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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(18 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 71, 18 September 1939, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

What a macabre Joke it is to bear Stalin’s newspaper Pravda suddenly wax patbetic over tbe plight of the Ukrainian and White Russian minorities in Poland!

One of the characteristic marks of the degeneration of the Soviet regime under Stalin has been the destruction of the free rights won by Russia’s many nationalities as a result of the October revolution. One after another the governments of the autonomous Soviet republics from one end of the union to the other were converted in the course of the last ten years into instruments of Stalin’s bureaucratic clique. More recently native officials of these republics were mowed down by Stalin’s purge in scores and in hundreds.

Consequently we are not to seek in Stalin’s sudden, touching concern for the Polish Ukrainians and White Russians for anything remotely resembling the old Bolshevik policy of staunch support for the doctrine and practice of the self-determination of peoples. The Pravda editorial was not an echo of Lenin but of Goebbels. The aim of the policy it shrouds is not the liberation of the oppressed peoples of Poland but their subjection and the protection of the power and pelf of Stalin’s ruling oligarchy. It is not a question of freeing the Ukrainians and White Russian: but of determining whether their next yoke will be that of Hitler or that of Stalin.

Whether this is to be carried out by the creation of so-called “independent” buffer states or by outright annexation of territory will soon be known. However, any partition decided upon by Hitler and Stalin in the present circumstances is bound to be of a most transient and unstable character.

On both sides there is a tacit recognition of the fragility of the new axis and on both sides there is the fear – quite justified – that the peoples they are pushing around in eastern Europe will before long join with the masses of Germany and Russia in freeing themselves from the rulers who would strangle them.

Pravda attributed the speedy crushing of Poland to its internal instability, to the repression of the huge minorities that kept the country divided and destroyed that national cohesion so vital in a war. Behind the lines of the Pravda editorial, deep in the shadows of the Kremlin, is the realization that Russia’s plight is even worse in this respect. It is not merely the structure of nationalities that make up the Soviet Union but the whole regime and the army itself that have been rent with the gaping bloody wounds of Stalin’s purge. In its desperate effort to preserve itself, Stalin’s ruling clique has succeeded only in enormously weakening the Soviet Union.

That is why the adventures into which the war is forcing it must be a source of the most agonizing anxiety to the Kremlin gang. Hitler’s drive into eastern Europe will at least have the effect – even if only temporarily – of reinforcing his ability to prosecute the war against his great rivals in the West. Any move by Stalin into this bloody cockpit will only add to his weakness, his difficulties, and his fears. Stalin knows any involvement will hasten his own doom and yet he cannot avoid becoming involved. His only hope is to be able to hang on until his enemies, including Hitler, begin to grow as weak as he already knows himself to be.

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