Essay: Hitler-Stalin Pact Beyond Doubt

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[. . .] They regarded the Dawes and Young Plans, the Locarno agreement and the admission of Germany to the League of Nations as part of the imperialist drive against Soviet Russia. For Stalin, even the Versailles Treaty was directed primarily against the Soviet Union, and after the Munich agreement he believed that the ruling elites in Britain and France "were pushing Hitler into war against the U.S.S.R." (Zubok and Pleshakov 1996, p. 18).

Although Taylor dismissed such fears as irrational and unrealistic, they were all too real in the minds of Stalin and other Soviet leaders. They had always regarded the Rapallo treaty as "some minimal reassurance that a united phalanx of capitalist powers was not yet poised to crush the Soviet experiment" (Uldricks, p. 136). In the 1930s, Taylor agreed that that the Soviets might have been more justified in regarding the Munich agreement and non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War as evidence that Britain and France were accommodating the fascist states. He demonstrated that "the British government consistently rebuffed the attempts of the Kremlin to draw it and France into a system of collective security against the menace of Nazi aggression" (Uldricks, p. 137). On the other hand, Taylor did not take Nazi racist ideology seriously, and regarded Hitler as a rational actor and pragmatic statesman who blundered into a world war rather than advocating a racial war of conquest and genocide.

Cold War Historians and Soviet Aggression

Robert Tucker found more sinister motives in Soviet foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s, and in which Stalin would stand back and provoke a destructive war between the imperialist states in hopes of expanding Soviet influence afterwards. According to R.C. Raack, Stalin was planning on a long, drawn out type of trench warfare of the type that occurred in 1914-18, but as he later learned to his detriment, he was fighting the last war. Raack did not regard Stalin's foreign policy as purely defensive, however, since he thought that a prolonged war would "create an opportunity for the Red Army to aid proletarian revolutions in the West" (Uldricks, p. 140). In any event, the leaders of the Western powers, including Churchill, certainly feared that this would be one outcome of expanded Soviet influence during the war. Tucker added that the Soviet purges of the 1930s "were necessary to clear opposition within the Bolshevik elite to an opportunistic deal with Hitler," which Stalin had long planned to make (Uldricks, p. 140). In reality, though, the pro-German Rapallo diplomats were targeted far more in these purges than those like Litvinov who advocated an alliance with the West. Gerhard Weinberg also asserted that Stalin's first preference was always a deal with Nazi Germany, but that Hitler consistently rebuffed him before 1939. If this were true, though, it would make "98% of all Soviet diplomatic activities in the 1930s a brittle cover for the remaining 2%," as would Soviet support for anti-fascist Popular Front governments in France, Spain and other countries (Uldricks, p. 140).

Dmitri Volkogonov used state, party and military archives to demonstrate the point that Stalin was sincere in seeking a collective security alliance with the West up to 1939. In fact, the Soviets "would have come to the assistance of Czechoslovakia in 1938 had the western powers done so as well, and even as late as August 1939 would still have made a full military alliance with Britain and France. Stalin only signed the agreement with Hitler when it became clear that the Western powers were not serious in their proposals. Geoffrey Roberts also concluded that "Hitler's rejection of the Rapallo tradition and his implacable hostility to the U.S.S.R. gave the Soviet leadership no choice but to seek an anti-Soviet alliance with the western powers" (Uldricks, p. 146). Jonathan Haslam found that there was an "isolationist" faction in the Kremlin, led by Viacheslov Molotov, Andrei Zhdanov and Lazar Kganovich that finally undermined Litvinov after the Munich agreement and caused Stalin to give up any hope of a Western alliance. Since Stalin's main goal in the 1920s and 1930s was "to protect his state from a disastrous war," he was prepared to agree to the plans of either the Litvinov or the Molotov groups if he thought these could best secure this end (Uldricks, p. 143). R. Craig Nation also thought that this isolationist or nationalist faction led by Molotov "never accepted the legitimacy of Litvinov's program" (Uldricks, p. 144). For his part, Litvinov "lashed out at the Soviet leader for his 'narrow-mindedness, smugness, arbitrariness, and rigidity," called Molotov a "half-wit" and Nikita Khrushchev a "fool" (Zubok and Pleshakov, p. 20). Within Russia itself, the debate over the wisdom and morality of the 1939 pact has continued along the Molotov-Litvinov lines up to the present, insofar as debate has been permitted at all.


From 1934-39, the Soviets were sincere in their efforts to make a collective security alliance with Britain, France and the United States, only to have all of their efforts rebuffed. While the U.S. seemed indifferent to Soviet overtures, Britain and France stood aside while Hitler seized Austria and Czechoslovakia and ensured that the Republicans in Spain would be defeated by General Francisco Franco -- which for Stalin was at least as important an event as the betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938. In fact, the Soviets were prepared to go to war with Germany in 1938 if Britain and France had shown the slightest hint of being prepared to honor their alliance with that country. Even in 1939, the Soviets were ready to go to war with Germany if Britain and France had been serious in concluding a full military alliance, and only when they realized this was not the case did they finally sign the pact with Hitler. For Stalin, this was only the second-best option, but given his chronic distrust of the Western capitalist power, the least he could hope for was that the Germans would get bogged down in a two-front war in Poland and France for years while the Soviet Union remained securely above the fray. Only when the German Blitzkrieg succeeded even beyond the wildest hopes of the Nazis did Stalin and the Soviet leadership panic. Their moves against Finland, the Baltic States and Romania in 1939-40 showed this fear all too clearly, since these were obviously desperate measures to further shore up the defenses of the Soviet Union in the face of an expected German attack. Only the timing of the invasion caught Stalin by surprise, since he had tried to convince himself that he had another year. Indeed, at first he believed that the war was lost and retreated to his dacha in despair, believing that everything the Soviets had built up since 1917 was lost. It very nearly was in any case, but Hitler overreached himself in the end, and out of his megalomania and madness finally managed to assemble a formidable Allied coalition against Germany and Japan that was able to unite and win.


D'Agostino, A. 2011. The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Fleischhauer, L. 1990. Der Pakt: Hitler, Stalin und die Initiative der deutschen Diplomatie. Frankfurt.

Hildebrand, K. 1980. Deutscher Aussenpolitik, 1933-1945: Kalkuel oder Dogma?, Fourth Edition. Stuttgart.

Hillgruber, A. 1982. Der Zweite Weltkrieg, 1939-45: Kriegszide und Strategie der Grossen Maechte. Stuttgart.

Kissinger, H. 1994. Diplomacy. NY: Simon & Schuster.

Mueller, R. And G.R. Ueberschaer 2009. Hitler's War in the East: A Critical Assessment, Third Edition. Berghahn Books.

Nation, R.L. 1992. Black Earth, Red Star: A History of Soviet Security Policy, 1917-1991. Cornell University Press.

Raack, R.L. 1993. Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938-1945: The Origins of the Cold War. Stanford University Press.

Roberts, G. 2009. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953. Yale University Press.

Uldricks, T.J. 1999. "Debating the Role of Russia in the Origins of the Second World War" in Martel, G. (Ed). The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: A.J.P. Taylor and the Historians, Second Edition. Routledge.

Thies, J. 1976. Architect der Weltherrschaft: Die "Endziekle" Hitlers. Dusseldorf.

Tucker, R. 1990. Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941. NY: Norton.

Volkogonov, D. 1988. Stalin: Triumph and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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