Valentin Berezhkov (Stalin's translator), 1991

Former Kremlin interpreter and editor of USA at the Institute of USA/Canada Studies. He died in 1998. In 1991 I was boarding a train in Moscow and recognized his voice from having listened to some tapes (maybe not this one). He was sitting in the next compartment talking with James Bush. He had come to see him off on our cruise down the Dnieper. He was telling him, among other things, that the Party had just expelled Alexander Yakovlev that day. Things were heating up and the coup would occur in about three weeks. It wasn’t appropriate for me to join them but I sat and listened quietly.
Interviewed 5 Sept 1991 in Moscow
Interviewer: Gwynne Dyer

This man worked closely with Stalin as a diplomat before, during, and after the war. As a translator from 1940. Worked first for Molotov and from 1941 worked both for Molotov and Stalin. I was with Molotov in Berlin and translated his conversations with Hitler.

Discussion of the secret protocols of the Hitler-Molotov Pact. The effect of it militarily. The NEP. Lenin as a pragmatist. What sort of man Stalin was. How he got along with Roosevelt. What difference it would have made if Roosevelt’s approach had continued.

He finished high school in 1929, started working as translater for Molotov and from 1941 for Molotov and Stalin. He heard in 1940 about the secret protocols to the first and second treaties. In (1939?) the Russians were complaining because the Germans had brought troops to Finland; this was already after their Winter War with Finland and the complaint was that this violated the secret protocols. In 1939, the Russians attacked Finland [MS: John Bacher says it was to acquire territory, possibly even the whole of Finland.] The French and British sent an expeditionary force to Finland’s aid through Norway and Sweden. [MS: Bacher says the Swedes wouldn’t let France and Britain go through their country, which may have prevented their joining the Finns in war against Russians.]

Germany realized that if they were able to do that and keep any force there in Scandinavia, this would enable them to break the iron ore supply lines to German. In August 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was agreed to. That gave Poland to Germany and the Baltics to the USSR. There was also an agreement about the return of the Vilnius area to Lithuania as part of the USSR, from Poland, which had held it from the 20s. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was invalidated at the moment the Germans attacked the USSR because it was a nonaggression pact. Does this also mean that Vilnius should be given back to Poland? Arguably so, since it was given to Poland on the basis of this invalid nonaggression pact, but it won’t happen, of course.

Talking about Lenin, he speaks of how it was recognized that capitalism was supposed to happen before communism, but Lenin didn’t want to say that they had to go through a capitalist period, so he thought maybe they could jump over that by having a period of socialist industrialization. That’s why he started the NEP, which was intended to be a very long period of time. The first contradiction that arose was that industry could not produce enough to supply the farmers well and make them willing to increase productivity for growth and industrial workers. Realizing that they had to do something about that, Stalin and Trotsky thought that the thing to do was to supply the farmers to produce; if they didn’t, they would be put into collective farms and private ownership abolished. From then on, Stalin argued that they had to hurry and get a strong industry or they would be crushed by the war. They couldn’t afford to take the time for agriculture to develop normally. He said that in 1929 and the war came in 1939, so it looks as if Stalin was right.

On the other hand, you could argue that if Stalin had not been able to carry out this terrible collectivization, then the west would not have been so horrified by Bolshievism and Hitler would not have become so powerful, because he came to power on the basis of his promise to stop communism. If the war had continued to make concessions to the Soviets for their development as they did in the 1920s, maybe they would have developed well and war wouldn’t have occurred. Everybody would have stuck together and regarded the Russians as potential friends. Because of the horrible collectivization, the West was not prepared to do that, and that may have allowed Hitler to do what he did.

Roosevelt got along with Stalin better than Churchill did. Roosevelt and Stalin came to trust each other to a certain extent. Roosevelt probably thought enough attempts had been made to destroy the communist system without success, so even though he didn’t like it, he thought it was there to stay. At Teheran, he promised to give them $10 billion after the war. If it had happened, Stalin would probably have been easier on the countries of Eastern Europe, allowing them the same status as Finland. SU would have been part of the World Bank, the Bretton Woods Agreement, etc. And there would have been no Cold War. But Truman came in. In a conversation with him Molotov realized that everything was changed from now on. There was even a talk in the U.S. about going to war against the SU immediately, while they were still weak and had no atom bomb. But public opinion would not support such a war and by the time they had created the Cold War and got people of a mind to do such a thing, the Russians had the bomb and it was not possible. Stalin, suspicious after the war, rejected the Marshall Plan and the Bretton Woods agreement, and that is what isolated the Soviets.

Think of what a nonaggression pact meant: If we hadn’t had it, Hitler would have attacked Poland anyway, and instead of fighting them where we did, we would have had to fight them 300 km farther east, near Kiev and Minsk, and he would have flooded Leningrad.

They disassociated themselves from Lenin and from his idea of gradually developing our economy and society. They came back to the idea that they could force upon people new economic and social relationships and that this would change the population. Whoever doeson’t want to change has to be isolated or executed or sent to camps. That is how this whole wheel —which Solzhenitsyn calls the `red wheel’ — started to turn and turn when Stalin was able to exercise his dictatorship. It was the beginning of the end. Sometimes there’s painted an idealistic picture of Bukharin or some others, but they all were more or less the same. Maybe Bukharin would not apply the same methods, he probably would not execute his own colleagues, but he probably considered it normal that those people who resisted collectivization should be isolated. Those farmers who didn’t want to enter the cooperatives should be sent to the camps and their property should be divided. Then the people in the ccoperative would have a happylife. They would all produce collectively and divide their products collectively. It would be a socialist paradise. That was his idea, because Bukharin’s wife writes of one moment in 1935 when actually Bukharin was already in a very dangerous situation, and he was already ousted from the Politburo. He was, I think, the editor of Izvestia, but still considered one of the leaders. It was in ’35 when the _[bread cards???] were abolished. It was a drastic change for the better at that time. The next day, the first of January of ’35, the cards were abolished and immediately hundreds of shops opened, full of all kinds of fruits and vegetables, butter and milk and so on. It had accumulated. ON the first day there was a line standing. First day, second, third, and then after a week, nothing. Nobody bought more than he needed for one day or so. It was before there were refrigerators. So that really improved things. And now I read Bukharin’s widow. She said Bukharin discussed this new phenomenon with her and said, “Look how life is now improving!”

She said, “How many millions of people were destroyed before this communism started to work!”

Bukharin said, “Yes, that’s right, but maybe Stalin was right to have made a better life.” So he considered that the millions who were destroyed had been sacrificed for a better life of the rest of the people. This is more or less the same mentality.

Dyer: Yes, I see. And I accept your point that Lenin was a more flexible person who, when he saw the results, was willing to change his mind. But when you are saying is that everybody else who was in the Bolshevik movement in 1917 was already of that mentality.

Berezhkov: In 1917 I think Lenin was also of that mentality. He also thought that economic and social conditions change the mentality.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books