|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Debating the Hitler-Stalin pact
An extract from the full website version of Peter Taaffe’s article in Socialism Today No.131, Marxism and the Second World War, dealing with the 1939 ‘Stalin-Hitler pact’, was printed in the Russian newspaper Moscow News, last month. This provoked a reply by Yuly Kvitsinsky, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma International Relations Committee, in defence of the ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop’ pact (Nothing to Apologise For, 31 August). Below, we publish Kvitsinky’s article, followed by the original extract by Peter Taaffe.
THE MOLOTOV-RIBBENTROP pact was timely and essential for the Soviet Union, and was a legitimate political strategy. Russian lawmakers should now revise the rash decisions of the Soviet parliament in 1989, which criticised the pact for being immoral and for violating international law.
By the late 1930s, especially after the 1938 Munich agreement, Moscow was internationally isolated and the Axis powers were unleashing one armed conflict after another. So the pact was a brilliant step on Stalin’s part – it allowed the Soviet Union to achieve many goals, and practically pre-ordained the formation of the anti-Hitler coalition after Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941.
Britain and France were so eager to come to terms with Hitler at the expense of other countries, and to encourage Nazi forces to approach the Soviet borders, that it was pointless to mark time any longer. Stalin held talks with Britain and France up to summer 1939, but they produced no results. Both countries dragged out the talks in the hope of a Soviet-German war, which would allow them to guarantee their own security.
Hitler was clearly determined to start a war against Poland, which was not likely to receive help from the West. Hitler would try to extend his influence to the Baltic countries, creating a powerful bridgehead to attack the Soviet Union. He was not to be trusted, given his goals of destroying the Slavic Russian state and colonising Eastern Europe, which were covered up by his statements about the need to put an end to Bolshevism.
The Munich conspiracy also highlighted the dangerous role of Poland, which took part in the partition of Czechoslovakia and according to Polish intelligence documents would have fought alongside Germany in the event of war with the Soviet Union. It is enough to visit museums in Minsk to see that Soviet defences were not aimed at Germany, but to guard against Poland, which was a permanent military threat to us.
What happened to Poland is tragic. The interests of its people were trampled underfoot, but that was retribution for the actions of its foolish and opportunistic government. Stalin and other Soviet leaders believed that eliminating a military threat near the Soviet border was a smart move.
The entry of Soviet troops into eastern Poland in September 1939 was aimed at pushing the frontiers back before the start of an inevitable war, and at gaining time. Soviet troops only moved into Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, territories that Poland had seized during the war with Russia in 1921. We withdrew from the strictly Polish regions, and exchanged them for Lithuania, traditionally part of the Russian empire. We entered the Baltic countries because we could not be sure of their governments’ friendly attitude, and we knew about German plans to invade Latvia and Lithuania.
Those who claim the Soviet Union is as much to blame for the outbreak of world war two as Nazi Germany do not have a clear conscience. Initially, Nazi-occupied Europe did not offer any resistance to Germany, and its industry worked for Hitler’s army. Germany attacked us not only with its 152 divisions but also with 29 Romanian and Finnish ones.
The Soviet Union was the only force that could rout Nazism. The lightning defeat of France and British forces in 1940 bore this out. If it had not been for the Eastern Front, where we destroyed hundreds of Nazi divisions at the cost of huge losses, no US or British army would have dared enter Europe. They would have been smashed by the Germans in weeks.
Winston Churchill was right to call the British and French policy of urging Hitler to attack the Soviet Union a diplomatic blunder. He agreed that Stalin simply had no other choice.
Those who say we should condemn the pact should apologise to our war veterans and our country for their political stunts or simple stupidity. We have nothing to apologise for. The defeat of Nazi Germany created a situation where not one cannon was fired without Russia’s consent, as they said after the Napoleonic War.
So we shouldn’t get defensive when the pact is discussed. Politicians should act in the interests of their state and their people – otherwise they would be committing a crime.
Stalin’s criminal pact
CONTRARY TO THE Kremlin’s latest attempts to justify the deal with Hitler, it did nothing to ‘buy time’, nor did it help the Soviet Union when the German attack came.
Seventy years after the outbreak of world war two, the Russian government has declassified secret documents in an attempt to justify the Hitler-Stalin pact. An intelligence services spokesman, Lev Sotskov, has argued that Josef Stalin "had no choice" but to embrace Hitler in 1939.
This was, allegedly, because "the pact – signed by foreign ministers, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop – bought time for the Kremlin after the west had betrayed Stalin". Britain, through the 1938 Munich agreement, handed Czechoslovakia over to Hitler. But the idea that Stalin was ‘let down’ by this agreement is entirely false.
So what is the truth about Stalin’s pact, and what was his real policy towards Hitler? After Hitler came to power in 1933, Leon Trotsky, the co-leader with Vladimir Lenin of the 1917 revolution, consistently predicted that unless Hitler was stopped he would inevitably unleash a resurgent German imperialism, which would seek to grab colonies and raw materials which, in turn, would culminate in a new world war.
The Soviet Union under Stalin had degenerated bureaucratically from the workers’ democracy of Lenin and Trotsky. From a policy of promoting the struggle for world socialism, Stalin had ridden to power on the slogan ‘socialism in one country’. Rather than confronting Hitler, Stalin oscillated between seeking alliances with the so-called ‘democratic’ imperialist powers and secret attempts to come to an agreement with the Nazi regime.
Trotsky had declared that the fundamental aim of Stalin’s foreign policy was to strike a deal with Hitler. He pointed out that, while Stalin manoeuvred between the two camps, his campaign for an alliance with the ‘democracies’ was a charade.
Previously, the world’s Communist parties, dancing to Moscow’s tune, had attempted to distinguish the more ‘progressive’ role of the capitalist ‘democracies’ from the ‘fascist powers’. However, when Stalin sought and achieved a rapprochement with Hitler, they argued the opposite: that there was no fundamental difference between the various capitalist regimes. In reality, the main factor leading to war was the clash between different imperialist interests.
Some historians have tried to present a picture of the Western democracies’ consistent and implacable hostility to Hitler’s and Mussolini’s regimes. In fact, British governments at first attempted to mollify and accommodate Hitler’s ambitions, particularly by making concessions over Czechoslovakia. But Hitler’s invasion of Poland was a crossing of the Rubicon for Britain and France, as it threatened their semi-colonies in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
Shamefully, as Hitler was preparing to crush Poland, Stalin chose precisely this moment to sign a pact with him. The pact was neither in the interests of the international working class – it outraged Communist activists around the world, many of whom left the party – nor did it ‘buy time’ or help the Soviet Union when the German attack came.
As Trotsky had predicted, the pact would be seen as a mere scrap of paper by Hitler, who was now free to set his planes and tanks against France and Britain. The subsequent attack on the Soviet Union and its natural resources was facilitated by Stalin’s wholesale execution of the flower of the Soviet general staff. Brilliant military strategists such as Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who had earlier anticipated Germany’s blitzkrieg tactics, perished in the purges.
Stalin had spurned British and French overtures because "Stalin fears Hitler," wrote Trotsky. He added: "And it is not by accident that he fears him. The Red Army has been decapitated".
Germany’s war effort was also helped by a trade agreement, under which the Soviet Union would supply the Nazis with vital grain and oil. Thus Stalin acted as Hitler’s quartermaster. Helping Hitler in his war with Britain and France, he thereby criminally strengthened German forces for their attack on the Soviet Union.
The whole purpose of the pact was not to defend the gains of the 1917 revolution, the planned economy, but to protect the narrow interests of Stalin’s Kremlin clique, who feared the reaction of the irate masses in the event of war.
The Kremlin’s current steps to justify Stalin’s pact are probably because it wants to emulate him in some respects. Resting on a different social system – a capitalist economy and state – to that of Stalin, nevertheless Putin wishes to use Russian nationalism and military might, like Stalin, in order to protect its right to intervene in ‘zones of privileged interests’ (in the words of Russian president, Medvedev). It is not an accident that Sotskov also justifies Stalin’s intervention in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Regardless of the Kremlin’s apologetics now, the Hitler-Stalin pact was a crime against the interests of the Soviet Union and, particularly, the masses; by a cynical bureaucratic regime with no interest in world working-class opinion or of the struggle for democratic socialism internationally.