Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Welcome back to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And we're continuing

  • our series of interviews with Peter Kuznick. He's the co-author of the book and the film

  • The Untold History of the United States. Thanks for joining us again.

  • So we'll just pick up the discussion. One of the things the series does which is pretty

  • courageous, really, is deal with the role of the Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War,

  • and then particularly in World War II, and really unpack and defy the basic Cold War

  • narrative. And so talk a little bit about that history, and also a little about your

  • discussions about how to deal with it, 'cause, I mean, in some ways politically it's the

  • most sensitive stuff in the series. You know, to talk about Wallace is--people are okay

  • with that. But your version of the Soviet Union is--.

  • PETER KUZNICK: They're not so okay with the Wallace. They think that we're--because in

  • 1948, when Wallace runs for president again, the Communist Party is very much involved

  • in that campaign. So we do get a lot of negative reaction from the right-wingers on the Wallace

  • story. They're very sensitive to that one.

  • But you're right to say that the main attacks we're getting from the right are about our

  • treatment of the Soviet Union, because they want to portray the Soviet Union as the equivalent

  • of the Nazis, and Hitler and Stalin are equally bad.

  • JAY: Yeah, I was--I said in my opening introduction, in every school in North America--I mean,

  • I grew up in Canada, and it was no different--the chapter in the history book is communism,

  • fascism, two forms of totalitarianism, and the whole history is that they are simply

  • the equivalence.

  • KUZNICK: Yeah. And there's some--not truth to that, but there is obviously a lot of truth

  • to the critique of Stalinism and the ways in which Stalin hijacks and subverts the Russian

  • Revolution, and from a left perspective, undermines the Russian Revolution. We on the left in

  • the United States in the 20th century had that albatross around our necks for much of

  • the 20th century, and people felt for some understandable reason that they had to defend

  • certain features of the Soviet Union. And under Stalin there's not very much that is

  • defensible of what's going on inside the Soviet Union--the massacres that took place, the

  • millions and millions of victims of Stalinism. And the repression is real. And the left in

  • the United States didn't know that in the 1930s. We didn't learn that till much later.

  • So we're actually quite critical of Stalin, but we also understand the important role

  • that the Soviet Union represents, the idea of the Soviet Union representing something

  • as a socialist society in which there is socialized medicine and education and tremendous advances

  • in the sciences in the 1930s. I mean, there are certain things that are positive about

  • Soviet Society that you can recognize without saying that Stalin was a good guy.

  • JAY: And, one way or the other, had pretty massive popular support, Stalin. You don't

  • rally a country to make the kind of sacrifices the Soviet people made.

  • KUZNICK: But there's still a lot of nostalgia for Stalin inside of Russia.

  • JAY: Still, even now, yeah. I mean, dictators can be popular too, so--.

  • KUZNICK: Yeah. Yeah. And he was as brutal a dictator as is imaginable in certain ways

  • during this time. That doesn't mean that everything that the Soviet Union did was bad. The Soviet

  • Union was often on the right side of history on these things. The Soviet Union in the Spanish

  • Civil War was the main support for the republican causes.

  • JAY: But the main problem in terms of the American historical narrative is he wasn't

  • our brutal dictator.

  • KUZNICK: Right.

  • JAY: Like, it's not like historically the United States has problems with brutal dictators.

  • KUZNICK: No, we love brutal dictators.

  • JAY: They've just got to be ours.

  • KUZNICK: Yes, and he was never ours. And he represented something that was very threatening

  • to the people who liked our brutal dictators. He was--he believed that the world could be

  • organized on principles very different than capitalist principles. And even though his

  • works, like, philosophical material, whatever his big book in '36 was on Marxism, it's really

  • pretty lousy Marxism. He was very crude and mechanistic, and his understanding was, I

  • say, very shallow. But he still represented something that American capitalists hated.

  • And these same capitalists who didn't hate fascism, because fascism was a form of capitalism,

  • hated the Soviet communism because that was a threat to American capitalism and it said

  • the world could be organized in a different way and that way could work.

  • And it did work in a lot of ways in the 1930s. And you have the tremendous economic boom.

  • And there was a lot of literature in the United States in the early '30s when the American

  • was hitting the nadir of its depression, in late 1932, that the only country that was

  • immune to depression was the Soviet Union. And that was not just in liberal papers and

  • publications like The Nation and The New Republic; that was in The Christian Science Monitor,

  • it was in Businessweek, it was in Barron's. It was in very conservative places [crosstalk]

  • JAY: And also something interesting--and it's too complicated to unpack all this right now,

  • 'cause it's not the history of the Soviet Union, but one of the facts that comes out

  • in your series, which--I didn't know the scale of it--was the extent of the millions of people

  • that are moved--

  • KUZNICK: Yes, massive.

  • JAY: --east to get out of the way of the German army, and the complete rebuilding--

  • KUZNICK: Rebuilding of the economy.

  • JAY: --of Soviet economy. Yeah. Tell a bit about that story.

  • KUZNICK: Well, it's, again, a remarkable mobilization of Soviet resources. The Soviets were fighting

  • Germany. In fact, that's part of the story about World War II that Americans don't know

  • but need to know, that we always think that it was the United States who won the war in

  • Europe and that the bomb ended the war in the Pacific, two very, very big misconceptions

  • that Americans have.

  • Throughout most of World War II, the United States and the British were fighting ten German

  • divisions combined. The Soviets were fighting 200. The United States lost about 300,000

  • people in combat, 400,000 overall in World War II, which was terrible, but the Russians

  • lost 27 million people in World War II. There's good reason why Churchill says it was the

  • Russians who tore the guts out of the German army. And Roosevelt recognized that, and Americans

  • at the time recognized it, which is partly why the Soviets were considered--viewed so

  • positively by the United States and by American people during World War II. It's part of the

  • reason why there was a possibility for post-war friendship and collaboration as Wallace and

  • Roosevelt envisioned after the war and as Stalin desperately hoped for.

  • The whole Russian vision after the war was based upon this idea that the United States

  • and the Soviets would remain allies. That was essential for Stalin's political dreams,

  • as well as for his economic vision of how you rebuild the Soviet economy, which was

  • devastated. It was Kennedy who recognized that in his famous AU commencement address,

  • when he says that the destruction of the Soviet Union was the equivalent of the entire United

  • States east of Chicago being wiped out and destroyed. I mean, what they suffered was,

  • you know, beyond imagination, really, what the Soviets suffered, which was why there

  • was such an abhorrence of war afterwards inside the Soviet Union, but also why they were so

  • defensive and why they wanted Eastern Europe. This wasn't part of some grand imperial design

  • that Stalin had; this was his defensiveness as a Russian nationalist who understood that

  • the Soviet Union [incompr.] attacked by Germany through Eastern Europe twice within the past

  • 25 years, and he was going to do anything he could, from the Russian nationalist standpoint,

  • to make sure that never happened again.

  • JAY: I did a series of interviews with Ray McGovern, who was a CIA analyst for many years,

  • and in the interviews he says that as they're briefing Reagan and some of the other presidents,

  • even at that time they're saying that the fundamental posture of the Russians is defensive.

  • KUZNICK: Yes.

  • JAY: It's not--you know, this idea that Russia's going to invade Europe and march through Europe

  • and all this is not real, that from an analyst division of CIA they were saying that, but

  • nobody wanted to hear the argument. And your series, again, you're contradicting the whole

  • narrative that the Soviet threat is the fundamental character of post-World War II period.

  • KUZNICK: Which is why the United States doesn't change, really, after the Cold War ends. Have

  • we cut back our defense spending? Have we gotten rid of our bases overseas? Have we

  • gotten rid of our nuclear weapons? Do we not have this massive defense apparatus that still

  • is looking for enemies around the world? You know, we're expanding, we're shifting. We're

  • shifting now to the Pacific from our previous emphasis in the Middle East and in Europe.

  • But we're not changing our policy.

  • JAY: Now, one of the critical moments in terms of World War II--and it's been a big debate--is

  • Stalin makes a deal with Hitler and a nonaggression pact of some sort. And one version of this

  • is Stalin did everything he could to have an alliance with United States and England

  • and against Hitler, and the other version is Stalin really didn't care who he made a

  • deal with, and he was happy to have a deal with Hitler, and the only reason it broke

  • is Hitler attacked him. What are your sources? How did you come to terms with what you thought

  • was the correct version of this?

  • KUZNICK: Well, Stalin was not always a man of great principle. As we know, Stalin could

  • be ruthless and bloody and tyrannical and could make a deal with Hitler. None of what

  • we're saying is a defense of Stalin. We've got a portrait of Stalin that portrays him

  • to be quite brutal. We're very, very critical of Stalin. However, from 1935 to 1939 he did

  • everything he could to form an alliance with the United States and the Western capitalist

  • nations because he knew that there were forces who wanted to push Hitler to attack the Soviet

  • Union.

  • JAY: My uncle was a writer at the time, a journalist as well, and he was at one of the

  • conferences that they allowed the media into, and he said the Soviet foreign minister was

  • practically begging for an alliance with the West against Hitler, and they just weren't

  • interested.

  • KUZNICK: You know, they went so far that the Communist Party in the United States basically

  • supported Roosevelt. That's--the whole Popular Front period from '35 to '39 was about tamping

  • down the revolutionary forces and having the communist parties throughout the world, the

  • Western capitalist world, become allies of liberal and centrist democratic forces. The

  • Communist Party was basically an adjunct of the Democratic Party between '35 and '39 at

  • a time when its popularity became great.

  • And they were saying--during the Popular Front, they were saying communism is 20th-century

  • Americanism. That was their line. And they traced their lineage back to Washington, Jefferson,

  • and Lincoln. This was not a very revolutionary force at that point, but that was the policy

  • out of the Soviet Union, because they wanted alliances with the Western capitalist governments.

  • They never did anything to form an alliance with Hitler during that time. And by 1939

  • they were desperate. They knew that Germans would be launching an invasion. But this was

  • after the Western forces capitulated repeatedly to Hitler.

  • JAY: Well, this kind of goes back to the point I was making in one of the earlier segments,

  • though: where is Roosevelt in all this? I mean, Roosevelt is in on not building an alliance.

  • I mean, if he really wanted to stop Hitler, it was the obvious thing to do.

  • KUZNICK: Yeah, Roosevelt could have done that, but he would have had to buck American public

  • opinion. As you said also, 95 percent of the American people were opposed to even getting

  • involved in World War II when the war was going on and Britain and France were under

  • the gun.

  • JAY: But what I'm getting back--we're getting back into the Roosevelt argument again, but

  • I don't mean intervening militarily, but sanctions against American companies that help Hitler.

  • I saw something--I mentioned it to you off-camera, but I saw something at the Holocost Museum

  • in Washington. It said--my memory is it was something like 70, 75 percent of newspaper

  • editors who were asked in 1936 whether to send the Olympic team, American Olympic team

  • to the Nazi-held Olympics, said, don't do it, and they did it anyway. So there was a

  • fair amount of public opinion here against Hitler, even if there was public opinion against