STALIN WAS HIS DARLIN'
At the beginning of the second world war, Stalin thought he could do business with Hitler.
Murray Sayle finds a fascist beneath the skin THE first political slogan that ever man- aged to stick in my childish mind remains, half a century later, among the ones I find most illuminating. Laboriously painted in Yard-high letters on the retaining wall opposite the Wooloomooloo docks in Syd- ney, themselves famous as the point of embarkation of generations of soldiers in Wide sensible hats off to the wars, it advised: NOT A MAN - NOT A GUN - NOT A SHIP FOR THE BOSSES' WAR!
Odd, I thought, when I first saw it, Which must have been around 1943. Why was the war against Hitler, Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito particularly the concern of the bosses and not the rest of us, and who says so? By this time three divisions had left for the Middle East, another had departed for defeat and Japanese captivity in Malaya, and flocks of RAAF aircrew had taken ship for Bri- tain. The message, if in- tended for them, was not having much effect. Later I learnt that it had not been addressed to the military, but to the wharf-labourers who were loading their equipment. The slogan had been painted tiP by loyal supporters of the Australian Communist Party shortly after the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact on 23 August 1939 and the outbreak of the second world war ten days later. The same People had tried to remove it after the news that the German Army had invaded the Soviet Union on 30 June 1941, but sandstone and sun-baked white paint can make, like history and memory, a spiteful- ly durable combination.
Not that the ACP managed to achieve' much in those 22 months in which they were, as they would have said, objectively supporting Adolf Hitler. The CPGB, darl- ing of 1930s Cambridge intellectuals, did little more for the same shameful cause under the celebrated Harry Pollitt, but again not for want of trying. The defeatist propaganda of the French Communist Party, however, may well have contributed to the disaster which overtook France in the summer of 1940; at least, a lot of French people seem to think so, and I remember, years later, seeing a fake tele- gram posted up in Paris after the PCF's wartime secretaire-generale Maurice Thorez had visited Moscow for medical Low's view of Stalin in 1936
" ITS QUEER HOW YOU REMIND ME OF SOMEONE, JOSE
treatment: 'OPERATION SUCCESSFUL. Now FEEL MUCH MORE RESISTANT THAN I DID IN 1940 — Thorez.'
Pollitt I knew only from the song about his relations with Comrade God. His Aus- tralian equivalent, a certain Lance Shar- key, had reportedly received his commis- sion direct from Stalin and was himself a comically Stalinised figure, affecting a droopy moustache, a bent pipe and a harsh, authoritarian manner appropriate to one who was, according to the principle of Democratic Centralism, our local proleta- rian boss, subject only to the orders of the Big Boss in Moscow. No sooner had the Soviet Union been invaded by the German Army than this slippery trio of lesser Stalins, along with all the other Communist parties within the Moscow obedience, began to call for all- out war, and in no time were clamouring in chorus for a SECOND FRONT NOW. The PCF faithful all joined, if they did not actually start the Resistance, the loyal communists of the English-speaking world hurried off to don the king's uniform and those de- viant 22 months became an awkward but fascinating footnote to history.
LAST week we marked Adolf s 100th birthday with some notes on the nature of fascism, derived from a compare-and- contrast between the Nazi regime and that of his admired mentor Benito Mussolini, with a supporting sampling of the scores of self-styled fascist movements which dis- graced the 1930s. Under analysis, fascism turned out to be not an ideology in Marx's sense, nor in plainer English a coherent set of ideas, but rather a technique for getting into power and, once in, extending it without limit, a technique only made possi- ble by hard times and the skilful use of modern media.
Fascist movements, we observed, are built around a leader sent by Destiny, Providence or History to rescue the nation in its hour of desperate need. The leader comes from humble or obscure origins and the crisis is caused by a plot which the leader claims to have detected, a conspira- cy of internal and external enemies who will stop at nothing to destroy the state/ race/nation/faith unless they themselves are destroyed first. The leader alone can do this because only he knows who the plotters are. Once the deadly cancer has been removed and the external enemies crushed, usually by the nation's youth, a new type of man will emerge, truer to the national/class/religious type — clones of the leader himself, in fact.
Fascism thus manages to exploit just about every defect to which we humans are heir, simultaneously politicising a brew of ignorance, hero-worship, generational conflict, envy, xenophobia, the joys of group surrender of responsibility and the mindless violence of beribboned football crowds. It can emerge in any society which has the necessary media to spread the leader's name and fame, but two political systems seem particularly susceptible: 1) liberal democracies, particularly new, un- stable ones, and 2) communist societies after the first enthusiasm for the revolution has waned and the regime's self-imposed isolation from the world economic system begins to bite.
Communist societies modelled on Lenin's centralist idea seem, in fact, to be particularly susceptible to fascism, known euphemistically among them as the 'cult of the personality'. Marx's own theory leads to a doctrine of perpetual 'capitalist encirc- lement', which, by defining anyone who disagrees with the leader as a capitalist, has the self-proving quality that all propagan- dists prize. The unmasking of a hidden irreconcilable bourgeoisie provides a limit- less supply of internal enemies, as anyone can, by suitable sophistry, be proved to be either bourgeois or proletarian, as the needs of the moment require. The mass executions of Stalin, of Mao and Castro (and of the Ayatollah Khomeini) inevit- ably follow.
While the institutions of a liberal social order will need to be 'co-ordinated', or in the Fiihrer's elegant term gleichsgeschaltet, either before or after a fascist takeover so that the leader can rule by making tele- phone calls, communist societies already have an authoritarian power structure with a parallel party organisation, and their doctrine of the `dictatorship of the pro- letariat' can readily be whittled down to the dictatorship of a single allegedly pro- letarian secretary-general or chairman or, in the fiendish Oriental variant, of his faded film-star wife. That is not to say that fascism and communism are necessarily one and the same thing, far from it. Communist regimes have often begun in gladness, especially considering what went before, as the names of Mayakovsky and Eisenstein, Gorky and Donskoy and scores more artistic luminaries of the early Soviet Un- ion attest. The naïve and sentimental Marxist, in fact, always looks back to a springtime of this kind, and hopes that the current tyrant is no more than a passing cloud. Conversely, it was the same cultural effervescence, modernist art and the liber- al abortion, divorce and family laws of Lenin's day, as abhorrent to Stalin as they were to Hitler, that the latter later de- nounced as 'cultural bolshevism' and the former as 'bourgeois deviationism'.
As they evolved, however, the two systems have often shown a nasty tendency to converge, in their aesthetics as in everything else. 'I have learnt a great deal from Marxism, as I do not hesitate to admit,' the Fiihrer told a visitor from Danzig, Hermann Rauschning, one drowsy afternoon in 1934. 'The whole of National Socialism is based on it. Look at the workers' sports clubs, the industrial cells, the mass demonstrations, the propaganda leaflets written specially for the compre- hension of the masses; all these new methods of political struggle are essentially Marxist in origin. . . . National Socialism is what Marxism might have been if it could have broken its absurd and artificial ties with a democratic order.' The Fiihrer was out of date: Lenin was in his mausoleum, Stalin in power, and the absurd democratic ties had long ago been broken.
he shy admiration for Marxism Hitler expressed to his bemused visitor over coffee and cakes was not, of course, what he was saying in public; Marxists were, along with Freemasons, Jehovah's Witnes- ses, homosexuals and capitalists, part of the encircling Jewish-directed conspiracy from which he had been providentially sent to save Germany. On a more domestic note, he looked (successfully) to disgrun- tled ex-members of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands for recruits for his Brownshirts. Conversely, Stalin and his more intellectual henchmen, notably the garrulous Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov, offered the KPD the comforting insight that Nazism was only the latest disguise of doomed capitalism, and was, indeed, sup- posedly its ultimate and most virulent form, the last class enemy.
This analysis which still pops up in the literature was not based on any close study of the Nazis and their mass appeal. Marx and Lenin had defined bourgeois capital- ism as the supreme enemy of the proletar- iat whose self-appointed protector was the local Communist Party, as approved by Moscow. Marx's analysis of history as the struggle of classes being axiomatically true, it followed that Nazis and fascists must represent the bourgeoisie. As few capital- ists had either the time or the nerve to don the brown shirt and do battle in the streets and beerhalls, the Nazis must be petit- bourgeois, with some dregs of that univer- sal, corrective ingredient of all bad Marxist recipes, the lumpenproletariat, thrown in.
For what it's worth, meticulous post-war combing of the records of the Nazi and Fascist parties by waves of American PhD candidates has failed to confirm that fasc- ism had any particular class tilt; it was drawn, rather, from wide and gullible cross-sections of German and Italian socie- ty. In simple fact, capitalism and fascism are about different things: the first, if it is a political system at all, operates on the ethics of the merchant, the second by the code of the warrior, or rather the pseudo street-warrior. The facts, however, were forced to fit the theory in the first place, and if fascism was independent of class, then it could not be explained by Marx's system and could pop up anywhere — even, for instance, in the Soviet Union.
Once in power, Hitler addressed him- self, not to the expected crusade against Marxism but to his claims against the capitalist regimes of Britain and France, the authors of the Treaty of Versailles. One by one, he tore up the dictates of the treaty: the Rhineland was re-occupied by the German Army (with three battalions), Germany started re-arming, Austria was incorporated into the Reich. Until the last event, there was still a wild hope on our side that fascist dictators could never co- operate, that good old Musso would be there when we needed him. How, it was asked, could he possibly get along with Hitler, when each claimed, or occupied, the other's living space in the Falklands- like Alto Adige/South Tyrol?
The Spanish civil war showed that the dictators could indeed make common cause when they had a share of loot in Prospect: Mussolini hoped for a Spanish ally against France, whose North African colonies he coveted, Hitler wanted the same for the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine. Fascism operated internally by building a temporary coalition of people Who for different reasons all wanted the same thing, the overthrow of the existing order; fascists in power, it appeared, could co-operate internationally on the same Principle, or common lack of principle. And, much to everyone's disappointment, we could 'stop counting on Mussolini to save us from Hitler.
Munich was in September 1938, and we very properly did our breast-beating over that sad affair last year, a half-century on. Neville Chamberlain was dim and decent, normally not a bad combination of traits in a politician, and it is doubtful that he could have found enough support even in Com- monwealth countries for a war to prevent One set of Germans linking up with another. At least, he did not later claim that he was buying time by coercing the Czechs, as a more devious man might well have done — Britain did not introduce conscription until April 1939, and the Lancaster heavy bombers, the best chance of independent British intervention in a continental war, were not due until 1942. In March 1939 Hitler marched into Prague and occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia, demonstrating that he had far wider ambi- tions than the reunion of separated Ger- mans.
Two weeks later, Britain and France Signed a treaty with Poland, guaranteeing the Poles against German (but not against Soviet — someone must have guessed something) attack. Poland as it stood in 1939 was a creation of the Treaty of Versailles, with more ethnic Germans in Danzig who conveniently needed to be 'rescued'. Three guesses at the Fiihrer's next move, and if anyone needed a clue, Italy and Germany signed the 'Pact of Steel' on 22 May 1939, with a well- publicised provision that the two dictators are resolved to act side by side and with united forces to secure their living space'.
Stalin spent the summer of 1939 in two-sided, or rather two-faced diplomacy. He proposed an alliance and military con- vention with Britain and France, and some desultory talks actually got under way, but at the same time his new foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov broached the possibil- ity of a deal with Nazi Germany, the theoretician Dimitrov's 'most reactionary, chauvinist and imperialist element of fi- nance capital'. It has never been cleared up Which side made the first move (the histo- rian of the Red Army, John Erickson, thinks Stalin did) but, as in most seduc- • tions, a shared glance was no doubt enough to start the juices flowing. The deal was, of course, the fourth Partition of Poland, whose existence in its then boundaries as established by the Treaty of Versailles was no more accept- able to Stalin than it was to Hitler. The German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, proceeded to the Kremlin to sign the treaty on 23 August 1939. `They were just like old party comrades,' he reported to Hitler on his return. `I know how much the German people love their Fiihrer,' said Stalin at the convivial drink- ies for the signing of the pact, Molotov beaming in the background. 'I should therefore like to drink to his health.'
The Wehrmacht invaded Poland a week later, Britain and France declared war on 3 September, the Red Army invaded on the 17th and the details of the partition were agreed in Moscow on the 28th, including the delivery of 300,000. tons of oil and considerably more grain to Germany, to begin at once. This was the reserve of oil with which Hitler invaded France and the Low Countries in May of the following year, his rear covered by his pact with Stalin. With France out of the way, he was then free to start planning his invasion of the Soviet Union, the first directive for which he issued on 21 July 1940.
Molotov, meanwhile, was seeing quite a lot of the Nazis. In November he was in Berlin to discuss a proposal from Ribben- trop for a 'natural political coalition' of Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union. After lunch with Hitler, inter- rupted by a British air raid, Molotov and Ribbentrop retired to the Foreign Ministry air raid shelter where Ribbentrop told him that Britain was out of the war ('If so,' asked Molotov cattily, 'what are we doing down here?') and gave him a draft of a treaty admitting the Soviet Union to the Axis. Back in Moscow Stalin accepted the proposal, with the condition that Germany and Italy should assist him in seizing bases in Turkey, a condition Hitler did not feel he could meet just then.
In April 1941 the fanatically anti- communist Japanese Foreign Minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, was in Berlin to see how things were going with the Axis, which he had been responsible for Japan's join- ing. Stalin, he was told, was being un- reasonable. While he was there he got an invitation to call in on Moscow on his way home. To his astonishment, Stalin offered Japan a five-year non-aggression treaty, too, plied Matsuoka with vodka and perso- nally saw him off at Moscow station. Only the year before, a Soviet tank army had routed the Japanese at Nomonhan in Man- churia, and without Manchurian industry Japan had no hope of continuing, let alone winning its war against China. As Stalin's offer included cutting off supplies to the Chinese, the Japanese jumped at it and, relieved of the Soviet threat from the north, began planning a strike south at the oil of the Dutch East Indies, with a sideswipe at the American Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the way.
For Hitler, undoing the Treaty of Ver- sailles remained his master plan, as he said all along. Versailles, as Stalin may have forgotten, itself superseded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which had given all Poland, much of European Russia and a free hand in the Ukraine to Germany, and Hitler wanted them back. On 22 June 1941 German tanks clanked over the partition line in Poland, slicing through the Red Army divisions massed on the .other side of the temporary border and passing trains loaded with oil and wheat going the other way. The Soviet Union then had the biggest army and air force in the world and more tanks than they knew what to do with '(such theorists of mobile war as the Soviets had developed having been shot in Stalin's purges), with their own laboriously con- structed fixed defences standing unmanned hundreds of miles back on the old frontier. Hopelessly misused, the Soviet formations were carved up and three million were taken prisoner in the first month. Stalin himself spent the time prostrate in the Kremlin, unable to give coherent orders or believe what was happening. In the end, after 20 million of them had died, the toughness and patriotism of the Russians and the rest pulled them through, with no thanks at all to tricky old Uncle Joe.
Anyone can, of course, make a mistake, but Stalin's blunders in the first two years of the war make one wonder how he managed to scheme his way into supreme power in the first place. The obvious answer is that he thought he could do business with the fascist dictators, and being one himself he naturally believed that fascist-style personal dictatorship was the wave of the future. In the end the dictators were all bound to fall out and Stalin was just the first of the crew to walk the plank. Even more interesting is the question of what the peoples of the Soviet Union, so recently escaped from the mis- rule of Stalin's boozy apprentice Leonid Brezhnev, make of it all now, when their leadership seems to be seriously offering to be accountable to them.
The latest Soviet book I can find on the subject (Before the Nazi Invasion by Doc- tor of History Pavel Sevostyanov, whoever he might be, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984) advances Stalin's old imperialist/Nazi encirclement alibi — Chamberlain was plotting with Hitler to invade the Soviet Union and Stalin cleverly beat him to it, the Nazi-Soviet Pact took the Soviet de- fence line hundreds of kilometres further away from their industrial cities (and, of course, brought the Germans hundreds of kilometres closer at the same time), Britain had waged 'economic war' on the USSR in September 1939 by inspecting neutral Soviet ships (to see if they were carrying supplies to Germany, as many were), the pact with Japan had 'contained Japanese aggression' and so on — stale old stuff that even the brighter communists of far-off Australia could not swallow 50 years ago.
Maybe, in this year of anniversaries and upheavals, someone in the Soviet Union will ask who was really responsible for their ordeal, and what Joe saw in Adolf anyway.