Chapter XVI

Stalin and the Foreign Policy of the U.S.S.R.

We see, therefore, that those who, forgetting the international character of the October Revolution, declare the victory of the revolution in one country to be simply and solely a national phenomenon, are wrong. No less wrong are those who, while recognising the international character of the October Revolution, are inclined to look upon it as something passive, destined simply to receive aid from without. In actual fact, not only does the October Revolution need the support in other lands, but the revolution in these other lands needs the support of the October Revolution in order to hasten and push forward the day when world imperialism shall be for ever overthrown.
J. STALIN, Leninism, p. 216

We Marxists believe that revolution will occur in other countries as well. . . . Export of revolution is nonsense . . . to assert that we desire to bring about revolution in other countries by interfering with their way of life is to speak of something that does not exist, and which we have never preached.
J. STALIN in an interview with MR. HOWARD, March 1st, 1936

IT was in May, 1925, that once again a great assembly of delegates of the Bolshevik Party met within the Kremlin walls. Here were men and women of all kinds, industrial workers, peasants, officials, intellectuals, and professional revolutionaries in the process of becoming statesmen. On the platform at the top end of St. Andrew’s Hall, before great portraits of Marx and Lenin, were Kalinin, the President, Molotov, Litvinov, Bucharin, Kamenev, Kaganovitch, Dzerzhinsky, and many other leaders well known to the throng assembled from every part of the Union. At the speaker’s desk, about to address the conference, stood the swarthy, black-haired, serious figure of Joseph Stalin in his khaki tunic. Great excitement animated the crowd. It rose and cheered him as he placed his notes on the desk and stood, quietly waiting for the cheers to subside.

It was the first Party Conference since Lenin had died. Lenin’s successor stood before them, and however slow the world might be to recognise the fact, they knew it. It was not the first time he had taken charge of a Bolshevik Conference in the absence of the Master, but this time Lenin would not return. The battle to prove that Stalin was in his rightful place was in full swing. True to the Lenin tradition he was about to review the world situation and the tasks before them. He was conscious that what he had to say would be read by millions outside Soviet Russia as well as inside. He knew that his critics and opponents would scan every line through a magnifying glass. But there was no hesitation in his utterance and no mistaking his meaning. He proceeded:

. . . between our country and the countries of the capitalist world there has been established a sort of provisional equilibrium of forces. . . . Capitalism is emerging out of the chaos in production, trade, and finance which resulted from the war; here and there it has already emerged from that chaos. . . . Speaking generally, we may say that the post-war economic crisis in Europe is over, and that production and commerce are tending to regain the pre-war level. . . .

Instead of the revolutionary flood-tide which was noticeable during the years of the post-war crisis, we now see, in central and western Europe, an ebb in the revolutionary movement. This means that the question of the conquest of power, the question of the seizure of power by the proletariat, has, in western and central Europe, been postponed from to-day’s agenda until to-morrow’s. . . .

After amplifying these points in great detail he went on to outline the tasks of the Party in relation to the international revolutionary movement and to the foreign policy of the Union. Touching the first he said:

We must work along the following lines. First of all we must do everything we can to strengthen the Communist Parties in the West, and to help these parties to win over the majority of the working masses. In the second place, we must intensify the struggle of the Western workers to achieve trade union unity, and to consolidate the friendship between the proletariat of the Soviet Union and the proletariat of the capitalist countries. . . . In the third place, we must establish and strengthen the alliance between the proletariat of our country and the liberationist movements in oppressed countries. . . . In the fourth place, we must consolidate the Socialist elements in our own country. . . .

Then, turning to the tasks of the Party in the domain of Soviet foreign policy, he continued:

First of all, we must carry on the struggle against new wars, the struggle to maintain peace and to secure the persistence of the so-called normal relationships towards capitalist countries. . . .

In the second place, we must extend our commerce with the foreign world on the basis of the consolidation of the State Monopoly of Foreign Trade. . . . In the third place, we must promote a rapprochement to the countries that were vanquished in the imperialist war . . .

In the fourth place, we must join forces with the dependent and colonial countries.

Here is a clearly-defined separation of the functions of the Communist International and the Soviet State. Yet the control of both lay in his hands. He was watching the enemy world of capitalism and on the look-out all the time for the revolutionary movement to get into its stride again.

The shape of things to come was not very clear in the chaotic condition of the world, but the Soviet régime had emerged from the depths of famine and the wreckage of the wars of intervention and he was confident of its constructive power. One by one the capitalist governments were “recognising” the Soviet Government as the legitimate or at least the de facto authority in the territory which had once been the Empire of the Czars. But there was no friendship in the recognition. Soviet representatives had been murdered. Soviet institutions had been ransacked. The capitalist press everywhere insulted, derided, and in every way showed its hatred of the new régime.

The conflict of interests and rivalry between the Powers was, however, most profound. Vigorously though the League of Nations manufactured pacificist and liberal dreams for the future, the victorious Powers within it could not restrain their animosity towards the defeated countries nor hide the differences existing among themselves. This conflict facilitated Stalin’s policy of preventing the formation of a united anti-Soviet front. The Italians and Germans, Turks and Austrians, smarting under the terms imposed by the victorious countries, turned to make fresh terms with the Soviet Union. But while these secured the western border of Soviet Russia from immediate attack because there could be no war against her there unless Germany became its spearhead, they also gave rise to a new trend in the anti-Soviet policy of the Allied Powers. First they were to be the means of directing the reviving German trade away from the markets of the victors, and of enabling her to secure profits out of which to pay her indemnities and reparation payments. Later they would become the basis for diplomatic efforts to secure a united bloc of the Western Powers against the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, Stalin and the Bolsheviks could counter these trends by racing ahead with “Socialism in one country,” developing the anti-capitalist unity of the workers and encouraging revolutionary developments, especially in China, already in the throes of revolution. Maybe from here would come the next great movement of masses along the “Moscow Road.” The Chinese Revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen had been developing since 1911. The Russian Revolution had already influenced it greatly by the simple act of repudiating the colonisation policy of the Czars, recognising the Government of Sun Yat Sen and renouncing all extra-territorial treaties and privileges still maintained by the imperialist Powers.

Stalin saw this revolution evolving into a Soviet revolution. Through State recognition and mutual aid he would help the national revolution in its fight against feudalism and imperialism and through the Communist International he would assist its transition to the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Thus is Stalin’s historic “line” in relation to China. Its application has varied according to the relation of class forces in China itself, and China’s relations with other Powers.

Addressing the Enlarged Executive of the Communist International on November 30th, 1926, he said:

I believe that the future revolutionary power in China will, in its character, resemble the power which was spoken of in our country in 1905, i.e., a dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry but with the distinguishing feature that it will be predominantly an anti-imperialist power. It will be a power of transition to a non-capitalist, or, to be more exact, to a Socialist development in China.

This is the direction in which the revolution in China is likely to develop. This path of development which China will follow, will be facilitated by three circumstances—firstly, in that the point of the revolution in China, as a national revolution for freedom will be directed against imperialism and its agents in China; secondly, in that the large bourgeoisie in China is weak, weaker than the national bourgeoisie was in Russia in 1905, which facilitates the hegemony of the proletariat, the leadership of the proletarian party as against the Chinese peasantry; thirdly, in that the revolution in China will develop in circumstances which make it possible to make use of the experience and the aid of the victorious revolution in the Soviet Union. . . .

In 1925 active assistance had been given to the Cantonese forces fighting against the feudal war lords. The Communist Party of China was affiliated to the Kuomintang. The Chinese Nationalist Party, now led by Chiang Kai-shek, accepted M. Borodin as political adviser to the Kuomintang and General Galen as military adviser. In 1927 Chiang Kai-shek turned on the communists and revolutionary workers and his forces slaughtered tens of thousands. A period of civil war opened in which Chiang Kai-shek endeavoured to exterminate the “Reds.” Relations with the Soviet Government were severed. The civil war ended only after the “Reds” had captured Chiang Kai-shek and persuaded him to lead a united Chinese national struggle against the Japanese who had invaded North China and were meeting with almost no resistance.

Immediately the Chinese Government came to terms with the Communist Party of China, new relations were established with the Soviet Government and the latter has supported China with arms and war equipment for this struggle despite its treaties with Japan.

Such contradictions existed everywhere and were bound to exist in a world torn by class, national, and imperial interests and consequently presenting a host of temporary and changing combinations.

Naturally the capitalist elements of every country, each influenced by, their own special interests, accused the Bolsheviks in general and the Soviet Government in particular of responsibility for all the “disturbances” and “unrest” in the world. Stalin answered the critics: “The accusation does us too much honour! Unfortunately, we are not yet strong enough to give all the colonial countries direct aid in their struggle for liberation . . .”[1]

Sometimes the outcry against the aid given to working-class organisations and colonial peoples in their struggles reached immense proportions, and jeopardised the “normal” relations between the Soviet State and other States. But Stalin was unperturbed by these outcries. In Britain, where the ruling class had persistently shown its hatred of the Soviet régime from the moment the Bolsheviks came to power, the protest reached panic proportions when in 1926, the Russian trade unions collected from their members 1,000,000 to aid the locked-out miners. This incident undoubtedly paved the way to the severing of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1927, but the severance did not divert Stalin from the policy of aiding the workers of other countries. Nor did the prospect of the rupture of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee prevent him from dissociating the Russian trade unions from the policy of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress when it betrayed the miners in the General Strike.

When I was in Moscow at this time I criticised him vigorously for the severity of his strictures and warned him that it would mean the end of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee. He answered me very quietly but very firmly, “No doubt that will follow. It may also make it easier for the British Government to break off relations with the Soviet Government. That also is regrettably true. But better so than that the British working-class should hold the Russian trade unions in any way responsible, even by implication, for the betrayal of the miners.” The Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee was dissolved. A little later, at the instigation of the Home Secretary, Mr. Joynson Hicks, Arcos was raided and trade and diplomatic relations between the two countries were broken. Probably at no time since the end of the intervention war had the class feelings of the British Government so overwhelmed their sense of judgement. The Blimps in politics had the upper hand, and could they have mustered sufficient support from the governments of other countries they would have gladly led Britain into war against the U.S.S.R.

Fortunately they failed. There was too much discord between the Powers on other counts, and Stalin, who knew this, was unperturbed. Some of his colleagues, however, were more excitable and disposed to panic. I heard Bucharin, who was then the leader of the Communist International, deliver a speech which sent the people of Moscow rushing to the shops to buy in stocks because he had declared war was imminent. Stalin stopped the rush by promptly denouncing the forecast. He knew that neither the British Government nor the French, despite their common hatred, could either independently or together make war on the Soviet Union without first securing Germany or some group of countries bordering the Union as jumping-off grounds, while the U.S.A. could only vent its spleen from afar. Therefore, although the relations of the Soviet Government with the capitalist governments of the world were unstable and founded on the unstable relations of capitalist society everywhere, it was this very instability which gave durability to the “breathing space” begun at the termination of the intervention wars.

Soviet Russia seemed to be the centre of a world gone crazy. Yet geography and history were on her side. The country was vast and its reserves inexhaustible. Given time in which to develop them she would become unconquerable—and time was being given her. Having consolidated her internal political power she was now on the verge of consolidating her Socialist economic power. Henceforth her internal difficulties would be those of growth, not of decay.

Outside her frontiers the world was torn with class conflict and rival interests of every kind, economic, national, imperial, industrial, political. This made the common aspirations of the people everywhere into very big and plain issues—peace, security, trade, freedom, social betterment—but everywhere unrealisable, however much they might figure on the political banners of the Governments. Yet each of these issues was integral to the policy of the Soviet Government at home and abroad. Soviet Russia had no imperial ambitions; her colonial peoples had been set free to climb the ladder of full national development in co-operation with all their brethren in the Union; the development of her Socialist economy was producing the classless society. Stalin’s foreign policy was therefore simplified to a degree with which that of no other government could compare.

When the Soviet representatives said they wanted peace they were not talking with tongue in cheek. They meant it, because the longer the peace, the better they could realise their Socialist aims. Interest and aspiration alike were served by peace. When Litvinov, Stalin’s great collaborator in the conduct of foreign policy, proposed to the International Disarmament Conference that the nations should simultaneously disarm, he was derided as utopian. Why it should be wrong to propose disarmament to a disarmament conference, I have not yet been able to discover. Did Stalin or Litvinov think that the Powers assembled at this particular League of Nations gathering were likely to agree to disarmament? Not at all. On the other hand, could Stalin have accepted such a decision had the rest agreed? Certainly. A world disarmed could not threaten the Soviet Union, and the wealth that had to be diverted to the production of arms could have been devoted to social construction. Stalin knew, none better, that only a Socialist world, by the nature of its economy and the organisation of its political and social life, could dispense with armaments; and correspondingly that capitalist states could never disarm. But the fact that they had called the Disarmament Conference gave him the opportunity, through Litvinov, to make this clear to the world.

The capitalist world wanted trade and economic stability. So did the Soviet Union. Stalin offered trade and peaceful relations to the capitalists; and the rejection of his offer proved that class prejudice in the governments concerned were stronger than their desire for trade and peace. Where trade and peaceful relations were established, they helped the economy of the Union and assisted her in organising resistance to the attempts to form a common front against her.

It is a striking fact that even when confronted with this perfect illustration of the unequal development of capitalism, Stalin continued to cling firmly to the view that despite the cleavage between the capitalist Powers, they would sooner or later converge into a united bloc for war on the soviets. He could not help remembering that only a few short years ago, enemies had become co-belligerents in an almost universal capitalist combination to destroy the infant Bolshevik State. Nor did he fail to note the reception given by leaders of capitalism in every country to Japanese aggression in the Far East and the rise of Nazism in Germany. With few exceptions the ruling class everywhere looked with approbation upon Japanese attacks on the Soviet frontier, and on the conquest of Manchuria, especially when they thought these efforts the prologue to open war against the Soviet Union. But Stalin never showed panic. As long as the Powers were entangled in their own troubles and rivalries he was gaining time for the development of the Soviet Union.

In 1930 he again gave one of the periodic reviews in which he took stock of the Socialist and capitalist worlds. Addressing the Sixteenth Party Congress he said:

. . . What is the picture to-day?

To-day: an economic crisis in nearly all the industrial countries of capitalism. To-day: an agricultural crisis in nearly all the agrarian countries. Instead of “prosperity,” poverty of the masses and colossal growth of unemployment. Instead of a boom in agriculture, the ruin of millions of peasants. The collapse of illusions about the omnipotence of capitalism generally, and United States capitalism in particular. . . . And the “universal” noise about the “inevitable destruction” of the U.S.S.R. is being replaced by “universal” malevolent hissing, about the necessity of punishing “this country,” which dares to develop economically while crisis reigns around. . . .

He proceeded to elaborate these observations and then summed up the situation in these words:

. . . the stabilisation of capitalism is coming to an end . . . the revival of the revolutionary movement of the masses will develop with new force. . . . The world economic crisis will, in a number of countries, grow into a political crisis. And this means, in the first place, that the bourgeoisie will seek a way out of the situation in further fascination in the sphere of internal policy, making use of all the forces of reaction for this purpose, including Social Democracy.

It means secondly, that the bourgeoisie will seek a way out through a new imperialist war and intervention, in the sphere of external policy. It means finally, that the proletariat, fighting capitalist exploitation and the war danger, will seek a way out through revolution.

It is noticeable that in this speech the familiar references to the tasks of the Communists in other countries are missing. But he outlines Soviet foreign policy in a few words:

Our policy is a policy of peace and trading relations with all countries . . . we shall continue this policy with all our strength and all our resources. We don’t want a single foot of foreign territory. But we shall not give up a single inch of our own territory either, to anyone.

When Hitler rose to power in Germany, Stalin answered with a sweeping change of strategy in the foreign policy of both the Soviet Union and the Communist International. The spearhead of capitalist attack, pointing directly at the heart of the Revolution, had at last emerged from the chaos of capitalism, and there was not a moment to lose. It was conspicuous that no government in the capitalist world quivered with apprehension when this new power arrived. The world’s conservative press hailed it with glee, and there was not a Tory who, as he nodded approval of the Hitler and Mussolini method of dealing with the “labour problem,” did not feel confident that in the bargain-basements of diplomacy, he could make a deal with the new anti-Bolshevik champion. Certainly none of the capitalist states saw in this new phenomenon the rise of a Power which would shortly set out to conquer themselves and the world.

Within a few months, however, the approbation among the Tory leaders was already less universal. The Disarmament Conference, meeting at the time of Hitler’s seizure of power, quietly vanished. Conscription was re-introduced into Germany. Page after page of the Versailles Treaty was torn to shreads. Germany left the League of Nations. While their senile heads bowed to the new challenger, the democratic powers began to dither, and in the name of “peace” hoped Hitler would turn eastward and leave them alone. Almost alone among conservatives Mr. Churchill, although he had previously eulogised Fascism, now saw the Nazi power of Germany as a threat to the British Empire and Britain’s place in the world. The Trades Union and Labour Movements in all countries had been anti-Fascist from the outset.

Stalin’s answer to the new situation was most striking. Without hesitation he steered the Soviet Union into the League of Nations despite the evidence that the latter was already disintegrating. Britain and France were the only great Powers left within it, and his action was a clear demonstration of his willingness to co-operate with them against the new challenger. This was the beginning of his campaign to secure “collective security” against the aggressor. Litvinov became the protagonist of this policy in the League of Nations, and warned the world that “peace was indivisible.” The Communist International swung into line with the demand for a “people’s front against War and Fascism.”

Five years after this far-reaching development Stalin reviewed the tragic course of events. It was March, 1939. He said:

. . . The preceding crisis had already mixed the cards and intensified the struggle for markets and sources of raw materials. The seizure of Manchuria and North China by Japan, the seizure of Abyssinia by Italy—all this reflected the acuteness of the struggle among the Powers. The new economic crisis must lead, and is actually leading, to a further sharpening of the imperialist struggle. It is no longer a question of competition in the markets, of a commercial war, of dumping. These methods of struggle have long been recognised as inadequate. It is now a question of a new redivision of the world, of spheres of influence and colonies by military action. . . .

. . . Here is a list of the most important events during the period under review which mark the beginning of the new imperialist war. In 1935 Italy attacked and seized Abyssinia. In the summer of 1936 Germany and Italy organised military intervention in Spain, Germany entrenching herself in the north of Spain and in Spanish Morocco, and Italy in the south of Spain and in the Balearic Islands. Having seized Manchuria, Japan in 1937 invaded North and Central China, occupied Peking, Tientsin and Shanghai and began to oust her foreign competitors from the occupied zone. In the beginning of 1938 Germany seized Austria, and in the autumn of 1938 the Sudeten region of Czecho-Slovakia. At the end of 1938 Japan seized Canton, and at the beginning of 1939 the island of Hainan.

Thus the war, which has stolen so imperceptibly upon the nations, has drawn a population of over 500,000,000 into its orbit and has extended its sphere of action over a vast territory, stretching from Tientsin, Shanghai and Canton, through Abyssinia, to Gibraltar.

After the first imperialist war the victor states, primarily England, France and the United States, had set up a new system of relations between countries, the post-war régime of peace. The main props of this régime were the Nine-Power Pact in the Far East, and the Versailles Treaty and a number of other treaties in Europe. The League of Nations was set up to regulate relations between countries within the framework of this régime on the basis of a united front of states, of collective defence of the security of states. However, three aggressive states, and the new imperialist war launched by them, have upset the entire system of this post-war peace régime. Japan tore up the Nine-Power Pact, and Germany and Italy the Versailles Treaty. In order to have their hands free these three states withdrew from the League of Nations.

The new Imperialist war became a fact.

. . . It is a distinguishing feature of the new imperialist war that it has not yet become universal, a world war. 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 United States, while the latter draw back, making concession after concession to the aggressors. . . . Incredible, but true.

To what are we to attribute this one-sided and strange character of the new imperialist war?

. . . 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.

To what then are we to attribute the systematic concessions made by these states to the aggressors?

. . . The chief reason is that the majority of the non-aggressive countries, particularly England and France, have rejected the policy of collective security, the policy of collective resistance to the aggressors, and have taken up a position of non-intervention, a position of “neutrality.”

Formally the policy of non-intervention might be defined as follows: “Let each country defend itself from the aggressors as it likes and as best it can. That is not our affair. We shall trade both with the aggressors and with their victims.” But actually, the policy of non-intervention means conniving at aggression, giving free reign to war and, consequently, transforming the war into a world war. The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness, a desire, not to hinder the aggressors in their nefarious work, not to hinder Japan say, from embroiling herself in a war with China or, better still, with the Soviet Union; not to hinder Germany, say, from enmeshing herself in European affairs, from embroiling herself in a war with the Soviet Union; to allow all the belligerents to sink deep into the mire of war, to encourage them surreptitiously in this; to allow them to weaken and exhaust one another; and then, when they have become weak enough, to appear on the scene with fresh strength, to appear, of course, “in the interests of peace” and to dictate conditions to the enfeebled belligerents.

Cheap and Easy !

After this fearless analysis and bold indictment of the democratic Powers, which he elaborated in great detail with complete disregard of the sensibilities of agressors and non-aggressors alike, he continued:

Far be it from me to moralise on the policy of non-intervention, to talk of treason, treachery and so on. It would be naïve to preach morals to people who recognise no human morality. Politics are politics, as the old, case-hardened bourgeois diplomats say. It must be remarked, however, that the big and dangerous political game started by the supporters of the policy of non-intervention may end in a serious fiasco for them. . . .

Naturally the U.S.S.R. could not ignore these ominous events. . . . In order to strengthen its international position, the Soviet Union . . . in 1934, joined the League of Nations, considering that despite its weakness the League might nevertheless serve as a place where aggressors can be exposed, and as a certain instrument of peace, however feeble, that might hinder the outbreak of war. The Soviet Union considers that in alarming times like these even so weak an organisation as the League of Nations should not be ignored. In May, 1935, a treaty of mutual assistance against possible attack by aggressors was signed between France and the Soviet Union. A similar treaty was simultaneously concluded with Czecho-Slovakia. In March, 1936, the Soviet Union concluded a treaty of mutual assistance with the Mongolian Peoples’ Republic. In August, 1937, the Soviet Union concluded a pact of non-aggression with the Chinese Republic.

It was in such difficult international conditions that the Soviet Union pursued its foreign policy of upholding the cause of peace.

Stalin next set out, with a clarity which should have been obvious to the whole world, that he now took his stand on the ground that the Soviet Union was surrounded with a world of enemies who might at any moment converge for a general attack on her. While preferring an alliance with the democratic Powers against the Fascist Powers, he would be concerned mainly to prevent the combined onslaught on the Union by keeping the enemy divided against itself. The initiative rested with the Powers. He stated:

The foreign policy of the Soviet Union is clear and explicit:

(1) 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 these countries maintain like relations with the Soviet Union, and as long as they make no attempt to trespass on the interests of our country.

(2) We stand for peaceful, close and friendly relations with all the neighbouring countries which have common frontiers with the Soviet Union. That is our position; and we shall adhere to this position as long as these countries maintain like relations with the Soviet Union, and as long as they make no attempt to trespass, directly or indirectly, on the integrity and inviolability of the Soviet State.

(3) We stand for the support of nations which are the victims of aggression and are fighting for the independence of their country.

(4) We are not afraid of the threats of aggressors and are ready to deal a double blow for every blow delivered by the instigators of war who attempt to violate the Soviet borders.

Such is the foreign policy of the Soviet Union.

Then, to make doubly sure that his position would not be misunderstood, he continued:

In its foreign policy the Soviet Union relies upon:

1. Its growing economic; political and cultural might;

2. The moral and political unity of our Soviet Society;

3. The mutual friendship of the nations of our country;

4. Its Red Army and Red Navy;

5. Its policy of peace;

6. The moral support of the working people of all countries, who are vitally concerned in the preservation of peace;

7. The good sense of the countries which for one reason or another have no interest in the violation of peace.

Turning his attention directly to the Bolsheviks he set out their tasks.

The tasks of the Party in the sphere of foreign policy are:

1. To continue the policy of peace and of strengthening the business relations with all countries.

2. To be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by war-mongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them;

3. To strengthen the might of our Red Army and Red Navy to the utmost;

4. To strengthen the international bonds of friendship with the working people of all countries, who are interested in peace and friendship of the nations.

It was at this time that Litvinov asked to be released from his post as Commissar for Foreign Affairs. The gesture was promptly taken by the outside world to mean that he disagreed with Stalin, and not as a warning, to the democratic Powers in particular, to beware. Some day it will dawn on the mass of non-Russian people that Stalin’s lieutenants are not political children or yes-men, but leaders who are in fundamental accord in principles, outlook, and aims, and not a collection of men of dissimilar philosophies and interests. When Molotov took over the office of Foreign Affairs in addition to his post as premier, it should have been obvious to the governments of all countries that the arrangement was a temporary one and that a new page of history was being turned. It meant that the centre of gravity of Soviet Foreign Affairs had shifted from Geneva to Moscow.

Molotov was the obvious man to function as Stalin’s first lieutenant. He had no long list of speeches about “collective security” to explain away. He was a most able administrator and had been a close personal friend since the days when Stalin first moved to St. Petersburg. From the hour of Stalin’s great speech that I have quoted at length, the Soviet Union stood ready to negotiate and come to terms with either “aggressors” or “non-aggressors,” “democratic” or “Fascist” governments. If the democratic Powers, even at this late hour, would unite with the Soviet Union against the aggressor states, well and good. Better late than not at all. If they would not, an alternative line of action remained. For more than a year the Nazi Government of Germany had been offering terms for a non-aggression pact. Despite their violent propaganda against the Bolsheviks and the anti-Comintern pact with Italy and Japan, the Nazis had not abrogated the Rapallo Treaty of 1922. German capitalists had given better credit terms than the “democratic” capitalists. In 1938 the Nazi Government had offered a 100,000,000 mark loan and still more favourable trade terms. Stalin, fully understanding the nature of Fascism and the strategy of Hitler, had rejected the offers, preferring “collective security” with the democratic Powers.

This was not based upon sentimental considerations, but primarily on the power relations of the countries. He knew, both from his acquaintance with the programmatic statements of Mein Kampf and the “Rosenburg Plan,” and from his knowledge of the economic geography of Europe, that Germany was not likely to attempt the conquest of the Soviet Union without first securing complete control of the industrial belt from Northern France, Belgium, and Luxemburg through the Ruhr to Czecho-Slovakia.

Without these resources the Nazis could not surpass the rapidly growing productive power of the Soviet Union, which was by this time producing 20,000,000 tons of steel a year. Had the “democratic Powers” formed an alliance with the Soviet at this time, their combined steel potential, which is the basis of military strength, would have been at least double that of Germany. But those in control of the “democratic Powers” had other things in mind.

Nevertheless, when the British Ambassador on March 18th, 1939, a week after Stalin’s speech, asked the Soviet Government as to its attitude towards Hitler’s threat to Rumania, Stalin replied by proposing a conference of Britain, France, the U.S.S.R., Poland, Turkey and Rumania, to “devise ways and means of resisting further aggression.” But as in the case of a similar proposal after Hitler had marched into Austria in 1938, their suggestion was regarded as “premature.” Instead, the British Government proposed a joint declaration against aggression. Still patiently hoping for something more, Stalin agreed, only to be met with the refusal of the Polish Government to sign any document which should have on it the signature of a leader of the Soviet Government.

On the 18th of April, 1939, the British Ambassador asked the Soviet Government to make a unilateral guarantee of Poland and Rumania. Again Stalin answered with the proposal for a triple pact between, Britain, France, and the U.S.S.R. against aggression anywhere. Between April 17th and May 9th no reply came. When it did arrive it ignored the proposal for the Triple Pact and contained a counter-proposal for the Soviet Union to guarantee the border States without any indication of the kind of assistance Britain and France would give should the arrangement lead to war. Stalin repeated his suggestion for a triple pact. It took until May 29th for the two governments to agree to a discussion of it.

Meanwhile Hitler was busy too. Since the beginning of the year his government had been pressing the offer he had made in 1938 and which Stalin had then turned down. Molotov on May 31st, 1939, publicly announced before the Supreme Soviet that a reconsideration of the proposals might be made and that a new Trade Agreement had been made with Italy. Even this announcement did not make the “democratic Powers” hasten. Instead the British Government sent to Moscow “to talk things over,” a Foreign Office official who had neither the standing nor the power to arrive at decisions.

But still Stalin pressed for action on the lines of “collective security” and while hope remained at all, held off any agreement with the Nazis. Zhdanov, one of the most able of the men on the Political Bureau of the Bolshevik Party, wrote an article in Pravda openly declaring that the British and French Governments were not really desirous of making a pact of mutual assistance, but only of placing on the Soviet Union the onus of bearing the brunt of the responsibilities for “mutual aid.”

On July 23rd, the British and French Governments agreed to send a military mission to Moscow. It did not arrive until August 5th, as Hitler’s forces were knocking at the gates of Danzig. On arrival it disclosed that it had no power to decide anything, and the Polish Government meanwhile declared itself ready and able to meet a German attack without help from the Soviet Union!

Stalin and his colleagues turned from this spectacle of ineptitude with contempt. The crisis had reached its climax. The signal was given, and without a moment’s hesitation Hitler sent his Foreign Secretary and entourage to Moscow and the non-aggression pact with Germany was signed.

It was a dramatic moment when in the conference room of the Kremlin, Stalin and Molotov, the leaders of world revolution, stood side by side with Ribbentrop the spokesman of Hitler, the leader of world counter-revolution. But Stalin was unperturbed. His valuation of the course of events and of the forces engaged was not that of the frantic critics in the West. Rightly or wrongly, he was convinced that he had averted, at least for a time, a war with Nazi Germany in which the Chamberlain and Daladier Governments of Britain and France would have become first Hitler’s arms merchants and finally his co-belligerents. He felt that his conscience had nothing with which to reproach him. He laughed to scorn those who regarded the pact as a wedding of Bolshevism and Nazism, and regarded their attacks as the chatter of fools. Why should he be regarded as a criminal for signing such an agreement when the statesmen of the critics’ own governments had been in constant political and personal association with the leaders of Nazism and Fascism, and had made pacts with them without consulting the Soviet Union or even the League of Nations, of which they were members and with which they were pledged to prior consultation? The fact is that Stalin regarded the whole bunch as varieties of the same species, and, if the interests of the Union were served thereby, had as little compunction in being photographed with Ribbentrop as with any other statesmen.

Now began the period of “strict neutrality.” Gone for the time being was the classification of the Powers into “aggressors” and “non-aggressors.” Gone were his jibes against “non-intervention.” He had moved back to the simple classification of the “Socialist world” and the “capitalist world”—the world of peace and Socialist construction, and the world of war and disintegration.

It was simple—too simple. Here it was that he blundered by giving a lead to the world’s Communist Parties, on the premise that 1914 had been repeated. An imperialist war, he proclaimed, was raging, and it was the task of the workers to turn it into civil war and overthrow their own governments. For he was still animated by the idea that the war would be war transformed into a general class war against the Soviet Union. He therefore applied himself at once to exploiting the new circumstances to aid the workers in other countries in the class-war policy, by letting them use the Soviet Union as a peace negotiator while he kept his own powder dry and drove ahead with the development of Soviet industries and military power.

Within a few weeks the peace manœuvre was abandoned. The swift advance of the Nazi armies into Poland was a powerful reminder that the war in Europe was the prologue to war on the Soviet Union. Accordingly, in the hour when the Polish Government and general staff abandoned their country to its fate; with a promptitude that once more surprised the world Stalin set the Red Army on the march towards the “Curzon Line.” This line, which had been universally recognised as the Russo-Polish boundary until the Poles tore a great area of White Russia and the Ukraine from the Soviets during the intervention wars, meant an advance through territory containing 12,000,000 inhabitants. The banner of revolution was raised, and to the rescue of these twelve million former Soviet subjects the Red Army hastened.

It is often stated by critics that this was done in agreement with the Nazis. I have no evidence of this. However the argument may go, the fact is that Stalin did not send the Red Army into the one-time Polish territory until there was no government left in Poland and the country was wide open for the Nazis to acquire land as far beyond the “Curzon Line” as they chose. That the Germans did not join issue with the Red Army is explainable in terms of their larger strategic plan for the prior conquest of Europe.

Stalin quickly unfolded his strategy for the period of “strict neutrality.” While carefully adhering to the letter of the pact with Germany, he proceeded to move his forces into favourable strategical positions ready for when this period would end.

First, negotiations were opened with the border States, Lithuania, Latvia, and Esthonia, for naval and army bases. Success attended these overtures, culminating in general elections in the countries concerned and their transformation into Republics of the Soviet Union. Similar negotiations were begun with Finland, but here they failed. Stalin was faced with a challenging situation. Unless the Mannerheim Line was abandoned or destroyed before Hitler turned east, its proximity to Leningrad would prove fatal to the defence of that city and the whole northern part of the Soviet Union; for that the Line would be used in the attack appeared to Stalin obvious. He therefore took the offensive, and in due course the security of the northern front, unobtainable by negotiation, was procured by force.

No event since the outbreak of the war in Europe had been more misrepresented and misunderstood by the general public, the press, and the governments. It almost began to obscure the war against the Nazis. The British and French Governments, ill-prepared as they were for the war against Germany, nevertheless hastened to prepare an expeditionary force to aid the Finns. And so myopic was Britain’s Minister for War that he called for war against both Germany and Russia! Fortunately the Red Army shattered the Mannerheim Line and forced the Finns to accept the terms they could have obtained without fighting.

Having secured his northern front, Stalin turned to the southern and forced Rumania to return Bessarabia to the Soviet Union.

After the collapse of France and the completion of the westward drive, Hitler’s armies turned east and prepared for their march across the Soviet frontiers. Thereafter the “Strict Neutrality” of Stalin ceases to be so strict. When Yugo-Slavia rose in revolt against her pro-Nazi government Stalin applauded the deed. When Bulgaria gave in to the demands of Nazi Germany he warned her of her danger. When Japan asked for a non-aggression pact he agreed. Unfortunately the British Government was too busy seizing Bolshevik ships and the gold of the Baltic countries that had “gone Bolshevik” to observe the significance of his gradually unfolding anti-Nazi strategy. So profound was British class prejudice that even when Sir Stafford Cripps was sent to “improve relations,” Stalin had to refuse him entry into the Soviet Union in order to secure him ambassadorial status!

In May, 1941, a decision was taken by the Supreme Soviet that Stalin should become premier of the Union. At last he stepped publicly before the world as the leading spokesman of the U.S.S.R. with all the reins of government in his hands. What did this mean? It meant he and his colleagues recognised that the great hour of crisis was at hand. He had stretched the “breathing space” to its limit, and the “breathing space” was about to end. There must henceforth be no doubt in the mind of friend or foe as to who captained the Soviet ship.

The “Thesis of 1914” no longer held good. He had been mistaken in thinking that it had. The capitalist world was not a united world standing ready to pounce on the Socialist world. It was divided against itself, and the rival forces were fighting one another as they had always done since the day when capitalism was born and will do as long as it remains.

As the world drama of clashing social systems led the Soviet Union towards the centre of the stage, at the head of the Union, sombre, confident, superbly trained, Joseph Stalin waited for the German blow. “Hitler,” he said, “asks for a war of annihilation. We will give him one.”



1.  Leninism, p. 360.

Next: XV. Stalin and the War