Joseph Stalin’s speech to the Soviet Politburo on 19
August 1939 reveals his deliberations prior to signing a pact with Nazi Germany on 22 August, in which the two countries agreed to divide Poland and not to fight each other. This was a duplicitous agreement between two dictators who mistrusted each other and hated each other’s ideology. At that point, however, the pact was expedient to both.
Having successfully invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, Hitler wanted to be able to invade Poland without the USSR coming to the aid of his enemies, the British and the French, and involving Germany in fighting on two fronts. Hitler knew it was unlikely Stalin would allow him to take Poland over without a fight.
When negotiations for an alliance between Britain, France and Russia failed, Hitler spotted an opportunity. He offered the Soviets a treaty that would give Germany most of Poland, with Russia being left the eastern part of the country and given a free hand to take over Finland and the Baltic States.
This speech demonstrates Stalin’s understanding of the possibilities open to him in the pact. Knowing that involvement in the war would at some point be inevitable, he wanted to choose the best time for it. He also knew the war could advance Soviet interests and was concerned that Germany might make peace (find a ‘modus vivendi’) with the Western powers. Stalin was also playing for time. Technologically backward and weakened by recent purges of its top military personnel, Russia was not yet ready to take on Germany. Stalin also argues in the speech that a long war would exhaust Britain, France and Germany and ultimately benefit Russia.
After the signing of the pact Hitler invaded Poland and in September 1939 Britain and France declared war against Germany. Despite the pact, Hitler was actually planning for war against the USSR and when he attacked them in 1941 the Soviets were totally unprepared. The brutality of the war waged by Germany against Russia brought some measure of reconciliation between the brutal Stalinist regime and its own people. This was not, however, to last and Stalin resumed his repressive measures in Russia after 1945.
Joseph Stalin, son of a cobbler and ex-serf, was born in Georgia in 1879. After training as a priest, in 1898 he became active in the revolutionary underground, and was twice exiled to Siberia (1902, 1913). He played an active role in the Russian Revolution in 191 7
and in 1922 he became general secretary of the Party Central Committee. He held this post until his death and also had other important positions, through which he acquired great personal power in the party and government machine.
After Lenin’s death (1924) he isolated and disgraced his political rivals, including Trotsky. In 1928 he began the collectivization of agriculture in which millions of peasants perished, and the first five-year plan for the forced industrialization of the economy.
Between 1934 and 1938 he purged the party, government, armed forces and intelligentsia, imprisoning, exiling or shooting millions of so-called ‘enemies of the people’.
At the end of World War II Stalin gained Soviet military and political control over the liberated countries of post-war Europe and Central Europe. From 1945 until his death his loreign policies contributed to the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West.
After his death Stalin was denounced by Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress (1956) lor crimes against the Party and under Gorbachev ‘Stalinism’ was officially condemned by the Soviet authorities.
The question of war and peace has entered a critical phase for us. Its solution depends entirely on the position which will be taken by the Soviet Union. We are absolutely convinced that if we concludea mutual assistance pact with France and Great Britain, Germany will back off from Poland and seek a modus vivendi with the Western Powers. War would be avoided, but further events could prove dangerous for the USSR.
On the other hand, if we accept Germany’s proposal, that you know, and conclude a non-aggression pact with her, she will certainly invade Poland, and the intervention of France and England is then unavoidable. Western Europe would be subjected to serious upheavals and disorder. In this case we will have a great opportunity to stay out of the conflict, and we could plan the opportune time for us to enter the war.
The experience of the last 20 years has shown that in peacetime the Communist movement is never strong enough for the Bolshevik Party to seize power. The dictatorship of such a Party will only become possible as the result of a major war.
Our choice is clear. We must accept the German proposal and, with a refusal, politely send the Anglo-French mission home.
It is not difficult to envisage the importance which we would obtain in this way of proceeding. It is obvious, for us, that Poland will be destroyed even before England and France are able to come to her assistance. In this case Germany will cede to us a part of Poland … Our immediate advantage will be to take Poland all the way to the gates of Warsaw, as well as Ukrainian Galicia.
This is in the case that Germany would emerge victorious from the war. We must, however, envisage the possibilities that will result from the defeat as well as from the victory of Germany. In case of her defeat, a Sovietization of Germany will unavoidably occur and a communist government will be created.
We should not forget that a Sovietised Germany would bring about great danger, if this Sovietization is the result of German defeat in a transient war. England and France will still be strong enough to seize Berlin and to destroy a Soviet Germany. We would be unable to come effectually to the aid of our Bolshevik comrades in Germany.
‘Our goal is that Germany should carry out the war as long as possible so that England and France grow weary and become exhausted.’
Therefore, our goal is that Germany should carry out the war as long as possible so that England and France grow weary and become exhausted to such a degree that they are no longer in a position to put down a Sovietised Germany.
Our position is this. Maintaining neutrality and waiting for the right time, the USSR will presently assist Germany economically and supply her with raw materials and provisions. It goes without saying that our assistance should not exceed a certain limit; we must not send so much as to weaken our economy or the power of our army.
At the same time we must carryon active Communist propaganda in the Anglo-French bloc, and predominantly in France. We must expect that in that country in times of war, the Party should quit the legal means of warfare and turn underground. We know that their work will demand great sacrifices, but our French comrades will not hesitate. Their first task will be to decompose and demoralize the army and the police. If this preparatory work is fulfilled properly, the safety of Soviet Germany will be assured, and this will contribute to the Sovietization of France.
For the realization of these plans it is essential that the war continue for as long as possible, and all forces, which we have available in Western Europe and the Balkans, should be directed toward this goal.
Now let us consider the second possibility, a German victory. Some think that this would confront us with a serious danger. There is some truth in this, but it would be a mistake to regard the danger as so close at hand or as great as has been proposed.
If Germany should prove to be victorious, she will leave the war too weakened to start a war with the USSR within a decade at least. She will have to supervise the occupation of France and England and restore herself.
In addition, a victorious Germany will have vast colonies, the exploitation of those and their adaptation to German methods will also absorb Germany during several decades.
We must strengthen our propaganda work in the belligerent countries, in order to be prepared when the war ends.’
Obviously, this Germany will be too busy elsewhere to turn against us. There is one additional thing that will strengthen our safety. In a conquered France, the French Communist Party will always be very strong. A Communist revolution will unavoidably break out, and we will be able to exploit the situation and to come to the aid of France and make her our ally. In addition, all the nations that fall under the ‘protection’ of a victorious Germany will become our allies. This presents for us a broad field of action for the initiation of world revolution.
Comrades, I have presented my considerations to you. I repeat that it is in the interest of the USSR, the workers’ homeland, that a war breaks out between the Reich and the capitalist Anglo-French bloc. Everything should be done so that it drags out as long as possible with the goal of weakening both sides. For this reason, it is imperative that we agree to conclude the pact proposed by Germany, and then work in such a way that this war, once it is declared, will be prolonged maximally. We must strengthen our propaganda work in the belligerent countries, in order to be prepared when the war ends.
Joseph Stalin’s speech to the Soviet Politburo on 19