Derek Robinson, the CP and the decline of the BL stewards movement

October 31, 2017 at 4:17 pm (Brum, CPB, good people, history, Jim D, RIP, unions, workers)

Derek Robinson, trade unionist and Communist Party member, 1927 – 2017

Derek Robinson with Phyllis Davis and Leslie Huckfield, the then Labour MP for Nuneaton in 1979
Above: Derek Robinson leads a demo in the late 1970s (to his left, Les Huckfield MP)

For a brief period in the 1970’s, Derek Robinson (who has died, aged 90) was widely regarded as the most powerful trade unionist in Britain. Yet he was wasn’t a full-time official, but a shop steward (albeit a convenor, or senior steward, allowed time off ‘the job’, by management, to devote himself full-time, to union duties).

His downfall, and that of the shop stewards movement he led, is worth recalling because one day our class will rise again and start exerting the kind of influence it did in the 1960s and 70s: we must not repeat the mistakes that were made then. I was a shop steward at the same car plant as Robinson (Longbridge, Birmingham) in the 1970s, and was one of those who went on the picket line when he was sacked in 1979. If some of what I say below about Derek seems harsh, it’s because it’s essential that the political lessons are learnt. I would like to make it clear that I have never doubted or questioned Derek’s personal integrity nor his commitment to trade unionism, socialism, and the working class. I should also add that although we frequently clashed in the 1970s, when we occasionally met in later years Derek was unfailingly friendly and unsectarian.

In 1974 British Leyland (as it then was) went onto the rocks as a result of years of under-investment and over-generous payouts to shareholders. Tony Benn described a meeting with union leaders shortly after Labour narrowly won the February 1974 election and formed a minority government: “170,000 people were involved and they thought that government intervention was inevitable.” They were right: when the company went bust the Wilson government promptly nationalised it.

The difference between the response of the Wilson government of the mid-’70s and the Blair government that presided over the terminal decline and eventual closure of Rover between 2000  and 2005 can be explained in part by the global ascendency of neo-liberal economics and the corresponding transformation in official Labour politics. But abstract ideology is not the decisive factor (after all, Heath’s Tory government nationalised Rolls Royce in 1971). The crucial factor is the strength of the organised working class as a whole and, specifically, within the threatened workplaces.

In 1974 our class was strong and the Longbridge plant was probably the most powerfully organised (as well as the largest) workplace in Britain. The story of the Longbridge shop stewards’ movement contains important lessons for a generation of trade unionists who have known little but the defeats and humiliations of the last thirty years or so.

The shop stewards’ movement

Longbridge had been gradually unionised after World War Two. Communist Party members played a central role, often risking their jobs in the process. The plant’s first recognised union convenor, Dick Ethridge, was a CP member and in those days it seemed a natural step for active, militant trade unionists in the plant to join the Party. By the 1960s, the Party had a factory branch numbering around 50, and sales of the Daily Worker (later Morning Star) inside the plant (not on the gates) were in the hundreds. Management once tried to prevent sales by seizing a bundle of Workers and were forced to back down by immediate strike action.

The CP’s influence went far beyond its formal membership and permeated the entire Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee (JSSC), numbering around 500 stewards from the AEU, TGWU, Vehicle Builders, Electricians and the multitude of smaller white and blue collar manufacturing unions like the Sheet Metal Workers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Trump: the net closes

October 31, 2017 at 2:47 pm (corruption, crime, Jim D, populism, Putin, Republican Party, Russia, Trump, Ukraine, United States)

The net is closing, thanks to special counsel Robert Mueller’s relentless investigation: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have been indicted for money-laundering, tax evasion, failure to register as agents of foreign interests and conspiracy to defraud the US government. Michael Flynn (fired in May after he was exposed as having lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador), Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence, have all been involved in the Russia scandal. These were not rogue individuals acting independently on their own.

The former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who is now cooperating with the FBI on the Russia investigation, was supervised by Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the campaign.

A March 2016 Washington Post story listed the members of Trump’s foreign policy team who worked under Jeff Sessions, “For the first time, Trump also listed members of a team chaired by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that is counseling him on foreign affairs and helping to shape his policies: Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and Joseph E. Schmitz.”

It was revealed on Monday that George Papadopoulos took a plea from the FBI and had been cooperating with law enforcement for two months. Interestingly, as this news broke Trump was scheduled to have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The White House has been trying, desperately, to create a wall of denial between the President and the scandal, but there is path running through the Russia scandal that runs straight into the Oval Office and stops at the desk of Donald Trump. The odds on impeachment have just shortened again.

Trump won’t go quietly and the ace up his sleeve is the movement behind him. It is a genuine mass movement, plebeian in character (often sole traders, shop keepers, small business owners, lumpen blue collar workers, the unemployed, farmers, etc) and radical in the sense they don’t defer to authority. If he wanted he could probably mobilise enough of them to turn up outside the Capitol with guns and set up camp. There is a history of this kind of thing happening in the US at state level.

The impeachment of Trump would in all likelihood enrage his mass base, fuelling ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories and resentment against bourgeois democracy: fertile ground for American fascism.

That doesn’t mean that the left shouldn’t use the charge of treason and collaboration against Trump, or not campaign for his impeachment. Some on the left (and even the liberal-left) have recoiled against this, on grounds of supposed “McCarthyism” (a claim that Trump himself has raised): but that’s nonsense. The suggestion of collusion with Putin is not comparable to the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s and ’60’s: Putin is behind an ultra right wing international campaign to promote reaction, nationalism and isolationism wherever he can. He’s backed Brexit, Trump, Le Pen and a host of other ultra-right and semi-fascist movements.

It’s not McCarthyism to denounce Trump for his links with Putin, up to and possibly including outright treason. But it’s not enough: the US left must also engage with Trump’s working class base and convince them that this billionaire racist, shyster and charlatan offers nothing worthwhile to American workers.

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Tūmanako*: New Zealand’s Labour-led government

October 30, 2017 at 4:52 pm (elections, New Zealand, posted by JD, reformism)

By Lesley Maher (this article also appears in the latest issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Jacinda Adern
Above: Jacinda Ardern

Twenty-six days after a general election, and on the eve of the Labour Day holiday weekend, (21-23 October) Aotearoa (New Zealand) has a new Labour-led coalition government. New Zealand’s Labour Day public holiday was celebrated for the first time in 1900. The Liberal government of the day offered the new public holiday instead of acceding to labour movement demands for a lawful eight-hour working day. It is poignant that it was this weekend when we learned our wish to be rid of the outgoing National (Tory) government meant swallowing the rat of a coalition government with the nationalist New Zealand First party. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fats Domino RIP

October 26, 2017 at 11:52 am (black culture, culture, jazz, music, New Orleans, posted by JD, RIP, Sheer joy)

Fats (Antoine) Domino, born Feb 26 1928; died Oct 24 2017


Above: Fats evokes a feeling all-too familiar to many of us

Obit in the New Orleans Advocate here

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How do we get rid of sexual abuse and violence? Ask the SWP!

October 25, 2017 at 2:30 pm (Beyond parody, crime, cults, Human rights, Jim D, misogyny, sexism, SWP, thuggery, women)

“Men can behave in dreadful ways towards women,” Socialist Worker argues this week, in an article on how to get rid of sexual abuse and violence. Actually, it’s not a bad article, except that it comes from the SWP

Socialist Worker:

Recent revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s abuse and rape of women have exposed the sexism at the heart of society.
Many people knew about Weinstein’s behaviour, yet it continued for decades.
Several women have said they didn’t come forward because they felt Weinstein was so powerful he would destroy their lives.
The violence and harassment he is accused of are all too common for women and girls across the world. But why does it happen?

Well, the SWP should know

Above: Martin Smith aka ‘Comrade Delta’

H/t: David Osland

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The problem with identity politics

October 23, 2017 at 6:57 pm (Anti-Racism, Feminism, identity politics, LGBT, Marxism, posted by JD)

By Louise O’Shea in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag:

Theory & History

The label “identity politics” is applied to a range of positions and practices, the key unifying features of which are sectional approaches to challenging oppression and the prioritisation of subjective experience.

These can be highly theorised or simply reflect a common sense based on what seem like readily observable truths: that the world is divided between people who suffer oppression and those who do not, and that group interests flow from multiple sectional divides. For example, the fact women are oppressed makes men at best constitutionally disinterested in women’s liberation or at worst culpable in their oppression. So it goes for other forms of oppression.

The way in which identity politics is expressed changes over time. In the 1960s separatism was a key manifestation, in particular among women and, later, lesbian women. Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African movement, which encouraged Blacks in the US to return to Africa to be free of racism, was an earlier example of a similar political outlook.

Today, separatism doesn’t attract much support. Much more widespread is a form of identity politics in which experience (often emphasised with the entirely superfluous adjective “lived”) is accorded primacy, endowing an unquestionable validity upon the subjects and their analytical and strategic approach to oppression.

Two recent examples demonstrate this point of view.

One is a statement released by the refugee advocacy group Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees (known as RISE) in the lead-up to the Palm Sunday march, traditionally the largest pro-refugee demonstration of the year. As part of a demand for greater RISE representation on the speaking platform, the group argued:

“RISE is the only organisation within Australia that is entirely governed by refugees, asylum seekers and ex-detainees. The work that we do is underpinned by our belief in the power and necessity of self-determination. It is integral that the voices of those with lived experiences are amplified, leading the conversation on all matters pertaining to refugees … It is a movement like RISE that should be placed at the fore of the refugee advocacy space.”

An article supportive of this statement, published in Community Four, further elaborates this position:

“Over time these communities have taught us that effective and sustainable change for the oppressed only truly comes when they themselves take control of their own movement. This is because they are the ones that live with the daily reality of oppression and are the ones that will have to live with any change that is achieved (unlike those of us who can switch the lights off and go home at the end of the day as truly free citizens). It is their diverse voices that we need to listen to before taking another step forward.” Read the rest of this entry »

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The Death of Stalin: history as tragedy *and* farce

October 22, 2017 at 2:02 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, cinema, comedy, film, Jim D, murder, parasites, stalinism, terror, thuggery, tragedy, truth, USSR)

Communism is the positive abolition of private property, of human self-alienation, and thus the real appropriation of human nature through and for man. It is, therefore, the return of man himself as a social, ie really human being, a complete and conscious return which assimilates all the wealth of previous development. Communism as fully-developed naturalism is humanism and as a fully-developed humanism is naturalism” – Marx, Third Economic and Philosophical Manuscript, 1844 (Marx’s own emphases).

Stalinism, that murderous negation of Marx’s humanism and the emancipatory ideals of October 1917, seems to be making a minor comeback in British politics. It’s no secret that at least two of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest advisers are dyed-in-the-wool Stalinists and (I’m told) cod-Stalinist iconography and rhetoric is worryingly prevalent within Young Labour. That semi-official mouthpiece of middle class liberalism, the Guardian, recently published a letter defending the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939, the alliance between Stalin and Hitler that set off the Second World War.

Since most present-day Stalinists and would-be Stalinists are (in my experience) not particularly interested in either Marxist theory or serious history, perhaps farce is the best way to begin to educate them. The Death of Stalin bills itself as “loosely based on a true story” and it’s certainly the case that director Amando Iannucci has taken plenty of liberties with the facts surrounding the death of the mass-murdering tyrant in March 1953: as historian Richard Overy has pointed out, Vyacheslav Molotov was not foreign minister when Stalin died; Marshal Zukov did not command the Red Army at the time, having been exiled to the provinces; Krushchev, not Malenkov chaired the meeting to re-organise the government; and Beria had ceased to be head of security in 1946.

But all this is really beside the point: the film is a caricature, and like all the best caricatures, it tells a fundamental truth: that the danse macabre of these apparatchiks as they jostled for position following the monster’s death was as grotesque, absurd and cynical as anything Iannuncci has previously satirised in his depictions of contemporary bourgeois politics (The Thick of It / In the Loop and Veep), but more deadly. And, of course, it is all a million miles from the ideals of the Bolshevik revolution that these gargoyles had strangled.

The scenes immediately following the apparent ‘death’ (and brief, terrifying revival, before real death) contain at least two real truths: that the apparatchiks dithered over whether to call a doctor for several interconnected reasons: fear of  being seen as disloyal, the wish to see Stalin gone in order to succeed him, and secondly, the fact that many doctors  had been murdered, imprisoned or ceased practicing as a result of the so-called Doctors’ Plot, an antisemitic campaign in which senior medics were accused, preposterously, of belonging to a “Zionist terror gang” (today’s leftist “anti-Zionists” take note).

Is this a suitable subject for comedy – even comedy as consciously dark as this? Mr Overy thinks not, complaining that whereas “the audience reaction to Downfall was serious reflection about the Hitler dictatorship … The Death of Stalin suggests Soviet politics can be treated as opera buffa”.

Again, I beg to differ: though the film is genuinely very funny, the laughs are frequently brought to a sudden end with the sounds of pistol-shots as prisoners are summarily dispatched, a body rolls down the stairs as a torture session is briefly revealed, and the sadist, mass murderer and rapist Lavrentiy Beria (brilliantly portrayed by Simon Russell Beale) casually orders a soldier to “shoot her before him – but make sure he sees it.”

The diabolical figure of Beria dominates the film like a monstrous, manipulative, poisonous toad whose eventual cum-uppance (another historical inaccuracy, by the way; he wasn’t executed until December 1953, months after the period covered by the film) had me silently cheering – and then feeling ashamed: had Beria, from beyond the grave, degraded my humanity to the degree that I was entertained by a brutal killing?

In fact, it is Russell Beale’s extraordinary performance as Beria that is, simultaneously, the film’s greatest strength and its central weakness: so satanically malevolent is he, that the other apparatchiks seem almost likeable – or, at least, pitiable. Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) comes over as a nervous, failed stand-up comedian, Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor – Hank from The Larry Sanders Show) is weak, vain and pathetic, while Molotov (Michael Palin) is simply a tragic, broken man, not least when Beria tricks him into denouncing his own wife, in her presence.

So this is not definitive history, and makes no pretence of being so. But it tells a real truth: that Stalin and his courtiers were at least as venal and corrupt as the very worst bourgeois politician, and a thousand times more murderous (OK: Trump may yet cause me to reassess that judgement). They, and the regime they created out of the ruins of the October revolution, had nothing to do with socialism or communism – not, that is, if like Marx, you believe that communism must be “fully-developed naturalism [and] humanism.” It’s a tragedy that a new generation of would-be socialists (some not even born when the workers of Eastern Europe overthrew Stalinism in 1989-90) are going to have to learn this lesson from scratch. Let us hope that Iannucci’s darkly comic and horrifically wise film sets at least some young comrades on a journey to the truth.

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Dizzentennial (100 years of Dr Gillespie)

October 21, 2017 at 1:47 pm (culture, jazz, modernism, music)

Dizzy Gillespie, born (Cheraw, South Carolina) Oct 21 1917 (died Jan 6 1993):

“He changed the face of jazz in three ways: first, he created  a totally original trumpet style which took virtuosity to undreamed-of limits, redefining the technical possibilities of the instrument; second, with (Charlie) Parker and others he established bebop as the valid contemporary style for both small groups and big bands; third, he changed the way jazz musicians behaved towards one another: whereas previous generations of musicians had been reluctant to share their knowledge with up-and-coming players, Gillespie proselytized, taught and encouraged musicians on all instruments, drawing them into the music and recommending them for various jobs. His generosity and his confidence in his own abilities were such that he assisted and nurtured the talents of potential rivals including Fats Navarro,  Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and later Lee Morgan and John Faddis. If Bird (Parker) was the intuitive genius of bebop, Dizzy was the organizing genius, the passionate, rational force” (extracted from the entry on Gillespie, by Ian Carr, in Jazz – The Rough Guide [pub: 1995])

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Enough equivocation: the left must campaign to Stop Brexit!

October 20, 2017 at 11:35 am (Anti-Racism, AWL, Brexit, campaigning, Europe, labour party)

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DMVt6zWWsAEquYe.jpg

Illustration: John Rogan (via Tendance Coatesy)

By Martin Thomas (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Opinion polling on 10-11 October showed 64% saying that the Tory government is doing “badly” in negotiating Brexit, and only 21% saying it is doing “well”. 47% said that, with hindsight, they thought the vote for Brexit in June 2016 was wrong, 40% that it was right.

Only a small minority say that Brexit will make Britain better off economically — only 23% overall, and only 12% of Labour voters. 44% think Brexit will make Britain worse off. 39% expect Brexit to be bad for jobs, just 22% think it will be good. 31% expect Britain to be bad for the NHS, 25% good. Among Labour voters, 51% expect “bad for the NHS”, 17% good.

Meanwhile the Tories’ talks with the EU are going badly. On Thursday 19th and Friday 20th ministers, and then chiefs, from the 27 other EU states will hear a report from Brexit negotiations after five rounds of talks. The EU 27 are insisting that the UK must promise a clear list of closing-the-account payments before they will even start discussing a new deal on trade. That new deal itself will be difficult. Canada’s trade deal with the EU, with much less baggage to impede it, took eight years to negotiate and ratify, and nearly collapsed.

There is no sign of progress towards the trade deals with other countries which the Brexiters airily promised back in 2016. With right-wing nationalists like Trump gaining ground in many countries, the terrain is more difficult for such deals. All that should be a signal for the left and the labour movement to start a drive to stop Brexit.

We should oppose and harry the Tories at every point. We should demand — as some pro-EU Tories are already demanding — that any exit deal must be voted on by Parliament. Not just in the my-way-or-the-highway alternative the Tories are offering — their deal or a crash exit with no deal at all. And not just by Parliament.

The June 2016 referendum had the defects of all referenda — a poor form of democracy. It was biased because 16-17 year olds and EU citizens resident in Britain were denied votes. It was run in a way which artificially limited the mass media debate to a Tory-vs-Tory contest. And on top of all that, it was a one-off vote about a very vaguely-sketched alternative.

Democracy means stopping elites like the Tories grabbing full power to make and shape things to their own liking from such vague mandates. The populace must retain its say. Minorities must retain a chance to become majorities. Given we’ve already had the first referendum, probably the only way to stop the Tories trashing people’s rights is a second referendum.

“A Labour MP”, quoted by the Financial Times on 17 October, said: “the public would need another vote on whether to go ahead, given that the Leave camp had offered a more positive manifesto [than any possible exit deal] in June 2016… It would be a ‘final say’ now that we know the facts. The people would want to have the final say over all of this”. That MP also told the FT: “this would not be a ‘second referendum’, despite all appearances to the contrary”. Huh? It would be second, and it would be a referendum, wouldn’t it?

In any case, the MP is right. We didn’t want the first referendum, but now it’s happened we must demand a “final say” for the populace. The alternative is to let the Tories have their way unchecked, to let them cancel the rights of EU citizens and of British citizens to be able to work and study in the EU, to let them make difficult-to-reverse decisions, all on the authority of an old referendum and the Parliamentary majority of a moment. Our basic guideline should be working-class solidarity and social levelling-up across borders. Immediately, we should also be backing French workers in their battle against the very pro-EU but anti-worker Macron government.

Also, however, we cannot let the immediate issue of the re-raising of economic and social barriers, and the suppression of rights to free movement, wait on the general and longer-term issue of reorienting the labour movement towards a workers’ Europe. “Stop Brexit” and “Second referendum on any exit deal” should be immediate slogans, alongside “Freedom of movement”.

On 12 October, Jeremy Corbyn said that he would vote Remain in a second referendum, but in these terms: “There isn’t going to be another referendum, so it’s a hypothetical question but yes, I voted remain because I thought the best option was to remain. I haven’t changed my mind on that”.

Last week I met by chance, on a bus, a member of Corbyn’s inner circle, someone I’ve known for decades. I can’t quote him by name, because it was a conversation on a bus, not an on-the-record interview. But those who have followed Labour statements on Brexit will recognise his responses as only a snappier and more candid rendering of the official line.

What should Labour do about Brexit? Response: oppose the Tories, criticise the Tories at every step, wait and see, and avoid further commitment. What if the Tory government falls before it can complete a deal? Won’t Labour then have to say something definite? Response: long silence. Then: “That would be very difficult”. The Corbynista insider was sure of one thing: Labour cannot, must not, come out for stopping Brexit. Labour must equivocate in order to keep both its pro-Brexit and its anti-Brexit supporters on board.

This craven, manipulative approach to politics is incompatible with socialism, and unlikely to work in the long or even medium term. Tens of thousands joined a “Stop Brexit” march at the Tory party conference on 1 October in Manchester — some of them chiming in with pro-EU Tories like Stephen Dorrell, some of them going on to join the anti-austerity march the same day.

So far there’s still a majority for the resigned view: Brexit will be not very good, or positively bad, but now we just have to go through with it. That majority is beginning to break up. Probably it will wane and wax in the next months and years as the talks between the Tories and EU go worse or better. A determined drive by the left and the labour movement can and should turn the majority into a minority, and stop Brexit.

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The Stalin-Hitler pact debated in the Graun’s letters page

October 19, 2017 at 5:49 pm (fascism, Germany, Guardian, history, Poland, posted by JD, stalinism, USSR, war)

Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov signs the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow, 23 August 1939. On the left is German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop

Above:  Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov signs the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow, 23 August 1939. On the left is German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Photograph: Heinrich Hoffmann/Getty Images

An attempt, in the Guardian‘s letters page, to defend Stalin’s alliance with Hitler (aka the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact), using a well-worn Stalinist line of argument:

Contrary to Tim Ottevanger’s view (Letters, 16 October) of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939, a pact that astonished the western world, I think it was one of the most significant in the last 200 years. At that time any intelligent observer, including Stalin, knew that the Nazis planned to eradicate Bolshevism and to gain Lebensraum in eastern Europe. The Soviets were engaged in a gigantic educational, agricultural and industrial transformation lasting less than a score of years, a process that took the UK over a century. They had to ensure that they were capable of defeating an onslaught from the greatest military machine ever known. The pact not only gave the USSR an extra 22 months of further industrialisation, but also allowed it to occupy eastern Poland after the Nazis attacked it on 1 September 1939. But for this extra 100+ miles of “buffer zone” the Nazis would have probably captured Moscow in 1941 and much land beyond it. Instead, as Churchill said, the Soviets “ripped the guts out of the Wehrmacht”. But for this the Nazis would have won the war in Europe with cataclysmic implications for the UK.
David Davis
Chesterfield

…and three replies:

David Davis’s claim of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939 being all about “buying time” (Letters, 18 October) is like similar claims about Chamberlain at Munich – risible historical revisionism.

If Stalin was really concerned with buying time while Soviet reforms were completed, why was he still merrily engaged in the wholesale slaughter without trial of anyone who looked at him in a funny way, from top generals to the merest peasant? Why did the Nazi Blitzkrieg on 22 June 1941 take the Soviets completely by surprise (and despite umpteen warnings from other nations)? Why in particular did the Nazis and Soviets between 12 and 14 November 1940 negotiate the Soviet Union’s entry into the axis, which only failed over disagreements over spheres of influence?

No, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was nothing more than two bullies coordinating their collective shakedown of their weaker neighbours, who, once there was nothing else left easy to despoil, began eyeing up each other to satisfy their perpetual greed, for there is no honour among thieves.
Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

Reading David Davis’s astonishing defence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (and the Soviet partition of Poland with Nazi Germany), I was inevitably reminded of AP Herbert’s satirical wartime poem Less Nonsense: “In 1940, when we bore the brunt / We could have done, boys, with ‘a second front’. / A continent went down a cataract / But Russia did not think it right to act. / Not ready? No. And who shall call her wrong? / Far better not to strike till you are strong. / Better, perhaps (though this was not our fate) / To make new treaties with the man you hate.”

How depressing that, nearly 80 years later, that shabby and cynical pact still has its advocates.
Andrew Connell
Cardiff

David Davis has a rather rose-tinted view of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. It is true that it kept a slice of Poland (and the Baltic states) out of Hitler’s hands, at least for 22 months, but why did Stalin insist upon imposing his style of repression upon their populations, with mass deportations to Siberia and the killing of several thousand Polish officers at Katyn – or does Davis still believe Moscow’s wartime lie that the Nazis did it? Yes, the pact did buy time for Moscow, but, in that case, why did Stalin do nothing to build defences in the newly obtained land? And why did Stalin do nothing to prepare for a German invasion, and refuse to act on the numerous reports that an invasion was in the offing

That the Soviet forces were woefully unprepared for the invasion was shown by their confused and largely ineffectual conduct as the Wehrmacht stormed in on 22 June 1941. Had Stalin ordered a proper defensive strategy over the previous months, the Wehrmacht would have been stalled and repelled well before it reached, as it did, the outskirts of Moscow. Stalin squandered the temporal and territorial advantages that the pact offered. Moreover, the execution of 30,000 officers and the jailing and killing of many hundreds of thousands of civilians in Stalin’s purges a few years previously hardly helped guarantee the country’s military, industrial and administrative readiness for war – or does Davis still believe that they were “traitors”, as Moscow insisted at the time?
Dr Paul Flewers
London

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