Stalin's Role in the Coming of World War II

By Raack, R. C. | World Affairs, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Stalin's Role in the Coming of World War II


Raack, R. C., World Affairs


Viktor Suvorov" is the nom de plume of a former officer of Soviet military intelligence long resident in England. In the 1980s, he published a new history of Stalin's wartime military plans that should have shaken established historical terra firma--were his account to be believed. In 1990, British publisher Hamish Hamilton finally put out an English translation of his book-length expose, The Ice-breaker. In it, Suvorov offers a new view of Stalin's war aims, a view elaborately supported with citations from Soviet military memoirs and other appropriate documents. Viking Press put out Suvorov's book in New York the same year.

The subtitle of the 1990 London edition read: "Who Started the Second World War?" Certainly that must have caught the attention of a number of readers. But in spite of the abiding interest in the history of the war of 1939-1945, especially in these anniversary years, neither the London nor New York edition was ever reviewed in journals of opinion and review, nor in the major professional historical journals in this country.(1) Surely the publishers, Hamish Hamilton and New York's Viking, wanted their publication to succeed--and therefore sent out the usual number of review copies. Why, then, the strange silence?

A book under a similar title, How War Came, by London professor D.C. Watt, was published in England and in the United States in 1989. It was reviewed, generally favorably, by at least fifteen journals (just counting those reviews cited in the American Book Review Digest and Book Review Index).(2) Professor Watt presented a relatively conventional account of the coming of the war, one based overwhelmingly on Western and German materials, a history quite without the support of the vast number of new sources on the subject then, in the early days of glasno, popping out from behind the former Iron Curtain.

Actually, the two books are in no way comparable in content, just similar in title: Watt's is a broader, far more traditional approach to a long reported subject; Suvorov's has one focus only, Stalin's war plans, largely ignored by most writers, and exploiting a wholly different, new range of sources, chiefly military-historical.

Suvorov made his novel argument from much neglected historical ground. That ground: the plan for an attack westward that he says Stalin had in mind in 1941, when the latter, allegedly positioned for an attack west, was caught flat-footed by the anticipatory German attack. There is not the faintest hint of such a Soviet war scheme in Watt's text. Suvorov also suggested a new account of what the Soviet boss also had to have had in mind two .years earlier, in 1939, when he signed the "nonaggression" pact with Hitler, a move that set up the conditions for the German and Soviet attacks on Poland. The pact made general European war inevitable, given earlier British guarantees to Poland, and put the Wehrmacht on Soviet borders within a month. Yet Without that mutual German-Soviet frontier, which Stalin deliberately helped to create in 1939; there could have been no direct German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941.

Watt, as suggested earlier, was not alone in failing to lean forward in order to get a better look back. Countless other writers also failed to ask the question, wholly and oddly ignoring Hitler on the subject, though he was the main cause of it all. Hitler had several times remarked that he had to attack the Soviets before they attacked him.(3) Was he right? Did Stalin have plans for using war, and in particular the 1939 war, to the Soviet Union's and Bolshevism's advantage? In Stalin's eyes, the interest of one was identical with that of the other. Widely broadcast Marxist-Leninist theory, proclaiming wars between "imperialist" powers as the unavoidable path to their inevitable destruction in proletarian and colonial revolutions, should have focused contemporary and historical attention on the connection between the existing war and Stalin's likely interest in profiting from it.

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