GERMAN-SOVIET NON-AGGRESSION PACT OF 1939
One of the many stories which circulate about Stalin
is that, while the Soviet government was negotiating for a collective security
pact with Britain and France directed against German aggressive expansion,
he initiated the signing of a pact with Germany which precipitated the
Second World War.
Of course, not everything that happened in the Soviet
Union at this time was done with the approval of Stalin. In the case of
the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, however, we have the testimony
of Stalin's closest collaborator, Vyacheslav Molotov, that:
"Comrade Stalin . . suggested the possibility of different,
unhostile and good neighbourly relations between Germany and the USSR.
The charge that this was a serious mistake on Stalin's
part must, therefore, be examined seriously.
The conclusion of the Soviet-German non-aggression
pact . . . shows that Comrade Stalin's historical foresight has been brilliantly
(V. M. Molotov: Speech at 4th (Special) Session of
the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 31 August 1939, in: 'Soviet Peace Policy';
London; 1941; p. 16).
Reorientation of Soviet Foreign Policy
In his notorious book 'My Struggle', written in mid-1920s,
the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler expressed frankly
the foreign policy the Nazis intended to follow:
"We National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath
the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. . . . We stop the endless
German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze towards the land
in the East. .
Thus, the coming to power of the Nazi government in Germany
in January 1933 heralded a situation in Europe which clearly presented
great danger to the Soviet Union -- and not, of course, to the Soviet Union
If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily
have in mind only Russia".
(A. Hitler: 'Mein Kampf'; London; 1984; p. 598, 604).
The Marxist-Leninists in the leadership of the Soviet
Union, concerned to defend the socialist state, responded to this new,
more dangerous situation by reorientating Soviet foreign policy, by adopting
a policy of striving for collective security with other states which had,
objectively, an interest in maintaining the status quo in the international
The Objective Basis of Collective
The objective basis of the Soviet policy of collective
security was that the imperialist Powers of the world could be divided
into two groups.
One group -- Germany, Italy and Japan had a
relatively high productive power and relatively restricted markets and
spheres of influence. As a result, these Powers had an urgent need to change
the world to their advantage; they were relatively aggressive Powers.
Another group of imperialist Powers -- Britain,
France and the United States -- had relatively large markets and spheres
of influence and thus had objectively more need to keep the world as it
was than to see it changed; they were relatively non-aggressive Powers.
Stalin, who argued that the Second World War had already
begun, summed up this position to the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March
"The war is being waged by aggressor states, who in
every way infringe upon the interests of the non-aggressor states, primarily,
England, France and the USA. .
As a socialist state, a working people's state, the Soviet
Union had the strongest interest of any state in the preservation of peace.
Thus we are witnessing an open re-division of the
world and spheres of influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states."
(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14).
The Soviet government's policy in the 1930s, therefore,
was to strive to form a collective security alliance with the European
non-aggressive imperialist states, Britain and France -- a collective security
alliance strong enough either to deter the aggressive imperialist states
from launching war or to secure their speedy defeat.
The Soviet Government summed up this post-1933 foreign
policy in 1948:
"Throughout the whole pre-war period, the Soviet delegation
upheld the principle of collective security in the League of Nations".
('Falsifiers of History: Historical Information';
London; 1948; p 15).
Although, as we have seen, Stalin maintained that the
British and French imperialists had, objectively, an interest in joining
the Soviet Union in such a collective security alliance, the governments
of Britain and France, led respectively by Neville
Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, did
not recognise this objective fact because of their detestation of socialism
and the Soviet Union and their wish to see it destroyed.
As Stalin told the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March
"England, France and the USA . . . draw back and retreat,
making concession after concession to the aggressors.
British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax
is on record as telling Hitler in November 1937 that
Thus we are now witnessing an open redivision of the
world and spheres of influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states,
without the least attempt at resistance, and even with a certain amount
of connivance. .
How is it that the non-aggressive countries . . .
have so easily, and without any resistance, abandoned their positions and
their obligations to please the aggressors?
Is it to be attributed to the weakness of the non-aggressive
states? Of course not! Combined, the non-aggressive, democratic states
are unquestionably stronger than the fascist states, both economically
and militarily. . .
The chief reason is that the majority of the non-aggressive
countries, particularly England and France, have rejected a policy of collective
security, of collective resistance to the aggressors, and have taken up
a position of 'non-intervention'......
The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness,
a desire, not to hinder Germany, say, . . . from embroiling herself in
a war with the Soviet Union. .
One might think that the districts of Czechoslovakia
were yielded to Germany as the price of an undertaking to launch war on
the Soviet Union".
(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14-15, 16).
"he and other members of the British Government were
well aware that the Fuehrer had attained a great deal. . . . Having destroyed
Communism in his country, he had barred the road of the latter to Western
Europe and Germany was therefore entitled to be regarded as a bulwark of
the West against Bolshevism. .
Nevertheless, the Soviet Marxist-Leninists understood
that this policy of 'appeasement' ran, objectively, counter to the interests
of the British and French imperialists and counter to the interests of
the British working people They therefore calculated that, if the Soviet
government persisted in its efforts to form a collective security alliance
with Britain and France, sooner or later the appeasers in Britain, which
dominated France,. would be forced out of office by the more far-seeing
representatives of British imperialism (such as Winston Churchill and Anthony
Eden) in cooperation with the British working people.
When the ground has been prepared for an Anglo-German
rapprochement, the four great West European Powers must jointly set up
the foundation of lasting peace in Europe".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945',
Series D, Volume 1; London; 1954; p. 55).
(This, of course, actually occurred in 1940, but only
after war had broken out in Europe).
On 31 March 1939, without consulting the Soviet Union,
the British government gave a unilateral guarantee to defend Poland against
The leader of the liberal Party, David Lloyd George,
told the House of Commons:
"I cannot understand why, before committing ourselves
to this tremendous enterprise, we did not secure beforehand the adhesion
of Russia. . . . If Russia has not been brought into this matter because
of certain feelings that Poles have that they do not want the Russians
there, . . . unless the Poles are prepared to accept the one condition
with which we can help them, the responsibility must be theirs".
The Anglo-French guarantee stimulated public pressure
on the appeaser governments to at least make gestures in the direction
of collective security.
(Parliamentary Debates. 5th Series, House of Commons,
Volume 35; London; 1939; Col. 2,510).
So, on 15 April 1939 the British government made an
approach to the Soviet government suggesting that it might like to issue
a public declaration offering military assistance to any state bordering
the Soviet Union which was subject to aggression if that state desired
Two days later, on 17 April the Soviet government replied
that it would not consider a unilateral guarantee, which would put the
Soviet Union in a position of inequality with the other Powers concerned.
a trilateral mutual assistance treaty by Britain, France and the Soviet
Union against aggression;
the extension of guarantees to the Baltic States (Estonia, Finland, Latvia
and Lithuania), on the grounds that failure to guarantee these states was
an open invitation to Germany to expand eastwards through invasion of these
that the treaty must not be vague, but must detail the extent and forms
of the military assistance to be rendered by the signatory Powers.
On 27 May the British and French governments replied
to the Soviet proposals with the draft of a proposed tripartite pact. The
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain commented on the British draft
in a letter to his sister at this time:
"In substance it gives the Russians what they want,
but in form and presentation it avoids the idea of an alliance and substitutes
declaration of intention. It is really a most ingenious idea".
Vyacheslav Molotov, who had
just taken over the post of People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs from
Maksim Litvinov, rejected the draft
on the grounds that it proposed in the event of hostilities not immediate
mutual assistance, but merely consultation through the League of Nations.
(Neville Chamberlain Archives, University of Birmingham,
On 2 June the Soviet government submitted to Britain
and France a counter-draft making these joints.
The British and French governments responded by saying
that Finland, Estonia and Latvia refused to be guaranteed.
The Soviet government continued to insist that a military
convention be signed at the same time as the political treaty, in order
that there might be no possibility of any hedging about the application
of the latter. On 17 July Molotov stated that there was no point in continuing
discussions on the political treaty until the military convention had been
On 23 July the British and French governments finally
agreed to begin military discussions before the political treaty of alliance
had been finalised, and a British naval officer with the quadruple-barreled
name of Admiral Reginald Plunkett-Ernie-Erle-Drax
was appointed to head the British delegation. No one, apparently, had informed
the British government that the aeroplane had been invented, and the delegation
left Tilbury by a slow boat to Leningrad, from where they proceeded by
train to Moscow. When the delegation finally arrived in Moscow on 11 August,
the Soviet side discovered that it had no powers to negotiate, only
to 'hold talks'. Furthermore, the British delegation was officially
"Go very slowly with the conversations";
Nevertheless, the military talks began in Moscow on 12
('Documents on British Foreign Policy;', 3rd Series,
Volume 6; London; 1953; Appendix 5; p. 763).
On 15 August the leader of the Soviet delegation,
People's Commissar for Defence
Marshal Kliment Voroshilov,
told the delegates that unless Soviet troops were permitted to enter Polish
territory it was physically impossible for the Soviet Union to assist Poland
and it would be useless to continue discussions.
This point was never resolved before the Anglo-French-Soviet
negotiations were negotiations were adjourned indefinitely on 21 August
-- after the Soviet government had decided to sign the non-aggression pact
Warning Shots from Moscow
At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I think it is
fair to say 'that no diplomats are more expert in hypocritical double-dealing
than British diplomats.
Nevertheless, the Soviet leaders were no fools and,
as the negotiations for an Anglo-French-Soviet mutual security pact dragged
on month after month, a number of warning shots were fired from Moscow.
On 11 March 1939 Joseph Davies,
the former US Ambassador in Moscow, now posted to Brussels, wrote in his
diary about Stalin's speech to the 18th Congress of the CPSU a few days
"It is a most significant statement. It bears the
earmarks of a definite warning to the British and French governments that
the Soviets are getting tired of 'non-realistic' opposition to the aggressors.
Then, on 3 May 1939 the resignation was announced of Maksim
Litvinov as Soviet People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and his replacement
by a close colleague of Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov. Although the Soviet
government denied that this signified any change in Soviet foreign policy,
it was significant that Litvinov’s name was particularly associated with
collective security and he was known to be personally sympathetic to the
It certainly is the most significant danger signal
that I have yet seen".
(J. E. Davies: 'Mission to Moscow'; London; 1942;
On 29 June the leading Soviet Marxist-Leninist Andrei
Zhdanov published an article in 'Pravda' which, most unusually,
revealed that there were differences in the leadership of the CPSU on whether
the British and French governments were sincere in saying that they wished
for a genuine treaty of mutual assistance:
"the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations on the conclusion
of an effective pact of mutual assistance against aggression have reached
a deadlock. . . .
A final warning shot was fired on 22 July, when it was
officially announced that Soviet-German trade negotiations were taking
place in Berlin.
I permit myself to express my personal opinion in
this matter, although my friends do not share it. They still think that
when beginning the negotiations with the USSR, the English and French Governments
had serious intentions of creating a powerful barrier against aggression
in Europe. I believe, and shall try to prove it by facts, that the English
and French Governments have no wish for a treaty . . . to which a self-respecting
State can agree. .
The Soviet Government took 16 days in preparing answers
to the various English projects and proposals, while the remaining 59 days
have been consumed by delays and procrastinations on the part of the English
and French. .
Not long ago . . . the Polish Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Beck, declared unequivocally that
Poland neither demanded nor requested from the USSR anything in the sense
of granting her any guarantee whatever.....However, this does not prevent
England and France from demanding from the USSR guarantees . . . for Poland.
It seems to me that the English and French desire
not a real treaty accepable to the USSR, but only talks about a
treaty in order to speculate before the public opinion in their countries
on the allegedly unyielding attitude of the USSR, and thus make easier
for themselves the road to a deal with the aggressors.
The next few days must show whether this is so or
(A. Zhdanov: Article in 'Pravda', 29 June 1939, in:
J. Degras (Ed.): 'Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy'; London; 1953; p.
352, 353, 354).
The Soviet-German Negotiations
At the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939, Stalin
described the basis of Soviet foreign policy as follows:
"We stand for peace and the strengthening of business
relations with all countries. That is our position, and we shall adhere
to this position as long as countries maintain like relations with the
Soviet Union and as long as they make no attempt to trespass on the interests
of our country".
On 17 April 1939, the Soviet Ambassador in Berlin, Aleksei
Merekalov, had a conversation with the German State Secretary, Baron
Ernst von Wiezsaecker, who asked him whether there was any prospect
of the normalisation of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Ambassador's reply was in line with Soviet foreign policy:
(J. V. Stalin: Report on the Work of the Central Committee
to the 18th Congress of the CPSU (b). in : 'The Land of Socialism Today
and Tomorrow'; Moscow; 1939; p. 18).
"There exists for Russia no reason why she should
not live with us on a normal footing. And from normal, the relations might
become better and better".
On 29 July the German Foreign Office instructed the German
Ambassador in the Soviet Union, Count Fritz von der
Schulenburg, to tell Molotov:
('Nazi-Soviet Relations: 1939-1941', Doc. 1; Washington;
1948; p. 2).
"We would be prepared . . . to safeguard all Soviet
interests and to come to an understanding with the Government in Moscow.
. . . The idea could be advanced of so adjusting our attitude to the Baltic
States as to respect vital Soviet interests in the Baltic Sea".
On 14 August the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joachim
von Ribbentropp, cabled Schulenburg, instructing him to call on
the Soviet People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov,
and read him a communication:
('Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945',
Series D, Volume 6; London; 1956; p. 1,016).
"There is no question between the Baltic Sea and the
Black Sea which cannot be settled to the complete satisfaction of both
countries. . . . The leadership of both countries, therefore, should .
. . take action. . .
Schulenburg saw Molotov on 16 August and, as instructed,
read to him Ribbentropp’s message. He reported to Berlin the same night
that Molotov had heard
As we have been informed, the Soviet Government also
feel the desire for a clarification of German-Russian relations. . . .
I am prepared to make a short visit to Moscow in order, in the name of
the Fuehrer, to set forth the Fuehrer 's views to M. Stalin. In my view,
only through such a direct discussion can a change be brought about, and
it should not be impossible thereby to lay the foundations for a final
settlement of German-Russian relations."
('Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945',
Series D, Volume 7; London; 1956; p. 63).
"With great interest the information I had been instructed
to convey. . . ..
Ribbentropp replied the same day, directing Schulenburg
to see Molotov again and inform him that:
He was interested in the question of how the German
Government were disposed towards the idea of concluding a non-aggression
pact with the Soviet Union".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . '; op. cit.,
Volume 7; p. 77).
"Germany is prepared to conclude a non-aggression
pact with the Soviet Union. . . . Further, Germany is ready to guarantee
the Baltic States jointly with the Soviet Union. . . .
On 17 August Molotov handed Schulenburg the Soviet government's
written reply. The Note began by recalling Germany's policy of hostility
to the Soviet Union in the past, and welcoming the prospect of an improvement
in German-Soviet relations. It proposed a number of steps in this direction,
beginning with a trade agreement and proceeding 'shortly thereafter' to
the conclusion of a non-aggression pact.
I am prepared to come by aeroplane to Moscow at any
time after Friday, August 18, to deal, on the basis of full powers from
the Fuehrer, with the entire complex of German-Russian relations and, if
the occasion arises, to sign the appropriate treaties".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . .'; op. cit.
Volume 7; p. 84).
On 18 August Ribbentropp sent a further urgent telegram
to Schulenburg saying that the 'first stage' in the diplomatic process
(the signing of the trade agreement) had been completed, and asking that
Ribbentropp be permitted to make an 'immediate departure for Moscow', where
"be in a position . . . to take the Russian wishes
into account, for instance, the settlement of spheres of interest in the
On 19 August Schulenburg replied that Molotov had agreed
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ' ; op.
cit., Volume 7; p. 123).
"The Reich Foreign Minister could arrive in Moscow
on August 26 or 27.
On 20 August Hitler himself intervened with a personal
letter to Stalin, saying that he accepted the draft of the non-aggression
pact but pleaded that Ribbentropp should be received in Moscow
Molotov handed me the draft of a non-aggression pact".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ', op.
cit., Volume 7; p. 134).
"At the latest on Wednesday, August 27th."
Stalin replied to Hitler on 21 August, thanking him for
his letter and saying:
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ', op.
cit.. Volume 7; p. 157).
"The assent of the German Government to the conclusion
of a non-aggression pact provides the foundation for eliminating the political
tension and the establishment of peace and collaboration between our countries.
Ribbentropp and his delegation arrived in Moscow on 23
August, and the non-aggression pact was signed later the same day. Its
text was almost identical with the Soviet draft which had been submitted
to the Germans on 19 August. Neither party would attack the other, and
should one party become the object of belligerent action by a third Power,
the other party would render no support to this third Power.
The Soviet government have instructed me to inform
you that they agree to Herr von Ribbentropp's arriving in Moscow on August
23". ('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ', op. cit.; p. 168).
Even more strongly criticised than the pact itself
has been a 'Secret Additional Protocol' to the pact which laid down
German and Soviet 'spheres of interest' in Europe.
But the term 'sphere of interest' does not necessarily
have implications of imperialist domination. Where two states are likely
to be affected by war but wish this not to involve them in mutual conflict,
then the demarcation of spheres of interest is a legitimate and desirable
The 'secret additional protocol' declared:
"1. In the event of a territorial and political transformation
in the territories belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania) the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier
of the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR. . .
In ordinary language, this meant that the German government
promised that, when German troops invaded Poland, they would not attempt
to advance beyond the 'Curzon Line', drawn by the British Foreign Secretary
Lord Curzon, after the First World War as
the ethnic boundary separating the Poles from the Ukrainians and Byelorussians.
The area east of this line had been Soviet territiory which was seized
from the Soviet Union following the Revolution.
2. In the event of a territorial and political transformation
of the territories belonging to the Polish State, the spheres of interest
both of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line
of the rivers Narew, Vistula and San".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ', Series
D, Volume 7; p. 246-47).
Germany had thus agreed that it would raise no objection
to the Soviet government taking whatever action it considered desirable
east of this line.
Effect of the Non-Aggression Pact
Speaking to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union
on 31 August, Molotov described the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact as:
"A turning-point in the history of Europe, and not
of Europe alone".
Molotov accepted Zhdanov’s conclusion -- that the British
and French had never been serious in their attitude to the negotiations:
(V. M. Molotov: Speech to Supreme Soviet of 31 August
1939, in: 'Soviet Peace Policy'; London; 1941; p. 18).
"They themselves displayed extreme dilatoriness and
anything but a serious attitude towards the negotiations, entrusting them
to individuals of secondary importance who were not vested with adequate
powers. . .
Molotov declared that the breakdown of the Anglo-French-Soviet
negotiations was only superficially the refusal of Poland or accept Soviet
The British and French military missions came to Moscow
without any definite powers and without the right to conclude any military
convention. Furthermore, the British military mission arrived in Moscow
without any mandate at all".
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 13).
"The negotiations showed that Great Britain was not
anxious to overcome these objections of Poland, but on the contrary encouraged
He stressed that it was not the Soviet government’s action
in signing the pact which had disrupted the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations.
On the contrary, the Soviet government had signed the pact only after the
Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations had been irrevocably sabotaged by the
British and French governments:
Poland . . . had been acting on the instructions of
Great Britain and France. ."
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 12, 14).
"Attempts are being made to spread the fiction that
the conclusion of the Soviet-German pact disrupted the negotiations with
Britain and France for a mutual assistance pact. . . . In reality, as you
know, the very reverse is true. . . . The Soviet Union signed the non-aggression
pact with Germany, amongst other things, because negotiations with France
and Great Britain had . . . ended in failure through the fault of the ruling
circles of Britain and France". (V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 20).
The same point was made by the Soviet People's Commissar
for Defence, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, at a press conference on 27 August
"Miltary negotiations with England and France were
not broken off because the USSR concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany;
on the contrary, the USSR concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany
as a result, inter alia, of the fact that the military negotiations
with France and England had reached a deadlock".
Furthermore, Molotov emphasised that the Soviet negotiations
with Germany were on a completely different level to the Soviet negotiations
with Britain and France:
(K. Y. Voroshilov: Press statement of 27 August
1939, in: J. Degras (Ed.):
'Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy'; London; 1953;
"We are dealing not with a pact of mutual assistance,
as in the case of the Anglo-French-Soviet relations, but only with a
So that, as a result of the signing of the German-Soviet
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 18).
"the USSR is not obliged to involve itself in war,
either on the side of Great Britain against Germany or on the side of Germany
against Great Britain."
Even such anti-Soviet writers as Edward
Carr agree that the Soviet government’s decision to sign the non-aggression
pact with Germany was an enforced second choice, which was taken only with
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.,; p. 21).
"The most striking feature of the Soviet-German negotiations
. . . is the extreme caution with which they were conducted from the Soviet
side, and the prolonged Soviet resistance to close the doors on the Western
Indeed, some Soviet leaders -- notably Maksim Litvinov,
the former People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs -- urged that more time
should be given for the British and French governments to be pressed by
public opinion in their countries into serious negotiations for a pact
of mutual assistance.
(E. H. Carr: 'From Munich to Moscow: II', in: 'Soviet
Studies', Volume 1, No. 12 (October 1949); p. 104).
What precipitated the acceptance of the pressing German
proposals for a rapprochement was the discovery by Soviet intelligence
that the Chamberlain government was secretly negotiating for a military
alliance with Germany, so threatening the Soviet Union with aggression
from four Powers -- Britain, France, Germany and Italy -- combined. The
British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, describes in an official
report to Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, dated 29 August 1939, a conversation
with Hitler and Ribbentropp:
"Herr von Ribbentropp asked me whether I could guarantee
that the Prime Minister could carry the country with him in a policy of
friendship with Germany. I said that there was no possible doubt whatever
that he could and would, provided Germany cooperated with him. Herr Hitler
asked whether England would be willing to accept an alliance with Germany.
I said, speaking personally, I did not exclude such a possibility".
The fact that both German and Soviet troops entered Poland
has been used to equate Fascist Germany with the socialist Soviet Union.
But, of course, a socialist state cannot be equated with an aggressive
imperialist state. It has to be noted,
('Documents concerning German-Polish Relations and
the Outbreak of Hostilites between Great Britain and Germany on September
3, 1939'; (Cmd. 6106); London; 1939; p. 130).
that Soviet troops entered what had been Polish territory only on 17 September
-- 16 days after the German invasion of Poland - when the Polish state
had collapsed, as Molotov stressed to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October
"Our troops entered the territory of Poland only after
the Polish State had collapsed and actually had ceased to exist. . . .
The Soviet government could not but reckon with the exceptional situation
created for our brothers in the Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia,
who had been abandoned to their fate as a result of the collapse of Poland".
And the correspondents of the capitalist press agree with
Soviet contemporary Soviet sources that the Red Army was welcomed as liberators
by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian population concerned. Molotov reported:
(V. M. Molotov: Speech to the Supreme Soviet of the
USSR, 31 October 1939, in:
'Soviet Foreign Policy'; London; 1941; p. 32).
"The Red Army . . . was greeted with sympathy by the
Ukrainian and Byelorussian population, who welcomed our troops as liberators
from the yoke of the gentry and from the yoke of the Polish landlords and
In the House of Commons on 20 September, Conservative
MP Robert Boothby declared:
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 33).
"I think it is legitimate to suppose that this action
on the part of the Soviet Government was taken . . . from the point of
view of self-preservation and self-defence. . . . The action taken by the
Russian troops . . . has pushed the German frontier considerably westward.
It is outside the scope of today's seminar to discuss
one of the most absurd of the anti-Stalin stories -- that Stalin trusted
the Nazis to adhere to the pact and was completely taken by surprise when
the German army invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
I am thankful that Russian troops are now along the
Polish-Romanian frontier. I would rather have Russian troops there than
(Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, Volume 351; House
of Commons; London; 1939; Col. 996).
Who can forget Stalin's prophetic words in 1931:
"We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced
countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it,
or we shall go under".
Exactly ten years later, in 1941, came the German invasion.
(J. V. Stalin: 'The Tasks of Business Executives',
in: 'Works', Volume I13; Moscow; 1955; p. 41).
The test of the correctness or incorrectness of Stalin's
policy is whether or not it strengthened or weakened the ability of
the socialist Soviet Union to defend itself against the future aggression
which its leaders knew was inevitable.
Even such virulent anti-Soviet writers as Edward Carr
admit that the signing of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact enabled
the Soviet Union to put itself in an incomparably stronger defensive position
to meet the German invasion:
"The Chamberlain government ., as a defender of capitalism,
refused . . . to enter into an alliance with the USSR against Germany.
. . .
Questions Put By The Audience
to The Speaker, And His Replies
In the pact of August 23rd, 1939, they (the Soviet
government -- Ed.) secured:
a) a breathing space of immunity from attack;
b) German assistance in mitigating Japanese pressure
in the Far East;
c) German agreement to the establishment of an advanced
defensive bastion beyond the existing Soviet frontiers in Eastern Europe;
it was significant that this bastion was, and could only be, a line of
defence against potential German attack, the eventual prospect of which
was never far absent from Soviet reckonings. But what most of all was achieved
by the pact was the assurance that, if the USSR had eventually to fight
Hitler, the Western Powers would already be involved".
(E. H. Carr: 'From Munich to Moscow: II', in: 'Soviet
Studies', Volume 1, No. 2 (October 1949); p. 103).
It has been suggested that Litvinov was removed from
his post simply because he was a Jew, and as such would have been regarded
as unsuitable as a negotiator by the Germans. Is there any truth in this?
In my opinion, no. We know that Stalin supported the
replacement of Litvinov, and Stalin was known to be have been opposed not
only to racism but to any concession to racism. Litvinov had, personally,
been strongly associated with the policy of collective security and reliable
sources testify to his conviction that, with more time, the British and
French governments would sooner or later endorse this policy. As soon as
the Soviet leaders began to give consideration to the possibility of a
rapprochement with Germany, therefore, Litvinov ceased to be a reliable
instrument of Soviet foreign policy.
Did Litvinov actually oppose the signing of the non-aggression
I have no concrete information as to whether he opposed
it on principle, but he is known to have held the view that more time should
be given to allow the Anglo-French representatives to see sense'. But he
is on record later as declaring that it had been 'a mistake' resulting
from Molotov's 'lack of understanding of the functioning of Western democracy'.
In one of Molotov 's speeches following the occupation
of Eastern Poland, he referred to the Polish state as being the illegitimate
child of Versailles and commented that, happily, it had disappeared. This
has been interpreted as demonstrating that the Soviet Union always had
territorial designs upon Poland. Was the Soviet position one of supporting
the destruction of the Polish state?
Does this mean that the Soviet Union was prepared
to deny the aspirations of the Polish people to have their own state?
There is no doubt that the Polish people constitute
a nation, and Marxist-Leninists have always recognised the right of any
nation to have its own independent state. The Polish state which existed
in 1939, however, did not have its boundaries drawn on ethnic lines; it
included, for example, millions of Ukrainians and Byelorussians and I feel
sure that it was such facts which lay at the basis of Molotov 's statement.
In other words it was not any Polish state, but that existing in
1939 which Molotov depicted as a monstrosity. However, that Polish Polish
state was not destroyed by the Red Army, but by the German army; the Red
Army's occupation of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia began only
after the Polish state had collapsed and ceased to exist. The Polish state
was restored after the United Nations victory over Germany in 1945.
Was a protocol signed as part of the non-aggression
pact which led to a line being drawn across Poland dividing the spheres
of interest of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany? Is this the secret protocol
referred to in the West and did such a protocol really exist? Was the dividing
line the Curzon Line?
The Anglo-American imperialists published the 'secret
protocol' after the Second World War, claiming that it had been discovered
in the captured archives of the German Foreign Office. I know that the
late Soviet President, Andrei Gromyko, denounces
the 'secret additional protocol' as a forgery in his memoirs, but he was
a notorious revisionist and not a source I would place any reliance on.
As far as I recall, the Soviet government of the time neither confirmed
nor denied its authenticity. However, in the Soviet Information Bureau
published in 1948, Falsifiers of History, no charge is made that
the document is spurious, and this official pamphlet states:
"The Soviet Union succeeded in making good use of
the Soviet-German Pact to strengthen its defences, . . . in moving its
frontiers far to the West and in barring the way of the unhampered eastward
advance of German Aggression".
It would seem that this cannot possibly refer to the treaty
itself (which makes no mention of spheres of interest or frontiers), but
only to the 'secret additional protocol'. As I said before, I do not accept
the view that 'spheres of interest' between states are necessarily an phenomenon
to be condemned. A socialist state may have its own spheres of interest
which it sees as essential to its defence and, where these may conflict
with the spheres of interest of other states, it seems to me correct to
try to reach agreement with these other states, to map them out in order
to maintain peaceful relations with these other states. On the evidence
available to me at present, I believe the published 'secret protocol' to
('Falsifiers of History'; op. cit.; p. 45).
Yes, the dividing line 'ran along the old Curzon Line.
The above paper was read by Bill Bland at a seminar
organised by the STALIN SOCIETY in London in February 1990.
Published by: The Stalin Society, Ilford, Essex.
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