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Stalin, the `hysteric'

Let us consider another `uncontestable truth': Stalin ran a personal dictatorship, often behaved hysterically, was a charlatan and led the war irresponsibly without knowing the real situation on the ground.

Once again, the man who wanted to `return to the Great Lenin',  Khrushchev,  had something to offer on the subject:

`Even after the war began, the nervousness and hysteria which Stalin demonstrated ... caused our Army serious damage.'

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Khrushchev,  Secret Report, op. cit. , p. S40.

`Stalin began to tell all kinds of nonsense about Zhukov,  among others the following, ``... It is said that before each operation at the front Zhukov  used to behave as follows: He used to take a handful of earth, smell it and say, `We can begin the attack' or the opposite, `The planned operation cannot be carried out.' '' '

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Ibid. , p. S42.

`Stalin planned operations on a globe. (Animation in the hall.) Yes, comrades, he used to take the globe and trace the front line on it.'

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Ibid. , p. S41.

`Stalin was very far from an understanding of the real situation which was developing at the front. This was natural because, during the whole Patriotic War, he never visited any section of the front'.

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Ibid. , p. S40.

Elleinstein,  who avoids making a fool of himself with Khrushchev's  stupid remarks about a globe, still attacks Stalin's detestable `leadership methods':

`An important fact must be pointed out about Stalin's actions during the war: it is his almost total absence, for the combatants and for the civilian population. He never went to the front.'

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Elleinstein,  op. cit. , p. 285.

Here is how Zhukov  presented Stalin, the `nervous hysteric' who could not stand for the slightest contradiction.

`As a rule, the General Headquarters worked in an orderly, business-like manner. Everyone had a chance to state his opinion.

`Stalin was equally stern to everybody and rather formal. He listened attentively to anybody speaking to the point.

`Incidentally, I know from my war experience that one could safely bring up matters unlikely to please Stalin, argue them out and firmly carry the point. Those who assert it was not so are wrong.'

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Zhukov,  op. cit. , p. 281.

Now let us examine the unforgettable scene where Zhukov  went to visit the dictator, globe in hand, to approximately (of course) indicate the front line. Upon returning, Zhukov  wrote:

`It was impossible to go to Stalin without being perfectly familiar with the situation plotted on the map and to report tentative or (which was worse) exaggerated information. Stalin would not tolerate hit-or-miss answers, he demanded utmost accuracy and clarity.

`Stalin seemed to have a knack of detecting weak spots in reports and documents. He immediately laid them open and severely reprimanded those responsible for inaccuracies. He had a tenacious memory, perfectly remembered whatever was said and would not miss a chance to give a severe dressing-down. That is why we drafted staff documents as best we possibly could under the circumstances.'

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Ibid. , p. 282.

As for General Shtemenko,  he directly addressed Khrushchev's  accusation that Stalin, not visiting the front, could not know the realities of war.

`The Supreme Commander could not, in our opinion, visit the fronts more frequently. It would have been an unforgivably lightheaded act to abandon, even for a short period, the General Headquarters, to decide a partial question on a single front.'

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Chtémenko,  op. cit. , p. 354.

Such travel was useless, claimed Vasilevsky.  Stalin received at Headquarters very detailed and very complete information, so `he could, while in Moscow, take decisions properly and with despatch'.

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Vasilevsky,  op. cit. , p. 451.

Stalin made his decisions `not only from data known provided by Headquarters, but also taking into account particularities of the given situation'

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Vasilevsky,  op. cit. , p. 375.

How did he do so? Stalin received all the important information that came from the offices of the Chief of Staff, the Minister of Defence and the Political Leadership of the Red Army. His knowledge of the particular situation on the different fronts came from two sources. First, the front commanders regularly sent him reports. Then, according to Zhukov: 

`Stalin based his judgments of crucial issues on the reports furnished by General Headquarters representatives, whom he would send to the Fronts for on-the-spot assessment of the situation and consultations with respective commanders, on conclusions made at the General Headquarters and suggestions by Front commanders and on special reports.'

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Zhukov,  pp. 282--283.

The General Headquarters representatives were to send a report to Stalin every day. On August 16, 1943, the first day of an important operation near Kharkov, Vasilevsky  did not send his report. Stalin immediately sent him the message:

`I warn you for the last time that if you ever fail to do your duty to the GHQ again you will be removed from your post as Chief of General Staff and recalled from the front ....'

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Vasilevsky,  p. 285.

Vasilevsky  was thunderstruck, but was not offended by this `brutality'. On the contrary, he wrote:

`Stalin was just as categorical with other people. He required similar discipline from every representative of the GHQ .... My feeling is that the lack of any indulgence to an GHQ representative was justified in the interests of efficient control of hostilities. Stalin very attentively followed the course of events at the front, quickly reacted to all changes in them and firmly held troop control in his own hands.'

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Ibid. .

As opposed to Khrushchev,  who claimed to have seen an irresponsible and charlatanesque Stalin, Vasilevsky,  who worked for thirty-four months at Stalin's side, analyzed the latter's style of work as follows:

`Stalin paid a great deal of attention to creating an efficient style of work in the GHQ. If we look at the style from autumn 1942, we see it as distinguished by reliance on collective experience in drawing up operational and strategic plans, a high degree of exactingness, resourcefulness, constant contact with the troops and a precise knowledge of the situation at the Fronts.

`Stalin as Supreme High Commander was extremely exacting to all and sundry; a quality that was justified, especially in wartime. He never forgave carelessness in work or failure to finish a job properly'.

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Ibid. , p. 450.

A detailed example convincingly shows how Stalin's `irresponsible leadership methods' really worked. In April 1942, a Red Army offensive to liberate the Crimea failed. The High Command was given orders to stop it and to organize a staggered defence. Twenty-one Soviet divisions faced ten Nazi divisions. But on May 8, the Nazis attacked and broke through the Soviet defence. The High Command representative, Mekhlis,  a close companion of Stalin, sent his report, to which the Supreme Commander responded:

`You are taking a strange position as an outside observer who has no responsibility for the Crimean Front affairs. This position may be convenient but it is utterly disgraceful. You are not some outside observer at the Crimean Front, but the responsible representative of the GHQ, responsible for all the Front's successes and failures and obliged to correct the command's mistakes on the spot. You together with the command are responsible for the Front's left flank being utterly weak. If ``the entire situation showed that the enemy was going to attack that morning'' and you did not take all measures to repel the enemy, just confining yourself to passive criticism, the worse for you.'

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Ibid. , p. 159.

Stalin fully criticized bureaucratic and formalist leadership methods.

`Comrades Kozlov  and Mekhlis  believed that their main job was to issue orders and that issuing orders was all they had to do in controlling the troops. They did not appreciate that the issuing of an order is only the start of work and that the command's chief job is to ensure that an order is implemented, to convey the order to the troops, and to arrange assistance for the troops in carrying out the command's order. As an analysis of the course of operations has shown, the Front command issued their orders without account for the situation at the front, unaware of the real position of the troops. The Front command did not even ensure the delivery of their orders to the armies .... During the critical days of the operation, the Crimean Front command and Comrade Mekhlis  spent their time on longwinded fruitless meetings of the military council instead of personal contact with the Army commanders and personal involvement in the course of operations.

`The task is that our commanders should put an end once and for all to harmful methods of bureaucratic leadership and troop control; they must not confine themselves to issuing orders, but visit the troops, the armies and divisions more often and help their subordinates to carry out the orders. The task is that our commanding staff, commissars and political officers should thoroughly root out elements of indiscipline among commanders of all ranks.'

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Ibid. , p. 161.

During the entire war, Stalin firmly fought against any irresponsible or bureaucratic attitude. He insisted on real presence on the ground.



next up previous contents index
Next: Stalinof `mediocre Up: Stalinhis personality Previous: Stalinthe `dictator'



Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995