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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

Russian Reflections

Hitler and Stalin: the Realities Remembered Part II
Ian Mitchell

In the summer of 1941, the free world was voting with its wallets for the first 78 rpm record in history to sell a million copies. Within six months—things happened more slowly then—Chattanooga Choo Choo, by Glen Miller and his Orchestra, had become the world’s first-ever ‘gold disc’. Together with Moonlight Serenade and In the Mood, the song featured in the soundtrack for the movie, Sun Valley Serenade, about a newly-opened ski resort in Idaho.

Nothing could have presented a starker contrast to the atmosphere within the eight million square miles of misery and fear known in those days as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That misery and fear was about to be compounded by the uncovenanted arrival of two and half million heavily-armed Germans. The USSR’s fight against Hitler has been portrayed as a crusade against fascism. It was nothing of the sort. It was a fight for survival. Stalin was actually Hitler’s strongest international supporter until the Fuehrer turned round and bit him.

I described in the May Issue of PASSPORT how Stalin’s foreign policy in the 1930s was orientated around trying to form an alliance with Hitler against the West. In 1938, Stalin made a speech in which he said, “There is one common element in the ideology of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union: opposition to the capitalist democracies.”

That policy intensified after France and Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. The claim to have been opposed to fascism was a self-serving, public relations justification invented in late 1941 to conceal the fact that the USSR had been Nazi Germany’s active, complicit partner during the previous two years of war against a world which permitted people like Glen Miller to exist outside a concentration camp or grave. Stalin’s diplomatic and military aim was to destroy freedom wherever he could. But for Britain’s international reach and America’s industrial power, he might have succeeded.

Immediately on the outbreak of war, Britain imposed a naval blockade on Germany, which imported most of its strategic raw materials. Chrome, manganese, platinum, tungsten, and nickel had traditionally come from places like South Africa. Rubber was tapped in Burma and oil shipped from the Middle East and America. With the oceans of the world closed to Hitler, the only alternative supplier for most of these goods was the Soviet Union.

If Stalin had actually been an opponent of fascism, he could have joined with Britain and strangled the German war economy in its cradle (to use Churchill’s phrase about the Bolshevik revolution). In fact, he preferred to see Britain defeated. He made all these supplies available, as well as wheat and cotton, under the terms of a German-Soviet Commercial Agreement, which was signed in August 1939 at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Stalin accelerated this process by signing a new and more extensive Commercial Agreement with Germany in February 1940. This made millions of tons of essential supplies available for Hitler’s war machine as it geared up to attack France. Three months after that attack, the Battle of Britain was fought by the Nazis with Soviet-supplied petrol and rubber, without either of which the Luftwaffe would quickly have been grounded.

The rubber is an interesting case, because it illustrates the lengths to which Stalin was prepared to go to help Hitler. The USSR was not a producer, so it used the fact that it was not officially at war with Britain to buy rubber from India, which it then sold on to Germany. Many Luftwaffe bombers rolled out for take-off on tyres made from material originating from the British Empire. By the time the attacks on Biggin Hill and the other airfields of southern England began, over 50% of all German imports came from the Soviet Union.

Stalin went even further, offering the Fuehrer direct military help by, for example, making available a base for U-boats near Murmansk to attack Anglo-American trade (though the invasion of Norway in April 1940 rendered this redundant). But perhaps Stalin’s most astonishing move was to apply to join the Axis.

In October 1940, and again in November, Stalin had Molotov, his Foreign Minister, write to the Fuehrer asking if the USSR could become a member of the alliance between Italy, Germany and Japan. The two communist leaders discussed the spoils to be picked up after the defeat of Britain. Stalin remarked that it would be like “a gigantic estate in bankruptcy”.

Hitler ignored these supplications, but the message was clear: Stalin was not “buying time”, as the apologists have said ever since Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador in war-time London, came up with the idea. Stalin was actively trying to have the world carved up between himself and his Nazi partner at the expense of the democratic countries. He had enslaved his own people, and now he wanted to join Hitler in enslaving the rest of the world.

That included America, and it is not often remembered today how extensive the campaign was that Stalin mounted to undermine the military potential of the United States, mainly by means of strikes in armaments factories, especially those supplying Britain. Moscow ordered Earl Browder, the local head of the Communist Party, to subvert President Roosevelt’s aim of making his country “the arsenal of democracy”.

Roosevelt used that phrase in a speech he made in December 1940, at the height of the Stalin-Hitler co-operation. He warned his fellow citizens: “If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the high seas, and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere… The nation expects our defense industries to continue operation without interruption by strikes or lockouts.”

Right away, on instructions from the Communist Party, strikes began to break out in places like the huge Allis-Chalmers plant in Wisconsin, which made naval motors and tanks. It was paralysed by a walkout which lasted from January to April 1941. The Aluminium Company in Cleveland, which made castings for the aircraft industry, was idle for months at the height of the Blitz when deliveries to Britain were desperately needed. The most dramatic strike, at the North American Aircraft Company in Inglewood, California, stared on 6 June 1941, just two weeks before Hitler invaded the USSR. It ended only when the US Army took over the plant.

The situation changed overnight on 22 June, when Hitler unleashed Operation Barbarossa. Suddenly, the Soviet Union was “resisting fascism” and Churchill was his friend. Roosevelt became his friend too on 7 December that year, though it was not because, after six month’s steady progress, Chattanooga Choo Choo finally made it to number 1 on the US Billboard chart, where it stayed for seven weeks. It is doubtful that the Vozhd was grooving around in the Kremlin, clicking his fingers and singing: “You leave the Pennsylvania Station at a quarter to four/ Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore./ Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer/ Than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina.”

The truth is that what Russians call the Great Patriotic War was simply that, a patriotic war in self-defence. There is no shame in that. But it is totally inaccurate to describe it as a crusade against fascism. The reality was almost exactly the opposite.

Stalin wanted to help destroy those free countries who tried to put an end to the international menace of Nazism by declaring war on Germany in 1939. There were just six of them: Britain, France, Canada, Australia, South Africa and tiny, faraway, undaunted New Zealand.

Readers who wish to see Glen Miller playing Chattanooga Choo Choo in Sun Valley Serenade should go to this link:

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