It seems that whenever there is the beginning of a national crisis of considerable proportions, each of the classes and their political representatives raise historical precedents to aid their particular cause. Nowhere is this more evident at the present time than in the Baltic republics of the USSR--Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. For a considerable period now, there has developed a formidable ferment in each of these republics that has taken on a rather obvious bourgeois nationalist character. The ferment in this part of the USSR should be distinguished from the developments in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kazakhstan discussed earlier. The developments in the Baltic republics have a distinct and preponderant international dimension to them. This has to be taken into account and discussed in detail before one can arrive at any opinion with respect to demands being made by two organizations, one in Latvia and the other in Estonia, which claim to speak for "democratic reforms" and "socialist renewal."
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia: character of leadership is bourgeois nationalist with an international dimension. They interpret perestroika as economic independence. Raise the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement to discredit USSR and embellish Western Allies. Significance of 1938 Munich Pact. British envoy took a slow boat to USSR. Wouldn't give guarantees against Nazi takeover of Baltic states. Britain continued to sell Germany war materiel. USSR forced into non-aggression pact with Germany. Stalin's 1939 speech on "non-intervention" stand of Allies. Effect on Comintern of Soviet tactics. How Lenin conducted Soviet foreign policy at Rapallo. Early working-class uprisings in Baltic republics.
The first organization is a writers' group in Latvia which has issued a document containing demands presumably in the spirit of the June 1988 19th All-Union Party Conference of the USSR, which accelerated the Gorbachev administration's plans for economic restructuring. However, their demands go far beyond the thesis on which perestroika is based. The writers' group is basically calling for a form of independence for Latvia which includes economic independence. "A sound basis for relations between the nationalities," says the writers' document, is a "changeover to full regional (republic) economic accountability and self-finance." 1 What they are asking for is not only a disguised form of national independence, but also economic independence under the guise of "economic accountability" and "self-financing." While this terminology has been used over and over again by the proponents of Soviet restructuring, it has been in the context of a national plan, not a situation where the republics would be economically and financially autonomous.
The second group is an Estonian organization which calls itself the Peoples Front.
Among the demands of both groups is that the Soviet government publish what are called the secret Ribbentrop-Molotov protocols. The Soviet government says that no authenticated documents have yet been uncovered containing any such secret protocols. However, after the demands made by these Baltic groups were widely disseminated in the Western capitalist press, Western sources leaked what are considered to be the basic provisions of that secret memorandum between Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.
According to this, the protocols were secretly attached to the publicly announced non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop on August 23, 1939. The protocols are said to have agreed to the division of parts of Eastern Europe between the two signatory countries. In one of their provisions, the Germans ceded influence over the Baltic area to the USSR.
All this is supposed to astonish the public and lead to outcries of treachery and duplicity on the part of the Soviet government in 1939. It also puts the democratic Allies--France, Britain and the U.S.--in the role of defenders of the small countries, and emphasizes their resistance to Hitlerite aggression and to the division of territories, in particular the Baltic states and Eastern Europe.
So what is involved here is not just a discussion of internal nationality problems in the Baltic republics, such as may exist in other republics and about which we have written in previous articles. What is involved is an effort to review the status of the republics and to impugn the role of the USSR as a whole, under the guise of attacking a so-called secret agreement between the USSR and Germany.
Just as Lenin's New Economic Policy has begun to be reviewed in the USSR in the light of some of the economic initiatives of the Gorbachev administration, here there is an attempt to review the entire historical period of the late 1930s and the Second World War.
From the tone of the so-called writers' manifesto and the demands of the Peoples Front, it is not hard to conclude that they are oriented in a pro-imperialist direction. The demand that the USSR Foreign Ministry publish the Molotov-Ribbentrop protocols is particularly aimed at generating nationalist fervor and placing the USSR in the role of the guilty party which betrayed the imperialist democracies in their efforts to guard the independence and well-being of the Baltic states.
Forgotten in all this is that the well-meaning, peace-loving democracies had already, on September 30, 1938, approved the Munich pact, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany. It paved the way for Hitler to first dismember and then annex Czechoslovakia altogether. It was signed by Hitler, Mussolini and the foreign ministers of Britain and France, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, and was supported by the U.S., with some reservations. While it was later characterized as appeasement of the Hitlerite regime, at the time it was considered, by the British and French bourgeoisie in particular, as a contribution to peace and a way of avoiding war.
So these peace-loving democracies, after having first loudly inveighed against the growing Hitlerite menace, then found it convenient to enter into a pact with the very government they had so vehemently characterized as an aggressor. This pact was designed not only to let Hitler swallow up Czechoslovakia, which is exactly what happened, but also to turn his armies in the direction of the USSR. All this shortly became very clear and the imperialist allies scarcely veiled their plans.
It may appear this had relevance only to Eastern Europe and not to the Baltic states. Here again, the historical record speaks clearly against the imperialist democratic Allies. What the Latvian writers and the promoters of the Peoples Front should be calling for is the publication of the secret protocols between the French, the British and Nazi Germany. Even if these governments were to refuse to do so, however, there is the public record (which is almost as revealing as the secret one), such as this article in the New York Times on the eve of the pact:
WASHINGTON, Aug. 21--The announcement in Berlin tonight that Germany and the Soviet Union would sign a non-aggression pact Wednesday caused little surprise in State Department circles. . . . Disappointment was evident that Russia had not entered the Anglo-French "stop Hitler" bloc.The Soviet Union had invited the British and French to come to Moscow prior to any agreement with the Nazi government so as to first discuss the possibility of a non-aggression pact with them. However, what subsequently became scandalous was that the British military mission, instead of taking a plane (the usual form of transportation for urgent diplomatic missions), decided to literally take a slow boat across the North Sea to the USSR.
While the exact difficulties encountered between the French and British military missions in Moscow, on one hand, and Soviet officials on the other, have been carefully guarded in Europe, the exact nature of these difficulties has been known in diplomatic circles here.2
When they finally arrived, among the matters discussed were the Baltic states, which at that time were bourgeois republics on the borders of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had demanded from the British and the French a guarantee against German aggression in the Baltic areas. "Britain," said the same Times dispatch, "was prepared to back Soviet armed entry into the Baltic states if there were `indirect aggression' [from Nazi Germany]." The British defined "indirect aggression" as "that made under threat of force." This definition was not acceptable to the Soviet government. The article continues:
The Soviet authorities, on the other hand, insisted that a voluntary interior movement of a pro-German nature in the Baltic states would constitute "indirect aggression." To this Britain would not agree.3The difference is fundamental. It meant that the Baltic governments, which were inclined to be pro-Nazi, could allow a "voluntary" Nazi invasion, as had taken place in Austria. Therefore, this problem of "indirect aggression" had real meaning. The British and French were all too willing to allow the Nazis to occupy the Baltic area and were unwilling to make an agreement whereby the USSR would be in a position to defend these republics in a military way.
This is a matter of public record. The USSR was anxious to avoid a Hitlerite invasion, which was imminent. The British mission took a slow boat to avoid making any guarantee against an invasion. So the USSR was forced to make an agreement with the Germans whereby, at least for the moment, it would be free of the military threat of Germany occupying the Baltic areas. It was strictly a defensive diplomatic move, as even the New York Times article shows.
The unwillingness of the British to reach an agreement with the USSR, even in the very last hours before the Soviet-German non-aggression pact was concluded, is as indicative of the real thrust of British-French diplomacy as anything could be. But there is more. Immediately after the agreement at Munich and up to the last minute of the British military mission to Moscow, the British government had been involved in an accelerated shipment of war materiel to feed the Nazi war machine. This, too, is a matter of public record.
Another dispatch dated London and published in the same issue of the New York Times contained the information that "Britain seemed to be calm and ready" for some agreement between Germany and the USSR. However, the next bit of news clearly illustrated why the Soviet government was so anxious about Britain's unwillingness to sign any meaningful non-aggression pact regarding the Baltic area or Eastern Europe. This was the detailed news of "large German purchases from Britain of copper, rubber and other commodities here in the last few days for delivery before September 1. Since the beginning of August, the Germans have bought 17,000 tons of rubber here at a cost of 1,300,000 pounds and eight tons of copper at a cost of 360,000 pounds and also substantial quantities of tin and lead."
These were materials sorely needed to fuel the Nazi war machine! "Although these purchases have reduced the visible stocks of rubber here to 50,000 tons, or only 67 percent of the amount at the end of 1936, and the stocks of copper to 28,000 tons, or 61 percent of the 1936 total, the government made no move to prevent these shipments of essential war materials to a potential enemy." But that is not all. "Today, Germans were busy here buying large quantities of shellac and other gums used for varnish and picric acid [used in high explosives--S.M.]. The explanation," the article went on to say, "is that there is no mechanism for checking exports except war legislation, and that in any case Germany's purchases here have depleted her precious stock of foreign exchange."
Thus, we see here that while the British military mission was sent to the USSR for the supposed purpose of negotiating a non-aggression pact to stop Hitlerite aggression, Britain was in reality shipping to Germany the most vital war materials so necessary for the Nazi war machine. The Soviet Union undoubtedly took account of all this, and the only reason the news of these shipments was released was because the Soviet Union already had the information and had confronted the British military mission with it. This was hardly necessary since it had never really been hidden. Such was the double-dealing, the duplicitous diplomatic position of the imperialist Allies.
When the Soviet-German non-aggression pact was finally signed on August 23, 1939, both Washington and London appeared staggered and unloosed one of the wildest anti-Soviet campaigns ever. They were all so astonished, you see! But actually, the U.S. as well as Britain had never stopped exporting strategic materials to Nazi Germany, nor for that matter to Japan.
The Neutrality Act passed by the Roosevelt administration, which was supposed to keep the U.S. from assisting any of the belligerents, had many loopholes in it. Nothing less than the outbreak of war itself stopped the flow of trade to the Axis powers. Some of the big corporations, like General Electric, were among the very last to abide by the act, and even then it's a question whether they didn't violate it altogether until the outbreak of hostilities with Japan.
On March 10, 1939, Stalin had made a speech to the Soviet Party which showed his skepticism over the "non-intervention" stance of the Allies.
The tasks of the Party in the sphere of foreign policy are: 1) To continue the policy of peace and of strengthening business relations with all countries; 2) To be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them [our emphasis--S.M.]; 3) To strengthen the might of our Red Army and Red Navy to the utmost; 4) To strengthen the international bonds of friendship with the working people of all countries who are interested in peace and friendship among nations.4Earlier he had said:
Formally speaking, the policy of non-intervention might be defined as follows: "Let each country defend itself against the aggressors as it likes and as best it can. That is not our affair. We shall trade both with the aggressors and with their victims." But actually speaking, the policy of non-intervention means conniving at aggression, giving free rein to war, and, consequently transforming the war into a world war. The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness, a desire, not to hinder the aggressors in their nefarious work; not to hinder Japan, say, from embroiling herself in a war with China, or, better still, with the Soviet Union; not to hinder Germany, say, from enmeshing herself in European affairs, from embroiling herself in a war with the Soviet Union; to allow all the belligerents to sink deeply into the mire of war; to encourage them surreptitiously in this to allow them to weaken and exhaust one another; and then, when they have become weak enough, to appear on the scene with fresh strength, to appear, of course, "in the interests of peace," and to dictate conditions to the enfeebled belligerents. Cheap and easy! . . . 5This was a diplomatic message to the imperialist Allies about the suspicions of the Soviet government regarding their relations with Nazi Germany. The New York Times in its coverage of Stalin's speech made no particular reference to what he had said about the USSR refusing to "pull the chestnuts out of the fire" for the Allies. However, the New York Telegram in its report of the speech carried a bold headline on just that.
We are not afraid of the threats of aggressors, and are ready to deal two blows for every blow delivered by instigators of war who attempt to violate the Soviet borders. Such is the foreign policy of the Soviet Union.6
The Communist parties around the world were then in the Comintern, whose ideological leader was Stalin. What was wrong with Comintern policy at the time was that, following the "collective security" pronouncements made at the Seventh Congress of the CPSU, the Comintern began to so embellish the imperialist democracies as peace-loving that they began to forget the imperialist character of these democracies and threw many aspects of the class struggle overboard. Then, after the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, they compounded the error by doing an about-face and downplaying their criticism of the Nazis. Tremendous disillusionment and demoralization can only result from such tactics.
From the point of view of the socialist interests of the USSR and the world struggle for socialism, it was not wrong for the Soviet Union to enter into an agreement with Nazi Germany for the purposes of safeguarding its territory, even if only on a temporary basis. One must not lose sight of the imperative necessity for the USSR to maneuver between the two imperialist blocs, one democratic, the other fascist, in order to defend its socialist interests. The USSR did the same thing under Lenin, but in a more principled way, especially with the Rapallo agreement of 1922. At that time, a conference of the Allied powers was taking place in Genoa to consider such matters as post-war reparations by Germany. The Allies were supposedly concerned with the economic reconstruction of Europe and reparations. The Allied imperialists were ready to accord diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union, but they put conditions on it. For instance, they demanded 65 billion gold francs as compensation for the Bolsheviks' expropriation of imperialist property and repudiation of the czarist debts. But the Soviet government refused to pay.
On the other hand, under the German-Soviet treaty at Rapallo, the Germans agreed to nullify the March 1918 Brest-Litovsk agreement which the Bolsheviks had signed with Germany during the war and which had imposed terrible hardships on the Soviets. The Bolsheviks had been forced to surrender to Germany a great deal of Soviet territory, including the Baltic states. At Rapallo, this was nullified and Germany also waived its claims for nationalizations and other losses it had sustained as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution.
In those days, none of this diplomatic maneuvering by the Bolsheviks in any way interfered with the work of the German Communist movement, or the French or British, for that matter, who continued to conduct their working class struggle policies without making any concessions to their respective imperialist governments.
The historical problem for the working class in the Baltic republics is that after the Bolshevik Revolution, the workers there, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, attempted insurrections in the three republics but those unfortunately failed for a variety of reasons. The attempt of the bourgeoisie to construct so-called democratic regimes also failed, and what ultimately resulted was wholesale repression of the communists and the establishment of reactionary and fascist regimes.
It is necessary to put it bluntly and plainly. The establishment of these areas as socialist republics within the USSR was hastened by two developments. The first was the diplomatic recognition of Soviet authority arising out of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939. The second was the revolutionary ferment of the workers in these republics that arose in response to the enormous growth of Nazi influence in Europe in the late thirties. Earlier, the threat of Hitlerism had evoked momentous revolutionary struggles in France and Spain, resulting in the ascendancy of a Popular Front in both countries.
If certain elements in the Baltic states today feel they have to address these historical issues, it would certainly be wrong for them to take the same old route as that mapped out by the Western media, which leads right to the imperialist camp and is moreover historically false in its depiction of the imperialist Allies as the democratic defenders of small nations.
2. New York Times, August 22, 1939.
4. The Essential Stalin, ed. by Bruce Franklin (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1972), p. 346.
5. Ibid., p. 342.
6. Ibid., p. 346.
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