See Part I
In 1922 the dominant leader of the Bolshevik revolution, Vladimir Lenin, fell gravely ill; in January 1924, he died. Lenin’s disappearance led to a struggle for power, notably between Trotsky and Stalin. The struggle for power was long and ruthless. Trotsky was no match for Stalin. As in the west, domestic politics in Moscow often took precedence over foreign policy. But at the end of the 1920s Stalin had won the struggle for power; he could more freely turn his mind to the defence of the Soviet Union against its external adversaries. He sought to modernise backward Soviet Russia by smashing all opposition in his way and imposing collectivisation of agricultural lands and breakneck industrialisation.
«We can go slower», said oppositionists, like Nikolai Bukharin, and industrialise and collectivise more gradually. «There is no time for that», Stalin replied, sweeping away the oppositionists’ reservations.
To slacken the tempo would mean falling behind. And those who fall behind get beaten. But we do not want to be beaten. No, we refuse to be beaten! One feature of the history of old Russia was the continual beatings she suffered because of her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol khans. She was beaten by the Turkish beys. She was beaten by the Swedish feudal lords. She was beaten by the Polish and Lithuanian gentry. She was beaten by the British and French capitalists. She was beaten by the Japanese barons. All beat her because of her backwardness, military backwardness, cultural backwardness, political backwardness, industrial backwardness, agricultural backwardness. They beat her because to do so was profitable and could be done with impunity. Do you remember the words of the prerevolutionary poet: «You are poor and abundant, mighty and impotent, Mother Russia». Those gentlemen were quite familiar with the verses of the old poet. They beat her, saying: «You are abundant; so one can enrich oneself at your expense». They beat her, saying: "You are poor and impotent», so you can be beaten and plundered with impunity. Such is the law of the exploiters-to beat the backward and the weak. It is the jungle law of capitalism. You are backward, you are weak - therefore you are wrong; hence, you can be beaten and enslaved. You are mighty-therefore you are right; hence, we must be wary of you. That is why we must no longer lag behind.
It’s a long quotation, but worth repeating, because change a few words here and there, who can say Stalin was wrong? «We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries», Stalin concluded: «We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall be crushed».
«The law of the exploiters», said Stalin. There is a more generic term: in French it is the loi du plus fort, or the law of the strongest. You can see this law being applied everywhere by the United States and its European vassals. No one is spared. Look at what has happened to Greece, now a colony within American colonised Europe. Look at Brazil, Argentina, or Honduras. Or Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria; the list, by no means complete, is long and growing.
So the USSR industrialised and grew stronger at great cost to its people. During the 1930s Soviet Union sought to organise a coalition of states against the rising danger of Nazi Germany. At first, Moscow had some modest successes, but one by one, the members of the proposed coalition dropped away, the United States, France, and Britain, being the most important would-be allies who would not work with the Soviet Union. The great question of that «low, dishonest decade» was «who is enemy no. 1, Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia?» Western elites, apart from «white crows», got the answer wrong. Western admiration for Nazi Germany, sometimes open, sometimes concealed, led them to believe they could bargain with German fascists and set them up as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. We know how that worked out.
After signature of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact in August 1939 Stalin himself tried to walk the tightrope of appeasing Hitler. And again, we know how that worked out. The Grand Alliance was finally organised in 1941, a shotgun marriage, forced upon unwilling partners by desperation, to stave off the military threat of Nazi Germany. President Franklin Roosevelt, and thank heavens for him, appears to have been a willing partner of the Soviet Union, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill, less so. He had a schizophrenic attitude toward the USSR: was it an ally or a barbarian? One never knew with Churchill. He seemed to shirk the fight when it came to giving real assistance against the Nazi Wehrmacht, constantly putting off a «Second Front», until Roosevelt sided openly with Stalin at the Teheran conference in late 1943. By that time the Red Army had been fighting the ground war almost alone against the Wehrmacht at horrendous cost.
Soviet public opinion wondered whether the western allies would ever launch a second front. «What kind of allies do we have?» asked one naпve soldier, «letting us do all the fighting against the Wehrmacht». In the days following the anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, 22nd June, it’s a good question to remember.
Sovietophobia remained strong in both the United States and Britain. British generals hated the Soviet Union, and did not hide their animosity. Churchill, who was no Roosevelt, had trouble hiding his fear of the Soviet «crocodile». In the British Foreign Office, not a bastion of Sovietophilia, officials worried about the raving British generals who could set back Anglo-Soviet relations by 100 years. Those officials were right to worry. If you start the clock in 1917, the centennial comes up next year, not exactly a date to celebrate.
Perhaps, the people in Moscow making Russian foreign policy should keep in mind the history of western-Soviet and western-Russian relations since 1917. With the partial exception of the Grand Alliance, this history is one of unrelenting western hostility toward Russia… before 1941 and after 1945. Let’s call it Acts 1 and 2 of the Cold War.
«Why does the west hate us?» a Russian student asked me not so long ago. I started to explain the long history of Russophobia and Sovietophobia.
«Well, you know», I then quipped facetiously, «the Europeans have become so accustomed to being on their knees to the United States. They look with horror at Russia, not bowing to Mammon».
‘What do you think you are doing?’ they exclaim. ‘Get down… get down on your knees. Who do you think you are? Are you too good to bow before the US?’
«The Europeans don’t like to be reminded of their pusillanimous submission to Washington», I continued, «disregarding their own economic, political, and security interests».
And this brings me back to Stalin’s comments back in 1931. «Be strong or be crushed», he said to his fellow citizens. His methods were self-destructive without a doubt, but the basic principle was right. Russia faces the same choices now; be strong or be crushed. The US government knows and respects only one law, the law of the strongest. Conciliatory gestures in the Donbass, or Syria, or elsewhere can only be self-defeating.
«You are weak», the Americans think: «sanctions, NATO encirclement, missiles in Romania and Poland, exclusion from the Olympics, FIFA troubles will weaken you further. We can break you. And if there is any price to pay, it’s the Europeans who will pay, not us». Putin likes to talk about his western «partners». It’s sarcasm, one imagines. When President Putin speaks his mind, it’s clear he has no illusions about US intentions.