Review: Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II
Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II
by Sean McMeekin
Basic Books, 2021
Probably the dominant mainstream view of World War II goes like this. World War II was the “good war.” Though Joseph Stalin was guilty of many crimes, Adolf Hitler, with his vast conquests accompanied by mass murder on a colossal scale, was an immediate threat to Britain and the United States, and for this reason, an alliance with Stalin was the best course of action for these countries once Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Further, once the war became a struggle between the Allied and Axis powers, the Russians bore the brunt of the war. Given the immense losses of the Russian people, both soldiers and civilians, we should regard Stalin with something approaching gratitude, however much it goes against the grain to do so, owing to his leadership of his country during this life-and-death conflict. (The philosopher Susan Neiman in her book Learning From the Germans is a good example of this viewpoint. See my review here.)
To say the least, this is not Sean McMeekin’s view. He is a historian who has written outstanding studies of the Russian Revolution, the origins of World War I, and the Ottoman Empire, characterized by extensive archival research in multiple languages. In Stalin’s War, he has outdone himself. It takes over twenty pages to list the archives he has consulted (pp. 767–88), and he has examined an immense number of printed collections of documents, memoirs, and secondary sources as well.
He concludes that the mainstream position is false. Stalin, from his earliest days as a revolutionary in tsarist Russia, was a committed Marxist who sought the overthrow of the capitalist world. To that end, he sought to exacerbate tension between Hitler, eager to overthrow the Treaty of Versailles, and Britain and France. He accordingly signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler on August 23, 1939, freeing the Germans to attack Poland and, not incidentally, securing substantial territory for Russia. In the world war that began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, he hoped that the Germans would find themselves in a prolonged struggle with Britain and France, leaving both sides exhausted and clearing the way for communist revolution and Russian expansion.
When the Germans subdued France with unexpected quickness in 1940, Stalin pressed his own territorial and economic demands to such an extent that the pact with Germany was strained, a situation not resolved by Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov’s visit to Berlin in November 1940, when Molotov’s intransigence surprised and dismayed Hitler. War between Russia and Germany became increasingly likely. McMeekin stresses that Stalin deployed his forces in a way that suggests that, like Hitler, he too had an attack in mind: it is wrong to think of Operation Barbarossa as an unprovoked German assault.
After the Germans invaded Russia on June 22, 1941, both Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt did everything within their power to aid Stalin. Churchill had for
Article from LewRockwell