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John G. Wright

Where Hitler Has Miscalculated in Invading USSR

(July 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 30, 26 July 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the eve of the Second Imperialist War, on June 21, 1939, Leon Trotsky not only predicted the Stalin-Hitler pact, but made the following analysis or Hitler’s future violation of this pact and of Hitler’s calculations in invading the Soviet Union:

“In order to seize the French and British colonies Hitler must first protect his rear and he is cherishing the idea of a preventive war against the USSR. True, enough, the German High Command – on the basis of Its own past experience – is well aware of the difficulties of occupying Russia, or even only the Ukraine; Hitler, however, is basing his calculations on the instability of Stalin’s regime. He reasons that a few serious defeats of the Red Army would suffice for the overthrow of the Kremlin government. And inasmuch as there are no other organized forces in the country, and since the White Guard émigrés are completely alien to the people, therefore once Stalin is overthrown chaos would ensue for a long time. And such a condition Hitler could utilize, on the one side, for outright economic plunder, the seizure of the gold reserves, export of all sorts of raw materials, etc.; and, on the other, for a blow against the West.” (The Enigma of the USSR, Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, No. 79–80)

Hitler’s Calculations Were False

Today there can be no question that Hitler’s calculations are those that Trotsky described. Without in any way attempting at this early date to draw the final balance sheet of the invasion, it is nevertheless already possible to say that Hitler miscalculated gravely in identifying the strength of the resistance of the USSR with the strength of Stalin’s regime. In his plans to plunder the country Hitler has already met with an unexpected surprise. Obviously, one of his immediate objectives was the seizure of the ripening crops of the Ukraine. This called for decisive military victories on the Southern front, and the occupation of the Ukraine by not later than the last week in July. Otherwise the crops could be readily harvested and removed or just as readily destroyed. The resistance of the Red Army has made it well nigh impossible to seize the current crops. This means that the German imperialists, even in the event of an ultimate occupation of the Ukraine, can only bank on next year’s harvest. Under the conditions of armed occupation, this is by no means a favorable perspective, as the lessons of the last German occupation of the Ukraine testify. Any further disruption of the High Command’s timetable can only aggravate this serious blow to the calculations of the German imperialists.

Far more important, however, is the fact that an equally unwelcome surprise is developing for the Nazis in the field of their political calculations so far as the Soviet Union is concerned. The crisis of the Kremlin regime is not at all unfolding along the lines envisaged by the Nazi strategists. It is becoming more and more self-evident that the crisis of Stalin’s government is beginning to assume forms without precedent in history.

Thus, the effect of the war on the regime is contrary to what might have been expected. It is almost an axiom that the shakiest regimes are stabilized by war, if only temporarily. As a matter of fact, innumerable instances can be cited of ruling classes deliberately plunging into military adventures precisely in the hope of thus forestalling their own overthrow. Suffice it to recall the case of Russian Czarism. The Romanov dynasty was greatly strengthened at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, and was even able for a time to survive military blows far greater than those which almost brought about its downfall in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905.

Although Stalin’s government is unlike any other in history, it too was unquestionably strengthened internally at the very moment that Hitler issued marching orders to his armies. Yet in the face of this indubitable, even if temporary, stabilization, Stalin pursues a course which seems on the surface inexplicable.

All Key Posts in Stalin’s Hands

In the brief space of a week, the ruler who holds the post of Premier, not only constituted a special, all-powerful War Cabinet with himself as Chairman, i.e., avowed dictator, but also gathered into his own hands every single thread of state power. He reshuffled the General Staff; restored dual authority in the Red Army by reviving the institution of political commissars, thus strengthening his own hold on the Army by dealing a blow to the power and authority of the officer-caste he had himself created only last year. Still more, he assumed direct military command, replacing Timoshenko as Commissar of Army and Navy. His latest step is to take personal charge of the entire police apparatus – the “united” GPU – which he had himself reorganized only last February.

Such measures have been applied before, – by other governments. But as a rule, only in direst straits. Why are such exceptional measures needed?

If Stalin’s regime had a genuine class base, if it rested on the support of a genuine ruling class, then such measures would not have been necessary at this time. But Stalin lacks such a base. His regime has from, the outset rested on the bureaucracy, and its various appendages. The Kremlin’s bureaucratic prop has crumbled beyond repair. This is no longer a prognosis but a fact. Stalin acknowledges it by his decrees which are tantamount, to his saying openly that he can now maintain himself in power only if he has personal control of the military-police apparatus. No other “normal” channels remains. This unprecedented condition of a single man, surrounded by a handful of hand-picked stooges – whose composition, moreover, changes almost daily – trying to maintain himself in power in war time constitutes, of course, an equation with many unknowns, and many surprises.

But one thing can be stated with certainty, the class forces in the USSR – the proletariat and the peasantry – cannot be laced into such an artificial dictatorial strait jacket for any protracted period of time. It is precisely against this contingency – namely, the return of the Soviet proletariat and Soviet peasantry as independent political forces on the historical arena – that Stalin is girding himself. That is the real meaning of his acts of desperation.

Last updated: 28 May 2016