The Stalin Doctrine

22 January 2011


Uncle Joe

One of the most famous and most memorable passages in Clausewitz is his definition of war as being continuous with policy:

“We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.”

Immediately before this Clausewitz elaborates on the theme that Anatol Rapoport called political war:

“…if we reflect that War has its root in a political object, then naturally this original motive which calls war into existence should also continue as the first and highest consideration in its conduct.”

On this, I can only agree partially with Clausewitz. While the political object continues as the highest consideration in the conduct of war, the political object is not the first consideration in the conduct of war. Political objects suddenly become distant once war has begun and more immediate needs take precedence.

It is the first business of war to define military objectives that will bring about the defeat of the enemy, and these military objectives are almost always distinct from the political objectives that were the cause of the war. The political objectives remain the highest objectives of the war, but the military objectives must be attained first, and they must be attained by military means, if the political objectives that could not be attained by political means are to be attained once the war has been won.

Once — and if — the war has been won, then political objectives, having been made possible by military means, again return to the fore. However, even having won a war, the victor may still encounter significant obstacles to imposing his political objectives on his former adversary. There are usually very good reasons that a people will resist the political impositions of another people, even to the point of fighting a war to resist this imposition. The winning of a war does not automatically make the defeated people more pliant and agreeable to one’s political aims. Indeed, the population may well be resentful, recalcitrant, and rebellious. Every conqueror must put down civil unrest, often brutally, in order to proceed with the imposition of a political settlement.

The radical solution is the root-and-branch reconstruction of the former adversary’s political society. Today this is called “nation building” (a term Burke and de Maistre would have found deeply ironic, as a nation can no more be “built” than a flower can be built; it is, or must be, organic), but it has always gone on under other names. I have previously observed in relation to the Peloponnesian War that wherever the Athenians triumphed, they imposed a democratic regime on their defeated foe, and where the Spartans won, they imposed aristocratic rule. The imposition of an entire social system upon a conquered people may be called The Stalin Doctrine. I mentioned this once previously in Promoting Democracy, where I wrote:

In a speech of April, 1945 (as quoted in Conversations with Stalin, 1963, by Milovan Djilas), this visionary attitude was given explicit formulation by Stalin:

“This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise. If now there is not a communist government in Paris, the cause of this is Russia has no army that can reach Paris in 1945.”

We could call this principle cuius regio, eius credo, following the famous formulation that was the basis of the settlement of the Thirty Years War with the Treaty of Wesphalia, namely cuius regio, eius religio (also cf. my remarks on this in Descriptive Democracy and Revisionary Democracy). But in our time, credo has supplanted religio.

Taken to its logical conclusion, The Stalin Doctrine is even more comprehensive than cuius regio, eius religio or cuius regio, eius credo; The Stalin Doctrine is ultimately the imposition of a way of life and not merely a belief or set of beliefs, and in order to impose one way of life upon a people one must abolish the previous way of life. It is important to try to understand how radical this idea is. It represents the mirror image of the kind of radical annihilation that has been practiced throughout human history. I gave an example of this in The Great Souled Man in regard to the Melians during the Peloponnesian War. Upon defeat the Melians were dispossessed of their city-state, the men were killed, the women and children were sold into slavery, and the Athenians sent five hundred colonists to occupy the city as their own. There are also the examples of mass population transfers that I discussed in The Threshold of Atrocity. A scenario based on more recent military technology might involve the use of a neutron bomb to annihilate the inhabitants of a city or region, later to be occupied by a more cooperative population.

Stalin was good to his word and installed social systems based on the Soviet system as far as the Red Army could impose a settlement.

Under the Stalin Doctrine, a population remains intact and in place, but its life is altered beyond recognition. The people remain, the bare minimum of life is intact, but the way of life is transformed — that is, transformed if this radical imposition is successful, which is rarely the case. Because where these is life, there is hope, a people is never fully defeated as long as they are alive, and they will keep alive, even if only in secret, the way of life that was taken from them by conquest. And we have seen, after the end of the Soviet Union, the re-emergence of national identities throughout regions upon which the Russians sought to impose its social system.

GeneralPlan Ost: Salvic Europe as Lebensraum for the Germans.

Stalin’s own pronouncement specifies that the victor imposes his own social system, but this is not the only possibility. The victor in a war might well seek a root-and-branch reconstruction of the former adversary’s political society in order to impose a social system unlike that of the victor, but one believed desirable to the victor’s interests. This is particular pointed in the case of the Soviet Union, since this is exactly what Nazi Germany had planned for the Lebensraum that it would “liberate” for itself in formerly Slavic regions. The Nazi’s Generalplan Ost (GPO) was to exterminate all the leadership class from Slavic regions and reduce the remaining Slavic population to essentially serf status, working on the estates of German feudal landlords, who would move into the region to colonize it. There is no reason to suppose that the Germans would not have followed through with this plan had they been victorious. Indeed, they implemented this plan to the extent that they were able under wartime conditions.

The extent to which Germany was able to impose its Generalplan Ost by fiat of the Wehrmacht.

Less well known that the Generalplan Ost was the Morgenthau Plan for Germany, originally formulated by Henry Morgenthau, Jr., that called for the partition of Germany, the internationalization of highly industrialized areas like the Saar and the Ruhr and Upper Silesia, and the de-industrialization of the remainder of the country. This was a radical and a visionary plan. It is a loss to history, as a social experiment that would have been administered by the US, that it was not carried out. As we all know, it was the Marshall Plan, and not the Morganthau Plan, that was the basis for post-war German development.

Partition of Germany under the Morganthau Plan

Perhaps the reader finds it shocking that I would say that it is a loss to history that the Morganthau Plan was not acted upon. The reduction of Germany from an industrialized nation-state to agriculturalism and pastoralism would have removed it as a major Cold War asset that the Soviets would have wanted to possess for its industry, it would have addressed the perceived threat of German militarism feared by other Europeans, and it would have brought real peace to continental Europe. Moreover, the plan would have given the Germans what they themselves wanted, though as peasants rather than as feudal lords. Recall the Generalplan Ost mentioned above, which planned for similar agriculturalism and pastoralism in formerly Slavic lands. This was an essential part of the Nazi vision of the future. The Nazis sold their plans for Germany to the German people by promising them an ideal communal society without the ugly and repulsive features of industrialized society, in a word, Volksgemeinschaft. The Germans could have had this in their own country, on their own land, and enjoyed just as much Gemütlichkeit without Slavic serfs as with them.

Marshall Plan aid to Europe

Perhaps most importantly of all, the Morganthau Plan would have given the US an opportunity to administer a visionary social plan for another people. Whether this would have proved a success or a failure, it would have conformed to twentieth century norms of megalomaniacal utopian visions of the sort pursued by the Russians under Stalin, the Germans under Hitler, and the Chinese under Mao, except that it would have been the turn of the Americans to impose their vision of what would be good for another people. I for one would have found this fascinating. Would American pragmatism and efficiency have made it possible for the Morganthau Plan to be at least partly successful? How would success or failure of the plan be judged?

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5 Responses to “The Stalin Doctrine”

  1. Jim Chorazy said

    You are incorrect that the U.S. would have “administered” the Morgenthau Plan depicted. The U.S. wanted out of Europe ASAP, and the so-called “plan” was to turn the consequences of the Morgenthau Plan over to the Brits & the Soviets. The “utopia” would have simply involved the Soviet absorption of Western Europe (the Brits would have retreated to their island & would have worried mightily, since there was no way the U.S. could have altered the consequences of mainland Europe flying the Red Flag from, to expand a saying of the WW2 era, “the northern tip of Norway to the Spanish Customs station near Gibralter” — and with Communism throughout the Mediterranean trying to hold on to Gibralter would have been moot.).

    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear Mr. Chorazy,

      Thank you for your comment!

      Since the Morganthau Plan was not enacted, even in a modified form, to assert anything in detail regarding the Morganthau Plan involves a counter-factual conditional. This goes as well for my speculations above, which are explicitly couched as speculation. Twentieth century history is littered with the ruins for visionary social plans, from the German Generalplan Ost to the agrarian communism of the Khmer Rouge. With these horrific examples in mind, I have to wonder if an American twentieth century visionary undertaking would have been similarly horrific, or whether it might have been different.

      No one can say that, had Roosevelt and Churchill settled on the Morganthau Plan, how exactly it would have been administered. It was, however, an American plan, in so far as it was conceived by an American official and advanced as an option by Americans. The US, as always, wanted to pull out of Europe as quickly as possible, but it stayed for the Marshall Plan, and for a long-term garrison of Germany. If the US had forced the Morganthau Plan through, the same elements that pushed the plan through might have insisted on staying to administrate the plan. But this is speculation, as is what I wrote above about the Morganthau Plan.

      Certainly we can formulate scenarios in which the Morganthau Plan might have led to a Soviet absorption of Western Europe, but we can just as well formulate scenarios in which the Morganthau Plan would not have led to Soviet absorption of Western Europe. Given the counter-factual conditional of the Morganthau Plan realized, the actors would have been the same, their motivations the same, and more or less the same Cold War would have developed, though in a slightly altered form.

      Best wishes,


  2. Jim Chorazy said

    Hi Nick,

    Both Roosevelt and Churchill did accept the Morgenthau Plan . . . for a few hours/days. Political pressure caused both to reverse themselves. Roosevelt wanted the area that became the British Occupation Zone of Germany to have been the American Occupation Zone, in order that the U.S. be able to withdraw from Europe ASAP. As mentioned in the book “Mostly Morgenthaus” (by Henry Morgenthau III. NY: Ticknor & Fields, 1991), and in other sources, the U.S. wanted the Brits and the Soviets to share the lead role in the recovery of Europe. Two years after the May 1945 German surrender, the Marshall Plan only came about in 1947 because the U.S. got stuck in Europe (Roosevelt death, etc.). An interesting twist was Pres. Truman’s approval of the implementation of a scaled down Morgenthau Plan for the U.S. Occupation Zone of Germany — that action fit in well with Eisenhower’s position that the Germans needed to “suffer” a bit to gain an appreciation of the error of their ways (the post-war period of Germany began on 9 May 1945). The “Morgenthau men” on Ike’s staff followed through, such that the Germans were put on starvation rations (the U.N. tried to investigate, as did former President Hoover — the high mortality rates of German children & the elderly were documented). The Soviets took advantage of the deliberate starvation going on in the American Zone, advertising that their Germans were on much better rations. (The “Morgenthau men” exceeded Eisenhower’s intent; however, in the meantime Ike moved on to other things beyond Germany – the “Morgenthau men” remained, taking strength from Truman’s approval of a scaled down Morgenthau Plan). West Germany was included in the 1947 Marshall Plan out of fear that the West Germans would “vote (“go”) Communist”.


  3. Sam said

    According to what I have read, a Morgenthau Plan of sorts was proposed by certain Khans to take place in Northern China back when Genghis was doing his thing.

    It seems reasonable that this is a tactic that has been used time again by various conquerors.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Perhaps so, but the reduction from agrarian-ecclesiastical civilization to something less than this (something like subsistence agriculture held below the threshold of civilization proper?) is, I think, something different from the reduction of industrial-technological civilization to what Marx would have called “rural idiocy.”

      Since I wrote this post I have since discovered that there are some conspiracy theorists who honestly and earnestly believe that the US attempted to impose a modified version of the Morganthau Plan, and that this was responsible for the de-industrialization of parts of Germany immediately following the war.

      In this context I might also mention the de-industrialization and de-urbanization program that the Khmer Rouge attempted to violently impose, which constitutes a kind of self-imposed Morganthau plan, and all those today who argue against industrialization — and there are many of them. There seems to be an entire class of popular anti-civilization books that masquerade as environmentalism, arguing either that civilization as we know it is inevitably doomed, i.e., that it is already functionally extinct even if apparently viable.



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