Between the Agile East and the Apathetic West: Central Europe, 1935-1937
In the spring of 1935 Joseph Stalin's Kremlin had established itself as one of the busiest centers of power in Europe. Anthony Eden visited the Soviet Union in late March, Pierre Laval followed him in May, then came the Czechoslovak delegation. Minister Edvard Beneš's entourage had barely left Moscow when an altogether different group of foreign visitors arrived on official business. Some five hundred foreign communists representing sixty-five parties descended on the city to attend the 7th Congress of the Communist International ( Comintern).
The meeting was long overdue. Despite enormous organizational endeavors orchestrated from Moscow, the international communist movement was adrift. Intuitively, communists were inclined to resist the growth of Nazi power, but the Kremlin was playing a high-stakes strategic game in which the rules tended to change quite abruptly. Even the most weathered members of the international movement found Moscow's instructions, as well as the periods of its occasional silence, unfathomable. The Kremlin's orders to the foot soldiers of organized communism in Europe seemed sometimes so counterintuitive that many parties were broken into factions, a serious violation in the eyes of the Moscow center. It was not hard to understand why Moscow had failed to instruct its legions regarding Nazism. Stalin and his colleagues could not make up their minds: Was Hitler a mortal enemy? Was he a potential ally? Or could he be used to prepare the ground for a communist offensive? For a long time, no one had an answer.
In the mid- 1930s, the Comintern was a highly centralized institution instilled with military discipline. Without clear instructions from the top, the lower-echelons did not dare to act on their own; even a temporary hesitation in the Kremlin could immobilize the organization. This was no time for disruptions. In Germany, Hitler was firmly in power and the communist organization had been partly eradicated and partly coopted by the Nazis. Nevertheless, the Comintern continued maintaining that the communists' main effort was to be directed against the social democrats. As