Why Stalin Partitioned Poland
We are doing something which, if it succeeds, will
overturn the whole world and liberate the entire working class.
Vol. 13, p. 41)
On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany suddenly attacked the Soviet
Union. That is a historical fact. It is, however, a very strange
fact. Before the Second World War, Germany
did not have a common frontier with the Soviet Union.
could not then have made an attack, still less a sudden one.
and the Soviet Union had been separated by an
uninterrupted buffer of neutral states. Before a Soviet—German war could take
place, one condition above all others was necessary. The buffer of neutral
states had to be destroyed. But who exactly destroyed this buffer; and why?
The buffer between Germany
and the Soviet Union consisted for most of its length of
at least two countries. Only at one point was it formed by one country: Poland.
Poland was the
shortest, most direct, most level and most convenient route lying between the Soviet
Union and Germany.
It was the narrowest part of the dividing wall. It is not hard to understand
that it is precisely through here that any potential aggressor, intent on a
Soviet—German war, would have to try to force a corridor. On the other hand, if
either the Soviet Union or Germany
did not want such a war, they would have to use all the strength of their armed
forces, all of their national wisdom and all the force of their international
authority to keep the enemy off Polish territory. If the worst came to the
worst, war would have to be waged in Poland
itself, so as to prevent an approach towards either frontier.
Hitler had declared his warlike
intentions quite openly. Stalin was quick to call him publicly, a cannibal.
Hitler of course could not attack Stalin, since they did not share a common
frontier. So Hitler proposed to Stalin that they make a joint effort to breach
the wall that divided them. Stalin accepted this proposal with delight. He
knocked down the Polish wall with enormous enthusiasm and forced a corridor in
Hitler’s direction. Hitler’s motives towards Poland,
as laid out in Mein Kampf, are understandable. But how can Stalin’s
actions be explained?
The first explanation, according
to Soviet propagandists, is that, after having torn Poland
to pieces and drowned it in blood, USSR
moved her frontier westwards, that is, strengthened her security. This is a
strange explanation. The Soviet frontier was indeed moved westwards by 200—300
kilometres, but at the same time Germany
moved its frontier some 300—400 kilometres eastwards. As a result of this, the
security of the Soviet Union was not enhanced; on the
contrary, it was diminished. But this apart, there was an
entirely new factor. This was the common Soviet—German frontier and
hence the direct possibility of war, including a war of surprise attack.
The second explanation is that by
stabbing Poland in the back at a time when she was engaged in a desperate
struggle with the Nazis, USSR tried to delay the outbreak of the
Soviet—German war. This is like saying that USSR
started a fire in her neighbour’s house in the expectation that it would not
spread to hers.
The third explanation is that the
unwillingness of France
and Britain to
sign a treaty with the USSR
left Stalin with no option but to come to terms with Hitler. But why should France
defend the Soviet Union, when the Soviet
Union had proclaimed that its main aim was to overthrow democracy
everywhere, including in France
The West did not care whether Hitler went east or not. The countries of Eastern
Europe certainly did. If Hitler turned eastwards, they would be
his first victims. Therefore the Eastern European countries were the natural
allies of the Soviet Union. An alliance should be sought
with them against Hitler. But Stalin did not seek such alliances. In cases
where treaties did exist, the Soviet Union did not carry
out her obligations. Stalin could have remained neutral, but chose instead to
stab in the back those countries engaged in a struggle with fascism.
Once he had forced a corridor
through the dividing wall, Hitler thought that he had done enough. He then
turned his attentions to Western Europe, Africa,
the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
What ought Stalin to have done, faced as he was with a breach in the wall some
570 kilometres wide and time in hand? He should have hastily reinforced his
defences. The old frontier was a powerful line of fortified regions. It should
have been strengthened and improved without delay. In addition to this, a
second line of defence should have been built, and a third, and a fifth, and
more. Mines should have been laid at once on roads, on bridges and in fields.
Anti-tank ditches should have been dug and given anti-tank artillery cover. But
none of this happened. Some time later, in 1943, the Red Army was preparing to
repel an enemy attack in the Kursk Salient. Within a short period of time,
Soviet troops succeeded in creating six continuous defensive strips — one
behind the other — on a vast front, to a total depth of 250—300 kilometres.
Each kilometre was saturated with trenches, dugouts, communication trenches,
concealment shelters and gun positions. The average density of anti-tank and
anti-infantry mines per kilometre was as high as 7,000, while the density of anti-tank
weaponry reached the exceptionally high level of 41 guns in every kilometre,
not counting field and anti-aircraft artillery, and tanks, dug into the ground.
Thus a truly impenetrable defence was set up from scratch in a very short space
of time in the open field.
In 1939 conditions which favoured
defence were considerably better than in 1943. There were impassable forests,
rivers and marshes. There were few roads and a lot of time. Nevertheless, at
that moment the Soviet Union stopped producing anti-tank
and anti-aircraft guns. Instead of rendering the area impassable, it was
immediately made more passable. Roads and bridges were built in it, and the
railway network was extended, strengthened and improved. Previously existing
fortifications were demolished and covered with earth.
Ilya Starinov, a GRU colonel
involved in this process, described what he saw:
was becoming absurd. When we were faced by weak armies of comparatively small
countries, our frontiers were really well and truly safe. When Nazi Germany
became our neighbour the defensive installations put up by the engineers along
the former frontier were abandoned and even partially dismantled. (I. Starinov,
Miny Zhdut Svoego Chasa, p. 186)
The military engineering
directorate of the Red Army indented for 120,000 delayed-action railway mines.
In the event of an invasion by the German Army, this quantity would have been
quite sufficient to paralyse the entire railway network behind enemy lines,
upon which the Germans would have been totally dependent. But instead of the
number of mines ordered, only 120 arrived. (Starinov, op.
cit.) Yet the mine is a very simple, very
cheap and very effective weapon. The production of mines in the Soviet
Union was enormous, but it was curtailed after the passage had
been forced through the wall.
One breach in the wall was enough
for Hitler. It was not enough for Stalin. Hitler, with Stalin’s help, destroyed
the authority of the state in only one country forming part of the dividing
buffer. Stalin, without anybody’s help, achieved this in three other countries,
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, attempted to do the same in a fourth, Finland,
and actively prepared to repeat the performance in a fifth country, Romania,
after having seized a vast tract of Romanian territory. Only ten months after
the ‘non-aggression’ pact was signed and by Stalin’s own efforts, the dividing
buffer from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea
had been completely shattered. There no longer remained any neutral countries
between Stalin and Hitler and thereby the conditions needed for attack were
During this short space of time,
all of Stalin’s western neighbours had become his victims. The appearance of
Soviet troops in Lithuania
meant that they had moved on to the real German frontier. Previously, the
Soviet–German border passed through Polish-occupied territory. Now, Soviet
troops had moved on to the frontier with East Prussia.
Communist historians have tried, though
without any success, to devise answers to the question as to why Stalin agreed
to help Hitler force a corridor through Poland.
The question as to why Stalin smashed the entire buffer is one which they
prefer not to raise. But Stalin himself gave a clear and precise answer to that
[wrote Stalin] that when one country wants to go to war with another, even one
which is not a neighbour, then it begins to seek frontiers across which it
would be able to reach the frontiers of the countries it wishes to attack. (Pravda, 5 March 1936)
Did the Red Army intend to stop
on the borders once it had reached them?
Here is S. K. Timoshenko, Marshal
of the Soviet Union, on the subject:
Latvia and Estonia,
the power of the landowners and capitalists, so hateful to the workers, has
been abolished. The Soviet Union has grown significantly
and has moved its frontiers westwards. The capitalist world has been compelled
to yield and give ground. But it is not for us fighters of the Red Army to give
ourselves airs or rest on our laurels! (Order
of the People’s Commissar of Defence, No. 400, 7 November 1940)
This is neither a speech nor a
Tass report. It is an order of the Red Army. To the west of the Soviet borders
lay only Germany
and countries allied to her. Could the frontiers be moved
further westward, at the expense of Germany?
The Pact and its Results
Stalin was more cunning than Hitler, more cunning and
ANTON ANTONOV-OVSEENKO (The Portrait of a Tyrant, New York 1980; p. 296)
Outwardly everything seemed
equitable, a part of Poland
for Hitler and a part for Stalin. However, just one week after the signing of
the Pact, Stalin played his first dirty trick. Hitler began the war against Poland,
while Stalin stated that his troops were not yet ready. He could have told
Ribbentrop that before the Pact was signed, but he did not do so.* Hitler began
the war and found himself on his own. The result? He, and he alone, was branded the perpetrator of the Second
Once he had begun the war against
immediately found himself at war with France,
that is, at war on two fronts. Every German schoolboy knew how a war on two
fronts would turn out in the end for Germany.
at once declared war on Germany.
France could be
dealt with, but Britain
was an island. In order to reach it, long and serious preparations were
necessary. A powerful fleet, roughly equal in strength to the Royal Navy, was
also needed, as
as the ‘Non-Aggression Pact’, which, by dividing Poland between the Soviet Union and Germany, was instrumental in the start of World War II.
supremacy in the air. The war was thus already changing into what would become
a long, drawn-out conflict.
Standing behind Britain
was the United States
which could, as it did in World War I, throw its inexhaustible power on to the
scales at the most vital moment. The whole of the West became Hitler’s enemy.
Hitler could count on Stalin’s friendship only so long as he was in a position
of strength. In a protracted war against the West, Stalin would, of course, be
obliged to dissipate this strength.
As far as Stalin was concerned, Poland
had been partitioned, not in the Chancellery in Berlin,
but in the Kremlin in Moscow. In
effect, Stalin got the war he wanted, with a western nation destroying others
around it, while Stalin remained neutral, biding his time. When, later, he got
into serious difficulties, Stalin at once received help from the West.
In the end, however, Poland,
for whose liberty the West had gone to war, ended up with none at all. On the
contrary, she was handed over to Stalin, along with the whole of Eastern
Europe, including a part of Germany.
Even so, there are some people in the West who continue to believe that the
West won the Second World War.
Hitler committed suicide; Stalin
became the absolute ruler of a vast empire hostile to the West, which had been
created with the help of the West. For all that, Stalin was able to
preserve his reputation as naive and trusting, while Hitler went down in
history as the ultimate aggressor. A multitude of books have been published in
the West based on the idea that Stalin was not ready for war while Hitler was.
In my view, the man who is ready for war is not the one who loudly proclaims
himself prepared for it, but the man who wins it – by dividing his enemies and
knocking their heads together.
Did Stalin intend to observe the
Pact? Let Stalin speak:
The question of conflict must not
be considered from the point of view of justice, but from the point of view of
the demands of the political factor, from the point of view of the political
demands of the Party at any given moment. (Speech to a session of the executive
committee of the Comintern, 22 January 1926)
War can turn
each and every agreement upside down. (Pravda,
15 September 1927)
The Party, in congresses at which
Stalin spoke, correctly understood its leaders and gave them the appropriate,
stresses in particular that the Central Committee is given full powers at any
moment to break all alliances and peace treaties with imperialist and bourgeois
states and equally to declare war on them. (Resolution of the 7th Party
Incidentally, this Party decision
has never been rescinded.
According to Stalin, ‘A great
deal depends upon whether we succeed in delaying the war, which is unavoidable,
with the capitalist world, until that moment when the capitalists start
fighting among themselves.’ (Sochineniya,
Vol. 10, p. 288) And: ‘The decisive battle can be considered
imminent when all the class forces hostile to us have become sufficiently
entangled with each other, when they are fighting sufficiently with each other,
and when they have weakened each other sufficiently for the conflict to be
beyond their strength.’ (Sochineniya,
Vol. 6, p. 158)
Stalin needed a situation in
which ‘the capitalists will fight each other like dogs’. (Pravda, 14 May 1939) The Molotov
—Ribbentrop pact created just that situation. Quotations like these could be
glimpsed in Pravda: ‘Not only must they be taken by the throat, they
must be destroyed.’ (Marx, Vol. 2, p. 343) Pravda was transported with
delight. ‘The foundations of the earth are trembling,’ it wrote. ‘The ground
slips from under the feet of peoples and nations. Glows are afire in the sky
and the thunder of guns shakes seas and continents. Powers and states are blown
away just like chaff in the wind. How excellent it is, how extraordinarily
wonderful, when the world is shaken to its very foundations, when powers perish
and greatness falls.’ (Pravda, 4
August 1940) ‘Every such war brings us closer to that happy time when murders
among the people will no longer happen. (Pravda,
18 August 1940)
These sentiments spread from the
very top down through the ranks of the Red Army and the Party.
Lieutenant-General S. Krivoshein described a conversation he had with Peter
Latyshev, his deputy. Krivoshein was commanding the 25th Mechanized Corps at
the time. Shortly before, he had been in charge, along with General Guderian,
of the joint Nazi—Soviet parade in Brest-Litovsk to mark the partition of Poland.
‘We have concluded a treaty with the Germans’, he said, ‘but this means
nothing. Now is the most wonderful time to solve all world problems once and
for all, and in a constructive way.’ (Ratnaya
Byl’, Molodaya Gvardiya, 1962, p. 8) Krivoshein turned everything into a joke after the event. It
is interesting that jokes of this kind were circulating in his Corps and indeed
throughout the Red Army. Nobody seriously discussed whether the Corps and the
entire Red Army had been prepared for defence.
Leonid Brezhnev himself has
spoken of the way in which Soviet communists believed in the Non-Aggression
Pact and the manner in which they intended to observe it. He described a
meeting of Party agitators which was held in Dnepropetrovsk
Brezhnev, we have to interpret non-aggression and say that it has to be taken
seriously, and that anyone who does not believe in it is talking provocation.
But people have little faith in it. So what are we to do? Do we go on
interpreting it or not?’
It was quite a
delicate moment. There were 400 people sitting in the hall, all waiting for me
to answer. I had very little time to think.
‘You have got
to go on interpreting it,’ I said, ‘and we shall go on interpreting it until
not one stone of Nazi Germany remains upon another.’ (Leonid Brezhnev, Malaya
Zemlya, Moscow, 1978, p. 16)
It occurred to Stalin that the
situation in which ‘not one stone of Nazi Germany remains upon another’ would
come about in 1942. But the rapid fall of France and Hitler’s refusal to land
in Britain (Soviet military intelligence knew about this at the end of 1940)
rearranged all the cards which Stalin held in his hand. The liberation of Europe
was brought forward from the summer of 1942 to the summer of 1941. The new year
of 1941 was therefore greeted with the slogan, ‘Let us increase the numbers of
republics in the Soviet Union!’
spades, in Forty-One, we’ll find
The wealth of
Earth, which lies in virgin layers;
Becomes a simple fuel for every day.
Each year for
us is victory, a battle,
For coal, for
sweeps of metallurgy galore,
coats of arms, perhaps, are added,
New coats of
arms – of these will have still more . . .
(Pravda, 1 January 1941)
They were not thinking about
defence. They were not preparing for it, nor had they any intention of
preparing for it. They were fully aware that Germany
was already at war in the West and for that reason would not begin a war in the
East. They knew full well that war on two fronts would be suicide for Hitler.
On no occasion before the war did
Pravda ever call on the Soviet people to strengthen its defences. Indeed,
Pravda’s tone was quite different:
Our country is
large; the globe must revolve for nine hours before the whole of our vast
Soviet land can enter the new year of our victories. The time will come when
not nine hours, but all the twenty-four hours on the clock will be needed for
this to happen . . . Who knows where we shall be greeting the new year in five
or ten years’ time — in what latitude, on what new Soviet meridian? (Pravda, 1 January 1941)
The nearer the date of the Soviet
invasion of Europe approached — July 1941 — the more
explicit Pravda became:
enemies, meet the demands of each of them temporarily and then destroy them one
at a time, giving them no opportunity to unite. (Pravda, 4 March 1941)
Hitler decided that it was not
worth his while waiting any longer. He was the first to go, without waiting for
the blow of the ‘liberating’ dagger to stab him in the back. He had begun the
war in the most favourable conditions which could possibly have existed for an
aggressor; but given the nature of Stalin’s grand plan, he could never have won
it. Even in the most unfavourable conditions, the Red Army was able to
‘liberate’ half of Europe and has held it in subjugation
to this day. We must wonder how would it have turned
out had the best German forces left the Continent in the early stages of the
war to go off to Africa and the British Isles,
leaving the Red Army to move in behind their backs to destroy Germany’s
only source of oil.
When Did the Soviet Union Enter World War II?
In the event of a general conflict, only one country can
win. That country is the Soviet Union.
HITLER, 1937 (In conversation with Lord Halifax,
Obersalzburg, 19 November 1937)
Everything in the Soviet
Union relating to the beginning of World War II is concealed by
the impenetrable darkness of state secrecy. Among the many secrets is one which
is especially well kept: the date on which the Soviet Union
entered the war.
In order to conceal the truth,
communist propaganda has put about the false date of 22 June 1941. Communist writers have thought up a
multitude of legends about 22 June. I have even heard it said that the USSR
was bent on a ‘peaceful’ life when it was set upon. If the inventions of Soviet
propaganda are to be believed, the Soviet Union did not
enter World War II of its own volition, but was forcibly dragged into it.
In order to make this sound
plausible, Soviet propaganda has been compelled to buttress this date with
special props. On the one hand, the ‘pre-war period’ was devised to include the
two years preceding 22 June, while on the other, we have the invented figure of
‘1,418 days of war’. Counting back from the day when the war in Europe
ended, one inevitably comes to rest, according to forged Soviet computations,
on ‘that fateful Sunday’.
It is, however, easy to debunk
the myth of 22 June. All that is needed to do this is to tap gently on one of
the supports, that of the ‘pre-war period’, for example,
for the entire structure to collapse, along with that ‘fateful’ date and the
1,418 days of the ‘great motherland war’.
The ‘pre-war period’ never
existed. It was invented. Suffice it to recall that during this period all the
European neighbours of the Soviet Union fell victims to Soviet aggression. Moreover, the Red Army
certainly had no intention of restricting or stopping its ‘liberation
campaigns’ into the West at that point (Order No. 400, dated 7 February 1940,
of the People’s Commissar for the Defence of the USSR) although by then only Germany
lay to the west of the Soviet Union.
In September 1939, the Soviet
Union declared itself neutral and, during the ‘pre-war period’,
seized territories with populations totalling 23 million people – not bad
going for a neutral state.
The Red Army and the NKVD
perpetrated fearful crimes in these captured territories. Soviet concentration
camps were crammed with imprisoned soldiers and officers from a number of
European countries. Officer prisoners, and not only the Poles, were shot in
their thousands. This is not the action of a neutral state.
Here is a strange state of
which means that Germany
was the instigator of, and participant in, the European and then the World War.
The Soviet Union did the same thing in the same month,
but it does not judge itself to have been an instigator of the war. Nor does it
consider itself even to have then been a participant in the war.
A Polish soldier killed in battle
on Polish territory against the Red Army is considered a participant in World
War II, as well as its victim, while the Soviet soldier who killed him is
regarded as ‘neutral’. If in the same battle a Soviet soldier is killed, then
it is judged that he has been killed not in wartime but in peacetime – in the
and this was an act of war, even although no great battles were fought. The Soviet
Union also seized, without firing a shot, three Baltic states markedly similar to Denmark
in geographical position, in size of population, in culture and in traditions.
But the actions of the Soviet Union are not judged to be
acts of war.
This was a further act of aggression. But before this happened, the Soviet
Union had carved up neighbouring Finland.
The list of crimes committed by Germany
in the war begins on 1 September 1939,
while the list of the Red Army’s crimes begins for some reason only on 22 June 1941. Why?
During the ‘pre-war period’, the
Red Army lost hundreds of
thousands of its soldiers in bitter battles. German Army losses in the same
period were considerably less. If one judges from losses alone, Germany
had more grounds than the Soviet Union for considering
itself neutral in 1939 and 1940.
The official formula used to give
a name to these actions of the Soviet Army in the ‘pre-war period’ is
‘strengthening of western frontier security’. This is not true. The frontiers
were secure, at a time when the neighbours of the Soviet Union
were the neutral states of Europe, while there were no
common frontiers with Germany,
and when Hitler in consequence was totally unable to launch a general attack,
and certainly not a surprise attack, on the Soviet Union.
Stalin, however, systematically destroyed several neutral states of Europe,
thereby establishing a common frontier with Germany.
This was not a way of enhancing the security of the Soviet frontiers.
If we use the formula
‘strengthening of western frontier security’ to describe aggression against six
neutral European states — Poland,
and Romania —
why do we not use the same formula in relation to Hitler? Did he not enhance
the security of his frontiers by occupying neighbouring countries?
It might be objected that in the
‘pre-war period’ the Soviet Union did not wage one
continuous war, but a series of wars and invasions separated by intervals. But
Hitler also waged a series of wars separated by intervals. Why do we use other
criteria when judging him?
It is alleged that the Soviet
Union did not formally declare war on anybody in the ‘pre-war period’, therefore it cannot be considered a participant in
the war. But Hitler did not always formally declare war. According to the
statements made by Soviet propaganda, nobody formally declared war on anybody
on 22 June 1941 either. So
why is this date accepted as the divide between war and peace?
Soviet propaganda begins its
history of the war from the moment when foreign troops appeared on Soviet
territory and thus presents the Soviet Union as an
innocent victim. Let us stop imagining it as an innocent victim. Let us
remember instead those who were really innocent, and who perished in the
‘pre-war period’ on the bayonets of the army of ‘liberators’. Let the history
of the war be written, not from 22 June, but from the moment when the communist
hordes, without any declaration of war, took belligerent action in an already
whose army was trying in a heroic but unequal struggle to stop Hitler’s drive
to the east. Let the history of the war be written, not just from that day, but
from the day on which Stalin himself took the decision to start it.
At dawn on 1 September 1939, the German Army entered Poland.
In the twentieth century, war in Europe automatically means
world war. So the war in fact quickly laid hold upon both Europe
and almost the whole of the rest of the world.
By a strange confluence of
circumstances, it was precisely on that very same day of 1 September that the
Fourth Extraordinary Session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
passed a law establishing general liability for military service. Throughout
the whole of the Soviet Union’s history, there had never
been such a law. While Hitler was frightening children (and grown-ups), and was
looked upon as a monster and an ogre, the Soviet government had in fact got by
without any general military-service liability law. Yet as soon as the
Non-Aggression Pact was signed, an act was needed to establish a general
obligation to perform military service. September 1939 was the beginning of the
phoney war in the West. In the same month, a no less phoney peace began in the
Why did the Soviet
Union need to impose the general obligation to military service?
The communists will answer with one voice that it was needed because the Second
World War began that day; they did not want to take part in it, but were simply
taking precautionary measures. Marshal of the Soviet Union,
K. A. Meretskov, was one of the many who asserted that the law was of great
significance and was passed ‘in the conditions of World War II which had
already begun’. (Na Sluzhbe Narodu,
IPL, Moscow, 1968 p. 181)
Let us imagine the Polish–German
frontier on that tragic morning – darkness, mist, shooting and the roar of
engines. There were few in Poland
who understood what was happening, whether it was a provocation or an
unauthorized clash which had somehow been self-generated. But at the same
moment, the deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
– including shepherds from the mountainous pastures high above the cloud level
and distinguished reindeer breeders from nomad camps in the Arctic
– were assembled in Moscow. They
already knew that it was neither provocation, nor a clash, nor a
Polish–German war, nor even a European war, but the beginning of the Second
World War; and they immediately met in emergency session to pass the
appropriate laws. Yet how can it be explained why these same deputies did not
react with identical swiftness when a similar thing happened on the
Soviet–German frontier in 1941?
On that morning of 1 September,
it was not only the Polish government and the governments of western countries
who did not know that a new world war had begun. Hitler himself did not know
it. He began the war against Poland
in the hope that it would only be a local action, like the seizure of Czechoslovakia
had been. This is not just Goebbels’ propaganda. Soviet sources say the same
thing: ‘Hitler was convinced,’ wrote Air Colonel-General A. S. Yakovlev, who
was a personal adviser of Stalin’s at the time, ‘that Britain
would not go to war over Poland.’
(Tsel’ Zhizni, IPL, Moscow,
1968, p. 212)
Thus Hitler did not know that he
was beginning World War II; the comrades in the Kremlin knew it all too well.
But it is, of course, a long way to Moscow.
Some deputies needed a week, others as much as twelve days to reach the
capital. This means that, in order to discuss the war which had begun in Europe,
someone gave the signal to the deputies to gather in the Kremlin before the
war began. Indeed, I believe that someone gave this signal even before
the Molotov—Ribbentrop pact was signed.
An attempt to establish the exact
date on which the Second World War began, and the time when the Soviet
Union came into it, inescapably leads us, in fact, to the date of 19 August 1939.
Previously, Stalin had often
spoken at secret meetings about his plan to ‘liberate’ Europe.
This was first to involve Europe in war, while he
himself remained neutral. Then, when the adversaries had exhausted each other,
he would throw the whole power of the Red Army into the balance. (Stalin, Vol.
6, p. 158; Vol. 7, p. 14) The final decision to carry this plan in effect was
taken at a session of the Politburo held on 19 August 1939. News about this Politburo meeting and what
it had decided reached the Western press immediately. Havas, the French news
agency, published a report on the proceedings. Yet how could a record of them
fall into the hands of the Western press?
There is no sure answer. It might
have passed along one of several paths. One of the more probable is this:
one or more Politburo members, frightened by Stalin’s plans, decided to stop
him. They could not protest openly. The only way, therefore, of compelling
Stalin to renounce his plans might have been to publish his plans in the West.
Members of the Politburo, especially those who controlled the Red Army, the war
industry, military intelligence, the NKVD, propaganda and the Comintern, were
perfectly able to do it.
Such a scenario is not as
fantastic as it might first appear. Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were, in 1917,
members of the Politburo, published the plans of Lenin and Trotsky in the
bourgeois press in order to disrupt the October Coup. We still do not know how
the document found its way to the West, but there were a variety of ways it
could have got there.
Stalin reacted to the Havas
agency message with lightning speed and in a highly unusual manner. He
published a denial in Pravda. It is a serious document and must be read
REPORT ISSUED BY THE HAVAS AGENCY
The editor of Pravda
has put the following question to Comrade Stalin. What is Comrade Stalin’s
attitude to the message issued by the Havas agency on ‘Stalin’s speech’, allegedly
made by him ‘in the Politburo of 19 August’, at which ideas were supposedly
advanced to the effect that ‘the war must be continued for as long as is needed
to exhaust the belligerent countries’?
has sent the following answer:
issued by the Havas agency, like many more of its messages, is nonsense. I of
course cannot know in precisely which nightclub these lies were fabricated. But
no matter how many lies the gentlemen of the Havas agency might tell, they
cannot deny that
a) it was not Germany
which attacked France
but France and Britain
which attacked Germany,
thereby taking upon themselves the responsibility for the present war;
hostilities began, Germany made peace proposals to France and Britain, while
the Soviet Union openly supported these German peace proposals, for it
considered, and continues to consider, that only as early an end to the war as
possible can bring relief in a fundamental way to the condition of all
countries and all peoples;
c) the ruling circles in Britain
rejected out of hand both the German peace proposals and the Soviet
Union’s efforts to end the war as quickly as possible.
Such are the
facts. What can the nightclub politicians of the Havas agency provide to
counter these facts?’ J. STALIN (Pravda,
30 November 1939)
Let the reader make up his own
mind as to whether the Havas agency report or Stalin’s denial is nonsense.
Stalin himself, in my view, would hardly have wished to repeat this in his own
words in a subsequent period. It is interesting to note that copies of the Pravda
issue of 30 November 1939 practically no longer exist in the Soviet
Union. I was astonished to discover that there was no copy to be
found in the special repository of the GRU archives. It had long since been
destroyed. I succeeded in finding a copy only in the West.
The unconcealed mendacity of
Stalin’s refutation, and his uncharacteristic loss of composure, support the Havas agency version. In this case a nerve of
unusual sensitivity was touched and this is why there was such a response to
it. During the decades of Soviet power, the Western press wrote a great deal
about the Soviet Union and Stalin personally. The
Bolsheviks and Stalin himself were accused of every mortal sin. It wrote that
Stalin had been an agent provocateur for the police, that he had
murdered his wife, that he was a despot, a sadist, a dictator, an ogre, a
butcher and much more besides. But not once did Stalin become involved in
controversy with the ‘bourgeois hack writers’. Why then, on only this one
occasion, did the normally taciturn and composed Stalin lower himself to
indulge in cheap insults? There can only be one answer. The Havas agency had
revealed some of Stalin’s best-kept secrets. It did not matter to him what
future generations might think about his refutation. (They do not,
incidentally, think anything of it at all.) What was important to Stalin at
that particular moment was that he should keep his plan secret for the next two
or three years until the countries of Europe had become
weak through involving themselves in a mutually destructive war.
If we are to accept Stalin’s
arguments and if the Havas agency report did simply consist of lies
‘fabricated’ in a ‘nightclub’, we must express our admiration for the Havas
agency journalists. If they really did invent their report, then they did so on
the basis of a deep knowledge of Marxism—Leninism, of Stalin’s character, and
of a detailed, scientific analysis of the military and political situation in Europe;
indeed, they understood the situation far better than Hitler and the leaders of
the Western democracies. If the report was invented, then this was an
occasion when an invention corresponded entirely to the facts.
Many years later, when the Havas
agency report and Stalin’s refutation of it had long been forgotten, thirteen
volumes of Stalin’s essays were published in the Soviet Union.
These works include his speeches made at secret sessions of the Central
Committee. In 1939 the
Havas agency journalists did not have any access to these speeches. But the
publication of Stalin’s works confirmed that Stalin’s plan was simple and one
of genius, and that it was exactly as the French journalists had described it.
As early as 1927, Stalin
expressed the view at a closed session of the Central Committee that in the
event of war it would be essential to remain neutral until the ‘warring sides
have exhausted each other in a mutual conflict which is beyond their strength
to sustain’. This view was often repeated subsequently at closed sessions.
Stalin considered that in the event of a war breaking out in Europe,
the Soviet Union had to become a participant in it, but
it must be the last to enter, right at the end of the game in which the
adversary had already been weakened to the point of exhaustion.
Although they both had different
attitudes towards Stalin, two of his successors, Khrushchev and Brezhnev,
interestingly both confirmed that it had been Stalin’s intention to exhaust
Europe in war, while preserving his own neutrality, and then to
‘liberate’ it. Stalin’s predecessors said the same thing. When he was laying
the foundations of his plan in the narrow circle of his comrades in arms,
Stalin simply quoted Lenin and emphasized that it was Lenin’s idea. But Lenin
had not been original either. He in his turn scooped his ideas from the
inexhaustible supply ofideas provided by Marx. There is an interesting letter
written by Friedrich Engels on 12 June 1883 to Edouard Bernstein: ‘All these
layabouts of various kinds,’ he wrote, ‘must first of all fight like dogs among
themselves, destroy and compromise each other, and in that way they will be
preparing the ground for us.’
Stalin differed from both his
predecessors and successors in that he spoke less than they, but acted more.
It would be very important to
know, were it possible, what Stalin actually said in the Politburo meeting of 19 August 1939. Even
although we cannot know the words he spoke, we see his actions and these show
far more clearly what he had in mind. It was only four days after this meeting
that the Molotov—Ribbentrop pact was signed in the Kremlin. The most outstanding
achievement ever attained by Soviet diplomacy, it was Stalin’s most brilliant
victory in his extraordinary career. ‘I have deceived him. I have deceived
Hitler,’ cried Stalin joyfully after the Pact had been signed. (Nikita
Khrushchev, Memoirs, Chasidze Publications, 1981) Stalin had indeed
deceived Hitler in a way that nobody had deceived anyone else throughout the
whole of the twentieth century. Only a week and a half after the Pact had been
signed Hitler had a war on two fronts. That is to say, from the very outset of
fell into a situation in which it could only lose the war; or, to put it
another way, on 23 August 1939, the day
the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact was signed, Stalin had won the Second World War
even before Hitler came into it.
It was only in the summer of 1940 that Hitler realized that he had
been taken in. He tried to take on Stalin again, but it was too late. Hitler
could hope for brilliant tactical victories only, but Germany’s
strategic position was catastrophic. Germany
again found itself between two millstones. On the one side there was Britain
on her inaccessible island, with the United
States behind her. On the other side was
Stalin. Hitler turned his face to the west, realizing that Stalin was quite
clearly preparing an attack and that he could cut Germany’s
oil artery in Romania
at one blow, paralysing the whole of German industry, and the entire German
Army, Air Force and Navy. Turning his face to the east, Hitler first got
strategic air raids and then invasion from the west.
It is said that Stalin won only
thanks to the help and co-operation given by Britain
and the United States,
and herein lay his greatness; while being the West’s
most virulent enemy, Stalin knew how to use it in order to protect and
reinforce his own dictatorship. Stalin’s genius, as we’ve seen, lay in knowing
how to divide his adversaries and then knock their heads together. Even in 1939, the free press in the West was
already sounding a warning about such a course of events, when Stalin was
playing a game of neutrality in words whilst, in deed, playing a very much more