Fri 3 Jun 2005
In my weekly book review I will this time write about a book, which in fact exists in three volumes. It is so because after releasing the first one the author has added two more on the same subject, with more evidence and discussion of his claims. I’m referring to the “Icebreaker”, “Day M” and “The Last Republic” by Viktor Suvorow, pen name of Vladimir Rezun.
These books are as unusual as is their author. He is a son of a Russian soldier who fought in the second world war. He is an ex-officer of the Red Army, who during his service in a tanks regiment participated in the invasion on Czechoslovakia in 1968. He is also an ex-agent of GRU, soviet military intelligence agency, more ruthless and effective than KGB although dealing exclusively in foreign intelligence, not with suppression of internal dissidents.
After this exceptional career, which coming from a poor family he has only luck and his own abilities to thank for, Rezun defected 1978 to the United Kingdom and has remained there ever since. He provided the Western intelligence agencies with vital information about soviet spying, especially about the GRU and soviet’s efforts in stealing new technology from the West. Afterwards, living under protection of the United Kingdom’s intelligence he turned to writing. Only recently he was allowed to travel to some of the Eastern Block countries, including Poland, where his books are very popular.
While other of his writings include memoirs of his unusual life and some fiction, the “Icebreaker” is his most important work which brought him fame and raised an important historical debate, which continues until now.
In the “Icebreaker” Rezun proposes a very convincing explanation of the unprecedented success of Nazi Germany’s attack on Soviet Russia on June 22 1941, as well as much of the Stalinist Soviet Union internal and external policies in the years before the WW-II. His view is that Stalin was preparing to spread the communism and communist revolution all over the world, beginning with Europe. To achieve this he prepared the military machine on unprecedented scale and helped Hitler to start the war. Hitler was to serve as the “icebreaker of the revolution”, destroying the European system of states and preparing ground for the communism. Stalin planned to strike at Germany using the fact that its forces were spread thin, and then overrun it and occupy most (if not all) of Europe.
All this was planned in a very detailed way years before the events took place. A few weeks before the attack, as the military strategy requires, Soviet forces advanced to their border with the Nazi Germany, along with tons of various supplies and materials. Border fortifications were dismantled to clear the terrain for troops advancement and Border Protection Troops (part of KGB’s predecessor, NKVD) were withdrawn handing their posts over to the regular units of the Red Army. Everything was prepared, but then the Germans struck first. Of course, as it was the moment the Red Army was most vulnerable it was defeated quickly by the advancing Germans, who captured lots of vital supplies as well. Soviets were unable to fight, because their equipment, training and doctrine were prepared with attack, not defense in mind. They didn’t even have maps of their own territory, although they had lots of maps of the German territories they were supposed to attack.
Rezun provides numerous proofs and analysis to support his point. Most of these can be easily checked, as he bases his work almost exclusively on publicly available materials, including official Soviet press, military history books and other publications. Some of the data provided is mind blowing, like for example the fact that by 1941 Stalin had one million of trained paratroopers (no other nation came even close to that number). Some of it less sensational, but equally falls in place only if we assume Stalin was preparing to strike somewhere in 1941 like for example the timing of introduction of compulsory military service in the Soviet Union.
The scenario of Stalin’s plans to conquer Europe sounds sensational in the West and is frequently referred to as disputed. However, it is very well documented and has two clear advantages over the classic explanation everyone learned at school.
First, it makes sense. Saying that Stalin, who didn’t trust even his own family trusted Hitler so much as to allow himself to be attacked with his pants down doesn’t make sense. Saying that he was caught of guard because he prepared to attack him is much more logical.
Second, it fits the attitude Soviet Union had for most of its existence. That’s why for a Pole Rezun’s claims don’t sound strange. Poland experienced firsthand Soviet Union’s first attempt to bring revolution to Germany in 1920, when during a bloody war newly created incompetently commanded Red Army was defeated near Warsaw. This little known victory saved most of Europe from communism for years. Then, in 1939 Poland was attacked not only by Germany but also by the Soviet Union, who only 17 days later invaded Poland from the East stabbing the Polish Army in the back.
After the WW-II Poland became part of the Eastern Block, the new war machine preparing to take on the West. Polish Army trained… to invade Denmark. Polish state railways were employing three times the number of workers than needed and maintained unnecessary lines because it was to serve as supply route for the advancing armies. Polish medical schools were teaching much more doctors and nurses than the country needed because it was planned that first line of military hospitals would be located there. Everywhere throughout the Eastern Block factories used machines, that could be switched in a matter of days or sometimes hours to military production. This resulted in using non-optimal equipment and waste of resources, but no one cared.
In 1998 I was in Poznan, on a project for an international tobacco company (they were deploying some kind of system for their sales personnel). They bought out an old communist factory (along with some brands popular on the local market). One of managers told me that they had to replace most of machines, because for example old machines that furled cigarettes were inefficient. They used huge amounts of energy, were bulky and slow. They were however capable of furling ammunition shells. He said he had seen the documentation which proved that the whole production line could have been switched to producing riffle ammunition in a matter of hours.
So, these preparations never ceased. Only in the seventies they were not treated as seriously as during Stalin’s era, which is quite natural because with time and change of generations even the comrades from Kremlin begun to value their comfort more than ideological obligations. However, that’s one of the reasons why I’m convinced Rezun is right.
Interestingly, most historians who attack Rezun don’t dispute the claim that Stalin was preparing to attack, they only argue that he planned to do it much later than Rezun says. This means they agree with the core of his argument and want to debate something, which from my point of view is a mere detail.
Another amazing thing about this book is the fact that it’s so hard to get in the United States. “Icebreaker” is long out of print and new copies are not available. However, the prices of the used ones are amazing. When I checked a year ago they stood at $200, now you have to pay $300 to get one on eBay or through Amazon’s used books service. I’ve even seen an offer on Amazon demanding $600 for a copy! The volumes that followed, “Day M” and “The Last Republic”, were not even translated into English so unless you know Russian or Polish it is not possible to read them.
Which means that to have your won opinion about it you have to either learn a foreign language or be willing to spend quite a lot of money (or be lucky enough to find it in a library). But it’s worth it if you are interested in modern history and wonder why the world looked the way it did in the 20th century. Highly recommended.