LIFE shows why a tougher line on Stalin would have been unpopular during World War II

Since so many people here think the US should have taken a harder line on Stalin during World War II--some even supporting a preventive war with it in 1945--I suggest they examine US public opinion toward the USSR during World War II to determine if that would really be feasible. IMO LIFE magazine's special issue on the USSR (March 29, 1943) gives some indication. Remember, we are not dealing here with a fellow traveling left-wing magazine, not even with a New Deal magazine, but with a publication by Henry Luce, a fairly conservative Republican.

We begin with the front cover--appropriately devoted to Joseph Stalin. https://books.google.com/books?id=A1AEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover

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As Lars T. Lih notes, . "This photograph has a gritty realism that was conspicuously absent from visual images of the leader circulating in the Soviet Union. In particular, his pockmarked face was not hidden. For a foreign audience, these pockmarks added to the impressiveness. As [LIFE photographer Margaret ] Bourke-White herself wrote in a book published in 1942, “his rough pitted face was so strong that it looked as if it had been carved out of stone.” http://crisiscritique.org/ccmarch/lih.pdf

Lih notes that "There is no need to ask ourselves why an American mass-market magazine owned by conservative Republicans would published an entire issue favorable to the USSR in 1943. The Soviet Union had emerged triumphant from the battle of Stalingrad, and was a valiant, indeed necessary, ally for the USA in the war against Hitler." Some of the details are remamrkable, however.

Lack of freedom of the press in the USSR? "[The Russians] live under a system of tight state-controlled information. But probably the attitude to take toward this is not to get too excited about it. When we take account of what the USSR has accomplished in the 20 years of its existence we can make allowances for certain shortcomings, however deplorable. For that matter, even 15 years ago the Russian economy had scarcely yet changed from the days of the Czars, and the kulaks of the steppes were still treating modern industrial machines like new toys. In 1929 the Soviet Union did not have a single automobile or tractor plant and did not produce high-grade steel of ball bearings. Today the USSR ranks among the top three or four nations in industrial power. She has improved her health, built libraries, raised her literacy to about 80%--and trained one of the most formidable armies on earth. It is safe to say that no nation in history has ever done so much so fast. If the Soviet leaders tell us that the control of information was necessary to get this job done, we can afford to take their word for it for the time being. We who know the power of free speech, and the necessity for it, may assume that if those leaders are sincere in their work of emancipating the Russsian people they will swing around toward free speech—and soon."

"In an extensive photo-essay devoted to Lenin’s life, he is presented as “perhaps the greatest man of modern times.” “Lenin was the rarest of men, an absolutely unselfconscious and unselfish man who had a passionate respect for ideas, but even more respect for deeds … He was a normal, well-balanced man.” A normal, well-balanced man! How shocking such an assertion sounds today! In contrast, Trotsky was “a thinker and a dreamer … He went into exile, leaving behind a secret network of opposition which strove for years to undermine the government.” His rival, Joseph Stalin, was a “strong, tough silent proletarian man of action” who proceeded to “ruthlessly eliminate the so-called Trotskyist fifth column." http://crisiscritique.org/ccmarch/lih.pdf The use of"so-called" is one of the very few things the Soviet government objected to in the article... Anyway, the treatment of Lenin seems unbelievable today:

"Perhaps the greatest man of modern times was Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov. He took the name of Lenin, spent most of his fifty-four years in exile from his country, and gave the world the biggest new political fact of our era, the federal Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under a form of Communism.

"The impression of integrated force he gave in life may be sensed in the portrait above, taken not long before his great step to power. Lenin was that rarest of men, an absolutely unselfconscious and unselfish man who had passionate respect for ideas, but even more respect for deeds. He had mastered the trick of complete concen¬
tration. He had a fantastic capacity for work and was scrupulous and thorough about the smallest, as well as the biggest, duties of his life. He spoke English, German and French, as well as Russian, and could read Italian, Swedish and Polish. He was a normal well-balanced man who was dedicated to rescuing 140,000,000 people
from a brutal and incompetent tyranny. He did what he set out to do.

"Lenin did not make the Revolution in Russia, nor did any one group of men. But he made the Revolution make sense and saved it from much of the folly of the French Revolution. It is impossible to imagine what the history of Russia and the world would have been had he not lived..." (On that last point at least, I can agree..)

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Collectivization? "The photo essay on agriculture is entitled “Collective Farms Feed the Nation.” The reader is informed that during collectivization, “the wealthier farmers, called kulaks, were brutally liquidated by death, exile or coercion.” Nevertheless, the bottom line is that “whatever the cost of farm collectivization, in terms of human life and individual liberty, the historic fact is that it worked … Russia could not have built the industry which turned out the munitions which stopped the German army.” http://crisiscritique.org/ccmarch/lih.pdf

Stalin's associates? "In a four-page spread, Stalin’s top leadership team is presented as “tough, loyal, capable administrators.” Lavrentia Beria, for example, heads the NKVD, identified as “a national police similar to the FBI [!]” His assignment at the present time is “enforcement of Stalin’s scorched-earth policy and tracking down of traitors.”

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Lih concludes "This issue of Life is a somewhat unsettling journey to a forgotten past. Perhaps the issue is even somewhat embarrassing, but why, and to whom? Is it embarrassing to the USA business elite that showed it could whitewash Stalin’s crimes as well as any wooly-headed leftist fellow-traveler? Or is it a disturbing reminder of the present-day cultural amnesia about the time when the Soviet Union was a valued ally, when Soviet achievements were seen positively—and thus a reminder of the fact that we in the Western democracies directly benefitted from the huge sacrifices of a society and a system that today excites little beyond condemnation and mockery." http://crisiscritique.org/ccmarch/lih.pdf

Now to be sure this was published just after Stalingrad, when admiration for the USSR was at its height in the US. Neverthrless, it cannot IMO be dismissed as merely an echo of US government wartime propoaganda--Henry Luce could be quite critical of FDR when he wanted to be! Articles like this helped form public opinion but also reflected the natural wish of Americans to believe the best about a wartime ally (that also applies to Chiang Kai-shek's China by the way.) That is one of many reasons why a more anti-Soviet policy by the US would have been so difficult to sustain as long as Hitler was undefeated (and even just after, which is why Operation Unthinkable was so aptly named--favorable images like these simply cannot--in a democracy--be erased overnight).
 
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mial42

Gone Fishin'
Obviously this wasn't just the result of wartime propaganda: the whole American (and British; highly recommend The Chronicles of Wasted Time for a summary there) media complex was running Soviet propaganda throughout the 1930s. See, for instance, Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times (as mainstream and prestigious as it is possible to be) coverage of the collectivization famine in Ukraine:
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And this coverage had nothing to do with reflecting American public opinion, which was consistently anticommunist (except for during WW2 itself).

favorable images like these simply cannot--ina democracy--be erased overnight
Of course they can be, provided the media is dedicated to it. 90+% of people have very little memory of what they firmly believed a couple of years ago, and will never bother to check. Look at a graph of European opinions of the American government over time. You'll see 50+ point positive swings when a Democrat comes into office and vice-versa when a Republican comes in. Or look at what happened to Enoch Powell; from 70%+ approval ratings (very, very high for a democracy) to disgrace in a couple of years. Even intelligent, knowledgeable, politically aware people (which describes only a small fraction of the population) are vulnerable to this. The general consensus of Western Academia pre-1978 was that Pol Pot was a great guy and the refugees were CIA shills, until they all turned on a dime Christmas 1978.
 
Obviously this wasn't just the result of wartime propaganda: the whole American (and British; highly recommend The Chronicles of Wasted Time for a summary there) media complex was running Soviet propaganda throughout the 1930s. See, for instance, Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times (as mainstream and prestigious as it is possible to be) coverage of the collectivization famine in Ukraine:
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And this coverage had nothing to do with reflecting American public opinion, which was consistently anticommunist (except for during WW2 itself).


Of course they can be, provided the media is dedicated to it. 90+% of people have very little memory of what they firmly believed a couple of years ago, and will never bother to check. Look at a graph of European opinions of the American government over time. You'll see 50+ point positive swings when a Democrat comes into office and vice-versa when a Republican comes in. Or look at what happened to Enoch Powell; from 70%+ approval ratings (very, very high for a democracy) to disgrace in a couple of years. Even intelligent, knowledgeable, politically aware people (which describes only a small fraction of the population) are vulnerable to this. The general consensus of Western Academia pre-1978 was that Pol Pot was a great guy and the refugees were CIA shills, until they all turned on a dime Christmas 1978.
Well-taken points, but the point is that the USSR would have to screw up pretty badly during World War II for Western public opinion to turn so decisively against Moscow so as to support any American government taking a harder line against them, much less go to war.
 
Of course they can be, provided the media is dedicated to it. 90+% of people have very little memory of what they firmly believed a couple of years ago, and will never bother to check.
“A couple of years” is not “overnight”. The media did eventually get into a dedicated turn about against the USSR in 1946. It still took another 2 years for attitudes to harden.

Anyways, this isn’t news for anyone who has ever seriously studied public attitudes during WW2.
 
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"Russians Hungry, Not Starving"

That's a funny way of saying "they're eating corpses and their own children in the Ukraine."

Ack, I regret never asking my grandparents what they thought of the Soviet Union during the war... I know they adored Ike as president, though.
 
"Russians Hungry, Not Starving"

That's a funny way of saying "they're eating corpses and their own children in the Ukraine."

Ack, I regret never asking my grandparents what they thought of the Soviet Union during the war... I know they adored Ike as president, though.
A friend of my sister years back was a kid in Ukraine in the thirties. His family didn’t starve to death, but he remembered going a long time without ever getting to eat as much as he wanted. He was in a labor camp when the Germans rolled through and got sent west to continue his life as a slave. He was lucky enough to be on the western side of the lines when the war ended. The British army gave him his first big meal in years.
 
A friend of my sister years back was a kid in Ukraine in the thirties. His family didn’t starve to death, but he remembered going a long time without ever getting to eat as much as he wanted. He was in a labor camp when the Germans rolled through and got sent west to continue his life as a slave. He was lucky enough to be on the western side of the lines when the war ended. The British army gave him his first big meal in years.
The stories I've heard from my ESL students' about their grandparents (they're almost all Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, and Israelis).
 
While favorable images of the Soviet Union in the West were not new, I think World War II Stalinophilia was somewhat different from that of the 1930's.

It is true that some of the apologists for Stalin in the West in the 1930s, like Walter Duranty, were not political radicals. Nevertheless, on the whole pro-Soviet opinion in the West in the 1930's was on the political Left and was related to the hope that the Soviet "planned economy" offered an alternative to the capitalism that seemed to have failed in the West. Adnittedly, some non-leftists began looking at the USSR as a potential ally against Hitler after the Comintern proclaimed its "Popular Front" line but even they were well to the left of, say, the Luce publications.

World War II Stalinophilia by contrast extended much further right. LIFE certainly did not think captalism had failed in the West or that it should be replaced there by Soviet-style communism. On the contrary, Stalin was praised for having turned the USSR away from the "impractical" "far left" attitudes of Trotsky and many early Bolsheviks to a more "business-like" government. Far from being seen as the hope for revolution in the West, he was praised for abandoning world revolution in favor of building up the economic and military power of the USSR. and using it in alliance with the capitalist West. (The dissolution of the Comintern, a few months after the LIFE special issue, was particularly pleasing to conservative Stalinophiles.)

Indeed, some of the leading dissenters from the pro-Stalin consensus during the Second World War were Socialists or social democrats (including some Menshevik emigres from Russia) whose works were published in magazines like The New Leader. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Levitas The Erlich-Alter affair https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henryk_Ehrlich provoked the first major anti-Soviet protest in the US during the period of the Great Alliance--led by trade unionists such as Walter Reuther, James Carey, and David Dubinsky. https://books.google.com/books?id=3IdhCQAAQBAJ&pg=PA261 Even the Socialist Workers Party (Trotskyists who believed in the "unconditional defense" of the Soviet Union) wrote that "A score of Nazi divisions could not have done as much damage as Stalin has done by his murder of Heinrich Erlich, leader of the Jewish Socialist Bund of Poland and a member of the executive committee of the Labor and Socialist International, and Victor Alter, President of the Polish National Council of Trade Unions. The news of this foul crime will unfortunately serve to alienate from the Soviet Union the sympathies of wide sections of the working class in many countries....Stalin has dealt the Soviet Union another terrible blow. It starkly illumines again our fundamental thesis that the real defense of the Soviet Union must be waged in spite of and against the Cain in the Kremlin." https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol04/no03/editors.htm

As I've often remarked, of the five leading presidential candidates in 1948--Harry Truman, Thomas Dewey, Henry Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and Norman Thomas--Norman Thomas was the only one who was really critical of the Soviet Union during World War II.

And of course the Soviets and their American fan club reciprocated. Israel Amter wrote in *The Communist* in 1942:

"Mussolini was a “socialist,” Laval was a “socialist,” Norman Thomas, too, is a "Socialist." He offers the world only one kind of peace—-the peace of a Hitler, a Mussolini, a Laval...Norman Thomas, fifth columnist and spearhead of fascism, still has access to the radio and spews forth his traitorous program. It is a distinct disservice to our country to allow this worker for fascism to use the air in order to spread disunity and hatred for our allies. Let us not allow ourselves a repetition of the fate of France, where the fascists were permitted to carry on their work. Let us rather adopt the methods of the Soviet Union..." https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v21n05-jun-1942-The-Communist-OCR.pdf
 
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But how did Hoover allow this to be published?

Probably wrote some pissed off comment in a file somewhere that might actually be kind of funny to read.

Like when people freaked out because the FBI bot Twitter account posted "The Elders of Zion" going on about the FBI being run by Nazis now. With like nobody actually bothering to click on the link and realize it was J Edgar Hoover's personal file on the thing which for whatever reason he came upon and read. And then proceeded to write a long ass note in his personal file which piece by piece tears the whole thing apart as being complete bullshit. Even a pretty funny addition to the file maybe a decade later where he came upon a copy of it again and wrote in the file something like "Jesus Christ morons are still treating this grade school level horseshit like it's actual document. I'd hoped they'd grown a brain in the meantime"?

Basically surprisingly enough considering Hoovers general paranoia of foreign communists (often conflated with Jews in public perception in the era) and his by modern somewhat anti semetic leanings it's a pretty hilarious and thorough debunking.

Reminds me of when Ayn Rand read Hoover in a interview describe himself as a "Objectivist" and assumed it meant that he'd read her work and then sent a long gushing fan letter to him. Hoover had never heard of her before and he'd simply meant that he considered himself a believer in objective facts over hearsay. Hoover had someone do some research on her and her cult/ideology and ended up writing another note in his file basically describing her as a weird creep and sending a rather awkward "thank you" form letter that also kind of implied he'd really like to be left alone by her.

I mean for such a giant asshole Hoover could actually be kind of hilarious sometimes.
 
What if Roosevelt hadn't fawned on the bastard but instead told the truth from the start and denied them Lend Lease? The Life you mention sounds nauseating - Picture Post in Britain was similar. Were there any complaints from readers?
 
What if Roosevelt hadn't fawned on the bastard but instead told the truth from the start and denied them Lend Lease? The Life you mention sounds nauseating - Picture Post in Britain was similar. Were there any complaints from readers?

More dead Americans?

Lend Lease was to varying degrees common sense. We were trading US dollars and steel in return for less spilled American blood. We were trading the Soviets dollars and steel (something the US had plenty of) in return for more dead Nazis (and more Soviets dying fighting Nazi's versus Americans dying killing Nazis). Pretty logical trade to various degree. If we can get less American Gold Star mothers in return for some resources and weaponry then the logic of the trade seems all the more logical. Especially considering just how far above everyone else the US was industrially.
 
Not sure if the NKVD was known to be a brutal secret police in the U.S. at the time, and describing both it and the FBI blandly as "national police" doesn't do anything to link the two, so I don't think any censors would get mad at it.

Also, the very fact that we're talking about the power of Hoover and how he would've made things difficult if he got upset at the comparison just reinforces that the FBI under his reign was closer to the NKVD than we'd like to admit. Maybe not to the same level of brutality, but certainly at a certain similar level of insidiousness and power-hungriness.
 
What if Roosevelt hadn't fawned on the bastard but instead told the truth from the start and denied them Lend Lease? The Life you mention sounds nauseating - Picture Post in Britain was similar. Were there any complaints from readers?
A flat out refusal to give them Lend-Lease aid would not have gone over well. The most hostile you could get would be diverting some (but by no means all) of that aid to the Chinese Nationalists. This would require FDR to be willing to do that (unlikely) and a way to get it there, which would probably mean more American involvement in the Burma theater.
 
What if Roosevelt hadn't fawned on the bastard but instead told the truth from the start and denied them Lend Lease?
A block of people who are directly bound by their commitments inside the CIO and AFL smash the no strike pledge, with the support of people who critically support those people (despite being on death lists), along with the support of people who support the purported project of the Soviet Union but know that that project cannot be moved forward by the destruction of the soviet working class by a fascist government.

Pockets full of sand shit.

Wars are the number one time to strike to advance industrial conditions, and it takes a lot to make a communist or a Communist not willing to do so. Such as the idea of the survival of the location of or the best chance for a location of communism. Remove that, and the rates of 1944/5 sabotage come much earlier. Actually potentially higher: the network of ideological leftists were still functionally opposed to sabotage in 44/5. It took "Soviets are capitalist" analysis style trots, or working class instinctual communists who saw the strike chance, amongst the self-conscious strikers, to go for wages and conditions historically.

Remove the impediment, ontop of the blood in the earth, enjoy the watches, rations and devices of war not working.
 
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