The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945

By Anthony D’Agostino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
The Hitler-Stalin Pact, 1939–1941

The Soviet nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany came only days before the outbreak of World War II. It used to be said that this unleashed the war and, from the standpoint of the Cold War that followed, that the pact unleashed the Cold War as well. As with the broader question of the origin of World War II, the farther away from it we get, the less the historians agree about the 1939 pact. At the risk of oversimplifying their views, developed in many absorbing and educational studies, one might say that there are two general trends of argument.

The first stresses the Western appeasement of Hitler. The Soviets preferred to combine with the Western democracies to stop the Nazis, it is said, but found they could not. Britain and France failed to defend the Treaty of Versailles and permitted the Nazis to occupy the Rhineland. They resolved to let the Spanish republic go down before Franco. They watched passively as Austria was absorbed into the Reich and helped enforce the Nazi partition of Czechoslovakia at Munich. Even after British and French guarantees to defend Poland against German aggression, they negotiated with the Soviets in a way that did not inspire confidence. The Soviets walked the last mile to get an alliance but, in the end, reluctantly concluded that they had no alternative but to buy time in anticipation of the inevitable future conflict by coming to terms with Hitler.

The other trend is rather the opposite. It considers Soviet appeals for collective security against the Nazi threat and the Comintern campaign for the Popular Front against fascism to have been facets of an elaborate Stalinist ruse. The Soviets never had any intention to participate in Western efforts against Hitler. They were ideologically set

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