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Brian Pearce

Stalin’s Fulminations

(August 1958)

From Labour Review, Vol. 3 No. 4, August–September 1958, p. 111.
Transcribed & marked up by Ted Crawford & D. Walters for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL) in 2009.

Stalin’s Correspondence with Churchill, Attlee, Roosevelt and Truman, 1941–45
Two volumes bound as one
Lawrence and Wishart, 25s.

An editorial note in volume i of this book gives the text of one of Churchill’s warnings to Stalin about German war preparations against Russia in the spring of 1941:

‘I have sure information from a trusted agent that when the Germans thought they had got Yugoslavia in the net, that is to say after March 20, they began to move three out of five Panzer divisions from Rumania to southern Poland. The moment they heard of the Serbian revolution this movement was countermanded. Your Excellency will readily appreciate the significance of these facts.’ (April 19)

Stalin ignored this and other warnings, and in his zeal to demonstrate friendliness to Hitler even expelled, at the beginning of May, the Ambassador of Yugoslavia – an action which, however, he did not see fit to publish in the Soviet Press. His panic reaction when the German onslaught fell is reflected in a message to Churchill on September 13, given on page 24 of volume i:

‘It seems to me that Britain could safely land 25–30 divisions at Archangel or ship them to the southern areas of the USSR via Iran for military co-operation with the Soviet troops on Soviet soil in the same way as was done during the last war in France. That would be a great help.’

This collection of diplomatic documents of the second world war confirms the impression given by previous ones that Stalin offered no objection to the Allies’ policy of basing themselves politically on Vichyite and similar elements in western Europe. On December 14, 1942, he wrote to Roosevelt: ‘With reference to the rumours about the Soviet attitude to the use of Darlan and people like him, I should like to tell you that as I and my colleagues see it, Eisenhower’s policy towards Darlan, Boisson, Giraud and the others is absolutely sound’ (ii, p. 44). His easy-going attitude regarding France and Italy contrasts with his rigidity on Polish questions.

The Soviet editors, in reproducing Stalin’s fulminations regarding the Katyn ‘calumny’, omit to explain to their readers why the Polish authorities had good reason to suspect foul play on the Soviet side. The Soviet Army paper Krasnaya Zvezda had reported on September 17, 1940, that about 10,000 Polish officers were in captivity in Russia. When the release of these officers was decreed in August 1941, only 2,000 turned up – and none of them was from the big group of camps in the Katyn area. The Soviet spokesmen were never able to explain what had happened to the missing 8,000 officers. Significantly, though the massacre of the Polish officers at Katyn was included in the original indictment of the Nazi war criminals at. Nuremberg, it was omitted from the preamble to the sentence on them.


The restriction of the scope of these volumes to documents actually signed by Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill or the other heads of governments limits its value as an account of what happened in a number of critical episodes, and this is nowhere more striking than in the treatment of the Warsaw uprising. Stalin wrote to Churchill on August 16, 1944, that ‘Soviet headquarters have decided that they must dissociate themselves from the Warsaw adventure’ (i, p. 254). Just what this meant is clear, however, only if one knows what Vyshinsky communicated, on his master’s behalf, to Ambassadors Harriman and Clark-Kerr on the very same day. They had asked for shuttle-flight facilities to be granted to British and American planes bringing supplies to Warsaw from Italy, similar to the facilities accorded to such planes for bombing the Ploesti oilfield. Vyshinsky’s reply ran: ‘The Soviet Government cannot, of course, object to British or American aircraft dropping arms in the region of Warsaw, since this is an American and British affair. But they decidedly object to American or British aircraft, after dropping arms in the region of Warsaw, landing on Soviet territory, since the Soviet Government do not wish to associate themselves either directly or indirectly with the adventure in Warsaw’ (quoted in W.S. Churchill, The Second World War: VI, Triumph and Tragedy (1954), pp. 117–18).

Churchill wrote to Stalin on April 28, 1945: ‘I recognize the consideration which you gave me when we had to intervene with heavy armed forces to quell the EAM-ELAS attack upon the centre of government in Athens’ (i p. 342). Earlier, in January–February 1944, he had made plain his pleasure at the substitution of a new, ‘national’ anthem for the International (i, pp. 180, 185, 199), and the Soviet betrayal of Greece was, of course, merely a rather starker revelation of what that symbolic change meant than the previous Soviet endorsements of Darlan, Badoglio etc. To Roosevelt and his advisers, Stalin at Teheran had, indeed, ‘seemed to treat the cause and prospects of international revolution rather lightly, suggesting that the others need not fear it ...’ (H. Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin (1957), p. 275)

Those of us who, during the war, thought that Stalin’s policy, though disquieting in some respects, was justified by ‘realism’, may well feel more than doubtful on that point now, in the light of the last twelve years and the present world situation. In supporting a policy which was to have prevented (as we supposed) all this, were we not in fact unknowingly making certain it would come about? And is it not time to re-examine radically the foundations of our thought and conduct in 1941–45?

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