The Great Pa­tri­otic War

Amna Ma­lik Vice Pres­i­dent, Pak­istan-Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion Friend­ship Fo­rum

The Diplomatic Insight - - Contents -

Amna Ma­lik

T he Nazi in­va­sion of the USSR in June 1941 her­alded the be­gin­ning of the most ti­tanic battle in the his­tory of hu­man­ity. The war ended in com­plete de­feat for Nazi Ger­many less than four years later with the fall of Ber­lin on May 9, 1941. Over 20,000,000 Soviet cit­i­zens and sol­diers died in the strug­gle to lib­er­ate the Moth­er­land from the fas­cist ag­gres­sors. Stand­ing squarely in the mid­dle of the Soviet Union’s timeline is the Great Pa­tri­otic War, the Rus­sian name for the eastern front of World War II. In re­cent years his­to­ri­ans have tended to give this war less im­por­tance than it de­serves. The war was more than just an in­ter­lude be­tween the ‘pre­war’ and ‘post­war’ pe­ri­ods. It changed the lives of hun­dreds of mil­lions of in­di­vid­u­als. For the sur­vivors, it also changed the world in which they lived. Dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tury in­ter­na­tional trade, lend­ing and migration de­vel­oped with­out much re­stric­tion. Great em­pires arose but did not much im­pede the move­ment of goods or peo­ple. By the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, how­ever, sev­eral newly in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing coun­tries were turn­ing to eco­nomic sta­bil­ity by con­trol­ling and di­vert­ing trade bound­aries. Ger­man lead­ers wanted to in­su­late Ger­many from the world by cre­at­ing a closed trad­ing bloc based on a new em­pire. To get an em­pire they launched a naval arms race that ended in Ger­many’s mil­i­tary and diplo­matic en­cir­clement by Bri­tain, France and Rus­sia. To break out of con­tain­ment they at­tacked France and Rus­sia and this led to World War I; the war brought deaths and de­struc­tion on a pre­vi­ously unimag­ined scale. World War I un­der­mined the in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic or­der. The in­ter­na­tional econ­omy dis­in­te­grated into a few rel­a­tively closed trad­ing blocs. The Bri­tish, French and Dutch re­or­gan­ised their trade on pro­tected colo­nial lines, but Ger­many and Italy did not have colonies to ex­ploit. Hitler led Ger­many back to the dream of an em­pire in cen­tral and eastern Europe; this threat­ened war with other in­ter­ested re­gional pow­ers. Ger­many’s at­tacks on Cze­choSlo­vakia, Poland (which drew in France and Bri­tain) and the Soviet Union aimed to cre­ate ‘living space’ for eth­nic Ger­mans through geno­cide and re­set­tle­ment. Italy and the states of the for­mer Aus­tro-Hungarian Em­pire formed more ex­clu­sive trad­ing links. Mus­solini wanted the Mediter­ranean and a share of Africa for Italy, and even­tu­ally joined the war on France and Bri­tain to get them. In the in­ter­war years the Soviet Union, largely shut out of west­ern mar­kets, but blessed by a large pop­u­la­tion and an im­mense ter­ri­tory, de­vel­oped within closed fron­tiers. The Soviet strat­egy of build­ing ‘so­cial­ism in a sin­gle coun­try’ showed both similarities and dif­fer­ences in com­par­i­son with na­tional eco­nomic de­vel­op­ments in Ger­many, Italy and Ja­pan. Among the dif­fer­ences were its in­clu­sive if pa­ter­nal­is­tic multi­na­tional ethic of the Soviet fam­ily of na­tions with the Rus­sians as ‘el­der brother’, and the mod­ernising goals that Stalin im­posed by de­cree upon the Soviet eco­nomic space. Soviet war prepa­ra­tions be­gan in the 1920s. The con­text for this de­ci­sion was the Soviet lead­er­ship’s per­cep­tion of in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal threats and their knowl­edge of his­tory. The ‘war scare’ of 1927 re­minded them that the gov­ern­ment of an eco­nom­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily back­ward coun­try could be un­der­mined would im­me­di­ately ac­cen­tu­ate in­ter­nal ten­sions with the peas­antry who sup­plied food and mil­i­tary re­cruits and with the ur­ban work­ers who would have to tighten their belts. They could not for­get the Rus­sian ex­pe­ri­ence of World War I when the industrial mo­bil­i­sa­tion of a poorly in­te­grated agrar­ian econ­omy for mod­ern war­fare had ended in eco­nomic col­lapse and the over­throw of the gov­ern­ment. The pos­si­bil­ity of a rep­e­ti­tion could only be elim­i­nated by coun­ter­ing in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal threats si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Thus, it served to trig­ger change. In the mid-1930s the ab­stract threat of war gave way to real threats from Ger­many and Ja­pan. Soviet war prepa­ra­tions took the form of ac­cel­er­ated war pro­duc­tion and am­bi­tious mo­bil­i­sa­tion plan­ning. In the sum­mer of 1939 Stalin ac­cepted an of­fer of friend­ship from Hitler; in Au­gust their for­eign min­is­ters Molo­tov and Ribben­trop signed a treaty of trade and non-ag­gres­sion and In this way Stalin bought two more years of peace. In the sum­mer of 1940 Hitler de­cided to end the ‘peace’. Hav­ing con­quered France he found that Bri­tain would not come to terms; the rea­son, he thought, was that the Bri­tish were count­ing on an un­de­feated Soviet Union in Ger­many’s rear. He de­cided to re­move the Soviet Union from the equa­tion

as quickly as pos­si­ble; he could then con­clude the war in the west and win a Ger­man em­pire in the east at a sin­gle stroke. A year later he launched the great­est land in­va­sion force in his­tory against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union re­mained at peace with Ja­pan un­til Au­gust 1945, a re­sult of the Red Army’s suc­cess in re­sist­ing a prob­ing Ja­panese bor­der in­cur­sion in the Far East in the spring and sum­mer of 1939. In June 1941 Hitler or­dered his gen­er­als to de­stroy the Red Army and se­cure most of the Soviet ter­ri­tory in Europe. Ger­man forces swept into the Baltic re­gion, Belorus­sia, the Ukraine, which now in­cor­po­rated eastern Poland, and Rus­sia it­self. Stalin and his armies were taken by sur­prise. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Soviet troops fell into en­cir­clement. By the end of Septem­ber, hav­ing ad­vanced more than a thou­sand kilo­me­ters on a front more than a thou­sand kilo­me­ters wide, the Ger­mans had cap­tured Kiev, put a stran­gle­hold on Len­ingrad and were ap­proach­ing Moscow. The Ger­man ad­vance was rapid. But the in­vaders suf­fered un­ex­pect­edly heavy losses. More­over, they were met by scorched earth: the re­treat­ing de­fend­ers re­moved or wrecked the in­dus­tries and es­sen­tial ser­vices of the aban­doned ter­ri­to­ries be­fore the oc­cu­piers ar­rived. Ger­man sup­ply lines were stretched to the limit and be­yond. Des­per­ate re­sis­tance de­nied Hitler his quick victory. Len­ingrad starved but did not sur­ren­der and Moscow was Ger­man forces were then de­stroyed by the Red Army’s de­fence of Stal­in­grad and its win­ter counter-of­fen­sive. Their po­si­tion now un­ten­able, the Ger­man forces in the south be­gan a long retreat. In the sum­mer of 1943 Hitler staged his last eastern of­fen­sive near Kursk; the Ger­man of­fen­sive failed and was an­swered by a more dev­as­tat­ing Soviet counter-of­fen­sive. The Ger­man Army could no longer hope for a stale­mate and its even­tual ex­pul­sion from Rus­sia be­came in­evitable. The Red Army’s jour­ney from The par­tic­u­lar Soviet con­tri­bu­tion to the Al­lied war ef­fort day of the war. In Churchill’s words the Red Army ‘tore the guts’ out of the Ger­man mil­i­tary ma­chine. For three years it faced ap­prox­i­mately 90 per cent of the Ger­man vast ma­jor­ity of Al­lied war deaths, roughly 25 mil­lion. In 1945 Stalin de­clared that the coun­try had passed the ‘test’ of war. Of those alive when war broke out, al­most scarred by phys­i­cal and emo­tional trauma, by lost fam­i­lies and trea­sured pos­ses­sions, and by the hor­rors they had been caught up in. More­over the ev­ery­day life of most peo­ple re­mained grind­ingly hard as they laboured in the fol­low­ing years to cover the costs of de­mo­bil­is­ing the army and in­dus­try and re­build­ing shat­tered com­mu­ni­ties hu­man as­sets and a quar­ter to a third of its phys­i­cal wealth. The si­mul­ta­ne­ous de­struc­tion of phys­i­cal and hu­man as­sets nor­mally brings tran­sient losses but not last­ing im­pov­er­ish­ment. The tran­sient losses arise be­cause the peo­ple and as­sets that re­main must be adapted to each other be­fore be­ing re­com­bined and this takes time. Losses of pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­comes only persist when the al­lo­ca­tion sys­tem can­not cope or suf­fers last­ing dam­age. In the Soviet case the al­lo­ca­tion sys­tem was un­dam­aged. Eco­nomic de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion and the re­con­ver­sion of in­dus­try re­stored civil­ian out­put to pre­war lev­els within a sin­gle a living na­tion.

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