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Ernest Erber

Mr. Churchill Throws Bouquet
to Vyshinsky in His Memoirs

(24 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 21, 24 May 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last week)

It is by now a well known fact that a secret relationship existed between the Reichswehr and the Red Army beginning in 1921. The victorious allies, through the instrument of the League of Nations, had turned revolutionary Russia and defeated Germany into pariah nations. Russia was blocked off from normal diplomatic and economic relations with the rest of the world. Germany was disarmed and forbidden to rearm by the stringent clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. Russia had the freedom to build a strong military machine and had the manpower, but lacked the necessary industry and “know-how.” The German general staff could not conduct the experiments necessary to develop their armaments, especially artillery and aviation, on German soil due to Allied controls. The Russian and German army staffs, therefore, came to a secret agreement to supplement each other’s needs. The Russians permitted German military men and technicians to work in Russian industries to develop their war material and experiment with it on Russian soil. In exchange, the Germans shared their inventions and developments with the Russian army and trained Russian personnel in its use. The secret understanding was worked out by the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Chicherin, and the German Ambassador at Moscow, Brockdorff-Rantzau. However, its execution was left in the hands of military men like von Seeckt and von Schleicher on the German side and Frunze and Tukachevsky on the Russian side, who operated through an elaborate conspiratorial apparatus to conceal their work from the eyes of French and English spies and German liberals and Social Democrats. (In 1926 the latter created a sensation by a big exposé in the Reichstag about the secret shipment of Russian-made bombs to the German army.) It is quite likely that the Berlin-Moscow military liaison was maintained through some third capital, like Prague, in order to hide its tracks. Meetings between Russian and German attachés in Prague would be less likely to be observed than in Berlin.

The Russian and German general staffs had more than technical needs as the basis of their collaboration. Both of them considered Anglo-French imperialism and the network of alliance of small states on the Continent (Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) as the main enemy. Russian foreign policy proceeded from this point of view from the very beginning and had no fear of Germany except in the event that it fell into the hands of pro-French and pro-English elements. For this reason, the German Social Democracy, with its strong orientation toward the League of Nations was fought as a deadly enemy by the Comintern. The German nationalist politicians and military leaders took their lead from Count Reventlow’s dictum that “In domestic affairs Bolshevism is the main enemy; in foreign affairs the capitalist of the West.” They were willing to teach the Russians how to make the most advanced weapons in return for a share of them for the Reichswehr, even though they knew that the same Soviet ships that unloaded mysterious crates for von Seeckt’s agents in Stettin also unloaded similar crates for the secret arsenals of the military apparatus of the German Communist Party.

After the 1923 events, the German revolution receded into the background as a disturbing element in the Reichswehr-Red Army collaboration and the alliance grew ever stronger. However, a new disturbing element arose in the form of Hitler. Unlike the conservative Right, Hitler was not as unequivocally pledged to a war against the West instead of the East. Though Hitler was contemptuous toward the French, he held out an offer of friendship toward England, while speaking about Germany’s need for the bread basket of the Ukraine. Following Hitler’s victory in 1933, Stalin became thoroughly alarmed and undertook a complete reorientation of Russian policy. He began his orientation toward the West, which led to the Stalin-Laval pact, entry of Russia into the League of Nations, the slogan of collective security and the policy of Peoples Frontism. Hitler in turn began his anti-Russian policy of the anti-Comintern alliance, especially friendship with Japan. Germany and Russia were squaring off against each other and the collaboration between the Russian and German military men was drawing to an official close.

It is now known that a group of German generals opposed Hitler’s anti-Russian orientation and insisted upon the old policy of “the main enemy is in the West,” above all combatting the nightmare of another two-front war for Germany. Is it not possible that a group of Russian generals likewise opposed Stalin’s policy of rapprochment with the West? It certainly is not excluded. Moreover, the hopes of such a group for Russian-German alliance would have found encouragement in the knowledge which passed in the higher circles of the Russian leadership that Stalin himself had concluded that Hitler was here to stay after his successful blood purge of the Roehm opposition in 1934 and that it was necessary to keep open a bridge toward an agreement with Hitler if the “collective security” policy breaks down. General Krivitsky, the former military intelligence agent of the Russian army in Western Europe, adduces considerable evidence for the latter double orientation of Stalin’s. The best evidence, of course, is adduced by history itself, in the form of the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939.

Liaison Not Illicit on Stalin’s Side

Is it not a possibility that the Russian and German military men who had a common view on the need for an alliance between their respective countries maintained the conspirative connections that had existed since 1921? It must not be excluded. Whether it will ever be established by documents and witnesses is dubious. We do know that the phenomenon of the German generals, headed by the Marshals von Paulus and von Seydlitz, entering the Russian propaganda service after Stalingrad can only be explained by an understanding of their past views in opposition to Hitler’s anti-Russian orientation and in favor of a war against the West. It is therefore not excluded that Czech secret service men came upon traces of what was now a German-Russian liaison.

However, considering Stalin’s policy as a whole and knowing his methods of work, and understanding that the Russian military leadership was far more closely controlled by the political heads of state than was the case with the German military leadership under the Nazis, there exists the greater probability that the liaison between the Russian and German officers was illicit ONLY ON THE GERMAN SIDE. If it is true that Stalin was keeping open a second line of action, that of an understanding with Hitler, he would have desired a sub rosa relationship with those in Germany who favored an understanding with Russia. It was all to his advantage and committed him to nothing. If the time for an alliance with Hitler arrived, such contacts within the German general staff would be of tremendous value to Stalin. It is therefore more likely that the German-Russian contacts that the Czechs discovered were not news to the Kremlin but part of a well-oiled conspiracy.

In any case, the existence of such a liaison between German and Russian military men cannot possibly be considered the basis for the great Russian purges. It is estimated that the purges in their totality between 1936 and 1939 accounted for two million victims in the form of execution, imprisonment, forced labor or demotion to obscure posts. This, says Churchill, was “perhaps not needless.” Why? In order to pave the way for the Hitler-Stalin pact which was signed only some months after the purges ended? Or in order to get rid of the pro-Nazi elements and to make Russia a firm friend of the western democracies, such as Churchill is the first to prove that they are not?

Purges Destroyed Revolutionary Opposition

There is no longer any mystery about the reasons for the purge. They represented the last stage in Stalin’s consolidation of totalitarian power and the final triumph of the new bureaucratic ruling class over those who were in any way connected with the Russian Revolution. Stalin knew that his regime would undergo severe tests in the war that loomed ahead. He knew that he might be forced to make sharp turns in policy. He knew that the Russian people would be subjected to inhuman misery. The purge was assurance that no one would survive who could become the center of opposition to Stalin. This is known to everyone today, including such skilled apologists for the Moscow Trials as Walter Duranty. He wrote recently as follows:

“... a rather bright young Soviet Russian said to me at the San Francisco conference:

“‘I can hardly understand how your President (Roosevelt) dared lead your country into war when he knew that at least 40 per cent of the electorate was in opposition to him and to his policies,’ he said.

“There you have in a nutshell the difference between Russian political thought and our own. To the Russian opposition means treason, to be punished – as it was punished in the middle thirties – by exile and execution.”

If this truth has not yet dawned upon everyone, it is being taught to many in the hard way. Among the latter is Benes, who was so anxiousto do a good turn for Stalin. Churchill, today the leader of His Majesty’s Opposition, most certainly does not subscribe to the view that opposition is treason. He does, however, believe that opposition to Stalin is treason – that is, if it is opposition that seeks to revive the Bolshevik program of workers’ democracy and Socialist internationalism.

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