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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(15 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 70, 15 September 1939, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Stalin has moved more than a million troops to the Polish and Rumanian frontiers and the whole world is wondering why.

The black line of the Nazi advance through Poland is moving like lava across the land. It has already submerged the industrial heart of Poland and at this writing the Germans are claiming entry into the outskirts of Lwow, capital of the Polish Ukraine, only 100 miles from the Soviet frontier. What is going to happen when the lava curls steaming up against Stalin’s borders?

Trotsky says he does not believe the Kremlin itself is sure of the answer to this question. The only certain thing we have to go on is Stalin’s fearful determination not to let himself be drawn into a war that he knows will mean his end and the end of his ruling clique. Stalin’s union with Hitler was a shotgun wedding and is consequently destined to be neither blissful nor long-lived. That is why the approach of Hitler’s hordes to the Russian frontier has the whole world guessing.

Is Hitler’s wedding gift to his frightened bride going to be a slice of the Polish Ukraine? Or is he going to begin, even at this early date, to show her who is master in this charnel house?

One guess is that Hitler will keep right on marching. But if he does he will greatly oblige the French and British by creating a real eastern front. There will be plenty of Hitler-Stalin double-crossing before the world sees daylight, but it is not likely to take the form of a Soviet-German clash at this stage of the game. Hitler won’t choose this path because for the time being he has too much to gain from Soviet “neutrality.”

Stalin certainly won’t choose it because he willingly fights only against adversaries who are helpless. He may use his bayonets against the Polish refugees who seek haven in his domain, but this column’s guess is that when the German troops reach the first Russian outposts they will more likely be greeted with respectful salutes and congratulations for the speedy and efficient completion of the drive across Poland.

With the conquest of Poland, Hitler will have other means of keeping his new axis partner in a state of perpetual trepidation. It is no accident that precisely at this time reports are reappearing concerning the activity o f nationalist propagandists among the people of the Polish Ukraine. If the Nazi-Soviet pact did contain secret provisions or parcelling out Poland, Hitler will be handing over to his friend in the Kremlin a heavily-charged bomb. Resurgent Ukrainian nationalism can and will have consequences just as explosive for Hitler as for Stalin, but Hitler’s whole daring strategy is based upon playing with dynamite, a game in which Stalin cannot afford to join.

Stalin has strangled the Soviet Ukraine and earned the smouldering hatred of the Ukrainian peasantry. Any fuse touched off in the Polish Ukraine will reach charges laid deep in the Soviet Ukraine by Stalin himself. The spectre of a surge toward the creation of an independent, united Ukraine undoubtedly haunts the Kremlin these uneasy nights. That may be why Stalin has sent a million men to the border and that may also be why Hitler greets this move with evident satisfaction.

For a double cross on a grander scale by either party to this unholy union, conditions are not yet ripe. Despite the dazzling speed at which things move these days, a new flip-flop, like an Anglo-French deal with Hitler for a drive on Russia, or a Russian deal with Britain and France for an attack on Hitler, could not occur without more straws drifting into the wind than we have so far been shown. That will require further and more extensive tests of strength between the present belligerents and it will depend in no small measure on the future course of the principal “neutrals” – Italy, Japan, and, above all, the United States.

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