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George Breitman

Stalin Interview Shows
Real Situation in USSR

Stalin Shows He Is Incapable of Adopting
a Revolutionary Program of Victory

(8 November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 45, 8 November 1941, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Reports from the Moscow front tell of fierce fighting raging around all the approaches to the capital. A radio broadcast from Moscow on November 3 declared that the German assault on the city had “entered a most serious phase”, with the Germans throwing in fresh reserves of planes, tanks, guns and men. A decisive battle was being fought at the munitions center, Tula, 100 miles south of Moscow; and losses were increasing tremendously on both sides in the battle for Kalinin, 95 miles northwest of Moscow.

Late dispatches also tell of serious defeats for the Soviet forces in the Crimea, where they are reported to have been cut in two and driven back to the coast. Loss of the Crimea will give the Germans not only control of the Black Sea, but places them in a position to outflank Rostov, and the Don basin and threaten the Caucusus and its oil fields.

No one disputes the high fighting calibre, the spirit of sacrifice, the splendid morale of the Red Army soldiers. If the advances of the German armies have been slowed up thus far, it is due primarily to these qualities of the Red Army.

But wars are not won by heroism alone. Modern armies require the proper strategy, the taking into account of all the factors, military, geographical, political, the co-ordination and the effective use of resources at hand, the selection of the weak points in the enemy’s front.

Stalin’s Interview with Ingersoll

Stalin’s “strategy” in the war was authoritatively revealed last week in a series of articles written by Ralph Ingersoll for the newspaper PM. Ingersoll has just returned from three weeks in the USSR where he discussed the war with many of the Soviet officials, and was granted an interview with Stalin himself.

On October 31, without quoting Stalin directly, but using the information Stalin gave him during the interview, Ingersoll gave Stalin’s views on the war under the title, What the Soviet Government Thinks About the War.

Stalin’s views, both by what he says and what he leaves unsaid, do more than explain the defeats; they reveal that Stalin intends to continue those policies which resulted in the defeats.

Stalin Explains the Initial Defeats

How did Stalin explain the initial and the recent defeats to Ingersoll? By admitting that he did not expect the war with Germany when it came, and was unprepared for it!

The German army struck quickly.

“When the German bombers came over, anti-aircraft crews did not open fire at once. They telephoned to headquarters to ask instructions on what most of them thought was simply a breach of treaty. Before they had time to think twice, their planes were destroyed and their hangars were on fire. The initial German drive on land, after smashing down outlying strong points, went into Russian territory, at 30 to 40 miles an hour.”

In Moscow “the Government thought that such an obvious threat of invasion was simply the prelude to a demand for further treaty concessions.”

“By the time the German panzer divisions had run the limit of their gas supply, Soviet armies on the frontier were encircled and instead of fighting to hold back the German advance, all their energy and ammunition went to get themselves out of the hole they were in and to reforming into a coherent line. Enormous supplies of equipment were lost in this retreat and from then on the Soviet Government knew that its armies would not be able immediately to stem the German advance – even at the old Soviet frontier, which was better fortified than the new.”

In short, the ease of the initial German victories was due primarily to the stupidity of the Kremlin and its belief that Hitler would continue to bargain indefinitely for more “concessions.”

The Germans made rapid advances in the first weeks of the war because Stalin had not prepared the Red Army politically or strategically for what came. Just as. today he places his hopes on some kind of understanding with the “democratic” imperialists, so he placed his hopes before June 22 on the continuation of some kind of understanding with Hitler.

Can USSR Defeat Hitler Alone?

Can the Soviet Union defeat Hitler without outside aid, as the Stalinists boasted it could before and even after the beginning of the war?

The Kremlin claims it can no longer. According to what Stalin told Ingersoll, “The Soviet Government knows its armies are now outnumbered in planes and tanks.” It does not even have as its objective the defeat of Hitler’s armies:

“Therefore its optimum objective, in a military sense, is to keep its armies together and to continue its unbroken line of resistance and to go on exacting casualties as it retreats.

“This has been the Soviet strategy since the breakthrough of the first week of the war.”

What a refutation of the lies and boasts spread by the Stalinists early in the war to cover up the lack of a unified strategic plan of victory and to hide Stalin’s responsibility for the defeats! Typical of these boasts was the one advanced by the Stalinists in the Daily Worker of July 5:

“The Hitler mechanized army is meeting with tanks and planes more powerful than his own and with military generalship more skilled and more brilliant than his own staff.”

Stalin no longer makes such boasts. Indeed, as Ingersoll puts it for him:

“The Soviet Government admits that the Germans still have the equipment and the organization to take any given local objective, unless it be one of the big cities which the citizens can turn into a fortress and which can only be taken by complete encirclement and starving-out. Thus it is resigned to the fact that, alone, its armies cannot administer a severe defeat to the Germans in the field. (Emphasis by Ingersoll)”

Dangers in Stalin’s Strategy

What can this strategy of “exacting casualties as it retreats” lead to? This process of exacting casualties on the enemy means simultaneous casualties for the Army. And the further the Soviet forces retreat, the more territory embracing the means of vital industrial production falls into the hands of the enemy and all the harder it becomes to hold them at the next stage.

In addition, such a process at a certain point is certain to affect the morale of the Red Army soldiers; a continuous process of defeats is bound to produce doubts and a feeling of futility and impotence; the soldiers will begin to believe, in the face of all these defeats and retreats, that they are fighting in vain.

One of the reasons that Stalin was forced to adopt a “strategy” of retreat was that the Red Army lacked a competent, trained leadership able to work out a strategy that could bring victory. This situation existed because, in the interests of eliminating all criticism and opposition in the armed forces to his bureaucratic regime, Stalin destroyed the flower of the Red Army command in the purges of 1937–38 and appointed in their place nonentities with neither the ability nor experience to lead the Red Army to victory against a powerful foe.

All the facts show that Stalin’s misconduct of the war is not something accidental or the result of misunderstanding on his part of what the situation requires, but is directly linked with and flows from all of his past policies. To fully understand his policies in this war, it is necessary to study and become acquainted with the past policies and history of Stalinism, beginning with the theory of “socialism in one country.”

Stalin’s Proposal for Defeating Hitler

Now, 17 years after he promulgated this theory of “socialism in one country” Stalin is forced to admit that the Soviet Union under his leadership will be defeated unless aid comes from the outside.

With the Red Army outnumbered, with the military leadership able to execute only a “strategy” of retreat, the fate of the Soviet Union depends on what happens to the German armies from the rear or within. The question is: How can the German drive be halted, disintegrated from the rear? What is the policy Stalin proposes? Here it is, as given by Ingersoll:

“Based on information from its own agents in Germany and information obtained from captives, the Soviet Government does not believe that collapse of the German State is in order. It has heard talk about an imminent collapse – from its allies – but it believes this is wishful thinking. It thinks German morale is high and that nothing will unseat Hitler except a decisive military defeat.”

But Stalin is resigned to the fact that the Red Army alone cannot defeat the Germans. Since Stalin feels the Red Army cannot defeat Hitler, and since he believes that “nothing but a decisive military defeat” will accomplish this, Stalin declares that some other force will have to do the job of cracking German morale and overthrowing Hitler. Ingersoll continues:

“For the purpose of upsetting the Nazi regime it (the Stalinist regime) does not believe that this defeat need necessarily be administered to his principal armies. It believes the decisive defeat of one of Hitler’s allies could turn the trick.”

But no one could seriously contend that the military defeat of one of Hitler’s allies would seriously interfere with the advance of the German armies in Russia. Ingersoll explains that Stalin looks at it this way:

“Principle” Behind the “Western Front”

“Many of those who have joined forces with Hitler – the Rumanians, the Hungarians, the Finns, etc., etc., have done so as the lesser of two evils. It must be demonstrated to at least one of them that their alliance is not the lesser but the far, far greater of the two evils. For this purpose it will not be enough simply to defeat an army allied to Germany in the field; it will be necessary utterly to annihilate the forces of some ally, wholly to destroy its government. To rub its nose in it. To make defeat and collapse so obvious that the news of it will spread over the world, censorship or controlled press or no. (Emphasis by Ingersoll).

“This is the principle behind the Soviet request to Britain for a ‘diversion front’.”

This is the policy on which Stalin now depends to save the Soviet Union in the darkest hour in its history – the policy of a crushing imperialist defeat of one of Hitler’s allies, the complete annihilation of its forces and destruction of its government. This, lie declares, is the only salvation of the Soviet Union, this is the only way to overthrow the Nazi regime!

Would This Policy Weaken Hitler?

But if the fate of the Soviet Union really depended upon such a policy, then it would be doomed. The carrying out of such a “western front” will not in the last analysis weaken Hitler’s war, but, on the contrary, in a real sense, it will strengthen it!

Because Hitler will be able to point to his defeated ally, and tell the German people and his other allies: You see what will happen to you if England wins this war? You will be crushed and annihilated, wholly destroyed. To prevent this, to prevent the imposition of another and worse Versailles Treaty which will bring untold suffering and depression to our country and yours, you must exert yourselves even more to insure the defeat of the enemy.

In short, such a policy will only give Hitler another weapon to add to those which he now uses to secure support for his war against the Soviet Union. Its mere advocacy has no doubt been greeted eagerly by Goebbels.

No, the very lesson of the rise of Hitler is that large sections of the masses of Europe are looking for some alternative to the rule of “democratic” imperialism and are temporarily willing to endure all kinds of hardships under Hitlerism in the hope that it may bring them a satisfactory alternative. Hitler’s source of strength lies precisely in his promise that German imperialist victory in the war will bring a “new order”.

Still Not Too Late to Save the USSR!

The bankruptcy of Stalinism and the military gains of Hitler so far do not mean that it is too late to save the Soviet Union, even at this late hour.

This is not the first time that imperialism threatened the very existence of the workers state. In 1918-20 the Soviet Union was able to hold off and defeat not only the imperialist intervention but to crush the counter-revolutionary White Guard Russians. The policy of revolutionary war and appealing to the international working class that saved the Soviet Union after World War I can again save it in World War II.

This policy – today embodied in the Trotskyist program for Soviet victory – requires a revolutionary appeal to the masses of Europe and above all Germany. They must be assured that the Soviet Union will fight side by side with them against any new Versailles Treaty, that the Soviet Union will oppose any imperialist peace settlement that will place new burdens on the backs of the exploited masses. The masses can be aroused to revolutionary action and initiative, not by the example of a lesser evil which is really not “lesser” at all, but by a fighting program for the solution of their own problems. The masses of Europe must be shown that there is a real alternative to capitalism, that the solution of their problems lies in the struggle for the Socialist United States of Europe and the world.

Strengthen the Front to Defeat Hitler

The program for Soviet victory further requires measures to strengthen the front against Hitler in the Soviet Union at the same time that revolutionary agitation is being used to undermine Hitler’s rear. The release of the brave and able pro-Soviet workers and soldiers, many of whom were leaders in the Civil War, and who are now kept in Stalin’s concentration tamps and prisons only because they opposed the ruinous policies of Stalinism, will provide new leadership at the front. The reconstitution of the democratically - elected Soviets, the legalization of pro-Soviet political parties, will arouse the initiative and enthusiasm of the Soviet workers, soldiers and peasants for they will feel once again that they have something to say about the policies of the workers state.

It is in the light of Stalin’s program for saving the Soviet Union that his “strategy” of retreats assumes a particularly ominous character. Sometimes retreats cannot be avoided, sometimes they are justified. Even the most correct revolutionary strategy can not always guarantee victories, for there are other factors that can be decisive in particular battles and campaigns. But there are retreats and retreats.

The Bolsheviks in the Civil War Days of 1918-20, even though they followed a bold, revolutionary policy, which brought victory in the end, often had to retreat. But when they retreated, it was for the purpose of obtaining a breathing space, with the perspective of revolutionary developments in the rear of the enemy and throughout Europe coming to their aid. But Stalin has no such perspective.

Stalinism has shown by its betrayal of the Bolshevik program of Soviet victory that it is the greatest internal obstacle to the successful defense of the Soviet Union. As its responsibility for the defeats becomes more apparent, as the reasons for its failure to conduct a revolutionary war become more widely understood, the Soviet masses, choosing the proper time, without endangering the front against imperialism, must rid themselves of the Stalinist bureaucracy and march forward with the workers of the world to victory for the Soviet Union and world socialism.

The fight to save the Soviet Union is not the fight of the Soviet masses alone. The workers of the world have a stake in preventing the destruction of the remaining conquests of the October revolution.

The Soviet masses require the assistance of the workers of the world. The task for advanced workers everywhere throughout the capitalist world is to explain the cause of the defeats in the USSR, to show how victory can still be achieved, to help the workers avoid the pitfalls of giving up opposition to the aims of their own ruling class, to strengthen the forces of the world revolution which alone can save the USSR.

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Last updated: 21 March 2019