and Russian Studies in History.(5)
Nowhere is the refusal to engage in direct historical debate on this subject, of basic importance to all twentieth-century history, more apparent than in the books reviewed in this article. That flight from discussion of so-far-unchallenged historical fact, some of it long available, I think helps to explain the frequent explanatory meanderings in the work of some of the history writers I shall discuss. One author in particular, unable to deal with outcast historical fact and findings, seeks Rube Goldbergian refuge in outlandishly convoluted explanations of Stalin’s undertakings, and in so doing, avoids mention of the most obvious formulation of what occurred. That is, Stalin was first, in 1939, an aggressor in cahoots with Hitler who intended, as soon as the occasion seemed favorable to his cause, to become an aggressor on the scale of bringing on his own world war. His purpose: to carry out wild Leninist schemes for international bolshevization. In short, Stalin was what was in the past popularly termed a Trotskyite.
Obviously, if Stalin had had a plan to exploit the chaos and disorder of the general European war–to which he had directly contributed in allowing the Germans to risk a general war in Europe without fear of Soviet intervention–that plan would not have been forgotten as the Red Army pursued the Germans west in the last two years of that war. It is hardly likely that Stalin would later have wholly abandoned what he had had in mind from 1939 to 1941, before the German attack on the Soviet Union. It seems even less likely that he would have forgotten a scheme that clearly derived from Lenin’s failed 1920 drive to the west (of which more later)–in which Stalin had also played a distinctly uncomfortable personal role. A Trotskyite or, perhaps more exactly, a Leninist, like any other zealot who feels personal discomfort at having made an error in helping to carry out the group task (an apt description of Stalin in 1920), is likely to commit himself all the more emotionally to carrying out that task. True, social science, which suggests such behavioral patterns, so far offers no incontrovertible findings, but history offers so far incontrovertible facts. Sometimes they can only be arrayed sensibly in the light of those findings. In any event, the argument merits further attention for it fits rather well what is known about the personality of the cruel Soviet dictator.
The peculiar vacuum in international historical exchange on the subject of Stalin’s prewar plans is scarcely stranger than the greatly politicized, anti-American, and even anti-Western emphases of most writers (and TV producers) on the early cold war in Europe and North America. Before the recent archival openings in the former East Bloc, specialists on domestic history in North America did the overwhelming mass of history writing on that subject on the North American continent. Because some of these often highly charged political enthusiasts could neither locate accurately nor describe geographically and demographically the far-away places of which they wrote, they sometimes mined the American (and occasionally British) archives to underpin their views of the internal affairs and international relations of non-English speaking countries.(6) The professional and popular historical literature, the published and unpublished historical sources that were not in English were gibberish to them.
In many of their so-called histories, they have solidly insisted on “political correctness.” In fact, most of these writers were students in the 1960s who earned Ph.D.s in North America when requirements, especially in domestic history, were fast beginning to lose whatever international intellectual referents they once had. As standards for broader study and foreign language preparation fell, many passed through a suddenly collapsed system of traditional, reasonable, and occasionally unreasonable obstacles to easy academic advancement. They came forth from their studies with cheapened degrees and intellectually impoverished, provincial backgrounds. Few appear to have done much to repair the flaws by sustained foreign language study, and foreign research, in later years. In those ways they might have bettered their competence to understand the past in exotic, non-English speaking places–places about which they unabashedly held strong opinions. Yet why should they have made those improvements, when they could reward one another over the years with praise, fellowships, and promotions in our enfeebled post-sixties academic milieu while remaining dismally uninformed?
The general movement downhill in academe was originally coterminous with a period of rapid expansion in the American, Canadian, and European university world. Thousands of young doctors of philosophy were suddenly turned out to teach a seemingly ever-expanding student population. New programs proliferated on campuses that lacked traditions of graduate education and the inexhaustible library resources of the older universities. (What reader can forget the story of student, later novelist, Thomas Wolfe, boldly trying to master the resources of Harvard’s Widener Library?) Libraries of grand caliber meant, of course, that universities could attract a more broadly cosmopolitan student clientele and, to guide them, research professors with broad international interests and skills.
The rapid expansion of Western academe in the 1960s also coincided with the years of youthful rage connected with U.S. involvement in the civil war in Vietnam and the developing civil rights movement. Whereas the earliest postwar popular writers on the coming of the cold war, including a few academics, had been outraged at President Roosevelt for his alleged betrayal of eastern Europe to Stalin at Yalta, many history writers of the late 1950s and 1960s were enraged at the United States itself, a number blaming the coming of the cold war on expansionist American capitalists and “corporatists.” Those groups were said to have maneuvered their government into a confrontational stance toward a postulated reasonable Soviet search for security in Europe and Asia after the Soviets had helped overwhelm the German, Italian, and Japanese wartime aggressors. The very fact that some of those writers could find Stalin’s Soviet government innocent of any expansionist behavior conditioned by imperial or bolshevizing intent, meanwhile implicitly justifying, or ignoring, the rape and sack of a third of Europe to achieve “security,” suggests their remarkable naivete.
Other, mainly younger writers, mostly academics, later termed the “revisionists,” with later “neo-” and “post-,” and perhaps other, “revisionist” varieties, almost all flew somewhat closer to earth than the original, strongly Marxist-influenced critics of U.S. wartime and early postwar diplomacy. But they, too, tended to cite domestic causes for the coming of the cold war in domestic causes. President Truman and the State Department “crowd” were among the favorite scapegoats in their focus. Those American leaders, it was alleged, had broken with the policy of understanding (to put a sympathetic construction on it) that President Roosevelt, who died in April 1945, had shown the Soviet dictator. Stalin, in the aftermath of the terrible German war, was also positively understood by some of these historians to be reinforcing his security, even though that reinforcement exterminated vast numbers of relatively innocent neighboring peoples, who conceivably had their own security needs, and many citizens of the Soviet Union itself.
A few of the more moderate among these writers were unable to accept the notion that the Americans (or more rarely, the Americans and British) were more responsible than the Soviets for the postwar animosities that had so quickly replaced the wartime collaboration and contended that an essentially reasonable Stalin had been seized with a kind of sudden dyspepsia toward the end of the war. To those without knowledge of Stalin’s past, such a flight to fancy might explain his sudden lurch from apparently cooperative wartime friendship to deep postwar animus.
Washington, some contended, had responded all too cavalierly to his indisposed heavy-handedness. The Unites States thus infuriated, instead of appeasing, the suspicious and cranky Soviet dictator, who had no good reason to trust the capitalist states that had supported interventions against the infant Bolshevik state in the aftermath of World War I. Indeed, the Western states, even the United States, were said, perhaps first of all by Stalin himself, to have relished the prospect of a German drive to the east after Hitler took the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938. So, some writers have argued, each side, West and East, after the war in which they had fought as allies, with no common enemy to help them focus on common interests had progressively hardened its position. Move followed counter-move, and the cold war was born. That war, these writers argued, was not the inevitable product of Stalin’s ruthless, ideologized expansionism (“sovietizing,” as Lenin had called it) or of a capitalist drive to dominate the world. It was simply the result of a series of misperceptions and blunders, Western as well as Eastern.
Two certainties pervaded the writings of almost all of the younger “revisionist” writers. The first was that the cold war had developed only in the last months of the hot war, or in the early postwar period. Missing in many of these accounts was a background survey of Soviet-Western relations that could provide background on Stalin’s domestic and international behavior up to that time. The peculiarly short historical focus, suggesting that Stalin had arrived on the scene only when he came into wartime alliance with the West, eliminated the need for sustained scholarly inquiry into the Soviet past and allowed for a quick jump to conclusions based on narrowly focused domestic research–easy projects for graduate students who did not have time to read Stalin’s words and long speeches, often to be found only in those pesky foreign languages.
Truncating the past in that way allowed the uncritical acceptance of Stalin’s public posture, produced by Soviet propaganda, which was that the Soviet Union had, long before 1939, renounced Leninist-Trotskyite international adventurism. Taking Stalin’s stories at face value, many writers believed that Stalin’s early-articulated need to secure the revolution at home and build socialism in one country had forced that renunciation.
Stalin, they argued (faithful to the tale concocted by the Kremlin landlord himself), fearing Hitler, wanted “collective security” with the West before the war. Stalin and his agents were identified positively with just that slogan. But his quest for collective security was balked by the Western powers’ apparent indifference. Stalin, therefore, out of fear of being abandoned, had to hurry to sign the pact of August 1939, after a quick negotiation with the Nazis, who flew in for an overnight stay. He had to take over half of Poland to secure a defensive glacis to the west, had to take over part of Romania, and had to “sovietize” the Baltic states. Many of the writers pressing this argument both then and later faithfully credited all that Stalin said, just as did some Western wartime politicians, to justify him as the defender of Europe. Farfetched is not close to the word for it, but the above is not far from the story that most of us and our children have been hearing and reading for years.
Since the mass of then-accessible history records first opened and the early memoirs on wartime diplomacy first appeared in the United States and the United Kingdom, it was relatively easy for writers who spoke only English to ignore the learning about wartime events then being acquired by researchers abroad. The captured German records for the period dealt mainly with prewar diplomacy (except for wartime inter-Axis exchange) and were, in any event, in German. The relatively quick opening of many U.S. and U.K. wartime records to researchers only encouraged the propensity of foreign language-challenged writers to view matters in extremely short focus and to see events in faraway places like Moscow through the eyes of anglophone observers who left records of what they thought was going on abroad. Tightly controlled Soviet Bloc political archives were to remain closed to independent researchers for years to come–until the Iron Curtain came down. The fact that only tendentiously edited source compilations from East Bloc sources appeared added to the confidence of these North American writers in their anglophone historical sources and made it difficult for scrupulous scholars to refute their poorly supported–but often firmly asserted–findings with complete confidence.
Writers of the several revisionist stripes were almost wholly without the ability to read foreign language documents from the East, even those that were published. Yet their local preoccupation, reflecting incompetence in its exclusion of extramural thought, has never diminished their commercial publishing prospects. The anti-Americanism that found expression in many of their works had first appeared as politically advanced in those domestic circles in which, thirty or so years ago, guitar and song offered the main path to political understanding. Nowadays it reflects the stodgy political certainties of much of U.S.–and not only U.S.–journalism and academe.
The current crop of writings on the early cold war reflect, as noted, vastly broader information obtained from the newly opened archives. Two books connect Stalin’s prewar plans, albeit a version of them not far from what he publicly advertised he had in mind, with what he might have had in mind in 1945. None of the writers, as noted earlier, undertakes to prove that Stalin did not have a plan to bring on a grand European war in 1939. That leaves the argument that he did have a plan still almost wholly unchallenged on this side of the Atlantic; indeed it is newly and powerfully refurbished by Aleksandr Nekrich’s recent book. Obviously, establishing or refuting Stalin’s alleged war schemes as historical fact would go far toward settling some of the main arguments about who started the cold war. Yet the authors I review here collectively seem to regard as taboo any thinking about either the events surrounding the Hitler-Stalin pact or the alleged continuity of Soviet policy since Lenin in connection with the cold war.
Even with its limitations taken into account, Vojtech Mastny’s The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years merits attention.(7) Mastny was the author of one of the best and most cosmopolitan books of the cold war years, Russia’s Road to the Cold War: 1941-1945.(8) It appeared in 1979, long before the fall of the Iron Curtain. For some reason, Mastny’s newer volume does not begin where the other left off but essentially takes flight at the inception of the Marshall Plan and the founding of the Cominform in September 1947. It thus leaves out the first two, crucially important postwar years of developing East-West conflict. One wonders why. Mastny at least has something to say about Stalin and the pact with Hitler, which he nonetheless embarrassingly misdates, but mentions nothing of Stalin’s alleged earlier war plans.
Liberating Stalin of much of his encumbering past, Mastny argues, as so many revisionists also did, that Stalin’s purpose in making the pact was to gain security. Note the book’s title. Contending that Stalin had long since abandoned revolutionary ideology, Mastny writes, in the Cold War and Soviet Insecurity, that the “Soviet Union had not only postponed its pursuit of revolution indefinitely, but had itself become an imperialist power.” The “empire”–the territories Stalin acquired in the deal with Hitler–was gathered in only to improve Soviet security. That Stalin continued, both in his negotiations with Hitler and later with the wartime Allies, Britain and the United States, to demand for the vast Soviet Union even more territories and bases at the cost of other nations, and that those demands often suggestively duplicated tsarist Russian imperialist aims, he oddly lets pass unremarked.
Mastny insists that the Soviet capture of Poland by early 1945 was the ultimate westward projection of Stalin’s security needs. Stalin had no plans to take over all of Germany, as other writers who have done their homework on the subject have argued (and as quite reliable sources, neglected by Mastny, show).(9) But if that is true, why did Stalin, as Mastny himself often stresses, make such great efforts to ensconce his agents throughout Germany? In fact, Lenin, Stalin’s ideological mentor, had long before pegged communism’s ultimate victory in Europe on taking over Germany first.
Had Stalin simply abandoned all those sacred Bolshevik plans and the martyrs who had tried, on at least three earlier occasions, to realize them? In 1947, while advising French Communist boss Maurice Thorez on how to get and secrete arms for a future day, Stalin reminded him how different things might have been had the Red Army advanced into France during the war.(10) Moreover, during all the years from the end of the war up to the formation of the satellite East German state in 1949, Stalin was regularly counseling the East German Communist leaders about how to gain power in all of Germany.(11) At one point, in the Cold War, Mastny advises that in 1946 Stalin “thought he could still get the kind of Germany he wanted” (24). At another, he relates that the “political collapse of Europe brought about by Germany’s aggression opened for the Soviet Union the enticing prospect of its being able to act after the war as the arbiter of the continent”–certainly a part of the world that includes Germany (20). Later he contends that Stalin had a “long cherished illusion of a united and pro-Soviet, though not necessarily communist Germany” (138). In his conclusion Mastny argues, further confounding his reader, that Stalin believed “that Germany could be united on the foundations established in the eastern part of it [i.e., “sovietized”] he controlled” (193). Yet nowhere, he argues, did the Soviets “foresee the establishment of communist regimes” (21). Why, then, the constant advice to the Stalinists he put in charge in East Germany (who helped build for him those very Bolshevik foundations) on how to gain power there and in the rest of Germany as well? And Germany was not the only part of Europe close to his heart, as the postwar advice to Thorez suggests.
Does my reader detect curiously meandering thinking? What territory that Stalin ever held in his power did he not bolshevize? (I will answer that for informed critics in advance: Finland, in 1944, was essentially in Stalin’s power, but then only of modest importance to him. Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov candidly called it a “peanut,” perhaps because it was not on the main path to the Channel.) Mastny’s assertion that Poland satisfied Soviet security needs, and that such security was his ultimate goal, seems utterly at odds with those dreams of Bolshevist expansion further to the west in Germany. In fact, Stalin never said a word about postponing Bolshevist expansion indefinitely. Quite the opposite. Why does Mastny draw that conclusion on Stalin’s behalf?
I had the impression that Mastny was resisting the obvious conclusions to be drawn from some of the facts he presented about Stalin’s program for Germany and Europe. But since his story is not always easy to follow, it may be he was simply having difficulty sorting out the mass of sometimes conflicting evidence and separating it from the residues of stereotypical cold war historical verities long dominant and still alive in his book. Note those easily disputable testimonies to Stalin’s security needs and schedule. The evidences of a hasty dash to the Oxford printery support the latter hypothesis (for example, the typos and the disturbingly misdated Hitler-Stalin Pact, a mistake which, though a “peanut,” does seem in context all too indicative).
In his next section, focusing on Asia, Mastny approaches the level, unique for its time, demonstrated by his 1979 history, to which I referred above. Readers will garner from Mastny at this point a good story of Stalin’s work in helping to bring on the Korean war with the aid of North Korea and China. There are longer accounts, such as those by Sergei Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War; and by Chen Jian, China’s Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation; and an important article by Kathryn Weathersby, but Mastny’s is as good a telling of that story in the larger context of international events as so far has been produced.(12) It is obvious from the richness of Mastny’s history here that he got some of his best factual morsels for this part of it out of key documents (especially those containing Stalin’s verbal signature, which are the hardest sources to come by) that he found in the former Soviet archives.
The earlier part of the 1996 Harvard University Press book by Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev, parallels parts of Mastny’s Cold War.(13) These two writers, whose preparation training as historians goes strangely unrecorded by their academic publishers, also follow the short-focus approach to history. This is astonishing, for they are Russians, not Americans, and not academics, at least over here. One would have thought that Russians would seek a deeper historical understanding of how the Soviet debacle came about. Yet they follow Mastny (if one holds to his general emphasis and not to his occasional reports of vaster Soviet enterprises in Europe to the west of Poland) in finding that there was no Soviet master plan (74). That finding alone suggests why they have won enthusiastic support from some revisionists.
These Russians also believe in the suddenchange argument referred to above, which is familiar from some of the earlier revisionist works. They offer a kind of psychological variation on the once widespread dyspepsia theme: “The shift in Stalin’s attitude toward [Note: I believe that “away from” clarifies their ambiguity.] postwar cooperation in 1945-1946 can be attributed in part to the `deep and morbid obsessions and compulsions’ … that pushed [Stalin] to guarantee Soviet security” (36). One more point in their favor with the revisionists. Yet, in guaranteeing that “security,” he bolshevized half of the half of Europe not yet bolshevized in 1938, half of Korea (and tried his best to help bolshevize the other half), and helped the Chinese Reds bolshevize China. Those were clearly some powerful obsessions and compulsions behind that security need, and, ipso facto, behind whatever Stalin ran. Since Zubok and Pleshakov, like Mastny, assure us that he was definitely the one who ran things, the game was obviously his to call. But was all that murderous bolshevizing solely out of his need for security?
Zubok and Pleshakov, like Mastny, were not allowed into the archives of the Kremlin’s inner sanctum. But these authors give us no hint of the likely missing evidence, a giant gap in sources that might be repaired only by the opening of the closed Russian presidential archive. That lack of evidence has so far made it impossible to prove categorically from Soviet sources what many of Stalin’s foreign programs were. By contrast, Mastny conscientiously alerts readers to the problem, then speculatively discounts, I think incorrectly, the likely importance of the sequestered documents. Zubok and Pleshakov seem not to worry that their readers may not be aware of the tenuousness of their findings.
One of those forcefully asserted, and very tenuous, findings jumps forth in their conclusion that “there was no master plan in the Kremlin.” Yet the truth or falsity of such a conclusion can scarcely be supported by the evidence. Although Zubok and Pleshakov manage to find the kind of second- or third-level documents in the Russian archives that Mastny also largely exploited for the European sections of his book, nothing they cite from the former Soviet archives directly establishes in Stalin’s own words, or even in Foreign Commissar Molotov’s (those not put out for public consumption), what plan the former had in mind for Europe after the war. Their bold assertion is also at odds with readily available evidence to the contrary, which the authors leave wholly unmentioned.
The mass of impressive evidence available from other sources, in particular the archives of the satellite Communist parties, they did not consult at all. Moreover, they know appallingly little of the complicated international world of the 1940s and 1950s to which their study and their conclusions relate. In fact, these authors broadly mislead readers, and evidently themselves, too, rather consistently. For example (and there will be others), they identify General Ivan Serov as an NKVD general “who brought German specialists to the Soviet Union [after the war]” (147). And so he likely did. But he was far more important as part of the cold war story, especially in the horror story of Stalin’s destruction of much of traditional Europe. Indeed Serov functioned as one of Stalin’s specialists in the mass transfer and extermination of peoples–work that he pursued for the Kremlin both before the SovietGerman war in the Baltic states, and probably elsewhere, and later in Poland and Germany. That is, he was a Soviet Eichmann. About as bad as covering up for Stalin by omitting Serov’s brief biography to avoid the reportorial difficulties it would entail is the other, perhaps more likely, possibility: that Zubok and Pleshakov actually were not well acquainted with Serov and his past.
The authors fail to identify German Communist leaders Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht, both of them in Moscow exile before the end of the European war, among “German veterans of the disbanded Comintern, selected by the NKVD to help the Soviets restore order in the occupied territories” (48). Pieck and Ulbricht, to be sure, were all of that and much more. They were the hand-picked leaders of the centrally important German party. They ranked at the highest reaches of the Comintern (i.e., the Presidium and Executive Committee; Stalin himself was a member of the former), which had been dissolved in name only (in spite of Zubok and Pleshakov’s indication to the contrary). The Comintern, in truth, continued to function as innocuously titled bureaus of the Soviet Communist Party. Pieck and Ulbricht were most assuredly not selected by the NKVD (although no doubt regularly vetted by it), but by Stalin himself for their critically important roles in his coming postwar scheme for all of Germany.
Pieck and Ulbricht were ushered into Stalin’s inner Kremlin sanctum for a key meeting with the boss and his top advisers on 4 June 1945. Ulbricht and only one other “veteran” from Stalin’s German cadre had just been flown in for the occasion. Stalin heard their and others’ reports about the immediate postwar situation in Red Army-occupied Germany. In response, he let them know what he had in mind for them to accomplish there toward putting up a multiparty “anti-fascist democratic” facade, of the kind Stalin had long employed in similar circumstances elsewhere, and behind which he expected to be able to effect his program for postwar Germany (of which more later). Stalin went on to harp on the same general scheme on virtually every occasion on which he and his German chieftains met over the next few years, so there can be little doubt that he was fully invested in his expectations. The notes on those meetings are major sources for Stalin’s postwar plans.
The Soviets and these German helpers definitely were not, however, charged with restoring order in the middle of Germany, as Zubok and Pleshakov contend, charitably putting the best possible construction on Stalin’s efforts (48). What they may mean by those words is that some of Stalin’s agents on the spot were attempting to get the local utilities running and transportation and some production and distribution under way in that war-devastated landscape. Or perhaps we may understand that what they secretly held in mind was building an entirely different order. For they destroyed much of the “order” that remained, closing banks, confiscating and redistributing land haphazardly, and looting and seizing whatever they and their Red Army associates could lay hands on, even in the western sectors of Berlin not assigned to them. Meanwhile the Red Army soldiers were allowed to indulge in the individual and gang rape of almost anything female. As one British army officer put it on first arriving in the British sector of Berlin in July, the city had been put to the sack for two months before the Western allies got there. Indeed those were not optimum conditions for the restoration of any sort of social and economic order.
Zubok and Pleshakov might have learned something of Stalin’s real purposes in Europe had they but consulted Pieck’s now-famous notes those for 4 June, and for later meetings the German cadre had with Stalin. Already an extensive historical literature has been given over to authenticating them and putting them in into the context of Stalin’s goals in Germany. But Zubok and Pleshakov did not do this. Indeed, they cite on the meeting of 4 June only the latter-day, deceptive reporting of one of Stalin’s chief agents in Germany (47), who was not even present at the now well known meeting. Nor were Pieck and Ulbricht and the rest of Stalin’s German cadre sent off to “territories,” as Zubok and Pleshakov (seemingly unconcerned with where they actually went) vaguely write. Some went to Berlin (Pieck only at the beginning of July 1945), and others to Stettin and Dresden, in the eastern third of Germany, then wholly under Soviet occupation. The very geographical distribution of Stalin’s agents in his zone of Germany clearly reflected Moscow’s planning and is important in establishing the nature of that planning. Zubok and Pleshakov do not tell us that. I suspect that they did not know it.
Nor will readers find in Zubok and Pleshakov a comprehensible description of what Stalin was undertaking at the time in the eastern one-third of his assigned one-third of Germany, his Soviet zone of occupation. He was busy lopping off those very easterly parts of Germany without the approval of the Allies, who at that time still understood those areas to be part of Germany. Stalin was doing his barbering “without so much as a by your leave,” as President Truman recorded at the Potsdam conference when he learned what was going on. Yet that brutal Stalinist tonsuring–removing the Oder-Neisse territories from Germany and giving most of them to Poland–soon became one of the main cold war controversies. In fact these writers do not even refer their readers accurately to the geography of that eastern onethird, erroneously termed by them “Prussia” and “Silesia.” In fact, the former had not existed as a state since 1933. Before its dissolution, it extended all across Germany, from the Nieman River westward to the Rhine. Silesia was the southeasterly part of dissolved Prussia.
In their discussion of the Yalta conference, it being one stage in the continuing “Big Three” discussions of the dismemberment of both prewar Germany and prewar Poland, these Russian writers tell readers of Poland being moved geographically “eastward,” while Stalin annexed lands up to the Curzon Line and gave the Poles in return “Eastern Silesia, part of Saxony, and Western Prussia” (32). Actually most of the geographical and demographical mayhem eventually done in central Europe and east central Europe had been first discussed and largely effected at the conference at Teheran in 1943, not at Yalta, in 1945. It had been partly connived during wartime negotiation by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill to punish the Germans and weaken that nation to obviate potential future aggression, as well as to satisfy Stalin’s crackpot quest for some “booty” of war. Zubok and Pleshakov never report that earlier, more important discussion of these issues.
In fact, as a result of agreements discussed or made at those wartime conferences–Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam–Poland was indeed “moved,” but westward, not eastward, and it got almost all of Silesia and only a bit of Saxony. It had already received the vast bulk of West Prussia after Germany’s defeat in the First World War. There was no historical “Eastern Silesia” as such, nor a “Western Prussia,” nor an “Eastern Prussia,” though part of the former German province of East Prussia, as noted, was annexed by Stalin in 1945 as “booty” of war.
The arena of Zubok and Pleshakov’s geographical mismanagement of Europe is vast. They go on to lose the town of Szklarska Poreeba (called Schreiberhau, and in German Silesia until 1945) in the “Southern Sudetenland,” although it is in Polish Silesia, a hundred or so miles away (110). The town is famous, or infamous, as the seat of the founding meeting of the Cominform. They also appear to regard the “Erzgebirge” as a town (147), when in fact they are a chain of mountains. (But, as my reader can learn by reading the German notes of the 4 June meeting to which I have twice referred, even Stalin, although beloved to his followers as “humanity’s greatest genius,” didn’t have his central European geography straight when he was telling his German henchmen the future dimensions he had fixed for their country. So why should we expect lesser mortals, even those who want to discuss Stalin’s diplomacy, to know where he put Poland, or to properly locate Szklarska Poreba?)
Moreover, neither Prussia nor Silesia, nor Szklarska Poreba, nor any of those other strange geographical constructions named above, including the Curzon Line (of which there were several territorial descriptions; another bit of almost ancient, that is, early-twentieth-century, history that seems to have eluded these writers), appears in the book’s index. Yet we are dealing with the history of Stalin’s forced transportation of millions and millions of people (and not only defeated Germans), and mass deaths in the course of that transport that rival in numbers the ghastly achievements of Hitler’s wartime executioners and approximate Stalin’s deadly work in the Gulag. If Europe, the grand Europe of the historical high Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution, and even peripheral Russia are still reeling demographically and spiritually as a result of the mayhem undertaken at the commands of Hitler and Stalin, we still find Europeans, Zubok and Pleshakov, evidently so indifferent to that history that they cannot even take pains to describe accurately where things happened (or, in the case of General Serov, to identify properly one of Europe’s undertakers).
Just a hint of the demographic disaster launched by the two dictators, itself a fundamental chapter in the history of the war and cold war, is subsequently told by Zubok and Pleshakov under yesterday’s trendy rubric, “ethnic cleansing.” They tell how in 1947 Matyas Rakosi, one of Hungary’s Stalinist bosses, wanted to emulate the Czechs and Poles, who had driven millions of Germans out of their territories as the war was coming to an end, and just after it. Zubok and Pleshakov tell us that Rakosi wanted to transplant one hundred thousand “Swabs” to Soviet-occupied Germany, but won no permission from Molotov (100). “Swabs”? The authors, their footnote establishes, got that prize account from a former Soviet archive and obviously just transliterated the Cyrillic letters to the Latin alphabet. Their readers therefore never learn (the authors evidently were once again too impatient, or indifferent, to take the trouble to learn themselves) just who these “Swabs” might have been, or why Rakosi proposed sending them to Germany rather than to, say, Bulgaria (or Lesbos, for that matter). The same hapless “Swabs” also failed to make it into the book’s index. Yet the story of Stalin’s refusal of Rakosi’s request does deftly fix who was actually running Hungarian domestic business in 1947, and who remains the master “ethnic cleanser” of European history.
The rest of their discussion of the Soviet Zone of Occupation in Germany mauls its actual history to the point that it recalls their verbal misdemeanors performed on the story of the wartime conferences and the relevant east-central European geography and demography. Moreover, Zubok and Pleshakov suggest as credible proofs of what Stalin was up to in Germany the remarks of such faithful apparatchiks of the Stalinist and neo-Stalinist terror machines as Molotov, Vladimir Semenov, and Valentin Falin–some of whom were adjuncts of the deadly Soviet apparatus both during and after the reign of the Kremlin vozhd’. They accept these Stalinist agents’ recollections even when the agents’ remarks should obviously be viewed skeptically. At this point in Zubok and Pleshakov’s text, I am also given credit, but only for once having written that at that 4 June meeting Stalin said that there would be “two Germanies” (48, 294).(14) But although those were Stalin’s words, reported by me in context, they are unconscionably misleading when taken out of the context of the discussion in Moscow then and out of the context of Stalin’s other postwar talks with his German henchmen. Nothing else I write in the same article is revealed, quite possibly because most of it, which I believe to be accurate history, is utterly at odds with what they report on the same subject.
They appear to have gotten most of what they know about the complications of postwar politics in Germany from Norman Naimark’s, The Russians in Germany: 1945-1949.(15) Having gotten the account of Stalin’s chief cold war focus of attention almost wholly wrong (the blame cannot be placed on Naimark, who got a lot right, although not the story of Stalin’s intentions there), these authors go on to even more history in their evident rush into print. Unbelievable as it may seem, they know even less about Poland than about Germany; they are not even sure, as I have noted, where it ended up geographically. Main events, including the wartime instructions Stalin had sent via the Comintern to his Polish agents, telling them not to let out a “politically incorrect” word (in his original sense of the expression) about future bolshevization, go unmentioned. One has grounds to believe that these authors have never heard of those Polish representatives of the Comintern, although understanding their role is essential to understanding Stalin’s method of operation toward achieving what seems to be his postwar plan, the very plan that they assure readers did not exist. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, whose role in Polish wartime and postwar history is so critical to understanding what Stalin was up to in that wretchedly tormented nation gets no mention whatsoever from Zubok and Pleshakov. Wladyslaw Gomulka, who played a central role among Stalin’s Polish agents (the other two, far more beholden to Stalin, were Edward Oso’bka-Morawski and Boleslaw Bierut), also goes unmentioned in this context. The roles of the latter pair go unmentioned entirely, although they, like Gomulka, were regularly summoned to Moscow to hear the Kremlin boss’s current wisdom on keeping their land in the plan, on track toward a Soviet paradise.
In fact, Poland’s course toward sovietization and the debate over its geographical place in Europe raised more Western hackles in wartime negotiation and other diplomatic encounters early on (thus contributing much to heating up the early cold war) than did, for some months, Stalin’s slightly more subtly effected, later program to bring Germany to Bolshevism. What subtlety he could bring to bear in pursuing the latter goal must have been imposed on him by the fact that he did not have the Red Army on hand in all of Germany to convince opponents “that two times two is sixteen” (its key educational role, as he brazenly informed his Polish clients), and that Berlin, as a four-power city, was wholly open to Western observers and armies from the outset of four-power occupation.
Should readers still doubt that Zubok and Pleshakov’s success at sowing misinformation, confusing detail, and catastrophically misappropriating geography cannot be rivaled by another of their keen talents, that for organizing overall confusion while implicitly blaming Stalin’s crimes on the West, let me quote more of their characteristic prose:
In the categories of “good guys and bad guys,” Stalin was indisputably a
bad guy in the Cold War. But he was also a bad guy during World War II and
before it, and the West had gladly accepted him as he was, for it needed
his strength to cope with the chaotic Europe of 1943-1945 [Why not of 1941
and 1942?] using nineteenth-century methods, that is, regulating
international relations by the concert of the great powers. Stalin thought
he had done well when occupied [annexed part of?] Eastern Prussia and
preserved the lands conquered before the war. But now [once again,
suddenly?] the West perceived him as bad, and Stalin felt threatened by
this shift in attitude among his allies.(53)
Even that verdant historical prose cannot efface the need to ask a few questions: (1) In that the words imply there were other “bad guy” cold warriors, one wonders who they were–those who did not work for Stalin? (2) Do the authors really believe that the West had accepted Stalin “as he was” at the time of the pact with Hitler, and at the time he warred on Poland and Finland? (3) Do the authors really believe that Stalin, during the war, was “regulating international relations by the concert of the great powers”? If so, why did not they come out harmoniously regulated, instead of in the antagonisms of a costly cold war? Or do they mean, without saying so, that it was the Western powers, not Stalin, who deregulated the harmony in the concert, bringing him to feel threatened?
Of course what actually had occurred is that, with the end of the war, the Westerners, with new leaders in both Britain and America (Clement Attlee and Harry Truman), had gradually pushed aside the web of illusion with which their predecessors and their media authorities, propagandists, and collaborators had draped the wartime Soviet Union. The new leaders slowly acquired a clearer perception than their wartime predecessors had had. They then reluctantly, gradually, and at first inconsistently identified Stalin as the malefactor he had always been. The perspective they gained over time of the chaos and evil he had created, and was continuing to create, at last cut away at his ability to easily manipulate and deceive them, as he had manipulated and deceived the Western wartime leaders.
Last in my large bag of complaints about Zubok and Pleshakov and Harvard Press is the evident haste to publish that is manifest in countless typographical errors, misspellings, that tortured and often unfathomable prose, and the obvious failure to consult mountains of vital evidence closer to coming untrammeled from the Soviet boss’s mouth than anything archival they cite, at least about Europe. Their short focus and ignorance of the European world beyond the Kremlin victimized them, and their readers, as critically as the even less cosmopolitan “revisionists” have for years victimized themselves, their students, and their readers. But the “revisionists” also knew little about the Kremlin.
That is not the case with Zubok and Pleshakov. They do give readers a lot of information –obviously somewhat unsystematically, but it is there. Their account of Stalin’s relationship with some of his henchmen, including Molotov, which implicitly suggests how Kremlin decision making was much of the time based on the passing around of inexpert information and misinformation and the rejection of better advice, is worthwhile. Zubok and Pleshakov make clear that, given the centralization of Soviet power and Stalin’s seeming wish to make all the choices, there was usually too much before him to decide. So Kremlin actions were often taken in fits and starts, much of the time belatedly. We needed this additional insight they give us into the functioning of Stalin’s service.
Other authors who have mined the same archives, or other documents close to the Bolshevik center, and developed information from a variety of additional sources have suggested a similar view of the conduct of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. It would be interesting to develop that line of inquiry by comparing the Kremlin’s fits and starts with the responses they generated in the West, where the darkness about what was going on at almost every level behind Soviet lines was then almost complete.
Zubok and Pleshakov’s section on Asia largely parallels the story told by Mastny, but he does the better job of telling the story and putting it in context. Also, a prospective reader will find the latter part of the Zubok and Pleshakov book dedicated to the post-Stalin years, which are not taken up in this article. These authors also provide a number of interesting photos. The visual record is also a part of history, a part too many authors neglect.
Finally, with respect to this Harvard Press publication, one of at least three of their ostensibly scholarly products recently published without a bibliography, it appears from evidence provided by the authors and the press that the manuscript did not come to the press by the normal method adopted by quality academic presses to ensure high levels of scholarship in their products: that is, through secret evaluations from scholars qualified in the academic field. The recommenders of this book about Stalin’s foreign policy seem to have been historians of the United States, among them at least one member of the revisionist camp obviously as catastrophically unaware of European historical geography as Zubok and Pleshakov themselves.(16) Heavyweights at the Council of Foreign Relations, one a New York Times journalist with a business background and at least some record of small concern for historical fact, also appear to have seconded its production.(17) With such U.S. brass on their side, the two Russians’ book was subsequently picked up by the History Book Club (referred on its commercial behalf to readers by yet another revisionist historian of the United States brazenly offering himself as an expert about this book on Stalin’s, and some of his successors’, foreign policy).(18) It has also already won at least one important academic prize. (19)
Probably more academic rewards lie in the offing for Zubok and Pleshakov. The revisionists, who have promoted them, desperately need the two who read Russian to gain wide accreditation, for having found no Soviet master plan, but instead a search for security, Zubok and Pleshakov seem to underwrite the English-speakers’ own aging revisionist scholasticism in several of its varieties, giving the Americans their own security blanket. What is smothered under that blanket is poor old Europe and its peoples–and historical truth.
With prestigious Harvard apparently violating normal rules for academic presses, and many history writers and journalists leaping with stupefying bravado to broadcast opinions on matters well beyond their professional reach, should one be surprised that no doubt historically naive, but perhaps well meaning, commercial producers of an entire television series on the cold war fell into the trap of putting a revisionist historian of the United States in charge of their new history for the mass public? That historian, John Lewis Gaddis, was one of those who heaped great praise on Zubok and Pleshakov’s book, so viewers can even now reflect on the quality of history and geography, and maybe even on the quality of the experts, that they have recently been able to view.
Gaddis’s latest book, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, is a summary of some recent scholarship on the subject.(20) Fellow revisionist Melvin Leffier, an American specialist who grasps European geography and history about as well as Zubok and Pleshakov, has termed Gaddis the “best historian of the Cold War.” Like the books of Mastny and Zubok and Pleshakov, Gaddis takes up a much longer period of history than can be dealt with here, where I am limiting my discussion to the postwar years of Stalin’s diplomacy in Europe and Asia.
The rapid opening of many former East Bloc archives after 1989 brought, as noted, that deluge of new facts that Gaddis, working as a research scholar, would have been professionally obliged to deal with. But he has just advertised a change in his role as historian. The reason for this move evidently lies in his confession that he cannot take advantage of the newly opened archives for want of appropriate foreign language capabilities.
Gaddis’s new stance is that of synthesizer and popularizer of other scholars’ recent research–when that research is published in English. Yet Gaddis’s recent confession, implying that he has been carrying on for years at research tasks in which he could not succeed, has not dissuaded the Council on Foreign Relations from publishing We Now Know with its imprimatur. One gets the impression from this new book that Gaddis is still fearful to go far beyond the pale of local received opinion, which remains congenial to the revisionist-dominated United States historians and their partisans in the American academic world and in the wealthy foundations. The revisionist circle, although by now increasingly fractured and much distended, still does not seem to be one Gaddis wants to abandon ostentatiously. He has, after all, been with them for a long time.
Gaddis had early staked his reputation among them by holding on to some of their favorite opinions, such as the notion, straight out of Stalin’s own propaganda, that the Soviet dictator was really only interested in gaining security; and that Stalin had no “master plan” (to use Zubok and Pleshakov’s terminology) for postwar expansion beyond his alleged belt of security. Gaddis re-creates both of these illusions in this book. But by recognizing that Stalin was once a world revolutionary (without telling readers just when and why the Soviet chief gave up that faith), as he does, and acknowledging that he had a postwar expansionist plan in Germany (by Leninist tradition a place where a key phase of that revolution was certain to occur) Gaddis yields a little on the latter point. To escape from the dilemmas of explanation in which he thereby places himself, he turns to confounding the reader, and probably himself, with utter nonsense.
Gaddis now recognizes that Stalin did have postwar expansionist plans, but still glibly manipulates tendentious and indefinite revisionist terminology; for example, he casually implies the existence of a U.S. postwar “empire.”(21) He means the term figuratively, even while repeating it. Yet it is inexact, pejorative, and misleading. My own suspicion is that it appears in his text only as a nod to his lighter revisionist brethren.(22)
Some sources and findings at odds with the revisionists’ traditional canon of wisdom bring Gaddis, in the course of his synthesizing, to complete silence. For example, in We Now Know he cites my substantially archive-based findings twenty or so times. An author perhaps should be grateful for that recognition; however, Gaddis clearly is not of a mood to accept, or even mention, some of the conclusions I draw from the new facts I found, or even to refer readers to the documents I cite. To be sure, he is not required to accept my conclusions or those of any other scholar. But he cannot ignore what he indicates he is aware of: the facts and findings reported in English from my research in a number of those newly opened former East Bloc archives. They, when correct, compel the attention of any writer trying to do a synthesis of the history of the early cold war; when wrong, they require refutation as part of the necessary relentless search to clarify the historical record. Gaddis neither attends to them nor refutes them.
Gaddis has a problem holding the lid on many awkward findings he cannot fit into his synthesis. To deal with it, he cites in one note many authors, some in conflict among themselves on the point he wishes to make. He then asserts his own point as if it were the sum of all that footnoted wisdom, citing all the voices, including the discordant ones, as his proof. In doing that, he often does not tell the reader why he chooses one historian’s finding over another conflicting finding. What is one to do with all those unruly facts and discordant opinions left protruding from his overstuffed footnote? He doesn’t tell us that, either.
Yet historians must follow the same rules as researchers in the hard sciences in this respect: no scholar can avoid mentioning discordant, but credible, up-to-date facts and findings produced by other scholars, no matter how much they may be at odds with his own.
One of my contentions, noted earlier, has been that Stalin did his utmost to bring on the war for his own purposes. Gaddis takes a giant step by conceding that Stalin wanted to profit from the war between the Western democracies and Hitler (299). But, although he admits this important point, he never tells us what he thinks it might mean. Just what was the profit Stalin wanted? Gaddis does not say. He simply drops the line of historical inquiry his recognition of Stalin’s war schemes obviously requires. Is that because it might lead him to what he does not want to know, yet cannot disprove?
Still, one notes significant change from Gaddis’s past historical stance, for the vast bulk of what revisionists have earlier written goes uncited here–properly ignored, that is, or even rejected. When they are cited it is not for their wisdom about foreign places. (For much of his information on the foreign places, Gaddis frequently pulls in Zubok and Pleshakov, and that tells us a great deal indeed.)
Gaddis, by conceding that Stalin was, in fact, a world revolutionary, at least for a time, edges beyond his earlier thought (this very point he denied in his first major book on the cold war in 1972, after he had built in those same pages a castle of historical sand, untenable except on the basis of that frail denial).(23) He now thinks that Stalin had put the revolution aside. But put aside or always in the forefront of the Soviet boss’s mind (which it was, Gaddis’s unfounded assertion notwithstanding), it represents Gaddis’s admission of the primacy of ideology in directing at least some of the behavior of the vozhd’. With this admission Gaddis has opened a Pandora’s box of explanatory problems for himself.
Gaddis can allow himself to believe that Stalin, at some point, put the ideology of revolution aside because his reading in Lenin’s and Stalin’s texts and Soviet history is inadequate, even after twenty-five or more years of writing about the purposes of the second Bolshevik boss. He does not know when, or even if, Stalin ever reinstituted that ideology of world revolution. In fact Stalin actively re-embraced fomenting foreign revolution no later than 1938, but behind his propaganda veil, the ostensible quest for peace and security, to use his own term to describe the mask for his duplicity. He saw Hitler ready to tear up Europe for his own purposes, breaking up the fixed Versailles order. The long awaited, golden opportunity for Stalin to piggyback the revolution onto the Nazis’ role as destroyer, or as historians Philipp Fabry and Viktor Suvorov (the latter in English, and hence available to Professor Gaddis) have argued, icebreaker of European order had come.(24) Stalin seized the occasion to encourage Hitler to start his war in circumstances the latter was deluded enough to believe would be favorable to him. Soon, with war, devastation, and chaos developing everywhere, Stalin could begin to plot exactly when his Red Army would carry the revolution to the shattered postwar continent. This was the profit Stalin expected from the war among the “imperialists” that he encouraged and craved. Meanwhile his propagandists prattled about peace and security, fooling much of the world, while Stalin blamed the British and French for bringing on the war.
Gaddis mistakenly thinks that Stalin broke with Lenin’s faith in spontaneous revolution to favor using the Red Army as the engine of revolution abroad (14). But that very use was invented by Lenin. He originally used it abroad when he sent the Red forces west in 1920 to “sovietize” Poland and to encourage the defeated Germans to rise up with Bolshevik support against their Western oppressors, the authors of the Versailles settlement that had deprived Germany of so much of its pre-World War I territory. Lenin planned to encourage the Germans to make the right choices by arraying the Red Army menacingly on the Weimar republic’s then defenseless eastern borders.
Even in 1920 Lenin was using the Red Army as the engine of revolution. One can so far at best only infer that he imagined that the Red Army-liberated German masses and their “liberators” would together march west, over the bodies of the German bourgeoisie, to undo the disasters the Versailles treaty had imposed on the Reich. Lenin, after victory, would likely have handed over to the new “sovietized” Germany the territories Poland had won from the defeated Germans at Versailles. Poland itself he may have intended to make into a Soviet republic, as Stalin also clearly intended, at least for a short period, in 1939, and perhaps even later.
But the Poles in 1920 steadfastly refused to bow before the Soviet Russian dictatorship. They unexpectedly and disastrously defeated Lenin’s Red Army at the battle of Warsaw, and sent it packing–eastward. The Germans were obtusely innocent of their amazing good fortune.
Lenin’s sovietizing design of 1920 was Stalin’s, too, when he brought the Bolshevist system in the van of the Red Army as it moved westward toward the end of the war in 1944 and 1945. In fact, Stalin gave Yugoslavian Communist Milovan Djilas to understand that very point in 1945; Gaddis quotes his remark about a state that takes another’s territory imposing on it the conqueror’s system. It is difficult, I suggest, given Djilas’s report on Stalin’s thinking and the mass of other credible evidence to the same point, to put aside the conclusion that Stalin was both a postwar ideologist and a postwar expansionist. It is also hard to avoid the conclusion that Gaddis is unaware of the historical background that places Stalin in Lenin’s revolutionary trajectory.
Having banished the ideology of world revolution from Stalin’s thoughts sometime between Lenin’s death and 1939, Gaddis visualizes him desperately trying to stay out of the war that year, and Hitler desperately trying to get in it. That is conventional wisdom, but it is only partly true. For, although it is well known that Hitler voluntarily entered the war, he did not get into the war he wanted. That is, he got war with the West, whereas all he wanted at the time was war with Poland. As for Stalin, he was only trying to keep out of the war until the Red Army was strong enough to put “the decisive weight on the scales,” as he himself had put it years back (and as Lenin had tried and failed to do in 1920).(25) Such was Stalin’s scheme in 1939, when he made the risky nonaggression pact with Hitler to incite the major European war that he actually wanted far more than Hitler did.
How does Gaddis get Stalin from once being in favor of world revolution, to wanting to profit from the war in 1939, to only wanting “security”–the reason Gaddis gives for Stalin’s building his post-World War II empire? Are we to forget what Stalin told Djilas and believe that he had forgotten the revolution totally by then? Was he too much burned by the disastrous real war he actually got in the west from 1941 to 1945 to take up the program he had hoped to realize before the actual conflict began?
Gaddis’s answer: in 1945 Stalin was, the author suggests by juxtaposing the two thoughts, seemingly moved by the alleged wartime deaths of twenty-seven million of his countrymen. He therefore had to turn to his search for security. He could hardly have done otherwise, says Gaddis, confirming once more how little he knows about Stalin’s Soviet Union (13). And thus Gaddis’s suggestion to explain Stalin’s course from allegedly abandoned world revolution, through looking forward to the war’s (unnamed) profits, to the quest for security and the building of that satellite empire, but only to gain security: Stalin was softhearted. He had abandoned the world revolution out of sympathy for the Soviet people.
Although holding tight to that belt of security to explain Stalin’s postwar empire building may help keep Gaddis in good with his revisionist colleagues, his notion that Stalin was troubled enough by the wartime deaths in the Soviet Union to drop plans for the world revolution is fanciful indeed. Stalin was already the greatest mass murderer in European history, a Bolshevist collaborator in the earliest mass arrests, imprisonments, wartime massacres, and later starvation of his own Soviet peoples in the late teens and early twenties. He was later author of the catastrophic famine of 1933, and of the mass arrests, faked trials, and real banishments and executions of the late 1930s and early 1940s. He himself concocted the gruesome plot to bring on a general European war (which he got, but not in the form he expected) by encouraging the duped German Fuhrer to attack Poland. Long before Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa began, Stalin had already directly or indirectly organized the murder of almost as many of his own countrymen (not to mention a large number of those of formerly free neighboring countries) as were to find death on the front and elsewhere in the Soviet Union during the entire war. Stalin’s victims would continue to pile up until the vozhd’ was himself history.
If the revelation of Stalin’s softhearted concern for his people were not enough to tickle the ribs of informed readers, Gaddis strides on with another of his explanatory discoveries. Once again, the problem for Gaddis is how to advance the ghoulish Stalin through history from sometime world revolutionary, through his prewar search for profit from the war, to his alleged postwar quest for security without some kind of tenable explanation suggesting how Stalin purged his thoughts of that longed-for world revolution and his hopes to profit from the war. Ignoring the evidence that readily suffices as an explanation of Stalin’s motives to anyone not self-blinded, Gaddis casts about for a better formula to explain the peculiar progression more convincingly, and his explanation is that Stalin was really a romantic! For example, he put misplaced faith in Hitler’s peaceful intentions, which led him to prepare inadequate defenses against the German devil. That faith derived from “a kind of brutal romanticism” (10). Here the historian who seems never to have heard of Occam’s razor discovers yet another deus ex machina to save his wobbly story line. Rube Goldberg now sits at the side of Clio, history’s muse.
That novel understanding in Gaddis’s firm grasp, the same Stalinist romanticism, crops up once again when Stalin sets his postwar policy on Germany, the central focus of Bolshevik concerns since Lenin. Gaddis rightly believes that that policy was to take over all of Germany by first merging the German Communist and Social Democratic parties in the Soviet Zone of Occupation. The new party was to be, as Stalin imagined it, a party with mass appeal, having an ideology, that is, an appeal to interests, particularly class interests, that would touch the hearts and minds of Germans in the other three zones: French, British, and American. Stalin, he tells us, believed that the German people’s interest in a successfully realized Socialist ideology would win them over to his side. And so Stalin did believe, for he was indeed an ideologist. Because, like Hitler, Stalin eschewed going out to the street to get a reality check from unfiltered public opinion, he truly believed that the social and economic mayhem he created everywhere his power reigned was actually achieving public good.
No, not so, according to Gaddis. Stalin’s belief that “ideology … would override nationalism and bring all Germans by their own choice into the socialist camp” is, Gaddis writes, attributable to Stalin’s “romanticism residing within authoritarianism” (120).
Let me try to clarify what Stalin actually tried to do, lest this bizarre explanation of Stalin’s postwar effort to gain power in all of Germany actually come to be forged into our young people’s history textbooks along with the rest of the revisionist malarkey now so long embedded there. What Stalin actually believed back then, when the war ended and he called in Pieck, Ulbricht, and company to tell them his latest thoughts, was that he could successfully play the German nationalist card. He alone held the power to merge his zone with the other zones of the then sharply divided country. He expected to do it on his terms, as part of an effort to secure all the zones for himself. He did not at all believe, pace Gaddis, that ideology would override nationalism. He believed that the two–his attractive ideology wielded by his mass party also representing a central German national interest, its territorial integrity–provided the spiritual force to secure his control in all of Germany. He was wrong, but he believed just that.
To play that nationalist card, Stalin came out early, in January 1946, behind the facade of his German agents, Pieck and Ulbricht, against the militant and misbegotten postwar French efforts to annex the Saar, Rhineland, and Ruhr regions of western Germany. The French were one of the four occupying powers in Germany by previous agreement, having their own zone and sector of Berlin, like the others. Those French efforts to annex major parts of western Germany have pretty much slipped our attention, though they played a major role in the East-West struggle for Germany during the early cold war.
The British and Americans were quietly upset by this foolish Gaullist policy but could do nothing to move the French away from their mulish annexationist stand for several postwar years. British and Americans privately and consistently opposed the French on that issue, but did so only by playing the occupation game by the agreed rules. Those rules forbade them from publicly criticizing any ally in the occupation. Hence, in that early period, they could not trump Stalin’s nationalist card with one of their own to woo the German people for themselves, that is, play the German nationalist card against the French as well as against Stalin.
They might then have easily done that, had they so chosen. Stalin had taken over a vast segment of German territory in the east, and much more, after the war without the final approval of his Western allies. All of this is part of a complex cold war history that the reader will not obtain from Zubok and Pleshakov or Gaddis.
But in 1946 the British and Americans were still dedicated to the memory of seeming wartime friendship and alliance against a terrible enemy and mindful of the mischievous use of German nationalism by Hitler. Stalin had no such awkward memories as restraints and no sense of loyalty to former comrades in arms. He had clearly never forgotten Hitler’s successful political use of the nationalist card in Germany. He had played his own Russian nationalist card to rally the troops in wartime. For him, violating the rules was simply a case of egging on his German minions to criticize the projects of the other allies–in this case that of the French, but implicitly the others (because they did not complain in public about what the French were doing), although his German underlings’ public complaints were also violations of the agreed rules. That was the plan Stalin concocted to get German national opinion on his side.
Stalin, running things from the Kremlin, far away, truly thought he had both cards, the ideological and the nationalist, in hand to tempt the Germans. Gaddis, however, knows little of those French machinations and hardly more about Stalin’s German policy of those earliest postwar years; he mainly cites Naimark’s book on the latter and tells us little about the key events in the earliest days of the postwar struggle over Germany.
Gaddis, fortunately, does believe that Stalin had a master plan for Germany. He correctly shows, again following Naimark, that Stalin’s policy in his own German zone was unappealing to the Germans there and elsewhere, as were the brutality of the Red Army soldiers and the forced eviction of millions of Germans from their ancestral homes in the areas of Germany that he and his Polish allies annexed. In the light of those crude Soviet actions, which none of the Western allies criticized at the time, the nationalist card in Stalin’s hand simply would not play.
This complete failure of Stalin’s postwar project to expand control to all of ever-desirable Germany, an intended major step to that world revolution–the master plan that Stalin had never forgotten–was not attributable, as Gaddis would have it, to Stalin’s “romanticism residing within authoritarianism,” nor to his misplaced belief that “ideology … would over-ride nationalism” (120).(26) Stalin did not believe anything like that, which is why he boldly, early in the occupation, began to lead with what he thought were his nationalist trumps.
Stalin’s misjudgment about Germany, just one of his major postwar failures of policy, is also attributable to the fact that the Western allies were militarily present all across their zones of Germany as the result of a zonal occupation policy that he himself had agreed to in wartime negotiation. And where the Western powers and their armies were, he could not bring the Red Army and the NKVD without surely bringing on a war with the atomic bomb-equipped Westerners. In fact, Stalin persisted for years anxiously, albeit vainly, pushing his program of a German national party with the attractive cause of German national unity as his leitmotif. Stalin no doubt did that because he had few, if any, other available appeals to western German sentiment, and also because, being repeatedly celebrated over many years at home as well as abroad as “humanity’s greatest genius,” he could never be wrong. In a way, his program was a policy not far removed from Lenin’s appeal to anti-Versailles German nationalist sentiment after World War I. Perhaps he got the essence of that plan from his mentor as well.
His mistakes, then, did not derive from his “romanticism,” or even from his “romanticism residing within authoritarianism,” as Gaddis would have it (11). They derived from his ideological prepossessions, from the severely damaged ego that underpinned the rigidities of his thought, and from the well merited dismal reputation of his occupation forces (which surely also reflected his personal direction). His frailties mirrored the fact that he could act only to secure his form of order where he and his legions were wholly in command–for example in the east central European and Balkan nations and in his zone of Germany. Gaddis, in fact, knows all that, writing that Soviet Europe “could only sustain itself by coercion” (17). In fact, it became Soviet only by coercion. Where the Soviet Union could not coerce, it could not bring the revolution–as Lenin had witnessed in 1920.
Stalin failed at the task of moving the revolution westward to the Rhine. He also never got the Red Army to Paris, as he more than once lamented.(27) There, too, he would surely have been pleased to install the revolution. At the time he would have had a lot of famous Frenchmen (and women) rooting for his success, but not likely for very long, except after the revolution, when they would have had to.
In any event, Stalin never, ever, forgot the world revolution. He meant war to bring about the revolution in Europe in 1939. He used the Red Army to bring it where the Red Army marched in 1944 and 1945. He did what he could to bring it to all of Germany after the war. He would have brought it to France had it gotten that far. That is the straight, simple line of thought that offers rational explanation, the truth behind the veil of propaganda, of Stalin’s undertakings from beginning to end.
Finally, with respect to Gaddis, one can say in his favor that he does try to account for the role the British played in postwar European diplomacy. Many revisionists–determined to find the United States guilty of almost everything–ignore that story. Like Mastny, he tells the story of Stalin’s Asian policies well. There is obviously firmer Soviet evidence at this point that Stalin egged on the North Koreans to start that war than there is for pinning down his postwar German policy, although Gaddis, to his credit, gets the important point that Stalin wanted all of it.
Moreover, his book is published with a bibliography, is generally well written, sometimes even better than that, and has few misspellings and typos. On this count, it looks and reads like something a good press invested some effort in getting out professionally. So, although we now know a great deal more than Gaddis’s book reports on the early cold war, and we can be certain that much that he claims is downright wrong, we can also see that he is moving away from the classics of revisionist darkness.
Do we then see the U.S. revisionists, at last truly down and out, as one senses some among them now believe? This, after years of their debauch of cold war scholarship, with all its effects on the American (and not just American) conscience and political consciousness? Indeed whatever one might judge from my critiques of Mastny, Zubok and Pleshakov, and Gaddis, not one of their books offers us other than a dismal view of Stalin. Even Stalin the soft and romantic comes out a dreadful blunderer.
These writers may still hold that Stalin’s strongest postwar desire was to achieve “security,” but even following Zubok and Pleshakov, the paranoia underlying that desire was measureless. These writers are clearly reluctant to undertake the systematic discussion of the causes of the cold war that their sound view of Stalin’s mental state manifestly should compel. Mastny does not stress quite the same dimension of lunatic force as the driver of Stalin’s ideologized politics. Nor does Gaddis, although he is aware that Stalin became increasingly mad in later years. In fact, Mastny often goes out of his way to discover the continuity of peace seeking beneath the Kremlin’s zigzag. Nonetheless he also argues on the other side, stressing a “Soviet mind” obsessed “with surprise attack and worship of military might.” That Soviet mind, is, according to Mastny in Cold War, implicitly only a development succeeding the German attack of 1941 (16). But of whose Soviet mind does he write? It can only be Stalin’s, given that Mastny, Zubok and Pleshakov, and Gaddis hold no doubts that he was completely in charge. In fact, it is a point on which all five of us can agree.
Can one still seriously contend that Stalin, who was the sole instigator of the insane internal Soviet chistki of the late 1930s and the military purges that went on well into the war, not to mention an incredible number of wartime and postwar blunders (Mastny also certifies them as genuine ),(53) was rational and sane before 22 June 1941?
The German attack of that day, by the way, Mastny and Gaddis still hold to have been “unexpected.”(28) But no one up to date on recent historical literature in the field should believe that anymore, even though it was unexpected by Stalin personally. In his madness and hubris, he could and would not hear what countless sources, including the German ambassador, his own ambassador in Berlin, the British, the Americans, and some of his best spies and closest advisers told him. Almost anyone who is called “humanity’s greatest genius” often enough, by enough people, will probably begin to believe it and subsequently come to regard all others as fools–perhaps most of all those who praise him.
Or is it that humanity’s greatest genius did hear and understand those reports, but, in his desperate race to get the Red forces off the mark to the west first (having invested everything in the success of a policy of attack), simply took to denial in the face of what he heard from all of those reliable reporters? Having long resisted preparing the necessary defensive positions, was he then, as Suvorov and others argue, caught flat-footed on 22 June 1941, his aircraft spread out on the tarmacs of aerodromes close to the front, his slowly reorganizing forces completely disorganized, in no position either to advance or fall back systematically? I personally believe that the evidence suggests the latter as one coherent and rational explanation of the Soviet Union’s biggest, if far from only, Stalin-originated Soviet wartime debacle.(29)
We can now at least come to closure on the big issue, the one that the revisionists, in their quest to indict the United States as author of the cold war, have sold many a book about, meanwhile infecting with their mischief young people’s history texts, the misbegotten “National History Standards,” and much adult history reading and television about history all over the West. That big issue is, Who began the cold war? Mastny tells us the answer to that one: Stalin alone did. Molotov and also Litvinov, in effect, have told us that; and Mastny, directly (23); Zubok and Pleshakov, and even Gaddis, do not deny it.
Mastny also tells that there was little the West could have done to offset Stalin’s bold determination to work his ways. He was, Mastny tells us, guilty of “chronic error[s] of judgment” (193). His quest for security was “insatiable” (194). As Mastny concludes, “If the empire Stalin created was in fact every bit as evil as suspected, and much more, then those who waged the Cold War against it need not apologize for the effort” (194). And that goes, as Mastny suggests with his remark, for those Stalinists and neo-Stalinists who continued after his death to take advantage of his evil legacy, keeping much of the world enchained to unholy fear for decades.
Although it is a surprise to see Mastny, hanging well behind so many well-informed Russian colleagues, and others, quite recently still only proposing that Stalin might be suspected of having created an evil empire, he is nonetheless clearly very much an advanced (and, given the tradition of our “responsible” media and many of today’s academic nabobs, even dangerous) thinker in this respect. This point, in any event, is now clear: Stalin caused the cold war without any help from the West. That insight, once clearly grasped, will win Mastny few friends among the powerful cadre of superannuating revisionist scholastics still in comfortable residence high up, and highly paid, in the ivory towers.
Perhaps, when Stalin mused out loud just after the end of the European war, in one of those rare unguarded moments to which even he was occasionally given, that the Soviet people had good grounds to have sacked their government long before, he was clearly making not one, but three excellent points: one about himself, one about the power of his state and his propagandists, and one about his people. But about the latter it must be added that someone like me, who has not walked at least a mile in their shoes, is wise to refrain from judgment.
So much, then, at long last, for the revisionists, the apparently willing victims of Stalin’s propagandists. The unanswered question: what brings on the odd mental gymnastics of the many historians who clearly are not Stalinists, but who, by voluntarily disappearing from the discussion of what solid historical evidence suggests were the dictator’s actual war (and peace) plans, effectively collaborate with Stalin’s apologists? The latter, of course, are still legion, and politically required, in Moscow. There they have a stake in securing the antique fortress of historical ignorance that lies below the mass of nationalist resentment that so deforms Russia’s current domestic and international politics. They helped for years as loyal party historians to build that fortress, and they want it to stay in place. But are their intellectual collaborators, so numerous over here, also not just as strongly politically required, particularly in our groves of academe?
(1.) Richard C. Raack, Stalin’s Drive to the West: 1938-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995). Most of the findings without notes that are used as background in this article for what happened in Soviet and other European histories can be found, footnoted, in that book.
(2.) Viktor Suvorov, The Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? trans. Thomas Beattie (New York, 1990); Den’ “M” (Kiev, 1994); Posledniaia respublika (Minsk, 1995).
(3.) Ernst Topitsch, Stalins Krieg, 3rd ed. (Herford: 1998); Joachim Hoffmann, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg (Munich, 1995); Walter Post, Unternehmen Barbarossa, 2nd ed. (Hamburg, 1996).
(4.) Aleksandr Nekrich, Pariahs, Partners: Predators. German-Soviet Relations, 1922-1941. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). Nekrich’s posthumous book is flawed by typographical errors, meandering prose and the disorganization of its final chapter. One gets the impression that he did not have the time to put the final touches on his manuscript before he died, and that he was, post mortem, inefficiently served by those who undertook the production of his book. Nonetheless, his is a very important study, founded on major new sources, and his conclusion, that Stalin intended a war to the west against Hitler in 1942) is both clear and validated by other evidence. (Although most other authors these days believe the attack was to come in 1941 and was pre-empted by Hitler’s own attack, so perhaps he is not correct on this point.) But Nekrich is certainly wrong in terming the projected march westward a “preventative” attack; Stalin clearly planned a war of assault as established by the many sources on the subject Nekrich did not consult. In fact, Nekrich has no source to give for his assertion that it was to be a “preventative” attack.
(5.) See the recent years of the periodical Otechestvennaia istoriia for important contributions to the discussion. The periodical Russian Studies in History presented English translations of three of the most important articles in its fall 1997 edition.
(6.) One example from among the most mighty of the breed is Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), winner of the locally prestigious Bancroft Prize. He offers us a geographical tour of parts of Europe in just one keynote sentence, which reflects the pattern of his learning about important far away places, the very foreign places at the center of the happenings he takes up in his book (and in the Foreign Affairs article to which I refer in note 15, too). He writes: “Meanwhile [the context suggests to his reader that what follows relates to mid-1945] Soviet Russia had annexed strategic strips of Finland, the Baltic provinces of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, small parts of eastern Prussia, a third of prewar Poland, and critical chunks of territory in Ruthenia, Moldavia, and Bessarabia.”
In fact, the Baltic states were not “provinces” –either in 1940 when they were first annexed by the Soviet Union, or in 1944-1945, when they were reoccupied by the latter and annexed again (They had been Russian provinces until the end of World War I.). Nor was it “Soviet Russia” that annexed them. Soviet Russia had been part of the Soviet Union for almost two decades before that annexation occurred. Moreover, the Soviets were annexing part–one continuous segment and most all of the coast, not “small parts”–of historical East Prussia (“eastern Prussia,” whether or not capitalized, as used here is indefinite and wholly misleading). In other words, they annexed part of Germany, a “chunk” that was surely important to the Germans who lived there. A map (dated “at the end of World War II”) which follows on the subsequent page of this prizewinning Leffler book contributes further to the confusion by identifying the Soviet-annexed German territory as “N. E. Prussia”; and, moreover, identifies the Soviet Zone of Occupation in Germany, without delineating in any way the vast segment of it–perhaps a third or more of the pre-Nazi German state of Prussia–then, in mid-1945, under Polish and Soviet “administration,” as “East Germany.” Certainly no one would have thought to call it that in 1945.
Moreover, the Soviets had actually annexed over one half of Poland in 1939; they reannexed just about the same amount in 1944 (not “a third,” as Leffler has it) in collaboration with Roosevelt and Churchill. And finally, much of today’s Moldavia (Moldova) was part of Bessarabia, before the latter was annexed, under Soviet military threat, of course, from Romania in 1940.
(7.) Vojtech Mastny, The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
(8.) Vojtech Mastny, Russia’s Road to the Cold War: 1941-1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979).
(9.) For example, see my and Stefan Creuzberger’s, Die sowjetische Besatzungsmacht und das politische System der SBZ (Weimar, 1996); and most recently, the impressive essays on the Soviet Zone of Occupation in Germany by the many authors in Manfred Wilke, ed., Anatomie der Parteizentrale: Die KPD/SED auf dem Weg zur Macht (Berlin, 1998).
(10.) Mikhail Narinskii, “I. V. Stalin i M. Torez. 1944-1947 gg. Novye materialy,” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia 1 (1996): 27-30.
(11.) Mastny, Cold War, 136, 138.
(12.) Sergei Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Moo, and the Korean War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994); Chen Jian, China’s Road tothe Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); Kathryn Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea and the origins of the Korean War, 1945-1950,” working paper, Cold War International History project, no. 8, Washington, D.C., 1993.
(13.) Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Krushchev (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).
(14.) See note 15.
(15.) Norman Naimark, The Russians in Germany: 1945-1949 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).
(16.) Melvyn P. Leffler (see note 6 above) was a first reader of the Zubok and Pleshakov manuscript–for Harvard University Press; that is, he, as a historian of the United States, and scholar who had written hundreds of pages about the Truman years in the conduct of American foreign policy, was evidently asked to referee the manuscript on Stalin’s foreign policy. Or perhaps he simply volunteered the reference to the press. In any event, those authors tell me he was a referee for their manuscript, though Leffler does not mention it in the course of his very positive published testimony to their findings in a review he wrote in 1996 for the quarterly Foreign Affairs.
One might not unreasonably infer that it was Leffler who advised Zubok and Pleshakov on their European geography. (Harvard Press, it is abundantly clear, cannot have assigned a professional that advisory role on its behalf.)
(17.) I refer to Michael Beschloss, whose recent book, At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (Boston, 1993), written in collaboration with presidental Russia advisor Strobe Talbott was, in its German translation, described by a reviewer in the responsible bimonthly, Deutschland Archiv 6 (1996): 646, as having scarcely one correctly reported source in the entire volume. Beschloss is also a member of the board at the Council of Foreign Relations, as is John Lewis Gaddis (see text below), who also gave out a big cheer for Zubok and Pleshakov’s book.
(18.) That is, Martin Sherwin, Walter S. Dickson Professor of History at Tufts University, who, apparently commissioned by the commercial History Book Club, writes on behalf of their selection that Zubok and Pleshakov have “produced a pathbreaking book that is certain to become the standard history of U.S.-Soviet relations during the Stalin/ Khrushchev era. Written with the clarity and grace of a novel.”
(19.) It received the Canadian Lionel Gelber Foundation Prize for a book on international relations. One of the criteria for submissions for the prize is clarity of expression. Never let it be said that North Americans are not generous to foreigners.
(20.) John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).
(21.) In We Now Know, Gaddis uses the term undefined three times within a few sentences (see pages 52-53).
(22.) One of the more marxisant among the increasing fractious revisionists wrote not so long ago, “Gaddis is not a postrevisionist. He is an antirevisionist,” the critic perhaps thinking as he wrote of how to cast out Gaddis’s unclean influence from the circle. Quoted by Walter Hixson, “Revision, Postrevision and Recrimination,” in the revisionist-friendly quarterly, Diplomatic History 21 (1997): 495.
(23.) In his 1972 book, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), Gaddis is ambiguous on the very point on which much of the preceding discussion has to be founded. On one page he writes of “The Soviet Union’s continued commitment to an ideology dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism throughout the world.” But on the next, “It seems likely that Washington policy-makers mistook Stalin’s determination to ensure Russian [sic] security through spheres of influence [revisionist-speak for satellites?] for a renewed effort to spread communism outside the borders of the Soviet Union” (354, 355, my italics). If Gaddis were wrong about that “mistook,” and he was, his whole sand castle would crumble. And so it has.
But, still unable, or unwilling, to recognize the fact that he was wrong, in his latest book he patently fails to grasp the nettle of that mistaken “mistook.” What he described back then as the “Soviet Union’s continued commitment” (dropped when and why? in the quest for security?) was then not marked by Gaddis as a commitment to world revolution, transient though he now believes it was. (Someone, after all, but not Stalin, might be ideologically dedicated to the peaceful overthrow of capitalism.) Essentially the same confusion gets him into deep trouble in his new book, probably because he is mired in his past residue.
(24.) Philipp Fabry’s two pathbreaking books, anticipating much that Suvorov as well as Aleksandr Nekrich wrote, were Der Hitler-Stalin Pakt: Ein Beitrag zur Methode sowjetischer Aussenpolitik (Darmstadt, 1962), and Die Sowjetunion und das dritte Reich: Eine dokumentierte Geschichte der deutsch-sowjetischen Beziehungen yon 1939-1941 (Darmstadt, 1971).
(25.) Stalin’s speech at the plenary session of the Russian Communist Party (B), 19 January 1925.
(26.) See also 113, 116.
(27.) Narinskii, “I.V. Stalin i M. Torez,” 27.
(28.) Cold War, 16; Gaddis, We Now Know, 10.
(29.) Ernst Topitsch (see note 3 above) argues differently, claiming that Stalin wanted Hitler to attack so that he would bear the blame for provoking Stalin’s drive to the west. Much though I appreciate most of Topitsch’s arguments, in this case I have to choose my own explanation for the cause of the Soviet debacle that began on 22 June 1941. Yet if Topitsch is right, Stalin’s mental disorder has to be ranked as the most catastrophic any nation, except perhaps China under Mao and Germany under Hitler, has ever suffered. Robert Tucker, in Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 (New York, 1990), tells that, around 1 November 1940, Stalin suggested, regarding a proposed veiled warning to the Germans not to attack, “But why frighten them? Let them try” (615). That remark certainly does help affirm Topitsch’s point.
Richard C. Raack is professor emeritus of history at California State University, Hayward.3
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