A View from Livadia Palace
I drove up to white and sumptuous Livadia Palace with some difficulty. The palace, once a royal summer residence built and frequented by the last Russian Tsar, stands on a rather steep slope amidst a spacious park that descends to the Black Sea far below, and the road is scary. But who cares: the view is superb – taking in all of Yalta Bay — with tranquil sea reflecting mountains touched by the autumn purple and a few ships in the harbour. Now, in late autumn, I had the glorious palace all to myself – I answered a call from Washington DC (albeit on my mobile) in the same oak-panelled bedroom once assigned to Roosevelt!
The Palace hosted the historic Yalta conference in February 1945; there is still the circular table around which Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin divided the spoils of war and established the post-WWII order which lasted almost half a century.
My Lonely Planet guidebook speaks of Livadia as the place where Stalin “bullied Churchill”. What actually went on between Stalin and Churchill? We know that soon after the war, in his Fulton speech, Churchill jump-started the Cold War; but not everybody knows that the Cold War was his second choice – his first choice was a real war against Soviet Russia with its stated purpose “to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and of the British Empire”.
Some historical discoveries have to be constantly recalled, as they have not seeped into our received understanding of the world. One such revelation never to be forgotten is the well-hidden story of ultimate treachery planned in 1945: after four hard years of terrible war, when the allies had just defeated Hitler, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill prepared a surprise attack on his erstwhile ally Russia in coalition with Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht troops. The unexpected assault on Russians was scheduled to begin near Dresden on the first day of July, 1945. Churchill intended to use, besides 47 British and American divisions, ten crack German divisions he did not disband so that he could send them back to the Eastern front to fight the Russkies. Churchill was willing and eager to launch this assault on Moscow’s army without declaration of war as perfidiously as Hitler had in 1941. Sir Alan Brooke, the top officer in the British army, said of Churchill that he was “longing for another war.”
Stalin learned of the plan; it confirmed his worst expectations of British intentions, solidified his hold on the Eastern Europe and probably made him even more implacable. After some thinking, US President Harry Truman refused to give Churchill his support: the war with Japan was still far from concluding, the A-bomb was not operational yet and he needed Russian help. (Perhaps Roosevelt would have reject it faster, but he died soon after Yalta). “Operation Unthinkable” was aborted, shelved and languished for many years until released to public view in 1998.
In May 1945, the Brits did not disband some 700,000 German soldiers and officers. The Germans surrendered their arms; but the weapons were stacked, not destroyed, under explicit orders of Churchill, who intended to rearm the Germans and send them against the Russians. British military governor Montgomery explained in his Notes on the Occupation of Germany that the German units were not disbanded for “we had nowhere to put them if they were disbanded and we could not guard them if they were dispersed”. Even worse, the British wouldn’t be able to use them as slave labour and starve them if they were considered POW’s (“We should have to feed them on a relatively high scale of rations”). This explanation is bad enough, but in a handwritten note he left behind he gave an even worse reason: Churchill “ordered that I [Montgomery] was not to destroy the weapons of the 2 million Germans who had surrendered on Luneburg Heath on the 4th May. All must be kept, we might have to fight the Russians with German help.”
The full story has been published by David Reynolds in his study of the Second World War (he noted that Churchill omitted this from his memoirs). The original documents were published by the British national archives and can be found in some form on the web, and on a good blog http://howitreallywas.typepad.com/ . Still the story has not registered with the public conscience to the same extent that accusations against the Soviets have become a part of the historical background. We all know that Stalin made a deal with Hitler before the war, and that he kept Eastern Europe under his control after the war. But we usually are not told the circumstances. Even those who have heard about Operation Unthinkable usually suspect it of being an example of Stalinist propaganda.
This story explains why Stalin considered Churchill, in the 1930s, a more implacable enemy of the Soviets than Hitler, and why he was ready to enter the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. He understood Churchill better than many contemporaries, and knew of his pathological hatred of Communism.
As World War I ended in November 1918, Churchill had proposed a new policy: “Kill the Bolshie, kiss the Hun”. (These remarks are cited by the Churchill hagiographer Sir Martin Gilbert). In April 1919, Churchill referred to the “subhuman goals” of Moscow’s Communists and especially of Leon Trotsky and his “Asiatic millions”. The rise of Fascism did not change anything to his way of thinking. In 1937, when the Nuremberg Laws were already in place, he said in the House of Commons: “I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between communism and Nazism, I would choose communism.” The Communists were “baboons”, but Adolf Hitler “would go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind in the great Germanic nation”. In 1943, he praised Benito Mussolini for rescuing Italy from the Communists and said that Mussolini’s “great roads will remain a monument to his personal power and long reign”. This remark he preserved for eternity in Closing the Ring, the fifth volume of his multi-volume history of the Second World War.
Churchill considered Communism a “Jewish plot”; his love for Zionism was partly based on his belief that Zionists would take Communism off the Jewish mind. In 1920, long before Henry Ford, he spoke of the International Jew: “This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States)… this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing. They have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire [Russia].” Hitler was only plagiarizing him.
If Churchill had had his way, who knows how it would have ended, and how many people would have been killed? The Soviet army had four times as many soldiers and twice as many tanks as the British and Americans combined. It was battle-tried, well-equipped – it had had two months of rest. Probably the Russians would have been able to repeat their achievement of 1815 and liberated France with the support of its strong communist movement. Or perhaps the Soviets would have been pushed back to their borders, and Poland would have joined NATO in 1945 instead of 1995. The US President dismissed Churchill’s plan; Truman was the mass murderer of Hiroshima, but he was not in a suicidal mood.
In 1945, Churchill was worried that the Russians would continue their westward march, to France and then the English Channel. This was his explanation for Operation Unthinkable. However, Joseph Stalin was scrupulously straightforward in his dealings with the West: Not only did he not send his tanks westward, he never crossed the lines established in Livadia Palace by the Yalta Conference of February 1945.
He did not support the Greek Communists who were very close to victory, and who undoubtedly would have won the day but for British intervention. The Greeks appealed to Stalin for help, but he told them he had given his word to Churchill: “Russians will have 90% of the say in Romania, British – 90% of the say in Greece, and go 50/50 about Yugoslavia”. He did not support the Italian and French Communists, and removed his troops from Iran. He was a most reliable ally, even to people who were not themselves reliable. He was not an adept of parliamentary democracy, but nor were his counterparts, the American and the British leaders; they accepted democracy only if and when they liked the results. They prevented communist victory by their guns, he prevented anti-communist victory by same means.
So Churchill’s treachery was not needed for its stated goal. Probably, British and American soldiers would not have understood the idea of fighting the Russians for whose victory they had prayed but a few weeks before, the same Russians who had saved them when the German Ardennes counter-offensive was about to send the invasion armies down the way of Dunkirk. Thankfully, it never came to trial: the British people voted the old warmonger out.
The idea of using German Nazi military potential against the Soviets did not die, however. In a provocative piece called HOW THE NAZIS WON THE WAR, Noam Chomsky has written about “. . .the US State Department and British intelligence, which took some of the worst Nazi criminals and used them, at first in Europe. For example, Klaus Barbie, the butcher of Lyon [France], was taken over by US intelligence and put back to work.”
“General Reinhard Gehlen was the head of German military intelligence on the eastern front. That’s where the real war crimes were. Now we’re talking about Auschwitz and other death camps. Gehlen and his network of spies and terrorists were taken over quickly by American intelligence and returned to essentially the same roles.”
This was a breach of Yalta accord, one of many committed by the West.
“Recruiting Nazi war criminals and saving them is bad enough, but imitating their activities is worse”. The purpose of the US and England, writes Chomsky, was “to destroy the anti-fascist resistance and restore the traditional, essentially fascist, order to power.”
“In Korea, restoring the traditional order meant killing about 100,000 people just in the late 1940s, before the Korean War began. In Greece, it meant destroying the anti-Nazi resistance and restoring Nazi collaborators to power. When British and then American troops moved into southern Italy, they simply reinstated the fascist order-the industrialists. But the big problem came when the troops got to the north, which the Italian resistance had already liberated. The place was functioning- industry was running. We had to dismantle all of that and restore the old order.”
“Next we [the US] worked on destroying the democratic process. The left was obviously going to win the elections; it had a lot of prestige from the resistance, and the traditional conservative order had been discredited. The US wouldn’t tolerate that. At its first meeting, in 1947, the National Security Council decided to withhold food and use other sorts of pressure to undermine the election.”
“But what if the communists still won? In its first report, NSC 1, the council made plans for that contingency: the US would declare a national emergency, put the Sixth Fleet on alert in the Mediterranean and support paramilitary activities to overthrow the Italian government. That’s a pattern that’s been relived over and over. If you look at France and Germany and Japan, you get pretty much the same story.”
According to Chomsky, the US and Britain were first of all against Communism. The Nazis took a second seat in the gallery of hated regimes. Though nowadays racism is considered a no-go, there is no reason to assume that Nazi Germany was any more racist than England or the US. In the US, intermarriage between blacks and whites was illegal or criminal until recently; lynching of blacks was a common affair. The British practised ethnic cleansing all over the world, from Ireland to India. The USSR was the only major non-racist state, led by (beside Russians) Georgians, Jews, Armenians and Poles. Intermarriage was encouraged, and a kind of multiculturalism was the operational doctrine. Yet it was Communism which could not be forgiven.
Though Churchill did not send the Wehrmacht to fight the Russians in 1945, the transition to the Cold War was far from bloodless. In the Ukraine, the US supported and armed pro-Nazi nationalists for several years to come. And even nuking Hiroshima may be seen as the first act of Cold War, says New Scientist: “The US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was meant to kick-start the Cold War rather than end the Second World War, according to two nuclear historians who say they have new evidence backing the controversial theory. Killing over 200,000 people 60 years ago was done more to impress the Soviet Union than to cow Japan, they say. And the US President who made the decision, Harry Truman, was culpable, they add. (For more evidence that Hiroshima was nuked in order to impress the Russians see here).
If so, NATO’s 1999 War against Yugoslavia can be seen as one of the last wars against the remnants of communism; what we observe now in Syria is a mopping-up operation, for the Syrian regime is mildly socialist.
However, I should tell you that among modern Russian historians this theory – that Western policies are wholly driven by an ideological anti-Communist streak – has been doubted or even denied, and for good reason: just sixty miles from Livadia lies the fortress of Sebastopol, where united British and French forces tried to subdue the very non-Communist Tsarist Russians in 1850s; and Yalta Bay was visited by US battleships in 2008 during the confrontation between pro-Western Georgia and a very non-communist Putin’s Russia.
Should one explain this by the geopolitical struggle for Heartland as per Mackinder; or by the theological reasoning of Orthodox Christianity being attacked by heresies; or by the Chomskian concept of Core vs. Rim? It is beyond the scope of this article to answer this question.
Russians are always Russians, whether Communists or Christian Orthodox or Continental or just a Rim state that does not submit to Core writ. Josef Stalin was then the man in charge – a hard man, but certainly he had a hard task and was dealing with hard people. The white palace of Livadia is a good place to contemplate these momentous historical events.
[Research and idea by AD Hemming, who has been an activist for progressive causes since the early 1960s, has been a researcher, poet, journalist, historian and got his feet wet as a progressive in the civil rights movement in US South as a teenager. English language editing by Ken Freeland.]
Israel Shamir is now in the Crimea and can be reached at email@example.com