What is forgotten is that it was Stalin and the Soviet Union that were Hitler and Nazi Germany’s ally in starting this horrific war that took the lives of well over 50 million people, and set the stage, after the defeat of Hitler, for the nearly half-century enslavement of the eastern half of Europe under communist tyranny.
It is the fairy tale of Russian innocence and victimhood in starting and fighting the Second World War that is still used by the post-Soviet government of Vladimir Putin to justify a nostalgia for the “good old days” of Soviet power, and for the Russian president to say that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geo-political tragedy of the twentieth century.”
Among the lies and distortions of Soviet history that Vladimir Putin’s government continues to perpetuate is a downplaying of the human cost of trying to “build socialism” during the nearly 75-year reign of communist rule in the Soviet Union, from 1917 to 1991. It is estimated that as many as 64 million innocent men, women and children were killed in the Soviet Union in the name of building the socialist workers’ paradise.” (See my article: “The Human Cost of Socialism in Power.”)
The Soviet Fairy Tale About the Start of World War II
So it seems worthwhile at the time of another “victory” parade in Moscow’s Red Square to set the record straight about the start of the Second World War in Europe. First, there is the propaganda story that the Soviet government and now Putin’s government has been indoctrinating their own people with and many others around the world about Soviet foreign policy before the start of the war in Europe in September 1939. The “party line” story runs something like the following:
In the 1930s Great Britain and France had failed to show decisiveness in standing up to the growing threat from Hitler’s Germany. Stalin, in the Soviet Union, had a clearer understanding of this threat and showed greater resolve to resist fascism’s increasing power. He ended the Soviet Union’s aggressive propaganda against the West, and attempted to form a “popular front” with other anti-fascist nations and groups in Europe on the basis of “collective security.”
Britain’s and France’s appeasement policies, which allowed Hitler to occupy Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and early 1939, made Stalin realize that to save the Soviet Union from having to possibly face Nazi aggression alone without support from the Western powers, he had to “buy time” to build up Soviet military defenses.
Thus, he chose to enter into a nonaggression pact with Hitler in August of 1939. He agreed in a secret protocol of that pact to divide up Poland with Nazi Germany in the event of war breaking out, so as to widen the buffer zone separating Nazi military power from the Soviet heartland. Stalin’s fears were proven right when Hitler broke the pact in June of 1941 and invaded the USSR.
It may have been unsavory and unfortunate for the Poles, who had their nation carved up by the two totalitarian giants in September 1939; or for the Finns, who were invaded by the Red Army and lost border territory to the Soviet Union in the winter of 1939-1940; or for the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which were annexed by Stalin in June 1940; or for the residents of the Romanian provinces of Bessarabia and Bukovina, which were also occupied by Stalin’s forces in June 1940. But these lands provided “breathing space” for the Soviet Union to peacefully prepare for the inevitable war and do its part, after it was invaded, to destroy the Nazi threat to humanity.
Stalin’s Plan for Bringing About World War II
This interpretation has been increasingly challenged over the last three decades. Ernst Topitsch’s Stalin’s War (1987), Viktor Suvorov’s Icebreaker (1990), Heinz Magenheimer’s Hitler’s War (1998), and Albert Weeks’ Stalin’s Other War (2002), for example, all argue that Stalin’s purpose was not to protect the Soviet Union from an early attack. Instead, Stalin’s strategy was to intentionally create the conditions for a war to more easily break out between Nazi Germany and the Western powers. Such a war would weaken the “capitalist nations” and produce the conditions for communist revolution throughout Europe at the point of Soviet bayonets and tanks. . . .
The former Soviet archives have produced a previously secret speech that Stalin delivered on August 19, 1939, four days before the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact was signed in Moscow on August 23. Stalin explained that peace prevented the spread of communism; war, on the other hand, provided the destruction and destabilization that was the entrée to revolution:
Comrades! It is in the interest of the USSR, the Land of the Toilers, that war breaks out between the [German] Reich and the capitalist Anglo-French bloc. Everything must be done so that the war lasts as long as possible in order that both sides become exhausted. Namely for this reason we must agree to the pact proposed by Germany, and use it so that once this war is declared, it will last for a maximum amount of time.
In Stalin’s mind, if the Nazis were defeated “the Sovietization of Germany follows inevitably and a Communist government will be established.” And if the war had weakened the Western allies enough, “This will likewise ensure the Sovietization of France.”
If the Nazis were to win at the end of a long war they would be exhausted and have to rule over a large area, which would pre-occupy them from attacking the Soviet Union; and “these peoples who fell under the ‘protection’ of a victorious Germany would become our allies. We would have a large arena in which to develop the world revolution.” But regardless of the eventual victor, the Communist Parties in all these countries needed to keep up their propaganda and subversion so the groundwork would have been prepared for that revolution when the time came.
Stalin Frees Hitler to Fight Britain and France
Thus, in Stalin’s mind, Hitler’s drive for a Europe dominated by Nazi Germany was in fact a tool for him to use for advancing the global cause of communism. By freeing Hitler of the fear of a two-front war, Nazi Germany would invade Poland, the British and French might then declare war on Germany, and a prolonged war in central and western Europe would drain the capitalist nations, while leaving the Soviet Union neutral in the world conflict. This would enable Stalin to continue to build up Soviet military power, enter the war at a time of his own choosing, and bring communism to Europe through use of the Red Army.
This is why, after Hitler ordered the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, a little more than two weeks later, on September 17, 1939, Stalin ordered the Soviet occupation of the eastern half of Poland, bringing about the end of Poland on the map of Europe before September of that year had come to a close.
Hitler could now turn his military fury on to the Western Allies, Great Britain and France, and bring about that war-caused exhaustion of the “capitalist enemies” that would set the stage at some point for a Soviet victory over the European continent.
But the swift defeat and German occupation of France in June 1940 changed the configuration of forces and the likely length of the war. Hitler attempted to draw Stalin actively into the Axis alliance against the British Empire in November 1940; when that failed because Stalin’s price for participation seemed too high, Hitler ordered the plans to be set in motion for the invasion of the Soviet Union in the spring of 1941.