The Franco-Soviet Pact of Mutual Assistance, signed in Paris on May second, 1935, was in the center of the origins of the Second World War. Adolf Hitler was the brutal captain of that war and within a year of his accession to power Paris and Moscow began to talk alliance. Nothing but dread of his unbounded ambitions could have brought together the Soviet Union and the Third Republic.
The student of continuity will immediately hearken back to the "old" Franco-Russian alliance, itself partly created by fear of Germany. The fall of Bismarck in 1890 and the lapsing of his "ReInsurance Treaty" with Russia made the Tsar and his advisers receptive to French advances. A year later, the renewal of the Triple Alliance and reports of British adherence to it destroyed the last Russian inhibitions. In Paris there was no hesitation. Russia was the only power strong enough to enable France to stand against Germany and to return to her traditional duel with England. The Franco-Russian Entente of 1891 and the Military Convention of 1892 forged a powerful and controversial alliance.
The Franco-Soviet Pact is one of the few examples of Soviet alliances with western nations. In the interwar period Russia joined hands with only two great powers: Germany from 1922 to 1933, France from 1933 to 1939, Germany again in August 1939. Many scholars have helped to acquaint us with the Rapallo mystique and the Nazi-Soviet Pact. No study has yet appeared of the French collaboration with the Kremlin.
The Quai d'Orsay must have been astounded at the flexibility of Soviet policy. In the first two years of the rapprochement, Moscow's response was slow and grudging. When Hitler came to power and the Russians suddenly realized that he meant what he had said in Mein Kampf, they moved rapidly and forcefully. All the violent denunciations of French capitalism and imperialism were heard no longer; they had served their purpose for a decade, they might serve again, but now they were dismissed. Russia was threatened by Hitler; Russia turned to France--it was as simple as that.
Yet for France it could not be as simple as that, because Stalin was the effective head of the Communist International. The interaction between domestic politics and foreign policy is one of the richest aspects of this inquiry. The outset found the French Communists sunk in futility, a factor of utmost significance in easing the acceptance of the pact. The misery produced by the depression and the need for left-wing unity against semifascist movements revived the fortunes of the Communists. They exploited the opportunity with skill and vigor and became the driving force behind the Popular Front. Ironically, the . . .