The World War II Multimedia Database

For the 72 Million

Prelude to War – Soviet Union

The prospect of a Communist Russia terrified the Western democracies in 1918. Britain, France and America sent troops to occupy Russian ports and they remained until the defeat of the White Russians in 1920. They left a country that was forming a government that many leftists hailed around the world.

Upon the death of Vladimir Lenin, a man took power that would create a very different legacy then the leftists hoped for. Josef Stalin was neither a Communist philosopher nor a Russian. He was a paranoid, jealous man, who dragged the Soviet Union into the twentieth century with an ever-escalating body count along the way.

The forced collectivization of the Kulaks, the landed peasantry, led to thousands of deaths. Stalin created whole new industrial cities, where the disempowered Kulaks built refineries and factories behind the Ural Mountains in virtual prisons. Stalin, who never wrote much Communist ideology, created rules for young communists to interact, creating a Communist society wholly unlike that of the Czars.

Stalin was gripped by paranoia, and he was merciless to his enemies real and imagined. Advancement in the Communist Party was made by making accusations of disloyalty or anti-Stalinist thinking against your perceived enemies. Three million people were sent to Siberia between 1926 and 1939. The Soviet secret police, the NKVD, would send anyone to the Gulag for a frivolous infraction. Its leader, Levi Beria, was a sadistic rapist who condemned men to death simply so he could sleep with their wives, daughters, or sisters. Russians called this period the “Great Terror.”

In 1937, Stalin’s attention turned to the Red Army. Within a few months, most of the Officers from major on up were executed or sent to Siberia. Stalin had cut off the head of his own dragon just as he needed it most. Some 20,000 officers were killed, and fear gripped the survivors. A third of the Red Army command was dead by the own country’s hand. The consequence was that no officer made a move without explicit instructions. Stalin even moved to remove rank and insignia. Every unit had a political officer who would monitor the soldiers for loyalty to Stalin. This would have consequences for the Red Army in Finland and later when the German Wehrmacht moved against the Red Army in June 1941. (One of the many things requested through lend-lease in 1942 was gold braid for the new officer insignia on their uniforms.) Paralyzed by fear and conflicting political directives, they would simply sit and wait for direction.

Stalin ordered no defensive fortifications to be built, since according to Stalinist doctrine, wars should only be fought on an enemy’s territory. Despite the Red Army’s failure in Finland, he maintained the invincibility of his leadership.

In reality he left the Soviet Union open to a major assault that would claim twenty to twenty-five million lives, in addition to those who died by his orders or the orders of his henchmen. Years of blood, suffering and death awaited Stalin’s people under his leadership.

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