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New International, February 1948


Ricky Saunders

Inside the Stalin-Hitler Deal

Political Digest of the Secret Documents


From New International, Vol. XIV No. 2, February 1948, pp. 42–49.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.



Ribbentrop – German Foreign Minister

Weizsäcker – German Foreign Office, State Secretary

Schulenburg – German Ambassador to Russia

Schnurre – German Foreign Office economic expert

Molotov – Russian Foreign Affairs Commissar

Astakhov – Russian Embassy Counselor in Germany

The State Department has struck a major blow in its “cold war” against Russia through its publication of the secret documents [1] from the German Foreign Office archives, revealing the intimate details of Nazi-Stalin relations immediately prior to and during the period of their partnership. It is unnecessary to decide whether the immediate primary motivation was the international situation or the Democratic administration’s desire to embarrass and discredit Wallace’s appease Russia campaign for president, since it neatly achieves both aims; but it is hard to believe that there is a soul in the country who takes seriously the government’s claim, in the introduction to the book, of an objective interest in publishing an “authoritative and scholarly documentary record of German foreign policy” – the first installment of which just happens to be about 1939–41.

Washington, faced with the necessity of preparing the people psychologically for the Third World War, is using every weapon at its disposal: witch hunts, loyalty oaths, deportations, anti-red drives, and now – even a part of the truth, that part of the truth which blackens its rival. American imperialism is systematically trying to work up its war-weary people into an acceptance of war with Russian imperialism. But this latest weapon has a double edge: Russia is driven in turn to announce the publication of its own captured German documents (without explaining why they have been concealed till now) and these will deal especially with the years 1937–38. They will expose England, the US and France – the Moscow radio bitterly replies – as friends, abettors and inciters of Nazi power. Looking forward expectantly, we have no doubt that, though the language may be less blatant, the promised documents will reveal the same imperialist designs, the same cynical disregard of the rights of peoples, the same plans to divide the globe as are found in the present State Department book. To be sure, it is doubtful whether the New York Times will spread the new documents over five pages of two issues; the Daily Worker, organ of the rival warmongers, will have to be depended on this time. And so, first from the pot and then from the kettle, a fair portion of the truth behind the Second Wor1d War is liable to emerge. The end result may even bear a plus sign for the cause of the people against imperialism. In any case, with respect to their present publishing enterprises we are impartially cheering them on: Go to it, Towser! Tear into him, Fido! As the dirt flies and piles up, the revolutionary socialists will make use of this split in the camp of imperialism to demonstrate conclusively, to those people who may be duped by either side, that their choice must be the third camp of labor against war; that they must reject the brutal designs of all the imperialist powers to throw us into a new blood bath.

This first installment of the truth can leave not a shred of doubt in the mind of any half-reasonable person of the success of its carefully limited aim: to expose Stalinist Russia as a thoroughly cynical partner and imperialist tool of Hitler’s drive for conquest. Everyone of the lies hastily invented by the Stalinists and their fellow travelers in ’39 and ’40 is rammed down their throats. And as for the pseudo-Marxist zombies and their undead formulas about “degenerated workers’ state” and “defense of the Soviet Union” – their rationalizations of ’39–’40 are also now the most devastating reflections on their theory. A detailed digest of the documents makes the above sweeping conclusions seem like understatements.

1. Who Took the Initiative?

The documents as selected begin with April but the, beginning is traceable earlier. In the October 8, 1938, issue of the Socialist Appeal Trotsky’s famous prediction already indicated the starting point:

The collapse of Czechoslovakia is the collapse of Stalin’s international policy of the last five years. Moscow’s idea of “an alliance of democracies” for a struggle against fascism is a lifeless fiction ... We may now expect with certainty Soviet diplomacy to attempt rapprochement with Hitler ...

The first step [2] was taken by Stalin himself in March 1939 in a speech at the 18th Congress of the Russian Communist Party. Of this speech Max Shachtman wrote at that time:

The democratic front ... Stalin has dropped overboard without a splash. In its place ... Stalin holds out the olive branch to the fascist powers, to Germany primarily ... In actuality he offers all apology for them and their activities. [Socialist Appeal, Mar. 17]

This was confirmed by Molotov later during the post-midnight toast-drinking that followed the signing of the pact:

Herr Molotov raised his glass to Stalin, remarking that it had been Stalin who – through his speech of March of this year, which had been well understood in Germany – had brought about the reversal in political relations. [Page 76]

On April 17 the Russian ambassador took the first direct step. Speaking to Weizsäcker about a Russian order for war materiel, he used the occasion to make an open statement summarized by Weizsäcker as follows:

Ideological differences of opinion had hardly influenced the Russian-Italian relationship, and they did not have to prove a stumbling block with regard to Germany either. Soviet Russia had not exploited the present friction between Germany and the Western democracies against us, nor did she desire to do so. 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. [2]

Then on May 3 Litvinov was dismissed as foreign commissar, “with great fanfare,” and “Molotov (no Jew)” appointed in his place “apparently to guarantee that the foreign policy will be continued strictly in accordance with Stalin’s ideas” says the wire from the German embassy in Moscow. Two days later the Russian charge in Berlin, Astakhov, visited the foreign office, “touched upon the dismissal of Litvinov and tried without asking direct questions to learn whether this event would cause a change in our position toward the Soviet Union. We stressed very much the great importance of the personality of Molotov ...” [3] The German response so far was merely to moderate the anti-Russian tone of their press, like an orchestra.

Molotov took up the game in Moscow on May 20, broadly hinting to Schulenburg that he wanted “better political bases” between the two countries [6–7] but Schulenburg was instructed to “sit tight and wait to see if the Russians will speak more openly.” [7] By the end of the month the Nazis “decided to undertake definite negotiations with the Soviet Union.” We will see why later.

The first to bring up the proposal for a non-aggression pact was also Molotov [52] and the Nazis accepted the next day, August 16. At this conference with Schulenburg, Molotov told him that “The Soviet Government all through recent years had been under the impression that the German Government had no desire to bring about an improvement in relations with the Soviet Union ... As regards the Soviet Government, it had always had a favorable attitude with regard to the question of good relations with Germany and was happy that this was now the case on the German side also.” [55]

The day of the People’s Front Against Fascism was not only over – it had, you see, been only a misunderstanding. Stalin had made several grabs for Hitler’s coat-tails and had finally managed to hang on.

2. Did Stalin Prefer a British Pact?

All of the above was going on while a British-French mission was publicly in Moscow for the purpose of negotiating a projected alliance. After the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed, the Stalinist story was that the British had forced Russia into Hitler’s arms, by stalling and rejecting their endeavors to come to an agreement ... What else could Russia do under those circumstances? – asked the Stalinists.

What emerges from the documents is the fact that British imperialism was indeed anxious to come to an agreement with Stalin, to save its own skin; Russia stalled precisely because what it really wanted was a tie-up with Hitler instead.

As early as May 17 Astakhov confided to Schnurre that “under the present circumstances the result desired by England would hardly be achieved,” [5] and later, that Russia “was vacillating between three possibilities, namely the conclusion of the pact with England and France, a further dilatory treatment of the pact negotiations, and a rapprochement with Germany. This last possibility, with which ideological considerations would not have to become involved, was closest to the desires of the Soviet Union.” [2]

Schnurre summarized the reason why a pact with Hitler was closer to Stalin’s heart:

What could England offer Russia! At best, participation in a European war and the hostility of Germany, but not a single desirable end for Russia. What could we offer, on the other hand? Neutrality and staying out of a possible European conflict and, if Moscow wished, a German-Russian understanding on mutual interests which, just as in former times [i.e., under the Czar and Kaiser – R.S.] would work out to the advantage of both countries. [34]

And so Stalin dragged out the negotiations with the British and French while he angled for his heart’s desire. Schulenburg gives a vignette of the process of Russian stalling:

Concerning the political negotiations up to now, we hear that throughout Herr Molotov sat like a bump on a log. He hardly ever opened his mouth, and if he did it was to utter only the brief remark: “Your statements do not appear to me entirely satisfactory. I shall notify my government.” The British and the French Ambassadors are both said to be completely exhausted and glad that they now have a breathing spell ahead of them. The Frenchman said to one of my informants: “Thank God that that fellow will not participate in the military negotiations!” [42]

As we shall see, not only was it Stalin that wooed Hitler, but it was Hitler who broke off the affair.

3. Which Was Germany’s Enemy No.1?

Some would-be Marxists and others who are self-hypnotized by a conception of Russia as some kind of “workers’ state” deduce from their theory that Hitler must have regarded Russia as his primary foe, even if he first attacked to the West for strategic reasons. For all his anti-Comintern demagogy Hitler himself did not share this opinion. Weizsäcker frankly explains the Nazi orientation to the Japanese ambassador:

It was as clear as day that for Japan England had become Enemy No. 1, just as Germany also was threatened much less by Russian than by English policy. [71]

The phrase “threatened by,” of course, is simply diplomatic jargon. What it meant, we shall see, is that Hitler’s main aim in the war was to take over Britain’s “bankrupt estate” – her empire. This is what made it Enemy No.1; the antagonisms among the imperialists were more important than the difference in social system between Stalin’s form of exploitation and the capitalist form. That Stalin knew this just as well was so much taken for granted by the Nazis that (in the post-midnight toasting already referred to) Ribbentrop and Stalin could exchange quips about it.

The Reich Foreign Minister observed that the Anti-Comintern Pact was basically directed not against the Soviet Union, but against the Western democracies. He knew, and was able to infer from the tone of the Russian press, that the Soviet government fully recognized this fact.

Herr Stalin interposed that the Anti-Comintern Pact had in fact frightened principally the City of London and the small British merchants.

The Reich Foreign Minister concurred and remarked jokingly that Herr Stalin was surely less frightened by the Anti-Comintern Pact than the City of London and the small British merchants. What the German people thought of this matter is evident from a joke which had originated with the Berliners, well known for their wit and humor, and which had been going the round for several months, namely, “Stalin will yet join the Anti-Comintern Pact.” [75]

The official report in which this scene occurs does not record that the two blades thereupon laughed uproariously and slapped each other on the back.

4. The Partnership Against Poland

The Stalinists in 1939 represented the rape of Poland in the following way: Hitler attacked Poland; Russia became frightened by this act which brought the Nazi army nearer its borders, and therefore marched in its turn to meet the German “enemy” half-way; this prevented Hitler from taking all of Poland and also erected a buffer for the defense of the Soviet workers’ fatherland. We shall now see not only the truth behind this lie but also how the lie itself was manufactured to specifications.

As far back as July 26 Astakhov, bidding for the pact, offered Danzig and the Corridor on a platter:

As to Poland, he [Astakhov] stated that Danzig would return to the Reich in one way or another and that the Corridor question would have to be solved somehow in favor of the Reich. [34]

The Secret Protocol, which was “an integral part of the Pact,” [66] already disposed of Poland. Its point 2 established the boundary line between “the spheres of influence of Germany and the USSR,” and added:

The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish state and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments. In any event both governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement. [78]

This friendly agreement was made on September 25, by Stalin personally with Schulenburg:

Stalin stated the following: In the final settlement of the Polish question anything that in the future might create friction between Germany and the Soviet Union must be avoided. From this point of view, he considered it wrong to leave an independent Polish rump state. [102–103]

And he made his proposal for the exact demarcation line. Thus it was by the express wish of Stalin that no buffer rump state was left between the German and Russian lines!

The fact that, with respect to Poland, the “Non-Aggression Pact” was a military alliance for aggression is more fully documented than we have space to quote. Not only was the military invasion coordinated and planned: of the two partners it was Hitler who was insistent and anxious that the Russian army march into take care of its share of Poland. The following exchange took place:

[Ribbentrop to Schulenburg, Sept. 3] Please discuss this at once with Molotov and see if the Soviet Union does not consider it desirable for Russian forces to move at the proper time against Polish forces in the Russian sphere of interest and, for their part, to occupy this territory. In our estimation this would be not only a relief for us, but also, in the sense of the Moscow agreements, in the Soviet interest as well.

[Molotov to Ribbentrop, Sept. 5] We agree with you that at a suitable time it will be absolutely necessary for us to start concrete action. We are of the view, however, that this time has not yet come.

[Schulenburg, Sept. 10] I explained emphatically to Molotov how crucial speedy action of the Red Army was at this juncture. Molotov repeated that everything possible was being done to expedite matters.

[Ribbentrop, Sept. 15] ... we assume that the Soviet Government will take a hand militarily, and that it intends to begin its operation now. We welcome this. The Soviet Government thus relieves us of the necessity of annihilating the remainder of the Polish Army by pursuing it as far as the Russian boundary. Also the question is disposed of in case a Russian intervention did not take place, of whether in the area lying to the east of the German zone of influence a political vacuum might not occur. Since we on our part have no intention of undertaking any political or administrative activities in these areas, apart from what is made necessary by military operations, without such an intervention on the part of the Soviet Government there might be the possibility of the construction of new states there.

... we would be gratified if the Soviet Government would set a day and hour on which their army would begin their advance, so that we on our part might govern ourselves accordingly. For the purpose of the necessary coordination of military operations on either side, it is also necessary that a representative of each Government, as well as German and Russian officers on the spot in the area of operations, should have a meeting in order to take the necessary steps, for which meeting we propose to assemble at Bialystok by air.

[Schulenburg, Sept. 17] In future all military matters that come up are to be handled by Lt. GeIl. Kostring directly with Voroshilov [86–96 passim]

5. The Partners Concoct Stalin’s Story

We are now in a position to witness a truly remarkable spectacle – a candid-camera view of the Nazi and Russian bureaucrats putting their heads together to fabricate the propaganda whitewash which the Stalinists would thereupon spread through their worldwide stooges. How were the Stalinists going to justify abroad the joint assault on Poland?

... [Schulenburg] Then Molotov came to the political side of the matter and stated that the Soviet Government had intended to take the occasion of the further advance of German troops to declare that Poland was falling apart and that it was necessary for the Soviet Union, in consequence, to come to the aid of the Ukrainians and the White Russians “threatened” by Germany, This argument was to make the intervention of the Soviet Union plausible to the masses and at the same time avoid giving the Soviet Union the appearance of an aggressor.

But, Schulenburg explains, this intention has been embarrassed by the press statement of a German general.

The report created the impression that a German-Polish armistice was imminent. If, however, Germany concluded an armistice, the Soviet Union could not start a “new war.” [91]

Ribbentrop informed his ambassador that the point about the German general’s report “was based on a complete misunderstanding ... There can be no question of imminent conclusion of an armistice with Poland.” Molotov could stop worrying: there would be no bothersome conclusion of peace. After all, how can even a Stalinist hypocrite claim to be protecting the Poles against the Nazis if the Nazis inconsiderately stop their advance?

The next day Molotov wanted some more help from Ribbentrop in order to prepare the story we were going to read in the Daily Worker.

[Schulenburg] For the political motivation of Soviet action (the collapse of Poland and protection of Russian “minorities”) it was of the greatest importance not to take action until the governmental center of Poland; the city of Warsaw, had fallen. Molotov therefore asked that he be informed as nearly as possible as to when the capture of Warsaw could be counted on. [92–93]

But by this time the Nazis had decided that Stalin’s proposed lie was unsuitable .. Ribbentrop proposed instead a joint communiqué which referred to “the intolerable political and economic conditions” in Poland as requiring “their joint duty to restore peace and order.” He wired his ambassador:

We assume in proposing such a communiqué that the Soviet Government has already given up the idea ... of taking the threat to the Ukrainian and White Russian populations by Germany as a ground for Soviet action. The assignment of a motive of that sort would be out of the question in practice. [94]

His reason was that he did not wish Germany represented as threatening these populations since they were outside the “well-known German spheres of interest,” and also that he did not want the two partners to appear “before the whole world as enemies.” Meanwhile; on the other hand, Molotov had decided against a joint communiqué of any kind with the Nazis. He so informed the German ambassador, who reported:

The Soviet Government intended to motivate its procedure as follows: the Polish State had collapsed and no longer existed; therefore all agreements concluded with Poland were void; third powers might try to profit by the chaos which had arisen; the Soviet Union considered itself obligated to intervene to protect its Ukrainian and White Russian brothers and make it possible for these unfortunate people to work in peace.

Molotov conceded that the projected argument of the Soviet Government contained a note that was jarring to German sensibilities but asked that in view of the difficult situation of the Soviet Government we not let a trifle like this stand in our way. The Soviet Government unfortunately saw no possibility of any other motivation, since the Soviet Union had thus far not concerned itself about the plight of its minorities in Poland and had to justify abroad, in some way or other, its present intervention. [95]

But, as often happened when Molotov stiffened up, Stalin intervened to reverse him in favor of the Nazis:

[Schulenburg] Stalin read me a note that ... contains a justification for the Soviet action. The draft read to me contained three points unacceptable to us. In answer to my objections, Stalin with the utmost readiness so altered the text that the note now seems satisfactory for us. [96]

Stalin also accepted a joint Communiqué, but

... he [Stalin] could not entirely agree to the text proposed by us since it presented the facts all too frankly. Thereupon Herr Stalin wrote out a new draft in his own hand and asked that the consent of the German Government be obtained to this new draft. [99]

Ribbentrop accepted Stalin’s draft and it was published. The draft said nothing about protecting anybody against the Nazis. Ribbentrop had won out on that, thanks to Stalin. On the other hand, it also did not have Ribbentrop’s “all too frank” wording that "They regard it as their joint duty to restore peace and order in these areas which are naturally of interest to them and to bring about a new order,” etc. Its motivation was merely “restore peace and order” and “the collapse of the Polish state.”

The originally conceived story about “protecting the minorities against the Germans;” rejected from the communiqué, appeared instead in the Daily Worker, L’Humanité and the other organs of Hitler’s partner.

6. How the Pact Helped the Nazis

In 1939 we stated that it was the Stalin-Nazi Pact which gave the “green light” to Hitler for his invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War. It was then a deduction from the situation, denied not only by the Stalinists but also by the Cannon-Trotskyists. The statement, however, was even truer than we thought.

As long before the pact as June, Schulenburg wrote: “ ... the Reich could take a stronger stand toward France if Poland were kept in check by the Soviet Union, thus relieving our eastern boundary.” [18] On August 3 Ribbentrop wrote the ambassador: “In case of provocation [sic] on the part of Poland, we would settle matters with Poland in the space of a week. For this contingency, I dropped a gentle hint at coming to an agreement with Russia on the fate of Poland.” [38]

It was, in fact, the expected “provocation” which induced the Nazis to accept Stalin’s olive branch, in order to have their flank covered by Russia. And then they were in a hurry to get the pact signed so that they could get to work on the “provocation.” On August 16, again on August 18,and a third time later the same day, Ribbentrop wired his ambassador that the attack on Poland was due soon and the pact had to be hurried: “... you must keep in mind the decisive fact that an early outbreak of open German-Polish conflict is probable and that we therefore have the greatest interest in having my visit to Moscow take place immediately.” [58, 61, 63] On the 20th, Hitler himself sent an urgent wire to Herr Stalin, including: “The tension between Germany and Poland has become intolerable ... In my opinion, it is desirable, in view of the intentions of the two states to enter into a new relation to each other, not to lose any time.” [67] Two days after the receipt of this wire, Ribbentrop was in Moscow. Then the Wehrmacht rolled.

Over a year later, on his visit to Berlin, Molotov’s conversation with Hitler went back over these golden days of friendship. His remarks are summarized in the Foreign Office minutes:

Upon his departure from Moscow, Stalin had given him exact instructions, and everything that he was about to say was identical with the views of Stalin. He concurred in the opinion of the Führer that both partners had derived substantial benefits from the German-Russian agreement. Germany had received a secure hinterland that, as was generally known, had been of great importance for the further course of events during the year of war. In Poland, too, Germany had gained considerable economic advantages. By the exchange of Lithuania for the Voivodeship of Lublin, all possible friction between Russia and Germany had been avoided. [232]

In a further conversation with Hitler during this same visit to Berlin, Molotov sought to claim credit not only for the successful spoliation of Poland but also for the Nazi victories in the West. The minutes report him as saying that

... if he [Molotov] drew up a balance sheet of the situation that resulted after the defeat of France, he would have to state that the German-Russian agreement had not been without influence upon the great German victories. [238]

As a matter of fact, Hitler fully recognized Russia’s contribution to his power. Writing to Mussolini two days after the signing of the pact, he stated vigorously:

I believe I may say to you, Duce, that through the negotiations with Soviet Russia a completely new situation in world politics has been produced which must be regarded as the greatest possible gain for the Axis. [81]

Mussolini’s reply not only expressed full agreement but adduced further evidence of the “gain to the Axis”:

The Moscow treaty blockades Rumania and can alter the position of Turkey, which accepted the English loan, but which has not yet signed the treaty of alliance. A new attitude on the part of Turkey would upset all the strategic plans of the French and English in the Eastern Mediterranean. [82]

Mussolini is here chortling over the gains to his end of the Axis accruing from the pact. In fact, throughout, one subject that Führer, Duce and Vozhd could always agree on was the tremendous aid that the pact meant to the imperialist expansion of all three. In this context the following has only the interest of one item among many:

[Foreign Office to Schulenburg, Sept. 5, 1940] The Navy intends to abandon the base on the Murman Coast, as such are now available in Norway ... convey our thanks for valuable assistance. [185]

7. Russia’s Economic Aid to Hitler

The economic side of the alliance was no small part of Russia’s aid to the Nazi conquests. This side of the pact was often explained away by the Stalinists as “simply a business proposition,” or with the claim that Germany never did in fact get much from it, or, more modestly, that at any rate Russia got more than Germany. All three of these claims are thoroughly refuted by the documents.

The notion that economic agreements could be “simply a business proposition” under the circumstances of power relations in the midst of war was always an ignorant and naive fantasy where it was not a deliberate hoax; the whole story of the negotiations leading up to the pact, as unfolded in the documents, revolves around the axiomatic assumption by both parties that any economic agreement depended upon political agreement and that the latter must also involve the former. Schnurre, economic expert of the German Foreign Office, only summed up his actual experience in his note for his own chiefs:

Despite all these difficulties, during the long negotiations [for the commercial agreement of February 11, 1940] the desire of the Soviet Government to help Germany and to consolidate firmly the political understanding in economic matters too, became more and more evident. [134]

During the very first economic negotiations that followed the pact, Schnurre noted in a memorandum that “these negotiations will be a test of whether and how far Stalin is prepared to draw practical conclusions from the new political course.” And in this same memorandum, headed “Outline for My Conversations in Moscow,” the Nazi official continues:

The raw materials deliveries requested by us can only be carried out, in view of the unsatisfactory supply situation of Russia, at the expense of their own Russian consumption. [120]

The raw materials that went to Hitler to keep him satisfied with the alliance came out of the bellies of the Russian people.

We do not have the space to cite the detailed figures given for the huge quantities of raw materials which flowed into the Nazi war machine from Russia. “It was possible so to arrange these raw material commitments of the Russians,” notes Schnurre, “that our wishes were largely met.” [84] He adds that it was a question, in particular, “of lumber, cotton, feedgrain, oil cake, phosphate, platinum, raw furs, petroleum, and other goods which for us have a more or less gold value.” Suffice it to say that on September 28, 1940, he summed up the balance sheet as follows for the benefit of Ribbentrop:

The supplies from the Russians have heretofore been a very substantial prop to the German war economy. Since the new commercial treaties went into effect, Russia has supplied over 300 million Reichsmarks worth of raw materials, roughly 100 million Reichsmarks of which was grain. Russia has thus far received compensation only in the amount of about 150 million Reichsmarks. The striking disproportion between German and Russian deliveries is evident from the fact that in August, as against 65 million Reichsmarks of Russian deliveries, ... there were only 20 million Reichsmarks of German deliveries. [201]

In Schnurre’s very last balance sheet (May 15; 1941, little more than a month before Hitler attacked his generous partner) he not only says that “The status of Soviet raw material deliveries still presents a favorable picture,” but adds that “I am under the impression that we could make economic demands on Moscow which would even go beyond the scope of the treaty of January10, 1941, demands designed to secure German food and raw material requirements beyond the extent now contracted for. The quantities of raw materials now contracted for are being delivered punctually by the Russians, despite the heavy burden this imposes on them, which ... is a notable performance ...” [340–1]

The reason for the “striking disproportion” was the fact that “the Soviet deliveries, which are to be made within 18 months, will be compensated by German deliveries in turn within 27 months. The most difficult point of the correspondence of September 28, 1939, namely, that the Soviet raw material deliveries are to be compensated by German industrial deliveries over a longer period [emphasis in original], is thereby settled in accordance with our wishes.” [131–132] The result was that, in his last report a month before the break-up, Schnurre shows Russia left holding the bag: “the non-fulfillment of German commitments will only make itself felt after August 1941, since until then Russia is obligated to make deliveries in advance.” [340]

It is very interesting to note at this point that, while the Russian rulers were systematically depriving their people of food in order to feed the Nazi juggernaut, German capitalists were straining at the leash against the drain of industrial goods required by the deal. In the same report a month before the attack, we read that “German industry ... is eager to withdraw from its engagements with Russia and in some cases already refuses to dispatch to Moscow the personnel needed for the execution of the contracts.” [341] These diplomatic documents do not provide any further information about this capitalist pressure on Hitler, but it suggests an important counterbalance to a purely political and diplomatic explanation of why Hitler decided to break.

... But the raw-material supply from Russia itself was not the only aid rendered by the alliance.

[Schnurre] In addition, there are other important benefits ... the Soviet Union had granted us the right of transit to and from Rumania, Iran and Afghanistan and the countries of the Far East, which is particularly important ... The freight rates of the Trans-Siberian Railroad were reduced by 50 percent for soy beans ... Furthermore, the Soviet Union declared her willingness to act as buyer of metals and raw materials in third countries ... Stalin himself has repeatedly promised generous help in this respect ... The Agreement means a wide open door to the East for us ... the effects of the English blockade will be decisively weakened by the incoming raw materials. [132–4, emphasis in original] ... Our sole economic connection with Iran, Afghanistan, Manchukuo, Japan and, beyond that, with South America, is the route across Russia, which is being used to an increasing extent ... [201]

No wonder Hitler considered the pact “the greatest possible gain for the Axis.”

8. Partners in Plunder

It is unnecessary to add, after all this, that the only question of importance in the negotiations of the partners was: What do I get and what do you get? All of Eastern Europe became a grabbag. We do not deny that people exist on this planet who can read the record and still insist that the term “Russian imperialism” is “un-Marxist,” but then few things are impossible for the human mind.

Certainly the hard-headed bureaucrats of the German Foreign Office had no illusions on that score, nor did the private talks between the partners suffer much from embarrassed euphemistic terminology. The page reference for this statement is 1 to 362. There is, of course, a standard diplomatic jargon for these matters which is regularly employed: “respect the vital Soviet interests in the Baltic;” “settlement of spheres of interest in the Baltic area”; in the middle of the August 23, 1939, parley in Moscow when the pact was signed, Ribbentrop wires home that “it transpired that the decisive point for the final result is the demand of the Russians that we recognize the ports of Libau and Windau as within their sphere of influence,” etc. And up to a certain point, the partners did not lock fingers in the grabbag.

The Secret Protocol [78] had assigned Finland to the then junior partner, and over a year later Molotov agreed with Hitler that “during the Russo-Finnish war Germany had meticulously fulfilled all her obligations in regard to absolutely benevolent neutrality.” [235] On October 9, 1939, the Nazis already let the Finns know they would not intervene to save them. When the Russians invaded, Weizsäcker instructed all German missions abroad to “please avoid any anti-Russian note” but rather to repeat the Russian justification for the attack; and he added: “In conversations, sympathy is to be expressed for the Russian pointof view. Please refrain from expressing any sympathy for the Finnish position.” [127–130]

When Russia took over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; the Germans carefully maintained the same benevolent “neutrality.” When in June 1940 the Rumanian government balked at giving up Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to Russia, Ribbentrop wired them to shut up and come across: “In order to avoid war between Rumania and the Soviet Union, we can only advise the Rumanian Government to yield to the Soviet Government’s demand.” [163]

In the case of Finland, the German missions abroad were instructed that in their conversation “England’s guilt in the Russo-Finnish conflict should be especially emphasized.” This was the formula for both ends of the Berlin-Moscow axis: when Hitler attacked the West through the Low Countries, Schulenburg reported, “Molotov appreciated the news and added that he understood that Germany had to protect herself against Anglo-French attack. He had no doubt of our success.” [142] And at the end of that campaign, “Molotov summoned me this evening to his office and expressed the warmest congratulations of the Soviet Government on the splendid success of the German Armed Forces.” [154] Molotov’s earlier message on the end of the Polish invasion will probably become as famous as the winged words about fascism being a “matter of taste”:

I have received your communication regarding the entry of German troops into Warsaw. Please convey my congratulations and greetings to the German Reich Government. Molotov. [89]

Were these messages merely diplomatic pleasantries? Wasn’t it rather true that the German military victories inspired Stalin and Molotov with fear and foreboding as Hitler grew stronger? Reasonable as this view might have appeared during the war, the documents show that it was not only a mistaken opinion but that the very opposite was true: Russian friendliness and desire to cooperate with Hitler grew and burgeoned in proportion as Hitler beat down his Western foes! If Hitler’s successive victories led to the break, it was not because of Russian qualms but because of German cockiness.

This Russian reaction is documented in detail in the case of Hitler’s conquest of Norway. As in the above cases Molotov gave the enterprise his blessing, of course:

[Schulenburg] Molotov declared that the Soviet Government understood the measures which were forced upon Germany; The English had certainly gone too far; they had disregarded completely the rights of neutral nations. In conclusion, Molotov said literally: “We wish Germany complete success in her defensive measures.” [138]

But although Schulenburg thought the above information important enough to mark his wire “Very Urgent,” it is not as interesting as his next one:

For some time we have observed in the Soviet Government a distinct shift which was unfavorable to us. In all fields we suddenly came up against obstacles which were, in many cases, completely unnecessary ... [A number of petty obstacles are then described.]

We asked ourselves in vain what the reason might be for the sudden change of attitude of the Soviet authorities. After all, nothing at all had “happened” I ... On the 8th of this month I therefore asked for permission to see Herr Molotov – i.e., before the Scandinavian events. Actually, the visit to Herr Molotov did not take place until the morning of the 9th-i.e., after our Scandinavian operations. During this talk it became apparent that the Soviet Government had again made a complete about-face. [Molotov‘s extreme affability and alacrity in removing the aforesaid obstacles are described.] ... I must honestly say that I was completely amazed at the change.

In my opinion there is only one explanation for this about-face: our Scandinavian operations ... must have relieved the Soviet Government enormously – removed a great burden of anxiety, so to speak ... I suspect the following: The Soviet Government is always extraordinarily well informed. If the English and French intended to occupy Norway and Sweden it may be assumed with certainty that the Soviet Government knew of these plans and was apparently terrified by them. The Soviet Government saw the English and French appearing on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and they saw the Finnish question reopened, as Lord Halifax had announced; finally they dreaded most of all the danger of becoming involved in a war with two Great Powers. Apparently this fear was relieved by us. Only in this way can the completely changed attitude of Herr Molotov be understood. Today’s long and conspicuous article in Izvestia on our Scandinavian campaign (already sent to you by wire) sounds like one big sigh of relief. [138–140]

Perhaps now we can all understand that when Molotov wished the Nazis complete success, he meant it. Schulenburg never again had occasion to report a Soviet change of attitude – until Hitler attacked.

9. Stalin Woos Japan

Returning to our unlucky Stalinists of 1939 we should remember that another tune they played on their phonograph was the story that the pact was a blow for peace and democracy because “it split Germany from Japan,” broke up the eastern end of the Axis. This fairy tale is particularly interesting because of the grain of truth it overlaid.

Whereas Mussolini was fully as enthusiastic about the alliance with Russia as were the Nazis, Japan was understandably put out at first, fearing that it would permit Russia to put more pressure behind her push to the east. Ribbentrop was aware of this Japanese attitude before he made the agreement. Isn’t it true, then, that the pact “split Germany from Japan”? Again – just as if all Stalinist stories are concocted by the simple procedure of standing the truth on its head – the facts show precisely the reverse!

One of the reasons Germany made the alliance with Stalin was because her relations with Japan were at that time unsatisfactory. The pact was not the cause but the consequence of this state of affairs, and it was then used by Hitler to draw Japan in where he wanted her – closer to Germany.

The day before the pact was signed Weizsäcker informed Ambassador Oshima, who displayed “a certain uneasiness.” In the course of the talk, Weizsäcker pointed out to the Japanese that “we had sought tirelessly to improve German-Japanese relations. We had waited for half a year to hear some echo from Japan.” [7l] But the wished-for response had not come. (Oshima ascribed that to Western influences at home.) So Germany had turned to Russia.

On a later occasion Ribbenttop went through it again with Oshima, at greater length:

Ambassador Oshima knew how these treaties [with Russia] had come about. Germany, at that time, had the desire to conclude an alliance with Japan. In view of the situation in Japan, it had not been possible to translate this desire into fact. On the other hand, the war clouds in Europe had become more and more threatening. At the Fiihrer’s instruction, the Reich Foreign Minister had been prepared for the six months preceding to sign the Italo-Japanese-German alliance. This Ambassador Oshima knew. Since the alliance was unfortunately not possible in that time, Germany, in view of the coming war, had to resolve on the pact with Russia. [284]

Not only did the pact not bring about discord between Germany and Japan but – keeping the Stalinist fairy tale in mind – the fact is that Russia was indeed anxious that this should not happen. From the beginning the Moscow gang exerted themselves to insure a united Axis. In the same breath in – which he first proposed a pact, Molotov also importuned the German government “to influence Japan for the purpose of improvement in Soviet-Japanese relations,” [52, 55] and Ribbentrop graciously consented [58]. When Ribbentrop got to see the Genial Leader himself, “Stalin considered the assistance of Germany in bringing about an improvement in Soviet-Japanese relations as useful, but he did not want the Japanese to get the impression that the initiative in this direction had been taken by the Soviet Union.” [72–73]

This latter did not progress very fast. It was not until early 1941 that Japan moved toward a tie-up with Russia, apparently as the result of having made up her mind to throw in completely with Hitler and do what Ribbentrop had been urging – attack the British in Singapore. On April 13 Foreign Minister Matsuoka – signed that Russo-Japanese Neutrality Pact in Moscow. The same day he summed up his gains to Schulenburg:

Matsuoka emphasized that the conclusion of the Neutrality Pact was of very great importance for Japan. It would make a powerful impression on Chiang Kai-shek and would appreciably ease Japanese negotiations with him. Also it would result in an appreciable strengthening of the position of Japan as over against America and England. Matsuoka added that the American and English journalists, who had reported yesterday that his journey to Moscow had been a complete failure, would be compelled today to acknowledge that the Japanese policy had achieved a great success, which could not fail to have its effect on England and America. [323]

Thus Matsuoka was squeezing the last drop of juice out of the Russian lemon while Hitler was already blueprinting Operation Barbarossa.

10. The Division of the Globe

A famous scene in Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator shows Schickelgruber in a symbolic dance with the globe of the world. The script for this scene is to be found on pages 213 to about 303 of the captured archives: Hitler’s plan for “the historical mission of the Four Powers – the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan, and Germany” and the “delimitation of their interests on a “World-wide scale.” [Ribbentrop’s letter to Stalin, Oct. 13, 1940, 213.] Stalin replied: “I agree with you that a further improvement in the relations between our countries is entirely possible on the permanent basis of a long-range delimitation of mutual interests.” [216] It was on the basis of this exchange that Molotov came to Berlin the following month.

Hitler explained his world plan in detail. The British Empire was a “bankrupt estate” of 40 million square kilometers. In this windfall there was plenty of loot for Russia. But the interested countries “would have to stop controversies among themselves and concern themselves exclusively with the partition of the British Empire ... He [Hitler] wanted to create a world coalition of interested powers which would consist of Spain, [Vichy] France, Italy, Germany, Soviet Russia, and Japan.” He had decided that this was feasible if these powers would “direct the momentum of their Lebensraum expansion entirely southward.” The Tripartite Pact would be enlarged to include Russia, the public text to be about the establishment of early peace while the secret protocol would establish the following world-wide division:

Germany, apart from territorial gains in Europe, would get Central Africa. Italy, again apart from European grabs would get North and Northeast-Africa. Japan might be satisfied with the regions south of the home island and Manchukuo. And “The focal points in the territorial aspirations of the Soviet Union would presumably be centered south of the territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean.” [249–250]

What did this last include, still following Hitler’s exposition to Molotov? He said:

Both partners of the German-Russian Pact had together done some good business ... The question now was, whether they could not continue in the future also to do good business together and ... whether in the long run the most advantageous access sea for Russia could not be found in the direction of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, and whether at the same time certain other aspirations of Russia in this part of Asia – in which Germany was completely disinterested – could not also be realized. [221–2]

Hitler also threw in for Russia “certain privileges” in the Black Sea area and dominance over the Straits (Dardanelles); and “An agreement could also be reached on possible Soviet aspirations in the direction of British India ...” [251] In short –

The Russian empire could develop without in the least prejudicing German interests. (Molotov said this was quite correct.) [229]

Molotov, we recognize, is not among those people claiming to be Marxists who object to the concept of Russian imperialism.

What was Moscow’s reaction to this grandiose plan? The Kremlin’s embarrassed counterblast against the State Department publication now claims that they were merely participating in these conversations in order to pump Hitler, as it were – feel him out. This is sure to convince everybody who reads only Russian papers, like Pravda or the Daily Worker.

In actual fact Molotov’s response on the spot was in favor of the New Order, with reservation only with regard to a more adequate definition of what Russia was to get. The latter point will concern us in the next section also. The Russian acceptance of the overall plan is beyond debate.

Molotov told Hitler immediately that the Russian government “would be interested in the New Order in Europe and particularly in the tempo and form of this New Order ... The participation of Russia in the Tripartite Pact appeared to him entirely acceptable in principle, provided that Russia was to cooperate as a partner and not be merely an object. In that case he saw no difficulties in the matter of participation of the Soviet Union in the common effort. But the aim and the significance of the Pact must first be more closely defined particularly because of the delimitation of the Greater EastAsian Sphere.” [233–4]

The last remark meant that Molotov wanted to know more about how East Asia was going to be divided up between Russia and Japan. As for China, the victim of Japanese imperialist aggression, Hitler had made its fate clear earlier in the conversation. The Fuhrer had proposed to arrange a deal between Chiang Kai-shek and Japan, diplomatically entitled a “compromise” and less politely known as a sell-out. The minutes had thereupon stated: “Molotov agreed with the remark concerning the advantages of a Sino-Japanese accord ...” [224] and this point excited no more discussion.

The Nazis prepared a draft of the proposed Four Power Pact and on November 26, 1940, Molotov gave the Russian answer. This frank and unbridled declaration of Russia’s imperial aims is quoted in full among the documents. With this reply the Kremlin raised the ante, threw its chips in the pot – and overplayed its hand:

The Soviet Government is prepared to accept the draft of the Four Power Pact which the Reich Foreign Minister outlined in the conversation of November 13, regarding political collaboration and reciprocal economic support subject to the following conditions:

(1) Provided that the German troops are immediately withdrawn from Finland, which, under the compact of 1939, belongs to the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. At the same time the Soviet Union undertakes ... to protect German economic interests in Finland (export of lumber arid nickel).

(2) Provided that ... the security of the Soviet Union in the Straits is assured by the conclusion of a mutual assistance pact between the Soviet Union and Bulgaria ... and by the establishment of a base for land and naval forces of the USSR within range of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles by means of a long-term lease.

(3) Provided that the area south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf is recognized as the center of aspirations of the Soviet Union.

(4) Provided that Japan renounces her rights to concessions for coal and oil in Northern Sakhalin.

... in case Turkey refuses to join the Four Powers [in handing the Straits over to Russia], Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union agree to work out and to carry through the required military and diplomatic measures ... [258–9]

The next document recorded is Hitler’s plan for Operation Barbarossa, drafted three weeks later, for an attack on Russia. This was Hitler’s reply to the Russian rulers’ bid for a larger cut of the swag.

11. Why Hitler Attacked Russia

Hitler’s letter to Mussolini just before the Wehrmacht rolled into Russia is interesting for many reasons but it is not the document which states the answer to the above question most clearly. The less emotional compositions of the Foreign Office diplomats are more enlightening. Hitler’s letter reverts to conjuring up the pre-pact bogy of Russian “Bolshevism” and (bourgeois historians being what they are) its last paragraph about the Fuhrer’s “mental agonies” is likely to receive more attention than Ribbentrop’s less psychological but many times repeated references to Russia’s “unacceptable conditions.” [284, 301, 304, 304–5, 348] The first instance may be quoted to stand for all:

After Molotov’s visit, during which accession to the Three Power Pact was offered, Russia had made conditions that were unacceptable. They involved the sacrifice of German interests in Finland, the granting of bases on the Dardanelles and a strong influence on conditions in the Balkans, particularly in Bulgaria. The Fuhrer had not concurred because he had been of the opinion that Germany could not permanently subscribe to such a Russian policy. Germany needed the Balkan peninsula above all for her own economy and had not been inclined to let it come under Russian domination. [284]

Subsequently Hitler remembered his “mental agonies” and Ribbentrop even threw in general remarks about “Communist sabotage” in Germany – transparent fabrications, in view of the fact that in all the archives there is not a single reference to any such action either among the Nazi bureaucrats themselves or in notes to Moscow, in contrast to the fact that the mere publication of a faintly critical anti-German passage in a newspaper in Russian-controlled Riga had elicited a sharp protest from the Nazis (and an apology by the Kremlin).

So the Germans decided that Russia was getting too ambitious and was reaching out too far. But couldn’t they have merely said No and slapped away the greedy hand? Why was military conquest necessary?

Here Hitler’s letter does give the answer. Now that he appreciated the character of Russia’s intentions, he was afraid that Russia would take advantage of his preoccupation with England to realize her aims through a “strategy of extortion”:

If circumstances should give me cause to employ the German air force against England, there is danger that Russia will then begin its strategy of extortion in the South and North [i.e., in the Balkans and Finland], to which I would have to yield in silence, simply from a feeling of air inferiority ... If I do not wish to expose myself to this danger, then perhaps the whole year of 1941 will go by without any change in the general situation. [350]

And so, wisely or unwisely, Hitler decided to call off the grasping hand on the east before he plucked the juicy plum on the west. At the time it was a common opinion that his main objective was the bread basket of the Ukraine and its food supply; this was not true. In the first place, Hitler’s letter (and no other document) mentions this only in passing as a useful by-product; in the second place, as we have made clear, the Germans were satisfied that Russia was already putting on a “notable performance” in supplying them with grain. The break-up of the partnership was a chemically pure case of a collision over mutually coveted imperialist spoils, and nothing else.


At this point, among other reasons to prove conclusively from the Russian side that the Hitler-Stalin break came solely and exclusively by German choice, we should analyze the documentation of Stalin’s humiliating scramble to hang on to the Nazi band wagon in the last period of the alliance. This material, however, will be included in a supplementary article in next month’s New International dealing especially with Stalin’s personal role in the whole affair, and so only its context need be noted here. We conclude this factual presentation on the same note with which the Stalin-Nazi deal ended – a high rising whine from Molotov on the day before the Germans attacked:

[Molotov to the German ambassador] There were a number of indications that the German Government was dissatisfied with the Soviet Government, Rumors were even current that a war was impending between Germany and the Soviet Union ... The Soviet Government was unable to understand the reasons for Germany’s dissatisfaction. If the Yugoslav question had at the time given rise to such dissatisfaction, he – Molotov – believed that, by means of his earlier communications, he had cleared up this question, which, moreover, was a thing of the past, He would appreciate it if I could tell him what had brought about the present situation in German-Soviet Russian relations.

I replied that I could not answer his question, as I lacked the pertinent information ... [355]

Now Molotov knows, and it is to be hoped that others (even some self-styled Marxists) have found out. The answer is: Nazi and Stalinist imperialism.


1. Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941, Documents from the Archives of the German Foreign Office, ed. by R.T. Sontag and T.S. Beddie, pub. by the State Department, 1948, 362 + XXXVII pages, $1.00. Obtained by writing to Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington 25, D.C. A commercial hard-cover edition is being brought out by the Didier Pub. Co. at $3.00. All numbers in brackets in the course of this article refer to page numbers in this book.

2. There are two events before this date unclearly referred to in the documents. Weizsäcker writes in a memorandum: “Before our treaty with Poland we had rejected a Russian offer of alliance ...” [14–15] but this intriguing remark is not further explained. Secondly, in January 1939 Moscow was awaiting the arrival of a German trade negotiator “only to receive a cancellation at the last moment, amidst the ridicule of the foreign press” [12]. Undoubtedly Stalin hoped to broach the question on this occasion; when the Germans stood him up, he had to resort to waving the olive branch in March.

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