Soviet preparations for Nazi Invasion

Anti-communist mud-slinging has provided a living for hundreds, even thousands, of bourgeois historians. For each officer in this army of penny-a-line bourgeois hacks, there is a different ‘theory’, a different set of ‘explanations’, often contradicting each other. However, they have a common starting point, that is: an unmitigated hatred of communism; a mission of denigrating the achievements of the workers’ states; and a startling lack of concern for the historical method (these people shun primary evidence as teenagers shun brussels sprouts!).

One popular ‘theory’ which is foisted on the unsuspecting students in our schools and universities is that the Soviet Union wasn’t prepared for the Nazi invasion in 1941; that the Soviet leaders had become complacent following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and thought that Germany would honour its pledge of non-aggression. The implication of this is that the Soviet state had effectively sold out the interests of the rest of Europe for the sake of its own safety, in the mistaken belief that the German fascists would keep to their word. In other words, Stalin was ruthless and stupid – you would, after all, have to be a bit dim-witted to take Hitler’s word as bond.

The best thing about having a job as a professional anti-Soviet pseudo-historian is that you are free to make claims without any substantiation, and if your professional conscience is really troubling you then the second-hand accounts of known fascists are considered to be reliable evidence. The wilder your claims, the greater the praise heaped on you in the pages of The Times, The Telegraph and The Independent for your courage and honesty in standing up to the “monstrous crimes” of Stalin. As with all of the rubbish put forward by bourgeois history in relation to the Soviet Union, this claim about the Soviet Union being unprepared is not backed up by any evidence. Nonetheless, it is up to us to defend the proud record of the USSR and of Stalin against such slurs.

This talk is based on excerpts from the book The Soviets Expected It written by the North American communist Anna Louise Strong in 1941, not long after the Nazi invasion. The main purpose of the book was to explain to readers in the west that the Soviets knew very well that war was coming, had made extensive preparations, and therefore were not a ‘lost cause’. The book details the various ways in which the Soviet defences were built up, and concludes by urging the reader to do everything possible to support the USSR in its world-historic struggle against fascism.

The book deals with quite a few ‘difficult’ topics, each of which would make a good subject for a presentation all on its own (the integration of the Baltic states into the USSR, the war with Finland and the invasion of Poland certainly fall into this category). Therefore do forgive me for the somewhat scant treatment of the topics in this presentation – the aim is to relay a few of the useful ideas and anecdotes from the book rather than to give a detailed historical analysis.

The subjects which I propose to cover are: the building up of the Soviet civilian defences; the building up of the Soviet military defences; the defeat of the fifth column; the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the march into Poland; the war between the USSR and Finland; and the building up of the defensive belt in the Baltic.

Building up of civilian defences

In the book, Strong puts considerable emphasis on the morale of the Soviet people. She demonstrates the love that was felt by the people for their country and the lengths they were willing to go to defend it.

“It had been fairly widely believed in America that Soviet peasants would not ‘die for Stalin’ but would seize the chance to overthrow a hated regime. At the very least, they would remain passive under the change of masters in the traditional peasant way. The world was therefore amazed when all over the invaded districts Soviet farmers destroyed their own homes to prevent the Germans from using them, and then formed guerrilla bands – they seemed almost like suicide squads – to harry the invader.”

By 1941, 24 years after the revolution, a whole generation had been brought up under socialism. Enormous advancements had been made in production, in technique, in culture. The Soviet worker was far removed from the worker in tsarist Russia – the Soviet worker had far better material conditions of life, a far higher level of culture, an unprecedented level of participation in the affairs of the state, the greatest of freedom to follow whichever career path might interest him, etc. For these reasons, the Soviet state enjoyed enormous prestige among the Soviet workers and peasants – while the governments of the main capitalist countries were despised by the oppressed classes. Strong put the question in the following terms:

“Can you become anything you like: a doctor, an engineer, an explorer? Can you gain access to the public resources and use your productive skill to its utmost, securing additional education to perfect your skill? Can you criticise your boss and have him removed if he is incompetent or overbearing? Can you advance in your chosen line as rapidly and as far as the resources of the whole country and your capacity and that of your fellows to organize them permit? Can you widen your life by any kind of cultural activity you choose – music, painting, drama – and secure instruction in these? Can you take part in any branch of government that interests you and for which you show some capacity?

“Such are the Soviet citizen’s tests of freedom.”

She goes on to give the example of how the Kalmucks, who had only 25 years previously been considered a ‘backward race’ and who had been brutally repressed by the tsarist regime, fought the Nazi invaders heroically.

“By a bit of irony, the first Red Army men to be praised by the German enemies for ‘fanatical courage’ in the very first days of the war were Kalmucks, those yellow-skinned former nomads of Astrakhan. The Russians missed the irony; to them all races are equal. But the Nazi ‘superior race’ praising Kalmucks! What a piercing jest!

“Do you know Kalmucks? They were not a warrior race of Asia; they were sheepherders pushed about by everybody for a thousand years … [Since the revolution] untrained herdsmen [became] managers of farms, heads of government. And I know that the qualities they have developed in the last twenty years of growth and struggle will eventually beat the Nazis in the long war of endurance that lies ahead. For the Soviet people – who were Kalmucks, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Russians, but who now are ‘Soviet people’ – are no longer ‘backward people’, as they humbly admitted for many years. They are more experienced human beings than the attacking members of the ‘superior race’.

“Those Kalmuck lads who die fanatically fighting have seen more, both of life and of victory, than the Nazi legions who trampled Europe under their iron heel. For they have known not one life, but a dozen; not one century, but five. In a brief twenty years, they have been tribal herdsmen, settled farmers, skilled mechanics and now – machine-gunners for the world’s future at Armageddon. Certainly they would die rather than let the whole world turn backward – when they have already conquered five centuries.”

Strong discusses the extensive programme pursued by the Soviet state in the 1930s to utilise the geography of the Soviet Union for self-defence. She quotes Ivan Maisky, Soviet Ambassador to London at the time, in response to the question of what would happen if Moscow fell: “Even in that case we will fight on, supplied from the factories and growing industries hidden behind the Urals. For years we have planned and built widely dispersed industries … vital to the war.”

Strong states: “In the past fifteen years [1926-41] the vast geography of Russia has been consciously organised for the plan of total defence … Increasingly, great industrial plants were built close to their raw materials, thus lessening transport. Industry was developed throughout the country and a whole series of relatively self-sufficient regions was created, each having the materials and industries necessary to feed, clothe, shelter and arm its population in case of war”.

Discussing the readiness of Moscow for defence, Strong writes: “Moscow has always been a fairly strong strategic centre; in the wars of intervention that overran most of the Soviet territory, Moscow was not reached. In recent years its strategic possibilities have been greatly developed. Its eleven diverging railways have been connected by a belt railway, a great ring in the city’s outskirts; this makes it possible to shift troops and supplies in any direction, and gives great mobility to a defending force. Supplementing the railways is a new system of canals, which has changed Moscow from an inland city to a port accessible to five seas: the Baltic, White, Caspian, Azov, and Black Seas. Even if the enemy were on three sides of Moscow, the city could draw supplies from the fourth. The canals, very vulnerable to guerrillas, would be of much less use to an invader.

“Supplementing the railways and canals is a new boulevard system, also consisting of diverging spokes connected by two wide concentric rings. They have been widened in recent years and are now from three to five times as wide as New York’s Fifth Avenue. I was one of those Moscow dwellers who rather mourned the removal of trees from the centre of the ring boulevards and the taking down of a lot of picturesque old churches at traffic junctions. It made the city look bare and seemed not entirely demanded by the existing traffic. But now it is clear that this has made Moscow perhaps the most tremendous fortress in the world. A million and a half people can converge on its central square and march through in a few hours; they do it twice each year on the big holidays.”

“Moscow can make all the implements of war, including planes and motor trucks, inside the city. Her electric power no longer comes from long-haul coal, as during the wars of intervention; it is based on local deposits well behind the town, developed in the past fifteen years. Her water supply comes from a mighty river, which in recent years has been augmented by waters flowing from the north; it winds for miles in a protected zone within the outer fortifications, purifying itself as it goes. By a complete utilization of all the city garbage for both heating farm greenhouses and fertilizing great gardens, Moscow now gets its vegetables, including potatoes, from areas very near. Even wheat has been moved north by modern farming methods and seed selection, so that areas fairly close to Moscow can supply the city’s needs. Moscow’s sky is covered by an air defence that was the marvel of the London experts who visited it after the war began to make suggestions and found it far superior to London’s. Anti-aircraft shells make a thick blanket at four distinct levels to London’s one, and observations planes patrol the heavens night and day.”

As history records, the Soviet war effort was not the sole preserve of the Red Army. Civilians were also fully mobilised to defend their towns and villages, and were encouraged before the war to prepare seriously for this task. For example:

“At the railway station bookstands, large quantities of military books were on sale. There were no emotional books about the ‘Yellow Peril’ or the ‘Japanese Menace’. These were solid tomes on Field Tactics of the Japanese Army, Tanks, Proposed Systems of Artillery – all with copious diagrams and illustrations. A textbook of a thousand pages entitled Foreign Armies described with hundreds of diagrams the organisation and tactics of every important military force in the world. A popular journal, War Tactics Abroad, consisted of articles culled from foreign military publications. All of it was as cool as a problem in engineering; it was a library for a military academy.

“‘ suppose you sell these books to Red Army commanders,’ I said to the young woman in charge of the stand.

“‘The general population buys a lot of them’, she answered. ‘The farmers study them in study courses. Our defence is not merely a matter of the regular army, but of all citizens’.”

Soviet citizens were also actively encouraged to take up hobbies which could be of use in the case of war. “Soviet young people jump from airplanes, learn to operate gliders, or even become amateur pilots in their spare time. Every large factory, government department, and many of the larger collective farms have ‘aviation clubs’, which are given free instruction by the government. Probably a million people in the Soviet Union have made actual jumps from parachutes. It is not surprising that the Red Army was the first to use parachute troops in active service several years before the Germans adopted them …

“Soviet sniping is so good that in London in 1937 the USSR took first place among 212 teams from 28 countries in the International Small-Calibre Shooting Competition; the following year teams from the USSR won all the first six places. In 1939, a shooting contest was carried on by correspondence with the British Association of Miniature Rifle Clubs; the Soviet teams won eighteen out of the first twenty-one places …

“… Millions of men, women and even children can put on a gas mask, clear out bombed debris, extinguish fires, give first aid to victims of bombs or poison gas, throw hand grenades, operate telephonic, radio and telegraphic communications and other activities. In the past two years [1939-1941], especially, all this training has been given a very realistic turn. Study groups in field and factory learned how to shoot, camouflage themselves, advance, hurdle obstacles, entrench themselves, fight hand-to-hand and throw grenades. These study groups then united into detachments, moved into the fields, and practiced their skill in joint manoeuvres. Only a month before the Germans attacked the Soviet borders, 7,000 Moscow citizens practiced a special drill in repulsing parachute troops ….”

Building up of the army

Military statistics alone give lie to the slander that the Soviets became complacent after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Between 1 January 1939 and 22 June 1941, the number of military personnel increased from 2,485,000 to 5,774,000, an increase of over 130%. In the same time period, there was an 110% increase in guns and mortars, a 22% increase in the number of tanks, and a 143% increase in the numbers of military aircraft.

Strong cites Pierre Cot, the French Air Minister at the time, as saying, after his visit to Moscow, that “the Soviet air arm was at least equal to the best in Europe in numbers, technical equipment, and, above all, in the productive capacity of the aviation industry”.

Strong also gives an account of the extremely high level of integration between the Red Army and the Soviet population in general, mentioning that each army unit was affiliated directly with some large civilian organisation, usually a big factory. She writes that: “The sponsoring factory gives the Army unit equipment for its leisure-time activities while the Army unit supplies the factory with instructors in military training. Frequently the Army’s regular work is correlated with some task of civilian construction”. Strong gives the example of the ‘Grasshopper War’ of 1927: “It was a fight of the peasants, led by the Red Army, to save the cotton fields. Great clouds of locusts, a mile deep and tens of miles long, came flying over the Afghan border into Soviet Turkestan. The regional government mobilised the whole population to fight the pests and called upon the Army to help. Army airplanes scouted the skies to note where the invaders landed. The Army supplied chemicals to poison the newly hatched larvae. When the grasshoppers began to move, the people, under Army leadership, dug trenches scores of miles long and reinforced at the far side by sheets of steel sloping toward the invaders. When the hoppers fell by billions into the trenches, they were burned by flame-throwers that the Army supplied. It was a striking but typical example of the organised co-operation of Army and people.”

Perhaps the most important factor in the strength of the Red Army was its morale. This was the crucial differentiator of the Red Army and the Nazis (or, for that matter, the various armies which crumbled so quickly when confronted with Germany’s military might). The Red Army was a reflection of Soviet society in general. It was composed of workers and peasants – of the sons and daughters of those who had witnessed the vile oppression of tsarism and who had witnessed, and worked for, the dramatic improvements in life that socialism had brought.

Anna Louise Strong comments: “Almost every news commentator immediately made the comparison with France. ‘The French Army was held as the best in the world,’ said the Washington Merry-Go-Round. ‘Yet it collapsed in eleven short days … More important than Hitler’s panzer divisions, more important than Stuka dive bombers, was the fact that the French troops did not want to fight … Men in the trenches had no idea why they were fighting. If they knew anything, it was that they were fighting for the Comité des Forges (Steel Trust) or the Two Hundred Families that ruled the Bank of France. One year later an entirely different story comes from Russia … Obviously, Russian troops are defending something which they cherish. They have what the French lacked – morale.'”

Strong cites an address by the famous Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg:

“Our Red Army men know what they are defending. They are defending the youngest country in the world, the land of youth. We are the first in the world to construct a society based not on greed, but on the cult of labour, on creative activity, on human solidarity.

“We defend the land of real culture against barbarism. Dr Goebbels once said: ‘The printed word nauseates me.’ Our reply was to publish Goethe’s works in 700,000 copies in eight languages.

“I saw German fascists humiliating Frenchmen in Paris. In Warsaw they destroyed the monument of the great Polish poet Mickiewicz; in our country his poems are published in hundreds of thousands of copies. In our country Kirghiz actors come to Moscow … It would never occur even to a hooligan in our country to offend anyone because of his nationality.

“Our youth is fighting for our land, for our liberty. They are fighting also for the liberty of the world. They are fighting for human dignity. They are fighting for the rights of Paris, desecrated by the executioners, for the University of Prague, for proud Norway, for the huts of the Serbs, for the Acropolis.”

Defeating the fifth column

As the question of the fifth column and the Moscow Trials has been dealt with a few times in other Stalin Society presentations, I won’t dwell on them for very long here. I think the members of this society are quite well versed in the basic facts – ie. that the Nazis established a fifth column in each of the major countries and that the Soviets were the only ones with the foresight to root out this fifth column. Bourgeois historians are very fond of claiming that the purges devastated the Red Army. However, once again the facts speak for themselves. The French didn’t root out their fifth column, and their army collapsed in a few days. The Soviets conducted a thorough purge of their leadership, and they were able to smash the Nazi war machine and liberate Europe.

Strong writes of the 1936 trial: “It was probably the most spectacular series of treason trials in human history. I well remember how they shook Moscow, and the storm of scepticism they aroused throughout the world. As if anticipating some such reaction, the Soviet government held the trials of the chief leaders in a fairly large hall and opened them to a constantly changing stream of delegates from Moscow factories and government departments, as well as to the foreign diplomatic corps and to the Soviet and foreign press.” This is an interesting point: bourgeois historians denounce the Soviet state for conducting what they call ‘show trials’, but if the trials were a frame-up, then how would it have been in the USSR’s interest to open them up to the foreign diplomatic corps and the foreign press?! Strong continues: “None of the onlookers was unshaken by the spectacle of what an American author was later to call – after it had destroyed many nations – ‘the corroding, paralysing perfection of the Nazis’ technique of conquest from within” ..

“Most of the foreign press at the time denounced the trials as a frame-up. Most foreign observers who sat at the trials found them credible, even if shocking. D.N. Pritt, a British Member of Parliament, wrote a pamphlet stating his convictions that the men were guilty as charged. Edward C Carter, Secretary General of the Institute of Pacific Relations, wrote: ‘It makes sense and is convincing. The confessions seem both normal and purposeful … The theory that it was a frame-up is untenable … It was not a device to secure removal of critics … The Kremlin’s case was genuine, terribly genuine”.

Strong continues: “To me personally, as I sat in the trials, it was not so difficult to follow the path by which once revolutionary leaders had become self-confessed traitors. They had begun by doubting the Russian people’s capacity to build a strong and independent state based on publicly owned enterprise; this had been the open cleavage in the party discussions in the 1920s. Their doubt was deepened by the contrasts between Russia’s tremendous inefficiencies and the efficient German organisation they saw on their trips abroad. It was not so difficult to believe that Russia might profit by a little German discipline impressed by the iron heel; plenty of irritated people made such remarks. Eventually there might be a European revolution in which German workers would lead. Meantime they would capitalise the situation to destroy the Stalin leadership they hated, and bargain with Hitler for as much of Russia as they could get. It is the deadly argument by which the Nazis have again and again secured a solid foothold among a discontented minority of the ruling group.”

Incidentally, Strong quotes Harold Denny, writing in the New York Times of 15 January 1939 on whether torture could have been applied to the accused: “In almost five years’ residence, trying to learn the facts, I have found no evidence which I consider trustworthy that physical torture is applied to prisoners … I am convinced that there does not occur, unless in isolated and exceptional instances, the sadistic cruelties reported from German prison camps or even the beating with rubber hoses bestowed, as every American police reporter knows, in the backrooms of many American police stations”.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the march into Poland

Another common slander of the Soviet Union is that the non-aggression pact signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop on 23 August 1939 was an ‘alliance of socialism and fascism’, a callous means of selling out Europe’s chances of peace. This ridiculous assertion has been dealt with in other presentation to the Stalin Society [see]. Every serious student of the subject knows that the Soviet Union alone pursued a consistent struggle for peace throughout the 1930s. Litvinov’s attempts at establishing a collective security agreement between Britain, France and the USSR are well documented. Despite the vast majority of British people favouring an alliance with the USSR (Strong cites a Gallup poll taken in April 1939 finding 92 per cent of British voters in favour of such an alliance), the British government demonstrated time and time again that they were unwilling to ally themselves with the USSR and were all too willing to finance Hitler in a war against the USSR. Given these circumstances, the Soviet government was left with no alternative but to sign an agreement with Germany in order to buy itself some time. The following quote from an unnamed Soviet diplomat sums it up:

“We would have been attacked from both Europe and Asia by Germany, Italy, and Japan, helped by Roumania and Poland, while Great Britain and France would have held the Maginot Line and financed Hitler. America would have been Japan’s arsenal against us, as she has been against China. By our nonaggression pact we drove wedges between Hitler, Japan, and Hitler’s London backers. It was too late to stop the invasion of Poland. Chamberlain didn’t even try to; he wanted war at last. But this is a lesser war than they planned, and even if it becomes in the end the great war, we have split the opposition and shall not have to fight the whole world”.

The Red Army’s march into the eastern part of Poland, now denounced in history books as an act of colonial aggression on the part of the USSR, was at the time recognised as a necessary part of combating Hitler’s drive eastwards. Strong cites George Bernard Shaw as noting in The Times that the Soviet march into Poland was “Hitler’s first setback”, and saying “Three cheers for Stalin”, who, when “Polish resistance has been wiped out,” said to the Nazis, “Thus far and no farther”. Strong cites Winston Churchill as saying, in a radio broadcast on 1 October, that “The Soviets have stopped the Nazis in Eastern Poland; I only regret that they are not doing it as our allies.” She also cites a speech by Chamberlain in the House of Commons a few weeks later where he admits that “It had been necessary for the Red Army to occupy part of Poland as protection against Germany”.

So while it may be convenient nowadays for bourgeois historians to invest the Soviet march into Poland with colonial aspirations, the world’s politicians as the time saw it for what it really was – a necessary measure for containing German expansionism and protecting the USSR. It’s claimed nowadays that there was a secret agreement between Germany and the USSR for the partitioning of Poland, agreed as an appendix to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Yet facts give lie to this claim. Anna Louise Strong points out that, when the Soviets began mobilizing to march into Poland, “the boundary between Germany and the USSR in Poland was changed three times. This suggests a rapid improvising by two powers that do not wish to fight each other, rather than a predetermination of boundaries. Shall one suppose that Hitler’s forces went all the way to Lvov and for several days violently attacked that city for the purpose of giving it to the USSR? It seems more likely that they went to get it for Hitler and were thwarted by the coming of Soviet troops.”

Strong continues: “The first great check the Soviets gave Hitler was given by that march into eastern Poland. It blocked for more than a year Hitler’s drive into the Balkans… Leslie Hore-Belisha, the British War Minister, was only one of several important Britons who held that the real German objective had been not only Poland, but Rumania and the Balkans, and that this had been blocked by the Soviet troops …

“The Red Army march would … seem to have been timed almost to the split second. Half a day earlier a Polish government might have been found still functioning sufficiently to declare the Soviet march an act of war, thus putting the Soviets into war with Poland’s ally, Britain. Half a day later the Red Army would have been too late to prevent Nazi uprisings in Rumania from joining the German troops on the Polish-Rumanian border. The Red Army marched on the precise half-day when the Polish government was crossing the border into Rumania, just before the Nazis arrived.”

Strong points out that the population of eastern Poland, which was largely composed of Ukrainian and Byelo-Russian peasants, horribly exploited by the Polish landlords, was for the main part extremely happy to see the Red Army. The first Associated Press despatch said: “Russian troops went into Poland without firing a shot and were seen marching side by side with the retiring Polish troops”. Strong writes: “Even the Polish Government-in-Exile did not venture to declare the Red Army’s march an act of war”. She continues: “Deputies from Grodno told how the Jewish and Byelo-Russian workers of the city had organised their own militia before the Red Army came and had rushed out and helped build a bridge for it into the city under the fire of Polish officers. ‘ As soon as the Red Army came,’ said a carpenter from Bialystok, ‘we asked them to set up Soviet power for us. But they told us: “Soviet power is the power of the people. Organise it yourselves, for now you are the bosses of your lives”‘.

War with Finland

Strong devotes a few pages to the question of the war between the Soviet Union and Finland, often known as the Winter War. This is another important example of Soviet preparation for war with Germany after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed.

The strategic importance of Finland in terms of potential war between the USSR and Germany cannot be denied. Strong quotes the following passage from The Times at the time of the Russian Civil War: “The best approach to Petrograd is from the Baltic and the shortest and easiest route is through Finland … Finland is the key to Petrograd, and Petrograd is the key to Moscow”. After Finland was given independence from the USSR following the October Revolution (incidentally, this was done on the motion of Joseph Stalin), it was soon subjected to a right-wing coup, after which time its relations with the Soviet Union were strained. In the 1930s, it consistently allied itself with the Nazis.

In order that Finland shouldn’t be used as a base for the Nazis to launch a war against the USSR, the Soviet state approached the Finnish government in October 1939 with a proposal that the two countries agree not to join a military coalition against each other and that certain exchanges of territory be made for the protection of Leningrad. They offered in return twice as much equally good but less strategic land.

Strong writes: “Premier Cajander of Finland almost at once broadcast a statement that the Soviet demands did not affect the integrity of Finland. A month later, after the USSR had made several concessions, the Finnish government decided that the demands did affect Finland’s integrity and broke off negotiations on November 13 with the cryptic remark that circumstances would decide when and by whom they would be renewed …

“The day after negotiations broke down, diplomatic quarters in Washington were saying, according to the New York Times, that the expectation of loans from America might have influenced Finland into suspending negotiations.'”

The first shooting incident, according to Strong, was by Finnish artillery across the border, resulting in Red Army casualties. After a protest from the USSR that was ignored, Soviet troops marched on November 30, 1939. By March 1940, the Red Army had broken through the Mannerheim Line and a peace treaty was concluded on 12 March. Strong writes: “In the peace terms the Soviet Union exacted from Finland considerably more territory adjacent to Leningrad than had originally been asked … They asked no indemnities, but agreed on a trade treaty whereby they supplied Finland with food. As terms go these were not excessive. Some people think today that the Soviets did not take enough …

“Sir Stafford Cripps, British Ambassador to Moscow, thinks that the terms might well have been stiffer. As I sat in his embassy at tea in late 1940 he told me that all the Soviet annexations from Finland to Bessarabia had been necessary strategic moves against the coming attack by Hitler. He added: ‘The Soviets may be sorry some day that they didn’t take more of Finland when they could'”.

Strong continues: “Sir Stafford was wrong. Stalin’s sense of timing is better than Sir Stafford’s. The Soviets had to make peace when they did. Finland, it is true, was broken; she could not have stopped a Soviet march to her uttermost border. But behind Finland lay Sweden and the French and British troops. A march of the Red Army toward the Swedish border might well have melted Sweden’s unwillingness to permit the passage of the Anglo-French armies. British, Swedish and Norwegian troops would have brought the world war to Soviet borders. The world front that today crystallises against Hitler would have crystallised a year earlier against the USSR.”

Incidentally, Finnish President Urho Kekkonen effectively admitted that the USSR’s march into Finland was justified when he said, in September 1963: “When now, after more than 20 years, we put ourselves in the position of the Soviet Union, then in light of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the concern that the USSR had, and should have had, in relation to its safety at the end of the 1930s becomes understandable.” (cited in the Wikipedia entry on the Winter War

The Baltic buffer

In the period from 1939 to 1941, the USSR paid a great deal of attention to building up what Strong describes as a ‘buffer belt’ – a defence barrier from the Baltic to the Black Sea. If, as is alleged, they did not suspect that Germany would attack, this would have been an entirely needless activity!

Anna Louise Strong arrived in Lithuania in July 1940, just after the Red Army marched in, and so is able to provide some useful information about what was happening there. She summarised the background as follows:

“Treaties of mutual assistance had been concluded the previous October [1939] with the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – permitting the USSR to establish naval bases along their coasts and to send there a mutually agreed number of Soviet troops. The governments of these states, however, were still in the hands of semi-fascist dictatorships, somewhat pro-Nazi, and at any rate anti-Soviet. Hundreds of Baltic workers were arrested for merely speaking to Red Army men. [After Hitler signed the armistice with France, he] immediately began moving troops eastward. Pro-Nazi groups stirred in the Baltic states. Anti-Soviet incidents occurred; it was claimed by Moscow that Red Army men were kidnapped, tortured, and killed with the connivance of the Lithuanian secret police. Using these incidents as a ground, the Soviet government presented an ultimatum, demanding the formation of a government that ‘would fulfil the treaty of mutual assistance’ and asking the right, in view of the increasingly disturbed conditions in Europe, to send a much larger armed force into the Baltic states. The ultimatum was accepted; on June 15 – technically as allies and in agreement with the Baltic governments – considerable forces of the Red Army marched in.”

“‘Stalin beat Hitler into the Baltic states by about twenty-four hours’ was the considered judgement of an American in Vilno who had been a press correspondent in Eastern Europe for more than ten years.”

Strong continues: “The Red Army men were not merely allies. They were the bearers of a new idea. International propriety forbade them to preach the idea in words, but they proclaimed it by their acts. A peasant told me: ‘The Red Army tanks were coming through our village, and there was a hen with a brood of chickens on the road. The tanks stopped and a soldier got out and drove off the chickens so the tanks could go on. Our own Lithuanian soldiers are not as careful of the peasants’ property as that’. Peasant children were soon shouting with delight as they were given joy rides in the Red Army’s trucks. Workers in Siauliai told me that an aged worker, bedridden from arthritis and given up by the local doctors because he was too poor to pay, had received medical help from a Red Army surgeon who was brought to him by one of the local Siauliai communists.

“An American relief worker who spent six months in Vilno told me: ‘In all these months I have not heard of a drunken Red Army soldier or of any scandal with women. Any army in the world – no, any group of cultured gentlemen in the world – might be proud of the record they have made.’

There is a great deal that can be said about the Baltic states during this period, but we don’t have the time to cover it here. Hopefully this will be the subject of a future presentation to this society.

Proof of the pudding

As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Strong writes that, “in the 22 months of the [Molotov-Ribbentrop] pact’s duration, [the Soviet Union] had checked Nazi expansion more than it was checked by all of Europe’s armed forces – Polish, Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian, French, Greek, Yugoslav and British – combined.” Indeed the actions of the Soviet Union in this time probably saved Britain. Strong writes: “The British Army, completely disorganised, had abandoned its best mechanised equipment on the beach at Dunkirk. Military experts in all lands expected an attempted German invasion of Britain and most of them stated that British defences were inadequate to withstand it. Columnists discussed the possible evacuation of the British government to Canada. It was the lowest point in Britain’s possibility of resistance, only partially veiled from the British people by the attempt to make a spiritual victory out of the terrible Dunkirk losses …

“As Nazi armies prepared for Britain, the Red Army marched into Bessarabia. The effect this had on the Balkans worried Hitler so much that he drew back from the contemplated invasion of Britain and decided to consolidate the Balkans first. He did not dare expend the tremendous strength necessary for an invasion of Britain while the Red Army advanced.”

All the imperialist countries expected that Hitler would easily defeat the Red Army and that German puppet governments would soon be set up in Soviet soil. But the preparedness, the skill, the efficiency, heroism and strategic brilliance of the Soviets forced even the most hardened bourgeois commentators to re-evaluate. Strong quotes a British air defence expert who went to Moscow in the early days of the war to give the Russians the benefit of British experience. He said that “to teach the Russians air defence was like teaching the New York Yankees baseball”.

While the French Army, considered among the strongest in the world, was defeated in a matter of weeks, the Red Army was able to defeat the Nazis and to win freedom for Europe. The idea that this could have been achieved through sheer numerical superiority, and in spite of Stalin’s complacency and lack of preparedness, is of course beyond belief.

We must not allow the record of the Soviet Union’s army, people and leadership to be denigrated by hireling historians whose real agenda is to spread anti-communism. These people cannot defend their claims in the face of facts.

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