But the Second World War was only a phase – though an important one – in the realization of Lenin’s grand strategy to subjugate the capitalist … nations…. The ‘worldwide anti-imperialist struggle’ [later] was … concentrated on the U.S.A. – especially by mobilizing the Third World against that nation – once again in accordance with the thoughts of Lenin.Ernst Topitsch
To understand where we are today, in terms of grand strategy, it is useful to begin with the history of the last world war. In his remarkable Origins of the Second World War, A.J.P. Taylor says the conflict originated in a dispute “between the three Western Powers over the settlement of Versailles….” He also called it “a war which had been implicit since the moment when the first [world] war ended.” What Taylor didn’t say was that the only country with a viable grand strategy at the outset of the war was the Soviet Union. Neither Germany nor the Allies had properly thought out the consequences of their policies, or the short-sightedness of their strategies. On the other hand, the leaders of the Soviet Union had worked out their basic strategy twenty years before the war began. This claim may seem incredible, but it can be proved out of quotations from Lenin’s Collected Works.
World War II began on 1 September 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. As a consequence of this invasion, on 3 September 1939, France and Britain declared war on Germany. On 17 September the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Having declared war on Germany, France and Britain did not dare declare war on the Soviet Union. They were already facing serious challenges in preparing to fight Germany. Adding to their troubles, by going to war against Stalin, would have put them in an impossible position.
Note what followed from the start of the war: France and Britain were unable to render assistance to Poland as they were unprepared to effectively attack Germany from the West. On 27 September 1939 Warsaw (the capital of Poland) fell to the Germans as 140,000 Polish troops were taken prisoner. German and Soviet troops divided Poland along a demarcation line. On 30 November Stalin’s armies invaded Finland, a democracy. The allies were upset by this Soviet aggression, but they did nothing to thwart Stalin. All their efforts were focused on Hitler, who served as Stalin’s lightning rod. Consequently, Stalin was free to invade country after country. In 1940, the Soviet Union would invade Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and eastern Romania – without any real opposition.
To understand how this extraordinary advantage accrued to Moscow, we will turn to the writings of Ernst Topitsch, a professor of philosophy at Graz University during the 1980s, and a German veteran of the Eastern Front. He fought in one of the divisions that perished at the Battle of Stalingrad. “I am, admittedly, not a historian,” he wrote, “nor can I offer any new documents in support of the theories proposed; but … widely-known documents may reveal to the outsider surprising connections which may hitherto have been overlooked; solutions may be found to problems which have been blocking the path of research for some considerable time.” [p.2]
As a student of the Greek historian Thucydides, and as someone who pondered the meaning of the war for decades, Topitsch saw a number of truths which mainstream historians never bothered to notice. France and Britain are generally considered the “good guys” at the war’s outset. Yet their approach alternated between appeasement and exacerbating the Polish crisis, as Taylor’s history shows. London and Paris did not understand that they had over-committed to Poland, and were in no position to do any good – morally or militarily – under the circumstances. Hitler seems quite unbalanced as well, forgetting that British public opinion had turned against him after his forces entered Prague in March 1939, making the Czech rump state into a “protectorate of the Reich.” Because of this, the British leaders could no longer appease Hitler, even if they wanted to. Naturally, Hitler is blamed as the “evil genius” of the war, whose “violent expansion and aggression” is today seen as the principal cause of all that followed. Here Topitsch disagrees. He tells us there was a greater evil genius responsible for the war; namely, Josef Stalin.
In writing this, Topitsch makes clear that he is not attempting to “exonerate Hitler.” The real question, in terms of grand strategy, is “to reduce the German dictator to his real political and intellectual stature and to correct the widely accepted overestimation of his ability.” For political reasons, Hitler has been built up as “a fantastic figure, appearing to his frightened opponents as an almost superhuman phenomenon, who combined in one man the military genius of Napoleon, the cunning of a Machiavelli and the fanaticism of a Mohammed.”
Topitsch noticed that Stalin was never favorably compared with Napoleon or Machiavelli or Mohammed, though his real achievements in politics and war outdid all three. In fact, the first historian to properly recognize Stalin’s genius was Stephen Kotkin, the latest of Stalin’s biographers, whose first volume on Stalin (published in 2014) ended with a striking tribute to Stalin’s unique abilities. Kotkin understood something that Topitsch had grasped thirty years earlier; namely, that Stalin was no friend to flashy or “spectacular public appearances.” Stalin did not make himself into a human lightning rod, like Hitler. He understood how to do important things without drawing attention to himself; for example, how to make a communist system function by famine, mass arrests, and purges, while retaining devoted followers around the world. None of his colleagues could have done it, says Kotkin. And there can be little doubt Kotkin is right. Stalin’s grasp of politics was without equal, whether he was dealing with Trotsky and Zinoviev or Churchill and Roosevelt. He lured Hitler into playing the unfortunate role of aggressor in Poland and then proceeded to his own aggressions unmolested. Incredibly, the impotent Allied powers that denounced these aggressions ended by allying with Stalin – helping the Soviet dictator to further conquests in the heart of Europe and Asia.
Stalin, noted Topitsch, was “a master of the undercover game, of indirect action.” He was patient. He let others give their intentions away while keeping his own intentions to himself. He pretended to give Hitler what the Germans needed, realizing that he was leading them into a trap from which they could not escape. Everything was carefully considered. (Even now, Stalin serves as a model for Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.) From the point of view of Western statesmanship, Stalin’s character is not easily understood. “The sly, mistrustful Georgian probably did not confide even to his close associates what he knew, intended or desired,” stated Topitsch.
The basic outline of Stalin’s winning strategy was set down by Lenin in 1920. In those days Lenin was predicting what he called a “Second Imperialist War.” Stalin’s job, thenceforth, was to make the Soviet Union ready for that war. With this in mind, Stalin explained the strategy as follows: “If war is to break out, we won’t be able to watch in idleness; we will have to enter the fray, but we will be the last ones to do it, in order to put the decisive weight into the scales, a weight that should tip the balance.”
According to Topitsch, “Lenin and his associates were never in any doubt about their determination to annihilate capitalism and ‘imperialism.’ They were convinced that the First World War was only the prelude to further ‘imperialist wars,’ which would lead inexorably to the final victory of socialism across the whole world.” Lenin’s grand strategic plan was outlined in his speech to the Action Meeting of the Moscow Organization of the Communist Party of Russia on 6 December 1920:
“Till the final victory of socialism in the whole world … we must exploit the contradictions and opposition between two imperialist power groups, between two capitalist groups of states and incite them to attack each other, for when two thieves quarrel the honest man gets the last laugh. But as soon as we are strong enough to overthrow the entire capitalist world, we will seize it by the throat.”
Lenin suggested three areas for developing a “divide and conquer” strategy: (1) the potential for conflict between Japan and America; (2) the potential for conflict between Germany and the Western Allies; and (3) the potential for conflict between America and the rest of the world. The first two conflicts were cultivated by Soviet diplomacy and active measures prior to 1942. The third was used after 1945.
In terms of triggering a war in Europe between Germany and the Western powers, Lenin put special emphasis on exploiting the unjust peace settlement that ended the First World War (i.e., the Treaty of Versailles). Lenin explained the situation as follows:
“This country [Germany] cannot tolerate the treaty [of Versailles] and must look around for allies to fight world imperialism, even though it is itself an imperialistic land, which is nonetheless being held down. [It would in any case be most favorable] if the imperialist powers were to get involved in a war. If we are forced to tolerate such rogues as these capitalist thieves, each one of whom is sharpening the dagger against us, then it is our bounden duty to get them to turn their daggers on each other.”
As bad as Germany might be, said Lenin, communism’s ultimate enemy was America and Britain. He called the British Empire “the proud bastion of world capitalism, the place from which radiated out, like concentric circles, all the threats of imperialism; it was the highest temple of international finance, the world center of … overseas trade, the metropole from where the peoples of the non-European world were sucked dry.” Lenin bemoaned the fact that there was no real prospect of making a revolution in the mother country of capitalism. The empire had to be brought to its knees through open warfare. Why not let the Germans do it?
Germany would become the most important pawn on Lenin’s global chess board. A KGB officer and historian of my acquaintance, who personally knew Russian archivists in Moscow, said that Weimar Germany was a clandestine puppet of Moscow. In other words, from 1919 until Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany was a virtual satellite of the Soviet Union (though the rest of the world had no inkling whatsoever). Please note: Germany was the homeland of Karl Marx. The German Communist Part, KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands), was subservient to Moscow. The liberals and social democrats were manipulable. Even the far right was subject to Soviet manipulation as we shall see. Germany was Moscow’s tool by which a future war could be engineered. Underscoring this idea, Lenin said: “…we have so exploited the quarrel between the two imperialist groups that in the end both lost the game.”
Lenin made this last statement nearly two decades before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shocked the world with the unlikely partnership of Hitler and Stalin in 1939. Days after this pact was signed, Hitler invaded Poland and the Second World War began. Lenin’s strategic grasp of the situation in 1920 was far-sighted indeed. Later, GRU defector Viktor Suvorov would write a book titled Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? According to Suvorov, “Stalin supported the Nazis. Zealous Stalinists, such as Herman Remmele, who was a member of the Politburo of the German Communist Party [KPD], was quite open in his support of the Nazis….” [P. 11] Suvorov quoted former Soviet leader and Stalin rival Leon Trotsky: “Without Stalin there would have been no Hitler, there would have been no Gestapo!”
Stalin’s indirect support for Hitler in 1933 was easy to miss. Even Hitler did not see it. Talking out loud about a possible alliance with Stalin, Hitler made a prescient remark. “Then we would really mistrust each other,” said Hitler, “and such a pact would inevitably end in a decisive battle. Only one of us can rule….” According to Hitler, “The Russians [always] take over their partner, body and soul, that is the danger; one can either give oneself over to them completely, or steer well clear of them.”
Those who study Hitler will find that the German dictator foresaw every danger. Yet he flirted with every danger, and succumbed. For example, Hitler mocked Kaiser Wilhelm II for getting into a two-front war, bragging that he would not repeat the Kaiser’s mistake. Yet Hitler got into a two-front war in 1941. Hitler saw the danger in partnering with Stalin, yet he partnered with Stalin anyway. Topitsch wrote, “When things reached a critical juncture Hitler brought ruin on himself by not steering well clear [of Stalin]; instead he made himself dependent on Moscow, with dire consequences.” [P. 26]
And what were the dire consequences? Topitsch quoted from a famous account, given by a German translator, of Hitler’s dismay when Britain gave him its final ultimatum after the invasion of Poland:
“I stopped a short distance away in front of Hitler’s table and then slowly translated for him the ultimatum of the British government. When I had finished, complete silence prevailed. Hitler remained sitting there as if petrified and stared into space. He didn’t lose his temper, as was later asserted; he didn’t fly into a rage, as others have claimed. He kept sitting in his chair, completely quiet and not moving. After a while, which to me seemed an eternity, he turned to Ribbentrop, who was standing by the window, as if benumbed. ‘What do we do now?’ Hitler asked his Foreign Minister with a look of rage in his eyes, as if he wanted to make it clear that Ribbentrop had given him false information about the English. Ribbentrop replied in a quiet voice: ‘I assume the French will hand over to us a similar ultimatum within the next hour.’… In the ante-room a deadly silence reigned at this announcement. Goering turned round to me and said: ‘If we lose this war, then may heaven help us!’ Goebbels stood in the corner, dejected and thoughtful, looking literally like the proverbial drenched poodle. Everywhere I saw disconsolate looks, even on the faces of the lesser Party officials who were in the room.”
It was alleged by those in a position to know, that in the following spring, Hitler lost all his mirth. He no longer joked, or entertained his staff with pantomimes or humorous stories. He made a fatal mistake by invading Poland and he knew it. “Stalin’s perceptive and sure-footed tactics had placed the Soviet Union in a strong position,” wrote Topitsch, “but in the case of Germany the very opposite applied. Hitler was fully aware of this at the handing over of the British ultimatum….” Germany would suffer from the Allied blockade and would be all the more dependent on the Soviet Union for grain and oil.
Hitler was now in a desperate position. As he himself had foreseen, the Russians always “take over their partner.” Hitler found himself completely dependent on Stalin as he went to war with France and Britain. He had but one option – impossible on its face. From a position of strategic disadvantage, he had to fight his way out of Stalin’s trap. Because the British were planning to cut his iron ore supplies from Scandinavia, he preemptively invaded Denmark and Norway in April 1940. Breathing a sigh of relief, he next invaded Holland, Belgium and France using the bold plan of Col. Erich von Manstein, which won a surprising victory. France signed an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940.
Hitler’s position was only marginally improved, however. Britain was still in the war, with Winston Churchill as Prime Minister – determined to fight him with tooth and nail (if necessary). Across the Atlantic, America loomed – a continent-sized country, sympathetic to Britain’s plight. Hitler had no way of ending the war. And there was Stalin and Molotov, grinning ear-to-ear. After the setback suffered by Germany in the Battle of Britain, Hitler had run out of victories. Now it was time to change the game by applying pressure to the blockaded Third Reich.
Soviet Foreign Minister V. Molotov reportedly made the following statement to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Kreve-Mickevicius on 30 June 1940: “We are now more than ever convinced that our brilliant comrade Lenin made no mistake when he asserted that the Second World War would enable us to seize power in Europe, just as we did in Russia after the First World War. For this reason you should be starting now to introduce your people into the Soviet system, which in the future will rule all Europe.”
In July 1940 the Commintern journal, Red Dawn, referred to Hitler as “a new Napoleon … running amok throughout Europe, conquering great countries…. All this seems heroic to him and his party members. The Nazis see the dawning of a new Middle Ages with themselves … at center stage. This vision of the future will also turn out to be a ‘misunderstanding.’ When the work is done, the conqueror of the world, with his fellow criminals, will end up where he belongs – on the rubbish heap of world history.”
About these quotes, Topitsch wrote: “…Hitler was to be used as a battering ram against the allegedly strongest bastion of capitalism, Great Britain, but at the same time the Soviet leaders wanted to preserve the semblance of loyalty to the Germans, perhaps with the idea of thrusting onto them, at the coming clash of arms, the role of treaty-breaking aggressor.” [P. 66]
There are interesting excerpts found in the regulations and instructions of the Red Army covering certain war games: “The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics will answer every attack with a destructive blow from the whole might of their armed forces. Our war against the attacker will be the most just war in the history of mankind. If the enemy forces make war on us, then the Red Army will be the most offensive of all armies. We will wage an offensive war and carry it right into the territory of our opponents. The fighting methods of the Red Army will be annihilating….”
Hitler had no choice but to attack Russia, as we shall see in Part IV of this series. When he made that fateful decision, Hitler did not know what today’s historians seldom comment on; that for every tank Hitler used to invade the Soviet Union, the Soviets had eight tanks. When Hitler visited Finland on 4 June 1942 to meet with Field Marshal Baron Carl Mannerheim, he gave the Finnish Commander-in-Chief a shocking piece of intelligence. In fact, there exists a voice recording of Hitler’s conversation with the Finnish commander. According to Hitler, in less than one year of fighting, the Germans had destroyed or captured nearly 35,000 Soviet tanks. This is ten times the number of tanks used by the Germans in their initial invasion. Hitler told Mannerheim that if he’d known these numbers, he would not have attacked the Soviet Union. The Soviet preparations for war, he said, had been massive. It was sheer luck, and a tribute to German military skill, that this huge force had been overcome. Yet the Germans had not defeated the Soviet Union. They were mired in yet another war they could not win.
Despite the loss of Soviet tanks, Stalin’s trap had worked.
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Links and Notes
A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War, (New York: Atheneum Paperback, 1983), p. 278.
Ernst Topitsch as translated by A. and B.E. Taylor, Stalin’s War: A Radical New Theory of the Origns of the Second World War (New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1987), all quotes of Lenin and Stalin derived from Topitsch’s text, referenced from his notes.
Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1990), p. 11.