Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DBTL 18: I'll Say They Are!

Moscow, USSR
3 March 1945

"How can the kulaks be revolting?" General Secretary Josef Stalin demanded. "I thought we killed all the kulaks?"

"We did," Lavrenti Beria affirmed. "I suppose more have arisen in their place."

"I was under the impression," Stalin said in a voice that was even more menacing than usual, "that it was your job to see to it that more did not arise in their place. I was under the impression that it was your job to liquidate any kulaks that appeared to sabotage the workers' paradise we have established."

Beria was not a happy man. As head of the NKVD, every internal security problem that appeared within the USSR was his responsibility. And there was just no getting away from the fact that the loss of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to a counterrevolutionary uprising represented a significant internal security problem.

The Poles were to blame, of course. The Galician lackeys they had sent across the border into the Ukrainian SSR had spread awful, terrible lies about the Soviet government and Beria's own noble security service. The poor, simple, gullible Ukrainian peasants had fallen for the Poles' slanders and, goaded by the treacherous kulaks that Beria had to admit shouldn't have been there in the first place, had risen up against the Party hierarchy and had even, so reports indicated, joined the brutal, undiscipled hordes of degenerate bourgeois monsters who were terrorizing their way across the Beacon of Socialism.

"The, er, trouble is, Comrade Stalin," Beria finally managed to say, "is that every peasant is by nature a kulak at heart, and we, um, couldn't kill them all. Could we?"

Stalin glared at Beria and said nothing, which was probably the very worst thing that could happen to a man while speaking with the General Secretary. It suddenly seemed very hot to Comrade Beria.

Some temporary relief (but Beria knew it was only temporary) was provided when Stalin shifted the focus of his attention to General Georgy Zhukov, Chief of Staff of the Red Army. "How is it, General Zhukov," Stalin asked, "that the Poles and Finns are able to advance at will against us, despite the fact that we outnumber them two to one?"

Beria hated Zhukov for the confidence and equanimity with which he was able to answer Comrade Stalin. "Comrade General Secretary, the Poles and Finns have both tactical and technical advantages over our forces. They have rockets and jet aircraft which we lack, and their use of massed tank formations in close conjunction with aerial and rocket bombardments is a tactic to which we have as yet been unable to formulate an effective response. Remember as well that it is not simply the Poles and Finns which we face; the Poles have incorporated considerable numbers of Germans into their forces." It was, Beria recognized, a masterful answer, which of course made Beria hate Zhukov all the more. Zhukov could not be blamed for the Red Army's technical deficiencies, for weapons development was ultimately under Beria's control, as Comrade Stalin knew very well. And Zhukov had countered the contempt for the Poles and Finns which all Russians shared (and which Stalin, a Georgian, had absorbed from the Russians) by emphasizing the presence of the Germans, whose presence inspired as much awe and dread among Russians as that of the Poles and Finns inspired contempt.

"And do not forget," Zhukov added, "that our forces continue to advance on the Manchurian front. The Japanese do not share the Poles' tactical and technical advantages, and thus cannot stand against us."

Another excellent point, Beria thought with growing hatred. Once the Japanese had seen the success the Poles and Finns were having against the Red Army, they had decided that the USSR would be easy pickings, and had launched their own attack on December 7. But Stalin, the ever-watchful, the unrelentingly paranoid, had been expecting just such an attack from the Japanese all along, and the Red Army had been ready and waiting for them. The Japanese Kwantung Army had run up against a brick wall, and the Red Army had driven them back across the Amur, and had been advancing ever since. The whole of Manchuria was now under Soviet control, and the Red Army was poised on the frontiers of Korea and China proper.

The proof of Zhukov's success was Stalin's reaction. He simply said, "Very well, Comrade Zhukov", and turned his attention to Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov.

"Comrade Molotov," he said evenly, "as you can see, our efforts to win back the western regions lost by the reactionary traitor Kerensky regime have not met with total success. I would be interested to hear your own views on how we should procede."

Beria felt his dark mood lightening. This was a familiar game that Comrade Stalin liked to play. You had to guess what he had decided to do, and advise him to do it. If you advised him to do the wrong thing, you lost points. Lose enough points, and you also lost your job, your freedom, and eventually your life.

Molotov of course showed no fear, which was one of the things Beria hated about him. He said, "Comrade General Secretary, in the present circumstances, I believe our best course of action would be to negotiate a truce with the Poles and Finns. If we continue on our present course, we may find the events of the Ukraine being repeated within Russia itself. After all, if there are secret cells of reactionary kulak traitors within the Ukraine, who can say that there are not also similar cells within Russia?" Beria's mood plunged back into depair. Just like Zhukov, Molotov was shifting the blame onto him!

Molotov continued. "Until Comrade General Zhukov can develop sufficient weapons and tactics to deal with the Poles and Finns on equal terms, there is little point to be gained in continuing the western war. We need a breathing space in which to develop such weapons and tactics. It may prove necessary to temporarily cede to the Poles and Finns some of the territories which their forces have occupied. Those can be reoccupied at a later time when we are better prepared for the task. Concerning the eastern war against the Japanese, I see no need to offer a similar truce to them. We may accept such a truce if one is insisted upon by the Poles and Finns as a condition of a truce with them, but if so we should insist upon the retention of all our gains in Manchuria."

Stalin nodded. "And you, Comrade General Zhukov?"

"I am in agreement with Comrade Molotov," said Zhukov.

Beria had been dreading the moment when Stalin would ask him his advice, but to his horror Stalin ignored him completely. Instead, the General Secretary said, "Comrades, I believe the course you advise is the one we should follow. Comrade Foreign Commissar, bring me a draft for a proposed truce with the Poles and Finns."

"You shall have it within the hour, Comrade General Secretary," said Molotov.

"Very well, comrades. You are dismissed."

If pistols had been allowed within Stalin's presence, Beria would have blown his brains out right then and there. As it was, he would have to wait until he was back in his office to do so.

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