metastasizing conflict between warring capitalist factions would enable Communism to advance to new triumphs

Posted by

Viewed from Beijing, Pyongyang, Hanoi, Moscow, Budapest, or Bucharest, the conflict we call World War II was not Hitler’s war at all. It did not begin in September 1939 and end in May 1945, with victory parades and flowers and kisses for the victors. In Eastern Europe, the war lasted until 1989, in the form of Soviet military occupation. On the Korean Peninsula, in China and Taiwan, questions arising from the conflict remain unresolved.1
It has always been a stretch to lump together all the wars on the globe between the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in September 1931 and Japan’s final capitulation in September 1945, as many historians are now conceding. Victor Davis Hanson’s recent general history The Second World Wars illustrates the point, as does Antony Beevor when he opens his own history, The Second World War, by conceding that it was “an amalgamation of conflicts.” It is even more of a stretch to blame them all on one man—a man who was not even in power in Germany when the Manchurian conflict erupted, and who had been dead for four months when Japan surrendered. Still, if we do wish to find a common thread linking the on-and-off global wars lasting from 1931 to 1945, it would make far more sense to choose someone who was alive and in power during the whole thing, whose armies fought in both Asia and Europe on a regular (if not uninterrupted) basis for the entire period, whose empire spanned the Eurasian continent that furnished the theater for most of the fighting and nearly all of the casualties, whose territory was coveted by the two main Axis aggressors, and who succeeded in defeating them both and massively enlarging his empire in the process—emerging, by any objective evaluation, as the victor inheriting the spoils of war, if at a price in Soviet lives (nearly thirty million) so high as to be unfathomable today. In all these ways, it was not Hitler’s, but Stalin’s, war.2
If Stalin’s imprint on this global conflict is most obvious in the broad lens, it is no less visible in narrow focus. The Japanese incursion into Manchuria in September 1931 was an escalation in a long-running struggle with Russia—first Tsarist, then Soviet—over control of Manchuria and its key ports and railways. Stalin had deployed one hundred thousand troops in Manchuria as recently as 1929 to secure the main railway lines and would maintain troops on and sometimes inside the borders of occupied Japanese Manchukuo all the way until August 1945, when Soviet troops invaded Manchuria and expelled Japan for good. (Pg.13)

So ubiquitous were American specialists in Stalin’s planned economy that they had their own expatriate newspaper, the Moscow News, whose articles and ads targeted “American engineers, specialists and miners working in the USSR.” Even that ubiquitous emblem of Stalinist central planning, the state-run, mechanized, collective farm, or kolkhoz—inspired by Marx’s exhortation in The Communist Manifesto to unleash “industrial armies in the countryside”—was modeled on an American capitalist operation. This was the family farm of one Thomas D. Campbell, the “wheat king” of Montana, who happened to own a sprawling estate of 95,000 acres—large enough to satisfy Stalin’s notion of mechanized gigantism in the countryside. Campbell visited Soviet Russia on Stalin’s invitation in both 1928 and 1930 to teach Soviet collectives the latest techniques in mechanized wheat production.9
Stalin also resolved to model the evolving Red Air Force (Voenno-vozdushnie sili or VVS) on American aviation technology. So critical was this priority for Stalin—increasingly referred to simply as the Vozhd (leader)—that he dispatched a massive espionage team of seventy-five “students” in summer 1931 to enroll in US universities such as MIT and take jobs in aviation firms. The most important of these agents, Stanislav Shumovsky (code name BLÉRIOT), would remain in the United States for over a decade, overseeing a spying operation so successful that, by the mid-1930s, his men had placed agents or recruited sources in all the main US aviation firms, from the Douglas plant in Southern California, manufacturer of the DC series of huge, dual-engine passenger planes, transports, and bombers; to Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, New York, a leader in fighter design; to Wright Aeronautical in Paterson, New Jersey, the largest manufacturer of aeroengines in the entire world. Shumovsky became more brazen the longer he stayed, escorting Andrey Tupolev, Sergei Ilyushin, and Pavel Sukhoi—three of Stalin’s top military aircraft designers—around several dozen American universities, research labs, and aviation plants, allowing them to reverse engineer American fighters, light bombers, and transport planes into Soviet versions.10
Still, there remained a thorny problem. The real goal of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan was to mass manufacture modern military hardware. In September 1930, Marshal M. N. Tukhachevsky, the hero of the Russian Civil War and Stalin’s foremost military planner, stated that a modern army would require the annual production of fifty thousand tanks and forty thousand warplanes. And yet, as suggested by his hiring of Americans to design and run his factories and his dispatch of spies to American universities and aviation firms in 1931, Stalin remained at the mercy of the capitalist world he hoped desperately to overcome. (Pg.38)


Even in the critical days of late August and early September 1939, Stalin was driving events. It is widely known that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23 gave Hitler a free hand to invade Poland without fear of hostile Soviet intervention. It is less commonly known that the Germans were expecting the Red Army to invade Poland simultaneously to claim Stalin’s share of the country—or that Stalin’s share was larger than the Germans’. Instead, Stalin waited until Poland’s armies had been destroyed before authorizing the Red Army to move in, even then denying that the USSR was at war with Poland to escape the odium of being Hitler’s cobelligerent. Nor was the resulting partition of Poland Hitler’s idea; it was Stalin’s, floated as a trial balloon in 1938 to lure Germany to the negotiating table. (Pg.13)


Stalin’s dialectical view of Soviet foreign policy—in which metastasizing conflict between warring capitalist factions would enable Communism to advance to new triumphs—was firmly rooted in Marxism-Leninism, based on the precedent of Russia’s own experience in the First World War, and clearly and consistently stated on many occasions, both verbally and in print.
To understand Stalin’s approach to the world does not require fancy ideological footwork or special insight, but simply to read his words and evaluate his actions in light of them. It asks us to spend a small fraction of the energy historians have devoted to divining Hitler’s ideology, strategic thinking, and war aims to those of Stalin, the man who bested him decisively. (Pg.38)

To twist the knife in, Stalin invited the New York Times correspondent in Moscow, Walter Duranty—notorious among more honest foreign journalists for his blanket denials of the Ukrainian famine earlier that year—to the Kremlin for a sympathetic Christmas Day interview. With sycophancy impressive even by his own abysmal standards, Duranty neglected to ask a single question about Soviet obligations to deposed American bondholders, instead lofting Stalin softballs such as “What do you think is the potential for Soviet-American trade?” and “How can you reassure foreign creditors about Soviet means to pay?” Stalin nearly slipped here, admitting that the Soviets had defaulted on German loans, but he claimed that this was not relevant, as “we are no longer dependent on German industry, but can manufacture our own equipment now.” An intelligent interviewer would have probed here to learn why—if the Soviets really no longer needed foreign imports or technology transfers for Stalin’s industrialization drive—they were so keen on securing American recognition and new loans from Wall Street. Instead, Duranty meekly asked, “So, what is your opinion of America?” Reeling in his target with flattery, Stalin replied that the new president was “a decisive and masculine leader.”13 (Pg.46)

As for Litvinov’s pie-crust promise to refrain from interfering in American politics, this was immediately broken. According to the American Communist D. H. Dubrowsky, Litvinov arrived at a CPUSA meeting after leaving the White House in November 1933 “all smiles” and stated, “Well, it is all in the bag; we have it. They wanted us to recognize the old debts that we owed them and I promised we were going to negotiate… but they did not know we were going to negotiate until doomsday.” Litvinov’s pledge not to interfere in US domestic affairs, he informed CPUSA leaders, did not bind the party, but only the Soviet government, and was anyhow “a scrap of paper which will soon be forgotten in the realities of Soviet-American relations.”(Pg.47)

WE&P by: EZorrilla

Leave a Reply