Discover more from Kvetch
“In the Soviet Union we use people to clear mines"- General Ivan Ratov
In this Kvetch I dive into the half-forgotten crimes of the Soviet Union in WWII, the Soviet infiltration of US politics and industry, and how Stalin ultimately came out on top. This is a follow up to last week’s kvetch and the previous week’s on Hitler’s charisma and the problems with storytelling in an accidental series on WWII.
WWII and me
Nobody had clean hands except the dead
Was Stalin inept?
US make it rain
Soviet infiltration of America
1. WWII and me
I was weaned on the glorious Soviet victory over the Germans. The Soviet Union won WWII, the landings at Normandy and the fighting by the decadent West were a sideshow. That is the story that permeates the Soviet imagination.
I’ve changed my mind somewhat. I’ve been taken first by the spectacular moral courage of Churchill and Britain, second by the overwhelming industrial might of the US, and third by the deeply compromised and evil machinations of Stalin and the Soviet Union. No other book makes the case as powerfully as Sean McMeekin’s Stalin’s War that the Soviet Union is a forgotten aggressor of the war and that it won in no small part due to US financial, industrial and military support.
This is personal to me. My grandfather was in the Red Army. He was one of the cold, miserable grunts that encircled the German 6th Army after Stalingrad. He almost never spoke about his experience. He told me the ground was too frozen to dig into. When he was older he had constant nightmares. He joined the Red Army most likely because it was the closest thing to a guaranteed meal. He left his small Galician village when he was 18 with his younger brother, ahead of the Germans. Those they left behind, including his parents and 11yo brother, didn’t know they’d be rounded up and shot. Their names are commemorated in this tiny corner of the web.
My grandfather had a box of medals and other Soviet memorabilia that were stolen from his home over a decade ago. But we still have this German journal that he repurposed into a personal photo album:
Like I said: it’s personal. This was the milk I was weaned on.
So I say this with no pleasure: it’s shocking the extent to which the US subsidised its future enemy, and it’s not just with the benefit of hindsight that we can say the US pumped way more resources into the Soviet Union than is possibly justified by an urgent resistance to Nazism. Who knows? Maybe my grandfather would not have survived by the skin of his teeth in a prolonged war on the eastern front.
Why was the US so accommodating to the USSR? It turns out, the Soviet Union had thoroughly infiltrated US politics and industry at the highest levels, at times comic in its brazeness.
(My spicy take on this is that Soviet infiltration is a bullish sign for the US: America was so wealthy and advancing so much, information and capability could only flow one way - to the US. It could afford parasites. Immigrant Soviets are known as hustlers when they arrive in the West: they need to be. No American is going to hustle in former Soviet republics.)
One reason the total infiltration of the US is so shocking is even growing up in Australia most of what we learn about Australian and US communist infiltration are the “scare campaigns”: Reds Under the Bed! McCarthyism!1
I don’t know all that much about Senator Joe McCarthy and his anti-communist campaign in the US except that it’s a byword for oppressive persecution and paranoia, and that Arthur Miller wrote a famous literary critique of it in The Crusible. And yet…. if I told you there were actual witches doing evil witch things around the time of witch hunts, would you be concerned about the witches or the hunting? Why do I know about McCarthyism but not the actual communists endemic in the US establishment? Something to chew on for another kvetch.
2. Nobody had clean hands except the dead
Before we dive in to the question of Stalin, another thing I’ve changed my mind about is Eastern Europe’s fascist complicity. I held only derision for German collaboration, but now I think it’s more complicated. For as long as I can remember I’ve heard mocking references to Ukrainians as Bandera-vsty2 - fascist collaborators. My grandfather would also sneer at the mention of the Poles and Ukrainians of his childhood, who hated Jews. There can be no doubt as to large native fascist movements and anti-Semitism across Eastern Europe. Tony Judt puts it beautifully in Postwar: “in Russia and Eastern Europe anti-Semitism was its own reward.”
In Poland there were even *post*-WWII pogroms of Jews (from Postwar):
150 Jews were killed in liberated Poland in the first four months of 1945. By April 1946 the figure was nearly 1,200.
How should this sit against Polish anti-communism and anti-fascism, and shocking Polish heroes like Pilecki? Poor Poland was left to Nazi genocide and Soviet slaughter, while those Poles who could get out did what they could in the British Royal Air Force.
How should we think about Ukrainian loyalty to the Soviet Union versus the new German invaders? The same Soviet Union that had forced genocidal famine on them in the 1930s? An example out of Stalin’s War on this complexity:
In the formerly Polish city of Łuck (today’s Ukrainian Lutsk), where 2,055 Poles and Ukrainians had been imprisoned by the NKVD for security reasons as recently as June 10, 1941, the NKVD ordered these detainees to gather for a forced evacuation on the day after the invasion, lest they be freed by the Germans. The NKVD lined up the Ukrainians first, but instead of being loading onto trucks, the prisoners were machine-gunned en masse, with NKVD executioners then “tossing some hand grenades onto the bodies” for good measure, according to a survivor. Poles were then lined up and mowed down as well. As the survivor later recalled, “The blood ran in streams, and body parts flew through the air.” So sloppy and rushed was this mass execution that survivors were told to return to prison, where all but a small handful were then finished off with pistol shots in the head. The very few prisoners left alive (probably around fifty, judging from an NKVD report stipulating that two thousand had been shot) were ordered to dispose of the bodies, after which they, too, would have been murdered—if they hadn’t been rescued by the invading Wehrmacht.
And what about the Eastern Europeans who fought for the Wehrmacht?
nearly 1.5 million Soviet war prisoners had enlisted in the Wehrmacht by war’s end, of which 800,000 were Russian, 250,000 Ukrainian, 280,000 Caucasian in origin, 180,000 from the occupied Baltic countries, 47,000 Belorussians, and the rest Cossacks. The very existence of these Osttruppen was an eloquent indictment of Stalin’s regime, leavened by the fact that many may have agreed to fight for Hitler only to receive better food rations and improve their meager odds for survival.
How different were these men to my grandfather, a nobody caught up in the ferocious winds of war, looking for a meal?
There are few good guys here.3 Stuck between Hitler and Stalin, few had clean hands except for the dead.
3. Was Stalin inept?
Ian Kershaw in Hitler doesn’t mention Stalin much, but when he does it’s this:
Stalin’s bungling interference and military incompetence had combined with the fear and servility of his generals and the limitations of the inflexible Soviet strategic concept to rule out undertaking the necessary precautions to create defensive dispositions and fight a rear-guard action.
That’s probably right - given how astonishing the Wehrmacht wins were as the largest army in history, composed of over 3 million men, attacked across a front 1,000 kilometres wide.
But it’s striking that that is the dominant narrative given Stalin’s crimes and achievements, up to that point and beyond:
Invaded and occupied 7 countries by 1941 - as many as Hitler by that time - deporting hundreds of thousands to slave labour camps in the east, with barely a whimper from the West
Allied with Hitler himself to achieve it
Upon splitting Poland, and until Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, Stalin sent 10x more Poles to labour camps and killed 3 - 4x more Poles than did Hitler,4 slaughtered 20,000 of their elite in Katyn forest. Remember - invading Poland was the reason for Britain and France’s declaration of war on Germany
Funded Hitler’s war effort against France and Britain
Attracted ~unlimited material and funding support from the US
Ended up occupying half of Europe by the end of the war
We don’t need to believe he was a mastermind who planned this astonishing imperial achievement and every step along the way. But a bungling incompetent?
For a semi-industrialised nation ravaged by the greatest invasion force in history, he seems to have done rather well.
This is the thesis of Sean McMeekin’s Stalin’s War. Hitler is remembered as the Great Beast of WWII and the 20th Century and Ever - and rightly so. But Stalin was not far behind, and came out on top. Stalin was lucky to have lived during time of Hitler for the same reason Nadal was unlucky to live during the time of Federer and Djokovic.
And the US lavished him with everything his heart desired. It drives McMeekin nuts and you can see why:
Had less lend-lease aid been sent to Stalin, or if shipments had been curtailed or stopped in 1943 following the sunset clause of the original statute, either on the June 30 cutoff date or after the Soviet victory at Kursk, the Red Army would surely have been slower to advance westward into Europe—an advance NATO was later expressly created to prevent. The idea that there was no choice but to send Stalin $11 billion in war matériel, industrial equipment and inputs, technology transfer, and intellectual property— the equivalent of well over $1 trillion today—without demanding anything in return, is refuted by the loan terms Roosevelt offered Churchill, from the extortionate bases-for-destroyers deal of 1940 to the steep interest charged for lend-lease and other war loans… Because “world peace”—the repayment condition applied in the master agreement of June 1942— remained out of reach, all Soviet wartime debts were written off for a song in 1951, at two pennies on the dollar. Britain paid its debts in full, with interest, until 2006.
Roosevelt had offered England fifty decrepit World War I–vintage destroyers, in exchange for which Churchill had basically mortgaged the British Empire to Washington. For Stalin, by contrast, Roosevelt had opened a virtually unlimited credit line (initially $1 billion) to order whatever he desired, in exchange for nothing whatsoever.
More on the extraordinary US provisioning later.
First: was Stalin such a blundering fool ahead of the war? Was he really so reluctant to believe his ally Hitler launched the greatest invasion force in history against him?
Did Stalin have his head in the sand?
McMeekin doesn’t think so.
Referring to declassified Politiburo Special Files, McMeekin argues Stalin was caught flat-footed, but it was while undertaking an enormous military build up to go on the offensive:
Any lingering notion, which one still sometimes encounters in general histories of the Second World War, that Stalin and his generals were asleep at the wheel as Hitler’s generals prepared for Barbarossa, must now be dismissed as absurd.
He uses documented Soviet offensive war gaming, build up of forces and huge investments in military airfields along the border to explain why.
May 5, 1941—the day Stalin renounced defensive doctrine in his speech to the military academy graduates—the Politburo authorized the NKVD to draft another one hundred thousand laborers for its aerodrome construction battalions, from birth years 1913 to 1921, who were not already conscripted into the Red Army. Urgent Politburo resolutions were passed every day in spring 1941 related to weapons procurement, T-34 and KV tanks, anti-tank guns, Mig fighters and light bombers, weapons systems and ammunition, the construction of tank parks and petrol depots near the German frontier,
Who is the incompetent?
Stalin even learned, via spies inside Germany, that OKW had not ordered the sheepskin coats experts believed to be necessary for winter campaigning in Russia, and that the fuel and lubricating oil used by the Wehrmacht’s armored divisions would freeze in subzero temperatures. In retrospect, it is obvious that Hitler and OKW were simply far too sanguine about a quick campaign in Russia and failed to prepare adequately for winter conditions. But to Stalin, the lack of Wehrmacht preparations for cold-weather warfare suggested not Hitlerian hubris but German caution about attacking Russia that year.
Who underestimated whom?
Adam Tooze quotes from Halder’s diary in Wages of Destruction:
At the start of the war we reckoned with about 200 enemy divisions. Now we have already counted 360. These divisions are certainly not armed and equipped in our sense, in many cases they have tactically inadequate leadership. But they are there. And when a dozen have been smashed, then the Russian puts up another dozen.
In fact, Halder continued to underestimate the scale of the challenge facing the Wehrmacht in Russia. By the end of 1941 the Red Army had fielded not 360 divisions, but a total of 600.
Stalin literally fuelled Hitler’s war against the West
According to Adam Tooze in Wage of Destruction, by 1940 the Soviet Union became Germany's main source of imported animal feed and supplied Germany with:
74% of its phosphates
67% of its asbestos imports
65% of its chrome ore
55% of its manganese
40% of its nickel imports
34% of its imported oil
As the Quartermaster General of the German army, Colonel Eduard Wagner, put it, 'the conclusion of this treaty has saved us'.
This all created a remarkable set of circumstances:
By the autumn of 1940, Germany's dependence on deliveries of raw materials, fuel and food from the Soviet Union was creating a positively schizophrenic situation. In trade negotiations, German machine tools were one of the means of settlement prized most highly by the Soviets.
Such exports, however, were in direct conflict with the preparations of Germany's own armed forces for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Astonishingly, rather than interrupting the Soviet deliveries to prioritize the Luftwaffe, Goering in early October 1940 ordered that, at least until 11 May 1941, deliveries to the Soviet Union, and thus to the Red Army, should have equal priority with the demands of the Wehrmacht.110 Even in the immediate prelude to operation Barbarossa, Germany could not afford to do without Soviet deliveries of oil, grain and alloy metals.
4. US make it rain
The details of US support for the Soviet Union through its lend-lease program reads like some obscene rorts program out of Sergeant Bilko.
For a sense of US support for the Soviet Union *after* the battle of Stalingrad and the turn of the tide of the war against ze Germans:
In accordance with the second protocol, in force from July 1, 1942, to June 30, 1943, the United States shipped more than 3.4 million tons of goods to Stalin, including war matériel critical in the Kursk salient, such as barbed wire (4,000 tons shipped each month), machine guns (120,000), Thompson submachine guns (another 120,000), anti-tank mines (60,000 per month), anti-aircraft guns (5,117 during the second protocol), tarpaulin (24 million square yards), oil pipe and tubing (75,000 tons), TNT (181,366 tons), field telephones (173,000 shipped by July 1943), telephone wire (580,000 miles), and petroleum products (220,000 tons in second protocol, most of it refined aviation gasoline). Stalin’s generals had also laid in 144 American cranes and hoists over the winter, along with vast quantities of “shovels and compressors,” which all came in handy for erecting defensive fortifications at Kursk. Then there was leather (19.34 million tons so far) and lend-lease boots (3.14 million pairs shipped by July 1943 and 400,000 now arriving in Russia every month), American trucks and jeeps (120,330), and warplanes (2,403, including 1,107 flown to Siberia via Alaska). Five thousand tons of armor plate were now arriving monthly for Soviet tanks, and a steady five thousand tons of aluminum since March 1943, after Stalin had complained that British shipments were slowing down and that shortages “would have a very serious effect on [Soviet] aircraft production.” Roosevelt had complied, prioritizing the Soviets over the US Army Air Force. There was also copper (12,500 tons arriving monthly), nickel (3,000 tons so far in 1943), ferrochrome and ferrosilicon (800 tons each), and refined steel products—over a million tons of these metals had arrived by July 1943, with 406,983 tons sitting in US warehouses awaiting shipment. These figures did not account for $400 million worth of American industrial equipment, including tire factories and oil refineries dismantled for shipment to and reassembly in the USSR, by 1943. The Germans may have had superior tanks, but they had nothing to match the sheer volume of supplies Stalin’s armies were receiving every month. The only things Stalin’s armies were not receiving from their allies were mine detectors, which were declined on the grounds that, as the head of the Soviet military mission in Britain, General Ivan Ratov, explained to his hosts, “in the Soviet Union we use people” to clear mines.
But wait, there’s more:
During the third protocol period from July 1, 1943, to June 30, 1944, the United States shipped more than six million tons of warplanes, tanks, trucks, weapons, ammunition, industrial equipment, metals, and foodstuffs to Stalin, nearly twice as much as had been shipped in the second protocol when such aid was far more desperately needed, and 30 percent more than had been promised to Stalin by the protocol committee.
There was precious little strategic rationale for this sharp uptick in already gargantuan aid deliveries to the Red Army in the second half of 1943. Whereas in the first two protocols, Hopkins and his men could argue that it was necessary to support the Red Army because American soldiers were not yet fighting Germans in strength, July 1943—the first month of the ramped-up third protocol—brought the massive Allied invasion of Sicily, followed by the invasion of the Italian mainland, where there were now a half million American and British troops.
Who ran the US army?
On January 1, 1943, Major General George Racey Jordan, the US liaison officer to Kotikov’s Soviet aircraft procurement operation in Great Falls, received an order from air force headquarters that “the President has directed that… the modification, equipment and movement of Russian planes have been given first priority, even over planes for U.S. Army Air Forces.”
During the second protocol, Ameica shipped almost 1 million tons of food to the Soviet Union. Cherry on top was that Russians refused to eat margarine, instead taking Americans’ butter:
“So colossal were shipments of lend-lease foodstuffs to Stalin by 1943—the volume in the third protocol would surpass 1.7 million tons—that American store shelves emptied of essentials. Butter shortages were reported in 1943 in the following states: California in January, Colorado in March, Ohio in February, New Hampshire in May, Oregon in August, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts in October, and New Jersey in November. A frustrated Boston grocer asked his congressman in October 1943 why his country was sending the USSR “ninety million pounds of our butter” while “many millions of our own people haven’t had an ounce of butter in many weeks.” Making shortages bite, Americans were barraged with ads touting “oleomargarine” while the Russians refused to accept margarine in lieu of butter.”
In 1943 the following % of US production went to the USSR:
12.8% of US pork
12.9% of canned and frozen fish
15.3% of eggs
15.7% of dried fruit
16.8% of beans
By 1943, US imports made up a third of Soviet wheat consumption and nearly 70% of Russian sugar consumption by 1944.
Even before the third protocol period began in July 1943, Stalin’s procurement agents had already requisitioned $500 million worth of “industrial equipment”—an amount comparable to $50 billion today—consisting of everything from machine tools, electric furnaces, motors, cranes, and hoists to oil refineries, tire manufacturing plants, and aluminum and steel-rolling mills. Reading through the minutes of Harry Hopkins’s Soviet protocol committee from 1943, it is hard to escape the impression that Soviet agents of influence had taken over the White House. On January 5, 1943, the “Treasury Procurement Division” reported matter-of-factly to Hopkins’s committee that “the Ford Tire Plant is being dismantled and shipped. The Douglas [oil] refinery will be dismantled by February 23. 50,000 tons of power plants will be shipped in January. Although the steel rail mill requisition is in, certain essential parts have not yet been requisitioned.” On February 23, the Soviet protocol committee was informed that “the refinery program is progressing satisfactorily. The Douglas Plant will be dismantled by March 15th.” By July 1, there were 569,000 tons of industrial and refinery equipment in US Treasury warehouses awaiting expedited shipment to the USSR. On July 23, Treasury reported to Hopkins that eleven hydroelectric plants had just been requisitioned for Stalin, “having an aggregate capacity of 54,500 KW hours.” By August 1943, 110,000 tons of petroleum products had been warehoused for delivery to Stalin, including the refinery already ordered and $22 million worth of oil field equipment. The justification was that Hopkins was not certain the United States, already shipping 5 percent of its domestic oil output to Stalin, could satisfy the Vozhd’s third-protocol petroleum requisition of 514,000 long tons of petroleum products unless technology transfer allowed the Soviets to ramp up their own drilling and refining capacity. The volume of US industrial equipment shipped in the third protocol was 739,000 tons, with a dollar value of $401 million, the equivalent of $40 billion today. To guard against the risk that Congress might object, Hopkins frontloaded the orders, with 90 percent of these requisitions for the protocol period (July 1, 1943, to June 30, 1944) placed by September 1, 1943.
Soviets requisitioned US technology in oil, rubber and power, shipping entire refineries and plants across to the USSR.
But wait, there’s more.5
Perhaps the most shocking lend-lease requisition of all was the one placed on February 1, 1943, for enriched uranium, which helped kick-start the Soviet atomic bomb program. By war’s end, the United States had shipped to Stalin, in at least three known installments, threequarters of a ton of uranium 235, 1,100 grams of deuterium oxide (heavy water), 835,000 pounds of cadmium metal (used to control the intensity of an atomic pile), 25,000 pounds of thorium, and 13.8 million pounds of refined aluminum tubes of the kind used to cook uranium into plutonium. According to the lendlease air liaison officer stationed in Great Falls, Major George Racey Jordan, Harry Hopkins phoned him personally in April 1943, as the first of these sensitive packages were being prepared for Stalin, to request that he expedite “a certain shipment of chemicals” to the Soviet Union—something “very special.” “It is not to go on the records,” Hopkins told Jordan. “Don’t make a big production of it, but just send it through quietly, in a hurry.”
This was an especially nice touch:
The most shameless Soviet requisition was for decadent, bourgeois rope: silver braid. As Major General C. M. Wesson reported to Stettinius in February 1943, Stalin “has recently introduced epaulets in the Red Army. The War Department has just received a requisition calling for 2,961,900 yards of braid, costing approximately $7,000,000.” This braid was “in part 1/2 % gold content on a sterling silver base and in part in silver braid on a sterling silver base.” As this was “the type of item which might receive considerable attention in the public press,” Wesson suggested that Stettinius and Hopkins “consider the [political] problems involved.” Wesson need not have worried. To protect the lend-lease program, Harry Hopkins was careful to make sure the American public never learned about sensitive requisitions like this one.
These requisitions were not just a financial feat. They also cost American and British lives. McMeekin goes into some detail about how happy Stalin was to risk American lives for his convenience (and imprison American aircrew that got shot down over Sovet airspace!):
Emblematic of the pluck of the Allied ship captains and the horror of the passage was the fate of the armed British transport Empire Starlight, with seventy-six men aboard. The Empire Starlight discharged its precious cargo at Murmansk under constant Luftwaffe raids between April 3 and 7, was moved to a safer anchorage for repairs on April 9, was bombed again on April 13, was towed to safe anchorage for more repairs on April 16, returned to sea on April 23 only to be bombed three days in a row, and returned to Murmansk again for repairs, where it was bombed fifty-six more times before finally sinking to the bottom of the Arctic on June 1, 1942.
Why all this?
Why did the US lavish its future Cold War arch-enemy with so much?
5. Soviet infiltration of America
Due to Soviet infiltration of the US at every level.
Hilariously, by the way, this all happened after the Soviet Union confiscated ~$600 million6 of American property following the revolution. And after the USSR continued to publicly call for Marxist revolution in the US in the New York times.7
McMeekin references Freedom Betrayed by George H. Nash where the author provides a table of Soviet agents (too long to replicate here) accompanied by the following:
In order that there can be no doubt in the reader’s mind as to the scope of the Kremlin’s subterranean war against our official institutions, I give the following sample list of 37 Federal employees, together with dates and official positions. I have selected only those persons who at one time or another confessed their Communist Party membership. This list is but a minor fragment of the total roll, but is given here as an indication of the widespread Communist activity in our government. It was compiled from the records of Congressional investigations, grand juries, and other sources of authoritative information.
McMeekin highlights a few examples:
More important than all these party members put together was the rise of sympathizing agents of influence into the upper reaches of the Roosevelt administration. Among these were Hiss, who was whisked up from Harold Ware’s cell in the AAA (in 1933) to the Senate committee investigating the munitions industry (1934), the Office of the Solicitor General (1934–1936), and finally the Office of Special Political Affairs in the State Department (1936–1947), where he had access to classified material relating to US military strategy and substantial influence over policy. Though Hiss had plenty of defenders against the charges of espionage laid against him by Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers after the war (Hiss was sentenced for perjury in 1950), decrypted Soviet telegrams (the Venona files) released to the public in the 1990s have confirmed that Hiss collaborated closely with Soviet military intelligence (the GRU), even if he never joined the CPUSA.
More highly placed still was Harry Dexter White, a Harvard-educated economist who went to work for the Treasury Department in 1934 and rose rapidly to become the right-hand man of Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s powerful secretary of the Treasury. Venona decrypts show that White began working for the GRU as early as 1935 under the Soviet spy code name KASSIR (later changed to JURIST), reporting initially to CPUSA members Whittaker Chambers and Nathan Silvermaster, and later directly to Soviet functionaries working for the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), including successive Washington NKVD rezidenti (bureau chiefs) Iskhak Akhmerov, Boris Bazarov, and Vitaly Pavlov.
By the end of the 1930s, there were hundreds of paid Soviet agents working inside the US government (either 221, according to contemporary Soviet records, or 329, according to the Venona decrypts), from the Departments of Agriculture and State to the Treasury and the US Army. Then there were the seventy-five-plus spies and informants working under Stalin’s spy leader, Shumovsky, who stepped up his activities still further after US recognition of the USSR allowed many Soviet nationals to operate perfectly legally under diplomatic cover. In 1935, Shumovsky brought a team of Soviet aviation experts large enough to occupy seven cars—led by Stalin’s most brilliant aircraft designer, Andrey Tupolev—on an open buying expedition of US aviation factories; Stalin gave Tupolev $600,000 to spend as he saw fit. Shumovsky’s penetration of US aviation was so thorough that, by 1938, a disgruntled American aeronautical engineer informed the US air attaché in London that “the Russian government has agents in practically all American [aircraft] factories.” There were hundreds more soft sympathizers like Hiss and White, placed highly enough to directly shape policies that affected the USSR, from technology transfer and bilateral trade protocols to US relations with Japan… As Whittaker Chambers’s Soviet handler reported proudly to Moscow, “We have agents at the very center of government, influencing policy.” The Soviet embassy in Washington was a critical strategic foothold for Stalin as he prepared his Communist empire for war.
A lot of sins get hidden behind a common enemy. The anti-fascism the West and Soviets shared covered a deep schism that took years to unravel after the war.
One can understand the existential anxt. You’d rather be over-provisioning than under-provisioning in a total war against Nazism. And perhaps a more nuanced approach is too much to hope for in these matters, with industrial and political thrusts taking a momentum of their own.
And yet, this is an insufficient gloss cast over the past to excuse American naivety and Soviet ruthlessness. Stalin would have had Germany and the West both lose if he could, and he ran up quite the bill in atrocities before, during and after the war. The US paid for much of it.
Much of my schooling seems suspect in hindsight. Why did I study Bertold Brecht’s criticism of capitalism in high school when Brecht chose to live in East Germany under Soviet rule? Or why did my modern Chinese history class essentially align exactly with CCP mythology: the heroic rise of Mao against the backdrop of a corrupt and inept Guomindang? (Admittedly I don’t know how much CCP mythology now includes the disasterous Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution, which we also covered.)
I’m tempted to call Finland - a part of the Axis - one of the good guys. They put up a superb fight against the much larger invading force of the Soviet Union before being forced to join the Axis, all the while protecting its Jews:
the Finnish front had a field synagogue operating in the presence of Nazi troops. Jewish soldiers were granted leave on Saturdays and Jewish holidays."
Finland was the only Axis country, where synagogues remained open throughout the World War II."
Number of Poles killed by Stalin according to McMeekin is ~500,000, significantly higher than Wikipedia at 150,000. Even assuming that amount, it would at least be in line with Hitler. Full quote is worth the read:
In these ethnic prisoner swaps, the Soviets generally got the better end of the deal, as with everything else related to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In exchange for allowing tens of thousands (ultimately about 150,000) of German nationals to enter the Reich, Stalin acquired hundreds of thousands of bodies to fill his labor camps, with some estimates running as high as 1.5 million Polish and Jewish deportees by early 1941, a figure larger than German repatriations by a factor of ten. The number of victims murdered by Soviet authorities in occupied Poland by June 1941—about five hundred thousand—was likewise three or four times higher than the number of those killed by the Nazis. Amazingly—despite his own war of conquest against Poland being, if not as deadly as Hitler’s during its military phase, then marked by a geometrically larger number of executions and deportations and far more destruction in economic terms—the Vozhd received not even a slap on the wrist from the Western powers for his crimes.
The uranium and other nuclear material transfers and how actually important they were has been disputed by internet genius Greg Cochran, so this part may be false.
A conservative estimate would thus put Soviet obligations to expropriated American property and bondholders, circa 1933, at well over $600 million in principal—the equivalent of perhaps $60 billion today.
Given a green light by Litvinov, the CPUSA published a statement reaffirming its commitment to revolutionary principles in the New York Times on November 19, 1933.