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13 April 2022

From the NS archive: Russia and Britain

10 January 1942: Why Russia would be an ally both during and after the war.

By New Statesman

When Hitler invaded Russia in the summer of 1941 he made his own ultimate defeat certain. In this piece from early 1942, our correspondent argued that Stalin was both a necessary ally in the fight against Nazism and less to be feared in a post-war world order than many believed. The foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, had recently travelled to Russia to meet Stalin and, said our writer, he “is wise in explaining that Stalin is thinking about destroying Hitler’s armies and safeguarding Socialism in Russia and not about embroiling the world after the war by fostering international communism”. Amity between Great Britain and the USSR was vital in winning both the war and securing the peace. While Stalin “certainly believes in the ultimate triumph of world socialism”, his greatest task after the war would be “to safeguard the revolution in Russia”.

Soviet and British workers meet in English arms factories: in every part of the country cheers for the Soviet Union come from Conservative as well as from Labour circles; Mr Eden returns after a hard voyage to Moscow to tell us that the British Government has reached complete agreement with Stalin about the conduct of the war. He adds that he regards his discussion with Stalin about post-war collaboration as no less important than immediate military collaboration, though, of course, derailed agreements cannot be made without the consultation of other Allies.

There will be no disposition to doubt agreement about the conduct of the war. Some eyebrows, however, will be raised when Mr Eden promises post-war collaboration. Mr Eden himself explains that Russian and British interests do not clash: we need not, he suggests, take exception to the political and economic system of any country unless that system affects its foreign policy. If it is still necessary to reassure the Conservative Party about the Russian alliance, Mr Eden is wise in explaining that Stalin is thinking about destroying Hitler’s armies and safeguarding Socialism in Russia and not about embroiling the world after the war by fostering international communism.

Mr Eden, however, can scarcely be simple enough to believe the whole of his own generalisation. How is it possible to argue that the Nazi system was only important to us when it affected the foreign policy of Germany? The distinction is illusory. Fascism is a system of internal organisation which has as its object external expansion. In one essential aspect it is the creation of industrial monopolies which demand new markets and new sources of material and labour. The owners of these expanding industries may, in that event, prove either the masters or the servants of the disciplined militant Party which they helped to bring into being. In any case, it will be obsessed with an aggressive nationalism or racial imperialism which may lead to results far beyond those desired by the industrialists themselves. The foreign policy is itself an expression of an internal order, the doping of the masses, the militant psychology, the centralised economy and the racial and military doctrine.

Mr Eden must be aware that foreign policy grows from internal structure. He could not seriously maintain his proposition in face of the examples of Japan, Italy and Germany. But we have no doubt that he is sincere in applying this generalisation to the prospects of future friendship between capitalist Britain and the Soviet Union. Talk with Stalin has obviously confirmed Mr Eden in the view that he has held ever since his earlier visit to Moscow during the days when there still seemed a chance of saving the League of Nations. Stalin’s victory over the Trotskyist view of continuous revolution was, for better or worse, one of the most important decisions in modern history. The Soviet Union, with its vast territories and still only half developed resources, has plenty to do in creating the Union of Soviet Republics, which would in time be impregnable and an example to the rest of the world of prosperity and intelligent organisation. No doubt Stalin is convinced that the ultimate goal is world socialism. But according to his interpretation of Marx, it is for each nation to reach socialism by its own route. America, Britain and every capitalist state will be driven into a revolutionary situation by its own contradictions. It is not for the USSR to jeopardise the results of her own revolution by stirring up abortive movements in countries in which the workers are not ready for power.

Stalin’s policy is, therefore, to be interpreted wholly in terms of the Soviet revolution; the post-war factors which Stalin would wish to discuss with Mr Eden were, we assume, mainly the strategic frontiers of the USSR and the prevention of future aggression. No doubt, as Mr Eden says, some of these factors concern other Powers. Stalin will certainly wish to include Bessarabia and the Baltic States in the USSR – it was on this issue that our negotiation with Russia finally broke down in 1939. He will want a block of States necessarily friendly to Russia to lie between a weakened Germany and the vast might of the USSR. He will be ready, we should suppose, to sit in conference with representatives of British and American business for the job of policing the world and preventing the rise in future of aggressive militarisms, such as Germany and Japan. On such immediate issues of the post-war settlement it seems unlikely that any conflict need arise between the USSR and this country or the United States.

Today the danger of friction between the chief members of the Grand Alliance against Fascism comes, not from the USSR, nor we believe today from the British ruling-class, which has at length discovered that its own security depends on Russian power: it comes perhaps more from big business interests in the United States, whose conception of their own sphere of profit has no narrower boundaries than the habitable globe. It is the part of British statesmanship at the moment – and we believe that Mr Eden admirably suits the role – to strengthen the alliance between Britain and Russia, and in so doing to bring American business into a closer realisation of the necessities and the possibilities of our understanding with the USSR, both during and after the war.

It is a mistake to ask, as many people do, whether Stalin is still an apostle of world revolution as well as a Soviet statesman. As a Communist he certainly believes in the ultimate triumph of world socialism, but that his own task is to safeguard the revolution in Russia. Germany has proved the immediate menace to that security, and Stalin will act, as he always acts, with a grim and ruthless realism whenever he sees any threat to the Soviet Union. It is not in the nature of Communist doctrine to hold the Vansittart view of any foreign people. No Communist can believe in the innate wickedness of a nation, since national characteristics are the products of environment not of any racial ingredient. The Russian revolution is itself the product of defeat in war, and every Communist has lived through a period of hope and disappointment when it was discovered that the hopes of world revolution after the last war would not be fulfilled.

Therefore, as Mr Andrew Rothstein has urged in the controversy now going on in our correspondence columns, Russian propaganda to Germany and abroad has insisted throughout on the appeal to the individual worker against the Nazis; the text of the British-Russian pact of July 12th declares that we fight a joint war against “Hitlerite Germany”. This phrase, agreed upon between Stalin and Mr Churchill, has been repeated in a number of public documents and speeches in which Stalin has insisted that the war must end with the liberation of the German masses.

It is of course possible, as our correspondence columns show, to find in the home propaganda of the Soviet Union phrases which suggest an indiscriminate hatred of Germans. This is not surprising in an invasion, when home propaganda is designed to rouse the people to the maximum resistance to the invader. It has not been possible, when German armies were sweeping over their homes, always to tell Russian peasants to make distinctions between one Nazi inside a tank and another who might still be converted into a revolutionary against the Hitler regime. It is surprising in the circumstances how persistently the distinction between “Germans” as such and “Fascist invaders” and “Hitlerite” armies was maintained in the daily broadcasts from Moscow when the German armies were almost at the gates of Moscow.

An army must be met and defeated as a whole: so people, as Stalin well knows, and especially a people in defeat, can be divided into many groups; it is the object of Russian propaganda to divide the German people from its Government as soon as possible.

Some of the early accounts of the new document dealing with German atrocities issued from Moscow this week were highly misleading. In fact, the full text of this indictment, bitter and vengeful in tone as it is, maintains to the end the distinction between the German people and Hitlerite Germany which is to be punished for its cruelties and prevented from ever again invading neighbouring peoples. We should urge that words like “revenge”, and “punishment”, are not in fact good Marxism; it was the peculiar distinction of the USSR that instead of these infantile conceptions, it insisted that national and individual wrong-doing were the product of circumstances, and must be cured by scientific change of environment.

The world today is more than ever in need of this realistic and scientific approach. If every German were to be killed tomorrow we should be no nearer solving the problems of peace and war: we should still need an economic and social organisation which would prevent aggression (Japanese no less than German!): we should still have failed to begin to make good the promise to end the system of “fear and want”.

Read more from the NS archive here, and sign up to the weekly “From the archive” newsletter here. A selection of pieces spanning the New Statesman’s history has recently been published as “Statesmanship” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

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