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International Socialist Review, Summer 1965


Milton Alvin

Russia vs. Germany


From International Socialist Review, Vol.26 No.3, Summer 1965, p.94.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Russia at War
by Alexander Werth
E.P. Dutton, 1964, 1100 pp., $10.00.

Twenty years have passed since the end of the Second World War, a new generation has grown up and yet there is much regarding Soviet participation in the conflict that is unknown to Americans. The details of the war from the Russian side were not well publicized here during the course of the war. The elapse of two decades and all that has happened in that time has served to push the events of 1941 to 1945 far into the past.

All the more to be welcomed, therefore, is the work of Alexander Werth who makes these times real again and provides us with little known and barely remembered events of great importance. Werth was war correspondent for the London Sunday Times and the BBC. A native of Russia, (he emigrated to England at the age of 17) he speaks the language. He was in the Soviet Union for the entire period of the war except a few months. He traveled widely to many parts of the country including the fighting fronts, spoke to many disparate elements ranging from top political and military figures to rank and file soldiers and workers. First hand experiences, interviews and impressions give the book the stamp of a truthful account of what he saw and heard.

Staggering Destruction

The vast destruction of lives and property that marches across the pages of this book in seemingly never ending cadence is staggering. Russia lost an estimated 20 million dead, very likely more than all the other combatants put together. Numerous cities and towns were completely destroyed and much of the countryside ruined. An estimated one million people starved to death in Leningrad alone during the time it was virtually surrounded by the Nazi armies.

When Hitler launched his invasion in June 1941 he got the jump on the Soviets and quickly overran a large portion of European Russia. The Nazi legions soon stood at the gates of Moscow, encircled Leningrad and penetrated deep into the Caucasus. In the process, a vast amount of Soviet industry was captured or destroyed and many hundreds of thousands of its armed forces captured or killed. It was a staggering blow, one from which few, if any, thought the Soviet Union could recover.

Yet it did recover, girded itself for more blows to come and went on to ultimate victory. How did this happen? Werth’s account gives us the details of the battles, of the reactions to the events from many quarters, even how and why certain decisions were reached, sometimes far-reaching decisions that affected not only the conduct of the war but the post-war period as well. But in writing a narrative history of the events he does not probe all the way to the bottom into the reason why the Soviet Union triumphed in the end.

The answer lies in the different social bases of the two nations. The Nazi army was a true reflection of German capitalist society. Organized not only by class but also by caste it represented the specific capitalist society of the Nazis. The Russian army, despite certain bourgeois trappings grafted on to it by the Stalin regime, in the final analysis reflected the Soviet society. Hence the war between nations was at the same time a social struggle between two different and irreconcilable systems. This class struggle aspect of the war determined its final outcome in favor of the historically progressive side.

An example of the way the Soviet economy was geared to the war after the initial onslaught of the Nazis tells us a great deal about the different social characters of the contending sides. The Russians, operating with a nationalized economic system, quickly moved enormous numbers of manufacturing facilities out of the road of the Nazis to the relative security of eastern regions. At the same time they mobilized huge numbers of workers and built entirely new war production industries in remarkably short order. Such steps taken with a minimum of hesitation, actually with great speed and effect, are inconceivable under a capitalist system where even “total” mobilization for war requires long negotiations with private owners of industry. American experience during the Second World War is illuminating in this respect.

The Russian mobilization of industrial facilities must be put down as one of the principal reasons for ultimate victory. This, in turn, was a product of the Revolution that established the nationalized economy. More than any other single feature of the struggle, this served to delineate the different social systems contending in this bitter life-and-death struggle.

There could have been an even more important cause for the Soviet victory, one that Stalin did not choose to utilize: a revolutionary appeal to the German soldiers.

After World War I

The War ended in 1945 in an entirely different way from the First World War in 1918. After the 1917 Russian Revolution had established the Lenin-Trotsky regime in power and after a precarious peace had been negotiated at Brest Litovsk, the new Soviet regime continued to make revolutionary propaganda among the German troops. This had its effect. When the war-weary Germans ended the conflict in 1918 they overthrew the Kaiser and established a parliamentary republic.

The Second World War did not end in the overthrow of the Hitler regime by the Germans. Instead, the Russian, American and British troops invaded the country from several sides and destroyed the Nazi regime from without, so to speak.

The principal reason for this failure to overthrow the Nazis from within lies in the attitude of the Stalin regime towards the German people. For the most part the Stalinists adopted a chauvinistic attitude towards ALL Germans. Led by Ehrenburg, who became Stalin’s main spokesman, the Soviet publicists conducted a nationalistic orgy against Germans one and all that must have struck fear of a Soviet victory into the hearts of anyone on that side. It was not until Soviet troops stood well within Germany that this chauvinistic campaign was leashed and such propaganda played down.

This nationalistic attitude of the Soviet leaders had its effect too. It inhibited any tendency to cooperation between rebels on the German side and the Soviet Union and left a political void when the hostilities finally came to an end. In these circumstances, with no independent force on the scene, the allies carved Germany up and occupied its parts. This deplorable situation, which could have been prevented, exists to this day.

The contrast between the Lenin-Trotsky attitude towards Germany and Stalin’s bears within it all the lessons of the differences between a revolutionary Marxist regime and a nationalistic and bureaucratic one which seeks under all circumstances, even war, only to defend its own interests, even when such interests come into conflict with those of the world revolution. There is a lesson here on the present behavior of the new Russian rulers of the post-Stalin era with regard to China, Vietnam and other nations that formerly were colonies or semi-colonies.

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