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Some not so obvious opinions
May 5, 2013 - Harry Eagar
At least one reader of RtO noticed the outbreak of reviews of books about the Russo-German war. There will be more, and all readers who don't care are invited to skip over and wait for more Found Sounds or something.
Here's what's behind the outbreak.
My real interest is not the war itself. In fact, I find a good deal of the interest in the Eastern Front kind of creepy. Too many readers (who leave their spoor) seem to be too excited by the skill and victories of the Germans.
But, I am a baby boomer, raised on Cold War hysteria. It is my opinion that the Cold War cannot be understood until you understand the position of the Bolsheviks. My opinions about this were formed when I was around 25 years old, starting from a remark in one of Alan Taylor's essays and carrying on from there. I discovered that the narrative I was taught at Catholic school, and later, was wildly different from what appeared to be the facts.
Of course, in the '50s and '60s, facts about Bolshevism were hard to verify, due largely to the secretiveness of the regime, but secondarily to the deliberate falsehoods of the 100% Americans.
Now, in retirement, I have leisure to revisit my opinions. When I first studied the matter, some of the official histories of the western countries had not been completed (for example, Harry Hinsley's important history of British intelligence was only partly published). Now they have been, and, even better, at least some of the Soviet archives have been opened and some memoirs that were suppressed have been rewritten or published at last.
I have been reading and studying the tsarist and Bolshevik eras off and on for all these 45 years. Now I have a 3-foot stack of books about the Russo-German war to work my way through. (I've gone less than a foot so far.)
Here are the propositions that I came up with that I want to test:
1. The United States had no impact on the outcome of the war in Europe. The British pinned the Germans and then the Reds beat them, but before the US became a combatant,.
2. It was reasonable for the USSR to occupy the former aggressive fascist states for its future security.
3. The Bolsheviks were, unlike the tsars, not militarily aggressive. Between their defeat before Warsaw in 1920 and invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Red Army showed great reluctance to step outside its own borders. Only pressure from aggressive fascist states got it to do so.
4. Although the Bolsheviks would happily have subverted as many countries as they could manage (or what else was the Comintern for?), they were unwilling to export communism by military force. Time after time, the Russian communists stood by while foreign communists were slaughtered.
5. Since there was no aggressive foreign policy, it must be that domestic issues drove the actions of the USSR government and Soviet Communist party. The Number 1 issue was agriculture. It was the failure of Soviet agricultural policy that brought down the system.
6. Taking a long view, the Bolshevik revolution hardly happened. The preoccupations of tsarist Russia and its policies (aside from external military aggression) were the preoccupations of the Bolsheviks, and the policies were about the same, too.
I actually started this review about 10 years ago, concentrating on the security policies of the European states in the '30s. That was the last time I had to make a large adjustment in my views of Bolshevism.
I had, until then, accepted the common view that Stalin was taking advantage of the turmoil of the fascist aggression to grab provinces. Call this the doughty-little-Finland view.
I learned, from two obscure books by a Scottish Communist lawyer, what you will not learn in the conventional histories: That before it invaded Finland, the USSR attempted to buy Hango.
This was intended defensively, because the Russians were worried about the danger to Leningrad.
That was when, for me, the penny dropped and I realized that the Red Army was so far from being an aggressive instrument that it was reluctant to go outside its own borders. The scrupulous return to old borders after repulsing the Kwantung Army in Mongolia about the same time nailed it down.
Once you get that, the American Cold War narrative falls apart.
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