With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the retreat of Leninist forces within the empire, hosannas have rung out in the Western world. “The Cold War is over, the Cold War is over,” the leaders of the West have exclaimed, and demands to turn swords into knitting needles have filled the air. At every hand, there is a militant yearning to disarm, to declare “peace dividends,” and to return to the state of inertia that marked the eras which followed World War I and II. To listen to some of the nation’s legislators, only a unilateral assertion of universal peace stands between us and a balanced budget. The facts are something else again. Few realize that even in a world rid of the Soviet threat, the responsibilities piled on the “one remaining superpower” are limitless and of far greater significance, the threat to world security from the Eurosian land mass as great today as when Stalin and his successors ruled.
Even fewer bother to recall—since recollection has never been de rigueur among policymakers, either in Washington or in other Western capitals—that a spasmodic, usually covert, relationship between Russia and Germany has existed throughout modern history—a relationship of tremendous significance since World War I, which has conditioned, if not determined, the course of recent history. That relationship—close to a loose “alliance”—was interrupted by the Great War, revived by the Imperial German General Staff with the connivance of Lenin and Trotsky, formalized in the secret clauses of the Treaty of Rapallo, and continued during the Weimar and Nazi eras—receiving a second formalization in the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. It was ruptured by Adolf Hitler, against the advice of Germany’s ruling classes and much of the military, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, but invoked again The Apocrypha of Limbo, by German Social Democrats, with clear support from the Christian Democrats and the open concurrence of successive Soviet leaders.
The brief period of “thaw” during which the “new” Russian Empire, seeking economic help from the West, made pretty curtseys in our direction has not lasted very long. Even under Boris Yeltsin, whose tenure is indeterminate and whose loyalties are vague, the Russians have begun to reassert some of the old tendentiousness and sourness toward the United States and the West, while attempting to dip into the capitalist till. And like an off-key Greek chorus, the communists, hierarchs, and rank-and-file have made common cause with “great Russian” and anti-Western demagogues who would be more at ease in Cossack uniforms. Russia may not be communist, and it may be moving toward a kind of Tsarist privatization, but in a few years it could be difficult to tell the difference. The rise of a Russian mafia, and an attendant increase in crime, are inducing a critical instability that could well move Russia in the direction of corporativism, the totalitarianism of Benito Mussolini.
The flounderings of American foreign policy—exemplified at first by President Bush’s gurglings about a “New World Order” and Secretary of State James Baker’s cynical manipulations—have been followed by the total amateurism of President Clinton, Madam Clinton, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a diplomat whose concept of policy dynamism begins and ends with negotiation at international pushcarts. President Bush was driven by total self-deception. President Clinton by total ignorance, and the rest by what it would be both impolite and impolitic to characterize. Latter-day Metternichs like Henry Kissinger at least bring some historical perspective to their discussions. They have some knowledge of what has obsessed Europe since the Hundred Years War, and they have an idea of what motivated Imperial Germany and Imperial Russia in 1918, as revealed by the now-forgotten Willi-Nikki correspondence between Cousin Wilhelm and Cousin Nicholas. And they are aware that the period from the second decade of the 20th century through World War II and the Cold War will in the future be seen as a historical gestalt, much like the Hundred Years War. Our current policymakers remember little more than the sealed train that, consistent with Bismarck’s drang nach Osten, carried Lenin through the German lines to Petrograd’s (St. Petersburg’s) Finland Station.
Historians and diplomats have buried the documents that detailed the agreements made by Lenin, en route to Petrograd, with Germany’s military and banking interests for what amounted to the economic integration of a dying Russian Empire with a Germany still confident that it could achieve at least a stalemate in the war. The Seeckt papers, discovered among Reichswehr archives after the Nazi collapse and locked away from philandering researchers by the State Department, map out a grand strategy for an Ostpolitik later enunciated by Willy Brandt’s Social Democrats. Even before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Germany showed a deeper interest in developments to the east than in a “unification” of a Europe it could not dominate.
Histories of the Russian Revolution, biographies and writings of Lenin and Trotsky, and official Russo-German pronouncements either downplay or flatly deny the connection between the Bolsheviks and Imperial Germany, though ex-communist historians like Ruth Fischer—once the leading member of the Austrian Communist Party—tread on the margins. There is solid evidence that the Bolshevik drive to assume power by overthrowing the Kerensky regime—”The most democratic government in the world,” Lenin called it—was financed by Germany with millions of gold rubles. The transmission of some of these funds to the Bolsheviks was in the hands of one Alexander Helphand, known in revolutionary circles as Parvus, who was simultaneously active among the Bolsheviks and on the German payroll. It was Parvus who engineered Lenin’s return to Russia in a sealed train that was nevertheless open enough to admit German negotiators. The immediate aim of the German General Staff was to aid in a coup d’etat that would take Russia out of the war. But its wide-ranging agreements with Lenin went far beyond this, calling for the opening of Russia to German industrial and banking interests and demanding control of Russian reconstruction and natural resources after the conclusion of hostilities.
The file of letters from the Imperial German staff and the Reichsbank, now safely buried in the archives, covers matters other than the political-economic plan envisioned by Germany and welcomed by the Bolsheviks, and it offers insights into the international policies that led to World War II. A 1917 document on the letterhead of the German General Staff’s Intelligence (Nachtrichten) section in Berlin, addressed to the “Government of the People’s Commissars,” stated that “in accordance with the agreement . . . between our General Staff and the leaders of the Russian revolutionary army . . . Lenin, Trotsky, Raskolnikov, and Dybenko, the Russian division of our General Staff” would participate in and direct revolutionary activities within Russia—and a list of German officers being assigned was appended. In November of that year, the Council of People’s Commissars was informed that another contingent of German officers had been assigned as “military advisers.”
On January 12, 1918, the General Staff showed its muscle by giving Commissar of Foreign Affairs Trotsky a list of the “main candidates for reelection” to the Communist Party’s Central Committee. “The General Staff orders us to insist on the election of the following persons: Trotsky, Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Joffe, Sverdlovsk (etc.). Please inform the President of the Council [Lenin] of the General Staff’s wish.” Shortly thereafter, a memorandum from the Reichsbank, addressed to Trotsky, informed the Bolsheviks:
Notification has been received . . . from Stockholm that 50 million rubles in gold has been transferred to the People’s Commissars. This credit has been supplied . . . in order to cover the cost of the Red Guards [at the time Lenin’s only reliable troops] and agitators in the country. . . . I am instructed to convey the agreement of the Imperial Bank against the credit of the General Staff of 5 million gold rubles [for the capture or sabotage of U.S. war materials being sent to the Imperial Russian forces].
The Reichsbank, which continued to supply gold to the Bolsheviks, repeatedly reminded Lenin and Trotsky of the commitments they had made—commitments that guaranteed to Germany and its bankers what amounted almost to the total takeover of the Russian economy. On January 18, 1918, G. Schantz, representing the Reichsbank, wrote to Lenin outlining some of the “guiding” principles, as ordered by German “commercial and industrial” groups: “The conflict of the Russian revolution with the Russian capitalists absolutely does not interest German manufacturing circles. . . . You can destroy Russian capitalists if you please, but it is not possible for us to permit the destruction of Russian [industrial] enterprises.”
It was “essential,” Schantz wrote, “to conduct a canvass and gather statistical information with regard to the condition of industry, and in view of the absence of money in Russia, to address in business conversation” a consortium of German banks. In the postwar era, all goods shipped to Russia, under a German monopoly of trade, would have to be paid for in advance “to the amount of 75 percent of the market value,” with the balance payable in six months. This letter had been preceded by a “resolution” giving Germany exclusive right to the purchase of all Russian securities for five years after the signing of a separate peace treaty between the two countries.
The agreements signed by Lenin and Trotsky also gave Germany exclusive rights for five years after the peace in the development of Russia’s “coal, metallurgical, machine tools, oil, chemical, and pharmaceutical” industries—with Russia’s industrial economy run by a “supreme advisory organ consisting of 10 Russian specialists and 10 from German industrial organizations.” The Communist leaders also agreed to cede two mining districts in the area of Poland they controlled and to give the oil region of Galicia to Austria-Hungary. The planning departments of “producing and manufacturing industries . . . must be controlled by German specialists,” and all banking was to be an adjunct of the German banking system.
The collapse of the Kaiser’s armies before the onslaught of fresh American troops, and the Treaty of Versailles, signaled the end of these “arrangements,” but the magnetic field that pulled Germany and Russia together remained. In 1922, under the Treaty of Rapallo, Weimar Germany became the first country to give de jure recognition to the Soviet Union. The two countries canceled their mutual war debts and, in commercial agreements, repeated some of Lenin’s commitments. Of far greater significance were the secret clauses to the treaty that obtained until Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Those secret clauses circumvented the Versailles Treaty’s ban on German rearmament by providing for the training of German troops on Russian soil. They set up the mechanism for Germany’s purchase of armaments prohibited under the Versailles Treaty and formalized agreements between the Reichswehr and the Kremlin going back to Lenin’s time. They also established protocols and arrangements that Hitler and Stalin would make public in 1939 in their “nonaggression” treaty. That this joint laying-on of hands shocked Western leaders is an index of their naiveté. It was denounced as the “first step” toward a second world war, but it had long been in operation.
Lenin was ready to sign away Russia’s patrimony to gain German support in his drive to take over a Russian Empire torn by war and seemingly doomed by defeat on the battlefield. But he was also convinced that, with the termination of hostilities, German imperial power would collapse and an analogous revolution would put Germany in his camp. He saw no “betrayal” of the revolution in this, but another step toward world hegemony. He attempted to give substance to this scheme by sending Karl Radek into Germany in the early 1920’s to overthrow the feeble Weimar Republic and to establish a “national Bolshevik” regime that would merge with Russian Bolshevism. For he carried in his head what every Russian leader, politician, and demagogue since Peter the Great had held—a vision of Russia as a “Third Rome,” which would step over a moribund Europe and bring to fruition in the modern world what had but briefly existed as the Holy Roman Empire. The thousandth anniversary of this “Third Rome” would have been celebrated by President Gorbachev, had he not tripped on his way to the forum—and it has lived within the hearts of Russians as a kind of “thousand year Reich.” In acceding to German demands, therefore, Lenin was taking both a short and a long view.
The Seeckt papers, retrieved from Reichswehr archives after the Nazi defeat and swiftly buried by the State Department, are crucial to understanding the nature of this Russo-German symbiosis, but they also open doors to previously puzzling aspects of the events that led to World War II. General Hans von Seeckt, a military delegate to the Versailles Gonference, was the creator of the Reichswehr under the Weimar Republic. In a memorandum to the Reichschancellor in July 1922, he attacked those in Germany who sought to dissolve the secret “alliance” with Russia and to move Germany in a Western direction. The memorandum went into such crucial matters as Franco-Briti.sh antagonisms, the status of Poland and Gzechoslovakia, and the European alignment of power— matters that today merit serious consideration but arc often ignored. Those passages in the Seeckt memoranda dealing with German-Soviet relations, excerpted here, show that the Germans had no qualms about associations with the Bolsheviks:
The connection that Germany has formed with Russia represents the first and, so far, almost the only increment in power that we have achieved since the conclusion of the peace. It is only natural. . . that this connection should begin on the economic plane; but the value of it consists precisely in the fact that [it] opens the possibility of political and military ties. That such a double connection must constitute an increment of power for Germany—and for Russia as well—cannot be doubted . . .
Poland is the heart of the eastern problem. Poland’s existence is intolerable, incompatible with the essential conditions of Germany’s life. . . . The reestablishment of the former border between Germany and Russia [that is, the elimination of Poland] is essential to the recovery of both countries. . . . This should be the basis of an agreement between the two countries . . .
We have two aims. First, we desire to strengthen Russia in the economic and political—therefore in the military—spheres, thus indirectly strengthening ourselves because Russia is a potential future ally. We also want to strengthen ourselves directly by helping build up a useful industry which will help us in case of need. . . . [This goal] is being put into effect by German private industry. . . . The Russians have already expressed the wish to establish and maintain contact with us on other military questions. . . . We are seeking to achieve our aim of direct rearmament in the same way, through private industry. . . . The details of the negotiations can be conducted only through the military authorities. . . . Germany will not be Bolshevized by coming to an understanding with Russia on questions of foreign policy. . . . Certainly, there is a widespread and understandable desire for peace among the German people . .. but to practice politics means to lead. In spite of all, the German people will follow the leader in the fight for existence.
The “elimination” of Poland, the hammer stroke that brought on World War II, was even then, in 1922, a major goal of both German and Soviet policy—though the Soviet Union’s efforts to recapture its half of the Polish state by invasion during World War I had failed and resulted in the ignominy of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, which compelled the Russians to pull back to their own borders. Seventeen years later, in February 1939, and six months before the announcement of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Seeckt’s program for Russo-German military and political “cooperation” was outlined in a memorandum by Major Fritz Tsehunke, over the years a close friend and collaborator of Seeckt. Some salient points from the Seeckt archive:
Implementing the ideas of General Seeckt, the so-called Sondergruppe R [Special Unit R] was created by the Reichswehr Ministry. Nicdermayer and I were sent to Moscow to establish military contacts with the USSR. . . . The result of our work, which for certain reasons had to be disguised in Germany as well as in foreign countries, was the founding of the Society for the Advancing of Industrial Enterprises (GEFU) with headquarters in Berlin and Moscow. A very considerable capital was put at my disposal by the German government. The purpose of GEFU was:
1) The conclusion of a license-agreement between the airplane factory Junkers and the Soviet government for the production of [military] airplanes at the plant Fili near Moscow.
2) The founding of the German-Russian joint-stock company Bersol near Samaria for the construction of a chemical plant to produce poison gas.
3) Production of artillery ammunition with the help of German technical assistance.
At the same time the work of Sondergruppe R went on. Already achieved was the establishment of pilot and tank schools with German participation. [Despite hostile speeches in the Reichstag] the foundations had been laid and future historians will appreciate it. . . . Much had been achieved, and a firm basis for further progress was formed . . .
The German-Russian alliance had been looked on with suspicion but was fortunately underestimated. . . . It is true we were on very good terms with the Red Army. The then chief of the German Truppennamt, General Hasse, conducted detailed discussions with the Russian chief of staff, Lebedev, whose conversations were also strongly concerned with the possibility of war with Poland . . .
The economic collaboration resulted from the well-established military contact which, looking back, has been of tremendous importance to our industry. It is no secret that German industry during the years of our economic misery was kept alive by the amount of Russian orders. . . . The Reichsbank received during the period 1929 through 1933, 1.33 billion RM in gold and silver. The balance was paid off in essential raw materials.
The fact must be specially underscored that it was due to these large Russian orders that our industry could maintain and even enlarge its industrial plants, securing technical progress and keeping together as well as training teams of specialists and educating the rising generation.
The idea of a military and economic alliance between Russia and Germany had originated with Otto von Bismarck, the creator of the modern German welfare state. The grand strategy had been close to the hearts of Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas, who seriously considered siding with the Central Powers in 1914, as well as to those of nationalists in both their countries. (I lad the tinder that set off the Great War not been sparked in Serbia, a country with strong ties to Russia, Tsar Nicholas—the record seems clear—might well have joined the Central Powers.) As Boris Nicolaevsky, one of the best-informed experts on Russian and Central European politics, noted in 1941, German nationalists “looked upon Russia as a stable state [before and after the Revolution] whose destruction was neither feasible nor desirable.” As Nicolaevsky wrote in the New Leader:
They advocated building the future on the basis of the closest ties of friendship and long-term political and economic collaboration with Russia. An alliance of the Soviets, with their boundless wealth of raw materials, and a highly industrialized Germany could, according to this view, form a vast combine capable of ruling the world. . . . For the lasting success of such a liaison it was, of course, necessary to obtain positions of decisive influence in Russia.
Holding this view, but from another angle, was Joseph Stalin. This put him in conflict with Sergei Kirov, ostensibly his closest friend but one of the few party leaders with any independent influence. Kirov and a substantial part of the communist leadership favored a move away from Germany and toward the West. The assassination of Kirov, on Stalin’s orders and at the behest of the Reichswehr, was the excuse for the first of the Great Purges, which, ostensibly aimed at ridding the party of pro-German influence, gave the Vozhd undisputed mastery. The Reichswehr, with Stalin’s support, organized the united front of Nazis, communists, and nationalists that opposed the Social Democrats in the 1931 Prussian plebiscite, the first severe blow to the stability of the Weimar republic. In 1932, again at the prompting of Stalin and the Reichswehr, Nazis and communists literally linked arms in the great Berlin transport strike, the undertaker’s knock on the door of Weimar.
The Reichswehr and its nationalist-industrial constituency believed that it would be the successor to a dead Weimar regime, but it was Hitler who triumphed. Up to a point, the Reichswehr and the industrialists could deal with Hitler, and they continued a secret alliance with Stalin and the Red Army—though they suffered a loss when Stalin “liquidated” Marshal Tukhachevsky, the Soviets’ most brilliant military strategist, for fear that the Red Army would attain too much influence. As for the Reichswehr, it pressed for the formal military and economic “alliance” that was spelled out later in the secret clauses of the Hitler-Stalin Pact—realizing that only with Russia at its side could it triumph in the war that followed. After the invasion of the Soviet Union—opposed by the Reichswehr and by German industrial interests—and as the United States started bringing its strength to bear, the Reichswehr began to accept the possibility of defeat and sought to renew its contacts with the Soviet military. On February 11, 1945, Robert Murphy reported to the State Department’s European Affairs Division the estimate of Allen Dulles of the OSS that “all indications currently received from Germany indicate a definite trend toward the idea that Germany’s only salvation lies to the East”—the opposite of what the American people were being told:
The conviction seems to be growing that while the Russians may be hard and brutal, even cruel, and that they will punish the principal Nazi offenders, they will offer an affirmative economic and industrial future which will protect the Germans against starvation and poverty. They believe that the Russians will be dependent on German industrial products which means that German plants will continue to work at full capacity and the unemployment problem will thus be solved.
Count Klaus von Staufenberg, one of the leaders in the “generals’ plot” to assassinate Hitler, even contemplated organizing a “workers and peasants” revolt that would sue for a separate peace with Stalin. A realization of the interests between Germany and Russia was a major factor in the strategic considerations of both countries—before, during, and for a short time after the war. Hitler’s obsessive anticommunism had shattered traditional Russo-German policy. After the fall of Germany, it might have survived had Stalin not realized at Potsdam that the Western allies, stupid as they had been in their dealings with him up until then, were not going to hand him Germany. He retaliated by stripping Germany of as much of its industrial machinery and infrastructure as he could, seizing entire plants and shipping them to the East, where they rusted on railroad sidings.
The second defeat of Germany in less than three decades, and the emergence of an expansionist and imperialist Soviet Union, did not destroy the Bismarckian hopes for a merger of German technology and industrial capacity with Soviet resources, manpower, and markets. On the Soviet side, right up to and through Gorbachev’s tenure, Kremlin policy was directed toward separating Germany from NATO, bringing it back together with Russia, accelerating the growth of trade, and renewing strategic ties—policies that are emerging again as President Yeltsin bows to the nationalist-communist coalition.
Germany not only reciprocated by encouraging these moves but actively collaborated, holding itself up to the West as the one country in Europe ready to invest in the Kremlin both politically and economically. It was as much a matter of national policy as it was a money-making ploy that the Federal Republic joined in arming the Kremlin’s Arab clients and supplying them with needed parts and technology for nuclear military capabilities, thus adding to the anti-Western imbalance in the Middle East. West Germany, despite its lip-service to NATO and a European union and its dependence on United States power to restrain Eastern bloc adventurism, was clearly reluctant to join American and British efforts against the “Evil Empire.”
It was Willy Brandt and the Social Democrats who first openly espoused an Ostpolitik redolent of Rapallo and the Seeckt program, but the Christian Democrats were not far behind. Germany today is quietly having second thoughts about European union, but it has acted more vigorously than any of its “allies,” despite the economic difficulties attending its unification with East Germany, to give significant aid and guidance to Russia. Germany has been the most active and the most effective in moving in on a turbulent Russia seeking direction. And for a reason. Germany must move east if, in the face of an aggressive Japanese economy and the reformation of world trade, it is to maintain its industrial power. For Germany, the establishment of a power bloc it could lead, including Russia and some of the remnants of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, makes greater political and economic sense than to remain within a Western European conglomerate with which it has been at overt and covert political, economic, and sometimes military war for most of modern history. The kind of “alliance” toward which the two countries have historically, though spasmodically, moved would not only create an economic and power bloc astride Eurasia from the Rhine to the Pacific but would give Germany a finger on the nuclear trigger.
Today’s Germany is not the Prussia of old. Nor can it employ an Austro-Hungarian formula not viable since the end of World War I. The Austro-Hungarian emperors could happily assent to the adage: Alii bella gerent; tu, felix Austria, nube. “Let others wage war; you, happy Austria, marry.” The old dynasties—political or economic—are gone, and a modern Germany has learned that trade and industrial might are a better means of achieving hegemony than war and royal ties. So one umbrella covering a unified Germany and much of the Russian land mass need not raise specters of an Orwellian future. But it is nevertheless true that the world is moving in old ways to new destinations. What we are seeing is the formation of new economic coalitions of great significance. With a Germany seeking a Bismarckian destiny to the East, the world may well face an economic concentration that will shift the balance of power and create a “New World Order” that will hardly be to America’s liking or advantage and will make its problems with Japan seem minuscule in comparison.
Prophecy is a dangerous occupation, and though history does not repeat itself, it is frequently given to plagiarism. If the past is prelude, the future may, mutatis mutandis, be a function of what has been—with World War II, the Cold War, and the Russo-German symbiosis revealing themselves as a continuum. No policy for the United Sates, or NATO for that matter, can make sense if this is ignored. It is true that generals prepare for the previous war and statesmen for earlier historical formulations. But to ignore the past is to compromise the future. In the next 100 years, the lion will not lie with the lamb nor the lamb with the coyote. And history will move as it always has—an ebb and flow that dates back to the time when the Egyptians believed that their future was as certain as the overflow of the Nile. Their error lived on through Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, and the British Empire. That is no reason for adding to the list the first and greatest republic in the modern world.
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