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The Star of the Soviet Union

ISSUE:  Spring 1943

Russia’s Economic Front for War and Peace. By A, Yugow. Harper and Brothers. $3.00. Behind the Urats. By John Scott. Houghton Mifflin Company. $2.75. The Russians. By Albert Rhys Williams. Harcourt, Brace and Company. $2.00. Soviet Asia: Democracy’s First Line of Defense. By Raymond Arthur Davies and Andrew J. Steiger. The Dial Press. $3.00. Duel for Europe. By John Scott. Houghton Mifflin Company. $3.50. We’re in This with Russia. By Wallace Carroll. Houghton Mifflin Company. $2.00. Soviet Russia’s Foreign Policy, 1939-1942. By David J. Dallin. Yale University Press. $375. The Red Army. By Michel Berchin, and Eliahu Ben-Horin. W. W. Norton and Company. $3.00. The Great Offensive: The Strategy of Coalition Warfare. By Max Werner. The Viking Press. $3.00. Europe, Russia, and the Future. By G. D. H. Cole. The Macmillan Company. $2.00.

The conservative “Barron’s Business and Financial Weekly,” writing editorially on January 25, 1948, expressed itself on the amazing military strength and endurance of the Soviet Union, saying that if we “cannot find a basis for co-operation with Russia, we will have to reckon with her as the leader of an opposing bloc of nations . . . (that) there is no surer way to fertilize the seeds of another world war than for Americans in public or private life to talk about Russia as a possible future enemy.” It added significantly that we must give up our comforting illusions concerning Russia, the greatest of which is “that the communist system has inherent weaknesses which stifle industrial progress and retard improvement in the standard of living.” The ten books here under review tell how Russia prepared for the war, how she became unified, how she played for time to gain allies, and why our co-operation with Russia is needful for the security and peace of the world.

It was only on account of economic planning, established by imperfect means, that the Soviet Union is today able to withstand the industrial and military power of Germany, With a mass of official statistical data, Mr. Yugow, in “Russia’s Economic Front,” gives an excellent summary of achievements in large-scale planning, mechanization, and scientific research, in order to explain how full mobilization of resources has been secured and why the workers and peasants, despite the absence of political freedom and frequent dissent from Stalin’s policies, are fighting heroically against Hitler’s brigades. He holds that what has taken place has not been an evolutionary process of organic economic growth, but a “volitional process” of forced growth. In the name of preserving the country, the people have for over a decade been “exhorted to seek ways of eliminating the antagonism between the government and the interests of the population,” with the result that the coming of the war has actually released even greater energies, tapped ever deeper levels of endurance and civic patriotism.

In “Behind the Urals” by John Scott, we behold a young American who spent five years, 1932 to 1937, as electric welder, foreman, and chemist on Russia’s economic front, helping to build Magnitogorsk from scratch. One gets here a personal experience of the titanic plan of rapid industrialization, the intense hardships and the endurance in the battle for iron and steel. Mr. Scott describes a people forced to do things in a hurry, to plan on a large scale, to organize and run industries with untrained, inexperienced executives, and he records that it was natural to find side by side with boundless enthusiasm and hard work much confusion and disorder, and even sabotage by men hostile to the Soviet power. Mr. Scott gives credit to the driving force of Stalin, without whom “the job would not have been done.” Stalin, he says, was one of the few men who realized how necessary it was for Russia to equip itself and dedicate itself to complete industrialization. Stalin warned the nation, in 1931, to make itself strong within ten years or run the risk of being overwhelmed by states with a superior technology. And the job was done; but, says Scott, the western nations have erred in refusing to concede the possibility “that Russia has produced anything . . . except chaos, suffering, and disorder.”

A larger canvas is the work of Mr. Albert Rhys Williams, a well-known observer and sojourner in Russia since 1918, Though his book, “The Russians,” is lacking in immediacy of experience of the blast furnace and shop, yet on humanistic grounds no better book is available for the uninstructed layman wanting a sympathetic understanding of a strange country. His work is warm and colorful, without being in-volved in factionalism—right or left. Mr. Williams unfolds a way of life different from our own, but he asks us not to worry about national differences in production and standards of living, man-hour productivity, and standards of political decision, but to dwell upon the essential virtues of those whom we would make our friends. He explains with remarkable clarity the record of solidarity of Soviet leadership for whom no task seems too vast, the intense and heroic absorption of Russian youth in the creation of their new world, their training for work and defense, and their sense of adventure and self-realization in work. But his book is particularly significant in bringing to us the lessons and experience of Russia’s own league of nationalities and races, the largeness and racial tolerance of their united country holding diverse peoples in bonds of common good without prejudice and fear.

This contemporary cultural and economic advance of the backward races of Russia is the special theme of “Soviet Asia,” the joint product of Mr. Raymond Davies, a Canadian, and Mr. Andrew Steiger, an American journalist, We, in America, may rightly repudiate much that has been the creed of the Soviet Union; yet we could admit that our co-operation with a people so large-scaled in their vision of community life might give us the needful impulse to initiate a new deal in racial relations. In “Soviet Asia” we have a splendid account of the recent progress of the erstwhile victims of tsarist imperialism, in regions now bearing the names of Kazakhstan, Tadjikistan, Kirghizia, Uzbekhistan, Buriat-Mongolia. And it is fortunate today for the Soviets—and for their allies—that as a logical corollary of economic planning and basic anti-fascist policy their government has not neglected the faraway Asiatic domains lying between the Urals and the Pacific. For instance, Kazakhstan has today an output nearly twenty-two times larger than in 1913. These Asiatics are now farmers, engineers, and tractor experts, instead of nomad cattle-raisers; they have schools, universities, and research institutes where two decades ago not even an alphabet existed; they have no more veiled women and child wives, but school girls and emancipated women trained to do the work of men. It is not therefore surprising that non-white Soviet Asia is loyal to Moscow. “We saw no fear, no wavering,” the authors report. This painstaking book of the history of Siberia in world affairs leads the authors to the conclusion that the Soviet Union has no expansionist ambitions, that it aims “not at aggression, but at preservation of peace and the strengthening of trade relations.” This means, that granted co-operation and mutual trust, we can set up an impregnable bastion of defense and offense in Alaska, Canada, China, and Soviet Far East,—a common front for the purpose of defeating the Axis in Asia and for post-war reconstruction.

Given the background of economic and cultural progress, we can now have a clearer insight into recent political and diplomatic history. In his “Duel for Europe” Mr. John Scott is no longer the technician of Magnitogorsk, but the journalist seeing the last ten years as a duel between Stalin and Hitler, both pretenders to the European scepter. The theme is obviously too simplified as an interpretation of politics and diplomacy, admittedly a complicated chess game, a game played without rules, according to Mr. Scott. He beholds the Soviet foreign policies as purely opportunist, nationalistic, “an ugly story, one unworthy of the Russian people,” and hints at possible revolutionary expansion into Europe. Yet he insists throughout the book that Chamberlain regarded the Soviets as a greater menace than Nazi Germany, that he did not want the Russian alliance, and that “the main idea of many of the gentlemen of Downing Street was to get the Germans to attack Russia and then sit back and finance the loser in order to make the fight last longer.”

That the ugly, sordid story of appeasement, which finally led to the Nazi-Soviet pact, was in fact “the bitter and inescapable fruit of Chamberlainism,” is the considered conclusion of Mr. Wallace Carroll, head of the United Press office in London, who for twelve years had covered the diplomatic manoeuvring that preceded the war. In his brilliantly written “We’re in This with Russia,” he sees the pact forced upon Russia by diplomatic feebleness, timidity, incompetence, and unscrupulous intrigue in London and Paris. He reports Sir Neville Henderson’s admission that neither Britain nor France was in a position to render any effective aid to Poland or Rumania in 1939; that while appearing to negotiate with Moscow, Chamberlain put one feeler after another for an understanding with Hitler; that Chamberlain never offered Stalin anything which the government of a great power could accept. Under the circumstances, Mr. Carroll concludes, the Russians were right in fearing the capitalist world, that Stalin had no choice left except to take Hitler’s offer, from which he at least gained defensive positions in the Baltic states, and eighteen months for military preparations, which in the end saved Leningrad and Moscow, and turned the tide at Stalingrad.

But the most scholarly and well-documented history of our recent tortuous diplomacy is the work of Mr. David J. Dallin, who has known Europe from the pre-tsarist days. In his “Soviet Russia’s Foreign Policy” he has achieved a masterly work of reporting, analysis, and interpretation, principally from official records; only gaps and the lack of certain documentary materials are filled in with information gathered from the leading newspapers of the world. Mr. Dallin has scrupulously avoided proving some particular points, or the desire to paint a moral. It is his belief that Hitler no doubt hoped that the pact with the Soviets would lead to capitulations in London and Paris. He holds that the turning point in Nazi-Soviet relations occurred when Molotov went to Berlin in November, 1940; that Hitler presented specific demands, but became convinced that Russia could not be intimidated. His summary is terse and splendid: “Thus, acting primarily in self-defense, capitalist Britain through her continued resistance also saved Communist Russia, just as the latter, also acting strictly in self-defense, by concentrating large forces on the German border in 1940, had diverted many units of the Luftwaffe to the East.”

The story how Russia prepared for war is told by Berchin and Ben-Horin in their joint work, “The Red Army.” The two men are journalists, not military experts; they lean heavily on reports in the daily press and on the works of Captain Kournakov and Max Werner. They ascribe the successes of the Red Army almost exclusively to the spirit of nationalism, to the common knowledge that “the alternative to total resistance is slavery.” Underlying their simple explanation is a recurrent admonition to foreign circles who have allegedly come to accept the Stalinist explanation of the trials and the purges, only because the Red Army has, indeed, turned out to be a military force. Thus, although they presume to deal with the present High Command, they give disproportionate space to the purge of the generals, affirming that they were not traitors but men who sought to restore democratic elections and private property, ignoring the evidence from outside French and Czech sources such as the works of Genevieve Tabouis and Bella Fromm. The authors claim that Hitler and the General Staff undertook the invasion because of their certainty in the internal weakness of Russia, political separatism in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the lack of competent leadership. It is hard to overlook the contradiction in another statement, that Hitler held it as unsafe “to undertake an all-out invasion of the British Isles so long as the Soviet Union . . . remained ready to strike at his rear at a moment most unfavorable to Germany.”

Mr. Max Werner in “The Great Offensive” gives a masterly account of the campaigns and epic battles in Russia, the evolution of the relative strengths of the two powers, and the struggles before Smolensk, Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, and Rostov. His book is by far the most penetrating analysis of modern war strategy. He predicted the inevitable war with Russia in 1939, and boldly asserted that Russia would not only survive but might defeat the Wehrmacht. His analysis shows that not until Germany’s attack on Russia did the war become our great and global war. Without having vanquished Russia, all German conquests are tenuous and ephemeral: “According to Hitler’s estimation he could have anything once he had Russia, and he would have nothing without having Russia.” Mr. Werner accounts for Russia’s powers of resistance not by the fanatical bravery of her soldiers alone, or the reserves of man-power, but by the boldness and brilliance of the Russian generals who solved the problem of Blitzkrieg, where all others have failed, and met the enemy with their own strategic tactics.

Of Mr. Werner’s conclusions, three are important for Allied strategy today: first, that there is not the slightest reason to believe that air power alone would eventually decide the outcome of the war; second, that between two powerful mass armies, armed with modern fighting equipment, “there can be no such thing as blitzkrieg”; and, finally, that without coalition planning there can be no victory. The coalition of the United Nations holds a central place in Mr. Werner’s thought. “It was not the technical difficulties which hampered coalition strategy” in the crisis of 1942, he says, “but the delay in coalition planning which prevented the overcoming in time of the technical bottlenecks. . . . Germany and Japan did not allow their strategy to be paralyzed by initial technical bottlenecks.” Therefore, to encompass the defeat of Germany, the United Nations must not merely win by stronger arms, but also by a bolder strategy, planned initiative, and by strategic priorities for the two-front war. Recent events, since the offensive at Stalingrad and the American landing in Africa, have amply borne out the logic of Mr. Werner’s analysis; and before these events had transpired, he predicted that the chances would be strongly against the Nazis having much hope for a military decision in the Russian war in 1942, because they had moved from the strategy of decision to one of limited objectives, from the strategy of army annihilation to one of land and oil, and that this fact would give the United Nations their chance to launch “the great offensive” of coalition warfare, on two fronts, in order to prevent Germany from gaining time for the task of assimilating new strength. Such a gain in time would also give Hitler a chance to throw the war into a static phase, which may mean either a bloody and protracted struggle or a peace without decision, which could only be, in effect, a Hitler peace.

In terms of grand strategy, the Russian offensive is a hint that as time goes on we may have to reconsider the role which Russia is going to play in the victory. Mr. Williams holds that after the war the U.S.S.R. would be completely absorbed in the rehabilitation of her shattered economy, that she would need machinery and equipment, peace and security, and closer commercial ties with advanced industrial powers. Russia would hardly engage in “any revolutionary knight-errantry” for the sake of bringing socialism to Germany. Mr. Carroll, too, holds that the Soviet people, whose hopes of a plentiful life have too long been deferred, would want a stable peace in order to supply their veritable famine in consumers’ goods; that they could not, by the logic of internal necessity, allow themselves to be diverted from this urgent task by “gambling on revolution in other countries.” Yet Mr. Carroll believes that a revolution will take place in Europe, even if Stalin and the Comintern appeal to the peoples to maintain the old order. “Europe cannot go on,” he says, “with conditions which mean devastations, pillage, blockade, starvation, bombing, pestilence, and famine every quarter of a century. Europe must change or perish. A revolt against our civilization is going on in Europe, and it will come to a head when Hitlerism collapses.” In fact, he concludes, what we, as Americans, are fighting for is a revolution in Germany, “to bring about a revolutionary change which will make Germany safe for the world.”

In “Europe, Russia, and the Future” Professor Cole holds that all classes of the Russian population have today a great stake in forwarding their socialist economy. He calls upon all liberals, after the war, to forget the past and to cooperate wholeheartedly with Russia in building the future social order. He does not believe that England and America would become closely linked in capitalist defense, because the present wartime economy in itself involves a trend toward certain forms of collectivism and state control. He holds that Britain and America must face the problems of restrictive, monopolistic capitalism, with its epidemic unemployment and glutted markets, which must inevitably lead to economic planning and co-operation with Europe. It may be said, in criticism, that Professor Cole’s analysis is somewhat one-sided, that he disregards population growth, the elasticity of demand, inadequate investment expenditures, the process of capital accumulation,—factors which have aggravated the difficulty, aside from the contributory factor of monopoly. It may be said that he attaches too great importance to the creation of regional economic federations and neglects the difficulties of a democratic government lacking the power of full socialization; that he assumes too readily that socialism can be established by “common consent.” Nevertheless, it is clear that the crisis of the United Nations is ultimately a crisis of liberalism. The greatest task of democratic leadership in the last ten years was to awaken all peoples to the dangers of fascist aggression, and then to mobilize them in an all-out war. It was primarily the task of liberal leadership. On that score, the Russian leaders have well acquitted themselves.


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