Chapter 9 – World War 2– the guilty parties
by Peter Cohen
War is the continuation by violent means of the policies pursued by the ruling classes of the belligerent powers long before the outbreak of war… We must remember that we are always a hair’s breadth away from invasion.
V. I. Lenin, Collected Works (1976).
World War 2 has probably been the object of more comment and analysis than any other conflict in history. The explanations given at the web site of the Forum for Living History are typical of the mainstream mythology. They are based on a book published by the Bonnier Group, the Swedish equivalent of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (Thomas Magnusson & Jörgen Weibull, Bonniers världshistoria, 1986). For example, we are told that (my translation from the Swedish):
About 20 million (sic!) people died in World War 1. The victorious nations blamed the war completely on Germany, and the German government was forced to accept harsh conditions for peace in the so-called Versailles Treaty after the war ended. These harsh conditions were a catastrophe for Germany and formed the basis for the developments that led to World War 2.
In addition to the Versailles treaty and the German thirst for revenge which it stimulated, factors that are said to have contributed to the outbreak of World War 2 range from an economic crisis in Germany during the 1920s and high unemployment to Prussian militarism, Hitler’s charisma, his megalomania, his demand for Lebensraum, and his hatred of Jews. Passing references to Hitler’s opposition to Marxism occur at the Forum for Living History and in some other commentaries, e.g. the BBC web site, but it is usually not assigned a primary role. In contrast, the support he gained from German military commanders is often highlighted.
The Swedish Forum for Living History:
Hitler revealed his political goals for the leading commanders of the German army and navy. He described the need for an authoritarian state. Germany was to be cleansed of Marxism and should not aim to resolve conflicts with other nations by peaceful means. He spoke of military rearmament and resistance to the Versailles Treaty. The German people would obtain Lebensraum in the east by occupying territory. He emphasized the importance of the military and promised that it would not be involved in domestic political conflicts. Hitler’s comments were designed to persuade the military commanders to support his government.
The following is also illuminating:
By the beginning of 1923 Germany was no longer able to pay the large reparations required by the Versailles Treaty. The French then occupied the Ruhr in order to extract reparations directly from German production. The Ruhr was the industrial center for production of coal and steel. Occupation of the Ruhr was a mortal blow to the Germany economy. It resulted in very high inflation, and the German currency lost its entire value. German workers and the middle class lost virtually everything. Real wages were cut in half. Cash savings and property became worthless. Many people became poverty-stricken.
This passage omits the fact that in 1923 the Nazi party received the first major cash contribution from German capitalists, in the form of 100,000 Reichsmark (see Chapter 3). The payment was in gold, precisely to avoid the effects of inflation.
Nor is there any mention of the financial support Hitler had received previously from Hugo Bruckman, a wealthy publisher in Munich, or Carl Bechstein, whose successful company manufactured pianos. According to Willam L. Shirer, it was at the Bechstein mansion that Hitler met many of the powerful businessmen whose support enabled him to seize power.
Emil Kirdorf was head of the Rhine-Westphalia Coal Syndicate for many years and was notorious for his outspoken hatred of trade unions. On 31 January 1934 he wrote in the Preussische Zeitung:
I met the Führer for the first time in 1927…recognizing that only the policy of Adolf Hitler could lead to our goal, I put myself completely at the service of his movement, starting at that time. Shortly after… as a result of a pamphlet written by the Führer which I distributed, the Führer met with industry leaders on several occasions and formulated his ideas in a brief and clear form.
As a result, the Coal Syndicate allocated 5 pfennigs to the Nazi Party for every ton of coal that was sold. This syndicate alone contributed 6.15 million Reichsmark to the party between 1927 and Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933.
William L. Shirer wrote (emphasis added):
By 1931, Walther Funk testified at Nuremberg, ‘my industrial friends and I were convinced that the Nazi Party would come to power in the not too distant future’… He explained at Nuremberg that several of his industrialist friends, especially those prominent in the big Rhineland mining concerns, had urged him to join the Nazi movement ‘in order to persuade the party to follow the course of private enterprise’.
’At that time the leadership of the party held completely contradictory and confused views on economic policy. I tried to accomplish my mission by personally impressing on the Führer and the party that private initiative, the self-reliance of the businessman, the creative powers of free enterprise, et cetera, be recognized as the basic economic policy of the party. The Führer personally stressed time and again during talks with me and industrial leaders to whom I had introduced him, that he was an enemy of state economy and of so-called ‘planned economy’ and that he considered free enterprise and competition as absolutely necessary in order to gain the highest possible production.’
Hitler, then, as his future Reichsbank president and Minister of Economics says, was beginning to see the men in Germany who had the money, and he was telling them more or less what they wanted to hear. The party needed large sums to finance election campaigns, pay the bill for its widespread and intensified propaganda, meet the payroll of hundreds of full-time officials and maintain the private armies of the S.A. and the S.S., which by the end of 1930 numbered more than 100,000 men – a larger force than the Reichswehr. The businessmen and the bankers were not the only financial sources – the party raised sizeable sums from dues, assessments, collections and the sale of party newspapers, books and periodicals – but they were the largest. And the more money they gave the Nazis, the less they would have for the other conservative parties which they had been supporting hitherto.
’In the summer of 1931,’ Otto Dietrich, Hitler’s press chief first for the party and later for the Reich, relates, ‘the Führer suddenly decided to concentrate systematically on cultivating the influential industrial magnates’.
What magnates were they?
Their identity was a secret which was kept from all but the inner circle around the Leader. The party had to play both sides of the tracks. It had to allow Strasser, Goebbels and the crank Feder to beguile the masses with the cry that the National Socialists were truly ‘socialists’ and against the money barons. On the other hand, money to keep the party going had to be wheedled out of those who had an ample supply of it. Throughout the latter half of 1931, says Dietrich, Hitler ‘traversed Germany from end to end, holding private interviews with prominent [business] personalities.’ So hush-hush were some of these meetings that they had to be held ‘in some lonely forest glade. Privacy,’ explains Dietrich, ‘was absolutely imperative; the press must have no chance of doing mischief. Success was the consequence.’
We know from the interrogations of Funk in the Nuremberg jail after the war who some, at least, of the ‘influential industrial magnates’ whom Hitler sought out were. Emil Kirdorf, the union-hating coal baron who presided over a political slush fund known as the ‘Ruhr Treasury’ which was raised by the West German mining interests, had been seduced by Hitler at the party congress in 1929. Fritz Thyssen, the head of the steel trust, who lived to regret his folly and to write about it in a book called I Paid Hitler, was an even earlier contributor. He had met the Nazi leader in Munich in 1923, been carried away by his eloquence and forthwith made, through Ludendorff, an initial gift of 100,000 gold marks to the then obscure Nazi Party. Joining Thyssen was Albert Voegler, also a power in the United Steel Works. In fact the coal and steel interests were the principal sources of the funds that came from the industrialists to help Hitler over his last hurdles to power in the period between 1930 and 1933.
But Funk named other industries and concerns whose directors did not want to be left out in the cold should Hitler make it in the end. The list is a long one, though far from complete, for Funk had a wretched memory by the time he arrived for trial at Nuremberg. It included Georg von Schnitzler, a leading director of I. G. Farben, the giant chemical cartel; August Rosterg and August Diehn of the potash industry (Funk speaks of this industry’s ‘positive attitude toward the Fuehrer’); Cuno of the Hamburg-Amerika line; the brown-coal industry of central Germany; the Conti rubber interests; Otto Wolf, the powerful Cologne industrialist; Baron Kurt von Schroeder, the Cologne banker, who was to play a pivotal role in the final maneuver which hoisted Hitler to power; several leading banks, among which were the Deutsche Bank, the Commerz und Privat Bank, the Dresdner Bank, the Deutsche Kredit Gesellschaft; and Germany’s largest insurance concern, the Allianz.
Wilhelm Keppler, one of Hitler’s economic advisers, brought in a number of South German industrialists and also formed a peculiar society of businessmen devoted to the S.S. chief, Himmler, called the Circle of Friends of the Economy (Freundeskreis der Wirtschaft), which later became known as the Circle of Friends of the Reichsfuehrer S.S., who was Himmler, and which raised millions of marks for this particular gangster to pursue his “researches” into Aryan origins. From the very beginning of his political career Hitler had been helped financially – and socially – by Hugo Bruckman, the wealthy Munich publisher, and by Carl Bechstein, the piano manufacturer, both of whose wives developed a touching fondness for the rising young Nazi leader. It was in the Bechstein mansion in Berlin that Hitler first met many of the business and Army leaders and it was there that some of the decisive secret meetings took place which led him finally to the chancellorship.
For German capitalists, the Nazi movement was exactly what they needed to achieve their goal of imperialist expansion. Franz Neumann identified “…the fundamental goal of National Socialism: the resolution by imperialistic war of the discrepancy between the potentialities of Germany’s industrial apparatus and the actuality that existed…”, i.e. realizing German industry’s profit potential.
The Brown Book (1965):
In January 1944 Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach confirmed in a speech that the German armament monopolies had started, immediately after the lost First World War, to create the economic prerequisites for a new slaughter of the peoples. Krupp declared:
“It is the great merit of the entire German military economy that in those bad years it did not remain inactive, even if, for understandable reasons, its activities were hidden from the public. During years of quiet work the scientific and practical prerequisites were created so that at the given hour the German Wehrmacht could resume operations without loss of time and experience…Only due to this work of the German enterprises which was shrouded in silence… was it possible immediately after 1933 to find speedy solutions to the new tasks of rearming” (Trial of the Main War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Court, 1947-49, Vol. 1).
After 1933 the leading corporations continued to contribute massive financial aid to the party. They were also able to shape and direct industrial and military policies by integrating key managers within ministries and other government organs.
According to The Brown Book (emphasis added):
The influence of the armament monopolies, however, was by no means limited to monetary donations to the Nazi regime. It was crowned by the close personal connection of the monopoly and bank officials with the fascist state. Representatives of the most powerful trusts could be found in all central government offices. They occupied key positions.
Thus, Carl Krauch, the chairman of the IG-Farbenindustrie AG was simultaneously the ‘general agent for special questions of chemical production’ and head of the Reich Office for Economic Development. In this function he was the practical state commander over the entire chemical industry of Hitler-Germany. Leading IG directors also had functions in the fascist power apparatus. For example, in the German Labor Front (Christian Schneider), in the Foreign Office (von Maltzan), in the Ministry for the East (Felix Prentzel), in the OKW Inland Defense (Christian Schneider, main defense representative of IG-Farben), in the Ministry for Armaments (Ambros, Bütefisch and Wurster), in the Reichsbank (Schmitz), in the Reich Group Industry (Schmitz), in the Ministry for Economic Affairs (E. R. Fischer), in the Committee for Africa and the Soviet Union (W. R. Mann as chairman), in the Special Committee for South-East Europe and Hungary (Ilgner and Reithinger as chairman), in the War Economy Headquarters (Kruger and von der Heyde.).
In addition there was a large number of medium and lower IG-Farben employees who saw to the interests of the mammoth concern in the various government and party offices as well as in the occupied countries where they were attached to the military commanders and Reich commissars. (Nuremberg Trial of IG Farben, Prosecution’s document No. 62, pp. 253 ff.)
Neither the texts at the Forum for Living History’s site nor the vast majority of other writings on the background to World War 2 mention the intimate connection between capitalism and Fascist movements that has been discussed previously. The omissions cannot be attributed to lack of information. In addition to Shirer’s description of how the Nazi party was financed and the information in Higham’s Trading with the Enemy, two major historical works provide comprehensive factual accounts of the Nazi party’s dependence on capitalists. Franz Neumann’s Behemoth has already been mentioned. The other is Big Business in the Third Reich by Arthur Schweitzer (1964). Schweitzer was Professor of Economics at the University of Indiana.
Schweitzer’s book has never been reprinted (with one partial exception: a German translation of the first four chapters, titled Die Nazifizierung des Mittelstandes, was published in 1970). It is rarely cited by mainstream historians or media people. Nor is Neumann’s. They are both available in many libraries. The following text (emphasis added) would presumably produce shock waves within the precincts of received truths:
On May 2, 1933, uniformed and well-equipped units of the Brownshirts and Blackshirts arrested the trade union leaders, seized their funds, occupied their buildings, and acquired title to all the property of the trade unions. This seizure was followed by two declarations. One outlawed all independent trade unions; the other outlawed strikes. Both actions were presented as steps leading to industrial peace and social harmony between employers and employees, whose organizations dissolved themselves a few months later. The destruction of independent trade unions, the elimination of free collective bargaining, the abandoning of mediation and arbitration, the bans on labor participation in industrial affairs, and the suspension of collective actions on the part of labor organizations established the principle that independent organized labor had no place in a state politically dominated by the Nazi party.
Who decided that the trade unions should be abolished? Wilhelm Keppler has revealed the antecedents to this decision: ‘In May 1932, after I had met with the gentlemen of the Circle of Friends several times, I asked the Führer whether he could not meet with them. The Führer received the business leaders in the small hall of the Kaiserhof on May 18, 1932. As far as I can recall, all the gentlemen who were at that time members of the Circle of Friends were present. The Führer made a short speech, and in it he disclosed, among other things, the following points in his program: abolition of trade unions and abolition of all parties other than the NSDAP. No one raised any objection. On the contrary, these points of the Führer’s program met with the fullest approval of the members of the Circle of Friends. They only expressed their apprehension that he would not be able to carry out these excellent ideas.’ This shows clearly the role of the Keppler circle as an agency of policy formation. Hitler presented his ideas to the selected businessmen, and these either approved or rejected his ideas.
World War 2 inEurope was launched by Nazi Germany. Wars are expensive undertakings, as Americans have learned in recent years. The German war machine was financed and equipped by Western capitalists, including those who owned the German banks mentioned above. The loans required were provided by the network of Western bankers described by Higham, often through the Bank for International Settlements (see Chapter 4).
The parties who were responsible for the holocaust of World War 2 cannot be identified without explaining why Western capitalists – within and outside Germany – and their governments provided aid, comfort and support to the Nazis. For the sake of convenience, in the following text the words “West” or “Western” refer to the US and European countries other than Fascist Italy or Germany.
In this context it should also be noted that the mainstream version of history normally contains no mention or analysis of social class, as if a nation consist of an agglomeration of people who occupy more or less identical positions in the economic structure of society. But in a capitalist country the ruling class consists of a minority, of the population (usually a fraction of 1%), who own and control the systems for production, distribution and exchange. They essentially own the society.
The majority of the adult population works to produce the goods and services that are required for the functioning and survival of society. The owners appropriate the profits arising from the sale of these goods and services, and in doing so accumulate wealth on a scale that is impossible for their fellow citizens. The wealth of the ruling class is the source of their power, and in a capitalist country the government normally promotes their interests, unless the working class succeeds in electing representatives who act in their interest, or in putting pressure on the government to do so.
The record shows that throughout the inter-war period the governments of the West were acting in the interest of the ruling classes in their countries.
The roots of World War 2
The period following World War 1 is dominated by three themes:
- Unresolved imperialist conflicts in the form of rivalry between German capitalists and their counterparts in the US, the UK and France. This generated an alliance of capitalists in Germany, Italy and Japan against their counterparts in the US, the UK and France
- Continued fear and loathing of the Soviet Union, which capitalists in all countries identified as the greatest threat to the existing order – the market economy that had been ordained by natural law
- Cooperation between Western bankers and industrialists and their counterparts in Germany after 1933, as a means of boosting profits and supporting Hitler’s crusade against Communism.
The contradiction between on the one hand the Western ruling classes’ rivalry with German capitalists and on the other their eagerness to repress the working class and crush the Soviet Union explains many of the seeming anomalies of international politics during the 1930s.
This situation reflects the relationships between capitalists within a single country, who are in competition with each other but are normally ready to form a united front in case of open conflict with the working class.
In general, after 1918 the Western powers aimed at:
- Avoiding a destructive war between the rival imperialist nations
- Diverting the aggressive strategies of Germany and Japan against the Soviet Union
- Contributing when appropriate to aggression against the Soviet Union, directly or indirectly
- Maintaining their colonial empires.
This explains the continuous indulgence of the French, British and US governments toward German and Japanese aggression in Europe and the Far East. It also explains their general inability to understand that they would in all probability be drawn into a war, since they hoped until the last moment, even after the invasion of Poland, that Hitler would restrict his war to the crusade against Communism. It also explains their policies of “non-intervention”, e.g. regarding the Fascist revolt in Spain, their avoidance of meaningful sanctions, either through or outside the League of Nations, and their readiness to make concessions to Germany and Japan.
A number of capitalists in France entertained grandiose visions of a new Europe which would be ruled by Germany, with France as aide-de-camp. (See Jean Lévy and Simon Pietri, De la République à l’Etat Français, 1996.)
Others had no illusions about the intentions of the German ruling class. In the summer of 1935 a resolution adopted at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern (an organization of the international Communist movement) stated that
German Fascism is the main instigator of a new imperialist war and is emerging as the shock-troop of international counter-revolution… The Nazis strive for the hegemony of German imperialism in Europe and intend to change the boundaries of Europe at the expense of their neighbors by means of war.
This reflected an analysis by Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920:
…in the present world situation following the imperialist war, reciprocal relations between peoples and the world political system as a whole are determined by the struggle waged by a small group of imperialist nations against the Soviet movement and the Soviet states headed by Soviet Russia.
Collusion and the road to war
In March 1935, a little more than two years after the Nazis seized power, Hitler renounced the military provisions of the Versailles Treaty, which prohibited Germany from maintaining an air force. Germany also introduced universal military conscription, a clear indication of aggressive intentions. The Western powers did nothing.
Three months later the British helped Hitler on his way by signing an Anglo-German Naval Agreement that permitted Germany to enlarge its navy substantially, particularly in terms of submarines, also in violation of the Versailles Treaty.
In March 1936 the German army reoccupied the Rhine region, which had previously been designated a demilitarized area by the Versailles Treaty. At the League of Nations, the Soviet Union proposed collective sanctions against Germany. France and the UK refused, sending a clear signal to Berlin that its territorial ambitions would be tolerated.
Later that year a German-Italian-Japanese military and political axis was established by the Anti-Comintern Pact. The Western powers did not express any dissatisfaction.
In July 1936 General Franco led a revolt against the legally elected government of Spain
and received enthusiastic support from the Fascists in Italy and Germany (see Chapters 3, 8). The Western policy of non-intervention effectively strangled the SpanishRepublic, and signaled once again that Fascist aggression would not be opposed.
Herbert von Dirksen, the German ambassador to Britain, wrote that the British government had ‘come nearer to understanding the most essential points of the major demands advanced by Germany, with respect to excluding the Soviet Union from the decision of the destinies of Europe, the League of Nations likewise, and the advisability of bilateral negotiations and treaties’.
At talks with Hitler in November 1937, Lord Halifax clearly voiced Britain’s readiness to agree to a recarving of Europe’s political map in favor of Germany, in particular to satisfy its claims to Austria, Danzig (Gdansk), and Czechoslovakia provided these claims were realized gradually. It was implied that Hitler would guarantee the intactness of the British coloniaI empire. The results of the Halifax-Hitler talks were endorsed by the French government. Hitler evaded giving a specific reply. In Berlin they saw the main thing, namely, that German expansion in Central and Eastern Europe would encounter no resistance from the most powerful Western countries.’ (Documents and Materials Relating to the Eve of the Second World War, Vol. II, Dirksen Papers (1938-1939), 1948, cited in Pavel Sevostyanov, Before the Nazi Invasion, 1984).
The British continued to propose a non-aggression treaty with the Germans that would define the British sphere of influence (see Leibovitz and Finkel, In Our Time, 1998).
On 12 March 1938 Hitler announced the annexation of Austria, known as the Anschluss. Unification of Austria and Germany had been forbidden by the Versailles Treaty because it would have given the Germans a larger pool of military manpower, as well as borders with Yugoslavia, Italy and Hungary. It would also make Czechoslovakia considerably more difficult to defend from German attack. The independence of Austria had also been “guaranteed” by Britain and France in the Saint-Germain Treaty of 1919. But Austria simply disappeared. There seemed to be no limit to the number of treaty violations that the Western powers would accept.
On 17 March the Soviet Union sent a proposal for collective action against Germany to the governments of France, the UK and the US, in order to block continued aggression. The French and the British refused. The US did not answer.
The logic of the Munich agreement
After the Anschluss it was clear that Czechoslovakia was next on the list. In April 1938 the Soviet Union informed the government in Prague that it was prepared to honor its commitments in accordance with the Soviet-Czechoslovak Treaty of Mutual Assistance which had been signed in 1935. The Soviet government was the only one that indicated any intention of helping Czechoslovakia.
However, in May 1938 Czech president Beneŝ assured the British ambassador in Prague that his country would “always follow and be bound to Western Europe and never to Eastern Europe”, meaning that he would never request assistance from the USSR. (Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, Vol. 1, HMSO 1949, cited in Sevostyanov.)
Meanwhile, secret Anglo-German talks had begun in London in order to ensure that Czechoslovakia would be bound to Germany. The Germans wanted an agreement that would enable them to annex the part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, which had a large German-speaking population. The British and French aims were to give Germany “a free hand” in Central and Eastern Europe in return for guarantees that their colonial holdings would not be attacked (Leibovitz and Finkel).
Discussions between the French, British and Germans continued through the spring and summer of 1938. Beneŝ and the members of his government were extremely upset when they discovered what was going on. But they had no choice. The British and the French were determined to pressure them into accepting an agreement that dismembered their country.
At the first meeting between Chamberlain and Hitler, the British PM went “about as far as a leader of another country could in encouraging Hitler to believe that if he invaded the Soviet Union, Britain would place no obstacles in his way. Indeed Britain would attempt, through pressure on Czechoslovakia, to pave the way for German aggression on the Communist state” (Leibovitz and Finkel).
And the British did so. “Before the German and British leaders met again, Chamberlain, still seeking his overall agreement with Hitler, forced a Czech capitulation to German demands to allow Sudetenland to be annexed to Germany.
“Basil Newton, the British ambassador to Prague, in a note to Halifax (Foreign Secretary), revealed the heavy-handed pressures that were required to win the Czech surrender:
‘I have very good reason from an even better source to believe that…(the) reply handed to me by Minister for Foreign Affairs should not be regarded as final. A solution must however be imposed upon (the Czechoslovakian) Government as without such pressure many of its members are too committed to be able to accept what they realize to be necessary.
‘If I can deliver a kind of ultimatum to President Beneš, Wednesday, he and his Government will be able to bow to force majeure. It might be to the effect that in view of his Majesty’s Government the Czechoslovak Government must accept the proposals without reserve and without further delay failing which His Majesty’s Government will take no further interest in the fate of (their) country.
‘I understand that my French colleague is telegraphing to Paris in a similar sense.’
Next day at 2 a.m., Czech President Eduard Beneš was awoken to receive the Anglo-French ultimatum. Though he protested on behalf of his government, he had no recourse but to submit. Britain and France pledged to defend what would remain of Czechoslovakia from aggression.
The deal was done. On 29 September 1938 the British, French and German governments signed a pact ceding the Sudetenland to Germany. The Polish government headed by the dedicated anti-Communist Colonel Beck seized the opportunity to annex a part of Czechoslovakia known as the Teschen area. In 1939: The Alliance that never was and the coming of World War II (1999), Michael Jabara Carley quotes Beck telling the British ambassador to Poland on 24 September that his country “did not have belligerent intentions but it could not agree that German demands being satisfied, Poland should receive nothing”. If the British and the French were to let Hitler carve up Czechoslovakia, Poland would demand a piece of the pie. On 30 September Polish troops were already moving into Teschen. Carley writes that Litvinov regarded Beck as “a Nazi pimp”.
(Mainstream historians rarely record that following the end of World War 2 the Soviet Union forced the Poles to return the Teschen territory that they had annexed.)
The British and the French had assured President Beneŝ that they would defend what remained of his country if it were attacked. Their assurance turned out to be absolutely worthless. On 15 March 1939, less than 5 months later, the Wehrmacht marched into Czechoslovakia and occupied the country. No action was taken by the Western powers.
The Munich pact is perhaps the best known of the concessions made by Western powers to Hitler-Germany, but it was by no means exceptional. Nor was it a case of “appeasement”, as it is called in the mainstream historical mythology. Leibovitz and Finkel show conclusively that the pact was a result of active collusion between the French and British on one side and the Germans on the other. Hitler was specifically given “a free hand” in Central and Eastern Europe. The ruling classes in France and the UK believed that the pact would simultaneously protect their overseas empires and help Hitler in his crusade eastward.
The pact was a logical outcome of the Western capitalists’ commitment to help the Germans destroy the Soviet Union, which itself grew logically out of their attempts to overthrow the new Soviet government in the bloody War of Intervention 1918-1922. The pact was only one component in the war against the working class and Communism that began in 1918 and continues to this day.
The Far-Eastern Munich
In 1933 the Soviet Union had offered to sign a pact with Britain and the US in order to block Japanese expansion in Asia. Japanese capitalists aimed at building the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity sphere, which would establish Japanese imperial dominion in the Far East. They had previously been given a free hand on the Korean peninsula by the US at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Conference in 1905. In return, they promised the US a free hand in the Philippines.
The Soviet offer was refused. In the summer of 1937 Japanese forces attacked China. At the Brussels Conference in November of that year the Soviet Union proposed collective sanctions by the League of Nations against Japan. The proposal was torpedoed by the British and US representatives.
The ferocity of the Japanese offensive in China, exemplified by the “Rape of Nanking” in December 1937, shocked many people in the West, but few of them belonged to the ruling classes. The Japanese were given a free hand by the British under an agreement signed in Tokyo on 24 July 1939, little more than a month before Germany attacked Poland. The UK recognized the legitimacy of the Japanese claims to land seized in China, and promised not to hinder Japan from achieving its military goals in China. This second Munich encouraged the Japanese in their operations against the Soviet Union, as the British hoped it would. Earlier that year,
In one of his dispatches the US ambassador in Tokyo Joseph C. Grew explained why he felt ‘a Russo-Japanese conflict is more threatening in 1939 than in past years… In the present state of Chinese military affairs, Japan might well expect, if involved in hostilities against the Soviet Union, that, although execution of plans of economic exploitation on the continent would be seriously delayed, Japan would face no acute military problem from China… The Munich conference has had a marked effect upon Japanese thinking with regard to foreign relations, and the conference is taken here to mean that no obstacles will be interposed against German pressure upon the Soviet Union… Japan considers the Soviet Union at the present time internally weakened and externally in a position of singular isolation (Foreign Relations of the United States. Diplomatic Papers 1939, Vol. III, US Government Printing Office 1955, cited in Sevostyanov).
Western hopes for a successful Japanese war against the Soviet Union were not fulfilled. Japan had invaded Mongolia in May in an attempt to establish a bridgehead for an attack on the Soviet Union in the Trans-Baikal region, i.e. the territory between LakeBaikal and Vladivostok. In accordance with the treaty between Mongolia and the USSR, Red Army units were deployed to resist the invasion.
At the end of the summer the Japanese forces were defeated in the vicinity of the Khalkin-GolRiver, so decisively that in September the Japanese ambassador in Moscow requested an armistice and suggested that the Khalkin-Gol area be designated a demilitarized zone. The defeat was inflicted by the same Red Army which according to standard Western histories had been incapacitated by the Stalin government’s purges in 1938-1939.
The Japanese were apparently convinced that further military operations against the Soviet Union would not be in their interest, and after 18 months of negotiations that covered trade relations and fisheries, among other things, in April 1941 the USSR and Japan signed a pact which included mutual guarantees of neutrality in the event that one of them was attacked by a third party or parties.
The pact made a shambles of the Far-Eastern Munich policy. It was also a reversal for the Nazis, who had hoped that the USSR would be weakened by fighting a war on two fronts. Sir Stafford Cripps, British Ambassador in Moscow, regarded the pact “as anti-German since its only object can be to protect the Russian Eastern frontiers in the event of an attack in the west by Germany” (E. Estorick, Stafford Cripps: Master Statesman, 1949, cited in Sevostyanov).
By September 1939, Fascist Italy had attacked and occupied Ethiopia, Fascist forces had defeated the SpanishRepublic, Japan had attacked China, Hitler had annexed Austria, and Czechoslovakia had been abandoned, all in the interest of Italian, Japanese, Spanish and German capitalists. Yet their capitalist rivals in the West took no action, hoping that the Japanese and the Fascists would assault the Soviet Union. Although the League of Nations had been formed to deter and prevent such aggression, the British and French governments made sure that the League was in a state of paralysis. In the course of a speech at the League’s Assembly Hall in Geneva several days after the giveaway at Munich, Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov summed up the international situation:
The subject before us is the annual report of the Secretary-General on the League’s work during the past twelve months. Quite naturally and rightly, however, the speakers so far have dealt, not with what the League has done during this year, but with what it has not done this year or in previous years…It must not be forgotten that the League was created as a reaction to the World War and its countless horrors; that its object was to make that the last war, to safeguard all nations against aggression, and to replace the system of military alliances by the collective organization of assistance to the victim of aggression. In this sphere the League has done nothing. Two States – Ethiopia and Austria – have lost their independent existence in consequence of violent aggression. A third State, China, is now a victim of aggression and foreign invasion for the second time in seven years, and a fourth State, Spain, is in the third year of a sanguinary war, owing to the armed intervention of two aggressors in its internal affairs. The League of Nations has not carried out its obligations to these States…
There are inside and outside the League two tendencies, two conceptions of how best to preserve peace. There exists an opinion that when some State announces a foreign policy based on aggression, on the violation of other peoples’ frontiers, on the violent annexation of other peoples’ possessions, on the enslavement of other nations, on domination over entire continents, the League of Nations has not only the right, but also the duty of declaring loudly and clearly, that it has been set up to preserve universal peace; that it will not permit the realization of such a program; and that it will fight that program by every means at its disposal. Within the framework of such declarations, individual members of the League can and must constitute special groups for the joint defense of individual sectors of the threatened peace front.
It is presumed that States which openly denounce the principles underlying the League Covenant and the Briand-Kellogg Pact, (States) which extol aggression and ridicule international obligations, are inaccessible to persuasion or argument – save the argument of force – and that there is no room for bargaining or compromise with them. They can be restrained from carrying their evil designs into effect only by a demonstration of the force which they will encounter, should they make the attempt.
Naturally, at the least attempt to carry out aggression in practice, there should be brought into play in appropriate measure, and according to the capacities of each Member of the League, the collective action provided by Article XVI of the Covenant. In other words, the aggressor should be met with the program laid down by the League Covenant, resolutely, consistently and without hesitation. Then the aggressor himself will not be led into temptation, and peace will be preserved by peaceful means.
There is, however, another conception, which recommends as the height of human wisdom, under cover of imaginary pacifism, that the aggressor be treated with consideration and his vanity be not wounded. It recommends that conversations and negotiations be carried on with him, that he be assured that no collective action will be undertaken against him, and no groups or blocs formed against him – even though he himself enters into aggressive blocs with other aggressors – that compromise agreements be concluded with him, and breaches of those very agreements overlooked; that his demands, even the most illegal, be fulfilled; that journeys be undertaken, if necessary, to receive his dictates and ultimatums; that the vital interests of one State or another be sacrificed to him; and that, if possible, no question of his activity be raised at the League of Nations – because the aggressor does not like that, takes offense, sulks. Unfortunately, this is just the policy that so far has been pursued towards the aggressors; and it has had as its consequence three wars, and threatens to bring down on us a fourth. Four nations have already been sacrificed, and a fifth is next on the list.
In view of such lamentable results of this policy, we had the right to expect that there would be recognition of its mistaken character, and of the necessity of replacing it by some other policy. Instead we have heard proposals here to make the old policy permanent. Hitherto, the aggressor reckoned with the possible reaction of the League of Nations, and showed a certain hesitation in preparing his aggression, carrying it out gradually and in proportion to his growing certainty that there would be no reaction at all. But now we are asked to reassure him beforehand that he need fear nothing at the hands of the League, and that the League henceforward will not apply to him either military or even economic and financial sanctions. At the very worst, he is threatened with moral condemnation, and that, in all probability, clothed in appropriately courteous diplomatic forms… (Arthur Upham Pope, Maxim Litvinoff, 1943).
The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact
From 1934 onward, Litvinov was literally in shuttle traffic between Moscow and the West, in a continuous attempt to achieve an alliance that would block Germany’s expansionist policies and military ambitions. The alliance would be based on mutual assurances by France, the UK and the Soviet Union that they would take joint action in the event of German aggression.
As we have seen, the French and British consistently rejected proposals aimed at forming a common front against the Nazis. The principal exception was in 1935, when the government of the French socialist Prime Minister Léon Blum signed an agreement that was in essence a letter of intent. It did not specify military action and was also subject to approval by the League of Nations. Even this was too much for the French ruling class. Subsequent right-wing French governments made it clear that they had no intention of honoring the agreement, or of contemplating military cooperation with the USSR.
The sleazy details of Anglo-French maneuvers to avoid an alliance with the Soviet Union in the hopes that Germany would expand eastward are documented by Michael Jabara Carley. His thesis is simple, and correct. The frenetic anti-Communism of the ruling classes in the West fertilized their illusions about Hitler and prevented them from
understanding that an alliance with the USSR would be in their long-term interest, since they would not be able to avoid an armed conflict with Nazi Germany and would not be able to defeat the Germans without the help of the USSR.
After the Western powers had betrayed their commitments to an independent Austria and delivered Czechoslovakia on a silver platter to the Germans, the Stalin government became increasingly pessimistic about the chances of achieving an alliance with the West. In May 1939 the Germans suggested the possibility of a “rapprochement” with the Soviet Union. Talks were initiated that eventually led to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact later that year. Litvinov, who was Jewish, was replaced as foreign minister by Viacheslav Molotov, who was not.
But the Soviet government did not abandon its attempt to form an alliance with the UK and France. Contacts were maintained throughout the late spring and summer. Early in June 1939 Molotov made concrete proposals for joint military commitments by Britain, France and the USSR, including guarantees for the Baltic states and several other countries. The proposals included an agreement enabling Red Army troops to move into Poland if it were attacked, in order to support the Poles, since the Soviets did not want to wait until the German troops reached their borders. London and Paris continued to prevaricate.
In July 1939, while talks with the Germans were under way, Molotov invited the British and the French to send military missions to Moscow in order to finalize a military agreement. A draft text had been sent to the foreign ministries in Paris and London. The main articles stated:
1. Britain, France, and the USSR conclude this Agreement for a term of five to ten years, on a mutual commitment to extend to each other every possible assistance, including military assistance, without delay in the event of aggression in Europe against any one of the Contracting Parties.
2. Britain, France, and the USSR undertake to extend every, including military, assistance to the East European states situated between the Baltic and the Black seas and having a common border with the USSR in the event of aggression against these states.
3. Britain, France, and the USSR undertake, within the shortest possible time, to consider and establish the volume and forms of military assistance to be rendered by each of them in compliance with Paragraphs 1 and 2.
Moreover, it was assumed that Britain, France, and the USSR would pledge that if hostilities broke out they would not enter into any negotiations or conclude a separate peace with the aggressors without agreement among all the three signatory powers. The Soviet proposals envisaged the signing of a military convention simultaneously with the political agreement (cited in Sevastyanov).
Neither the British nor the French seemed to have a sense of urgency. The delegations were sent to Leningrad aboard a slow merchant ship with a speed of 13 knots, although fast destroyers and British amphibious aircraft were available. They were instructed to conduct the negotiations “very slowly”. According to Carley, the British Foreign Secretary said “that on the whole it would be preferable to draw out the negotiations as long as possible”.
Ivan Maiski, the Soviet ambassador in London, asked why the delegations were not being sent by airplane or high-speed naval vessel. He was told that they had too much baggage, and the British did not want to make naval officers give up their cabins. “Maiski was astonished…Europe is beginning to burn under our feet and the Anglo-French are going to Moscow in a freighter”. (Carley).
When the members of the Anglo-French mission finally met with the Soviets in Moscow on 12 August, Defence Commissar Voroshilov asked if they were empowered to sign a military convention. They informed him that they were not. Admiral Drax, the British representative, cabled London and was informed that he was permitted to discuss the Soviet proposal, but not to sign an agreement. Carley quotes a later statement by Drax: “It was an astonishing thing that the Government and the Foreign Office should have let us sail without providing us with Credentials or any similar document”, and writes that the French representative General Doumenc was of the same opinion.
In other words, the British and French governments had no intention of signing an agreement with the Soviets that would enable a meaningful response to German aggression.
During the next few days Voroshilov tried to obtain agreement on specific military issues, the most important being passage rights, i.e. the right to send Soviet forces into Polish and/ or Rumanian territory if the Germans attacked. By 17 August it was clear that the British and French governments were stalling once again, and Voroshilov adjourned the meeting in anticipation of concrete replies from London and Paris.
The British deputy chiefs of staff tried to convince Chamberlain that the Soviet request was valid, and urged that the Polish and Rumanian governments should be pressured into accepting it. The British and French met with the Poles, who refused. There was no question of real pressure. The same governments that had threatened the Czechs with disaster in Munich unless they granted Hitler’s demands were diplomatically evasive in the face of Poland’s lack of cooperation. By 21 August the charade was over. The British would not sign anything. The French government instructed its representative to sign “the best agreement he could get”, but he realized that it was “too late”.
At the same time, the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain was secretly conniving to reach an agreement with Germany that would ensure it of a free hand.
According to the German ambassador in London Herbert von Dirksen, the essence of the Anglo-German agreement planned by Chamberlain was that ‘England would renounce the guarantees she had given to certain States in the German sphere of interest. Further, Great Britain would bring influence to bear on France to get her to give up her alliance with the Soviet Union and her commitments in Southeast Europe. She would also drop her treaty negotiations with the Soviet Union’ (Documents and Materials Relating to the Eve of the Second World War, Vol. II, Dirksen Papers (1938-1939) cited in Sevastyanov).
According to Carley:
…the evidence shows that the main motivation for Anglo-French rejection of Soviet pragmatism was anti-communism and fear of the war-revolution nexus, that is, that war would lead to the spread of socialist revolution. (Pragmatism in Early Soviet Foreign Policy, Paper for the conference of The Historical Society, Boston, June 2000.)
The Soviets had continued discussions with the Germans during the summer, obviously as insurance against probable Anglo-French procrastination. A limited trade agreement was signed with Germany while the talks with the British and French were breaking down, and on 23 August the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact was signed.
The trade agreement was substantially expanded in February 1940. It stipulated that the Soviet Union would deliver raw materials including cereal grains, oil, manganese, phosphates, rubber, and platinum. The Germans would deliver weapons, military technology and civilian machinery, including machine tools that were desperately needed to accelerate Soviet defense production. The USSR could not obtain this material from Britain or France because of government embargoes.
It has frequently been claimed that the raw materials to be supplied by the Soviet Union were critical to the German war machine, implying that Hitler would not have been able to go to war without them. If this were true, it is difficult to understand how the Germans could wage war on a massive scale for almost four years after the supplies were cut off following the launch of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941.
The non-aggression pact enabled the Soviet Union to reclaim the areas of Belorussia and the Ukraine that had been occupied by the Polish army during the War of Intervention 1918-22, although the population was largely Russian-speaking. The new border with Poland corresponded to the Curzon Line, a boundary that had originally been proposed by the Allied Supreme Council in 1919, while the War of Intervention was still in progress. The city of Vilnius, which had been annexed by the Poles, was returned to Lithuania by the Soviets.
Military-strategic considerations were central to the negotiations with the Nazis.
The Medvedev brothers, who are definitely not sympathetic to Stalin, are correct in their statement that “the strategic advantages of the pact [for the Soviets] were all too obvious”. Not least because
When Germany began to increase the size of its army in 1935 in violation of the Versailles Treaty, Stalin and a large number of military experts came to the conclusion that war with Germany was ultimately inevitable (Zhores and Roy Medvedev, The Unknown Stalin, 2006).
Obtaining short-term security against a German attack was clearly the main goal for the Soviets during negotiations with Ribbentrop. The pact enabled the USSR to move its borders 300 kilometers westward, and to ensure that the Germans would not occupy the Baltic states, as Molotov pointed out:
The problem of the Baltic states, western Ukraine, western Belorussia and Bessarabia we solved with Ribbentrop in 1939. The Germans reluctantly agreed to our annexation of Latvia, Estonia, and Bessarabia. A year later when I was in Berlin, in November 1940, Hitler asked me ‘Well, good, you are uniting the Ukrainians, uniting the Belorussians, all right, and the Moldavians, that’s reasonable – but how are you going to explain the Baltic states to the whole world?’
I said to him, ‘We’ll explain.’
Communists and the people of the Baltic states favored joining the Soviet Union. Their bourgeois leaders came to Moscow for negotiations but refused to sign such an agreement with the USSR. What were we to do? I must tell you confidentially that I pursued a very hard line. I told the Latvian minister of foreign affairs when he came to visit us, ’You won’t go home until you sign the agreement to join us.’
A popular minister of war from Estonia came to see us – I’ve forgotten his name. We told him the same thing. We had to go to such extremes. And to my mind, we achieved our aims quite satisfactorily.
It sounds crude in the telling, but in fact everything was done more delicately… A country somehow has to see to its security. When we laid down our demands – you have to act before it’s too late – they vacillated. Of course bourgeois governments could not join a socialist state with alacrity. But the international situation was forcing their decision. They found themselves between two great powers – fascist Germany and Soviet Russia. The situation was complicated. That’s why they wavered, but finally they made up their minds. And we needed the Baltic states.
We couldn’t do the same with Poland. The Poles were irreconcilable. We negotiated with the British and French before talking to the Germans. If the West had permitted our troops in Czechoslovakia and Poland, then of course we would have fared better. They refused, thus we had to take at least partial measures; we had to keep German troops at
If we hadn’t moved toward the Germans In 1939, they would have invaded all of Poland right up to our old border. That’s why we came to an arrangement with them. They had to agree. They took the initiative on the nonaggression pact. We couldn’t defend Poland because it didn’t want to deal with us. Inasmuch as Poland would not deal, and war was close at hand, (we said) give us just that part of Poland that we believe indisputably belongs to the Soviet Union [the western areas of Belorussia and the Ukraine which had been seized by Poland during the War of Intervention] (Feliks Chuev, Molotov Remembers, 1993).
Carley points out that
A long-standing mythology has developed concerning the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact. It was already being developed in the summer of 1939, when the British and French leaked information to the press to prepare public opinion for a possible failure of negotiations and to place the blame on the Soviet Union. According to the mythology, the Soviet government had ‘colluded’ with Nazi Germany and cunningly, actively sought a nonaggression pact. During negotiations in 1939 Molotov kept making fresh demands on the French and British to give the Germans time to catch up. The Soviet demand for passage rights (to send troops into Poland in case of German aggression) came as a ‘surprise’ at the talks in Moscow. The nonaggression pact ‘caused’ the Second World War.
Carley shows that this version of history was indeed mythology. He notes that
The key determinants of Soviet policy appear to have been disbelief in the good faith of France and Britain, crucial security concerns over the Baltic states, fear of imminent war in Poland (confirmed directly by the Germans), and the German demand that the Soviet Union declare its position before war broke out. (Emphasis added)
Carley then states
It seems incredible that the Soviet government could have abandoned its deep, long-standing hostility to Nazi Germany and its commitment to collective security during a fortnight in August, but that is what the available evidence shows.
Such naiveté is not characteristic of Carley. How could the Soviets possibly negotiate a pact with the Germans and simultaneously show hostility? As noted below, they knew that Hitler would eventually violate the agreement. Stalin told Sir Stafford Cripps that it was to be expected (H.C. Cassidy, Moscow Dateline, 1943).
The spheres of influence defined in the pact enabled the Soviets to move into the Baltic countries, all of which were previously Russian provinces. There seems to be a general belief that these countries were democracies until the Soviets took over. They were in fact Fascist dictatorships. The case of Lithuania is symptomatic.
Like Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania had been a Tsarist province. It became independent after World War 1, and following several turbulent years in which it was subjected to pillaging and homicide by the German Freikorps, a coalition of Communists and Social Democrats won a parliamentary majority in the late spring of 1926. The new government announced that relations with the USSR would be normalized, which was not surprising in light of the country’s backward economy. Several weeks later, the British fleet blockaded the coast. In December, a British-sponsored coup installed one Istvan Smetona in charge of government. A declared admirer of Mussolini, he instituted one-party rule and persecuted representatives of the working class for years, until the Red Army entered the country in 1940.
As long as the Baltics were controlled by Fascists, they would be a dangerous staging area for a German attack against the Soviet Union.
“The devil’s pact”
In mainstream Western histories, and even in more objective analyses such as In Our Time, the Soviet-German agreement is known as “the devil’s pact” that revealed the evil nature of the Soviet regime and opened the way for Hitler’s wars of conquest. It is often referred to as an alliance, e.g. by the Forum for Living History, as if the USSR was colluding with Hitler.
But an alliance is an agreement by two or more nations that they will take joint action to achieve specific goals. A non-aggression pact such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement does not imply joint action. The deal at Munich in 1938 was formally a non-aggression pact. I have never seen it referred to as an alliance by a mainstream historian.
The Stalin government had no illusions about the possibility of a lasting peace with Germany. The Soviet defensive strategy was based on the assumption that an attack was to be expected. Nevertheless, Western historians often claim that Stalin was fooled by the Germans and mistakenly believed that the pact provided immunity from war. The following text is from David M. Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed – How the Red Army stopped Hitler (1995):
Soviet war planning since 1935 had focused on the twin threats posed by Nazi Germany and Japan. Strategic plans developed in November 1938 under the auspices of the chief of the General Staff, Colonel General B. M. Shaposhnikov, considered both threats but identified the Western Theater of war as the priority. The geographic reality of the Pripet Marshes posed a particular problem to planners since the marshes divided the theater in half. The question was whether German planners would focus their strategic attention north of the Pripet into Belorussia or south of the marshes into the Ukraine…
“After the partition of Poland in 1939, the General Staff revised its strategic plan to accord with the increasing German threat. Developed by Major General A.M. Vasilevsky, deputy chief of the General Staff Operations Directorate, the July 1940 plan postulated a probable German thrust into Belorussia along the Minsk-Smolensk axis. Mobilization measures were adjusted to fit this plan. When Meretskov became chief of the General Staff in August 1940, another reevaluation took place. With Stalin taking an active role, the October 1940 war plan shifted strategic emphasis from the northwestern to the southwestern axis, probably because of Stalin’s concern for the economically vital Ukraine.
If it were true that the Stalin government was convinced that the pact protected the USSR from German aggression, mainstream historians will find it difficult to explain why during the twelve months following the signing of the pact the Soviets spent so much time reviewing and discussing a defense strategy that postulated a German attack.
M. Vasilevsky later wrote that (emphasis added):
The operational plan took up all our time and thoughts. Hitler Germany was indicated in the plan as the most likely and main adversary. It was assumed that Italy might act on the German side, but the plan specified that it would in all probability confine itself to the Balkans, indirectly threatening our frontiers. Germany could possibly be supported by Finland, Romania, and Hungary. Shaposhnikov felt that hostilities might be confined to the western borders of the USSR. In this connection, it was there that the plan proposed the concentration of our main forces. A Japanese attack on our Far East was not precluded, however, and so the plan provided for such a force to be deployed there as would guarantee us a stable situation (A. M. Vasilevsky, A Lifelong Cause, 1981, cited in Sevostyanov).
In light of the Western refusal to even attempt to contain Hitler’s forces, the alternative for the USSR was to reach an agreement with Germany that would buy time and delay the start of the conflict. In the autumn of 1939 the Red Army was not capable of successfully fighting a war with the Germans without allies, and the British and French had made clear that there would be none. The Stalin government viewed the pact as providing an opportunity to strengthen Soviet industrial and military capabilities. According to Molotov, the government believed that a pact would give the Soviet Union breathing space until 1942. In a highly dangerous situation in which no help could be expected from any other country, the government made a tactical maneuver that it hoped would counteract the collusion between the French, the British and the Germans.
The calculated inaction of the British and French after Hitler attacked Poland (see below) demonstrates unambiguously that they were unwilling to resist Hitler Germany.
Ever since Hitler had seized power the Western nations had shown that they not only would not oppose Fascist aggression, but were ready to finance German rearmament. They had repeatedly refused to form a collective front with the Soviet Union against Hitler. They had openly tolerated and even encouraged Fascist aggression in Spain. They had dumped Austria, given Czechoslovakia to Hitler and encouraged him to make war in the East. From the Baltic to the Aegean, the countries bordering the Soviet Union were either controlled by Fascists or as in the case of Poland by governments that were sympathetic to Hitler Germany. Without any prospects of assistance from countries such as France, Britain and Poland, which they were certain would be attacked by the Nazis, the Soviets did what they could to delay the inevitable. It arrived on 22 June 1941 in the form of Operation Barbarossa.
The fear and loathing of Communism that was general among Western capitalists and the governments that served them dictated their attitude to the Fascist governments. Naturally there were differences of opinion, mainly tactical. A minority did not think that peaceful coexistence with Hitler was possible.
The attitude of the British ruling class toward Nazi Germany was summarized by David Lloyd George, former Liberal prime minister of the UK, in the House of Commons November 28, 1934, about 18 months after Hitler had seized power:
In a very short time, perhaps in a year or two, the Conservative elements in this country will be looking to Germany as the bulwark against Communism in Europe. She is planted right in the center of Europe… only two or three years ago a very distinguished German statesman said to me ‘I am not afraid of Nazism, but of Communism’ – and if Germany is seized by the Communists, Europe will follow… Do not let us be in a hurry to condemn Germany. We shall be welcoming Germany as our friend (cited in Leibovitz and Finkel).
Winston Churchill is commonly portrayed as an implacable opponent of Hitler in particular and Fascism in general. But on 3 September 1938 he published an article in Collier’s magazine, a leading American weekly, in which he praised both Hitler (“an instrument of destiny”) and Mussolini for having saved their countries from the threat of “The Bolshevik fever [which] threatened to spread beyond the bounds of semi-Asiatic Russia”. (Copies of the article are available from the NY Public Library.)
Poland betrayed – “a colossal scenario of tacit conciliation”
Relations between Poland and the Soviet Union had been far from cordial after the October revolution. As noted above, Poland had annexed parts of Belorussia and the Ukraine during the War of Intervention. The Polish ruling class shared the Western view of the USSR, and the government’s policies reflected their interests. For many years the government was headed by Józef Pilsudski, whose rabid anti-Communism blinded him to the realities of German intentions after 1933.
In foreign affairs, Pilsudski continued to see Russia as Poland’s main enemy and failed to appreciate the danger created by the rise of Hitler (Antony Polonsky, The Little Dictators: The History of Eastern Europe since 1918, 1975).
The Hitler government played cleverly on the illusions of the Polish leadership. In January 1939, while the German General Staff was preparing plans for the attack on Poland, Hitler invited the Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck to Berchtesgaden for a personal meeting. According to Léon Noël, then French ambassador in Warsaw, Hitler emphasized “the complete community of German and Polish interests relative to Russia”. He said that Germany wanted a strong Poland because of “the threat from Russia”, and that “every Polish division brought into action against Russia saves a German division”. In other words, he told Beck exactly what the Polish ruling class wanted to hear (Léon Noël, L’aggression allemande contre la Pologne, 1946).
As noted above, the repeated Soviet proposals for collective security against Hitler included either an alliance with Poland or a request for permission from the Polish government to allow Soviet troops to enter Polish territory in the event of a German attack. The Poles refused.
On 19 August 1939, 13 days before the German assault began, Józef Beck said “We have no military accord with the USSR, nor do we wish to have one” (Paul Reynaud, Au Coeur de la Mêlée 1939-1945, 1951). On the following day, the Polish Chief of Staff General Waclaw Stachiewicz said that Soviet troops would under no circumstances be admitted into Poland (Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, HMSO 1953, cited in Sevastyanov).
Beck and the other members of the Polish government were also presumably grateful to the Germans for having allowed them to annex the Teschen area of Czechoslovakia while that country was being delivered into Hitler’s hands by the UK and France.
On 6 April 1939 the British and the French signed a mutual aid treaty with Poland supposedly ensuring Anglo-French military assistance to Poland in the event of a German attack. It later became apparent that they did not intend to respond to German belligerence in accordance with the terms of the treaty, since that would have contradicted their strategy of encouraging Hitler to move eastward.
The Germans were reasonably sure that the UK and France would betray Poland. On 31 August 1939, the day before the invasion of Poland, the Chief of the Wehrmacht General Staff Franz Halder made an entry in his diary: “The Führer is calm… He believes that the French and the British will not enter German territory” (Generaloberst Halder, Kriegstagebuch, Vol.1, 1963, cited in Sevastyanov).
The Germans invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Two days later France and Britain declared war on Germany. Hitler said “The fact that they have declared war…does not mean that they will fight” (Erich Kordt, Wahn und Wirklichkeit, 1948, cited in Sevastyanov). President Roosevelt announced that the US would maintain neutrality.
The French and the British did not fight. They left Poland to be crushed by the German blitzkrieg, although they could have invaded Germany from the west. But they restricted themselves to meaningless maneuvers. According to Charles de Gaulle,
While almost all of the enemy’s forces were engaged on the Vistula, we did nothing to move toward the Rhine (Charles de Gaulle, Mémoires de Guerre, Vol. 1, 1954).
A French journalist wrote:
Artillerymen deployed along the Rhine were calmly watching German ammunition trains running on the opposite bank, and our airmen were flying over the smoking chimneys of the Saar factories without dropping bombs. The High Command’s main preoccupation was obviously to avoid provoking the enemy (Roland Dorgelès, La drôle de guerre, 1939-1940, 1957).
The French General Beaufre wrote that the war had become
a colossal scenario of tacit conciliation, under which nothing especial could happen if we properly played our part. In French and British military quarters it was expected that the political leadership would ultimately reach a compromise with Germany (André Beaufre, Le drame de 1940, 1965).
On 12 September the Anglo-French Supreme War Council held a meeting at which Chamberlain explained that Britain was planning to prepare for war during the next three years. General Gamelin stated that the French army would not mount a major offensive. The Council decided to recommend “adherence to the existing policy of restriction” (J. R. M. Butler, Grand Strategy, Vol. 2, HMSO 1957, cited in Sevastyanov). On the same day the French High Command ordered a halt to all military activity.
Hugh Dalton, a leading member of the British Labour Party, wrote that “It was impossible to justify our treatment of the Poles. We were letting them down and letting them die, while we did nothing to help them” (Hugh Dalton, The Fateful Years: Memoirs 1931-1945, 1957). The British treatment of the Poles could of course be justified on the basis of the British government’s strategy of collusion with Hitler.
According to Erich von Manstein, Chief of Staff of the German Army Group South,
Poland’s defeat was an inevitable consequence of the illusions harbored in Warsaw about the actions of the Allies. The latter passively watched the destruction of their Polish ally (Erich von Manstein, Verlorene Siege, 1955, cited in Sevastyanov).
The Anglo-French betrayal of Poland was painfully obvious. It was also obvious to the Stalin government that if German troops advanced to the existing Polish-Soviet frontier Hitler would have an ideal springboard for an invasion of the USSR. On 15 September Soviet troops entered Poland and occupied the Russian-speaking areas of Belorussia and the Ukraine.
The Soviet move into Poland was denounced as an act of villainy by many of the same people in the West who hoped that Hitler would conquer the USSR. But not by all. Léon Noël (see above) wrote that the Stalin government could not possibly allow the Germans to occupy all of what was then Poland: “The Soviet Union had to bring in its army before it was too late”. Even Lord Halifax stated that Britain did not object to the Soviet occupation of Western Belorussia and Ukraine, a view that Winston Churchill had expressed in a radio broadcast some days earlier and was which endorsed by Chamberlain in the House of Commons (Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, Official Report, Vol. 352, HMSO 1939, cited in Sevastyanov).
In the spring of 1940, about eight months after the British and French had assured the Poles of support in case of attack, the Nazi armies invaded Denmark, Norway and France. It was only then that Anglo-French forces went into action against the Germans.
UK and France plan to attack the Soviet Union
On 3 September 1939 the UK and France declared war on Germany in accordance with the Anglo-French-Polish treaty. A military mission from Warsaw arrived in London on the same day to make urgent requests for help. A week later they were received by General Ironside, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. He informed the Poles that assistance from Britain would be limited to a supply of rifles, which would be delivered early the next year.
Prime Ministers Chamberlain and Daladier refused to receive the Polish ambassadors to their respective countries.
The British and French response to the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union was quite different, and unambiguously revealed their true policies and intentions. Poland, a country with which they had signed a treaty that promised mutual aid, was thrown overboard. Finland, a country to which they had no commitments, to which they had made no promises, and which had little or no strategic importance for them, was offered military assistance on a large scale, for one reason.
The Western powers rushed to support Finland because they thought the Winter War could serve as a pretext for an assault on the Soviet Union which they hoped would be more successful than the War of Intervention 1918-22. Their assistance to Finland is one of the clearest indicators of the class struggle out of which the war emerged.
The Soviet government promoted the interests of “those who have nothing to lose”, the workers and farm laborers of the USSR. The Western governments promoted the interests of the ruling class, “those who have something to safeguard”, who not only already possess wealth in great abundance, but always grasp for more.
The interests of the two classes are essentially incompatible. And when the interests of those who have something to safeguard are threatened they respond with unbridled ferocity whenever possible.
In December 1939, almost immediately after the Winter War started, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council began to discuss sending 150,000 troops to Finland. In January, planning began for massive air raids on the oil fields around Baku, from bases in the Middle East.
According to Leibovitz and Finkel:
Despite the fact that the Germans were massing troops on the western front (i.e. against France), on March 2 Prime Minister Daladier sent a hundred bombers to Finland, as well as 50,000 troops – called ‘volunteers’ to disguise the fact that they were making war on the Soviet Union. Britain, now leery of any diversion from the western front, nevertheless agreed to send fifty bombers.
Britain had been counting on Swedish and Norwegian participation in the defense of Finland. But both of these countries were anxious to avoid hostilities with the Soviets. The French did not help their cause when they told the Swedes that they and the British were planning a full-scale war against the Soviets. On March 2, the Swedish consul general in Paris communicated to King Gustav V a personal message from Daladier:
France was about to send 50,000 men to Finland via the Norwegian port of Narvik. ‘The expedition fell within a general plan of attack against the USSR,’ the message stated. ‘Action was supposed to start against Baku on the 15th of March and against Finland the same day.’ Swedish Foreign Minister Günther was present at the meeting and took notes. Stockholm immediately refused to take part in such plans or to offer its ports as launching bases for an offensive against the Soviet Union… Military aid for Finland had become a pretext for a wider strategy of attack on the Soviet Union.
The Norwegian and Swedish governments refused because they had been informed that enabling movements of British and/or French troops eastward would be regarded by the Soviet Union as an act of war.
Anglo-French planning for war against the Soviet Union was confirmed by former French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud in La France a sauvé l’Europe, 1947. Possible targets included Leningrad and Murmansk as well as the Caucasus.
The US, which in September had declared its neutrality regarding the Nazi attack on Poland, started shipping aircraft and other war materiel to Finland in October 1939 as the Finns began military preparations. In December, the US extended a credit of USD 10 million to Finland. American pilots and aircraft-service personnel were sent to there, and Roosevelt declared that this would not be a violation of the Neutrality Act that he had signed in 1935.
The guilty parties
The historical record shows clearly that the overriding concern of the Western ruling class after 1918 was the perceived threat from the Soviet Union. The potential and substantial threats from Hitler Germany were in general ignored or downplayed. The refusal and/or reluctance of Western capitalists to face the reality of the growing inter-imperial conflict melded with their continuous antagonism toward the USSR and their lust for profits – e.g. in Nazi Germany – and encouraged Hitler to start the war.
Their policies were in stark contrast to the willingness of the Stalin government to form an alliance with the West and put an end to Germany’s military adventures. In July 1938 Robert Coulondre, the French ambassador to the USSR, met with Litvinov to discuss the dangerous situation, in particular Hitler’s menacing gestures toward Czechoslovakia.
Michael Carley writes that Litvinov’s suggestion was to “draw the bayonet” so that “the situation might take another direction”. Hitler was bluffing and preparing a vast theatre production of threats and military demonstrations to induce France and Britain to surrender. “But calling Hitler’s bluff might lead to war, said Coulondre. ‘It’s possible, replied Litvinov, but we need to face the crisis with a united front and brave hearts’”.
This was precisely what the Western ruling class was not prepared to do. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it was the capitalists in Germany and the West, the bankers and the industrialists, who unleashed Hitler and generated World War 2. It is they who bear the guilt for the holocaust of the war, which included the Holocaust against the Jews.
But their guilt is rarely mentioned, as the majority of Western historians and media people either do not know about the nexus of capitalism and Fascism, or are intent on concealing it.
A typical example is given in a book called Den nazistiska utmaningen (The Challenge of Nazism) by Professor Alf Johansson, which was in its sixth edition in 2006 and has influenced two generations of Swedish students. It is a compendium of comments and analyses of various aspects of World War 2. Johansson states that
The claim that it was big capital that made Hitler head of state is hardly tenable. It was not the case that the National Socialist movement was financed by big capital. The party’s activities were financed mainly through membership fees.
This astonishing statement is a gross distortion of historical fact and is disproved by a mountain of evidence, as shown above.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that if the Western capitalists had made a tactical alliance with the Soviet Union the war would never have taken place. In the words of the French General Beaufre:
Today, when one rereads the draft (prepared by the Stalin government) for the Anglo-French-Soviet treaty, one may well ask how blind and petty our diplomacy must have been in its approach to this matter, losing the opportunity for concluding a treaty of such crucial significance.
Even a staunch representative of the British ruling class like Anthony Eden, who had some feelings of decency left, could in hindsight understand where the guilt for the dreadful carnage was to be assigned, as he said in the House of Commons in February 1945:
Can anyone doubt that if we had had in 1939 the unity between Russia, this country and the United States that we cemented at Yalta, there would not have been the present war? (Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons Official Report, HMSO).
But alternative history is a book that can never be written. The Western policies were the inescapable results of the fear that consumed – and still consumes – those who have something to safeguard, the fear that they will lose their possessions, their power and their privileges. So the Western capitalists put their faith in Adolf Hitler as the guardian of their class interests. They financed Hitler, they equipped his armies, and they acquiesced in his conquests. Until he turned on them.
And after the most terrible war in history had ended, the Western capitalists once again showed their affinity for Fascists, as we shall see in the next chapter. The West’s war against Communism continued after 1945, this time under the leadership of the United States of America.