Molotov, MIM, Dogma, and Stalin’s support for Israel
Stalin was a great socialist leader, but it is important to tell the truth about his mistakes. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov was a high-ranking, important member of Stalin’s regime. Today’s Stalinists occasionally choose him as their favorite candidate to have succeeded Stalin in “what if” fantasy histories. “What if Molotov had led the Soviet Union rather than Beria or Khrushchev?” they ask. One of the biggest questions about both Molotov and Stalin is why they supported an apartheid state like Israel. Decades later, Molotov states in his memoirs:
“Everyone objected [to recognizing the State of Israel] but us — me and Stalin. Some asked me why we favored it. We are supporters of international freedom. Why should we be opposed if, strictly speaking, that meant pursuing a hostile nationalist policy? In our time, it’s true, the Bolsheviks were and remained anti-Zionist… Yet it’s one thing to be anti-Zionist and anti-bourgeois, and quite another to be against the Jewish people. We proposed, however, an Arab-Israeli union, for both nations to live there together. We have supported this version if it could have been arranged. Otherwise we favored an Israeli state… Israel has turned out badly. But Lord Almighty! That’s American imperialism for you.” (1)
The Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) extrapolates on Molotov’s defense of Stalin:
“Stalin has been criticized for his recognition of Israel. There is a limit to what the revolutionary forces are capable of. In the case of the existence of Israel, the progressive forces were not able to stop its creation as a separate, exclusive state. Once created, the question became whether or not to recognize it. From Molotov’s quote above, it is clear that Stalin would not recognize the right to self-determination of only those nations with progressive impact, and that he said Molotov thought that not recognizing Israel would have been ‘against the Jewish people.’ They believed they should not oppose the fait-accompli in Israel, though they would have preferred a different outcome.” (2)
These are good examples of how not to approach political errors and history. In his memoirs, Molotov washes his hands of responsibility for Israel even though he had a big role in policies that aided Israel’s creation. Rather than accepting his errors, Molotov obfuscates. He shifts the blame onto the United States, who subsequently became the main supporter of Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian peoples and wars against the Arabs. The genocide and wars continue to this day. MIM does not confront Molotov on his dishonesty. MIM articulates Molotov’s excuse better than Molotov. According to MIM, Stalin’s power was limited and he had no choice but to recognize Israel. Since the Zionists had won their war, what is gained by an infantile refusal to recognize them? This might make sense if all you had to go on was Molotov’s word. However, the reality is that Molotov is lying by omission. And MIM doubles down on the lie.
Stalin’s regime did more than extend de jure recognition to an already victorious Israel on May 18, 1948, they were the first. Several Eastern Bloc countries followed suit, extending de jure recognition to Israel before the United States, which only got around to de jure recognition by January 31, 1949. Golda Meir, one of Israel’s founding elders and Israel’s Fourth Prime Minister, wrote in her memoirs:
“… [T]he Soviet recognition of the State of Israel on May 18 was of immense significance to us. It meant that the two greatest powers in the world has come together, for the first time since World War II, to back the Jewish state, and although we were still in deadly danger, we knew, at last, that we were not alone. It was in that knowledge – combined with sheer necessity – that we found the spiritual, if not the material, strength that was to lead us to victory.” (3) *
Stalin’s recognition of Israel gave a tremendous morale boost to the Zionists. It also boosted their international legitimacy and gave them diplomatic cover. What Molotov and MIM fail to mention is that Stalin’s support for the Zionist movement goes back prior to the Israeli victory. The Eastern Bloc played a key role in the victory of the Zionists.
The Jewish Agency, an organization that later became the state of Israel, between June 1947 and October 31, 1949, began seeking weapons for Operation Balak. Weapons were procured using communist help in Czechoslovakia. As the communists became more influential after World War 2, material support for Zionism increased. The communist coup increased Czechoslovakia’s support for the Zionists. The Soviet Bloc arms shipments were very significant. Most of the arms were of German design. They were either leftover arms from World War 2 or new arms manufactured in Czechoslovakia using German designs. The arms shipments up to October, 1948 included: 34,500 P-18 rifles, 5,515 MG 34 machine guns with 10,000 ammo belts, 10,000 vz. 24 bayonets, 900 vz. 37 heavy machine guns, 500 vz. 27 pistols. Other infantry weapons: 12 ZK-383 submachine guns, 10 ZK 420 semi-automatic rifles, 500 vz. 26 light machine guns (shipped, yet delivery not confirmed in Czech sources). Ammunition: 91,500,000 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridges, 15,000,000 9mm Parabellum cartridges, 375,000 13mm cartridges for MG 131, 150,000 20mm cartridges for MG 151, 375,000 7.65mm cartridges for vz. 27 pistol. Aircraft: Israeli Avia S-199, 1948, 25 Avia S-199 fighters, 61 Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX fighters. (4) The Israelis continued to receive arms and support after 1948. In addition, the Soviet bloc provided weapons and tactical training to the Zionist insurgency. Eighty-one pilots and 69 crew specialists were trained. Some of these later formed the first units of the Israeli air force. The equivalent of a brigade of Jewish-Czech volunteers were trained on Czechoslovakian soil from August 20, 1948 until November 4, 1948. The Czechoslovakian codename for the operation was “DI,” an abbreviation for “Důvěrné Israel,” which means “Classified Israel.” A motorized brigade was also trained, but the war had been won before they were deployed. (5)
Golda Meir was especially appreciative of Stalin’s help, which saved their movement:
“Had it not been for the arms and ammunition that we were able to buy in Czechoslovakia and transport through Yugoslavia and other Balkan countries in those dark days at the start of the war, I do not know whether we actually could have held out until the tide changed, as it did by June, 1948. For the first six weeks of the War of Independence, we relied largely (though not, of course, entirely) on the shells, machine guns, bullets – and even planes – that the Haganah had been able to purchase in Eastern Europe at a time when even the United States had declared an embargo on the sale of shipment of arms to the Middle East.” (6)
Elsewhere, she states:
“I shall always remember the profound understanding shown by the Russian authorities to the many problems of our young state.” (7)
Stalin’s aid to the Zionists is not some big secret. On May 14, 1947, before the Zionist victory that led to the Israeli state, the Soviet ambassador Andrei Gromyko announced:
“As we know, the aspirations of a considerable part of the Jewish people are linked with the problem of Palestine and of its future administration. This fact scarcely requires proof… During the last war, the Jewish people underwent exceptional sorrow and suffering… The United Nations cannot and must not regard this situation with indifference, since this would be incompatible with the high principles proclaimed in its Charter… The fact that no Western European State has been able to ensure the defence of the elementary rights of the Jewish people and to safeguard it against the violence of the fascist executioners explains the aspirations of the Jews to establish their own State. It would be unjust not to take this into consideration and to deny the right of the Jewish people to realize this aspiration.” (8)
Although the Soviets said they preferred the partition, they also supported an Israeli state. So the Soviet support for Israel was not because Israel was a fait-accompli, as MIM claims. The socialist bloc had been giving moral, diplomatic, and material support to the Zionist insurgency long before its de jure recognition of Israel.
It is easy to see how the dishonest historical narrative arose. MIM approaches history as other dogmatic revisionists do. Their method is to construct a narrative in favor of their pantheon of revolutionary icons, then gather information that appears to support it, ignore what does not support it, make excuses, avoid political responsibility for errors. In this case, they present a small tidbit from Molotov that appears to the uneducated to sound reasonable. MIM leaves out the rest of the story because they are not interested in truth. The are not interested in the genuine historical record, they are interested in deflecting criticism from Stalin. They do not practice historical science, they practice apologetics. Truth does not matter. Defending Stalin on all things matters most, even if it means sacrificing truth. MIM uses this same method in their work on the Maoist era. All the more damning is that two of MIM’s cardinal points of unity involve historical claims about when the Soviet and Maoist revolutions were reversed. Either MIM was demanding unity about historical eras it did not understand or MIM was consciously misrepresenting these eras in an effort to be in line with Maoists internationally. Whether MIM was sloppy and ignorant or dishonest, their approach was not scientific. Unfortunately, MIM’s “cutting the toes to fit the shoes” approach to history is all too common among revisionists that claim to be communist. By contrast, the scientific, true communist historian goes where the data leads. He does not begin with picking good guys and bad guys, then proceed to cherry pick data to support the good guy and defame the bad guy. A serious historian looks at and presents all the data, even data which goes against his political instincts. A serious historian examines all possible reasonable narratives, weighing them against each other and the data. A serious historian integrates his narrative with what we know about systems of oppression. A serious historian is out to discover truth, even if truth goes against his political instincts. We must uphold what is good in all things, all leaders, and reject the bad. We must uphold what is good in Stalin and come to terms with what is not. Writing history should not be like writing a novel.
Several factors led to Stalin’s support for Israel. After World War 2, the Soviet policy continued to be based on Lenin’s idea of continuous intra-imperialist conflict. Stalin thought that the Western allies of World War 2 would break down. As the imperialists sought more and more expansion, they would inevitably lead the world into another great war. Stalin saw the British empire as the strongest of the European powers after World War 2. The Zionist insurgency could be used to weaken British rule over Palestine. In addition, the British still wielded power and influence over those lands neighboring the Soviet Union’s southern flank. The Soviets had their buffer zone of satellite states in Eastern Europe, but were encircled in the south. The Zionist war against the Arabs was also a war against the British who had restricting migration and enforcing an embargo on Palestine in hopes of keeping the peace with the indigenous Palestinians. The British did not want to see their colonial possession destabilized or fall into sectarian conflict. Stalin was hoping to fan the flames of the conflict between the Zionists and the British. Golda Meir states, “There is now no doubt in my mind that the primary Soviet consideration was to get the British out of the Middle East.” (9) Furthermore, the Zionist movement had a strong pole that was perceived as leftist, socialist, anti-capitalist. The Kibbutz movement and Golda Meir herself represent this trend. Golda Meir and Molotov’s wife briefly discussed collective property in 1948:
“I had a much more interesting and rewarding encounter with another Soviet citizen at the reception given by Mr. Molotov on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, to which all the diplomats in Moscow are invited each year… After I had shaken hands with Molotov, his wife, Ivy Molotov, came up to me. ‘I am so pleased to meet you, at last,’ she said with real warmth and even excitement. Then she added, ‘I speak Yiddish, you know.’
‘Are you Jewish?’ I asked in some surprise.
‘Yes,’ she said, answering me in Yiddish, ‘Ich bin a yiddishe tochter.’ (I am a daughter of the Jewish people.) We talked together for quite a long time. She knew all about the events at the synagogue and told me how good it was that we had gone. ‘The Jews wanted so much to see you,’ she said. We touched on the question of the Negev, which was being debated at the United Nations. I made some remark about not being able to give it up because my daughter lived there and added that Sarah was with me in Moscow. ‘I must see her,’ said Mrs. Molotov. So I introduced Sarah and Yael Namir to her, and she talked to them about Israel and asked Sarah dozens of questions about kibbutzim, who lived in them and how they were run. She spoke Yiddish to the girls who were overjoyed when Sarah answered in the same language. When Sarah explained that everything in Revivim was owned collectively and that there is no private property, Mrs. Molotov looked troubled. ‘That is not a good idea,’ she said. ‘People don’t like sharing everything. Even Stalin is against that. You should acquaint yourself with Stalin’s thoughts and writings on the subject.’ Before she returned to her other guests, she put her arm around Sarah and, with tears in her eyes, said, ‘Be well. If everything goes well with you, it will go well for all Jews everywhere… after that conversation with us, Ivy Molotov had been arrested, and how earlier that day, we had watched the military parade in Red Square. I had so envied the Russians for all those weapons on display – the tiniest fraction of which was beyond our means – and, as if he read my thoughts, Molotov had raised a glass of vodka to me later and said, ‘Don’t think we got those in a single day. The time will come when you, too, will have these things. It will all be all right.” (10)
Because there was some perceived ideological overlap between parts of the Zionist movement and the Soviet Union’s ideology, there was a hope that Israel might emerge as not just friendly to the Soviet Union, but as a satellite country, similar to the Eastern European people’s democracies. In this way, Israel could help not only break up the imperialist encirclement on the Soviet southern flank, but an Israeli people’s democracy could also become a southern buffer against imperialist attack.
The Arab world suffered in more ways than one. The Zionist war led to the racist, apartheid state of Israel. The genocide against the Palestinians continues. Israel has become the right hand of imperialism in the Middle East. Israel is on the front lines suppressing resistance movements and regimes on behalf of the First World. Israel is a kind of permanent, giant aircraft and troop carrier in the troubled region, always ready to do battle with the people. Recently, Israel has been called on to check Iran’s growing power in the region. In addition, in almost every large region of the Third World there have been communist or nominally communist parties that seized state power: Asia, Latin America, Africa, all had genuine Marxist or nominally Marxist movements seize power. Even though the Arab world is very large, spreading over the whole of northern Africa and much of the Middle East, very few Marxist or nominally Marxist movements have gained any real significance. Conditions there are not fundamentally different than in other Third World countries. In the Middle East, nationalism, Baathism, and Islamic movements have, for the most part, led the concrete anti-imperial struggle, not Marxists nor revisionists. There was South Yemen’s pro-Soviet regime and forces in Oman connected to Yemen, but, on the whole, both real Marxism and revisionism have lacked strength in the Arab world. Even though Stalin changed his policy toward Israel in the following years, the international communist movement suffered from Stalin’s error.
During World War 2, Stalin’s regime had to resurrect Russian nationalism as a way of motivating the people to fight the Nazi invader. This carried over into the post-war years. Stalin’s Israel policy placed Russo-Soviet national or imperial interest above the interests of the global proletariat, including the Palestinians who were suffering an invasion by a racist enemy that eventually led to occupation and depopulation. Stalin placed the narrow geopolitical concerns of the Soviet Union as a country above the international proletariat. Even if Stalin was able to win Israel to his side on a more permanent basis, it should have been obvious that support for such an invasion and occupation would taint communism in the eyes of the Arab people. Stalin’s approach does not calculate in the agency and potential of the Arab people, a poor and colonized people. Instead of the masses making history, in such a worldview, geopolitical machinations by powerful states make history. Stalin was looking too much to powerful states, not class struggle as the motor of history. In the case of Israel, the Soviet outlook does not seem totally different from those of the Western imperialists. No matter what superpower won, the Arabs lost.
Other changes were afoot in the Soviet Union. The Soviet regime edged toward traditionalism in gender and culture during and after World War 2. Traditional roles were recommended to women again in Soviet art. After World War 2, for example, a genre about overambitious wives who neglect their children develops in Soviet literature. The Soviet support for Israel is another indicator of regression. Soviet foreign policy seems to be operating, in this case, according to the national interests of the Russo-Soviet state, not the global proletariat. The fight for communism appears to be taking a back seat both domestically and in foreign policy.
Maoist China split with the Soviet Union over its imperialist policies after Khrushchev delivered his famous “secret speech” criticizing Stalin at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on February 25, 1956. Mao used Stalin as a battering ram against Khrushchev’s domestic capitalist and imperialist foreign policy. However, these tendencies that Mao so criticized pre-dated Khrushchev’s rise to power. Even though Mao posed as an orthodox Stalinist to criticize Khrushchev, the reality is that the these tendencies began to arise under Stalin’s watch. Interestingly, Stalin’s inner circle – Molotov, Malenkov, and Beria – all moved for a less confrontational Soviet foreign policy after Stalin’s death. At Stalin’s funeral, Malenkov unveiled a “peace initiative.” “There are no contested issues in U.S.-Soviet relations that cannot be resolved by peaceful means.” (11) The idea of “peaceful coexistence” between the Soviet bloc and the United States was mainly blamed on Khrushchev by the Maoists. This was one of the main reasons for the Sino-Soviet split. The claim that the contradiction between socialism and imperialism is non-antagonistic is thoroughly revisionist. Thus the Maoists correctly identified Khrushchev as a social imperialist. By the Khrushchev era, the Soviet state was really imperialist even if it claimed to be socialist. ** When Mao’s own revolution went off the rails in the 1970s, Mao too began to place China’s narrow interest above that of the international proletariat. This is why Mao began to align with the West. This is why Mao aligned with the West in Angola, Bangladesh, Chile, etc. Just as such policies discredited the Soviet Union as it slid into revisionism, they also discredited Mao in the 1970s. Nationalism has proven a big danger to socialist regimes.
Leaders often play important, decisive roles. Leaders are often representatives and concentrations of great social forces. Great leaders, great geniuses, great warriors, can be indispensable. Even so, the analysis of history has to go beyond leaders. We should not organize our analysis of revolution and counter-revolution around a hero and villain. To do so is really just a version of what Marx criticized as the Great Man Theory of History. A truly scientific, materialist approach to history looks beneath the surface. It is important to be honest with the masses. It is important to tell the truth, to have a real scientific attitude about past revolutions. We are initiating the next great wave of revolution. It is important that we go further than all past revolutions. It is necessary that we achieve total revolution, Leading Light Communism. Only through a scientific account of the history of revolution can we really understand the errors of the past so that we can avoid them the next time we have power.
Friedrich Engels stated, “without theory, practice is blind.” Dogmatism blinds the people. It keeps the masses ignorant. Those who espouse dogma show a basic lack of trust in the masses. The masses can handle the truth. They are waiting for it. They demand it. Leading Light Communism is about rejecting all dogma. It is about advancing the science, pure and simple. It is about advancing the science in an all-round way, in history, in political economy, in aesthetics and culture, in power struggle, in military science, in constructing communism, in epistemology, and on and on. The proletariat must be given the weapons they need to liberate themselves, not dull knives, but sharp blades. Open your eyes. There is a new breakthrough, a new science, a new organization, a new leadership capable of leading us to victory. It is not about individuals. It is about the science, the masses, and the Earth. There is a way to victory.
1. MIM. MIM Theory: The Stalin Issue. 1994, p. 43
2. ibid. p. 45
3. Meir, Golda, My Life. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, USA: 1975, pp. 230-231
6. Meir, Golda, My Life. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, USA: 1975, pp. 230-231
7. Syrkin, Marie. Golda Meir: Israel’s Leader. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, USA: 1969, p. 234
9. Meir, Golda, My Life. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, USA: 1975, pp. 230-231
10. Meir, Golda, My Life. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, USA: 1975, p. 254
11. Zubok, Vladislav and Pleshakov, Constantine. Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War. Seventh Printing. Harvard University Press. USA: 2003, p.155
* Golda Meir mentions, contrary to most accounts, that the Soviet recognition occurred after the US recognition. She may be confusing de jure and de facto recognition.
** We have updated our stance on Soviet revisionism. Read the full article here.