Our previous Voroshilov vs Tukhachevsky series segues seamlessly to this story, which I have been holding onto for a couple of months as possible blogpost in the “Russian History” category. Fortunately, it’s not time-sensitive, it’s a historical piece about Stalin’s performance as Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet armed forces during the Great Patriotic War. The piece discusses both his strong and weak points in this role. Here we must slice Stalin into 2 people: the Stalin who maliciously beheaded his army high command just 3 years before the war; and the Stalin who eventually stepped up to the plate once the war began.
We saw in our previous series that, just 3 years before the Nazi invasion, the team of Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov and Yezhov in essence decapitated the flower of the Red Army command. They plotted to execute Soviet patriots and technocrats who had led technological reforms; who had replaced horses with tanks and planes; who had managed vast war games to simulate a German invasion; who had spent countless hours of their lives reading military history and theory; and who had planned for every possible contingency on the Western Front. We heard the opinions of academic historians who postulate that killing these men may well have affected the Red Army negatively; might possibly have had some impact on Soviet readiness for the invasion, when it eventually came.
Stalin loyalists pooh pooh that notion, of course. Having endured many debates with True-Believing Stalinists, I believe I can rank them, within the context of this particular issue, into 3 groups, ranging from the more to the less logical thinkers:
- The more “logical” (but less factual-based) of these guys, these are the real hardcore Furries, they actually believe that the thousands of officers and soldiers gunned down by Yezhov’s NKVD, were indeed enemies and traitors, participating in some vast conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet state, restore capitalism, and put Hitler in the Kremlin. If this were indeed the case, then it goes without saying, it would only benefit the army to rid itself of these traitors and saboteurs. This type of person will read the Tukhachevsky Trial transcript and gloat: “I told you so! He admitted his own guilt.”
- A second group, let’s call them “moderate Stalinists”, knows damn well that the charges against these officers were bogus and their extravagant confessions coerced under torture. Their debating point being that the mass executions had little effect in the scheme of things. Putting this in terms that my American readers might understand: Imagine that the Dallas Cowboys execute their star quarterback, along with the tackles and wide receivers, on the eve of the Superbowl; but still win the game. Well, to be sure, depending on the depth of their bench, they might still win; but what about the point spread?
- Group #3, I call these guy the “teleological Stalinists”. There is some overlap between themselves and the second group. These guys are mystics and fatalists, they believe that everything happens for a reason, and that it had to happen exactly as it did, in order for the Soviet Union to win the war. I think in their subconscious they see Stalin as a sort of Time-Travelling Lord Rassilon who somehow knew what was going to happen, both in the past and in the future, and how it all had to happen exactly as it did. In his infinite wisdom and concern for his people, Stalin had to keep himself in power at whatever cost, because only he could lead the necessary industrialization of the country; and only in the exact way that he conceived this project; this was the only possible path of salvation for the nation. Therefore, Tukh and the others, innocent lambs as they were, still had to die and make this ultimate sacrifice, in order to keep this Timeline intact. Mystical and ludicrous as this all sounds, I think this is what these guys actually believe, deep in their hearts. They don’t believe that success could have been possible in any other way, than the way it happened.
In the End, It All Panned Out
The Soviet Union did win the war, thanks to a very solid foundation (in part laid by Tukh and his gang) plus a very deep bench of talent. That was the genius of Lenin’s original construction. But my issue here is about the point spread of the win: At what excess cost, and is it possible to even quantify that? Further, is it even moral to entertain such discussions, which surely cause so much pain to ordinary Russians who lost family members during the war.
Including my family, I must disclose. A whole branch of my family tree were completely wiped out by the Nazis. They lived in a region on the Western Front which was one of the first to fall to the German beasts.
Among my more direct ancestors of the male variety, there was a particular soldier, a lowly infantryman. He fought on the correct side of the war, miraculously survived, and that is the reason why I walk the planet today, enjoying this wonderful life. Which gives me the right to carry his portrait during the annual “Immortal Regiment” parade. And also gives me the right to talk about these issues without guilt. I feel like I have to stipulate this, because it’s still somewhat taboo, or at least “controversial” to discuss the blunders of the Stalin government and what I call the point-spread of the war.
Approaching an even more painful subject: the Leningrad blockade. I didn’t have any ancestors there, to my knowledge, but I am aware this is the most painful topic of all, and there are certain taboos surrounding this discussion. Very dishonest anti-Soviet types have caused harm to the surviving families by suggesting the Stalin government didn’t care about the people stuck in Leningrad. That is completely untrue. Once the blockade was in place, the Stalin government did everything in its power to alleviate whatever it could, they smuggled in supplies, they smuggled out people. So, that’s not my issue here, my issue was what happened prior to the blockade itself.
For example, in the previous blog series, we saw that Marshal Voroshilov was a mediocrity who understood very little of military theory or practice. He never even figured out the difference between tactics or strategy. And yet he was put in charge of Leningrad as the circle was closing. Could the blockade have been averted with a more competent officer in charge? Again, this is a very tough and painful question to ask:
Once the long-awaited invasion began, perhaps things could have gone more smoothly if somebody other than Stalin and Voroshilov had been in charge?
Again, it is impossible to quantify these “What-If” scenarios, the number of deaths and the degree of human suffering that could have been prevented. One just has to appeal to common sense. One also has to be sensitive to the feelings of Soviet and Russian families. Having this type of discussion is still controversial and maybe even frowned upon, there are many taboos and I am not even sure where the red lines are drawn; but, as far as I know, is not illegal in the Russian Federation to discuss such issues. Otherwise, a reputable mainstream newspaper like VZGLIAD would not have published the piece which I am about to review.
A Man With Some Baggage
The writer of this article is historian Mikhail Diunov, who arrives with a lot of baggage attached to his name. Aside from his pudgy face, wikipedia and other establishment organs do not like this man at all, they do not put a green checkmark next to his name, they call him “controversial“, which is their way of saying, We do not approve of this source! What’s wrong with this guy, the overly-curious reader might ask? This is what above-linked wiki says about him: He published a series of articles of a conspiratological character, trying to prove the decisive influence of the West in the fall of the Russian Empire, support for revolutionary and Separatist movements. and also in the formation of Ukrainian identity. He expressed doubts about Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War and declared that Russia belongs in the Byzantine cultural space. He has been working out the conception of a “Russian brand” as a positive alternative to the “black legend” [?]. He has postulated that Russians are the primary carriers of the Aryan group and are distinguished by their Balto-Nordic anthropotype. Criticizing the Norman [Viking] theory [of Russian genesis], Diunov admits the Germanization of the [ancient] Russians, but localizes [that group] in the Kiev area; whereas Riurik, in his opinion, was a Slav and Obodrite [?], the son of Gottlieb. While researching anthropological issues, Diunov came to the opinion that the white race descends from Cro-Magnons, whereas the black and yellow races were formed as a result of “regressive evolution” of the Cro-Magnons. He believes that it was the white race who created ancient Egypt.
So, the reader can take all of that under consideration while deciding whether or not they want to keep on reading my review and learn something about Diunov’s opinions of Stalin. Frankly, if Diunov actually were a Russian nationalist (which he might be, but I’m not sure because I haven’t actually read any of his other stuff), then I would have expected him to be pro-Stalin. But people aren’t always predictable.
Okay, so out of the gate the title of the piece sort of gives away Diunov’s ideological slant:
Cruelty And Cowardice: How Stalin Revealed Himself As a War Chief
And the lead paragraph:
Exactly 80 years ago, on August 8, 1941, Stalin was appointed Commander-in-Chief [of the armed forces]. In other words, he took upon himself the entire vertical of military command. The personal qualities and and political prejudices of the Soviet leader strongly influenced his [purely] military decisions. Soviet troops had to pay a very heavy price because of this.
[to be continued]