Q: Tell me about the speech Stalin made at the Bolshoi Theater in February 1946. It was a speech
that made a big impression in the West didn't it?
VZ: Well, if we just take today and read Stalin's speech, we wouldn't
be shocked by anything...He praised the Party; he praised the Socialist regime.
He justified all the policies of the '30s -- collectivization, industrialization.
Said, that's what enabled us to win the war. And then he switched to international
analysis and he used again Leninist concept of imperialism to say that division of,
redivision of the markets, struggle for world resources will produce conflicts and
will produce wars. So that was not a war that happened by chance, the Second World War.
It was inevitable. It stemmed from contradictions of capitalism.
So given this analysis, he proposed a solution. We should gear up to -- you know,
the big leap forward. He didn't use the Chinese word of course, but that was the
essence of his proposal. Three more five-year plans, which meant of course everybody
remembered what first two five-year plans were in the 30s. Extreme tension,
no luxury, no consumer goods, everything for defense, people sleeping five hours,
working for fifteen hours, stuff like that. So that was pretty clear for the
contemporaries. And many war veterans or just normal people who expected that
they would relax after the war, that Stalin would finally say you deserve some peace
and relaxation, my brothers and sisters -- that's how he talked to people in '41.
That's how he talked to people even in May '45. Russians, brothers and sisters,
you trusted your government, your government, you know, made some mistakes. He
changed the tone so abruptly in February of '46...
And we know that at the same time -- a little bit earlier -- Stalin returned his
master of propaganda from Finland, where he was in charge of -- he was the like
commissioner in Finland -- he returned him to Moscow and put him in charge of propaganda
apparatus. He needed to turn the country to the idea of exerting maximum efforts for
rearmament. And I'm sure, again -- that's my belief -- it was linked to the atomic project.
Not only atomic project -- Stalin, of course, simultaneously gave a green light to
other projects -- missiles, for instance. I mean, if you take only two of these projects
you put the country under immense stress economically. And propaganda is important to
motivate people to tolerate all the hardships, to sustain all their hardships. And take
note that Stalin could not tell them, my countrymen, you are suffering basically
because we are trying to build the atomic build and missiles so fast. There was a
complete secrecy. So he needed to come up with something else to justify all this.
So, in a sense, Stalin was always a ruthless pragmatist and for him it was not ideology
per se that mattered. It was that, that was the obvious tool to make people work hard
and to put up with hardships in life.
Internationally, of course, that speech produced such a turmoil, particularly
in London and Washington. And both ambassadors -- British and American -- sent
alarmist reports about the speech. And of course just two weeks later George Kennan
sent his long telegram to Washington, which was a bombshell...So what happened was
that Stalin's return to ideology and to this interpretation of the international
situation confirmed some suspicions that cropped up in the minds of Western politicians
who kept asking themselves the question, what actually Stalin wanted after the war?
Would he be prepared to limit himself, or his ambitions were unlimited? His expansion
would continue on and on and on?
At the same time, what happened in December of '45, Stalin applied a maximum pressure
on Turkey. There was his public campaign for annexation of some Turkish territories,
and for granting the Soviet Union military bases in the Turkish straits. Even more so,
at the same time, Stalin began to apply pressure to Iran. And in December, two autonomous
republics or puppet republics were set in the zone of Soviet military occupation
in northern Iran -- the Kurdish Republic, and the ethnic Azerbeijani Republic, which
were widely regarded as, as, as tools in Stalin's hands to obtain oil concessions in
Iran, to subjugate Iran, to turn it into a Russian sphere of influence.
So, well the truth is that from the Soviet perspective, from Stalin's perspective,
those requests were limited. I mean, the Turkish straits and the total demands to
Turkey was on the agenda of Czarist Russian imperialism for decades, if not centuries.
Same with Iran, Russia did have a sphere of influence in Iran. But Stalin never
bothered to, to provide his Western counterparts with any clear rationale for his
foreign policy. He was an opportunist; he preferred to keep his options open. So that
sowed immense mistrust, immense uncertainty about his intentions in the West.
So when his speech, that speech gave, was like a fuse. Oh, suddenly people in the West
people realized, oh, that's why he's doing all this. He's still a Marxist; he's a
Marxist-Leninist. He's bent on unlimited Communist expansion. He can never be satisfied.
That combination, dangerous combination of Communist universalism with old Czarist,
Czarist expansionism is what motivates Russia. And that produced, that produced,
that hardened up the West, particularly the Truman administration, to stop really
trusting Stalin, to stop negotiating with Stalin, but instead building a --
unilaterally building up the power to contain the Soviet Union.
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