The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945

By Anthony D’Agostino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
World War II: Russia versus Germany

It is said in some, but not all, memoir accounts that Stalin went into a terrible depression on learning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. It must have been shocking to confront the bankruptcy of the foreign policy line that had led to the Hitler-Stalin pact. Despite all the machinations of Stalin and Molotov, they were not able to keep Russia out of the war. They had considered themselves the only ones who could accomplish that and the purges the price for their indispensable leadership. But now the Soviets were going to have the main fight on their own soil. They found themselves in the position into which they had been trying to put others. One might well have thought them Machiavellis without virtù.

One might just as easily have considered the German invasion a failure of Russian realist policy, a policy based on the idea of the balance of power with Russia the balance wheel. The problem was that Britain, France, and Poland could not balance Germany. Stalin’s miscalculation on this was not any worse than that of the British and French leaders. Perhaps Stalin’s (and Russia’s) failure was inevitable, just as inevitable as their attempt to avoid their fate.

All the same, it was not such a bad fate. Russia could fight Germany. The Italian ex-Communist Angelo Tasca once remarked on the theory of Socialism in One Country that Russia was not a country but a continent. And the role of warlord was a natural for Stalin. He had been behaving for more than a decade as if the country were at war, and now it was. This meant that he was no longer the demiurge of a seemingly senseless oppression and terror, but a great national leader in the great anti-Axis cause of the whole world. The same methods that he had perfected in peacetime would now be put into the fight against

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