There’s nothing like a historical debate to get the juices jangling here on SWP, and methinks Sergei (“The Tarantula”) Lavrov has provided the material (H/T LR). Where does one begin? Where does one end? There’s just so much here.
Lavrov is Orwellian in his invocation of Orwell:
It is difficult to interpret such attempts to politicize history as anything other than euphoria in the spirit of “winner takes all” (presumably in the Cold War), that is, the right to interpret history according to the well-known method so well described by George Orwell.
Lavrov then proceeds to politicize history in a quintessentially Orwellian fashion.
Here are some of the high points (or low points, depending on how you look at it):
The history of World War II has been rewritten many times. Elements of this approach, which was dictated by considerations of ideology and political expediency, were also present in the Soviet Union. At the same time, even during the Cold War nobody ever tried to equate the Nazi regime and the Stalinist dictatorship. It occurred to no one to compare the Nazi threat, which meant the enslavement and destruction of entire peoples, to the policies of the Soviet Union, which was the only force capable in the beginning of opposing the military machine of Nazi Germany and, in its final phase, of ensuring its defeat, which was accelerated by the opening, however late, of a second European front in 1944.
Nice of him to mention the “second European front in 1944”–but no mention of the earlier efforts. More importantly, there is a very revealing lacuna here. Yes, Naziism meant the enslavement and destruction of entire peoples. But Stalinism, and Bolshevism generally, had a body count that rivaled Hitler’s: and among the people enslaved and slain wholesale by Bolshevism and Stalinism were Russians. To say that the USSR was not monstrous in the same way that Nazi Germany does not imply that the USSR was monstrous in its own, special, murderous way.
Historical revisionism has been used to attempt to link August 23 and September 1, 1939 – the conclusion of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact and Germany’s attack on Poland. These two events are taken completely out of historical context, ignoring the Munich Agreement of 1938, which led to the dismemberment and occupation of Czechoslovakia; the Anglo-German Declaration, which was signed at the same time and was essentially a non-aggression agreement between Great Britain and Nazi Germany (the so-called ” peace in our time” agreement); and a whole series of other events that prepared the way for German aggression and directed it towards the East. As always, the sequence of events was critical. Were it not for the Munich Agreement, much of what followed would not have occurred.
By denouncing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the Russian Parliament has admitted that the Soviet Union made a mistake. And we are justified in expecting that in other nations which dealt with the Nazis it was done not at the political leadership level but at the political decision-making level. The West, like Soviet Russia, was not blameless. Why is this difficult to admit now that the Cold War has seemingly ended?
M-R is always good for a food fight around here, so let’s have at it. Me first.
First, the linkage of 23 August and 1 September 1939 is not, as Lavrov suggests, a latter day invention of revisionists. It was understood that the events were linked at the time.
Second, M-R was not foreordained by Munich. Stalin made a deal in which he thought he would profit. We’ve been over this before, so I won’t belabor it. He was wrong in his calculation, but make no mistake: he made a calculation that he would advance his interests by dealing with Hitler. Period.
Third, Lavrov’s implication here is that those in the West have completely overlooked Munich and heaped blame for the war only on the poor, misunderstood USSR. That is complete bullshit.
Look. I grew up in the United States during the ’60s and ’70s. During that time, Munich was emblematic of the moral and strategic failure of Western governments. Any proposal to make a compromise with international adversaries–most notably, the USSR–was met with accusations that such efforts would represent another Munich. Every American president wanted to avoid another Munich at all costs. One American president, Kennedy, wrote a book excoriating the weakness of the French and British over Munich. I heard about Munich from the time I could remember: I seldom heard about Molotov-Ribbentrop. To say, as Lavrov does, that M-R has been singled out for calumny while Munich has been swept under the rug is complete, utter, tripe. Only marginal loons like Pat Buchanan extol Munich. It wasn’t difficult for virtually everyone in the West to come to honest grips with Munich before the Cold War ended. It isn’t difficult now.
It is difficult to understand that the Western nations were prevented for reasons other than ideological preferences from implementing in 1945-1946 the principles that later led to the lessening of tensions during the 1970s, that is, from choosing to “engage” the Soviet Union. This would have encouraged Stalin to follow a moderate policy in Europe, but this chance was lost—not just for Europe but for the Soviet Union itself.
If it’s difficult for you to understand, Sergei, you are past all hope. Yeah. Sure. Stalin would have been the soul of cooperation and moderation had the US and the UK just “engaged” him and not reverted to pre-war anti-Bolshi policies. This is so self-evidently risible that it doesn’t require deconstruction.
What about the Phony War, which points to the unsavory plans of the Western Allies toward the Soviet Union in connection with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland?
Who even knows what “unsavory plans of the Western Allies toward the Soviet Union” Lavrov is talking about. Hey Sergei: Your paranoia is showing! And about the Phony War. Riddle me this: if the USSR, with the world’s largest military, was so incapable of taking on the Germans even with the potential support of Poland and perhaps the Western Allies that it was forced to treat with Hitler, how could you possibly expect the Western Allies to confront Hitler aggressively after Poland had fallen and the USSR was neutral? And the USSR wasn’t so neutral, was it? During the Phony War–and when the war turned anything but phony when the Germans attacked west–where did the Wehrmacht’s gas come from? The fodder for its horses? The food for its soldiers? Do I need to tell you?
The establishment of a sustainable model of economic and social development—socially oriented with universal suffrage and supported by a significant middle class—was only possible during the Cold War and on the basis of new technology.
So just when is Russia going to adopt a sustainable model, then?
Freedom came from the East . . . .
Those who falsify history forget about what they gained as a result of the Red Army’s liberation campaign, including territory. The victory over Fascism and the events preceding the war, like it or not, gave all countries of Central, Eastern and Southeast Europe, as well as the former Soviet Union, their modern boundaries, which most members of the Euro-Atlantic family have no objection to. Would we like to return to the past—to a Europe burdened by the territorial problem?
Somehow, it seems to have escaped the notice of those in the path of the Red Army that anything approaching “freedom” came in its wake. To suggest otherwise is truly Orwellian. Moreover, I guess Sergei believes that the Poles, for instance, should overlook the inconvenience of nearly 50 years of brutal occupation because it gained territory in the aftermath of WWII. Recall, moreover, that Stalin’s whole point of enlarging Poland was to gain territory under Soviet control at German expense. It was hardly a gift to the Poles. And if we want to discuss “territorial problems,” how about discussing, oh I dunno, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Moldova?
Lavrov’s attempts at economic exegesis betray a cluelessness about the the subject which is very difficult to exaggerate:
It was in response to the “challenge of the Soviet Union and socialism” that Western Europe’s economic development model became socialist.
Uhm, post-War Western Europe was not a libertarian’s paradise, but it wasn’t an example of a socialist development model either. The welfare state and socialism are two different things.
Erroneous conclusions were eventually drawn from the end of the Cold War. Some thought that in the absence of the “Soviet threat” it was no longer necessary to restrain market forces by government regulation, so that it now became possible to engage in “financial alchemy,” including the financial pyramids from which liberal capitalism began at the start of the 18th century. The devastating consequences of such shortsightedness and the unwillingness to understand the historical pattern that Europe followed in the “hothouse” conditions of the Cold War are all too obvious to ignore and continue along the same path. Moreover, this mistake should not be repeated in the sphere of “strict security,” which is no less important in terms of its consequences for the future of Europe.
I see, the end of the Soviet threat (scare quotes aren’t necessary, Sergei: the threat was real enough) led to the unleashing of capitalism, red in tooth and claw, which begat the financial crisis.
Yeah. Whatever. I mean this is totally ahistorical drivel. Overlooking that the connection between economic liberalization and the financial crisis is extremely remote, even assuming such a connection, ask the question: when did this move to liberalizing economies in the West begin? With Carter, tentatively, in the late-1970s, Thatcher in 1979, and Reagan in 1981. In other words, at the height of the Cold War. The Cold War waxed its hottest at any time since the early-1960s at precisely the same period that restraints on market forces were relaxed throughout the West. So much for your theory of cause and effect.
I could go on, but I’ll stop here. I’m sure that this is enough to get the comments flying. Have at it, folks!
* For newcomers, and those who have forgotten. Last year I gave a talk about Russian energy policy to a group of US Foreign Service officers. (I’ll talk to another group in 2 weeks.) Afterwards, one guy came up to me and related the story of an intelligence specialist, Russian by birth, who said: “Sergei Lavrov is fascinating, in the same way a tarantula is fascinating.”