But how could generals of the Red Army have envisaged collaborating with Hitler? If they were not good Communists, surely these military men were at least nationalists?
This question will first be answered with another question. Why should this hypothesis be any different for the Soviet Union than France? Was not Marshal Pétain, the Victor at Verdun, a symbol of French chauvinist patriotism? Were not General Weygand and Admiral Darlan strong defenders of French colonialism? Despite all this, these three became key players in the collaboration with the Nazis. Would not the overthrow of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the bitter class struggle against the bourgeoisie be, for all the forces nostalgic for free enterprise, be additional motives for collaborating with German ‘dynamic capitalism’?
And did not the World War itself show that the tendency represented by Pétain in France also existed among certain Soviet officers?
General Vlasov played an important role during the defence of Moscow at the end of 1941. Arrested in 1942 by the Germans, he changed sides. But it was only on September 16, 1944, after an interview with Himmler, that he received the official authorization to create his own Russian Liberation Army, whose first division was created as early as 1943. Other imprisoned officers offered their services to the Nazis; a few names follow:
Major-General Trukhin, head of the operational section of the Baltic Region Chief of Staff, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-General Malyshkin, head of the Chief of Staff of the 19th Army. Major-General Zakutny, professor at the General Chief of Staff Academy. Major-Generals Blagoveshchensky, brigade commander; Shapovalov, artillery corps commander; and Meandrov, Brigade commander Zhilenkov, member of the Military Council of the 32nd Army. Colonels Maltsev, Zverev, Nerianin and Buniachenko, commander of the 389th Armed Division.
What was the political profile of these men? The former British secret service officer and historian Cookridge writes:
‘Vlassov’s entourage was a strange motley. The most intelligent of his officers was Colonel Mileti Zykov (a Jew). He had a been a supporter of the “rightist deviationists’” of Bukharin and in 1936 had been banished by Stalin to Siberia, where he spent four years. Another survivor of Stalin’s purges was General Vasili Feodorovich Malyshkin, former chief of staff of the Far East Army; he had been imprisoned during the Tukhachevsky affair. A third officer, Major-General Georgi Nicolaievich Zhilenkov, had been a political army commissar. They and many of the officers whom Gehlen recruited had been ‘‘rehabilitated’’ at the beginning of the war in 1941.’
E. H. Cookridge, Gehlen: Spy of the Century (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 57--58.
So here we learn that several superior officers, convicted and sent to Siberia in 1937, then rehabilitated during the war, joined Hitler’s side! Clearly the measures taken during the Great Purge were perfectly justified.
To justify joining the Nazis, Vlahos wrote an open letter: ‘Why I embarked on the road of struggle against Bolshevism’.
What is inside that letter is very instructive.
First, his criticism of the Soviet régime is identical to the ones made by Trotsky and the Western right-wing.
‘I have seen that the Russian worker has a hard life, that the peasant was driven by force into kolkhozes, that millions of Russian people disappeared after being arrested without inquest or trial .... The system of commissars eroded the Red Army. Irresponsibility, shadowing and spying made the commander a toy in the hands of Party functionaries in civil suits or military uniforms ... Many thousands of the best commanders, including marshals, were arrested and shot or sent to labour camps, never to return.’
Note that Vlasov called for a professional army, with full military autonomy, without any Party control, just like the previously cited U.S. Army.
Then Vlasov explained how his defeatism encouraged him to join the Nazis. We will see in the next chapter that Trotsky and Trotskyists systematically used defeatist propaganda.
‘I saw that the war was being lost for two reasons: the reluctance of the Russian people to defend Bolshevist government and the systems of violence it had created and irresponsible command of the army ....’
Finally, using Nazi ‘anti-capitalist’ language, Vlasov explained that the New Russia had to integrate itself into the European capitalist and imperialist system.
‘(We must) build a New Russia without Bolsheviks or capitalists ....
‘The interests of the Russian people have always been similar to the interests of the German people and all other European nations .... Bolshevism has separated the Russian people from Europe by an impenetrable wall.’
From the Book: Vlasov and Vlasovites. New Times 44 (1990), pp. 36--40.