Review: “History in the Making: Memoirs of WWII Diplomacy” – Valentin Berezhkov

In this book published by Progress Publishers, Valentin Berezhkov describes in incredible detail high-level diplomatic meetings between representatives of the USSR and representatives from Nazi Germany, Britain, and the U.S., as part of a comprehensive analysis of the politics of WWII.

An engineer by profession, Berezhkov was transferred first to the Soviet embassy in Berlin and later to the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs to serve as an official Soviet translator due to his fluency in English, German, and Russian. Berezhkov was present at meetings between Molotov and Ribbentrop, Molotov and Hitler, Stalin and Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, Stalin and Truman, the Big Three meetings at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam, and through his work at the Soviet embassy Berezhkov frequently interacted with top Nazi leaders such as Hess, Goering, and Goebbels. Berezhkov describes in exquisite detail both the participants in these meetings and their personalities as well as the backroom political intrigue before, during, and after the meetings. The descriptions are not entirely novel or surprising but are nonetheless amusing: Stalin is a wise and respectful man; Roosevelt is an honorable leader despite his class background; Truman is a cold-blooded imperialist; Hitler is a theatrical lunatic who loves to hear himself talk and never shuts the hell up; and Churchill is a blustering and petulant child prone to emotional tantrums, much to Roosevelt’s chagrin and Stalin’s occasional amusement.

Berezhkov’s memoirs aren’t limited to recalling his experiences as a diplomatic translator. On the contrary, Berezhkov makes some pertinent political analysis of his own, demonstrating an outstanding understanding of both WWII politics and Marxism-Leninism. I was most intrigued by Berezhkov’s analysis at the beginning of the book of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Why did the USSR sign a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany? This is a question that has been asked and studied by countless bourgeois and non-bourgeois scholars alike. Berezhkov, however, asks a different question, one that offers much more insight into the situation confronting the USSR in 1939: What if the USSR rejected Nazi Germany’s proposal for a nonaggression pact?

At a time when the Western powers, including the U.S., Britain, and France, were busy “appeasing” Hitler, offering him Austria and Czechoslovakia in return for attacking the USSR, the rejection of a Nazi proposal for a nonaggression pact could only have lead to the isolation of the USSR and to the strengthening of imperialism. The USSR would then have to confront Nazi Germany, supported by the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, and Spain, in the West, and a militaristic and fascist Japan in the Far East. By signing a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, the Soviets dealt a crushing blow to the alliance between Britain, France, and Nazi Germany against the USSR, and prevented the USSR from having to fight a war on two fronts. The Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact made Nazi Germany a common enemy of both the USSR and the Western powers, thereby forcing, albeit reluctantly, the British, French, and later American imperialists to work with and not against the USSR in the coming conflict in Europe.

Berezhkov also has some intriguing analysis of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to Berezhkov, the Japanese were prepared to surrender conditionally using the Soviets as intermediaries (the Japanese ambassador in Moscow made such overtures to the Soviets). The U.S., however, refused to accept this. Truman and other U.S. imperialists demanded Japan’s unconditional surrender to the U.S. and to the U.S. only without Soviet involvement. This would give the U.S. a dominant position in the Pacific. Moreover, a conditional Japanese surrender with Soviet involvement would preclude the use of the atomic bomb, which was intended for use as a political weapon against the USSR. Thus, the war against Japan had to continue long enough for the atomic bomb to be used, but not long enough for the USSR to enter the war against Japan and have any influence in post-war Japan, which was to be exclusively within the U.S. sphere of influence. Even Churchill, an openly fascist sympathizer, was taken aback by the aggressiveness of U.S. imperialist plans for Japan. The atomic bombing of Japan was an act of terrorism and a war crime, and Berezhkov, with his extensive knowledge of WWII diplomatic and political struggles, makes a strong case for that.

Berezhkov ends his memoirs with a somber but accurate description of WWII:

The anti-Hitler coalition, which took place at the very beginning of the Great Patriotic War fought by the Soviet people against Nazi Germany, represented a major success for Soviet diplomacy and a victory for the Leninist foreign policy of the socialist state. Reactionary groups in the West made great efforts to isolate the Soviet Union, to deprive it of friends and allies, and to force it to fight single-handed against a heavily armed aggressor. This was the hidden aim of the policy of “appeasement” which the rulers of the bourgeois democracies pursued towards Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s.

There are some in the West who even now are perplexed: how did Hitler manage to wrap the canny politicians of London, Paris, and Washington around his little finger? Why was it that neither Britain nor France nor the United States would accept the suggestions urgently pressed by the Soviet government, which were aimed at nipping Hitler’s schemes in the bud? Why did the Western powers reject the Soviet plan for creating a system of collective security? Why did London and Paris stand idly by while Nazi Germany brazenly seized more and more territory in Europe almost without firing a shot, although at the time Germany was much weaker than either of the Western powers? Why was Hitler able to achieve his ends with such outstanding ease? Indeed, why?

The answer to all these questions is one and the same. Those who held power in the West at the time were ready to let Hitler have his way in everything as long as he performed the “historic mission” proclaimed in Mein Kampf – to destroy Bolshevism.

At bottom, Hitler’s campaign against the Soviet Union was the culmination of many years of effort by world reaction to eliminate what was then the world’s only socialist state, thereby restoring the unlimited sway of capitalism. The old order made a desperate attempt to stop history in its forward course, to block social progress. The Western powers tried everything imaginable to correct the “error of history” by which – as they saw it – a socialist country had been born, to smother Soviet Russia, to keep Marxism-Leninism from spreading and continue to hold nations in bondage to capitalism. Fourteen states joined together to intervene against the new Soviet republic; the notorious cordon sanitaire was established with the aim of keeping the ideas of socialist revolution out of Western Europe; the militarists of China and Japan were set upon the Soviet Union; and, finally, bourgeois politicians encouraged and abetted Nazi Germany, which they regarded as their main strike force against Bolshevism.

The interests of international security and the contribution the Soviet Union might make to achieving this goal were the last things London and Paris were concerned with. The Olympian calm the Western powers maintained as Hitler flagrantly violated international agreements, their inaction at the time of the Anschluss of Austria, their betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich – all this was payment in advance on Hitler’s promise to attack the Soviet Union. But the policy of appeasing the aggressor finally turned against its architects. The fascists’ appetites became so peremptory that the Western powers themselves were faced with mortal danger. The further course of events – first and foremost the Soviet people’s heroic resistance to the aggressor and the consistent stand of Soviet diplomacy – led to the formation of the anti-Hitler coalition.”

Pages 490-491

An excellent book – one that should be read in history class!