Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 2/3


Stalin’s Drive to the West

Richard Raack
Stalin’s Drive to the West, 1938–1945
Stanford University Press, Stanford 1995, pp. 265, £30.00

THE REVIVAL of conservative historiography continues unabated. Professor Raack has entered the fray with a lively restatement of the ‘betrayal of the East’ argument which many of us had thought had disappeared with the hard-line anti-Communists of the ‘roll back’ school. Raack’s case can be simply presented. Stalin wanted a world Communist state. After the period of construction in the 1930s, it was time to go back onto the offensive. The pact of August 1939 with Germany allowed him a free hand to expand into Eastern Europe, the further expansion after the defeat of Germany in 1945 was the start of a Europe-wide revolution, and ‘the Third World War, to follow, would spread the Communist system around the world’ (p. 28). Stalin was given invaluable assistance during the war by willing dupes in Western political parties, government institutions and the media, and by statesmen who were either naive and venal, like Roosevelt, or too concerned with fighting Germany, like Churchill.

Raack continually rails against those who see Stalin’s international moves as principally defensive. In a sense, he is correct, but really it’s neither here nor there. It is obvious that Stalin was trying to improve the position of the Soviet Union, and this meant taking advantage of where (as Raack concedes) the West was weak. What is important is Raack’s concept of Stalin as a world revolutionary, and inherently expansionist.

If Stalin were so bent on revolution and on imposing his rule right across Europe after the Second World War, why did he not mobilise his multi-million ‘army’ in the official Communist movement? Raack says: ‘Stalin had apparently relied on the local Communist parties in France and Italy as effective fifth columns, prepared to deliver those nations over to a Soviet-united Europe, “like ripe fruit”, when the proper time arrived.’ (p. 233) This is nonsense. The French and Italian Communist Parties had mass support and hundreds of thousands of armed men and women under their direct command or influence. A ‘revolution in the rear’ as the Hitler regime started to collapse would have caused havoc. And yet the Stalinists in France and Italy preferred to rebuild the capitalist state and power structures, rather than attempt to seize power. The ‘proper time’ had come and gone by mid-1947, when the official Communist movement finally adopted a militant pose.

Raack talks about Stalin’s plans for Asia, but does not mention that he was deeply suspicious of Mao’s plans to seize power, and only reluctantly and belatedly backed Kim’s demands to invade the south of Korea. Raack does not mention that Stalin withdrew from Austria and northern Iran, and he quotes from Djilas’ Conversations with Stalin, but not the bit where Stalin tells the Yugoslavs to abandon the Greek Communists to their fate. As for Finland, he says that Stalin was worried about how the USA would respond to its annexation, so he did not invade it; a feeble explanation if ever I heard one. By and large, it cannot be denied that Stalin and his successors generally kept to the terms of the Yalta agreement.

The problem always facing the ‘roll back’ proponents is that the post-1945 international settlement worked very well for the USA, which is why so many of them came to accept it once they assumed positions of responsibility. The bipolar world enabled the USA to gain almost complete hegemony over its half. The division of Germany ensured that its potential full strength and thus disruptive capabilities could not be realised, and Europe experienced its most stable period in modern times. The existence of a repressive state masquerading under the guise of Socialism did much to discredit the idea of fundamental social change. It is hardly surprising that there is considerable disquiet within US ruling circles now that the bipolar world has gone into history.

Like so many of the conservatives’ recent efforts, this book, with its intemperate style and omission of crucial facts, harks back to the kind of works that were the norm at the height of the Cold War in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yes, the conservatives are mounting a clamorous counter-attack upon the historians and analysts who have done much to demystify the rôle of the Soviet Union on the international stage, but they are fighting a rearguard battle, and objective observers have little to fear from them.

Paul Flewers

Updated by ETOL: 29.9.2011