June 27, 2004


Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (C-SPAN, 6/27/04, 8 & 11pm)

PATRIOTIC WAR? (via Mike Daley):
The Terrors: One of the foremost scholars of Soviet history assesses an ambitious new biography of Stalin: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Robert Conquest, The Atlantic)

Sebag Montefiore is at his best when writing about the dramatic days just before and after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union-a story whose details come almost entirely from the new records and from the memories of crucial people in Moscow. The Nazi attack, in June of 1941, surprised and shook Stalin. After recovering from the shock, he again manifested his dictatorial strength. Some half a million Soviet soldiers had left the front. They were rounded up, and more than 10,000 were shot; the rest were formed into new units. This ruthlessness, which had the desired disciplinary effect, was accompanied by the execution of a group of experienced officers-and of the wives of previously executed officers.

The fate of the officers' wives was part of a widespread pattern-one to which Sebag Montefiore, with his interest in family matters, rightly calls our attention. According to a Soviet law written in 1935, the relatives of an accused person were also responsible for the "crime," even if they were
ignorant of it. It soon became routine for wives, children, brothers, and sisters of terror victims to suffer equally dire consequences. Consider the stories, recently learned, of the wives of Marshal Vasily Blyukher, who died under torture in 1938: his first and second wives were shot, and the third was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp.

In this regard it is instructive to compare the Stalinist epoch with that of the czars. For example, in the earlier period the execution of Lenin's brother on genuine grounds of treason (he participated in a terrorist plot) did not affect Lenin's academic career, much less result in his own execution. The decline in the government's humanity is remarkable. So is the difference between life in Stalin's gulag, whose inhabitants were starved and sweated, and the relatively comfortable "exile" to Siberian villages imposed on offenders by the czarist regime.

The impact of the terrors on Party members and other elites has long been known. Our most substantial gain in understanding the Stalinist era concerns how and to what extent they struck at the general population. This is now decisively documented, in papers signed by Stalin and specifying quotas for death and imprisonment by category and locale; these decrees resulted in
nearly 770,000 executions in 1937-1938. In addition, over the whole of his career Stalin signed 44,000 individual death sentences. The "anti-Soviet elements" targeted included former kulaks, former officials of the czarist state and army, former members of non-Bolshevik parties, religious
activists, and "speculators"-a wide swath of society. Those carrying out the orders were required to send "albums" of the victims to Moscow, to confirm that the quotas had been met.

There is no longer much serious dispute about what the terrors unleashed, or about the extravagant falsification practiced by the regime. If anything is still missing in Western understanding, it is a full recognition of the mental degradation inflicted by the regime. The entire population was forced to accept a supposedly all-explaining dogma, along with the notion that it
was living in a social and political utopia-when what it actually experienced, of course, was the opposite. A Russian academic told me recently that many Westerners he meets still don't realize how horrible and psychologically exhausting a life it was.

And because they don't there are still folks who believe that the population would have risen up and resisted an Allied effort to replace the regime after Hitler was defeated and/or fought on after a nuclear attack on Moscow had removed the higher levels of the regime. Even more inane is the belief that the tsar was even remotely as oppressive as the Bolsheviks. But folk who believe such nonsense aren't much interested in the truth, are they?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2004 12:46 PM

They'd have had to nuke Leningrad, Stalingrad, Petrograd, Minsk and the rest of the Russian cites too. Communist leadership wasn't just centred around the capital and wouldn't have collpased if Moscow was a smoking crater.

And any attack on Russia even if targeted at the Communist leadership could have easily been seen as an atack on the country thus making opposition to the enemy a nationalistic and patriotic issue.

No wonder since most of Russia's contact with foreigners has come when the latter tried pillaging and burning the country.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at June 20, 2004 5:30 PM

But Hitler wasn't attacking the country?

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2004 5:39 PM

There's a reason Russians call WW2 the Great Patriotic War.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at June 20, 2004 5:53 PM

Yes, the same reason they called themselves republics. To appeal to dupes.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2004 6:02 PM

It's funny how every time the foreigners came to "pillage and burn" the Grand Duchy of Muscovy and its successors ended up even bigger than before. The only time it's gotten smaller was when 70 years of Great Socialist Party rule came to an end, when everyone who wanted out and could get out, got out. (Including the Jews who emigrated to Israel and the US, too.) We're talking about parts of Russia that had been grabbed centuries ago by Peter the Great, like Ukraine and Kiev. And let's not forget that there were times when it appeared that even parts of the Russian Federation would go their own way, leaving Moscow in the same position of Vienna, an imperial capitol without an empire.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 20, 2004 6:58 PM

Aaaahhhhh!!! I don't have the energy to deal with your hindsight tonight, OJ.

Posted by: Brandon at June 20, 2004 10:34 PM

Mr. Judd;

This was one of the key mistakes that Hitler made. Had the Germans set up puppet goverments and treated the locals as allies instead of debris to be cleansed, they might well have created client states that would have supported their war effort against the USSR.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 20, 2004 10:45 PM


Sure, but that wasn't the point, was it? Nazism was just Darwinism applied, so other races had to be cleansed. Indeed, when it became clear that the Germans had been found unfit Hitler tried taking them all with him.

Posted by: oj at June 20, 2004 11:02 PM

Well, I'm sure glad they defeated the Germans for us, because we couldn't have done it without them.

It's too bad they had such a stinking government, but they developed it all by themselves.

Given a choice, as an American, I'd rather have a Bolshevik government that could (just barely) defeat the Germans than a tsarist one that couldn't.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 21, 2004 7:22 PM

Ah, Harry, as much faith in Stalinism as Stalin, in Nazism as Hitler, and in Islamicism as Osama.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2004 8:31 PM

Nazim was the Oberamergau Passion play applied. If I recall correctly, it predated Darwin, and was quite explicit about what should happen to Jews.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 21, 2004 8:33 PM


You don't.

Posted by: oj at June 21, 2004 8:39 PM

Yes, Orrin, like you I believe in evil.

But let's assume your political assessment is correct. You then have this chronological probability.

May 1945-Germany collapses.

May-August 1945-US fails to transfer forces to Pacific or demobilize. Russians draw conclusions.

August 1945-US uses its only 2 A-bombs on Moscow and (say) Vladivostok (everything in Russia west of Moscow is already rubble).

August 1945. Political direction of USSR collapses. Military direction of USSR reflexively (and possibly eagerly) launches assault against US in Europe.

September 1945. US Army pushed into English Channel by Red Army that enjoys superiority of about 5:1. Japan, though starving, remains undefeated.

October. US invades Japan, 100,000 Americans killed.

mid-1946. US asks Britain for airfield to sebd mission to drop its 3rd Abomb on --where? Britain refuses. USSR occupies all Europe instead of half. Koreans are almost extinct. Kyushu is being subdued but invasion of Honshu has been postponed indefinitely. USSR, having transferred victorious armies from Europe, has cleared Manchuria and is occupying China north of the Yellow River.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 22, 2004 4:31 PM

Yes, all likely if you believe in Stalinism.

Posted by: oj at June 22, 2004 4:41 PM

I believe in big battalions, no matter whose.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 22, 2004 5:29 PM

So did Saddam

Posted by: oj at June 22, 2004 5:47 PM


Enlighten me. During what time span did the Oberamergau Passion plays take place?

Were they not virulently anti-Semitic?

Is it not surpassing ironic for a religious play trading on age-old hatred of Jews to be carrying anti-Darwin water?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 22, 2004 8:38 PM

Big battalions mattered before the technological revolution in military affairs.

Which, and my time line is certainly correct here, didn't really start until the 1980s, long after your USSR destroying fairy tale would have taken place.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 22, 2004 8:40 PM


Not particularly virulent and there were no deaths nor anti-Jewish violence associated with it. That required Darwinism and the notion of races and species and fitness and survival.

Posted by: oj at June 22, 2004 8:46 PM


What does military doctrine say about the number of battalions and men you'd require to subjugate hostile populations from Britiain to Iberia to Japan to Kamchatka? Using 1940s technology.

Posted by: oj at June 22, 2004 8:49 PM

Twenty centuries of more or less continuous violent anti-Semitism, and you say there were no deaths or anti-Jewish violence? How the heck would it be possible to know? Never mind that your benign opinion of those passion plays stands rather alone.

You are hand waving. Christian abuse of Jews had been going on since there were Christians. Nazis didn't invent it out of whole cloth.

Military doctrine. I don't know what military doctrine says about subjugating hostile populations, but military doctrine does say that imposing more than 10% casualty rate upon the opposing force is generally enough to result in complete loss of fighting effectiveness.

Heck, the Romans did it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 23, 2004 10:18 PM

What does anti-Semitism have to do with anything? Most people are anti-Semites today. The subject is exterminiationism, which is nothing more than applied Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at June 23, 2004 10:44 PM

Exterminationism is nothing more than traditional, vicious, anti-Semitism's reach finally being met by the industrial revolution's grasp.

What does anti-Semitism have to do with anything? Because without the anti, there is no Holocaust. Without the religious insistence on absolute truth, there is no anti.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 24, 2004 8:18 PM


Sure there is, all non-Germanic races had to go. There just happened to be a lot of Jews available to kill first. But when you're fittening the species all other variants gotta go.

Posted by: oj at June 24, 2004 8:22 PM

Let me get this straight--if Darwin's theory had come along 100 years later, Kristallnacht, then the Holocaust would never have happened?

I guess the Jews were never expelled from Spain either. Or that they would not have been slaughtered had the means for industrial slaughter existed at the time.

That's quite the theory you have there. Not the least persuasive, but certainly unique.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 24, 2004 10:47 PM

I would appear that Stalin's use of terror to "motivate" the USSR to fight the off the Nazis might well be analogous to the French terror of 1793-4(?), which effectively "motivated" the French to defeat the invading Austrian/Prussian/English armies as well as put down the internal French revolts at the peripheries, e.g., in Brittany, Normandy and Marseilles.

Tried and true methods?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 27, 2004 5:30 PM

If Orrin were right, then the Red Army privates would have shot their officers and gone home, like the tsarist privates did in 1917.

Why didn't they, Orrin?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 27, 2004 7:55 PM

They did. The Soviets had to ruthlessly repress their own army which wanted to quit and go home. Had we helped the regulars they'd have laid down their arms or used them on the Party.

Posted by: oj at June 27, 2004 8:39 PM

The P-51 Mustang would have killed or terrified any Russian soldier who dared raise his head above the rubble of Western Europe. And it certainly would have nullified any advantage the Russians had in tanks. And it would have been nice to watch the Marines (and Army) land in Vladivostok and march West. Worshiping the Red Army because it fought the Nazis for 4 years solid does not confer deity upon it - the US would have beaten them without atomic bombs.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 27, 2004 10:42 PM

You're incoherent on this subject, Orrin.

Somehow, the German generals could only be prevented from deposing Hitler by US interference, while the Russian generals could only be inspired to do it by US interference.

Both groups had the means and -- according to you -- the motive to do it. But they didn't do it.

We didn't count. In fact, neither group wanted to. We can be sure of that, because it didn't happen.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 28, 2004 8:03 PM


It's pretty easy: had we offered to help either the Germans or the Russians to depose their oppressive party lkeaderships they would have welcomed it. Instead, we irrationally demanded unconditional surrender--which had never been done before and never since--for good reason. The US military was appalled by FDR's gaffe and those Germans plotting against Hitler found that potential supporters feared what could come after Hitler more than they wanted to be rid of him. Our betrayal of East Germany shows that they were right to fear us.

Posted by: oj at June 28, 2004 8:12 PM

OJ needs to understand Clausewitz more.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 28, 2004 9:39 PM

"...[W]ar is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means."

FDR had the wrong policy, so of course he biffed the war part.

Posted by: oj at June 28, 2004 11:47 PM

What about good ol' Unconditional Surrender Grant?

Posted by: David Cohen at June 29, 2004 4:00 PM

If we'd offered the German generals the deal the South got at Appomattox they'd have handed us Hitler's head on a plate. We never told the South it had to surrender unconditionally, indeed we said whenever they'd had enough they'd be welcome back.

Posted by: oj at June 29, 2004 4:10 PM


Objectives, strategy, morale, logistics ...

Your single quote demonstrates you are missing a whole bunch of concepts here.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at June 29, 2004 7:41 PM


Yes, but other than you committed rationalists, no one else believes that Nazi Germany or the USSR had high morale except when it came to destroying each other--and even then Stalin had to murder thousands to get them to fight.

Posted by: oj at June 29, 2004 7:45 PM

That wasn't how the white Southerners read it, Orrin.

You're wrong about the Germans, too. They would have jettisoned Hitler, but they weren't about to give up Hitlerism. You may recall that when the generals were in the driver's seat, in 1918, even with the people starving, they expected to keep northern France, eastern Rumelia etc.

That's the kind of terms they thought reasonable, after all, they'd conquered all that, hadn't they?

There'd have been a German war in the '40s if there had never been a Hitler. It was scheduled to start in '44, though the German navy would have preferred '46.

The Germans were conservative and Christian, true enough, but they weren't on our side.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 29, 2004 9:31 PM

The question isn't preventing Hitler, no one was ever serious about that. They'd have gladly gotten rid of him though if we'd offered a deal.

Posted by: oj at June 29, 2004 9:59 PM

It was our morale I had in mind, not theirs.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 1, 2004 10:45 PM

Yes, you think we'd have quit. I don't.

Posted by: oj at July 1, 2004 11:29 PM