Note: This article was originally published in the September/October 2005 Issue of LALKAR newspaper in Britain, and has been written by its Editor, Comrade Harpal Brar (Founding Chairman, CPGB-ML).
The article can be read on LALKAR’s website by clicking here.
Bourgeois ideologists in imperialist ‘democracies’, to camouflage the pro-fascist sympathies and actions of their own bourgeoisie, have always tried to distort and falsify the origin, the content, the reasons behind, and the effect, of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, popularly known as the Hitler-Stalin or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Trotskyites, as on every other question, in this instance too have been happy to repeat the bourgeois imperialist lies and falsification.
That the imperialist bourgeoisie and its agents in the working-class movement – social democrats and Trotskyists – should attack the Soviet policy is perfectly understandable. The Soviet policy turned the tables on imperialism when it had been hoping to crush Bolshevism but now found itself locked into a bitter war against itself. The imperialists of Britain, who had hoped to turn Nazi Germany against Soviet Russia, were now obliged to fight against Nazi Germany. The conduct of the Soviet and Comintern policy contributed in no small measure to bringing about the situation in which imperialists of different countries were forced to wage a war of destruction against each other instead of uniting in a war of extermination against the socialist USSR.
In the light of this, is it surprising that the imperialists should attack Stalin, the CPSU(B) and the Comintern? Can we expect the imperialists to be grateful to the CPSU(B), the Comintern and Stalin for weakening imperialism? As for the Trotskyites, we have shown in our earlier publications  that in the 1930s they had become an agency of fascism and worked for the defeat of the USSR. It was not therefore surprising that Trotskyites should attack the “Stalinist bureaucracy” for frustrating the plans of Trotskyist agents of fascism.
Hitherto, however, Marxist-Leninists and progressive people all over the world regarded the conduct of Soviet and Comintern policy during the period under discussion as a model for the application of the tactics of Leninism to an extremely complicated and dangerous international situation, which led to the defeat of fascism and to the weakening of international imperialism. But, since the early 1970s, thanks to the consolidation and growth of Khrushchevite revisionism, whose treachery ultimately resulted in the collapse of the USSR, revisionist parties and organisations have been happy to join imperialist and Trotskyist circles in denouncing the Soviet Union, and Stalin in particular, for signing the Non-Aggression Pact. These gentry assert that by concluding this Pact, the Soviet Union abandoned proletarian internationalism. In the dying days of the Soviet Union, the Gorbachev revisionist renegade clique went so far as to engineer, in December 1989, the passing of a resolution by the Supreme Soviet that criticised this Pact “as a personal decision by Stalin that contradicted the interests of the Soviet people”.
Under the pressure exercised by the combined forces of imperialism, revisionism and Trotskyism, there were even some individuals and organisations calling themselves Marxist-Leninists and anti-revisionists who joined the fray on the side of those who denounced the Soviet Union for concluding the Non-Aggression Pact.
One can only conclude such ‘Marxist-Leninists’ are not really Marxist-Leninists at all, but hidden Trotskyites and agents of imperialism in the anti- revisionist movement, who are still angry and who have still not forgiven Stalin for leading the struggle against imperialism and for weakening imperialism.
As for the imperialist bourgeoisie, it is keen to hide from the proletariat the simple fact that both fascism and the carnage of the Second World War, which claimed nearly 60 million lives and wreaked untold devastation, were the product of imperialism; that the imperialist ‘democracies’, in their blind hatred of Soviet communism, did everything in their power to strengthen Hitlerite fascism and direct its aggression against the USSR; that the Soviet Union in signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Germany turned the tables on imperialism and forced the principal imperialist countries to fight against each other; that in this war, while the Soviet Union and the people of the world fought against fascism, the imperialist powers were merely engaged in a struggle for domination through redivision of the already completely divided world.
To hide all these facts, the imperialist bourgeoisie, especially the Anglo-American bourgeoisie, has used the 60th anniversary of the victory against fascism to indulge in an orgy of self-glorification through wholesale falsification of the historical significance of the Second World War, the events leading to it, and the part played by each of the participants in that titanic struggle – all for the purpose of burnishing the tarnished image of imperialism, especially that of the imperialist ‘democracies’ of those days, and maligning and belittling the truly heroic part played by the Soviet Union. Attempts are being made to convince the proletariat that the Soviet Union, in signing the Non-Aggression Pact, brought about the onset of the war and that, therefore, it was as guilty as Nazi Germany, and Stalin as wicked as Hitler, in unleashing this unprecedented slaughter. In other words, attempts are being made through the falsified version of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, to equate fascism and communism and present imperialist ‘democracy’ as the only solution and ultimate destiny of humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is as follows.
Summary of facts about the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact
Here are the incontrovertible facts summarising very briefly the USSR’s position on the question of war with imperialism.
First, it was the endeavour of the Soviet Union not to embroil herself in a war with imperialism.
Second, since it was not entirely up to her to avoid such war, then, if imperialism should be bent on waging a war against the Soviet Union, the latter should NOT find herself in the position of having to fight alone, let alone face the combined onslaught of the principal imperialist countries – Germany, Britain, France, USA, Italy and Japan.
Third, to this end, divisions between the fascist imperialist states on the one hand and the democratic imperialist states on the other should be exploited to the hilt. These divisions between the two groups of imperialism were not a figment of Stalin’s imagination. They were real, based on the material interests of the two groups of states under consideration. Uneven development of capitalism causes some states to spurt ahead and others to lag behind. The old division of the world no longer corresponds with the balance of forces, thus making necessary a new division of the world. This is precisely what the First World War was about; and this is precisely what Germany, Italy and Japan, having spurted ahead in the capitalist development of their economies, were clamouring for. Whereas the old imperialist countries, notably Britain and France, having lagged behind in the capitalist development of their economies in comparison with the newcomers, notably Germany, were quite happy with the old division of the world. In demanding a new division, the fascist states were encroaching upon the material interests of the democratic imperialist states. There was thus scope for this conflict of interests to be exploited by the USSR.
Fourth, to this end, the USSR, pursuing a very complicated foreign policy, did its best to conclude a collective security pact with the democratic imperialist states to deter aggression by the fascist states, providing, in the event of such aggression taking place, for collective action against the aggressors.
Fifth, when the democratic imperialist states, overcome by their hatred of communism, refused to sign a collective security pact with the USSR and continued their policy of appeasement of the fascist states, in particular that of Nazi Germany, in an effort to direct her aggression in an eastwardly direction against the Soviet Union, the latter was forced to try some other method of protecting the interests of the socialist motherland of the international proletariat. The USSR turned the tables on the foreign policy of the democratic imperialist states by signing on 23 August 1939 the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.
Sixth, in signing this pact, the USSR not only ensured that she would not be fighting Germany alone, but also that the latter would be fighting against the very powers who had been trying, by their refusal to agree on collective security, to embroil the USSR in a war with Germany. On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. Two days later the Anglo-French ultimatum expired, and Britain and France were at war with Germany.
Seventh, the provisions of the additional secret protocol went far enough to safeguard the Soviet ‘spheres of interest’, which, as will be seen, proved vital to Soviet defences when the war actually reached her.
Finally, the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact bought the Soviet Union an extremely valuable period of two years for strengthening her defence preparedness before she entered a war she knew she could not stay out of forever.
When the war was finally forced on the Soviet Union she made the most heroic contribution in the crowning and glorious victory of the allies against Nazi Germany and her allies. The Red Army and the Soviet people showed their tenacity, and the tenacity and superiority of the socialist system, by defeating the Nazis in the USSR and pursuing them all the way to Berlin, liberating in the process country after country from Nazi jackboot occupation and bringing socialism to eastern Europe.
All revolutionary and honest bourgeois historians and politicians agree on the above summary. Only the most die-hard anti- communists, particularly the Trotskyites, ever dare to dispute it. What follows is a substantiation of the above summary.
Soviet Union well aware of the coming war
Of course, it is utter nonsense to say that Stalin and the CPSU did not realise that the Soviet Union might have to fight Germany and that she relied on Nazi goodwill. The fact is that the “Soviet Union was menaced in the east and west, and the conduct of foreign relations became more complex and demanding as he [Stalin] sought to deflect or at least delay the inevitable war. He carried enormous responsibilities, and only a man of exceptional physical stamina, sharp and disciplined intelligence, and iron self-control could have met such demands.” (Ian Grey, Stalin – Man of history, Abacus, London, 1982, p.293).
“Fundamental to Stalin’s policies, internal and external, was the conviction that war was imminent and might devastate Soviet Russia before she was able to gather strength. It was this thought that had demanded immediate collectivisation and headlong industrialisation. There was no time to lose … ” (ibid, pp.295-296).
As early as January 1925, addressing the Central Committee, Stalin, having said that “The preconditions of war are ripening …” went on to warn: “Our banner is still the banner of Peace. But if the war begins, we shall hardly be able to sit with folded arms. We shall have to come out, but we ought to be the last to come out. And we should come out to throw the decisive weight on the scales, the weight that should tilt the scales.” (Stalin, Collected Works, Vol 7 pp.13-14).
Everyone is, of course, aware of his 1931 speech containing the following statement which even Deutscher calls “a prophesy brilliantly fulfilled”:
“We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall go under” (Stalin, The Tasks of Business Executives, Collected Works Vol 13, p.41).
In his autobiography, My Struggle, Hitler had clearly and candidly outlined the foreign policy of the Nazis:
“We National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-war period … We stop the endless German movement to the South, and turn our gaze towards the land in the East…
“If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, London 1984, pp.598 and 604).
Soviet efforts at achieving collective security & appeasement policy of the non-aggressive imperialist states
The Soviet Union can hardly have relished the spectacle of Nazi accession to power in January 1933, which created for the USSR an unprecedentedly dangerous situation. Hence the emphasis of Soviet foreign policy in this period on the preservation of world peace and efforts at concluding a collective security pact with the democratic imperialist counties which had, as already mentioned, an objective interest in the maintenance of the then existing division of the world.
“In the conduct of foreign policy, Stalin showed great caution, restraint and realism. He needed time to build up Russia’s industry and military strength. He was constantly provoked in the east and the west, and in ways that must have infuriated him, but he never lost sight of the overriding need to delay the outbreak of war as long as possible. It was for this reason that he placed the greatest emphasis on peace and disarmament in world affairs. At the same time he pursued a policy of collective security … “(Ian Grey, op. cit. p.296).
The policy of collective security was pursued because the socialist Soviet Union had every interest in averting war and getting on with the task of socialist construction, which required peace, and because the non-aggressive imperialist countries had an interest in averting a war by the aggressive states or in ensuring their early defeat.
Addressing the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March, 1939, and arguing that the war had already started, Stalin said:
“The war is being waged by aggressor states, who in every way infringe upon the interests of the non-aggressor states, primarily England, France and the USA, while the latter draw back and retreat, making concession after concession to the aggressors.
“Thus we are witnessing an open redivision of the world and spheres of influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states, without the least attempt at resistance, and even with a certain connivance on their part” (Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Moscow, 1953, p.753).
Although having an objective interest in entering into a collective security arrangement with the USSR, nevertheless, overcome by their hatred of socialism, Britain and France, led by the governments of Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier respectively, refused to conclude such an alliance.
“Is it [the policy of appeasement by the non-aggressive states] to be attributed to the weakness of the non-aggressive states?” asked Stalin. He went on to answer thus:
“Of course not! Combined, the non-aggressive, democratic states are unquestionably stronger than the fascist states, both economically and militarily.
” … The chief reason is that the majority of the non-aggressive countries, particularly Britain and France, have rejected the policy of collective security, of collective resistance to the aggressors, and have taken up a position of non-intervention, a position of neutrality.
“The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness, a desire … not to hinder Germany, say, … from embroiling herself in a war with the Soviet Union, to allow all the belligerents to sink deeply in 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!” (ibid p. 754).
Further, referring to the Munich agreement which surrendered Czechoslovakia to the Nazis, Stalin continued:
” … One might think that the districts of Czechoslovakia were yielded to Germany as the price of an undertaking to launch war on the Soviet Union … ” (ibid p.756).
Outlining the tasks of Soviet foreign policy, Stalin stressed the need “to be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull chestnuts out of the fire for them” (ibid p.759).
The Soviet government was not even consulted about, let alone included in, the Munich conference which, gathering on 28-30 September, 1938, surrendered Czechoslovakia to the tender mercies of fascist Germany. At the same time the Western powers refused to respond to the Soviet proposals for a grand collective security alliance under the aegis of the League of Nations. This is what Winston Churchill had to say in this context:
“The Soviet offer was in effect ignored. They were not brought into the scale against Hitler and were treated with an indifference – not to say disdain – which left a mark on Stalin’s mind. Events took their course as if the Soviet Union did not exist. For this we afterwards paid dearly” (W.S. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol 1, p.104).
In the same volume Churchill admits that the Soviet plan would have averted, or at least delayed, war for a considerable time, and it was time that the Soviet Union was playing for. (op cit pp 234-251).
But the non-aggressive states’ anti-communism won a temporary victory. Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary, told Hitler in November 1937 that: ” … he and other members of the British government were well aware that the Fuehrer had attained a great deal … Having destroyed communism in his country, he had barred the road of the latter to Western Europe and Germany was therefore entitled to be regarded as a bulwark of the West against Bolshevism …
“When the ground has been prepared for an Anglo-German rapprochement, the four great West European powers must jointly set up the foundation of lasting peace in Europe” (Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-45, Vol 1, London 1954, p.55).
The Soviet Union persists in her policy
Knowing, as the CPSU leadership did, that the policy of appeasement, which was in conflict with the interests of British and French imperialism, would sooner or later be opposed by powerful representatives of imperialism in these countries, it persisted in its efforts to conclude a collective security alliance.
On 15 March 1939, Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia. Public opinion in the West was outraged by the rape of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain was visibly shaken by the angry public and parliamentary reaction. On instructions from the British government, the British ambassador in Moscow called on the Soviet Foreign Minister, Maxim Litvinov, to inquire what the Soviet reaction would be if Germany were to attack Romania. Litvinov responded the same evening with the proposal that representatives of Britain, France, the USSR, Poland and Romania should meet urgently to forestall this danger. The British government rejected this proposal and instead proposed a declaration that in the event of further aggression the four countries would consult with each other. Although annoyed by this response, the Soviet government agreed to it, provided that Poland was also a signatory. The Polish foreign minister, Col Beck, as anti-Soviet as Chamberlain, refused to sign, proposing instead a Polish-British mutual assistance pact.
On 31 March 1939, without prior consultation with the Soviet Union, the Polish-British Pact, giving a unilateral British guarantee to defend Poland against aggression, was announced. On 13 April it was extended to include Greece and Romania. As Ian Grey correctly observes: “If Germany attacked Poland or Romania, Britain could do nothing without the support of the Soviet Union, and in a way that was gratuitously insulting, both governments having carefully ignored the Soviet government. Churchill, Eden and others were quick to point out the stupidity of Chamberlain’s policy” (Ian Grey, op cit p.306).
Under extreme domestic pressure, the British government, on 15 April, proposed to the Soviet Union that the latter should give unilateral guarantees. The Soviet government turned down this proposal as it provided no assistance for the USSR in the event of a German attack. On 17 April, the Soviet government proposed a British-French-Soviet pact of mutual assistance, which was to include a military convention and to guarantee the independence of all states bordering on the Soviet Union from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Chamberlain and Halifax rejected it on the spurious ground that it might offend Poland and Germany, and because it would commit Britain to the defence of Finland and the Baltic states.
“For Stalin the inescapable conclusion was that the leaders of the British government were so blinded by hostility towards the Soviet regime that not even to avert the horrors of war would they consider an alliance with Soviet Russia against Germany” (Ian Grey, ibid p.307).
“And it was evident that to the British and the French ruling circles, the thought of a coalition with the Soviets was still repugnant … ; that some leading western statesmen looked upon Nazism as upon a reliable barrier against Bolshevism; that a few among them did toy with the idea of turning that barrier into a battering ram; and that, finally, even among those who saw the inescapable need for an alliance with Russia, some wondered whether it would not be sound policy to let Germany come to grips with Russia first” (Deutscher, op cit pp.413-414).
On 3 May Litvinov was replaced as Commissar for Foreign Affairs by Molotov. This should have served as a clear warning to Britain and France, for Litvinov’s name was very closely associated with efforts for a collective security. Even now the USSR persisted in its policy of working for a collective security alliance. The British government was under increasing public pressure to negotiate with the Soviet Union. On 2 June, the Soviet government submitted a new draft agreement, specifying the countries to be guaranteed and the extent of the commitment of the three signatories. Expressing interest in the Soviet proposals, the British government decided to send a representative to Moscow to speed up the negotiations. Although Chamberlain and Halifax had personally gone to Berlin, they sent a junior official from the Foreign Office to Moscow, a deliberate affront which gave “actual offence” (Churchill, ibid p.304). [See Note 2]
On 17 July Molotov announced that there was little point in continued discussion on the political treaty in the absence of a military convention being concluded. The British government responded to Molotov’s announcement by agreeing to send a military mission to Moscow. Instead of sending Lord Gort, chief of the imperial staff, as the Soviet government had hoped, Chamberlain appointed an elderly retired admiral, Admiral Reginald Plunkett-Ernie-Erle-Drax, who proceeded on 23 July by the slowest means of transportation and the slowest route (having been into the bargain instructed “to go very slowly with the conversations”) and who arrived in Moscow on 11 August. What is more, the Soviet side discovered to its amazement that the British delegation had come merely to ‘hold talks’, with no authority to negotiate.
“What is certain is that, if the western governments had wanted to drive him [Stalin] into Hitler’s arms, they could not have set about doing so more effectively than they did. The Anglo-French military mission delayed its departure for eleven precious days. It wasted five days more en route, travelling by the slowest possible boat. When it arrived in Moscow its credentials and powers were not clear. The governments whose prime ministers had not considered it beneath their dignity to fly to Munich almost at Hitler’s nod, refused to send any official of ministerial standing to negotiate the alliance with Russia. The servicemen sent for military talks were of lesser standing than those sent, for instance, to Poland and Turkey. If Stalin intended an alliance, the way he was treated might almost have been calculated to make him abandon his intention” (Deutscher, ibid p.425).
All the same, on 12 August the talks on a military convention began. Marshal Voroshilov, leader of the Soviet delegation, informed the delegates that without Soviet troops being permitted to enter Poland it would be impossible for them to defend it. The Poles declared that they did not need, and would not accept, Soviet aid.
“If Stalin is to be judged by his conduct at the time [around September, 1938] there is nothing with which he can be reproached” (ibid p. 419).
And further: “The unwritten maxim of Munich was to keep Russia out of Europe. Not only the great and seemingly great powers of the West wished to exclude Russia. The governments of the small east European nations as well squealed at the great bear: ‘Stay where you are, stay in your lair.’ Sometime before Munich, when the French and the Russians were discussing joint actions in defence of Czechoslovakia, the Polish and the Rumanian governments categorically refused to agree to the passage of Russian troops to Czechoslovakia. They denied the Red Army – and even the Red Air Force – the right of passage not merely because they were afraid of communism; they fawned on Hitler.
“It must have been shortly after Munich that the idea of a new attempt at a rapprochement with Germany took shape in Stalin’s mind …” (ibid. p 419).
The French and British governments too rejected this provision. It was pointless in the circumstances to continue the discussions, which were adjourned indefinitely on 21 August. After this the Soviet government, realising the stubborn persistence of the British and French governments in their refusal to conclude an alliance with the USSR, resolved to conclude the non-aggression pact with Germany.
“His [Stalin’s] foremost concern was still to gain time so that Soviet industry and the armed forces could gather strength. Reluctantly he turned now to the possibility of an agreement with Hitler” (Ian Grey, op cit p.309 and Churchill, op cit p.306).
As to why Stalin agreed to the Non-Aggression pact with Germany, Deutscher says: “That he [Stalin] had little confidence in Hitler’s victory is equally certain. His purpose now was to win time, time, and once again time, to get on with his economic plans, to build up Russia’s might and then throw that might into the scales when the other belligerents were on their last legs” (ibid p.430).
Soviet-German non-aggression pact signed
Although Germany had approached the Soviet Union as early as 17 April 1939 for a normalisation of German-Soviet relations, and subsequent approaches had been made to the Soviet government through the German embassy in Moscow, the German Ambassador, Count Fritz von der Schulenburg reported as late as 4 August:
“My overall impression is that the Soviet government is at present determined to sign with England and France, if they fulfil all Soviet wishes … It will take a considerable effort on our part to cause the Soviet government to swing” (Churchill, op cit, p.305).
On 14 August Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, instructed Schulenburg by cable to call on Molotov and to read him the following communication:
“There is no question between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea which cannot be settled to the complete satisfaction of both countries … I am prepared to make a short visit to Moscow … to set forth the Fuehrer’s views to M Stalin … only through such a discussion can a change be brought about…” (Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-45, Series D, Vol 7, London 1956, p.63).
On 16 August, Schulenburg saw Molotov and read to him Ribbentrop’s communication. The same night he reported to Berlin Molotov’s “great interest” in the communication, adding that Molotov “was interested in the question of how the German government were disposed towards the idea of concluding a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union” (ibid p.77).
Ribbentrop answered the same day, instructing Schulenburg to see Molotov again to convey to him that:
“Germany is prepared to conclude a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.
“I am prepared to come by aeroplane to Moscow at any time after Friday, August 18, to deal, on the basis of full powers from the Fuehrer, with the entire complex of German-Russian relations and, if the occasion arises, to sign the appropriate treaties” (ibid p.84).
On 17 August Molotov handed a written reply to Schulenburg proposing a trade agreement to begin with, to be followed “shortly thereafter” by the conclusion of a non-aggression pact. On 18 August Ribbentrop informed Schulenburg telegraphically that the “first stage”, that of signing a trade agreement, had been completed and requested that he be allowed to make an “immediate” trip to Moscow.
On 19 August Schulenburg answered that Molotov had agreed that:
“… the Reich Foreign Minister could arrive in Moscow on August 26 or 27.
“Molotov handed me the draft of a non-aggression pact” (ibid p.134).
On 20 August Hitler sent an urgent personal telegram to Stalin, accepting the Soviet draft non-aggression pact, with the plea that Ribbentrop be received in Moscow on 22 August or at the latest on the 23rd.
Stalin replied on 21 August agreeing to the visit:
“The Soviet government have instructed me to inform you that they agree to Herr Von Ribbentrop’s arriving in Moscow on August 23″ (ibid p.168).
Ribbentrop arrived in Moscow at the head of a delegation on 23 August. On the same night he was received by Stalin. According to a reliable account, the meeting was cold and far from amicable. Gauss, chief assistant to Ribbentrop, who accompanied him, recorded:
“Ribbentrop himself had inserted in the preamble a rather far-reaching phrase concerning friendly German-Soviet relations. To this Stalin objected, remarking that the Soviet government could not suddenly present to their public a German-Soviet declaration of friendship after they had been covered with pails of manure by the Nazi government for six years. Thereupon this phrase in the preamble was deleted” (Churchill, op cit p.306).
The pact was signed. Under the secret protocol it was agreed that in the Baltic “the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR …” and in the case of Poland, ” … the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and Sau” (Documents on German Foreign Policy, op cit p.264).
In other words, the Curzon line was to be this boundary, and in the area east of it, which had been seized by Poland from the Soviet Union after the October Revolution, Germany had agreed to the USSR taking whatever action it liked.
Why the Soviet Union signed the 23 August pact
Addressing the Supreme Soviet on 31 August, Molotov dispelled the “fiction that the conclusion of the German-Soviet Non- Aggression treaty had upset the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations:
“Attempts are being made to spread the fiction that the conclusion of the Soviet-German pact disrupted negotiations with Britain and France for a mutual assistance pact … In reality, as you know, the very reverse is true… The Soviet Union signed the non-aggression pact with Germany, amongst other things, because negotiations with France and Great Britain had … ended in a failure through the fault of the ruling circles of Britain and France” (Molotov, Soviet Peace Policy, Lawrence & Wishart, London, p. 20).
Even the historian Edward Carr, decidedly an anti-Soviet writer, is obliged to admit that the Soviet Union’s decision to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany was a most reluctant and enforced second choice:
“The striking feature of the Soviet-German negotiations … is the extreme caution with which they were conducted from the Soviet side, and the prolonged Soviet resistance to close the doors on the Western negotiations” (E.H. Carr, From Munich to Moscow: II, in Soviet Studies, Vol I, October 1949, p.104).
The same Edward Carr, noting that the Chamberlain government “as a defender of capitalism” turned down an alliance with the USSR against Germany, made the following estimation of the gains made by the Soviet Union as a result of signing the Non-Aggression treaty with Germany:
“In the pact of August 23rd, 1939, they [the Soviet government] secured: (a) a breathing space of immunity from attack; (b) German assistance in mitigating Japanese pressure in the Far East; (c) German agreement to the establishment of an advanced bastion beyond the existing Soviet frontiers in Eastern Europe; it was significant that this bastion was, and could only be, a line of defence against potential German attack, the eventual prospect of which was never far absent from Soviet reckonings. But what most of all was achieved by the pact was the assurance that, if the USSR had eventually to fight Hitler, the western powers would already be involved” (ibid p.103).
After the above correctly, succinctly and brilliantly summarised gains for the Soviet Union, consequent upon signing the 23 August pact, it is difficult to imagine that there are still people around who assert that in signing this Non-Aggression pact with Germany the Soviet Union was guilty of “an abandonment of proletarian internationalism.” Unfortunately, there still are such people. It is difficult to say whether it is ignorance or malice that causes them to think and utter such foul thoughts. All we can say is that there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.
Hostile as he is, even Deutscher is obliged to admit another gain, i.e., the moral advantage gained by the Soviet Union through signing the 23 August pact with Hitlerite Germany:
“Her [the USSR’s] moral gain consisted in the clear awareness of her peoples that Germany was the aggressor and that their own government had pursued peace to the very end.”
For our part, we will always look back with admiration and gratitude at this master stroke of Soviet foreign policy which contributed so significantly to freeing humanity from the horrors of Nazi Germany. The results were just what the USSR had expected. Just one week after the signing of the pact, i.e., on 1 September, the Nazis invaded Poland. Two days later, their ultimatum having expired, Britain and France declared war on Germany. While the imperialists, all of whom had planned to throttle the Soviet Union, fought each other, the latter secured nearly two valuable years to prepare herself for the eventual war, which came at 0400 hours on 22 June 1941, with the German invasion in the form of Operation Barbarossa, launched by Hitler with 162 divisions, 3,400 tanks and 7,000 guns. The Soviet Union’s heroic defence, the titanic battles she fought, her legendary victories, have passed into folklore and require no further comment here.
One final point: circles hostile to the Soviet Union have always equated the Soviet march into Poland east of the Curzon line with the Nazi invasion and occupation of the rest of Poland. The two are qualitatively different. First, the Soviet forces moved only into territory which was theirs before it had been snatched by Poland after the October Revolution. Second, and much more importantly, the Soviet Union waited for 16 days after the Nazi invasion of Poland.
“When, on 5 September , Ribbentrop began to press the Russians to march into their share of Poland, Stalin was not yet ready to issue the marching orders … He would not … lend a hand in defeating Poland, and he refused to budge before Poland’s collapse was complete beyond doubt” (Deutscher, op cit p.432).
When it became absolutely clear that the Polish state had collapsed, then the Soviet forces entered Poland (on 17 September) in order to safeguard her defences and the people of territories invaded by Soviet forces alike. The truth is that the Soviet army were greeted by the local population as liberators and heroes.
In his speech to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October 1939, Molotov said:
“Our troops entered the territory of Poland only after the Polish State had collapsed and actually ceased to exist. Naturally we could not remain neutral towards these facts, since as a result of these events we were confronted with urgent problems concerning the security of our state. Furthermore, the Soviet government could not but reckon with the exceptional situation created for our brothers in Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia, who had been abandoned to their fate as a result of the collapse of Poland” (Molotov, op cit pp.31-32).
“When the Red Army marched into these regions it was greeted with general sympathy by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian population who welcomed our troops as liberators from the yoke of the gentry, from the yoke of the Polish landlords and capitalists” (ibid p.33).
The Soviet march into these areas had the effect of rescuing 13 million people, including one million Jews, from the horrors of Nazi occupation and extermination. It can only be surmised that those opposed to the Soviet entry into the territories east of the Curzon line would rather have seen these areas overrun by the Nazis! A very queer ‘internationalism’ indeed! Such people are actually to the right of even some Conservatives. Let the following words, spoken in the House of Commons on 20 September 1939 by Conservative MP Robert Boothby, put such ‘socialists’ and ‘internationalists’ to eternal shame:
“I think it is legitimate to suppose that this action on the part of the Soviet government was taken … from the point of view of self-preservation and self-defence … The action taken by the Russian troops … has pushed the German frontier considerably westward …
“I am thankful that Russian troops are now along the Polish-Romanian frontier. I would rather have Russian troops there than German troops” (Quoted by Bill Bland in his The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, an excellent paper presented to the Stalin Society in 1992).
It is to be hoped that the above re-statement of facts concerning the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact would be assistance to those who are genuinely desirous of knowing the truth concerning this very important treaty and its place inn the complicated world situation at the time.
2. Some of the individuals and organisations in the 1970s who criticised the Soviet Union and Stalin for concluding the Non-Aggression Pact, prided themselves on being the leading Maoists in Britain. It is, however, clear that their ignorance of Marxism-Leninism is only matched by their ignorance of the writings of Comrade Mao Tse-tung. Had they taken the trouble to read Mao Tse-tung’s article ‘The Identity of Interests between the Soviet Union and all Mankind’ dated 28 September 1939, i.e., just a month after the signing of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, they would have realised the utter falsity of their accusations. While inviting everybody to read this excellent article which is to be found in Vol.2 pp 275-83 of the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, we reproduce here a few of the significant paragraphs from it:
“Some people say that the Soviet Union does not want the world to remain at peace because the outbreak of a world war is to its advantage, and that the present war was precipitated by the Soviet Union’s conclusion of a non-aggression treaty with Germany instead of a treaty of mutual assistance with Britain and France. I consider this view incorrect. The foreign policy of the Soviet Union over a very long period of time has consistently been one of peace, a policy based on the close links between its own interests and those of the overwhelming majority of mankind. For its own socialist construction the Soviet Union has always needed peace, has always needed to strengthen its peaceful relations with other countries and prevent an anti-Soviet war; for the sake of peace on a world scale, it has also needed to check the aggression of the fascist countries, curb the war-mongering of the so-called democratic countries and delay the outbreak of an imperialist world war for as long as possible. The Soviet Union has long devoted great energy to the cause of world peace. For instance, it has joined the League of Nations, signed treaties of mutual assistance with France and Czechoslovakia and tried hard to conclude security pacts with Britain and all other countries that might be willing to have peace. After Germany and Italy jointly invaded Spain and when Britain, the United States and France adopted a policy of nominal ‘non-intervention’ but of actual connivance at their aggression, the Soviet Union opposed the ‘non-intervention’ policy and gave the Spanish republican forces active help in their resistance to Germany and Italy. After Japan invaded China and when the same three powers adopted the same kind of ‘non-intervention’ policy, the Soviet Union not only concluded a non-aggression treaty with China but gave China active help in her resistance. When Britain and France connived at Hitler’s aggression and sacrificed Austria and Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union spared no effort in exposing the sinister aims behind the Munich policy and made proposals to Britain and France for checking further aggression. When Poland became the burning question in the spring and summer of this year and it was touch-and-go whether world war would break out, the Soviet Union negotiated with Britain and France for four months, despite Chamberlain’s and Daladier’s complete lack of sincerity, in an endeavour to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance to prevent the outbreak of war. But all these efforts were blocked by the imperialist policy of the British and French governments, a policy of conniving at, instigating and spreading war, so that eventually the cause of world peace was thwarted and the imperialist world war broke out. The governments of Britain, the United States and France had no genuine desire to prevent war; on the contrary, they helped to bring it about. Their refusal to come to terms with the Soviet Union and conclude a really effective treaty of mutual assistance based on equality and reciprocity proved that they wanted not peace but war. Everybody knows that in the contemporary world rejection of the Soviet Union means rejection of peace. Even Lloyd George, that typical representative of the British bourgeoisie, knows this. It was in these circumstances, and when Germany agreed to stop her anti-Soviet activities, abandon the Agreement Against the Communist International and recognise the inviolability of the Soviet frontiers, that the Soviet-German non-aggression treaty was concluded. The plan of Britain, the United States and France was to egg Germany on to attack the Soviet Union, so that they themselves, ‘sitting on top of the mountains to watch the tigers fight’, could come down and take over after the Soviet Union and Germany had worn each other out. The Soviet-German non-aggression treaty smashed this plot. In overlooking this plot and the schemes of the Anglo-French imperialists who connived at and instigated war and precipitated a world war, some of our fellow-countrymen have actually been taken in by the sugary propaganda of these schemers. These crafty politicians were not the least bit interested in checking aggression against Spain, against China, or against Austria and Czechoslovakia; on the contrary, they connived at aggression and instigated war, playing the proverbial role of the fisherman who set the snipe and clam at each other and then took advantage of both. They euphemistically described their actions as ‘non-intervention’, but what they actually did was to ‘sit on top of the mountain to watch the tigers fight’. Quite a number of people throughout the world have been fooled by the honeyed words of Chamberlain and his partners, failing to see the murderous intent behind their smiles, or to understand that the Soviet-German non-aggression treaty was concluded only after Chamberlain and Daladier had made up their minds to reject the Soviet Union and bring about the imperialist war. It is time for these people to wake up. The fact that the Soviet Union worked hard to preserve world peace to the very last minute proves that the interests of the Soviet Union are identical with those of the overwhelming majority of mankind.