Joseph Stalin.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mission to Moscow

This is a 1943 propaganda film that was made by Warner Brothers at the request of FDR. The film was based on the memoirs of Joseph E. Davies, the ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936-38.

The film is not terribly accurate. The part that actually deals with Davies time in Russia conveys the idea that the USSR was making great economic progress, and that it had considerable military strength. It may have had a good army on paper, but the first few months of combat with Germany were disastrous. For example, Dmitri Volkogonov in his biography of Stalin has a picture that shows infantrymen on their backs aiming their rifles at German planes. Not terribly effective AA fire. There is an insistence that actual wrecking and industrial sabotage took place. There may have been incidents, or all of the reports may have been false. At this point I don’t know. The film accepts the idea that such accidents as may have occurred were the results of German inspired fifth columnists. It combines what were several trials, including Tukhachevsky’s, which was a secret trial, with Radek and Piatakov, the second trial, and Bukharin, Rykov, and Yagoda, the third trial. It omits Zinoviev and Kamenev from the trial. Davies is shown as commenting that he believes the confessions are true. This is three years after the Dewey Commission published Not Guilty, which refuted the allegations made against Trotsky. (For a biography of Trotsky see Isaac Deutscher’s The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet Outcast.)

The film is more or less accurate in its portrayal of indifference to Nazism, but glosses over things like the initial failure of Stalin to respond to the German invasion. If I recall correctly he was in terror for several days at the start of the war. It also fails to note that it was not just Tukhachevsky who was arrested and executed, but also several other generals. This in effect weakened the ability of the Red Army to respond to Hitler’s attacks. Generals like Zhukov eventually emerged, but it is arguable that the purges weakened the army.

The film also shows the Russian people as smiling, prosperous people. It neglects any mention of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33. That is understandable I suppose, Davies didn’t become ambassador until 1936, three years after the famine ended, but I would think that there would still be aftershocks rumbling through the land. One smiling, happy woman is glad to be working as a coal miner. Her poor American counterpart is condemned to be a housewife, and care for her children.

Overall it’s propaganda, and apparently it wasn’t very good propaganda since it flopped at the box office. On the other hand Warners made it at the request of FDR in order to bolster support for an American wartime ally, so we can cut Harry and Jack Warner some slack, though we can’t for Stalin.