Stalinism and its zig zags

Submitted by cathy n on 12 December, 2018 - 2:03 Author: Sean Matgamna
Molotov and Ribbentrop

To understand Casablanca's subtexts, we need to look at what the Stalinists were doing in the 1930s and in 1942.

Core political Stalinism outside Russia, always and everywhere so long as it remained itself, was service to Russia, devotion to the idea that socialism was being built there and it was the duty of socialists to serve it. Everything else in their governing values and in their practical politics came lower in the political scales than that.

They would do anything, "make any alliance, pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe", to assure the survival and the success of the socialist state. They would follow any line decreed by Moscow, say and do anything thought useful, whether truth or lies, wear any political mask that would help them bamboozle and manipulate useful dupes, say the opposite today to what they were saying yesterday, and might say again tomorrow. At the heart was keeping in alignment with Russian interests, needs and directives. They would do everything and anything Russia's rulers thought would be to their advantage. Even to allying with the Nazis in Germany before 1933, and in Europe and the world in 1939-41.

The devotion to Russia had to be expressed in different, changing political postures and activities. They wore political and social masks, dressed for different parts, and changed their guise as and when Moscow thought they needed to. The Stalinists played political charades, assumed different identities from time to time. The Stalinists contended with their opponents by waging an unending battle of lies, pretences and masquerades.

For most of the first half of the 1930s, in the so named "Third Period", the CPs were open and bitter enemies to non-Stalinist labour movements. They pronounced parties like the big and important German social democratic party to be their main enemy there — "social- fascists". They rejected the politics of a United Front with them against the Nazis. It was a "Trotsky-Fascist" betrayal of the working class to even suggest it.

Episodically, they allied with the Nazis against the Social-Democratic trade unions. They broke and helped break Social-Democrat-led strikes. They backed Nazi initiatives such as their unofficial referendum to throw out the Social Democratic Government in Prussia. (Germany was a federal state). They joined in the Nazi agitation for "German Liberation" from the penalties and restrictions imposed in the 1919 Versailles Treaty by the victors in the Great War.

The ultra-leftism of the "Third Period" (1928-9 to 1934) coincided with the great upheavals of forced collectivisation of the peasants, forced march industrialisation, and the annihilation of the working-class movement inside Russia.

On 30 January 1933 Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany, openly pledged to destroy the trade unions, the working-class political parties, civil liberties, the Reichstag..

But they made no attempt to resist the establishment of the Hitler tyranny. The Communist Party peacefully accepted its own outlawry and destruction. So did the social democrats.

They didn't have to. The KPD had its own armed ex-servicemen's militia; so did the Social Democrats. They might have stopped Hitler there and then, or at least tried to. In 1920 a general strike had destroyed a would-be putsch – the so-named Kapp Putsch, an attempt to set up a right-wing dictatorship.

The Stalinists opposed the Nazi regime only in words. They rejected and stifled moves for a general strike (proposed by a small group of dissident communists, the followers of Leon Trotsky).

The social democrats publicly pledged to engage only in legal action against the new Nazi Government –- which decided what was and was not legal... At the crisis point, January to March 1933, before the Nazis had consolidated power, the KPD did the same thing without a formal pledge and with a lot of bluster.

Open resistance would have meant civil war? Hitler in power meant civil war — a one-sided civil war, with the state power and legality, a weapon in the hands of the Nazis. Ultimately Hitler in power triggered the death of perhaps 60 million people in World War Two.

In general the Stalinists acted from 1929 to 1933 as an enabling agency for German Fascism in Hitler's resistible rise to absolute power. In 1939 and after they would play an enabling role for the Nazi conquest of Europe.

Their next phase, from 1934 to August 1939, was an attempt to deal with the results of what they had done, or helped do, in the preceding phase. They looked to Germany's old imperialist enemies to stop Hitler. They launched an anti-fascist crusade.

They had shouted in chorus with Hitler against the Versailles Treaty. Now they would be ardent defenders of the international Versailles Treaty status quo. The Versailles Treaty had laid down the geo-political bombs that exploded in World War Two. But the story of the 1930s that the CPs would make told a tale of the victors of World War One failing to maintain the Versailles settlement, and not keeping Germany down. Their politics dwindled to loud criticisms at each turning point of the victor powers of the Great War for not keeping Germany down.

They advocated a "front of the democracies and of the peoples" for a war to prevent war, to stop the "war-like Germans". "The democracies" naturally included the greatest of the democracies, Russia, which in reality was more a totalitarian state than pre-war fascist Germany was.

The Stalinists, who had rejected a United Front of the workers parties, now championed a "People's Front" stretching all the way across the political spectrum to liberals, conservatives, and beyond.

Nazi Germany was now the main enemy. Britain, France, Belgium held great colonial Empires all across the world, as did the Netherlands, so the CPs radically altered their attitude to the empires. Where in colonies there were Communist Parties, they became very tame, half-shamefaced, treacherous allies of the imperial power So, sometimes less so. Did the Social Democratic parties.

Independent working-class politics was eclipsed. The Communist Parties were tied to the new Russian bureaucratic ruling class and the social democrats to their own capitalist ruling classes.

While in fact the Stalinists agitated for a war alliance, including Russia, against Germany, they presented themselves as pseudo-pacifist champions of "international security". They launched a crusade against fascism and for "collective security" against Germany. Russia joined the League of Nations in 1934, aiming to find allies for Russia in the event of a German attack.

The concept of "anti-fascism" now became politically dominant. It didn't matter what anyone was for, so long as they were "anti-fascist", which came to mean anti-German.

As with anti-imperialism today, there were as many sorts of anti-fascist as there were alternatives to fascism.

As the spindle on a machine tool can have different sorts of tools attached to it, so anti-fascism can move different politics. No one was ever a mere anti-fascist. Every anti-fascist was also positively for something else.

In their maniacal "Third Period" the CPs had lived in a mental world where all others were fascists of some sort, social-fascists, liberal-fascists, Trotsky fascists. Now not even all fascists were fascists, or enemy fascists.

In Republican Spain during the fascist-Loyalist civil war there was another civil war, in Republican Catalonia, between anarchists and Trotsky socialists on one side, and the bourgeois element that had not support Franco's clerical fascism, backed by the CP in arms, on the other.

Both sides were anti-fascist, but had divided on what the alternative to fascism should be: which set of anti-fascists killing each other on the streets of Barcelona in May 1937 were the "real" anti-fascists? Or the best?

When French Prime Minister Pierre Laval – yes, that Laval, he who would rule Vichy France – and Stalin signed a mutual defence pact in 1935, Stalin made a public statement that shifted the politics of the Communist Parties everywhere: "M. Stalin recognises the needs of French defence".

Arthur Koestler, an important German Stalinist of the time, tells a story that then circulated among some Comintern people. Laval said to Stalin: what if the French Communists will not accept a policy of defending the French state? Stalin drew his hand across his throat, like a knife. Kill them! Stalin himself would now kill vast numbers of communists for them.

Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini learned from each other. In June-July 1934 Hitler purged the "left wing" of the Nazi party, slaughtering hundreds in and after the "Night of the Long Knives". In December 1934 Stalin started a purge that would kill millions. Mussolini, the original fascist, wrote an article proclaiming that Stalin had become a fascist.

In 1936, 1937 and 1938. Stalin mounted three big show trials in Moscow. All the leaders of the Russian Revolution, except Stalin and the safely dead Vladimir Lenin, Yakov Sverdlov and Felix Dzherzhinsky, were indicted, tried and most of them – like many hundreds of thousands of others – shot. All of them had been traitors.

The biggest traitor of all was Leon Trotsky. He too was sentenced to death, in absentia. Trotsky posed the following question about these toxic fairy tales: Of Christ's 12 disciples, only one, Judas, was a traitor. But if Judas had held power and written the history of it, wouldn't he have made out that all the other eleven were traitors, and that he alone was faithful.

And then, on 23 August 1939, the world was turned upside down again. God and the Devil, Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, shook hands, agreed to hunt together in a common Nazi-Stalin pack, linked arms and started to stomp a war-dance in step with each other.

This was not a non-aggression pact, but a partnership for war, by which Russia too would acquire territory. Russia undertook to provide large aid in raw materials to the German war machine. Stalin undertook the role of Hitler's quartermaster, provider of the raw materials for war..

It was the signal for World War Two to begin. Eight days later, on 1 September, relieved of the fear of a Russian attack, Hitler invaded Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. On 17 September, Russia invaded Poland from the East.

Hitler and Stalin agreed that as well as a third of Poland, Russia would take the three Baltic states, which it duly did in 1940. Russia would also take part of Romania and fight a Hitler-licensed war for territory with Finland.

Russia had facilitated the Nazis conquering power. Now it would facilitate their conquering Europe.

Germany and Russia partitioned Poland. Fascist and Stalinist armies met at an agreed point, as friends. Where it was found that the Germans had occupied a few villages in Poland that were Russia's by the Pact, they not only handed them over, but in some places marshalled the conquered people to greet the Russians, when they finally arrived, with welcoming cheers and banners.

Vyacheslav Molotov had replaced Maxim Litvinov, the foreign minister of the previous period. Litvinov was identified with the anti-fascist-German agitation and the "Popular Front". He was also Jewish in origin.

Molotov enunciated the new Stalinist line. Fascism? "Fascism is a matter of taste!", said Molotov. Russia's "taste" had changed. And the world changed. The Communist Parties around the world swung suddenly and violently away from outraged "anti-Fascism". Stalin declared that the new Russo-German alliance had in Poland been "cemented in blood"

CPers and their fellow-travellers were thrown into political and emotional turmoil by the Stalin-Hitler pact, devastated. Their hostility to fascism had been heart-felt. They did not know or had denied to themselves that for the core "anti-fascists", the CP cadre, that was secondary to something else: Russia.

The CPs, and CP sympathisers, the super-anti-fascists of the previous period, were thrown into disarray. A lot of people left. But a hard core remained: the CPers would, after the Russia-serving World War Two partnership with Allied governments turned sour, glamorise themselves as having been "premature" anti-fascists in the Popular Front period. After that, however, had come the period when they were pro-Nazi German propagandists, on loan, so to speak, to Berlin..

Some saw the new turn as a return to the ostensibly revolutionary politics abandoned in 1934-35, and to opposition to the French and British colonial Empires. Some who left or were alienated would come back at the next turn on the political road, in June 1941. At each zig or zag a CP hard core would always remain. The Russian socialist fatherland remained, didn't it? That was the measure of all things socialistic. Wasn't it?

But even the Communist Party leaders in Britain and France at first did not catch on to the extent of the change of political line. In Britain, Party Secretary, Harry Pollitt, a man with some standing in the broad labour movement, beyond the CP, published a pamphlet: "How to Win the War". German fascism, he believed, was still the enemy, despite its new understanding with Russia.

The Russian gauleiter on the leading committee of the CPGB, David Springhall, had to tell them what Russia required of them in the new situation. The CP experienced a crisis at the top. Pollitt was out as General Secretary. (He would be back, in 1941).

The political leader of the party, Rajani Palme Dutt, theorised publicly that the Pact was a historic capitulation by Germany to workers' Russia. (They were at war not with Russia but with Britain and France, weren't they?)

In France the General Secretary, Maurice Thorez (he who in 1938 had publicly called for "patriotic" French fascists to support the Popular Front) enlisted in the French army to show his patriotism. When the penny dropped and the new line became clear, he deserted and fled to Russia!

The CPs were now contracted out, sub let, so to speak, to Germany. They were told to agitate for peace with Hitler, on his terms, and did. Poland? Poland was no more. It had vanished off the map of Europe. Nothing to fight about!

The CPs explained that Germany had no colonial empire. Britain France, and the Netherlands did. They, not Germany, were the imperialists. And who had declared war on whom?

The CPs struck chords with this agitation, in Britain, for instance, because they told part of the truth (as they had in the earlier anti-fascist period told much of the truth about Germany).

In France, where the CP was vastly powerful, the Stalinists contributed to the defeatism that undermined the war against the German invaders. They tried to do the same in Britain. For a while the CPGB was able to whip up a strong labour movement opposition to the war, in the People's Convention. That lasted until the fall of France in May-June 1940.

Those who left or were alienated would come back at the next turn in the road, in and after June 1941…

Japan would attack the US naval base in Honolulu, Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. Hitler would declare war on the USA four days later, on 11 December 1941.

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