THE GERMAN-SOVIET NON-AGGRESSION PACT OF 1939
One of the many stories which circulate about Stalin is that, while the Soviet
government was negotiating for a collective security pact with Britain and
France directed against German aggressive expansion, he initiated the signing of
a pact with Germany which precipitated the Second World War.
Of course, not everything that happened in the Soviet Union at this time was
done with the approval of Stalin. In the case of the Soviet-German
Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, however, we have the testimony of Stalin's closest
collaborator, Vyacheslav Molotov, that:
"Comrade Stalin . . suggested the possibility of different, unhostile and good
neighbourly relations between Germany and the USSR. . ..
The conclusion of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact . . . shows that Comrade
Stalin's historical foresight has been brilliantly confirmed".
(V. M. Molotov: Speech at 4th (Special) Session of the Supreme Soviet of the
USSR, 31 August 1939, in: 'Soviet Peace Policy'; London; 1941; p. 16).
The charge that this was a serious mistake on Stalin's part must, therefore, be
The Reorientation of Soviet Foreign Policy
In his notorious book 'My Struggle', written in mid-1920s, the Nazi leader Adolf
Hitler expressed frankly the foreign policy the Nazis intended to follow:
"We National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy
tendency of our pre-War period. . . . We stop the endless German movement to the
south and west, and turn our gaze towards the land in the East. .
If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia".
(A. Hitler: 'Mein Kampf'; London; 1984; p. 598, 604).
Thus, the coming to power of the Nazi government in Germany in January 1933
heralded a situation in Europe which clearly presented great danger to the
Soviet Union -- and not, of course, to the Soviet Union alone.
The Marxist-Leninists in the leadership of the Soviet Union, concerned to defend
the socialist state, responded to this new, more dangerous situation by
reorientating Soviet foreign policy, by adopting a policy of striving for
collective security with other states which had, objectively, an interest in
maintaining the status quo in the international situation.
The Objective Basis of Collective Security
The objective basis of the Soviet policy of collective security was that the
imperialist Powers of the world could be divided into two groups.
One group -- Germany, Italy and Japan had a relatively high productive power and
relatively restricted markets and spheres of influence. As a result, these
Powers had an urgent need to change the world to their advantage; they were
relatively aggressive Powers.
Another group of imperialist Powers -- Britain, France and the United States --
had relatively large markets and spheres of influence and thus had objectively
more need to keep the world as it was than to see it changed; they were
relatively non-aggressive Powers.
Stalin, who argued that the Second World War had already begun, summed up this
position to the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939:
"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. .
Thus we are witnessing an open re-division of the world and spheres of influence
at the expense of the non-aggressive states."
(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14).
As a socialist state, a working people's state, the Soviet Union had the
strongest interest of any state in the preservation of peace.
The Soviet government's policy in the 1930s, therefore, was to strive to form a
collective security alliance with the European non-aggressive imperialist
states, Britain and France -- a collective security alliance strong enough
either to deter the aggressive imperialist states from launching war or to
secure their speedy defeat.
The Soviet Government summed up this post-1933 foreign policy in 1948:
"Throughout the whole pre-war period, the Soviet delegation upheld the principle
of collective security in the League of Nations".
('Falsifiers of History: Historical Information'; London; 1948; p 15).
Although, as we have seen, Stalin maintained that the British and French
imperialists had, objectively, an interest in joining the Soviet Union in such a
collective security alliance, the governments of Britain and France, led
respectively by Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, did not recognise this
objective fact because of their detestation of socialism and the Soviet Union
and their wish to see it destroyed.
As Stalin told the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939:
"England, France and the USA . . . draw back and retreat, making concession
after concession to the aggressors.
Thus we are now witnessing an open redivision of the world and spheres of
influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states, without the least attempt
at resistance, and even with a certain amount of connivance. .
How is it that the non-aggressive countries . . . have so easily, and without
any resistance, abandoned their positions and their obligations to please the
Is it to be attributed to the weakness of the non-aggressive states? Of course
not! Combined, the non-aggressive, democratic states are unquestionably stronger
than the fascist states, both economically and militarily. . .
The chief reason is that the majority of the non-aggressive countries,
particularly England and France, have rejected a policy of collective security,
of collective resistance to the aggressors, and have taken up a position of
The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness, a desire, not to hinder
Germany, say, . . . from embroiling herself in a war with the Soviet Union. .
One might think that the districts of Czechoslovakia were yielded to Germany as
the price of an undertaking to launch war on the Soviet Union".
(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14-15, 16).
British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax is on record as telling 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
('Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945', Series D, Volume 1; London;
1954; p. 55).
Nevertheless, the Soviet Marxist-Leninists understood that this policy of
'appeasement' ran, objectively, counter to the interests of the British and
French imperialists and counter to the interests of the British working people
They therefore calculated that, if the Soviet government persisted in its
efforts to form a collective security alliance with Britain and France, sooner
or later the appeasers in Britain, which dominated France,. would be forced out
of office by the more far-seeing representatives of British imperialism (such as
Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden) in cooperation with the British working
(This, of course, actually occurred in 1940, but only after war had broken out
The Anglo-French-Soviet Negotiations
On 31 March 1939, without consulting the Soviet Union, the British government
gave a unilateral guarantee to defend Poland against aggression.
The leader of the liberal Party, David Lloyd George, told the House of Commons:
"I cannot understand why, before committing ourselves to this tremendous
enterprise, we did not secure beforehand the adhesion of Russia. . . . If Russia
has not been brought into this matter because of certain feelings that Poles
have that they do not want the Russians there, . . . unless the Poles are
prepared to accept the one condition with which we can help them, the
responsibility must be theirs".
(Parliamentary Debates. 5th Series, House of Commons, Volume 35; London; 1939;
The Anglo-French guarantee stimulated public pressure on the appeaser
governments to at least make gestures in the direction of collective security.
So, on 15 April 1939 the British government made an approach to the Soviet
government suggesting that it might like to issue a public declaration offering
military assistance to any state bordering the Soviet Union which was subject to
aggression if that state desired it.
Two days later, on 17 April the Soviet government replied that it would not
consider a unilateral guarantee, which would put the Soviet Union in a position
of inequality with the other Powers concerned. It proposed:
Firstly, a trilateral mutual assistance treaty by Britain, France and the Soviet
Union against aggression;
Secondly, the extension of guarantees to the Baltic States (Estonia, Finland,
Latvia and Lithuania), on the grounds that failure to guarantee these states was
an open invitation to Germany to expand eastwards through invasion of these
Thirdly, that the treaty must not be vague, but must detail the extent and forms
of the military assistance to be rendered by the signatory Powers.
On 27 May the British and French governments replied to the Soviet proposals
with the draft of a proposed tripartite pact. The British Prime Minister Neville
Chamberlain commented on the British draft in a letter to his sister at this
"In substance it gives the Russians what they want, but in form and presentation
it avoids the idea of an alliance and substitutes declaration of intention. It
is really a most ingenious idea".
(Neville Chamberlain Archives, University of Birmingham, 11/1/1101).
Vyacheslav Molotov, who had just taken over the post of People's Commissar for
Foreign Affairs from Maksim Litvinov, rejected the draft on the grounds that it
proposed in the event of hostilities not immediate mutual assistance, but merely
consultation through the League of Nations.
On 2 June the Soviet government submitted to Britain and France a counter-draft
making these joints.
The British and French governments responded by saying that Finland, Estonia and
Latvia refused to be guaranteed.
The Soviet government continued to insist that a military convention be signed
at the same time as the political treaty, in order that there might be no
possibility of any hedging about the application of the latter. On 17 July
Molotov stated that there was no point in continuing discussions on the
political treaty until the military convention had been concluded.
On 23 July the British and French governments finally agreed to begin military
discussions before the political treaty of alliance had been finalised, and a
British naval officer with the quadruple-barreled name of Admiral Reginald
Plunkett-Ernie-Erle-Drax was appointed to head the British delegation. No one,
apparently, had informed the British government that the aeroplane had been
invented, and the delegation left Tilbury by a slow boat to Leningrad, from
where they proceeded by train to Moscow. When the delegation finally arrived in
Moscow on 11 August, the Soviet side discovered that it had no powers to
negotiate, only to 'hold talks'. Furthermore, the British delegation was
officially instructed to:
"Go very slowly with the conversations";
('Documents on British Foreign Policy;', 3rd Series, Volume 6; London; 1953;
Appendix 5; p. 763).
Nevertheless, the military talks began in Moscow on 12 August.
On 15 August the leader of the Soviet delegation, People's Commissar for Defence
Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, told the delegates that unless Soviet troops were
permitted to enter Polish territory it was physically impossible for the Soviet
Union to assist Poland and it would be useless to continue discussions.
This point was never resolved before the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations were
negotiations were adjourned indefinitely on 21 August -- after the Soviet
government had decided to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany.
Warning Shots from Moscow
At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I think it is fair to say 'that no
diplomats are more expert in hypocritical double-dealing than British diplomats.
Nevertheless, the Soviet leaders were no fools and, as the negotiations for an
Anglo-French-Soviet mutual security pact dragged on month after month, a number
of warning shots were fired from Moscow.
On 11 March 1939 Joseph Davies, the former US Ambassador in Moscow, now posted
to Brussels, wrote in his diary about Stalin's speech to the 18th Congress of
the CPSU a few days before:
"It is a most significant statement. It bears the earmarks of a definite warning
to the British and French governments that the Soviets are getting tired of
'non-realistic' opposition to the aggressors. . .
It certainly is the most significant danger signal that I have yet seen".
(J. E. Davies: 'Mission to Moscow'; London; 1942; p. 279-80).
Then, on 3 May 1939 the resignation was announced of Maksim Litvinov as Soviet
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and his replacement by a close colleague
of Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov. Although the Soviet government denied that this
signified any change in Soviet foreign policy, it was significant that
Litvinov’s name was particularly associated with collective security and he was
known to be personally sympathetic to the West.
On 29 June the leading Soviet Marxist-Leninist Andrei Zhdanov published an
article in 'Pravda' which, most unusually, revealed that there were differences
in the leadership of the CPSU on whether the British and French governments were
sincere in saying that they wished for a genuine treaty of mutual assistance:
"the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations on the conclusion of an effective pact of
mutual assistance against aggression have reached a deadlock. . . .
I permit myself to express my personal opinion in this matter, although my
friends do not share it. They still think that when beginning the negotiations
with the USSR, the English and French Governments had serious intentions of
creating a powerful barrier against aggression in Europe. I believe, and shall
try to prove it by facts, that the English and French Governments have no wish
for a treaty . . . to which a self-respecting State can agree. .
The Soviet Government took 16 days in preparing answers to the various English
projects and proposals, while the remaining 59 days have been consumed by delays
and procrastinations on the part of the English and French. .
Not long ago . . . the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Beck, declared
unequivocally that Poland neither demanded nor requested from the USSR anything
in the sense of granting her any guarantee whatever.....However, this does not
prevent England and France from demanding from the USSR guarantees . . . for
Poland. . .
It seems to me that the English and French desire not a real treaty accepable to
the USSR, but only talks about a treaty in order to speculate before the public
opinion in their countries on the allegedly unyielding attitude of the USSR, and
thus make easier for themselves the road to a deal with the aggressors.
The next few days must show whether this is so or not."
(A. Zhdanov: Article in 'Pravda', 29 June 1939, in: J. Degras (Ed.): 'Soviet
Documents on Foreign Policy'; London; 1953; p. 352, 353, 354).
A final warning shot was fired on 22 July, when it was officially announced that
Soviet-German trade negotiations were taking place in Berlin.
The Soviet-German Negotiations
At the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939, Stalin described the basis of
Soviet foreign policy as follows:
"We stand for peace and the strengthening of business relations with all
countries. That is our position, and we shall adhere to this position as long as
countries maintain like relations with the Soviet Union and as long as they make
no attempt to trespass on the interests of our country".
(J. V. Stalin: Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the 18th Congress
of the CPSU (b). in : 'The Land of Socialism Today and Tomorrow'; Moscow; 1939;
On 17 April 1939, the Soviet Ambassador in Berlin, Aleksei Merekalov, had a
conversation with the German State Secretary, Baron Ernst von Wiezsaecker, who
asked him whether there was any prospect of the normalisation of relations
between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Ambassador's reply was in line with
Soviet foreign policy:
"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".
('Nazi-Soviet Relations: 1939-1941', Doc. 1; Washington; 1948; p. 2).
On 29 July the German Foreign Office instructed the German Ambassador in the
Soviet Union, Count Fritz von der Schulenburg, to tell Molotov:
"We would be prepared . . . to safeguard all Soviet interests and to come to an
understanding with the Government in Moscow. . . . The idea could be advanced of
so adjusting our attitude to the Baltic States as to respect vital Soviet
interests in the Baltic Sea".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945', Series D, Volume 6; London;
1956; p. 1,016).
On 14 August the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentropp,
cabled Schulenburg, instructing him to call on the Soviet People's Commissar for
Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, and read him a communication:
"There is no question between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea which cannot be
settled to the complete satisfaction of both countries. . . . The leadership of
both countries, therefore, should . . . take action. . .
As we have been informed, the Soviet Government also feel the desire for a
clarification of German-Russian relations. . . . I am prepared to make a short
visit to Moscow in order, in the name of the Fuehrer, to set forth the Fuehrer
's views to M. Stalin. In my view, only through such a direct discussion can a
change be brought about, and it should not be impossible thereby to lay the
foundations for a final settlement of German-Russian relations."
('Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945', Series D, Volume 7; London;
1956; p. 63).
Schulenburg saw Molotov on 16 August and, as instructed, read to him
Ribbentropp’s message. He reported to Berlin the same night that Molotov had
"With great interest the information I had been instructed to convey. . . ..
He was interested in the question of how the German Government were disposed
towards the idea of concluding a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . '; op. cit., Volume 7; p. 77).
Ribbentropp replied the same day, directing Schulenburg to see Molotov again and
inform him that:
"Germany is prepared to conclude a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. .
. . Further, Germany is ready to guarantee the Baltic States jointly with the
Soviet Union. . . .
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
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . .'; op. cit. Volume 7; p. 84).
On 17 August Molotov handed Schulenburg the Soviet government's written reply.
The Note began by recalling Germany's policy of hostility to the Soviet Union in
the past, and welcoming the prospect of an improvement in German-Soviet
relations. It proposed a number of steps in this direction, beginning with a
trade agreement and proceeding 'shortly thereafter' to the conclusion of a
On 18 August Ribbentropp sent a further urgent telegram to Schulenburg saying
that the 'first stage' in the diplomatic process (the signing of the trade
agreement) had been completed, and asking that Ribbentropp be permitted to make
an 'immediate departure for Moscow', where he would:
"be in a position . . . to take the Russian wishes into account, for instance,
the settlement of spheres of interest in the Baltic area".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ' ; op. cit., Volume 7; p. 123).
On 19 August Schulenburg replied 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".
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ', op. cit., Volume 7; p. 134).
On 20 August Hitler himself intervened with a personal letter to Stalin, saying
that he accepted the draft of the non-aggression pact but pleaded that
Ribbentropp should be received in Moscow
"At the latest on Wednesday, August 27th."
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ', op. cit.. Volume 7; p. 157).
Stalin replied to Hitler on 21 August, thanking him for his letter and saying:
"The assent of the German Government to the conclusion of a non-aggression pact
provides the foundation for eliminating the political tension and the
establishment of peace and collaboration between our countries.
The Soviet government have instructed me to inform you that they agree to Herr
von Ribbentropp's arriving in Moscow on August 23". ('Documents on German
Foreign Policy . . . ', op. cit.; p. 168).
Ribbentropp and his delegation arrived in Moscow on 23 August, and the
non-aggression pact was signed later the same day. Its text was almost identical
with the Soviet draft which had been submitted to the Germans on 19 August.
Neither party would attack the other, and should one party become the object of
belligerent action by a third Power, the other party would render no support to
this third Power.
Even more strongly criticised than the pact itself has been a 'Secret Additional
Protocol' to the pact which laid down German and Soviet 'spheres of interest' in
But the term 'sphere of interest' does not necessarily have implications of
imperialist domination. Where two states are likely to be affected by war but
wish this not to involve them in mutual conflict, then the demarcation of
spheres of interest is a legitimate and desirable act.
The 'secret additional protocol' declared:
"1. In the event of a territorial and political transformation in the
territories belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)
the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres
of interest both of Germany and the USSR. . .
2. In the event of a territorial and political transformation of the territories
belonging to the Polish State, the spheres of interest both of Germany and the
USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and
('Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ', Series D, Volume 7; p. 246-47).
In ordinary language, this meant that the German government promised that, when
German troops invaded Poland, they would not attempt to advance beyond the
'Curzon Line', drawn by the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, after the
First World War as the ethnic boundary separating the Poles from the Ukrainians
and Byelorussians. The area east of this line had been Soviet territiory which
was seized from the Soviet Union following the Revolution.
Germany had thus agreed that it would raise no objection to the Soviet
government taking whatever action it considered desirable east of this line.
The Effect of the Non-Aggression Pact
Speaking to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union on 31 August, Molotov
described the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact as:
"A turning-point in the history of Europe, and not of Europe alone".
(V. M. Molotov: Speech to Supreme Soviet of 31 August 1939, in: 'Soviet Peace
Policy'; London; 1941; p. 18).
Molotov accepted Zhdanov’s conclusion -- that the British and French had never
been serious in their attitude to the negotiations:
"They themselves displayed extreme dilatoriness and anything but a serious
attitude towards the negotiations, entrusting them to individuals of secondary
importance who were not vested with adequate powers. . .
The British and French military missions came to Moscow without any definite
powers and without the right to conclude any military convention. Furthermore,
the British military mission arrived in Moscow without any mandate at all".
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 13).
Molotov declared that the breakdown of the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations was
only superficially the refusal of Poland or accept Soviet assistance, since:
"The negotiations showed that Great Britain was not anxious to overcome these
objections of Poland, but on the contrary encouraged them.
Poland . . . had been acting on the instructions of Great Britain and France. ."
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 12, 14).
He stressed that it was not the Soviet government’s action in signing the pact
which had disrupted the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations. On the contrary, the
Soviet government had signed the pact only after the Anglo-French-Soviet
negotiations had been irrevocably sabotaged by the British and French
"Attempts are being made to spread the fiction that the conclusion of the
Soviet-German pact disrupted the negotiations with Britain and France for a
mutual assistance pact. . . . In reality, as you know, the very reverse is true.
. . . The Soviet Union signed the non-aggression pact with Germany, amongst
other things, because negotiations with France and Great Britain had . . . ended
in failure through the fault of the ruling circles of Britain and France". (V.
M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 20).
The same point was made by the Soviet People's Commissar for Defence, Marshal
Kliment Voroshilov, at a press conference on 27 August 1939:
"Miltary negotiations with England and France were not broken off because the
USSR concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany; on the contrary, the USSR
concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany as a result, inter alia, of the
fact that the military negotiations with France and England had reached a
(K. Y. Voroshilov: Press statement of 27 August 1939, in: J. Degras (Ed.):
'Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy'; London; 1953; p. 361).
Furthermore, Molotov emphasised that the Soviet negotiations with Germany were
on a completely different level to the Soviet negotiations with Britain and
"We are dealing not with a pact of mutual assistance, as in the case of the
Anglo-French-Soviet relations, but only with a non-aggression Pact."
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 18).
So that, as a result of the signing of the German-Soviet pact:
"the USSR is not obliged to involve itself in war, either on the side of Great
Britain against Germany or on the side of Germany against Great Britain."
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.,; p. 21).
Even such anti-Soviet writers as Edward Carr agree that the Soviet government’s
decision to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany was an enforced second
choice, which was taken only with extreme reluctance:
"The most striking feature of the Soviet-German negotiations . . . is the
extreme caution with which they were conducted from the Soviet side, and the
prolonged Soviet resistance to close the doors on the Western negotiations".
(E. H. Carr: 'From Munich to Moscow: II', in: 'Soviet Studies', Volume 1, No. 12
(October 1949); p. 104).
Indeed, some Soviet leaders -- notably Maksim Litvinov, the former People’s
Commissar for Foreign Affairs -- urged that more time should be given for the
British and French governments to be pressed by public opinion in their
countries into serious negotiations for a pact of mutual assistance.
What precipitated the acceptance of the pressing German proposals for a
rapprochement was the discovery by Soviet intelligence that the Chamberlain
government was secretly negotiating for a military alliance with Germany, so
threatening the Soviet Union with aggression from four Powers -- Britain,
France, Germany and Italy -- combined. The British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir
Nevile Henderson, describes in an official report to Foreign Secretary Lord
Halifax, dated 29 August 1939, a conversation with Hitler and Ribbentropp:
"Herr von Ribbentropp asked me whether I could guarantee that the Prime Minister
could carry the country with him in a policy of friendship with Germany. I said
that there was no possible doubt whatever that he could and would, provided
Germany cooperated with him. Herr Hitler asked whether England would be willing
to accept an alliance with Germany. I said, speaking personally, I did not
exclude such a possibility".
('Documents concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilites
between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939'; (Cmd. 6106); London;
1939; p. 130).
The fact that both German and Soviet troops entered Poland has been used to
equate Fascist Germany with the socialist Soviet Union. But, of course, a
socialist state cannot be equated with an aggressive imperialist state. It has
to be noted,
Firstly, that Soviet troops entered what had been Polish territory only on 17
September -- 16 days after the German invasion of Poland - when the Polish state
had collapsed, as Molotov stressed to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October 1939:
"Our troops entered the territory of Poland only after the Polish State had
collapsed and actually had ceased to exist. . . . The Soviet government could
not but reckon with the exceptional situation created for our brothers in the
Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia, who had been abandoned to their fate as
a result of the collapse of Poland".
(V. M. Molotov: Speech to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 31 October 1939, in:
'Soviet Foreign Policy'; London; 1941; p. 32).
And the correspondents of the capitalist press agree with Soviet contemporary
Soviet sources that the Red Army was welcomed as liberators by the Ukrainian and
Byelorussian population concerned. Molotov reported:
"The Red Army . . . was greeted with sympathy by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian
population, who welcomed our troops as liberators from the yoke of the gentry
and from the yoke of the Polish landlords and capitalists."
(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 33).
In the House of Commons on 20 September, Conservative MP Robert Boothby
"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".
(Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, Volume 351; House of Commons; London; 1939;
It is outside the scope of today's seminar to discuss one of the most absurd of
the anti-Stalin stories -- that Stalin trusted the Nazis to adhere to the pact
and was completely taken by surprise when the German army invaded the Soviet
Union in 1941.
Who can forget Stalin's prophetic words in 1931:
"We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make
good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall go under".
(J. V. Stalin: 'The Tasks of Business Executives', in: 'Works', Volume I13;
Moscow; 1955; p. 41).
Exactly ten years later, in 1941, came the German invasion.
The test of the correctness or incorrectness of Stalin's policy is whether or
not it strengthened or weakened the ability of the socialist Soviet Union to
defend itself against the future aggression which its leaders knew was
Even such virulent anti-Soviet writers as Edward Carr admit that the signing of
the German-Soviet non-aggression pact enabled the Soviet Union to put itself in
an incomparably stronger defensive position to meet the German invasion:
"The Chamberlain government ., as a defender of capitalism, refused . . . to
enter into an alliance with the USSR against Germany. . . .
In the pact of August 23rd, 1939, they (the Soviet government -- Ed.) secured:
a) a breathing space of immunity from attack;
b) German assistance in mitigating Japanese pressure in the Far East;
c) German agreement to the establishment of an advanced defensive bastion beyond
the existing Soviet frontiers in Eastern Europe; it was significant that this
bastion was, and could only be, a line of defence against potential German
attack, the eventual prospect of which was never far absent from Soviet
reckonings. But what most of all was achieved by the pact was the assurance
that, if the USSR had eventually to fight Hitler, the Western Powers would
already be involved".
(E. H. Carr: 'From Munich to Moscow: II', in: 'Soviet Studies', Volume 1, No. 2
(October 1949); p. 103).
Questions Put By The Audience to The Speaker, And His Replies
It has been suggested that Litvinov was removed from his post simply because he
was a Jew, and as such would have been regarded as unsuitable as a negotiator by
the Germans. Is there any truth in this?
In my opinion, no. We know that Stalin supported the replacement of Litvinov,
and Stalin was known to be have been opposed not only to racism but to any
concession to racism. Litvinov had, personally, been strongly associated with
the policy of collective security and reliable sources testify to his conviction
that, with more time, the British and French governments would sooner or later
endorse this policy. As soon as the Soviet leaders began to give consideration
to the possibility of a rapprochement with Germany, therefore, Litvinov ceased
to be a reliable instrument of Soviet foreign policy.
Did Litvinov actually oppose the signing of the non-aggression pact?
I have no concrete information as to whether he opposed it on principle, but he
is known to have held the view that more time should be given to allow the
Anglo-French representatives to see sense'. But he is on record later as
declaring that it had been 'a mistake' resulting from Molotov's 'lack of
understanding of the functioning of Western democracy'.
In one of Molotov 's speeches following the occupation of Eastern Poland, he
referred to the Polish state as being the illegitimate child of Versailles and
commented that, happily, it had disappeared. This has been interpreted as
demonstrating that the Soviet Union always had territorial designs upon Poland.
Was the Soviet position one of supporting the destruction of the Polish state?
Does this mean that the Soviet Union was prepared to deny the aspirations of the
Polish people to have their own state?
There is no doubt that the Polish people constitute a nation, and
Marxist-Leninists have always recognised the right of any nation to have its own
independent state. The Polish state which existed in 1939, however, did not have
its boundaries drawn on ethnic lines; it included, for example, millions of
Ukrainians and Byelorussians and I feel sure that it was such facts which lay at
the basis of Molotov 's statement. In other words it was not any Polish state,
but that existing in 1939 which Molotov depicted as a monstrosity. However, that
Polish Polish state was not destroyed by the Red Army, but by the German army;
the Red Army's occupation of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia began only
after the Polish state had collapsed and ceased to exist. The Polish state was
restored after the United Nations victory over Germany in 1945.
Was a protocol signed as part of the non-aggression pact which led to a line
being drawn across Poland dividing the spheres of interest of the Soviet Union
and Nazi Germany? Is this the secret protocol referred to in the West and did
such a protocol really exist? Was the dividing line the Curzon Line?
The Anglo-American imperialists published the 'secret protocol' after the Second
World War, claiming that it had been discovered in the captured archives of the
German Foreign Office. I know that the late Soviet President, Andrei Gromyko,
denounces the 'secret additional protocol' as a forgery in his memoirs, but he
was a notorious revisionist and not a source I would place any reliance on. As
far as I recall, the Soviet government of the time neither confirmed nor denied
its authenticity. However, in the Soviet Information Bureau published in 1948,
Falsifiers of History, no charge is made that the document is spurious, and this
official pamphlet states:
"The Soviet Union succeeded in making good use of the Soviet-German Pact to
strengthen its defences, . . . in moving its frontiers far to the West and in
barring the way of the unhampered eastward advance of German Aggression".
('Falsifiers of History'; op. cit.; p. 45).
It would seem that this cannot possibly refer to the treaty itself (which makes
no mention of spheres of interest or frontiers), but only to the 'secret
additional protocol'. As I said before, I do not accept the view that 'spheres
of interest' between states are necessarily an phenomenon to be condemned. A
socialist state may have its own spheres of interest which it sees as essential
to its defence and, where these may conflict with the spheres of interest of
other states, it seems to me correct to try to reach agreement with these other
states, to map them out in order to maintain peaceful relations with these other
states. On the evidence available to me at present, I believe the published
'secret protocol' to be genuine.
Yes, the dividing line 'ran along the old Curzon Line.
The above paper was read by Bill Bland at a seminar organised by the STALIN
SOCIETY in London in February 1990.
Published by: The Stalin Society, Ilford, Essex.