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Monday, 13 March 2023

Real Politik in the interwar years


Over the past several years I've noticed some worrying trends among pop history effectively popularising myths to the point they obscure and even deny some heavily documented events. One of them concerns foreign policy in the interwar years, especially concerning policies on dealing with Nazi Germany. Its somewhat understandable, this period is quite infamous for some dramatic shifts in international affairs. Even the name the Interwar period is misleading, I don't think Ethiopians or Chinese or the Spanish would agree that the years between World War I and World War II were particularly peaceful to take just a handful of examples.

I'll outline a general version of the argument that I find is increasingly common, every advocate I've encountered has there own personal spin so this'll be a bit of a generalisation but it'll cover the main thrusts.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (M-R) is not proof that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany collaborated with each other in alliance, it was merely an attempt by the USSR to gain time to defeat Nazi Germany later. Anyway, Stalin had to take that deal as Britain and France had turned down his attempts to ally with the west against the fascists. But the west preferred to appease fascism and tried to use it to attack communism.

Like all good lies there's a few strands of truth weaved into it for credibility sake. I'll start with acknowledging those bits so we can move on to the really dangerous stuff. The decision to negotiate with Nazi Germany was motivated by self interest, and it is true that earlier in the decade the Soviet Union had pursued a collective security initiative including approaches to the British and French governments, its also true that Britain and France especially under certain administrations had little appetite for working with the Soviet Union. Its also true that a strategy of appeasement was promoted.

However, this reading and most of the variations of it I've encountered usually leave out quite a bit of important context, either because they don't know, they haven't bothered to study a really complex and confusing period of history, or they are aware but know attempting to account for further context opens their standpoint up to more scrutiny and commentary than they wish to experience. 

To take an example, many emphasis the Soviet Union's motives as opposition to fascism, but I don't believe ideological stripes mattered at all. Because a key partner in the USSR's collective security against Germany strategy was Fascist Italy. 

Meanwhile, 1933 was an important year for Moscow’s relations with Rome and for its newly declared policy of collective security designed to contain both Adolf Hitler and the Japanese. In May, Italy and the USSR signed an economic accord, and in September they signed a Treaty of Neutrality, Friendship, and Nonaggression. A series of military exchanges and favorable press comment punctuated their good relations.(22) On October 27, Ambassador Vladimir Potemkin told Deputy Foreign Minister Fulvio Suvich that Germany was trying to conclude an agreement with Japan at Soviet expense. Distrusting Britain in East Asia, the Soviets wished to forge a pact among themselves, the French, Italians, and Americans to defend China against Japan.(23)

Courting of Italy was also done by Britain and France, though at times Britain was more reluctant and even hostile to Italy over tensions between both nations over spheres of interest in their colonies. This courting of Mussolini may seem odd looking back, not only because Mussolini was a Fascist dictator, he is also regarded as a clown and a failure. Well Mussolini was concerned about Germany uniting with Austria and having a direct land border with Italy, so in the 1930s his government was willing to work with other powers to limit German expansion. During the 1934 July putsch, a coup attempt by the Austrian Nazi party against the ruling Austrofascist party (yes that is correct, a civil war between Nazis and Fascists) Mussolini built up his forces in the Brenner pass and publicly warned Germany not to invade Austria. Hitler publicly declared he had no intention of doing so and disavowed the coup which quickly collapsed afterwards. So yes, there was a time when Nazi Germany was so vulnerable that Mussolini made Hitler blink.

Eventually this courting of Mussolini brokedown once Hitler made him a better offer. In addition to courting Mussolini, the Soviet Union did secure an agreement with the French Republic. In 1932 both nations had established a non-aggression pact and then in 1935 had developed their relationship further with the signing of a military accord, the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance. As military alliances go its considered weak, the accord didn't automatically mean war with one was war with the other, and it required consultation with other powers including Britain and Italy and the League of Nations. 

But it did mean that any nation wishing to pursue military objectives against one would have to take into account the response from the other. And it did establish a framework for further co-operation, with French support the Soviet Union signed a similar agreement with Czechoslovakia which is why Stalin is represented in the famous cartoon about the Munich agreement.

 The connections between France and the Soviet Union is the reason why so many French politicians like Édouard Marie Herriot disgraced themselves by denying famine in the Soviet Union. While the two powers grew closer rumours about starvation in Ukraine and the south of Russia had begun to circulate internationally. Which cause some backlash other the government's decision to ally with a brutal dictatorship, hence the need to deny.

The importance of the relationship is also seen as an explanation for the Spanish Republican government's lack of support for independence amongst Spain's African colonies, as anti-colonial revolt would threaten French interests in their African colonies and in Morocco.

In particular, the U.S.S.R. is in alliance with France, a capitalist-imperialist country. The alliance is of little use to Russia unless French capitalism is strong, therefore Communist policy in France has got to be anti-revolutionary. This means not only that French Communists now march behind the tricolour and sing the Marseillaise, but, what is more important, that they have had to drop all effective agitation in the French colonies. It is less than three years since Thorez, the Secretary of the French Communist Party, was declaring that the French workers would never be bamboozled into fighting against their German comrades(4); he is now one of the loudest-lunged patriots in France. The clue to the behaviour of the Communist Party in any country is the military relation of that country,actual or potential, towards the U.S.S.R. In England, for instance, the position is still uncertain, hence the English Communist Party is still hostile to the National Government,and, ostensibly, opposed to rearmament. If, however, Great Britain enters into an alliance or military understanding with the U.S.S.R., the English Communist, like the French Communist, will have no choice but to become a good patriot and imperialist; there are premonitory signs of this already. In Spain the Communist ‘line’ was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that France, Russia's ally, would strongly object to a revolutionary neighbour and would raise heaven and earth to prevent the liberation of Spanish Morocco.

France however, is democratic, well they have elections, and so the government of France and its priorities changed. By 1938 the government led by Édouard Daladier no longer held much faith in the pact and instead put his faith in further collaboration with Britain and Neville Chamberlain, the pact wound up that same year.

So, I think we can see why the popular version is misleading, it frames the issue as a desperate Stalin on one side and a totally unresponsive if not actively malicious Western powers. The truth is much less emotional, most European powers were concerned with the potential threat of Germany (The Franco-Soviet pact specified a hostile European power) and looked to building a network of alliance to contain it. The Soviet Union had some success in this with Italy and France, but neither panned out in the long-term due to changing  circumstances and the strategic goals of one or more of the powers. 

Now, there is something of an Elephant in the room, so far we've barely mentioned Britain. Britain and the Soviet Union's relationship in the 1930s could accurately be described as poor. The Royal Navy wasn't shelling Kronstadt and Leningrad and the Soviet army was massing on the border of Persia waiting for the right time to launch an offensive into India, but there wasn't much love lost between the two. Given that the British Empire was one of the earliest powers to recognise the Soviet Union and establish diplomatic agreements with it, the fraying in the 1930s has a lot to do with the political leadership of the United Kingdom at the time. Especially Neville Chamberlain, he had a very poor view of the Soviet Union,

 “I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty,”
Neville Chamberlain's letter to a friend in March 1939

He even viewed the Labour party with so much contempt, that Oliver Stanley a fellow cabinet member (this was before Chamberlain became Prime Minister) had to tell him to tone down his attitude and respect them as the official opposition. "Stanley begged me to remember that I was addressing a meeting of gentlemen. I always gave him the impression, he said, when I spoke in the House of Commons, that I looked on the Labour Party as dirt."

His views on the Soviet Union were not atypical amongst the British Conservative Party of the time. Even the minority who advocated reaching an accommodation with the Soviet Union like Winston Churchill were open and aggressive anti-Reds. So, not a promising start to a Europe wide anti-German alliance. There is also the issue of Chamberlain's advocacy for Appeasement, in the UK the words Chamberlain and Appeasement are practically the same. The decision not to confront Germany over Austria and the Czech crisis, and his PR disaster that was the "Peace for our time" speech effectively destroyed his reputation. 

However, appeasement has been greatly distorted. Chamberlain in addition to being an Appeaser was a booster for war preparations. "the merest scaremongering; disgraceful in a statesman of Mr Chamberlain's responsible position, to suggest that more millions of money needed to be spent on armaments." said Arthur Greenwood Labour deputy leader in 1935. The appeasement strategy had two potential objectives if it gave Hitler enough to get him to cease pushing for more territory than more than worth sacrificing some tens of thousands of foreigners. But if that didn't work, it would buy time for the British Empire to expand its war preparation work. Arms spending increased significantly under Neville's time as Prime Minister, especially for the Royal Air Force. He was also in charge of the government that extended guarantees to Poland, guarantees that led to a declaration of war against Germany in September 1939 in response to its aggression against Poland.

There has been some small revisionist history to defend Neville Chamberlain's performance and I don't agree with them. I think his actions were ultimately abhorrent and contributed to the start of World War II, or at least the version of the war we got. But he was ultimately guilty of doing what Stalin was doing, looking to deal with Germany and buy time for their own powers defence and security at the expense of others. 

Chamberlain's willingness to compromise even extended to his contempt for the Soviet Union, there was in 1939 finally some movement between Britain and France to establish an agreement with the Soviet Union. Essentially his cabinet and strong favourable polling for a French-Anglo-Soviet pact pushed him and Daladier to pursue it. It didn't go very well, from June 15th to the 2nd of August preliminary talks between the three had agreed to extend each other and other nations bordering or close to Germany, Poland, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Lithuania, Greece, Turkey etc, of support should they face aggression from Germany. But once the talks reached the stage of discussing military missions and co-operation they soon collapsed.

Problems arouse almost immediately as soon as the delegations arrived in Moscow. The Soviet Union were represented by Klimet Voroshilov Marshal of the Soviet Army and Defence Minister for the Soviet Union, while Britain was represented by Admiral Reginald Drax and the French by General Aimé Doumenc both of whom were minor military officials in comparison to the Soviet delegation. The situation degraded even further when neither Drax nor Doumenc were authorised to make decisions without consultation and approval from their governments. 

The Soviet government came to the conclusion that the talks were not serious initiatives and looked elsewhere. The fruitless talks were officially ended on the 21st of August, two days later on the 23rd of August the Soviet government announced that it had come to an agreement with Germany and had signed what became known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. 

And that is usually where the pop-history enjoyer declares case closed. The West wasn't played silly games and a frustrated Soviet Union had to turn elsewhere and in desperation made a deal with the devil for pragmatic means. But again if we actually look a little deeper many questions arise and refuse to go away. Two days is a suspiciously short amount of time to hold and conclude a diplomatic accord, the technological level of communications, the distance and the layers of bureaucracy and protocol would take weeks if not months to work through just to get diplomats to meet each other. The doomed British, French Soviet talks took several months before breaking down with no agreement.

Indeed talks between the two nations over a closer relationship had begun earlier in 1939 almost as soon as Maksim Litvinov the advocate of collective security had been replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov.

 More positively, Astakhov paid an unusual visit to the Bulgarian Ambassador in Berlin on June 14 to inform him (and apparently the Germans as well) that the USSR "was vacillating between three possibilities, namely the conclusion of the pact with England and France, a further dilatory treatment of the pact negotiations, and a rapprochement with Germany. This last possibility, with which ideological considerations would not have to become involved, was closest to the desires of the Soviet Union."
Feeding the German Eagle: Soviet Economic Aid to Nazi Germany in 1939-41, pg 47

In addition the talks between Britain, France and the Soviet Union collapsed other the Soviet insistence on military access on Polish territory. 

Moreover, the negotiations stalled immediately after Voroshilov had asked if Poland and Romania would let the Red Army through their territories to fight Germany. Drax and Doumenc didn’t have the competency to answer such a principal question – of course, Poland and Romania would not agree. “Stalin believed that those states were just puppets and that Britain and France could force them to agree – but it was more complicated than that and led to London and Paris failing to convince Warsaw that the USSR was any better than Germany,” Budnitsky notes.

Voroshilov was quite brief. “The Soviet mission considers that without a positive answer to this question all the efforts to enter into a military convention are doomed to failure,” he said, inviting Drax and Doumenc to enjoy their time in Moscow instead. The fruitless talks were officially halted on Aug. 21, 1939.

This demand was made at a talk without a Polish delegation and was asked of two representatives who had no way of agreeing to it. The Polish for their part had been adamant that they would not agree to let the Soviet Union a nation it had serious territorial disputes with put troops within its borders, and for good reason. Instead the Soviet government made an agreement with the foreign power that was more than happy to let them station troops within Poland.

There's also another issue that I find rather worrying. Multiple advocates for the M-R pact are insistent that it wasn't a big deal as it was only a "Non-Aggression" agreement. And yes the official name for the M-R pact was the German-Soviet Nonaggression pact the name Molotov-Ribbentropp pact was a nickname that stuck. It was also described as the Nazi-Soviet pact and the Hitler-Stalin pact, but M-R is the name that proved the more popular. And the public version presented to the world seems to conform to what we would think such an agreement would entail.

The terms of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact were briefly as follows: the two countries agreed not to attack each other, either independently or in conjunction with other powers; not to support any third power that might attack the other party to the pact; to remain in consultation with each other upon questions touching their common interests; not to join any group of powers directly or indirectly threatening one of the two parties; to solve all differences between the two by negotiation or arbitration. The pact was to last for 10 years, with automatic extension for another 5 years unless either party gave notice to terminate it 1 year before its expiration.

 However, the key word is public. The M-R pact also entailed three additional agreements that were kept secret from the international community. The first of the protocols was agreed on the same day as the public M-R pact, 23rd of August 1939, that divided Eastern Europe into Soviet and German spheres of influence. It broke Poland between the two powers and agreed the Baltic states and Finland were to be Soviet areas, and also discussed the possibility of Bessarabia being broken off from the Kingdom of Romania. Then on the 28th of September 1939 a second secret protocol was signed finalising the division of Poland and looked at the division of Lithuania, and officially consinged Bessarabia to the Soviet sphere, a third and final protocol was signed on the 10th of January 1941 in which Germany agreed to waive its claims to Lithuania in exchange for payment from the Soviet Union the occupying power.

This map shows the differences between the agreed and actual divisions of Europe.

So, the M-R pact was not simply a statement of non-aggression it involved quite a bit of aggression. I usually don't resort to the dictionary, but this is a rare case where I think it is useful to clear up genuine confusion if there is in fact any.

alliance, in international relations, a formal agreement between two or more states for mutual support in case of war. Contemporary alliances provide for combined action on the part of two or more independent states and are generally defensive in nature, obligating allies to join forces if one or more of them is attacked by another state or coalition. Although alliances may be informal, they are typically formalized by a treaty of alliance, the most critical clauses of which are those that define the casus foederis, or the circumstances under which the treaty obligates an ally to aid a fellow member.

On the 1st of September 1939 the German army attacked Poland, this was the start of the invasion of Poland by Germany, the Slovak Republic and the Soviet Union. On the 17th of September the Soviet army began its offensive operations in Poland violating the Soviet-Poland Nonaggression pact signed in 1932. Attacked on all sides including an uprising by the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists the Polish military resisted until the 6th of October. The Soviet and German military met at Brest-Litovsk (modern day Brest in Belarus) held a joint victory parade and the German army hand over control of the city to the Soviet authorities. 

German officers Generalleutnant Mauritz von Wiktorin (left), General der Panzertruppe Heinz Guderian (centre) and Soviet Kombrig Semyon Krivoshein (right) standing on the platform 

The scene was captured on film

In addition to the joint invasion of Poland when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in November of that same year Nazi Germany officially took a stance of neutrality regarding the two nations. While actively supporting the Soviet invasion by taking action to cut off support for Finland including seizing war material sent by Mussolini.

As there was some pro-Finnish agitation in the Scandinavian countries, they were warned by Berlin ‘not to listen to the blandishments of League of Nations evangelists and British extremists’. [42] Thus any hopes the Finnish government might at first have had of German help vanished. On 8 December the Finnish Minister in Rome had confided to Ciano that Germany ‘had supplied arms to Finland from the booty captured during the Polish campaign’, [43] but on 12 December Hitler yielded to the Naval General Staff’s request for a ‘clear-cut policy’ towards Finland and for the suspension of arms deliveries there. [44] The shipment of arms to Sweden was to be stopped unless the Swedish government gave a written guarantee that they would not be transferred to Finland. [45] A few aircraft ordered from Italy before the war and on their way to Helsinki were seized in Germany. [46] At his second meeting with Molotov in Berlin (13 November 1940), Hitler pointed out that ‘during the Russo – Finnish war, despite the danger that Allied bases might be established in Scandinavia, Germany had meticulously kept her obligations toward Russia’ and that ‘in this connection she had even gone so far as to deny to the Finnish President the use of a German cable for a radio address to America’.

And beyond the military sphere the intelligence services of the two powers, the German Gestapo and Soviet NKVD, both brutal secret police forces co-operated on dealing with internal dissent in their new territories.

Both parties will tolerate in their territories no Polish agitation which affects the territories of the other party. They will suppress in their territories all beginnings of such agitation and inform each other concerning suitable measures for this purpose.

— Secret Supplementary Protocol (2), German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty 28 September 1939

The co-operation involved the transfer of prisoners of war and actions against Polish resistance groups. And most bizarrely the Soviet Union began handing over many German Communists who had escaped persecution in Germany and Austria.

And yet they get them, to the Gestapo’s great delight. Eighty antifascists before the 1939 Hitler–Stalin Pact, more than 200 (out of 350 deportees) afterward. Only now do the Germans press for deportations, stressing the mutual friendly relations between the German Reich and the USSR. There is no evidence of other pressure, nor of any “reciprocation” to follow. The Nazis give the numbers, the Soviets supply the names. The antifascists are sacrificed not according to some overarching principle of political calculus nor as currency in an exchange but rather as a kind of gift.

So, we have two direct examples of the two powers effectively collaborating in military and strategic aims. But as the timeline of the secret protocols 1939-1941 demonstrates, the M-R pact was a step along the path of the relationship. In addition there were not one but two economic treaties, the German-Soviet Credit agreement signed in May 1939 and the German-Soviet Commercial agreement (1940). These treaties expanded trade in materials and economic co-operation between the two powers. By 1941 when the German broke off ties by invading the Soviet Union the trade had been worth

  • 1,500,000 metric tons (1,700,000 short tons; 1,500,000 long tons) of grains
  • 820,000 metric tons (900,000 short tons; 810,000 long tons) of oil
  • 180,000 metric tons (200,000 short tons; 180,000 long tons) of cotton
  • 130,000 metric tons (140,000 short tons; 130,000 long tons) of manganese
  • 180,000 metric tons (200,000 short tons; 180,000 long tons) of phosphates
  • 18,000 metric tons (20,000 short tons; 18,000 long tons) of chrome ore
  • 16,000 metric tons (18,000 short tons; 16,000 long tons) of rubber
  • 91,000 metric tons (100,000 short tons; 90,000 long tons) of soybeans
  • 450,000 metric tons (500,000 short tons; 440,000 long tons) of iron ores
  • 270,000 metric tons (300,000 short tons; 270,000 long tons) of scrap metal and pig iron
  • 200,000 kilograms (440,000 lb) of platinum

Total USSR imports June 1941 German stocks June 1941 (without USSR imports) October 1941 German stocks October 1941 (without USSR imports)
Oil products 827 (912; 814) 1,220 (1,350; 1,210) 397 (438; 391) 821 (905; 808) −6.4 (−7; −6.3)
Rubber 17.1 (18.8; 16.8) 12.5 (13.8; 12.3) −4.4 (−4.9; −4.4) 11.0 (12.1; 10.8) −6.1 (−6.7; −6.0)
Manganese 171.9 (189.5; 169.2) 186 (205; 183) 14.1 (15.5; 13.8) 150 (170; 150) −17.7 (−19.5; −17.4)
Grain 1,485.2 (1,637.1; 1,461.7) 1,253 (1,381; 1,233) −232.3 (−256.1; −228.7) 690 (761; 679) −794.8 (−876.1; −782.2)
*German stocks in thousands of metric tons (short tons; long tons) (with and without USSR imports-October 1941 aggregate) 

 In addition to business interests much of the trade was considered vital to outlast the British Naval blockade that threatened vital German military resources. By 1941 with the conquest of France, Denmark and Norway and guaranteed co-operation from Sweden Hitler believed Germany was no longer dependent on the material supplied by the Soviet Union and a quick victory would mean only a brief disruption in any case.

The Soviet Union also got quite a lot out of those agreements too of course. 

Both Admiralties discussed ‘practical agreements’ for the supply of fuel to German submarines and the use of the ‘northern sea-route’ [69] by German ships. The German Admiralty was very keen on this last point and negotiations began towards the end of December 1939. [70] On 6 February 1940, the German Naval Attaché in Moscow announced that the Russians were willing to allow a German auxiliary cruiser, ‘Ship 45’, [71] to sail to the Far East by the ‘Siberian route’. A temporary stiffening of Molotov’s attitude at the beginning of April seemed to bring them back to where they started, [72] but preparations for the voyage were eventually resumed ‘with Russia’s cooperation’ [73] and ‘Ship 45’ sailed on 12 August 1940, ‘by the Siberian sea-route, with Russian help’. [74] The German auxiliary cruiser was thus able to cross the Pacific without risk and there raid British ships as a privateer. For their part, the Germans handed over the Lützow to the Russians, [75] and in the Leningrad shipyards technicians took over the construction or repair of some of the big ships of the Soviet navy. In November 1940, Admiral Raeder was convinced that Russia would not attack Germany on the grounds that she ‘was starting to build up her navy with the help of Germany’. [76] They were still working together in May 1941. In a memorandum of the 15th of this month Schnurre stated that: ... construction of the cruiser L in Leningrad is proceeding according to plan, with German supplies coming in as scheduled. Approximately 70 German engineers and fitters are working on the cruiser in Leningrad under the direction of Admiral Feige.

 The nature of these agreements both economic and strategically important is very similar to the collaboration of American and British and French businessmen in the same years. (see

And there's another strange example of close co-operation between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which concerns the Comintern. This organisation was tasked with handling the international Communist movement, or at least the Communist movement that looked to Moscow for leadership. This proved to be a problem as the Communist Party of Great Britain and the French Communist Party had been actively pushing the lines formulated in response to the Spanish Civil War, extreme patriotism and appeals for their governments to take a firm hand against Germany.

But on 14 September something else happened: the Daily Worker received a press telegram from the Soviet Union saying it was a robber war on both sides. Pollitt suppressed this telegram because it was against the line of the 2 September manifesto. However, at the next day’s meeting of the party’s Political Bureau, Dutt, ever responsive to his master’s voice, said the line would have to be revised. Indeed, Stalin had already given orders to that effect, in a private chat with Dimitrov on 7 September; Dimitrov had handed the word down to the Comintern Secretariat, which had approved his theses on 9 September, instructing the Communist Parties of France, Britain, Belgium and the USA in particular that they must immediately correct their political line.

The new line was now as the French Communist Party promoted in the winter of 1939 was "The war conducted by the Anglo-French coalition was Imperialist for a certain period, insofar as the coalition was pursuing imperialist ends, had prepared for war, and had worked to bring it about" (see ) I highlighted the last part to draw attention to a discrepancy in the line. At the time of the M-R pact the official position of the Soviet Union which was repeated by its supporters was that WWII was the result of the Imperialist actions of the Allies against Germany, and they had been working to prepare for such an action for some time. Contrast this to the original argument at the beginning were the modern supporters of Soviet foreign policy, that the M-R had to be signed because the Western Allies failed to take any step to prevent the rise of German militarism. The imperialism of Britain and France was the official justification the Soviet Union gave for its occupation of the Baltic states. 

«[…] it had become necessary to put an end to all the intrigues by which England and France had tried to sow discord and mistrust between Germany and the Soviet Union in the Baltic States. […]Lithuanian border was evidently inadequately guarded. The Soviet Government would, therefore, if requested, assist the Lithuanian Government in guarding its borders.»
Telegram by Molotov

The French Communist Party was so active in pushing the new line attacking Franco Imperialism and defending the M-R pact for preventing war while Nazi Germany was marching in the direction of Paris. The French Communist Party exploited its reputation in the French resistance for decades after the war ended. But while members of the party had fought in the clandestine underground since the beginning of the German occupation, the party itself did not join the resistance struggle until June 1941. If that date seems familiar that was when Nazi Germany ended its period of co-operation with the Soviet Union by launching a massive and brutal invasion of the Soviet Union.


What is the point of all this? Well, aside from challenging a popular narrative that doesn't have much to stand on, I hope to make something clear. What the years just before 1939 show us is that there were no heroes, neither the Soviet Union nor the Western European powers come out of that period with a clean record. They all, including Mussolini came to the conclusion that a powerful and ambitious Germany probably wasn't a good omen for them and looked into ways of checking that threat. The issue though was that none of the powers were willing to risk their own self interest, they would make commitments up to a point but would not stick their necks out for others unless they were absolutely forced to. The Soviet Union was willing to abandon the anti-fascist struggle and collaborate with the British and French Empires, but was not willing to give up its desires to expand into its neighbours. The French were willing to work with the Soviet Union but weren't willing to risk instability in its colonial empire and so on. 

Meanwhile Germany was willing to work with the hated Judeo-bolsheviks if it would secure the material it needed for its strategic aims. I think too many people read to much into the word alliance, for many they seem to think it means a long term relationship or genuine fraternal bonds. And that just isn't true, alliances are often temporary and can be made with nations who shouldn't be compatible, an example would be the USA and Israel supporting Iran during its war with Iraq. There is a counter pop-myth that frames the M-R pact and wider Soviet-German relationship as proof of a genuine desire of Stalin to work with Nazi Germany on a deeper level, but that has very little in the way of evidence either.

The failures of the 1930s European powers in preventing the Second World War are the result of the failures of real politik and pragmatic attempts to maximise gain for the lowest costs. There are no friends amongst nations, when push came to shove for the Chinese, Ethiopians, Czechs, Austrians, Spanish, Baltic peoples etc. The great powers were no friends to them either and sold them out when it looked risky. The only reason the Poles weren't added to that list was thanks to timing, Britain and France's war preparations were largely complete and they were more confident and even then France scaled back its military operations on Germany's western borders which allowed the German army to concentrate on Poland. Even at that late date the Western Allies were prioritising their own security against a potential German offensive over providing effective support for the Poles dealing with their actual offensive.

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Pork and Profits - How Big Business Destroys Living Beings


This absolute unit of a pig is an example of the Baston pig, known to many as the Lincolnshire Curly Coat. This breed of pig originated in Lincolnshire and was bred for smallholders, its thick coat very similar to the wool of a sheep protected it from the weather and its large size maximised its meat yield. It is sadly now extinct, it became rare in the UK after the Second World War and in its native habitat of Lincolnshire it survived until the 1970s (see addendum for information on the last known example of the breed) the reason for the decline was economic.

In 1954 Britain finally ended its war time rationing system and began to return to a more normal market economy. As a consequence British governmental and economic authorities became focused on making British products competitive on the international market. In 1955 a committee was formed to look at the state of Britain's pig production and breeding, chaired by Sir Harold Howitt - the Howitt report - it recommended that farmers move away from diversity of breeds with 16 distinct breeds being common in the British farming at that point and focus on breeding just three, the Welsh pig, the British Landrace and the Large White. The remaining 13 breeds went into extreme decline with 3 breeds the Cumberland, the Dorset Gold Tip and of course the Lincolnshire Curly Coat died out entirely. 

 In the first place we have formed the view that one of the main handicaps facing the British pig industry today is the diversity of the type of pig which is found throughout the country. The pig industry will in our view only make real progress when it concentrates on a few main types and  - if it were at any time found possible – on a single type of pig for commercial production.”

This isn't a unique story, the sad truth is that there are many species both wild and domesticated that have gone extinct or are at extreme risk of extinction due to human economic priorities. The UK is also unfortunately a place that has depleted a lot of its natural wealth with many indigenous species over hunted or exterminated as pests. In addition to losing those species this also causes a knock on effect on the wider environment. However, in recent years there has been increased support for the preservation and re-introduction of endangered species into habitats it once flourished in. The Beaver is enjoying a gradual comeback throughout Europe with small populations being established in Scotland, Wales and England, as an example and there have been years long discussions about whether or not the European Lynx and even the Wolf should be brought back to British soil. 

From the Beaver Trust

And over the years some have claimed that the Lincolnshire Curly Coat has returned. Sadly, that is not the case, the UK does have small pockets of Curly Coated pigs now, however they're Hungarian Curly Coats. The Hungarian Curly Coat or Mangalica as its called in its homeland is also a pig with a distinctive curly coat, but its a distinct breed in and of itself. The Mangalica dates back to the 1830s, it was a very common pig breed in the Kingdom of Hungary but it also faced a serious decline after the Second World War. By 1991 it was critically endangered with perhaps as few as 200 pigs surviving. Conservationists will be happy to learn that its popularity rebounded and there are now several tens of thousands of the Mangalica in the world today. 

A Mangalica

The Mangalica was imported into the UK for the first time in 2007, and can be seen in several wild life parks and rewilding areas. This year Doddington Hall imported some Mangalica to serve as a team of "eco pigs" to improve the range of plant and insect life on its grounds. This is part of a process of returning animal species that used to preform an important function in the life cycle of a whole environment. When the species that performed this sort of niche in the chain has died out entirely there has been some success in introducing similar species. European which were slightly different from the extinct British Bison are also being introduced into Scotland and England for a similar reason. So, Curly pigs may return as an established part of the British countryside after all, though they will likely remain confined to rewilding projects for the foreseeable future rather than the farmyard.

There is however a connection between the Lincolnshire Curly Coat and the Mangalica beyond both being pigs famous for their hair. In the 1930s the Lincolnshire Curly Coat was doing so well that it was exported to several countries including the Soviet Union and Hungary. It is known that the two breeds interacted and for a time there existed a cross breed of the two called the Lincolica. The Lincolica died out by the 1950s though its possible that some modern Mangalica retain some Curly Coat ancestors. Perhaps something similar can be done in the UK to create a new Curly Coat breed in Lincolnshire?


Addendum: The story of the last Lincolnshire Curly Coat 

The Curly Coat died out in the 1970s though reports differ on the exact year. Functionally as a distinct animal it had passed away by 1970, but a few old specimens remained. One, declared to be the last Lincolnshire Curly Coat in existence was tracked down on a farm in Lincolnshire. Regional news thought it would be a good human interest story to invite the pig and its owner to the studio. The farmer turned up with the pig quite a large example of a large breed arrived in the back of a truck. For some reason the studio had the farmer and pig arrive through the main entrance, the pig being both a pig in temperament and having been stuck in a truck on a long drive stretched its trotters and then shat and pissed all over the carpet in the main reception area. A pig that big produces a lot of waste material. Sadly no recording of the broadcast was made as far as I know so the story survives in recollection amongst older rural yellow bellies who were around at the time. 

Source list

Saturday, 4 March 2023

How being President made me a better Radical - a review of Suzerain


 Over the past week I've been playing Suzerain, a sort of choose your own adventure political simulation game. Released in 2020 by Torpor Games, I totally missed it until browsing a recommended for you tab during a sale. The aim of the game is for the player to take on the mantle of President of the nation of Sordland, a country with a very complex and bleak political history, complete with revolutions, military coups, civil wars and deposed monarchs. The game treats it all very seriously, with many of the people and cultures and organisations being similar but not copies of our own world during the early days of the Cold War. The game is set in 1953 by its own calendar and the technology and development and political situation of the world tally with that.

Once a decision is made you cannot reload and undo it, you'll have to start a whole new game if you really need to change course. The game starts with a profile builder for your character and a timeline of events in Sordland's recent history. Throughout you are given some options to choose from about certain actions and beliefs, this is largely to help the player build a picture of the character Anton Rayne, but some of the options do come up and have some bearing in the game. Eventually the timeline shifts to documenting Anton's rise to the Presidency, and the game proper starts with your inauguration.

The goal is to essentially survive as President and depending on player decisions stay alive until the conclusion of your first (only?) term. At the start you are given some options, economic outlook, pro-market or pro-planned economy, which sector of government to prioritise, defence, health etc. and which of the worlds two superpowers to develop closer ties or to push for a third path.  The prologue is there to give you a rough plan of who you wish to be as a person and a President. I chose to stick to that plan as closely as possible with deviations being forced upon me. I ended the game as partially successful reformer who had been swept up in the CSP, the game's version of the Warsaw Pact.

The game is very gripping, my first play through was over 11 hours which I played over a week. I needed to spread it over several days because otherwise I would've just done nothing but play the game until it ended. The world of Suzerain is full of characters, institutions, nations, cultures, religions, and so on. There is a codex for nearly everything referenced in the game and its information can be useful at certain parts of the game. It took 11 hours to play the game, just reading a file of the codex entries alone will had several more hours. But, you don't need to be overly familiar with the games codex to be successful, its an asset, but not a vital one, you can still complete a play-through with some thought and a strong sense of what you want to achieve.

The music is also a strong point of the game. Most of the games action is through text boxes so the soundtrack had to work hard to deliver on setting appropriate moods. After playing the game I bought the soundtrack and have listened to it quite a bit. The tracks were composed by James Spence and they're fantastic, Suspense the track that often accompanied the stressed and important political meetings made me feel like biting my nails, a habit I broke years ago, and Past which covers more reflective episodes had me looking back on my own life.

 It does allow you scope to play radically differently, I ended the game as a mostly clean democrat who leaned left and had made some ground to support minorities and averted an invasion from a powerful neighbour. Looking at the achievements on Steam, I can see that I could've done the exact opposite, become a brutal and corrupt despot, or overthrown in yet another civil war, and many points in between. And crucially, the developments largely made sense, there were times when bombshells were dropped in my lap, but once the smoke cleared and I learnt more about those events they also made sense. I understood why my opposition, oligarchs, foreign powers, conservatives and nationalists, were out to get me. I didn't particularly sympathise with their views but they had reasons for doing what they were doing. 

Sordland is to put it bluntly a mess. Its been ruled by a military strongman whose shadow still looms over everything, it is technically a democratic state but its constitution was devise with the explicit intention of maintaining strong central authority, and the ruling party the United Sordland Party (USP) has ruled unquestioned since the end of the civil war. You are the current leader of the USP which is both a blessing and a curse. And a failed reformist administration provoked a major economic recession, and there's a powerful and active nationalist movement even more fanatically devoted to the ruling ideology than the USP, violent extremist groups and at least one regional power looking to change the map for good. And that's just on day one. For a text based game that moves from one backroom meeting to the next its surprisingly eventful.

Which brings me to this games most important teaching moment. No matter how strong my mandate or how dirty I fought or how pure my ideals, I could not carry out fundamental change to the system. The best I could do was push through some reforms, and that had to be watered down when I faced intractable opposition. If I kept pushing things to there limit, at best all my reforms would fail, and I would probably be done for, or attacked by a foreign power. The Anarchist criticism of power isn't that bad people can hold power, it is power itself that is the issue. Being President of a nation is not a blank check to do whatever you wish so we just have to make sure the best person gets the top job and all is well. Presidents et al are constrained by other forces and circumstance, compromises have to be made and no matter what the system continues grinding on. And Suzerain teaches this important lesson at every step on the road. 

I promised to expand healthcare during my first term, but we were in the middle of a severe recession inherited from past administrations, and the oligarchs and the ultra conservative political elite had already threatened me repeatedly. So, I expanded funding for the courts and created an anti-corruption force to tackle corruption but also to investigate both factions, healthcare had to make do with what resources it had. Later I was able to find enough money to combat a Polio outbreak and make prescription medicine free, but that put Sordland in debt and hindered the overall economic recovery. This is just one example, it simply isn't possible to achieve everything you promise the electorate. Which is also a lesson we are taught in the real world time after time. Dictator or Democrat, there is not one leader in world history whose legacy doesn't have many stains and broken promises. 

Usually, in political commentary the reaction to this is to lambast the individual leader or their network of advisers. And occasionally the criticism will expand to include the whole political party or coalition and very rarely during the time of political revolution the whole governmental mechanism will be condemned. Its obvious that some senior politicians are actively corrupt or promise well beyond their means to deliver, do I need to cite an example? I'm sure every reader can think of a dozen examples at least and some will be unique to their background. But Suzerain goes further than this, you can be an angel and work beyond the limits to achieve your vision, its a video game after all, even if Anton Rayne gets shot the player will be fine. It just won't be enough, forces outside your control with their own wills, desires and concerns will clash with you, even allied and friendly ones.

I have no idea if this was the intended message of Suzerain's developers Torpor Games. Though I find it difficult to see any other intended message. Especially when attending the games version of the United Nations the AN. The AN meeting is essentially where all of the foreign policy tangles you've tried to smooth out come to ahead. One after another Rayne and his counterparts in the other nations ascend to the podium and give their views, the words and specific goals of each speaker are different but the forms and structure are the same. They each outline their grievances with each other, often at opposite sides of the same tensions, each one is selective in their arguments and uses high talk of ideals to cloak pragmatic demands, and each one has a point. There is no `good guy` there, they all are equally to blame for causing these tensions and are all equally blameless since they are the inheritors and responders to past and current tensions beyond their control. Even your nation Sordland behaves in much the same way, or at least my Sordland did. 

There were dialogue options to stress peace and co-operation, but I just didn't see the point in choosing any of them, it was far too late for any such talk to make a difference. By that point I had a neighbour actively trying to provoke a war with me and building a nuclear weapons program, I had also signed Sordland into the CSP a powerful block of nations and its leader had already started modernising Sordland's military. I had already been pressured into taking a side in regional and global conflict that seemed about to rip open any day. And I had seen no evidence from the other heads of government that neutral appeal would work at all in advancing Sordland's benefit.

I had set out with the goal of staying independent and maintaining peace and treating everyone fairly but the events of the game forced me to make serious compromises on nearly every front. Which is also a testament to the games excellent writing, its a video game, I could've have at any point said `to hell with it` and played how I wished damning the consequences and just booting up a new game when the sword finally dropped on my head. But, I just couldn't play like that, I cared what those close to me felt about me and wanted to collaborate with them. And I actively viewed several characters in contempt and looked forward to arranging their downfall and felt cheated in the cases where I could never catch them. And for the bigger picture I struggled to do the best I could with the limited resources I had while doing my best to keep all those plates spinning.  

This is how I ended up.

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

The Trials and Tribulations of Hermann Duncker


Hermann Duncker was born in Hamburg on the 24th of May 1874 and died on the 22nd of June in 1960, he was buried in the Friedrichfelde Central Cemetry in Berlin. That was a turbulent time for most and especially politically active Germans. In summary Duncker was an active participant in the 1918 German Revolution, WWII and the Cold War, and was often in the middle of the action.

Hermann's introduction to socialism came from his wife Kate Doell who was a teacher and member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The Duncker were from the SPD's first generation of Marxist activists after the Marx wing of theoreticians established a hold on the party leadership. He became an fervent supporter of the Marxist wing of the SPD, and in the run up to the First World War supported the anti-war minority alongside Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. He followed them in founding the Spartacus League and alongside his wife Kate were on the first Central Committee of the Communist Party (KPD). 

When the Nazis came to power Herman spent a year in a Concentration camp, caught in an early crackdown on political dissidents, but luckily he was released. Soon after the Duncker family went into protective exile, eventually settling in France. While supporters of the Soviet Union Stalin's growing paranoia and political maneuveres caused the Duncker family great distress. The Duncker's had become close to Nikolai Bukharin who was destroyed politically and then executed in 1936 during the Great Purge. The purge also targetted Herman's son Wolfgang was also attacked and persecuted while in the Soviet Union. Wolfgang died in the Vorkutlag Gulag in 1942, Herman and Kate found out about their son's fate years later. Things got worse for the family when the Soviet Union signed a pact with Hitler in 1939 with the support of the remaining KPD leadership in Moscow. The Duncker's found themselves again in an oppositional minority within their party. 

When France fell to the Wehrmacht Duncker fled through Vichy France to Casablanca before finally reaching the United States of America in 1941 after his wife Kate was able to obtain travel papers for him. While in the USA Herman joined the anti-Nazi Council for a Democratic Germany, a group that sort to unite the German diaspora in the United States in their efforts to oppose the Third Reich. Duncker's membership of this body demonstrates the extent of the rift between him and the Communist movement at this time, the Council was set up in 1944 in opposition to the Communist party dominated National Committee for a Free Germany which was founded in Moscow in 1943.

After the war in 1947 Herman and Kate returned to Germany and settled in the Soviet Occupation zone which became the German Democratic Republic (DDR) more commonly known as East Germany. They joined the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), which was created out of a merger of the SPD and KPD, echoing a position Duncker had advocated in his time in the KPD during the Weimar Republic. Duncker returned to academics occupying several prestigious teaching positions, Professor and Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Rostock, Rector of the academy of the Free German Trade Union Federation etc. And in his last years was awarded several high honours including the Patriotic Order of Merit in 1955 and the DDR's highest honour the Order of Karl Marx in 1953. When he passed away in 1960 his body was interred in the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetry, a graveyard reserved for high officials of the DDR and located close to a memorial dedicated to German Socialists.

His views and his circumstances would change often throughout his life which isn't surprising or unique, time and experience change us all. His life is interesting, and at time of writing getting easier to look up, more of his articles are being translated into English on the Marxist Internet Archive, and more biographical information is slowly popping up on wikipedia and an eclectic mix of socialist blogs and webpages. 

Personally speaking though, I think the main lesson to be learnt about the life of Herman Duncker is in his relationship and evolution through Marxism. I first became aware of Duncker when getting into a friendly disagreement with a Marxist who was making some pretty tall claims about Marxist cannon. I read the article that was sent my way, looked Duncker up, read what I could find about him, then started reading through a selection of the articles that had been translated and uploaded and found him an interesting fellow but was confused as to why he was being presented to me as evidence for the argument being made. Duncker was being held up as an example of "proper" or "real" Marxist thinking. The article in question was Duncker's What is Socialism? published in 1909. If you're wondering why I used quotation marks, its because what he meant by real Marxism was Marxist writing that tallied with his views on Marxism. Marxism is a fundamentally incoherent field of thought with over a hundred schools and doctrines all competing with each other. For what it's worth I agree that What is Socialism? did tally fairly well with his particular Marxism, (Socialist Party of Great Britain if you're curious) but sectarian arguments no longer really interest me.

What did catch my eye though, was the timeline of his life and political career and another article written in 1925 attacking his former mentors in the SPD called Ferdinand Lassalle's Centenary

 The leaders of social democracy, which pretend to be Marxist, indeed concealed both condemnations from the mass of their members for many years. The marginal notes were only published 16 years later, the letter to Kugelmann 17 years after the other letters had been printed.Even in the Marx-Engels correspondence certain very harsh expressions against Lassalle seem to have been suppressed by the publisher. This is how the socialist party of Germany guards against any wrong being done to its party saint Lassalle. As a matter of fact, the socialist party of Germany has much more in common with Lassalle than with Marx, although now it is far behind Lassalle in "practical politics" and can no longer claim to be heir to his views, for he was at least always a bitter opponent of the bourgeois party.

 Again the text isn't breaking new ground for me, but the passage quoted above did get my gears working. Duncker is discussing a little known fact about the history of the works of Karl Marx. While Marx was a live and for a number of years after his death the vast majority of his works were completely unknown to the world. It's known that his private correspondence remained private and that the last three volumes of Capital were published posthumously, but many including most Marxists I've met do not know that the majority of his published work remained in his study or at most received one or two very limited print runs before disappearing. And a number of those that did see some circulation while Marx was alive survive in history as edited versions republished by Engels after Marx's death. Here, Duncker is accusing the leadership of the SPD who took over the works and archives of both Marx and Engels after their deaths of using this access as leverage.

And its true that for much of the early days of Marxism the only people who had access to the majority of Karl Marx's works and ideas was a small group of intellectuals with the German Social Democratic movement. This changed in the 1930s, when the Soviet Union successfully bought the complete archives from the SPD leadership in exile, the Soviet Union then started printing and translating and releasing them. If you're wondering where I'm going with this I'll cut to the point. Herman Duncker an avid reader of theoretical works who took his knowledge seriously went from a Marxist Social Democrat to a Leninist, to a Stalinist at the same time his access to the works of Marx and Engels increased significantly.

There's a very alarming tendency in left wing circles to treat texts like holy relics and theoretical work like revelations. The argument being that through intensive study and reaching the "correct" interpretation of the learning will make one a better Marxist/Communist/whatever. However, Herman Duncker was a man who dedicated his life to this study and ending up supporting a brutal regime that murdered his own son! And the well from which he drew most of the material for his studies was the Soviet Union which at the time was led by Joseph Stalin. Popularising the works of Marx and Engels didn't cause a massive wave of anti-Stalin communist reaction, the dissident Marxists remained small and isolated.

So, this raises some questions, either the works of Marx and Engels lead logically to the Berlin Wall and the Gulag Archipelago, or the study of texts in a vacuum are insufficient for the task of building a movement of conscious revolutionaries aware of the dangers and the task of building a better world. I don't think the first option is quite true, you can certainly take bits and pieces from both to stitch together an argument for it, that's what Stalin and Marxism-Leninism i.e. Stalinism with pretensions does after all. Its also what most of the other Marxists do for their own ends, the Socialist Party of Great Britain member was happy to claim Duncker's early work when he felt it backed him up in an internet disagreement but didn't seem to bother knowing more about the man then that, or if he did know about Duncker didn't really care that his ideas and trajectory took him into the arms of the heretics.

The point of theory like all educational materials is that you're supposed to engage with it and not submit to it. One of Herman's articles that has been translated into English touches on this subject, How Should One Read? published in 1931. It sounds like an exploration of how to approach knowledge but is largely about how to access information quickly and often. The task of the reader (apparently) is not to evaluate the work being read but to try and fully absorb the authors argument in outline. Most of the advice is physical on how to build your own library and indexing system, he advocates reading and re-reading works and constantly adding notes and summarises on the key points of each passage. At no point does he talk about using critical thinking or checking the work you've been reading, the assumption is made that "important literature" which seems to mean Communist party approved literature is ultimately correct and the issue lies with the reader to work out the argument. There's a section on how to set up a study group whose sole purpose seems to be to make sure that each individual member can learn the correct argument being made by the text with the assistance of the others. 

The explanation for this frankly obsessive manner of rote learning is that Karl Marx did it, so the implication being that if it's good enough for him its good enough for you. 

It will be seen how one "grows into" a really good book and how it gives one new rays of light all the time. As for books one can only borrow, one should copy the important passages from them. At the age of seventeen, Marx wrote to his father "I have made a habit of making excerpts from all the books I read... and jotting down reflections underneath."Among the papers left by Marx there are 200 notebooks full of such excerpts. In this connection one should not forget to make a note of the origin of the passage extracted and possibly also the date of the excerpt


It will be seen how one "grows into" a really good book and how it gives one new rays of light all the time. As for books one can only borrow, one should copy the important passages from them. At the age of seventeen, Marx wrote to his father:"I have made a habit of making excerpts from all the books I read... and jotting down reflections underneath."Among the papers left by Marx there are 200 notebooks full of such excerpts. In this connection one should not forget to make a note of the origin of the passage extracted and possibly also the date of the excerpt.

 And then further supports this argument with a quotation from Lenin,

There will certainly be no lack of reading material as long as there is a genuine will to study. Serious and steady intent will help on to get over a single ruined evening and the technical difficulties. After all, what did Lenin say in his great speech to the Young Communists in October 1920:

"But you would be committing a great mistake, if you attempted to draw the conclusion that one can become a communist without acquiring what human knowledge has accumulated. It would be a mistake to believe that it is sufficient to learn communist slogans, the conclusions of communist science, and that it is not necessary to acquire the sum of knowledge of which communism itself is a consequence."

(Lenin's Selected Works: Vol. 9, p. 470, "Tasks of the Youth Leagues".)

The practically advice for taking notes isn't bad, it can help quite a few readers, I use a different system myself but if Herman's works for you than that's fine. My issue with Herman's advice is the end for his means, he wants Communist party members to read like this so they can obtain the "correct" message, its an argument for theoretical orthodoxy. The beginning of the article has a very interesting passage,

 When even so vain and affected a bourgeois scholar as Prof. Sombart does not feel embarrassed to admit, in a booklet, that he had read the "Communist Manifesto" a hundred times and yet still finds new stimulus in it, then a worker thirsting for learning cannot regard it as "beneath his dignity" to study over and over again writings like the "Manifesto" and many more by Marx, Engels, Lenin and others.

He wants his audience to read from an approve canon over and over again. That is how doctrine's form and I find the Lenin quote chosen to be very curious because in that passage he's saying  "But you would be committing a great mistake, if you attempted to draw the conclusion that one can become a communist without acquiring what human knowledge has accumulated." But Herman appears to have taken human knowledge and replaced with the knowledge promoted by the Communist party printing presses. The rare occasions he references literary work outside of this in the article he is always dismissive and hostile.

I did wonder why the Duncker's went to East Germany after the fallout of World War II and the Great Purge and the death of his own son. But I stopped wondering after reading How Should One Read? The main points of disagreement with the two parties he dedicated his life to, the SPD and then the KPD/SED were spurred by events that were largely unexpected and didn't have much theoretical preparation. The SPD participation in the German war government was surprising, the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 came after three years of intense support for anti-fascist agitation, and the Great Purge not only targetted the Duncker family directly, it too arrived with little preparation. Outside of these major events he had been a loyal supporter of Lenin's and then Stalin's Communist movement which was never free of repression and power squabbles. If How Should One Read? is genuinely autobiographical it makes a lot of sense why he turned out the way he did.

Herman Duncker was a clever and brave man, he was not afraid to oppose the majority when he believed them to be wrong, but in the end he submitted and became another functionary in a repressive system that claimed many lives. Herman is a warning to us not to let our fixations become tools to ensnare us and betray the things that make us human. 

The Order of Karl Marx, I wonder if it was worth it?

Friday, 10 February 2023

A review of Esperanto Kaj Socialismo [Esperanto and Socialism] by Detlev Blanke


Esperanto kaj Socialismo? pri la movado sur la "alia flanko"(1), is a short piece of historical information about the Esperanto movement in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War period. The author Detlev Blanke grew up in East Germany and was an active promoter of Esperanto at the time so the work is largely autobiographical. I won't pretend this isn't a text written for a small niche, but if you're interested in Esperanto enough to read works written in the language there is some value and interest to be found in these pages even if you had no interest in socialism or Eastern Europe.

I of course, am interested in both subjects, so I had a lot to digest. I would say an sperta komencanto, or a beginner with some experience should find the text readable with maybe a few pauses to consult a dictionary. A passage from the introduction struck me as interesting, most of the text was taken from a lecture and expanded with more detail. The subject of the lecture was about ideology and its relationship to Esperanto, and focused on what is commonly referred to as the "socialismaj landoj" socialist countries. Meaning of course nations controlled by Communist parties such as the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of Poland. But the extent to which these nations were socialist has been contested. Detlev Blanke has since come to the conclusion that these nations including the one he grew up didn't live up to those titles. He thinks that a more accurate description would be "soclandoj" a word I have a hard time translating into English. I suppose Socialette countries would be the most accurate way to do it. What he's done is reduced socialism to its root or germ, these nations didn't build a socialist society but Blanke believes the intention and aspiration to do so was genuine and had things developed differently they might have succeeded. 

Its a bit like how a novelette isn't just a short story, but a short story that has the potential to become a full novel. For example Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf, it has a full story structure and could be expanded into a longer work, and was though for film with the novelette being the foundation of the script for Silver Bullet. 

Esperanto and Socialism's main thrust is a history of the development of the officially approved Esperanto movement in East Germany and its connections with the wider "socialist" or more accurately pro-Soviet Union nations and their approved Esperanto movements. The text is acronym heavy and many names are called up but the layout limits the potential confusion. While the details of the benefits of working with the government will make some Esperantists envious, multiple school courses, subsidised travel, funding for diverse publications, conferences attended by important people etc. Blanke makes clear that these came at costs. The Esperantists of Eastern Europe had to conform to the limits of accepted behaviour and discussion. The Soviet Union was a major obstacle in this regard. Stalin's brutal repressions targeted the Soviet Esperantist movement, and while many of them were posthumously "rehabilitated" it was still a sore subject to give publicity to criticism of Stalin's rule in Brezhnev's Soviet Union. Another issue was language imperialism. This is a subject familiar to most Esperantists, and it wasn't much different on the other side of the Berlin Wall. The main difference was instead of having to contend with the popularity of English or French they had to deal with the pre-eminence of Russian. In addition to competing with Russian for space in international communications criticism of linguistic domination of Russian was also a contentious topic.

The limits on what could be discussed and obstinacy on behalf of the bureaucracy that controlled East Germany were issues that couldn't be tackled without direct opposition to the government, which given that these were all dictatorial societies with extensive police powers wasn't advisable. Still, the Esperantists of Eastern Europe were able to rebuild movements shattered by the Nazis and Stalin, and later Nicolae Ceaușescu who cracked down on Esperanto in the 1980s, and were able to make some space for international discussion, culture and debate and promotion of peace in international affairs.


1: Esperanto and Socialism? information on the movement on the "other side" is how I translate the title into English



Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Helpu la Anarkismojn en Ukrino rezisti militon kaj vintran malvarmon! - Help Anarchists in Ukraine resist the War and the Winter cold!


Assembleia estas reta anarkiisma amaskomunikilaro el Kharkov, Ukrainio ( Ekde la agreso de la Rusa Federacia armeo, ĉi tiuj kunuloj tenas firme la anarkiisman kaj internaciistan standardon en dramaj cirkonstancoj.

Sub la bomboj de la Rusa Federacio, ili partoprenas en agoj de bazsolidareco kaj civila rezisto, sen sinki en subtenon por la ukraina registaro. Male, ili konservas kritikan starpunkton al ukraina Ŝtato kaj ĝiaj estraroj (de nacia ĝis regiona kaj loka), elmontrante la korupton de la diversaj niveloj de administrado kaj de enlandaj militprofitantoj. Assembleia daŭre donas informojn al laboristoj kaj kritikas lokajn estrojn, kiuj profitas la situacion por ekspluati eĉ pli la laboristojn.

Assembleia subtenas laŭte kaj klare la anarkiismajn, kontraŭ-statismajn kaj kontraŭ-militismajn principojn, dum la plej multaj el la “anarkiismaj” individuoj kaj grupoj en Ukrainio ĵetis ĉiujn principojn eksterŝipen tuj kiam la invado komenciĝis.

Pro la detruo de esencaj infrastrukturoj fare de la rusa armeo, la hejtado certe mankos al la kunuloj, dum la vintro kutime estas aparte severa en ĉi tiu mondoregiono. La energiproblemo, kiu jam influas multajn el ni, ekestiĝos tie eĉ pli dramece. Tial ni lanĉas urĝan alvokon por solidareco kun la kunuloj de Assembleia por helpi ilin kiam la vintro alproksimiĝas:

– vi povas fari interretajn donacojn sur ilia platformo:

  – vi ankaŭ povas sendi bankĉekojn en eŭroj pagotaj al CNT-AIT (menciu “Solidarité Ukraine” sur la dorso) al CNT-AIT, 7 rue ST Rémésy 31000 TULUZO.

– vi povas fari banktranspagon (en eŭro) al la sekva konto (bonvolu sendi retmesaĝon al contact@solidarité.online por informi nin pri la banktransigo):

IBAN: FR81 2004 1010 1603 1175 7H03 7 45 BIC: PSSTFRPPTO

Konto posedanto: CNT-AIT / Banko: Banque Postale

La kunuloj kaj kunuloj de la iniciato Olga Taratuta

Help Anarchists in Ukraine resist the War and Winter Cold!

Assembly is an online Anarchist communication group from Kharkiv, Ukraine ( Since the start of the aggression of the Army of the Russian Federation this group has firmly taken a stance in support of Anarchism and Internationalism, under difficult circumstances.

Under the bombs of the Russian Federation, they participate in actions of fundamental solidarity and civil resistance without sinking to support for the Ukrainian government. On the contrary, they maintain a critical stand regarding the Ukrainian state and its leaders (whether national, regional or local), have exposed corruption at various levels of the administration and internal war profiteers. Assembly continues to give information to the workers and criticises local bosses who profit from the situation to increase exploitation of Ukrainian workers. 

Assembly supports Anarchist, anti-state and anti-war principles loudly and clearly, while most "anarchist" individuals and groups jettisoned their principles as soon as the invasion began. 

Because of the Russian army's destruction of essential infrastructure these companions lack heating, and winter is especially severe in that part of the world. The energy crisis that already effects many of us will be even more severe there. That is why we have launched an urgent call for support of the members of Assembly, to help them with the approaching winter.

– you can make an online donation using their platform:

  – You can also send checks in European currencies to the CNT-AIT (mention “Solidarité Ukraine” on the back) al CNT-AIT, 7 rue ST Rémésy 31000 TULUZO.

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The companions of Olga Taratuta


Monday, 23 January 2023

Text of the Soviet directive “On Preventing the Mass Exodus of Peasants From Ukraine,”

'Crossection in Vinnitsya, 1939'. It shows the massacre made by Stalin when thousands of Ukrainian were killed during the Great Purge in 1937-1938. By William Kurelek (1927 -1977)

The following text is an English translation of a directive that lead to the deaths of over 3 million Ukrainians. In the 1930s Soviet agricultural policies combined with poor conditions for harvesting caused the collapse of agricultural production in many areas of the Soviet Union but especially in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Southern Russia. The population in the these areas went looking for food, often travelling vast distances on foot, some with their families others leaving them behind in the hope of sending food back. 

In the Russian Empire you required special papers to travel within the Empire, a sort of internal passport. This was kept by the Soviet Union, so what the starving were doing was illegal. It was also causing embarrassment and was a potential source of unrest. The document below is the official response from the Soviet authorities to this crisis. By refusing to let the starving leave they were condemned to die. This was remembered as the Holodomor, which comes from the Ukrainian for killing by starvation. Its been a mark on the legacy of Stalin and the Soviet Union for decades and is slowly being recognised internationally as a genocide.




DIRECTIVE of January 22, 1933 No. 65/sh


January 22, 1933.

Rostov-Don, Kharkiv, Voronezh, Smolensk, Minsk, Stalingrad, Samara

N. 65/w

The Central Committee (b) and the Council of People's Commissars reported that a mass departure of peasants "for bread" to the Central Choir, the Volga, Moscow region, the Western region, Belarus began in Kuban and Ukraine. The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR have no doubt that this departure of peasants, as well as the departure from Ukraine last year, was organized by the enemies of the Soviet power, Socialist-Revolutionaries and agents of Poland for the aim of campaigning "through peasants" in the northern regions of the USSR against collective farms and against the Soviet power in general. Last year, the party, Soviet and Chekist bodies of Ukraine missed this counter-revolutionary idea of the enemies of Soviet power. Last year there can be no repetition of last year's mistake.

The first one. The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR prescribe the regional, regional executive committee and PP of the OGPU of the North Caucasus to prevent the mass departure of peasants from the North Caucasus to other regions and entry into the region from Ukraine.

Second. The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of People's Commissars order the Central Committee of the CP(b)U, Balitsky and Redens to prevent the mass departure of peasants from Ukraine to other regions and entry to Ukraine from the North Caucasus.

Third. The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of People's Commissars order the PP of the OGPU of the Moscow Region, the Central Emergency Committee, the Western Region, Belarus, the Lower Volga and the Middle Volga to arrest the "peasants" of Ukraine and the North Caucasus who have made their way to the north and after the counter-revolutionary elements are

Fourth. The Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of People's Commissars order the TO of the GPU Prokhorov to give an appropriate order under the TO system of the GPU.

Pre-Commarch of the USSR B. M. Molotov

Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) I. Stalin

(RGASPI. F. 558. Op. 11. D. 45. L. 109-109 ob.)

Directive of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) and the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR in connection with the mass departure of peasants outside Ukraine

January 23, 1933.

1.     ⁠Send the following directive to all regional committees and regional executive committees (see annex).

2.     ⁠To propose an authorized drug committee (i.e. Lavrishchev) and the South ZhOKTO GPU to immediately give instructions to all railway stations to stop selling tickets outside Ukraine to peasants who do not have a certificate of the RICs of departure or industrial and construction state organizations that they have been recruited for certain works outside Ukraine.

Secretary of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U M. Khataevich

Application Regional committees, regional executive committees

Mass trips of peasants to the Moscow and Western regions began from some regions of Ukraine following the example of last year. CCHO, Belarus 'for bread'. There are cases when the whole leaves almost all individuals and part of the collective farmers. There is no doubt that such mass trips are organized by the enemies of the Soviet power, Socialist-Revolutionaries and agents of Poland for the aim of campaigning 'through peasants' in the northern regions of the USSR against collective farms, against Soviet power. Last year, the party, Soviet and Chekist bodies of Ukraine missed this counter-revolutionary idea of the enemies of Soviet power. This year, this error should not be repeated.

The Central Committee of the CP(b)U and the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR offer:

1.     ⁠Immediately take decisive measures in each district to prevent the mass departure of individual collective farmers, based on the Balitsky directive sent through the GPU.

2.     ⁠Check the work of all kinds of recruiters of the slave force for export outside Ukraine, take it under strict control with the suspension from this work and the removal of all suspicious counter-revolutionary elements.

3.     ⁠To launch extensive explanatory work among collective farmers and individuals against unauthorized departures leaving the economy and warn them that if they go to other areas, they will be arrested there.

4.     ⁠Take measures to stop the sale of tickets outside Ukraine to peasants who do not have certificates of the RICs of the right to leave or industrial and construction state organizations that they have been recruited for certain work outside Ukraine. Relevant instructions are given through the IPNKPS and the transport GPU.

5.     ⁠Report no later than 6 p.m. on January 24 briefly the actual situation with the mass departure of peasants in your area.

Secretary of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U Khataevich

Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR B. Chubar



Центральный Комитет ВКП(б)
Совет Народных Комиссаров СССР

от 22 января 1933 года № 65/ш

в связи с массовым выездом крестьян за пределы Украины

22 января 1933 г.

Ростов-Дон, Харьков, Воронеж, Смоленск,
Минск, Сталинград, Самара

N. 65/ш

До ЦКВКП(б) и СНК дошли сведения, что на Кубани и Украине начался массовый выезд крестьян «за хлебом» в ЦЧО, на Волгу, Московскую обл., Западную обл., Белоруссию. ЦК ВКП и Совнарком СССР не сомневаются, что этот выезд крестьян, как и выезд из Украины в прошлом году, организован врагами Советской власти, эсерами и агентами Польши с целью агитации «через крестьян» в северных районах СССР против колхозов и вообще против Советской власти. В прошлом году партийные, советские и чекистские органы Украины прозевали эту контрреволюционную затею врагов Советской власти. В этом году не может быть допущено повторение прошлогодней ошибки.

Первое. ЦК ВКП и Совнарком СССР предписывают крайкому, крайисполкому и ПП ОГПУ Северного Кавказа не допускать массовый выезд крестьян из Северного Кавказа в другие края и въезд в пределы края из Украины.

Второе. ЦК ВКП и Совнарком предписывают ЦК КП(б)У, Балицкому и Реденсу не допускать массовый выезд крестьян из Украины в другие края и въезд на Украину из Северного Кавказа.

Третье. ЦК ВКП и Совнарком предписывают ПП ОГПУ Московской обл., ЦЧО, Западной обл., Белоруссии, Нижней Волги и Средней Волги арестовывать пробравшихся на север «крестьян» Украины и Северного Кавказа и после того, как будут отобраны контрреволюционные элементы, водворять остальных в места их жительства.

Четвертое. ЦК ВКП и Совнарком предписывают ТО ГПУ Прохорову дать соответствующее распоряжение по системе ТО ГПУ.

  Предсовнарком СССР
  В. М. Молотов
  Секретарь ЦК ВКП(б)
  И. Сталин

(РГАСПИ. Ф. 558.Оп. 11. Д. 45. Л. 109-109об.)

Директива ЦК ВКП(б) и СНК СССР в связи с массовым выездом крестьян за пределы Украины

23 января 1933 г.

1. Послать всем обкомам и облисполкомам следующую директиву (см. приложение).

2. Предложить уполнаркомпути (т. Лаврищеву) и ЮЖОКТО ГПУ немедленно дать указания всем железнодорожным станциям о прекращении продажи билетов за пределы Украины крестьянам, не имеющим удостоверения РИКов о праве выезда или промышленных и строительных государственных организаций о том, что они завербованы на те или другие работы за пределами Украины.

  Секретарь ЦК КП(б)У
  М. Хатаевич

Обкомам, облисполкомам

Из некоторых районов Украины начались по примеру прошлого года массовые выезды крестьян в Московскую, Западную обл. ЦЧО, Белоруссию 'за хлебом'. Имеют место случаи, когда цела покидаются почти всеми единоличниками и частью колхозников. Нет никаких сомнений, что подобные массовые выезды организуются врагами Советской власти, эсерами и агентами Польши с целью агитации 'через крестьян' в северных районах СССР против колхозов, против Советской власти. В прошлом году партийные, советские и чекистские органы Украины прозевали эту контрреволюционную затею врагов Советской власти. В этом году повторения этой ошибки не должно быть допущено.

ЦК КП(б)У и СНК УССР предлагают:

1. Немедленно принять в каждом районе решительные меры к недопущению массового выезда единоличников колхозников, исходя из разосланной по линии ГПУ директивы Балицкого.

2. Проверить работу всякого рода вербовщиков рабсилы на вывоз за пределы Украины, взять ее под строгий контроль с отстранением от этой работы и изъятием всех подозрительных контрреволюционных элементов.

3. Развернуть широкую разъяснительную работу среди колхозников и единоличников проти самовольных выездов с оставлением хозяйства и предостеречь их, что в случае выезда в другие районы, они будут там арестовываться.

4. Примите меры к прекращению продажи билетов за пределы Украины крестьянам, не имеющим удостоверений РИКов о праве выезда или промышленных и строительных государственных организаций о том, что они завербованы на те или иные работы за пределы Украины.

Соответствующие указания даны по линии ИпНКПС и транспортного ГПУ.

5. Сообщите не позже 6 час. вечера 24 января коротко фактическое положение с массовым выездом крестьян по вашей области.

  Секретарь ЦК КП(б)У
  Председатель СНК УССР
  В. Чубарь

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