CHAPTER 5 The Pact and its Results 31
Stalin was more cunning than Hitler, more cunning
and more perfidious. 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.5 Hitler began the war and found himself on his own. The result? He, and he alone, was branded the perpetrator of the Second World War.
Once he had begun the war against Poland, Hitler 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. Britain 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 well as 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. 5 Known as the ‘Non-Aggression Pact’, which, by dividing Poland between the Soviet Union and Germany, was instrumental in the start of World War II. 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, full authority: The Congress 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 Congress)
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 ByV, 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 in 1940:
Comrade 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!’
Wielding our spades, in Forty-One, we’ll find
The wealth of Earth, which lies in virgin layers;
Uranium, by cyclatron enlivened,
Becomes a simple fuel for every day.
Each year for us is victory, a battle,
For coal, for sweeps of metallurgy galore,
To sixteen 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: Divide our 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?