Friday, June 11, 2004

in the red corner

The estimable Mike Davis balances the historical record.

The decisive battle for the liberation of Europe began 60 years ago this month when a Soviet guerrilla army emerged from the forests and bogs of Belorussia to launch a bold surprise attack on the mighty Wehrmacht's rear.

The partisan brigades, including many Jewish fighters and concentration-camp escapees, planted 40,000 demolition charges. They devastated the vital rail lines linking German Army Group Centre to its bases in Poland and Eastern Prussia.

Three days later, on June 22 1944, the third anniversary of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, Marshal Zhukov gave the order for the main assault on German front lines. Twenty-six thousand heavy guns pulverised German forward positions. The screams of the Katyusha rockets were followed by the roar of 4,000 tanks and the battle cries (in more than 40 languages) of 1.6 million Soviet soldiers. Thus began Operation Bagration, an assault over a 500-mile-long front.

This "great military earthquake", as the historian John Erickson called it, finally stopped in the suburbs of Warsaw as Hitler rushed elite reserves from Western Europe to stem the Red tide in the east. As a result, American and British troops fighting in Normandy would not have to face the best-equipped Panzer divisions.

What makes the Soviet contribution to allied victory in World War Two more relevant than ever this year is the fat that the “liberation” of Iraq bears more resemblance to the “liberation” of Eastern Europe by the Red army than it does to events further West. It may be described as sovereign, but the new Iraq government is host to 138,000 troops it has no control over, hundreds of advisers and their private guards for its ministries and more than 1000 staff in the “embassy” of it’s senior occupying power. Was Poland under the Warsaw Pact any less free than this?

More generally, the Soviet contribution to the war raises all sorts of questions about “the good war”. The Russians lost over 27 million people and killed over two thirds of all the German soldiers who died in the conflict in Europe. That contribution made the Western invasion a good deal easier and might have been the thing that made it possible for it to succeed at all. We’ve heard that our freedoms, such as they are, flow from the commitment to democracy of the Western allies and their willingness to back it up with force. It’s less comfortable to consider how much of it depended on the outcome of a brutal, pitiless race war launched by the Nazis and fought between the troops of two appalling dictators. This can’t be marginalized, no matter how much the historical revisionist anglosphere types would like to do it.

But it leads on to a more disturbing thought. Would the outcome have changed if the Soviet government had been different, and better. (or in fact not Soviet at all)? Did it take someone like Stalin to beat someone like Hitler? In 1931, Stalin said that the point of his forced collectivization and crash industrialization was to insure Russia against invasion. The Soviet Union had ten years to do it, he said. It sounds like paranoid dictator speak, but ten years later the invasion rolled around on schedule. And when it took place, would it have been possible to remove huge swathes of Russian industry physically and carry it hundreds of miles beyond the Urals in a less centralized, dictatorial state?

I don’t know. But if you accept the necessity of dictatorship in this case, then you also have to accept the dictator. In this case, the dictator was Stalin. And it follows from that that you have to accept the dictator as a whole, and the whole of what that dictator does. So the immense suffering - millions starved to death, tortured, issued with “nine grammes of lead”, exiled and incarcerated in gulags – in turn become a component part of whatever contribution the second world war made to the existence of freedom in Europe. So thanks, Ivan Frontovik. And thanks to all who starved in the Ukraine, died in the cellars of the Lubyanka, hauled rock and chopped wood in the gulags. Thanks to the zeks. And thanks to the Urkas, Russia's historical criminal caste who shared gulag duty with the politicals and…

“tattooed themselves with pictures of masturbating monkeys and played cards for each other's eyeballs

…according to Koba the Dread. Yes, masturbating monkeys. Since today seems to be disturbing thoughts day, then why not?