Nazi-Soviet song and dance – and the music is still playing

The Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism falls on 23 August. On that day 80 years ago, the two satanic regimes formed an aggressive alliance (appropriately called the Non-Aggression Pact), plunging the world into the most devastating war in history.

The two friends are on song: they’ve just divided Poland between them

However, Putin’s Russia refuses to acknowledge this day because it puts Stalinism and Nazism under the same rubric. That simply won’t do.

The linchpin of Putin’s official policy is to restore Stalin’s empire, a task logically calling for at least some exoneration of Stalin and his glorious achievements, including the Pact. This is under way all over Russia, from schools to newspapers, from churches to city councils.

Stalin is portrayed as a great, if occasionally harsh, manager, who made Russia greater than ever. Statues to the butcher are mushrooming in Russian cities, and he is even worshipped as a saint in some churches.

Above all, Stalin is hailed as a great leader who led the country to victory in ‘the Great Patriotic War’. No wonder the Remembrance Day sticks in Putin’s craw: the underlying message is that Stalin won the war he himself had started.

What amazes me is that many good Westerners, who live outside the reach of Putin’s Goebbelses, seem to be unaware of this fact. A French friend of mine referred to it as a ‘theory’ the other day.

In a way, such ignorance is understandable because for the first 50 years after the war the Soviets mendaciously denied the existence of the Pact’s secret protocol, dividing Europe between the two predators.

Only in 1989, when the KGB assumed power in Russia and intensified the disinformation op called glasnost and perestroika, did Gorbachev agree to pull the text of the protocol out of the Special Folder (the highest degree of classification in the USSR).

The Folder contains 100,000 documents, of which only a handful have been made public so far. I doubt the rest will ever be declassified, especially those that deal with Stalin’s plans to conquer the world.

The plans have been established beyond doubt anyway by Russian and Western historians, such as Suvorov, Mel’tyukhov, Solonin, Joachim Hoffmann et al., who have analysed thousands of documents in Soviet and German archives.

The only thing they still argue about is the exact date on which Stalin planned to push the button and carry out his plans. Some calculate that Hitler’s preemptive strike beat Stalin to the punch by only a day, some insist on a fortnight or even a month.

Anyway, until the Special Folder is flung open, we’ll never know. However, solid evidence shows that the Soviet juggernaut would have rolled no later than August, 1941.

The evidence I have in mind deals not with strategic plans, logistics, troop deployments or military hardware, although such data aren’t in short supply either. No, the evidence I refer to is – vocal.

For, though tanks, planes and cannon are essential to warfare, they don’t fight wars. People do so and, in modern times, it’s not just the people in uniform. The whole population is involved, and populations need to be rallied.

That’s why every Soviet belligerent act was accompanied by the din of massive propaganda in every available medium. Stalin recognised the importance of rousing songs in particular, and he personally commissioned them.

Those who know how such things were done in the USSR will confirm that a stock of relevant songs had to be prepared way in advance of any military action. For it took months to release any song, never mind a propaganda one.

Most of the time was taken up by the song working its way through multiple stages of approval, from the Composers’ Union to the Writers’ Union to the Ministry of Culture to the Censorship Bureau to the Ideology Department of the Central Committee to, invariably, the Leader himself.

However, the canonical song The Sacred War appeared on 24 June, 1941 – just two days after Germany attacked the Soviet Union. That means the song had been signed off in advance – because Stalin had planned the war in advance, assuming it would start on his terms, rather than Hitler’s.

The Soviet archives contain over 70 such pre-prepared songs, most of them produced after the Pact, in 1939-1940. Some of them were used, some weren’t because the requisite conditions had failed to materialise.

The one that was used featured the refrain “Admit us Suomi, you beauty, into the necklace of your limpid lakes”. The song was widely performed during the Winter War of 1939-1940, when the Soviets attacked tiny and indeed beautiful Finland, promised to them by the Pact.

Apart from waxing poetic about Finland’s limpid lakes, the song also explains that “Your motherland has been taken away from you more than once; we’ve come to give it back to you; we’ve come to assist your reprisals, your repayment with interest for your humiliation…” [Hereinafter I’m translating the words only, not the rhyme and meter.]

The Finns refused the kind offer of help with ‘reprisals’ and heroically fought the Soviets to a draw, losing only small parts of their territory and suffering about eight times fewer casualties than the Soviets.

However, after that, Stalin’s Nazi allies moved a small contingent of troops into Finland, hinting to Stalin that Finland was their friend. Hence Stalin removed the song from circulation, attaching to the text a resolution, saying “until August, 1941”.

The same resolution stopped many other songs as well. One of them suggests that even the French may feel that Hitler’s preemptive strike against Stalin saved them from a gruesome fate. The song highlights the revolutionary red flag, first used during the Paris Commune of 1871:

“We’ve brought you, French people// The red flag raised by the Communards// Now your Paris, reclaimed from Hitler// Again lives under the red banner.// The flag has returned to its birthplace.// All enemies of peace and freedom// Are again listening in cowardly panic// To the steely steps of the Communards.”

Or, to be exact, of the Red Army, that proven enforcer of peace and freedom. Alas, this song too had to be shelved “until August, 1941”, and in fact didn’t get to be performed at all – because of Hitler’s sport-spoiling thrust, Stalin had to content himself with only the low-rent part of Europe.

Yet it would be demeaning to Putin’s role model to deny his ability to think globally, not just continentally. Hence another song Stalin regretfully postponed “until August, 1941”:

“And we’ll reach the Ganges yet,// And we’ll die in battles yet,// So that my motherland will shine// From Japan to England!”

The author of the song, Pavel Kogan, was killed in 1942, trying to make his prophetic words come true – and not realising that his geographic aspirations presaged Messrs Gorbachev, Putin and Macron.

They, to be fair, talked about Europe thus demarcated, not Russia. But of those three, only Manny seems to be unaware that, in this context, the two terms are bound to be synonymous.

Wouldn’t you like to know what kind of songs are being stocked up in Putin’s Russia now, on this anniversary of the Pact? On balance, I’d rather not hear them performed.

5 thoughts on “Nazi-Soviet song and dance – and the music is still playing”

  1. Wasn’t it Plato who said: “Music is the moral law”? (but not in English of course)

    I would have thought that Stalin’s Georgian origin would prove troublesome for Putin’s programme of Russian nationalism. But if Russia’s population is indeed dwindling, I suppose such distinctions no longer matter.

    Also, I recently read ‘The Rebel’ by Camus and noticed a certain similarity of thought to your own. Which upon further reflection I found odd because I don’t recall you ever mentioning him in your work.

    1. It was indeed Plato, and Aristotle also once uttered something similar. And Putin’s programme of Russian nationalism, or especially, imperialism, can easily accommodate Stalin’s ethnicity. When his son Vasiliy was little, he told his sister: “You know, our Daddy used to be Georgian”. Stalin himself considered himself Russian, for which reason he insisted that he was played by accentless Russian actors on stage (one of them was my grandfather). Or perhaps he thought he couldn’t be squeezed into narrow ethnic definitions. Once, when talking to a group of Georgian writers who had some grievance about their Russian colleagues, Stalin kept referring to the Georgians as ‘you’ and to the Russians as ‘they’. Never once did he say ‘we’. As to Camus, his thought, much as I appreciate it and for all its similarities to mine, is rather alien to me, especially in its political aspect. I do love his prose though – L’Etranger is a magnificent novella.

  2. “the Special Folder (the highest degree of classification in the USSR).”

    The Special Folder undoubtedly many important documents purged. And also forgeries inserted.

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