Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Really-existing socialism pt 2

NB: this post isn't about Dresden and no correspondence on that subject will be entered into.

I'm still slowly ploughing through Walter Weidauer's "Inferno Dresden." I'm interested in the subject matter, but a historical work in the German of 50 years ago isn't light bedtime reading by anyone's standards, so I'm taking it a bit at a time.

It's weird reading a historical work about events of WW2 written by a Stalinist. It's kind of a distorted mirror of the more propagandist Western history a la Stephen Ambrose, in which the honest people of goodwill on the Soviet side, who want only peace and stability in Europe, mount a heroic struggle not only against the evil forces of fascism but against the secret agendas and undermining duplicity of their so-called allies, the imperialists Churchill and Roosevelt. As an example, consider these descriptions of the Yalta conference (all translations mine):

The representatives of the three powers, the USSR, the USA and England, came to Yalta with different plans and concepts for the shape of post-war Europe. While the USSR sought ways to a genuine peaceful order, the views of the statesmen of England and the USA reflected the wish on the one hand to remove annoying German competitors from world markets, and on the other to be able to dictate political terms to a greatly weakened and bled-out USSR. pp18-19

The Soviet Union stood firmly against any plans and intentions that would lead to the partition of Germany for the purpose of maintaining the dominance of imperialism and militarism in at least a part of the country. Its main aim at all times was the creation of a peaceful, democratic Germany forever free from chauvinism and militarism. p20

(I swear the above isn't a 'Dim Post'-style satire, but direct quotes.)

The book's also a kind of distorted mirror of the view of WW2 common amongst NZers. In NZ, WW2 European theatre is usually seen as a struggle of the democracies against fascism, which was fought mainly in North Africa, Italy and western Europe, with some insignificant sideshows fought by the commos, who were only able to get anywhere against the Germans thanks to our propping them up. In Weidauer's book, WW2 is a struggle of the Soviet Union against fascism, which was fought mostly within the Soviet Union, apart from some insignifcant sideshows mounted by the imperialists, who were only able to get anywhere against the Germans thanks to the Soviet Union taking on the bulk of their forces. (Most depressingly, Weidauer's tunnel vision is in this respect way less unrealistic than ours.)

The strangest thing for me though is the enthusiasm with which Weidauer, a German, discusses the successes of the Red Army against his own countrymen. He offers figures for casualties the Soviet forces inflicted on the Wehrmacht with such obvious pride that you could be forgiven for thinking he'd worn a Soviet uniform himself. The man is of course a Quisling - as a long-time member of the KPD (German Communist Party) he was a loyal servant of Stalin and was rewarded after the war with the mayoralty of Dresden, so naturally he's a supporter of his imperial patrons. Still, it's strange to read the obvious pleasure with which he describes the destruction and enslavement of his own country by totalitarian forces as bad as the ones he'd opposed.

Thanks to the superior leadership and rapid advance of the Red Army, the eastern front was a bottomless pit for the fascist Wehrmacht. To try and stop the Soviet forces at all costs, new formations were constantly created and thrown into battle. Almost always, the Red Army was opposed by an enemy well equipped with weapons of all kinds [this would have been news to the typical Landser of 1944 - PM]. Reports reveal for example that most divisions during 1944 were completely re-equipped from the ground up 3 times. Panzer divisions were re-equipped with tanks 5 or even 6 times. The crews however could only be partly replaced. So the Hitlerwehrmacht slowly bled completely out under the blows of the Soviet Army, and the German armaments industry couldn't cover the enormous material losses over the long term. p32

In extremely heavy fighting, the Soviet soldiers had driven the fascist Wehrmacht from the Volga to the Oder and east Prussia. The German generals tumbled from one defeat to another. Despite the bitter resistance of the fascists, the Soviet offensives stormed onwards. Often it was only difficulties with maintaining supplies that prevented Soviet forces from continuing to attack the badly defeated enemy. At this point nothing more could prevent the full, catastrophic collapse of Hitlerdeutschland. p42

On the 26th of January it was still 195km to Berlin. On the 30th it was 160km and by the 1st of February the Red Army stood only 70km from Berlin. In the south they pushed far westwards from Breslau during the course of the January offensive. In the clear nights, the sound of artillery was clearly audible in the heights around Dresden. This Soviet offensive cost the Wehrmacht around 500,000 men, over 1000 aircraft, about 1500 tanks and self-propelled guns and more than 11,500 artillery pieces and rocket launchers. The danger to allied troops on the western front was thereby set aside with one blow. German resistance in the west remained weak.

Millions and millions of people, driven from their homes by the animalistic fascists, dragged themselves westwards; p46

You have to admire the way the flood of Jerry refugees risking their lives to trek westwards is because they were driven from their homes by the "animalistic fascists" (vertierten Fascisten). And naturally, the orgy of rape, torture, murder, looting, destruction and arson the Red Army kicked off when it arrived in East Prussia on its noble quest to bring peace and order to Germany doesn't rate a mention. It's an interesting book in that it makes me wonder what German histories of the war would look like if the Nazis had won. Probably a lot like this one, but with the names and epithets swapped around, I guess. Reading it reminds me of the Iran/Iraq war, in that both sides are equally unsavoury so you don't feel like you can cheer one on against the other.


Ackers said...

'NB: this post isn't about Dresden and no correspondence on that subject will be entered into'

Which is probably why you've had no comments Milt.

The Klemperer Diaries are quite good on what Dresden was all about. A jolly town when I last visited, though historical Dresden in its reconstructured form didn't quite cut it.

Skyman said...

It's good to see that the "peaceful, democratic Germany forever free from chauvinism and militarism" worked out so well for Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot to mention the prosperity those countries enjoyed after the war too.

Good post PM.

Anonymous said...

My late father served with the RAF in WW2 and, in the final days of the war, was a witness to one of Stalin's army units entering a German village.

When the brutalised villagers fled to the protection of Dad's unit and these drunken barbarians followed in pursuit of their victims, the unit commander ordered flight of Typhoons down to give them a low-level demonstration and a warning of what would happen if they got closer than 1000 yards.

The soviets went back to the village - and one of them was seen staggering around carrying a ripped out toilet bowl.

Psycho Milt said...

Ackers: I was amazed by the reconstructed sections of the old city when I visited it in 1995 - I thought they'd done a great job of restoring it, and as much as anything was surprised that it had been done at all. Normally, the commos weren't big on even retaining the ego-trip architecture of feudal aristocrats and priests (witness the wanton destruction of the royal palace in Berlin, which was replaced with a cheap piece-of-shit "Hall of the People"), let alone painstakingly rebuilding such things from scratch. And post-war Germany wasn't the kind of place where there was money available for such things.

The answer to that mystery was also in Weidauer's book. The buildings were destroyed in a crime against the people of Germany by the Western imperialist warmongers, so it was only right that German socialists, with the help of their peace-loving Soviet comrades, should rebuild the city centre as a gesture of defiance to the imperialists. Well, good - for all that we can sneer at the motive, I'm glad they did it.

WAKE UP said...

Me, I'm reading about the uprovoked fire-bombings of London, and Canterbury Cathedral, by the Germans; and the shooting down of unarmed, civilian-livery-clad flying boats ferrying refugees out of Java as early as February 1942, in which action/s my uncle, a civilian pilot working under the RAAF's control, went MIA (and still is), with a daughter too young to have even known him.

"No correspondence will be entered into". You bloody cowards. Fuck you and your latter-day, bleeding heart, revisionist, ignorant bullshit.

I trust I've made MY feelings clear.

(and guess what Milt: I didn't mention Dresden once - oops).

Psycho Milt said...

You bloody cowards.

Not cowardice, merely unwillingness to see my thread hijacked to discuss something it's not actually about. It's not like I haven't been willing to argue it at length in previous threads, after all.

Anonymous said...

worked out so well for Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe.

Yeah well maybe not. But the start of the article was right. The war against Germany was substantially won by the unlettered, unlearned peasants of the Soviet Union. The war against Japan was won by ex-European and British scientists - mostly trained by Rutherford - and American money.

Simon said...

Around 2,000,000 Germans were killed by the Soviets from after the European war in 1945 ended and 1947/48 ish.

Even now in Eastern Europe mass graves are being uncovered all the time containing butchered Germans.

Recent German history of WW2 is not the best. In a recent BBC interview a German historian said the German army deliberately gave way in the West. The BBC interviewer was choking.

Skyman said...

Anonymous at 7:57

The war against Germany was substantially won by the unlettered, unlearned peasants of the Soviet Union

Not to mention the more that 15,000 aircraft and countless other supplies from the US and Great Britain - and American money.

The war against Japan was won by ex-European and British scientists - mostly trained by Rutherford - and American money.

Not to mention the unlettered, unlearned "peasants" of the US and British Commonwealth Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines who kicked Japan back to it's home islands.

And what was the Soviet Union doing to fight against Japan during this time. Exactly NOTHING! They finally got involved in time to do a land grab of Japanese islands.

Your reading of the war sounds more than a little skewed.

Anonymous said...

Skyman - gee you must have had a state education!

which part of "substantially" don't you understand.

I know the loss rate in Bomber command in WW2 was worse than that for infantry officers in WW1.

But 15000 a/c simply doesn't equate to the millions lost on the Ostfront. Sorry but it doesn't. And similarly the rest of the pacific campaigns - which certainly involved Kiwis - doesn't equate to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But, well, that's what you get at a state school I guess.

Skyman said...

The key that you missed in all that is that essentially the same thing happened in the Pacific that happened in Europe. The men on the ground "substantially" won the war.

You are willing to give the Russian troops the credit they deserve but you give credit for winning the war against Japan to scientists and in so doing you denigrate the sacrifices of the allied soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Pacific.

You also ignore the fact that while the rest of the allies were fighting a two front war, Russia was only fighting on one front.

But, well, that's what you get being an elitist I guess.

Psycho Milt said...

Skyman, this anonymous idiot who thinks the war in the Pacific was won by use of the atom bomb, rather then the 3+ years of intense fighting that preceded it, is a regular depositer of fascist gibberish at No Minister. We're all familiar with his ignorant assertions being backed up with declarations that we must be "state-educated" (I certainly was, but if anon is an example of the private alternative I can't say it looks particularly attractive).

Skyman said...

Thanks for that PM. And very sorry to do exactly what you wanted to avoid - make this about something it's not.

I was educated in what is referred to in the US as "public schools". I guess I didn't realize what I missed.

Andrei said...

Interesting post PM.

And the chauvinism on display in some of the comments is revealing.

In truth what we call World War 2 was multiple conflicts and civil wars
where everybody used violence to advance their agendas.

It is undoubtedly true the Soviet Union played a major - if not the major role in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But consider this what of the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1940 when the Soviets invaded Finland. Was this part of WW2? The result was when the Germans invaded the soviet Union, Finland already at war with the Soviets becomes a German ally and part of the Axis, by default.

Or what is conveniently forgotten the various partisan groups who were fighting the Nazis in occupied Europe were often also fighting each other depending on whether they supported the pre war status quo or were communists. This even happened in France but was particularly acute in Eastern Europe. Of course the Chinese were more or less engaged in a full scale civil war as well as at war with the Japanese throughout.

We would like to compress the significance of WW2 into a simple narrative with clear start and end dates but it doesn't really work that way, it was an an at least three way ideological conflict with communism being a protagonist and a major victor.

WAKE UP said...

Memo Hitler: if you don't want your cities destroyed and your population devastated, don't start a war.

Memo Winston Churchill, Odette, jean Moulin and tous les autres: thank you.

Memo Marshall Zhukov: ditto.

Memo Neville Chamberlain, and all you war-as-an-intellectual-exercise wankers.: thanks for nothing.

Psycho Milt said...

Hi Andrei, nice to see a comment from you here.

We would like to compress the significance of WW2 into a simple narrative with clear start and end dates but it doesn't really work that way, it was an an at least three way ideological conflict with communism being a protagonist and a major victor.

That's one thing I have to give the Stalinist version of the war offered by Weidauer. His commo perspective accepts throughout that it was a three-way conflict, with the "imperialists" never anything better than "the enemy of my enemy." It's a perspective we could usefully learn from.

Re the invasion of Finland, it's a handy example of what's wrong with our "us vs the fascists" narrative of the war - there were actually two totalitarian powers invading their neighbours in 1939/40 with the aim of dominance in Europe, but we only ever mention the one of them.

Ed Snack said...

Andrei, Actually the Russo-Finnish war had ended in a treaty whereby Finland ceded significant etrritory by the time of the German attack on the USSR in 1941. The Finns, egged on the the Germans, re-opened it to reclaim the territory they were forced to cede.

PM, an interesting review. It is worth noting the Soviet role in the partition of Poland in 1939 (and, just for interests sake, the Polish role in the partition of Czechoslovakia).

It is however not true that the Germans ever allowed the US/British forces easy gains at any stage. The forces were smaller on that side, but the terrain is more restrictive, the Rhine is far more of a barrier than anything in the East. Think of the Ardennes offensive in late 44 early 45, Hitler assembled basically his entire reserve (and he rarely had anything ressembling a proper reserve) to attack then. Those forces could have been more usefully deployed in the East. However generally speaking, the majority of German forces were deployed in the East, where, it may be noted, they caused casualties frequently over 5 - 6 : 1 against. The Soviets had enormous manpower reserves that the Germans never matched. At least part of the huge casualty list the Soviets incurred was as a result of their steam-roller like tactical approach.

Andrei said...

Yes I know that there was an armistice after the winter war.

My point was not to detail the Finnish role in what we call WW2 but to highlight that our view of it does not match how others might see it from their perspective.

But if we look at Finland explicitly their view of the war years is not of one war but three.

The first being the Winter War when the Soviet Union invaded Finland. At that time Great Britain (and France) to support them sending arms and considering sending troops.

The Armistice after the Winter War didn't bring peace to Finland and the only possible source for assistance was Nazi Germany and that lead to the continuation War when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. At this point Great Britain and the commonwealth including little old NZ declared War on Finland even though in the course of the war no Finn ever took up arms against any kiwi.

And from September 1944 Finland fought the Lapland war against Nazi Germany.

The real point of course is that the government of Finland did what they were supposed to do, that is try and maintain sovereignty for their nation in the face of the catastrophe that was overwhelming Europe and that other Nations relationships with the Finns were determined by their own interests not by the justice of the situation at all.

Simon said...

“there were actually two totalitarian powers invading their neighbours in 1939/40 with the aim of dominance in Europe, but we only ever mention the one of them.”

This is due to the western left 80 year love affair with communism. The left attacking the Soviet Union’s role during WW2 (or anything else) twenty years ago would be impossible.

And the cold war started in 1917 the Soveits had a twenty year start on the Germans.

As for the soviet war effort so extensive were the commie purges of the 1930s the Soviet Army during WW2 couldn’t function without massive Western aid.

As for Finland they attacked British & Commonwealth Murmansk aid convoys as well as Murmansk stationed Allied units. There would have been kiwis in these forces.

Psycho Milt said... extensive were the commie purges of the 1930s the Soviet Army during WW2 couldn’t function without massive Western aid.

That's one of those persistent historical fallacies. The purges left the Red Army with severe command and control problems, but the Jerries were always the underdog in that fight, however much success they had at first - the Axis invasion forces were hugely outnumbered by better-equipped enemy forces when they went in, and that situation never changed. Western assistance may have helped, but with hindsight it wasn't actually necessary.

Re the Finns, of course they attacked our Murmansk convoys - we were helping their enemies. Pragmatic types, the Finns.