27 November 2006

Dat Ole Time Propaganda (II)

(Read Part I here.)

I think Tarulis' book on Soviet policy toward us 1920-40 is still the best book on the mechanics of the Pact and occupation in the Baltics there is, though it's dated (1959). More than half of the book, pp. 114-256, deals with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its consequences, and there is an extensive bibliography.

There's also a chapter entitled "The West Opposes Stalin's Aims," pp. 101-113 -- I reread it last night, and one of the things it cites is a 1950 Times article on how many in the UK believed "that the British Government were wrong, during the abortive negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1939, to resist the Soviet claim for bases in the three countries; they maintained that Russia had the right to safeguard its security."

This got me thinking -- we don't know, of course, what Major General Sotskov has (no doubt selectively) compiled in his 400-pp. dossier... or even to what period these supposed "revelations" refer.

"Many people" always think a lot of different things, esp. in foreign ministries. In terms of the 1939 Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, the Baltics resisted the abridgement of their sovereignty by Soviet "guarantees." If Sotskov has found documents about British "understanding" in this regard, that wouldn't be surprising at all; indeed, the British worked hard to try to reach a deal. The problem was a basic one -- Molotov tried to incorporate the phrase "indirect aggression," including a secret definition thereof. The French seemed willing to back the Soviet position -- the British were not. The Baltics were freaked; the Soviet intent was to use language that would allow Moscow to interfere at will, basically (in the event of a change in policy in a Baltic country, etc.). Russian intransigence was leaked to the press even then. According to Tarulis, Estonian Foreign Minister Selter told the British Minister in Tallinn that "Soviet interference in strictly internal Estonian affairs, such as a putsch, would inevitably bring into power a government with pro-German tendencies."

There were certainly people in every foreign ministry, including in Britain and even in the Baltic States, who had other views -- that's normal, and that's what a foreign ministry should be about (I mean, unless one is a certain American president who seems to prefer a State Department staffed by yes-men and yes-women...). One should remember, however, that the Soviets were enjoying private chamber music with Herr von Ribbentrop while these negotiations were going on -- unlike the British, that "champagne salesman" had no problem with secret protocols that encroached upon the independence of other states; the British government had a vigorous debate about exactly that aspect of the Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, and decided that such encroachment was wrong.

Even in May, Seeds, the British Ambassador to the Kremlin, responding to Molotov's query about whether the Russians could pull a Munich in the Baltics, had said that guarantees given against our will "would amount to menaces, not protection [...] any change in that attitude would be repugnant to the fundamental spirit of the British people." The Soviets, just before concluding their treaty with the Nazis, were furious: "[t]he difference is not whether to encroach or not to encroach on the independence of the Baltic States, because both sides stand for guaranteeing this independence..." [Tass, 2 August 1939]

Latvia and Estonia had signed non-aggression treaties with Germany on 7 June, and Tarulis notes that Britain's Ambassador in Berlin observed that "British advances to the Soviet Union were to blame for the fact that these two republics had 'reinsured' with Germany."

In order to "rewrite history" (which is, of course, what the Russians, not the Balts, are attempting to do -- and the Russians have at least 66 years of intensive experience in this art), one would have to believe that Stalin's intentions were pure, or at least not evil; what possible reasons could one have for believing this?

Hypothetically, one could argue that the Mutual Assistance Pacts imposed that autumn (which came with the explicit threat of occupation, with Russian forces massed on the borders), were necessary for the defense of the USSR -- though this made little sense militarily, and the British had in fact told the Russians in May that a German attack through the Baltics was the least likely scenario, the front being too narrow. Stalin to Munters, the Latvian Foreign Minister, 3 October: "You don't trust us, and we don't quite trust you either. You believe that we wish to seize you. We could do that now, but we do not do it. Riga is the center of anti-Soviet propaganda... A German attack is also possible. For six years German fascists and the communists cursed each other. Now an unexpected turn took place; that happens in the course of history." (Quotations referenced in Tarulis, throughout.)

What "anti-Soviet propaganda" was Iosif Vissarionovich referring to? The Ulmanis régime had long suppressed not only anti-Soviet propaganda but also information on what was happening in the USSR (e.g., on Stalin's slaughter of tens of thousands of ethnic Latvians in 1938). One gets a pretty good idea of what Stalin meant from Izvestia, only three days later -- "the London politicians" would like to use the Baltics as a place d'armes against the USSR!

Certain deluded historiographers in the West would underwrite this particular Russian rewriting of history -- the types that believe that the USSR and the West could have, and should have, formed a common "anti-fascist front." The obvious response is Kennan's, which I've quoted before: "The fact is that Stalin's Russia was never a fit partner for the West in the cause of resistance to fascism. Russia herself was, throughout these years, the scene of the most nightmarish, Orwellian orgies of modern totalitarianism. These were not provoked by Hitler's rise. They originated [...] in 1932, at a time when Stalin did not yet have any proper understanding of the Nazi danger. This internal weakness of the Soviet regime [...] lay in Stalin's own character. It was this that caused him to fear an intimacy with Hitler's opponents no less than he feared the military enmity of Hitler himself." (George F. Kennan, Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.)

One doesn't need to play what-if to realize this -- Kennan invokes Franz Borkenau, for instance: "there may be no reason to suppose that Stalin himself strongly desired the triumph of Hitler in Germany. But it is wholly evident [...] that he made no move whatsoever to prevent it." The Comintern spent at least as much time and effort trying to undermine Social Democrats as it did battling the right, most everywhere; it helped break the left's control of the Prussian parliament by collaborating with the right, for example. In Latvia, it was the right wing that sneaked a few Communists into the Saeima -- to undermine the Social Democrats. In foreign policy, the Russians directed much of their foreign policy against the great democracies already at Rapallo, in 1922 (which, for the Russians, meant "the possibility [...] of keeping Germany at odds with the French and British" [Kennan]). When the Russians were repulsed at Warsaw in 1920, Lenin remarked regretfully: "Had Poland become Sovietized, the Versailles Peace would have been terminated, and the system built on victory over Germany would likewise have been destroyed." (Tarulis, op. cit.)

Then there are those ole time totalitarian orgies. Even if, for purposes of argument, one were to suppose that the USSR was merely concerned about its security, should its newfound ally, Nazi Germany, have taken an "unexpected turn" -- why, once it had stationed tens of thousands of troops in the Baltics and acquired the bases it demanded in its ultimatums (some of which it used to bomb Finland), did it need to invade? Statesmen like Miķelis Valters, then Latvia's Ambassador to Belgium, wanted Latvia's foreign policy to be redirected towards the Western democracies, not to Germany or even the maintenance of neutrality; the Ulmanis régime rejected this because it felt compelled to trust (or place its hopes against hope in) the USSR, which had effectively castrated the country already. To follow the ridiculous Russian argument a step further -- even if the Baltics were conspiring against Russia despite the presence of 70 000+ Russian troops on our soil... why, then, would the Soviets have had to do what they did after the June 1940 invasion, when Russia had brought several hundred thousand more troops into the Baltics and reduced the legitimate governments to puppet shows? Defense against Stalin's friend Hitler required mass deportations, mass murder, and Sovietization?

No matter what Major General Sotskov has compiled in his dossier (which material I would dearly like to see), the point he is trying to make is an old one, and it is an unutterably false one. He may have a few hundred pages of Soviet documents, but there are innumerable reams of documents that prove that the Baltic interpretations (and I emphasize the plural, because unlike the Major General, Baltic historians investigate and argue rather than subscribe to a "line" and seek confirmation for it) of the events in 1939-40 are far closer to the truth. Latvia's historical enemy was Germany -- though many of the interbellum statesmen had experienced czarist tyranny and Bolshevik terror, they were also Germanophobic. When Lithuania was still assigned to the German sphere of influence (as set forth in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), for example, the Nazis attempted to pressure Lithuania into joining the attack on Poland, with the purpose of retaking Vilnius. The Lithuanians refused. The Russians, of course, attacked Poland, including that part of Lithuania then occupied by Poland.

Sotskov would simply like to dance the old dance -- disclaim responsibility for Soviet crimes, blame the Baltics for the occupation (which is unfortunately in conflict with the other old dance still regularly insisted upon by Russia -- that the Baltics weren't occupied), and claim victory in the Great Patriotic War, without complications, ignoring what happened before and after the dates the hideous, heroic monuments that litter our countries commemorate, "1941-1945."

At best, Maj. Gen. Sotskov's feature is a poor sequel to a very bad, long-running Russian B-movie about a rapist who feels compelled to rape because his victims won't make love to him. The kind of comedy Lt. Col. Putin enjoys.

The first photograph is of Stalin celebrating his treaty with the Nazis, a day after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed; the second is of Molotov with Hitler in Berlin, November 1940. This post is partially a response to Martin at soc.culture.baltics.

For an excellent article on the Pact and the Baltic States, see Lituanus.

See also this site for a collection of articles on crimes against humanity committed in Latvia by the Soviets and the Nazis.


Blogger Jens-Olaf said...

Everytime when some news about this time are published in Moscow there is hardly any reaction either from German media nor German politicians. My conclusion is: lack of interest in Baltic politics and they simply don't know much about the circumstances of 1939, the details what happened. I am wondering whether an average German politician in charge of foreign affairs knows why the Soviets started a war against Finland in 1939 and why it did not happened that way in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

27 November, 2006 17:49  
Blogger jams o donnell said...

Once again thanks for an illuminating post Peteris.

27 November, 2006 18:59  
Blogger Frank Partisan said...

If you notice that at my blog, I've worked against people misusing the term fascist. In the US, liberals who hate Bush, call him fascist. Everything else thought about him is right.

The reason goes back to what Trotsky calls "third period Stalinism". That is when the Stalinists were ultraleft, and refused alliances against the rise of Hitler, with social-democrats. The Stalinists called them social-fascists, and equal to Hitler. Nobody listened to Trotsky at that time.


28 November, 2006 08:28  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks Jens-Olaf, Jams, and... um... do you prefer Renegade, or Eye? ...for your comments!

28 November, 2006 13:28  
Blogger mullet said...

appreciate your blog, peteris! as i said in jams o' donnells blog.......it's the free press!

30 November, 2006 02:13  
Blogger mullet said...

quite right, renegade eye......but i still think that the whole 'calling out fascists in the USA'...was about not being educated as much.

30 November, 2006 02:16  

Post a Comment

<< Home