Category Archives: German Imperialism

Grover Furr: Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland in September 1939? (The answer: No, it did not.)


by Grover Furr


Did the Soviet Union Invade Poland on September 17, 1939? Why ask? “We all know” this invasion occurred. “You can look it up!” All authoritative sources agree. This historical event happened.

Here’s a recent article in The New York Review of Books (April 30, 2009, p. 17) by Timothy Snyder, Yale University professor, academic expert in this area — and fanatic anticommunist — who just has to know that what he writes here is, to put it politely, false:

Because the film (although not the book)* begins with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 rather than the joint German-Soviet invasion and division of Poland in 1939… the Soviet state had just months earlier been an ally of Nazi Germany… (* “Defiance”)

“Behind Closed Doors” (PBS series 2009):

“After invading Poland in September 1939, the Nazis and the Soviets divided the country as they had agreed to do in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact…”

Wikipedia article: “Soviet invasion of Poland”:

“… on 17 September, the Red Army invaded Poland from the east…”

Every historian I have read, even those who do not conform to Cold War paradigms, state unproblematically that the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939.

But the truth is that the USSR did not invade Poland in September, 1939. Even though the chances are at least 99 to 1 that every history book you can find says that it did. I have yet to find an English-language book that gets this correct. And, of course, the USSR had never been an “ally of Nazi Germany.”

I will present a lot of evidence in support of this statement. There is a great deal more evidence to support what I say – much more than I can present here, and no doubt much more that I have not yet even identified or located.

Furthermore, at the time it was widely acknowledged that no such invasion occurred. I’ll demonstrate that too.

Probably the truth of this matter was another victim of the post-WW2 Cold War, when a great many falsehoods about Soviet history were invented or popularized. The truth about this and many other questions concerning the history of the first socialist state has simply become “unmentionable in polite company.”

Demonizing – I use the word advisedly, it is not too strong – the history of the communist movement and anything to do with Stalin has become de rigeur, a shibboleth of respectability. And not only among avowed champions of capitalism but among ourselves, on the left, among Marxists, opponents of capitalism, the natural constituency of a movement for communism.

Some time ago Doug Henwood tweaked me on the MLG list for “defending Stalin.”

I could make a crack about what defenses of Stalin have to do with a “sensible materialism,” but that would be beneath me.
(MLG list May 17 2009)

Doug thinks he knows something about Stalin and the USSR during Stalin’s time. He doesn’t! But you can’t blame him too much, since none of us do. More precisely: We “know” a lot of things about the Soviet Union and Stalin, and almost all of those things are just not true. We’ve been swallowing lies for the truth our whole lives.

I’ll be brief in this presentation. I have prepared separate web pages with references to much of the evidence I have found (not all – there is just too much). I’m also preparing a longer version for eventual publication.

The Nonaggression Treaty Between Germany and the USSR of August 1939

For a discussion of the events that led up to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 an excellent account is still Bill Bland, “The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939″ (1990). I have checked every citation in this article; most are available online now. It’s very accurate, but far more detailed than the present article requires.

Before we get into the question of the invasion that did not take place, the reader needs to become familiar with some misconceptions about the Nonaggression Treaty and why they are false. These too are based on anticommunist propaganda that is widely, if naively, “believed.”

The most common, and most false, of these is stated above in the PBS series “Behind Closed Doors”

…the Nazis and the Soviets divided the country as they had agreed to do in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact…

This is completely false, as any reading of the text of the M-R Pact itself will reveal. Just read the words on the page (see below).

The Soviets Wanted to Protect the USSR – and therefore to Preserve Independent Poland

[For the text of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact see m-rpact.html ]

It is conventionally stated as fact that the Nonaggression Pact between the USSR and Germany (often called the “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” or “Treaty” after the two foreign ministers who signed it) was an agreement to “partition Poland”, divide it up.

This is completely false. I’ve prepared a page with much fuller evidence; see  “The Secret Protocols to the M-R Pact Did NOT Plan Any Partition of Poland”.

No doubt a big reason for this falsehood is this: Britain and France did sign a Nonaggression Pact with Hitler that “partitioned” another state — Czechoslovakia. That was the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938.

Poland too took part in the “partition” of Czechoslovakia too. Poland seized a part of the Cieszyn area of Czechoslovakia, even though it had only a minority Polish population. This invasion and occupation was not even agreed upon in the Munich Agreement. But neither France nor Britain did anything about it.

Hitler seized the remaining part of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. This had not been foreseen in the Munich Agreement. But Britain, France, and Poland did nothing about it.

So the anticommunist “Allies” Britain, France, and Poland really did participate in the partitioning of a powerless state! Maybe that’s why the anticommunist “party line” is that the USSR did likewise? But whatever the reason for this lie, it remains a lie.

The Soviet Union signed the Nonaggression Pact with Germany not to “partition Poland” like the Allies had partitioned Czechoslovakia, but in order to defend the USSR.

The Treaty included a line of Soviet interest within Poland beyond which German troops could not pass in the event Germany routed the Polish army in a war.

The point here was that, if the Polish army were beaten, it and the Polish government could retreat beyond the line of Soviet interest, and so find shelter, since Hitler had agreed not to penetrate further into Poland than that line. From there they could make peace with Germany. The USSR would have a buffer state, armed and hostile to Germany, between the Reich and the Soviet frontier.

The Soviets — “Stalin”, to use a crude synecdoche (= “a part that stands for the whole”) — did not do this out of any love for fascist Poland. The Soviets wanted a Polish government — ANY Polish government — as a buffer between the USSR and the Nazi armies.

The utter betrayal of the fascist Polish Government of its own people frustrated this plan.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the Polish government had two alternatives in the event its army was smashed by an attacking army.

1. It could stay inside the country, perhaps moving its capital away from the invading army. From there it could have sued for peace, or surrendered.

2. The Polish government could have fled to an allied country that was at war with Germany: either France or England.

The governments of all other countries defeated by Germany did one or both of these things. The Polish government — racist, anticommunist, hyper-nationalist, — in short fascist, as bad as they get — didn’t do either. Rather than fight the Polish government fled into neighboring Rumania.

Rumania was neutral in the war. By crossing into neutral Rumania the Polish government became prisoners. The legal word is “interned”. They could not function as a government from Rumania, or pass through Rumania to a country at war with Germany like France, because to permit them to do that would be a violation of Rumania’s neutrality, a hostile act against Germany.

I will discuss “internment” and the international law on this question extensively below.

The USSR did not invade Poland - and everybody knew it at the time

When Poland had no government, Poland was no longer a state. (More detailed discussion below)

What that meant was this: at this point Hitler had nobody with whom to negotiate a cease-fire, or treaty.

Furthermore, the M-R Treaty’s Secret Protocols were void, since they were an agreement about the state of Poland and no state of Poland existed any longer. Unless the Red Army came in to prevent it, there was nothing to prevent the Nazis from coming right up to the Soviet border.

Or — as we now know they were in fact preparing to do — Hitler could have formed one or more pro-Nazi states in what had until recently been Eastern Poland. That way Hitler could have had it both ways: claim to the Soviets that he was still adhering to the “spheres of influence” agreement of the M-R Pact while in fact setting up a pro-Nazi, highly militarized fascist Ukrainian nationalist state on the Soviet border.

Once the Nazis had told the Soviets that they, the Nazis, had decided that the Polish state no longer existed, then it did not make any difference whether the Soviets agreed or not. The Nazis were telling them that they felt free to come right up to the Soviet border. Neither the USSR nor any state would have permitted such a thing. Nor did international law demand it.

At the end of September a new secret agreement was concluded. In it the Soviet line of interest was far to the East of the “sphere of influence” line decided upon a month earlier in the Secret Protocol and published in Izvestiia and in the New York Times during September 1939. This reflected Hitler’s greater power, now that he had smashed the Polish military. See the map at new_spheres_0939.html

In this territory Poles were a minority, even after the “polonization” campaign of settling Poles in the area during the ‘20s and ‘30s. You can see the ethnic / linguistic population map at curzonline.html

How do we know this interpretation of events is true?

How do we know the USSR did not commit aggression against, or “invade”, Poland when it occupied Eastern Poland beginning on September 17, 1939 after the Polish Government had interned itself in Rumania? Here are nine pieces of evidence:

How do we know the USSR did not commit aggression against, or “invade”, Poland when it occupied Eastern Poland beginning on September 17, 1939 after the Polish Government had interned itself in Rumania? Here are nine pieces of evidence:

1. The Polish government did not declare war on USSR.

The Polish government declared war on Germany when Germany invaded on September 1, 1939. It did not declare war on the USSR.

2. The Polish Supreme Commander Rydz-Smigly ordered Polish soldiers not to fight the Soviets, though he ordered Polish forces to continue to fight the Germans.

See rydz_dont_fight.html

3. The Polish President Ignaz Moscicki, interned in Rumania since Sept. 17, tacitly admitted that Poland no longer had a government.

See moscicki_resignation.html

4. The Rumanian government tacitly admitted that Poland no longer had a government.

See moscicki_resignation.html


The Rumanian position recognized the fact that Moscicki was blowing smoke when he claimed he had legally resigned on September 30.  So the Rumanian government fabricated a story according to which Moscicki had already resigned back on September 15, just before entering Rumania and being interned (NYT 10.04.39, p.12). Note that Moscicki himself did not claim this!

Rumania needed this legal fiction to try to sidestep the following issue. Once Moscicki had been interned in Rumania – that is, from September 17 1939 on – he could not function as President of Poland. Since resignation is an official act, Moscicki could not resign once he was in Rumania.

For our present purposes, here’s the significant point: Both the Polish leaders and the Rumanian government recognized that Poland was bereft of a government once the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania and were interned there.

Both Moscicki and Rumania wanted a legal basis – a fig-leaf — for such a government. But they disagreed completely about this fig-leaf, which exposes it as what it was – a fiction.

5. Rumania had a military treaty with Poland aimed against the USSR. Rumania did not declare war on the USSR.

The Polish government later claimed that it had “released” Rumania from its obligations under this military treaty in return for safe haven in Rumania.

But there is no evidence for this statement. No wonder: it is at least highly unlikely that Rumania would have ever promised “safe haven” for Poland, since that would have been an act of hostility against Nazi Germany. Rumania was neutral in the war and, as discussed below, insisted upon imprisoning the Polish goverment and disarming the Polish forced once they had crossed the border into Rumania.

The real reason for Rumania’s failure to declare war on the USSR is probably the one given in a New York Times article of September 19, 1939:

“The Rumanian viewpoint concerning the Rumanian-Polish anti-Soviet agreement is that it would be operative only if a Russian attack came as an isolated event and not as a consequence of other wars.”
– “Rumania Anxious; Watches Frontier.” NYT 09.19.39, p.8.

That means Rumania recognized that the Red Army was not allied with Germany, an “other war.” This is tacit recognition of the Soviet and German position that Poland no longer had a government, and therefore was no longer a state.

6. France did not declare war on the USSR, though it had a mutual defense treaty with Poland.

See m-rpact.html for the reconstructed text of the “secret military protocol” of this treaty, which has been “lost” – i.e. which the French government still keeps “secret”

7. England never demanded that the USSR withdraw its troops from Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine, the parts of the former Polish state occupied by the Red Army after September 17, 1939.

On the contrary, the British government concluded that these territories should not be a part of a future Polish state. Even the Polish government-in-exile agreed!

See maisky_101739_102739.html  These documents are in the original Russian, with the relevant quotations translated into English below them.

8. The League of Nations did not determine the USSR had invaded a member state.

Article 16 of the League of Nations Covenant required members to take trade and economic sanctions against any member who “resorted to war”.

No country took any sanctions against the USSR. No country broke diplomatic relations with the USSR over this action.

However, when the USSR attacked Finland in 1939 the League did vote to expel the USSR, and several countries broke diplomatic relations with it. See

A very different response! which tells us how the League viewed the Soviet action in the case of Poland.

9. All countries accepted the USSR’s declaration of neutrality.

All, including the belligerent Polish allies France and England, agreed that the USSR was not a belligerent power, was not participating in the war. In effect they accepted the USSR’s claim that it was neutral in the conflict.

See FDR’s “Proclamation 2374 on Neutrality”, November 4, 1939:

“…a state of war unhappily exists between Germany and France; Poland; and the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa,…”

- also “152 – Statement on Combat Areas” – defines

“belligerent ports, British, French, and German, in Europe or Africa…”

The Soviet Union is not mentioned as a belligerent. That means the USA did not consider the USSR to be at war with Poland. For the Soviet Union’s claim of neutrality see soviet_neutrality.html

Naturally, a country cannot “invade” another country and yet credibly claim that it is “neutral” with respect to the war involving that country. But NONE of these countries declared the USSR a belligerent. Nor did the United States, the League of Nations, or any country in the world.

The Polish State Collapsed

By September 17, 1939, when Soviet troops crossed the border, the Polish government had ceased to function. The fact that Poland no longer had a government meant that Poland was no longer a state.

On September 17 when Molotov handed Polish Ambassador to the USSR Grzybowski the note Grzybowski told Molotov that he did not know where his government was, but had been informed that he should contact it through Bucharest. See polish_state_collapsed.html

In fact the last elements of the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania and so into internment during the day of September 17, according to a United Press dispatch published on page four of the New York Times on September 18 with a dateline of Cernauti, Rumania. See polish_leaders_flee.html

Without a government, Poland as a state had ceased to exist under international law. This fact is denied — more often, simply ignored — by anticommunists, for whom it is a bone in the throat.

We take a closer look at this issue in the next section below. But a moment’s reflection will reveal the logic of this position. With no government — the Polish government was interned in Rumania, remember — there is no one to negotiate with; no body to which the police, local governments, and the military are responsible. Polish ambassadors to foreign countries no longer represent their government, because there is no government. (See the page polish_state_collapsed.html , especially the NYT article of October 2, 1939 )

The Question of the State in International Law

See state_international_law.html for more details.

EVERY definition of a “state” recognizes the necessity of a government or “organized political authority.” Once the Polish government crossed the border into Rumania, it was no longer a “government.”

Even the Polish officials of the day recognized this by trying to create the impression that “the government” had never been interned since it had been handed over to somebody else before crossing into Rumania. See the discussion concerning Moscicki and his “desire to resign” on September 29, 1939, also cited above.

So EVERYBODY, Poles included, recognized that by interning themselves in Rumania the Polish government had created a situation whereby Poland was no longer a “state.” This is not just “a reasonable interpretation” – not just an intelligent, logical deduction but one among several possible deductions. As I have demonstrated in this paper, it was virtually everybody’s interpretation at the time. Every major power, plus the former Polish Prime Minister himself, shared it.

Once this is problem is squarely faced, everything else flows from it.

* The Secret Protocol to the M-R Pact was no longer valid, in that it was about spheres of influence in “Poland”, a state.

By September 15 at the latest Germany had taken the position that Poland no longer existed as a state (discussed further here).

Once Poland ceased to exist as a state this Secret Protocol did not apply any longer.

Therefore if they wanted to the Germans could march right up to the Soviet frontier.

Or – and this is what Hitler was in fact going to do if the Soviet Union did not send in troops — they could facilitate the creation of puppet states, like a pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist state.

In any case, once Hitler had taken the position that Poland no longer existed as a state, and therefore that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’s agreement on spheres of influence in the state of Poland was no longer valid, the Soviet Union had only two choices: either to

  1. Send the Red Army into Western Ukraine and Wester Belorussia to establish sovereignty there; or
  2. Let Hitler send the Nazi army right up to the Soviet border.

* Since the Polish state had ceased to exist, the Soviet-Polish nonaggression pact was no longer in effect.

The Red Army could cross the border without “invading” or “committing aggression against” Poland. By sending its troops across the border the USSR was claiming sovereignty, so no one else could do so – e.g. a pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist state, or Nazi Germany itself.

* Legitimacy flows from the state, and there was no longer any Polish state.

Therefore the Polish Army was no longer a legitimate army, but a gang of armed men acting without any legitimacy. Having no legitimacy, the Polish Army should have immediately laid down its arms and surrendered. Of course it could keep fighting — but then it would no longer be fighting as a legitimate army but as partisans. Partisans have NO rights at all except under the laws of the government that does claim sovereignty.

* Some Polish nationalists claim that the Soviets showed their “perfidy” by refusing, once they had sent troops across the Soviet frontier, to allow the Polish army cross the border into Rumania.

But this is all wrong. The USSR had diplomatic relations with Rumania. The USSR could not permit thousands of armed men to cross the border from areas where it held sovereignty into Rumania, a neighboring state. Imagine if, say, Mexico or Canada tried to permit thousands of armed men to cross the border into the USA!

Re-negotiation of “Spheres of Influence” September 28 1939

See new_spheres_0939.html

All this is referred to directly in a Ribbentrop (German Foreign Minister)-to-Schulenburg (German ambassador to Moscow) communication of September 15-16 – Telegram No. 360 of 15 September 1939 — with its reference to “the possibility of the formation in this area of new states.”

Note that Ribbentrop is very displeased with the idea that the Soviets would “tak[e] the threat to the Ukrainian and White Russian populations by Germany as a ground for Soviet action” and wants Schulenberg to get Molotov to give some other motive. He was unsuccessful; this was exactly the motive the Soviets gave:

“Nor can it be demanded of the Soviet Government that it remain indifferent to the fate of its blood brothers, the Ukrainians and Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland, who even formerly were without rights and who now have been abandoned entirely to their fate.
The Soviet Government deems it its sacred duty to extend the hand of assistance to its brother Ukrainians and brother Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland.”

- TASS, September 17, 1939; quoted in New York Times September 18, 1939, p. 5; also Jane Degras (Ed.), Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy 1933-1941, vol. III (London/New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 374-375.

The German government was already considering that Poland no longer existed — there’s no reference to “Poland”, only to “the area lying to the East of the German zone of influence”, etc.

Polish Imperialism

A word of explanation regarding the Soviet reference to “the fate of its blood brothers, the Ukrainians and Byelo-Russians inhabiting Poland.”

At the Treaty of Riga signed in March 1921 the Russian Republic (the Soviet Union was not officially formed until 1924), exhausted by the Civil War and foreign intervention, agreed to give half of Belorussia and Ukraine to the Polish imperialists in return for a desperately-needed peace.

We use the words “Polish imperialists” advisedly, because Poles — native speakers of the Polish language — were in the small minority in Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine, the areas that passed to Poland in this treaty. The Polish capitalist regime then encouraged ethnic Poles to populate these areas to “polonize” them, and put all kinds of restrictions on the use of the Belorussian and Ukrainian languages.

Up till the beginning of 1939, when Hitler decided to turn against Poland before making war on the USSR, the Polish government was maneuvering to join Nazi Germany in a war on the USSR in order to seize more territory.

As late as January 26, 1939, Polish Foreign Minister Beck was discussing this with Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in Warsaw. Ribbentrop wrote:

… 2. I then spoke to M. Beck once more about the policy to be pursued by Poland and Germany towards the Soviet Union and in this connection also spoke about the question of the Greater Ukraine and again proposed Polish-German collaboration in this field.

M. Beck made no secret of the fact that Poland had aspirations directed toward the Soviet Ukraine and a connection with the Black Sea…

(Original in Akten zur deutschen ausw�rtigen Politik… Serie D. Bd. V. S. 139-140. English translation in Documents on German Foreign Policy. 1918-1945. Series D. Vol. V. The document in question is No. 126, pp. 167-168; this quotation on p. 168. Also in Russian in God Krizisa T. 1, Doc. No. 120.)

Polish Foreign Minister Beck was telling Ribbentrop that Poland would like to seize ALL of the Ukraine from the USSR, for that was the only way Poland could have had “a connection with the Black Sea.”

In occupying Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine the USSR was reuniting Belorussians and Ukrainians, East and West. This is what the Soviets meant by the claim that they were “liberating” these areas. The word “liberation” is conventionally used when an occupying imperialist power withdraws, and that’s what happened here.

The Polish Government In Exile

At the beginning of October 1939 the British and French governments recognized a Polish government-in-exile in France (later it moved to England). This was an act of hostility against Germany, of course. But the UK and France were already at war with Germany. (The USA took the position of refusing to recognize the conquest of Poland, but treated the Polish government-in-exile in Paris in an equivocal manner. Evidently it wasn’t sure what to do.)

The USSR could not recognize it for a number of reasons:

* Recognizing it would be incompatible with the neutrality of the USSR in the war.

It would be an act of hostility against Germany, with which the USSR had a non-aggression pact and a desire to avoid war. (The USSR did recognize it in July 1941, after the Nazi invasion).

* The Polish government-in-exile could not exercise sovereignty anywhere.

Most important: if the USSR were to recognize the Polish government-in-exile, the USSR would have had to retreat back to its pre-September 1939 borders – because the Polish government-in-exile would never recognize the Soviet occupation of Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine.

Then Germany would have simply marched up to the Soviet frontier. 

To permit that would have been a crime against the Soviet people, of course. And, as the British and French soon agreed, a blow against them, and a big boost to Hitler as well. See should_the_ussr_have_permitted.html

Polish Government Uniquely Irresponsible

No other government during WW2 did anything remotely like what the Polish government did.

Many governments of countries conquered by the Axis formed “governments in exile” to continue the war. But only the Polish government interned itself in a neutral country, thereby stripping itself of the ability to function as a government and stripping their own people of their existence as a state.

What should the Polish government leader have done, once they realized they were completely beaten militarily?

  • The Polish government should have remained somewhere in Poland – if not in the capital, Warsaw, then in Eastern Poland. If they had set up an alternative capital in the East — something the Soviets had prepared to do East of Moscow, in case the Nazis captured Moscow — then they could have preserved a “rump” Poland.
    There it should have capitulated – as, for example, the French Government did in July 1940. Or, it could have sued for peace, as the Finnish government did in March 1940.
    Then Poland, like Finland, would have remained as a state, though it would certainly have lost territory.
  • Or, the Polish government could have fled to Great Britain or France, countries already at war with Germany.
    Polish government leaders could have fled by air any time. Or they could have gotten to the Polish port of Gdynia, which held out until September 14, and fled by boat.
  • Why didn’t they? Did Polish government leaders think they might be killed? Well, so what? Tens of thousands of their fellow citizens and soldiers were being killed!
    • Maybe they really did believe Rumania would violate its neutrality with Germany and let them pass through to France? If they did believe this, they were remarkably stupid. There’s never been any evidence that the Rumanian government gave them permission to do this.
    • Did they believe Britain and France were going to “save” them? If so, that too was remarkably stupid. Even if the British and French really intended to field a large army to attack German forces in the West, the Polish army would have had to hold against the Wehrmacht for a month at least, perhaps more. But the Polish Army was in rapid retreat after the first day or two of the war.
    • Or, maybe they fled simply out of sheer cowardice. That is what their flight out of Warsaw, the Polish capital, suggests.

Everything that happened afterwards was a result of the Polish government being interned in Rumania.

Here’s how the world might have been different if a “rump” Poland had remained after surrender to Hitler:

* A “rump” Poland might finally have agreed to make a mutual defense pact that included the USSR. That would have restarted “collective security”, the anti-Nazi alliance between the Western Allies and the USSR that the Soviets sought but UK and French leaders rejected.

That would have

  • greatly weakened Hitler;
  • probably eliminating much of the Jewish Holocaust;
  • certainly preventing the conquest of France, Belgium, and the rest of Europe;
  • certainly prevented many millions of deaths of Soviet citizens.

* Poland could have emerged from WW2 as an independent state, perhaps a neutral one, like Finland, Sweden, or Austria.

All this, and more – if only the Polish government had remained in their country at least long enough to surrender, as every other government did.


See conclusion.html


Bill Bland: The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939


by Bill Bland


One of the many stories which circulate about Stalin is that, while the Soviet government was negotiating for a collective security pact with Britain and France directed against German aggressive expansion, he initiated the signing of a pact with Germany which precipitated the Second World War.

Of course, not everything that happened in the Soviet Union at this time was done with the approval of Stalin. In the case of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, however, we have the testimony of Stalin’s closest collaborator, Vyacheslav Molotov, that:

“Comrade Stalin . . suggested the possibility of different, unhostile and good neighbourly relations between Germany and the USSR. . ..
The conclusion of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact . . . shows that Comrade Stalin’s historical foresight has been brilliantly confirmed”.

(V. M. Molotov: Speech at 4th (Special) Session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 31 August 1939, in: ‘Soviet Peace Policy’; London; 1941; p. 16).

The charge that this was a serious mistake on Stalin’s part must, therefore, be examined seriously.

The Reorientation of Soviet Foreign Policy

In his notorious book ‘My Struggle’, written in mid-1920s, the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler expressed frankly the foreign policy the Nazis intended to follow:

“We National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. . . . We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze towards the land in the East. .
If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia”.

(A. Hitler: ‘Mein Kampf’; London; 1984; p. 598, 604).

Thus, the coming to power of the Nazi government in Germany in January 1933 heralded a situation in Europe which clearly presented great danger to the Soviet Union — and not, of course, to the Soviet Union alone.

The Marxist-Leninists in the leadership of the Soviet Union, concerned to defend the socialist state, responded to this new, more dangerous situation by reorientating Soviet foreign policy, by adopting a policy of striving for collective security with other states which had, objectively, an interest in maintaining the status quo in the international situation.

The Objective Basis of Collective Security

The objective basis of the Soviet policy of collective security was that the imperialist Powers of the world could be divided into two groups.

One group — Germany, Italy and Japan had a relatively high productive power and relatively restricted markets and spheres of influence. As a result, these Powers had an urgent need to change the world to their advantage; they were relatively aggressive Powers.

Another group of imperialist Powers — Britain, France and the United States — had relatively large markets and spheres of influence and thus had objectively more need to keep the world as it was than to see it changed; they were relatively non-aggressive Powers.

Stalin, who argued that the Second World War had already begun, summed up this position to the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939:

“The war is being waged by aggressor states, who in every way infringe upon the interests of the non-aggressor states, primarily, England, France and the USA. .
Thus we are witnessing an open re-division of the world and spheres of influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states.”

(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14).

As a socialist state, a working people’s state, the Soviet Union had the strongest interest of any state in the preservation of peace.

The Soviet government’s policy in the 1930s, therefore, was to strive to form a collective security alliance with the European non-aggressive imperialist states, Britain and France — a collective security alliance strong enough either to deter the aggressive imperialist states from launching war or to secure their speedy defeat.

The Soviet Government summed up this post-1933 foreign policy in 1948:

“Throughout the whole pre-war period, the Soviet delegation upheld the principle of collective security in the League of Nations”.

(‘Falsifiers of History: Historical Information’; London; 1948; p 15).


Although, as we have seen, Stalin maintained that the British and French imperialists had, objectively, an interest in joining the Soviet Union in such a collective security alliance, the governments of Britain and France, led respectively by Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, did not recognise this objective fact because of their detestation of socialism and the Soviet Union and their wish to see it destroyed.

As Stalin told the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939:

“England, France and the USA . . . draw back and retreat, making concession after concession to the aggressors.

Thus we are now witnessing an open redivision of the world and spheres of influence at the expense of the non-aggressive states, without the least attempt at resistance, and even with a certain amount of connivance. .

How is it that the non-aggressive countries . . . have so easily, and without any resistance, abandoned their positions and their obligations to please the aggressors?

Is it to be attributed to the weakness of the non-aggressive states? Of course not! Combined, the non-aggressive, democratic states are unquestionably stronger than the fascist states, both economically and militarily. . .

The chief reason is that the majority of the non-aggressive countries, particularly England and France, have rejected a policy of collective security, of collective resistance to the aggressors, and have taken up a position of ‘non-intervention’……

The policy of non-intervention reveals an eagerness, a desire, not to hinder Germany, say, . . . from embroiling herself in a war with the Soviet Union. .
One might think that the districts of Czechoslovakia were yielded to Germany as the price of an undertaking to launch war on the Soviet Union”.

(J. V. Stalin: op. cit.; p. 14-15, 16).

British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax is on record as telling Hitler in November 1937 that

“he and other members of the British Government were well aware that the Fuehrer had attained a great deal. . . . Having destroyed Communism in his country, he had barred the road of the latter to Western Europe and Germany was therefore entitled to be regarded as a bulwark of the West against Bolshevism. .

When the ground has been prepared for an Anglo-German rapprochement, the four great West European Powers must jointly set up the foundation of lasting peace in Europe”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945′, Series D, Volume 1; London; 1954; p. 55).

Nevertheless, the Soviet Marxist-Leninists understood that this policy of ‘appeasement’ ran, objectively, counter to the interests of the British and French imperialists and counter to the interests of the British working people They therefore calculated that, if the Soviet government persisted in its efforts to form a collective security alliance with Britain and France, sooner or later the appeasers in Britain, which dominated France,. would be forced out of office by the more far-seeing representatives of British imperialism (such as Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden) in cooperation with the British working people.

(This, of course, actually occurred in 1940, but only after war had broken out in Europe).

The Anglo-French-Soviet Negotiations

On 31 March 1939, without consulting the Soviet Union, the British government gave a unilateral guarantee to defend Poland against aggression.

The leader of the liberal Party, David Lloyd George, told the House of Commons:

“I cannot understand why, before committing ourselves to this tremendous enterprise, we did not secure beforehand the adhesion of Russia. . . . If Russia has not been brought into this matter because of certain feelings that Poles have that they do not want the Russians there, . . . unless the Poles are prepared to accept the one condition with which we can help them, the responsibility must be theirs”.

(Parliamentary Debates. 5th Series, House of Commons, Volume 35; London; 1939; Col. 2,510).

The Anglo-French guarantee stimulated public pressure on the appeaser governments to at least make gestures in the direction of collective security.

So, on 15 April 1939 the British government made an approach to the Soviet government suggesting that it might like to issue a public declaration offering military assistance to any state bordering the Soviet Union which was subject to aggression if that state desired it.

Two days later, on 17 April the Soviet government replied that it would not consider a unilateral guarantee, which would put the Soviet Union in a position of inequality with the other Powers concerned. It proposed:

Firstly, a trilateral mutual assistance treaty by Britain, France and the Soviet Union against aggression;

Secondly, the extension of guarantees to the Baltic States (Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania), on the grounds that failure to guarantee these states was an open invitation to Germany to expand eastwards through invasion of these states;

Thirdly, that the treaty must not be vague, but must detail the extent and forms of the military assistance to be rendered by the signatory Powers.

On 27 May the British and French governments replied to the Soviet proposals with the draft of a proposed tripartite pact. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain commented on the British draft in a letter to his sister at this time:

“In substance it gives the Russians what they want, but in form and presentation it avoids the idea of an alliance and substitutes declaration of intention. It is really a most ingenious idea”.

(Neville Chamberlain Archives, University of Birmingham, 11/1/1101).

Vyacheslav Molotov, who had just taken over the post of People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs from Maksim Litvinov, rejected the draft on the grounds that it proposed in the event of hostilities not immediate mutual assistance, but merely consultation through the League of Nations.

On 2 June the Soviet government submitted to Britain and France a counter-draft making these joints.

The British and French governments responded by saying that Finland, Estonia and Latvia refused to be guaranteed.

The Soviet government continued to insist that a military convention be signed at the same time as the political treaty, in order that there might be no possibility of any hedging about the application of the latter. On 17 July Molotov stated that there was no point in continuing discussions on the political treaty until the military convention had been concluded.

On 23 July the British and French governments finally agreed to begin military discussions before the political treaty of alliance had been finalised, and a British naval officer with the quadruple-barreled name of Admiral Reginald Plunkett-Ernie-Erle-Drax was appointed to head the British delegation. No one, apparently, had informed the British government that the aeroplane had been invented, and the delegation left Tilbury by a slow boat to Leningrad, from where they proceeded by train to Moscow. When the delegation finally arrived in Moscow on 11 August, the Soviet side discovered that it had no powers to negotiate, only to ‘hold talks’. Furthermore, the British delegation was officially instructed to:

“Go very slowly with the conversations”;

(‘Documents on British Foreign Policy;’, 3rd Series, Volume 6; London; 1953; Appendix 5; p. 763).

Nevertheless, the military talks began in Moscow on 12 August.

On 15 August the leader of the Soviet delegation, People’s Commissar for Defence  Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, told the delegates that unless Soviet troops were permitted to enter Polish territory it was physically impossible for the Soviet Union to assist Poland and it would be useless to continue discussions.

This point was never resolved before the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations were negotiations were adjourned indefinitely on 21 August — after the Soviet government had decided to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany.

Warning Shots from Moscow

At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I think it is fair to say ‘that no diplomats are more expert in hypocritical double-dealing than British diplomats.

Nevertheless, the Soviet leaders were no fools and, as the negotiations for an Anglo-French-Soviet mutual security pact dragged on month after month, a number of warning shots were fired from Moscow.

On 11 March 1939 Joseph Davies, the former US Ambassador in Moscow, now posted to Brussels, wrote in his diary about Stalin’s speech to the 18th Congress of the CPSU a few days before:

“It is a most significant statement. It bears the earmarks of a definite warning to the British and French governments that the Soviets are getting tired of ‘non-realistic’ opposition to the aggressors. . .
It certainly is the most significant danger signal that I have yet seen”.

(J. E. Davies: ‘Mission to Moscow’; London; 1942; p. 279-80).

Then, on 3 May 1939 the resignation was announced of Maksim Litvinov as Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and his replacement by a close colleague of Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov. Although the Soviet government denied that this signified any change in Soviet foreign policy, it was significant that Litvinov’s name was particularly associated with collective security and he was known to be personally sympathetic to the West.

On 29 June the leading Soviet Marxist-Leninist Andrei Zhdanov published an article in ‘Pravda’ which, most unusually, revealed that there were differences in the leadership of the CPSU on whether the British and French governments were sincere in saying that they wished for a genuine treaty of mutual assistance:

“the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations on the conclusion of an effective pact of mutual assistance against aggression have reached a deadlock. . . .
I permit myself to express my personal opinion in this matter, although my friends do not share it. They still think that when beginning the negotiations with the USSR, the English and French Governments had serious intentions of creating a powerful barrier against aggression in Europe. I believe, and shall try to prove it by facts, that the English and French Governments have no wish for a treaty . . . to which a self-respecting State can agree. .

The Soviet Government took 16 days in preparing answers to the various English projects and proposals, while the remaining 59 days have been consumed by delays and procrastinations on the part of the English and French. 

Not long ago . . . the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Beck, declared unequivocally that Poland neither demanded nor requested from the USSR anything in the sense of granting her any guarantee whatever…..However, this does not prevent England and France from demanding from the USSR guarantees . . . for Poland. . .

It seems to me that the English and French desire not a real treaty accepable to the USSR, but only talks about a treaty in order to speculate before the public opinion in their countries on the allegedly unyielding attitude of the USSR, and thus make easier for themselves the road to a deal with the aggressors.
The next few days must show whether this is so or not.”

(A. Zhdanov: Article in ‘Pravda’, 29 June 1939, in: J. Degras (Ed.): ‘Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy’; London; 1953; p. 352, 353, 354).

A final warning shot was fired on 22 July, when it was officially announced that Soviet-German trade negotiations were taking place in Berlin.

The Soviet-German Negotiations

At the 18th Congress of the CPSU in March 1939, Stalin described the basis of Soviet foreign policy as follows:

“We stand for peace and the strengthening of business relations with all countries. That is our position, and we shall adhere to this position as long as countries maintain like relations with the Soviet Union and as long as they make no attempt to trespass on the interests of our country”.

(J. V. Stalin: Report on the Work of the Central Committee to the 18th Congress of the CPSU (b). in : ‘The Land of Socialism Today and Tomorrow’; Moscow; 1939; p. 18).

On 17 April 1939, the Soviet Ambassador in Berlin, Aleksei Merekalov, had a conversation with the German State Secretary, Baron Ernst von Wiezsaecker, who asked him whether there was any prospect of the normalisation of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Ambassador’s reply was in line with Soviet foreign policy:

“There exists for Russia no reason why she should not live with us on a normal footing. And from normal, the relations might become better and better”.

(‘Nazi-Soviet Relations: 1939-1941′, Doc. 1; Washington; 1948; p. 2).

On 29 July the German Foreign Office instructed the German Ambassador in the Soviet Union, Count Fritz von der Schulenburg, to tell Molotov:

“We would be prepared . . . to safeguard all Soviet interests and to come to an understanding with the Government in Moscow. . . . The idea could be advanced of so adjusting our attitude to the Baltic States as to respect vital Soviet interests in the Baltic Sea”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945′, Series D, Volume 6; London; 1956; p. 1,016).

On 14 August the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joachim von Ribbentropp, cabled Schulenburg, instructing him to call on the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, and read him a communication:

“There is no question between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea which cannot be settled to the complete satisfaction of both countries. . . . The leadership of both countries, therefore, should . . . take action. . .

As we have been informed, the Soviet Government also feel the desire for a clarification of German-Russian relations. . . . I am prepared to make a short visit to Moscow in order, in the name of the Fuehrer, to set forth the Fuehrer ‘s views to M. Stalin. In my view, only through such a direct discussion can a change be brought about, and it should not be impossible thereby to lay the foundations for a final settlement of German-Russian relations.”

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945′, Series D, Volume 7; London; 1956; p. 63).

Schulenburg saw Molotov on 16 August and, as instructed, read to him Ribbentropp’s message. He reported to Berlin the same night that Molotov had heard

“With great interest the information I had been instructed to convey. . . ..

He was interested in the question of how the German Government were disposed towards the idea of concluding a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . ‘; op. cit., Volume 7; p. 77).

Ribbentropp replied the same day, directing Schulenburg to see Molotov again and inform him that:

“Germany is prepared to conclude a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. . . . Further, Germany is ready to guarantee the Baltic States jointly with the Soviet Union. . . .

I am prepared to come by aeroplane to Moscow at any time after Friday, August 18, to deal, on the basis of full powers from the Fuehrer, with the entire complex of German-Russian relations and, if the occasion arises, to sign the appropriate treaties”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . .’; op. cit. Volume 7; p. 84).

On 17 August Molotov handed Schulenburg the Soviet government’s written reply. The Note began by recalling Germany’s policy of hostility to the Soviet Union in the past, and welcoming the prospect of an improvement in German-Soviet relations. It proposed a number of steps in this direction, beginning with a trade agreement and proceeding ‘shortly thereafter’ to the conclusion of a non-aggression pact.

On 18 August Ribbentropp sent a further urgent telegram to Schulenburg saying that the ‘first stage’ in the diplomatic process (the signing of the trade agreement) had been completed, and asking that Ribbentropp be permitted to make an ‘immediate departure for Moscow’, where he would:

“be in a position . . . to take the Russian wishes into account, for instance, the settlement of spheres of interest in the Baltic area”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘ ; op. cit., Volume 7; p. 123).

On 19 August Schulenburg replied that Molotov had agreed that:

“The Reich Foreign Minister could arrive in Moscow on August 26 or 27.
Molotov handed me the draft of a non-aggression pact”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, op. cit., Volume 7; p. 134).

On 20 August Hitler himself intervened with a personal letter to Stalin, saying that he accepted the draft of the non-aggression pact but pleaded that Ribbentropp should be received in Moscow

“At the latest on Wednesday, August 27th.”

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, op. cit.. Volume 7; p. 157).

Stalin replied to Hitler on 21 August, thanking him for his letter and saying:

“The assent of the German Government to the conclusion of a non-aggression pact provides the foundation for eliminating the political tension and the establishment of peace and collaboration between our countries.

The Soviet government have instructed me to inform you that they agree to Herr von Ribbentropp’s arriving in Moscow on August 23″.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, op. cit.; p. 168).

Ribbentropp and his delegation arrived in Moscow on 23 August, and the non-aggression pact was signed later the same day. Its text was almost identical with the Soviet draft which had been submitted to the Germans on 19 August. Neither party would attack the other, and should one party become the object of belligerent action by a third Power, the other party would render no support to this third Power.

Even more strongly criticised than the pact itself has been a ‘Secret Additional Protocol’ to the pact which laid down German and Soviet ‘spheres of interest’ in Europe.

But the term ‘sphere of interest’ does not necessarily have implications of imperialist domination. Where two states are likely to be affected by war but wish this not to involve them in mutual conflict, then the demarcation of spheres of interest is a legitimate and desirable act.

The ‘secret additional protocol’ declared:

“1. In the event of a territorial and political transformation in the territories belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR. . .
2. In the event of a territorial and political transformation of the territories belonging to the Polish State, the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and San”.

(‘Documents on German Foreign Policy . . . ‘, Series D, Volume 7; p. 246-47).

In ordinary language, this meant that the German government promised that, when German troops invaded Poland, they would not attempt to advance beyond the ‘Curzon Line’, drawn by the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, after the First World War as the ethnic boundary separating the Poles from the Ukrainians and Byelorussians. The area east of this line had been Soviet territiory which was seized from the Soviet Union following the Revolution.

Germany had thus agreed that it would raise no objection to the Soviet government taking whatever action it considered desirable east of this line.

The Effect of the Non-Aggression Pact

Speaking to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union on 31 August, Molotov described the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact as:

“A turning-point in the history of Europe, and not of Europe alone”.

(V. M. Molotov: Speech to Supreme Soviet of 31 August 1939, in: ‘Soviet Peace Policy’; London; 1941; p. 18).

Molotov accepted Zhdanov’s conclusion — that the British and French had never been serious in their attitude to the negotiations:

“They themselves displayed extreme dilatoriness and anything but a serious attitude towards the negotiations, entrusting them to individuals of secondary importance who were not vested with adequate powers. . .
The British and French military missions came to Moscow without any definite powers and without the right to conclude any military convention. Furthermore, the British military mission arrived in Moscow without any mandate at all”.

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 13).

Molotov declared that the breakdown of the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations was only superficially the refusal of Poland or accept Soviet assistance, since:

“The negotiations showed that Great Britain was not anxious to overcome these objections of Poland, but on the contrary encouraged them.
Poland . . . had been acting on the instructions of Great Britain and France. .”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 12, 14).

He stressed that it was not the Soviet government’s action in signing the pact which had disrupted the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations. On the contrary, the Soviet government had signed the pact only after the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations had been irrevocably sabotaged by the British and French governments:

“Attempts are being made to spread the fiction that the conclusion of the Soviet-German pact disrupted the negotiations with Britain and France for a mutual assistance pact. . . . In reality, as you know, the very reverse is true. . . . The Soviet Union signed the non-aggression pact with Germany, amongst other things, because negotiations with France and Great Britain had . . . ended in failure through the fault of the ruling circles of Britain and France”.

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 20).

The same point was made by the Soviet People’s Commissar for Defence, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, at a press conference on 27 August 1939:

“Miltary negotiations with England and France were not broken off because the USSR concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany; on the contrary, the USSR concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany as a result, inter alia, of the fact that the military negotiations with France and England had reached a deadlock”.

(K. Y. Voroshilov: Press statement of 27 August 1939, in: J. Degras (Ed.): ‘Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy’; London; 1953; p. 361).

Furthermore, Molotov emphasised that the Soviet negotiations with Germany were on a completely different level to the Soviet negotiations with Britain and France:

“We are dealing not with a pact of mutual assistance, as in the case of the Anglo-French-Soviet relations, but only with a non-aggression Pact.”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 18).

So that, as a result of the signing of the German-Soviet pact:

“the USSR is not obliged to involve itself in war, either on the side of Great Britain against Germany or on the side of Germany against Great Britain.”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.,; p. 21).

Even such anti-Soviet writers as Edward Carr agree that the Soviet government’s decision to sign the non-aggression pact with Germany was an enforced second choice, which was taken only with extreme reluctance:

“The most striking feature of the Soviet-German negotiations . . . is the extreme caution with which they were conducted from the Soviet side, and the prolonged Soviet resistance to close the doors on the Western negotiations”.

(E. H. Carr: ‘From Munich to Moscow: II’, in: ‘Soviet Studies’, Volume 1, No. 12 (October 1949); p. 104).

Indeed, some Soviet leaders — notably Maksim Litvinov, the former People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs — urged that more time should be given for the British and French governments to be pressed by public opinion in their countries into serious negotiations for a pact of mutual assistance.

What precipitated the acceptance of the pressing German proposals for a rapprochement was the discovery by Soviet intelligence that the Chamberlain government was secretly negotiating for a military alliance with Germany, so threatening the Soviet Union with aggression from four Powers — Britain, France, Germany and Italy — combined. The British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, describes in an official report to Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, dated 29 August 1939, a conversation with Hitler and Ribbentropp:

“Herr von Ribbentropp asked me whether I could guarantee that the Prime Minister could carry the country with him in a policy of friendship with Germany. I said that there was no possible doubt whatever that he could and would, provided Germany cooperated with him. Herr Hitler asked whether England would be willing to accept an alliance with Germany. I said, speaking personally, I did not exclude such a possibility”.

(‘Documents concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilites between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939′; (Cmd. 6106); London; 1939; p. 130).

The fact that both German and Soviet troops entered Poland has been used to equate Fascist Germany with the socialist Soviet Union. But, of course, a socialist state cannot be equated with an aggressive imperialist state. It has to be noted,

Firstly, that Soviet troops entered what had been Polish territory only on 17 September — 16 days after the German invasion of Poland – when the Polish state had collapsed, as Molotov stressed to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October 1939:

“Our troops entered the territory of Poland only after the Polish State had collapsed and actually had ceased to exist. . . . The Soviet government could not but reckon with the exceptional situation created for our brothers in the Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia, who had been abandoned to their fate as a result of the collapse of Poland”.

(V. M. Molotov: Speech to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 31 October 1939, in: ‘Soviet Foreign Policy’; London; 1941; p. 32).

And the correspondents of the capitalist press agree with Soviet contemporary Soviet sources that the Red Army was welcomed as liberators by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian population concerned. Molotov reported:

“The Red Army . . . was greeted with sympathy by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian population, who welcomed our troops as liberators from the yoke of the gentry and from the yoke of the Polish landlords and capitalists.”

(V. M. Molotov: ibid.; p. 33).

In the House of Commons on 20 September, Conservative MP Robert Boothby declared:

“I think it is legitimate to suppose that this action on the part of the Soviet Government was taken . . . from the point of view of self-preservation and self-defence. . . . The action taken by the Russian troops . . . has pushed the German frontier considerably westward. .
I am thankful that Russian troops are now along the Polish-Romanian frontier. I would rather have Russian troops there than German troops”.

(Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, Volume 351; House of Commons; London; 1939; Col. 996).

It is outside the scope of today’s seminar to discuss one of the most absurd of the anti-Stalin stories — that Stalin trusted the Nazis to adhere to the pact and was completely taken by surprise when the German army invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Who can forget Stalin’s prophetic words in 1931:

“We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall go under”.

(J. V. Stalin: ‘The Tasks of Business Executives’, in: ‘Works’, Volume I13; Moscow; 1955; p. 41).

Exactly ten years later, in 1941, came the German invasion.

The test of the correctness or incorrectness of Stalin’s policy is whether or not it strengthened or weakened the ability of the socialist Soviet Union to defend itself against the future aggression which its leaders knew was inevitable.

Even such virulent anti-Soviet writers as Edward Carr admit that the signing of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact enabled the Soviet Union to put itself in an incomparably stronger defensive position to meet the German invasion:

“The Chamberlain government ., as a defender of capitalism, refused . . . to enter into an alliance with the USSR against Germany. . . .
In the pact of August 23rd, 1939, they (the Soviet government — Ed.) secured:
a) a breathing space of immunity from attack;
b) German assistance in mitigating Japanese pressure in the Far East;
c) German agreement to the establishment of an advanced defensive bastion beyond the existing Soviet frontiers in Eastern Europe; it was significant that this bastion was, and could only be, a line of defence against potential German attack, the eventual prospect of which was never far absent from Soviet reckonings. But what most of all was achieved by the pact was the assurance that, if the USSR had eventually to fight Hitler, the Western Powers would already be involved”.

(E. H. Carr: ‘From Munich to Moscow: II’, in: ‘Soviet Studies’, Volume 1, No. 2 (October 1949); p. 103).


Questions Put By The Audience to The Speaker, And His Replies

Question 1: 

It has been suggested that Litvinov was removed from his post simply because he was a Jew, and as such would have been regarded as unsuitable as a negotiator by the Germans. Is there any truth in this?


In my opinion, no. We know that Stalin supported the replacement of Litvinov, and Stalin was known to be have been opposed not only to racism but to any concession to racism. Litvinov had, personally, been strongly associated with the policy of collective security and reliable sources testify to his conviction that, with more time, the British and French governments would sooner or later endorse this policy. As soon as the Soviet leaders began to give consideration to the possibility of a rapprochement with Germany, therefore, Litvinov ceased to be a reliable instrument of Soviet foreign policy.

Question 2: 

Did Litvinov actually oppose the signing of the non-aggression pact?


I have no concrete information as to whether he opposed it on principle, but he is known to have held the view that more time should be given to allow the Anglo-French representatives to see sense’. But he is on record later as declaring that it had been ‘a mistake’ resulting from Molotov’s ‘lack of understanding of the functioning of Western democracy’.

Question 3: 

In one of Molotov ‘s speeches following the occupation of Eastern Poland, he referred to the Polish state as being the illegitimate child of Versailles and commented that, happily, it had disappeared. This has been interpreted as demonstrating that the Soviet Union always had territorial designs upon Poland. Was the Soviet position one of supporting the destruction of the Polish state?

Question 3a. 

Does this mean that the Soviet Union was prepared to deny the aspirations of the Polish people to have their own state?


There is no doubt that the Polish people constitute a nation, and Marxist-Leninists have always recognised the right of any nation to have its own independent state. The Polish state which existed in 1939, however, did not have its boundaries drawn on ethnic lines; it included, for example, millions of Ukrainians and Byelorussians and I feel sure that it was such facts which lay at the basis of Molotov ‘s statement. In other words it was not any Polish state, but that existing in 1939 which Molotov depicted as a monstrosity. However, that Polish Polish state was not destroyed by the Red Army, but by the German army; the Red Army’s occupation of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia began only after the Polish state had collapsed and ceased to exist. The Polish state was restored after the United Nations victory over Germany in 1945.

Question 4: 

Was a protocol signed as part of the non-aggression pact which led to a line being drawn across Poland dividing the spheres of interest of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany? Is this the secret protocol referred to in the West and did such a protocol really exist? Was the dividing line the Curzon Line?


The Anglo-American imperialists published the ‘secret protocol’ after the Second World War, claiming that it had been discovered in the captured archives of the German Foreign Office. I know that the late Soviet President, Andrei Gromyko, denounces the ‘secret additional protocol’ as a forgery in his memoirs, but he was a notorious revisionist and not a source I would place any reliance on. As far as I recall, the Soviet government of the time neither confirmed nor denied its authenticity. However, in the Soviet Information Bureau published in 1948, Falsifiers of History, no charge is made that the document is spurious, and this official pamphlet states:

“The Soviet Union succeeded in making good use of the Soviet-German Pact to strengthen its defences, . . . in moving its frontiers far to the West and in barring the way of the unhampered eastward advance of German Aggression”.
(‘Falsifiers of History’; op. cit.; p. 45).

It would seem that this cannot possibly refer to the treaty itself (which makes no mention of spheres of interest or frontiers), but only to the ‘secret additional protocol’. As I said before, I do not accept the view that ‘spheres of interest’ between states are necessarily an phenomenon to be condemned. A socialist state may have its own spheres of interest which it sees as essential to its defence and, where these may conflict with the spheres of interest of other states, it seems to me correct to try to reach agreement with these other states, to map them out in order to maintain peaceful relations with these other states. On the evidence available to me at present, I believe the published ‘secret protocol’ to be genuine. Yes, the dividing line ‘ran along the old Curzon Line.

The above paper was read by Bill Bland at a seminar organised by the STALIN SOCIETY in London in February 1990.

The German Situation and the Question of Social-Fascism

Demonstrators in East Berlin carry portraits of both German socialist Karl Liebknecht and political activist Rosa Luxemburg in 1988, during a protest march against their assassination in 1919. (AP/Press Association Images)

Demonstrators in East Berlin carry portraits of both German socialist Karl Liebknecht and political activist Rosa Luxemburg in 1988, during a protest march against their assassination in 1919. (AP/Press Association Images)

The greatest factor in the stabilization of capitalism after the first round of wars and revolutions was Social-Democracy. In such countries as Germany and Austria the Social-Democratic leaders actually undertook to organize and maintain the capitalist State against the revolutionary onslaught of the workers. A German Social-Democrat, Noske, drowned in blood the workers’ revolution in Germany in 1918 and 1919. Social-Democratic ministers suppressed strikes, fired at workers’ demonstrations, declared martial law against the workers. A Socialist government in Great Britain sent armies to subdue the uprising of the colonial peoples. The Social- Democrats of France took the initiative in introducing the imperialist martial laws. In. short, everywhere the leaders of Social-Democracy became part and parcel of the bourgeois State apparatus. They advanced the idea that where there is a coalition government, i.e., a government of’ capitalist and Socialist ministers, there we have a transition from capitalism to socialism. The fact of the matter is that a coalition government remains a capitalist government since it does not shake the foundations of capitalism, private property and exploitation. On the contrary, it only serves to strengthen capitalism by deceiving the workers with the idea of peaceful transition to socialism.

In Germany and Austria Social-Democracy actually aided the growth of fascism. Fascist bands were being organized under the protection of Social-Democratic governments. Fascist demonstrations were unmolested by Social-Democratic police presidents while Communist demonstrations were being dispersed. Fascist bands were allowed to arm while the militant Red Front organization of the German workers was outlawed. Martial law and semi-martial law were repeatedly introduced to curb the movement of the workers who demanded an improvement of their intolerable conditions.

In the very same way as Lenin, after the betrayal of the proletariat by Social-Democracy at the beginning of the War, called the Social-Democratic leaders social-patriots and social-chauvinists, so the Communist International, after the new betrayals of Social-Democracy, called its leaders social-fascists –in the sense of paving the way for fascism.

It was disastrous for the proletariat of Germany and of the whole world that the Social-Democratic leaders made common cause with capitalism. It was disastrous that so many millions of workers were deceived by the socialist phrases of the Social-Democratic leaders and believed them to be true fighters for the interests of the working class. It was unfortunate that the Communist Party of Germany could swing only around six million votes and did not have the majority of the working class behind it. It would have been better for the workers of Germany and for the world revolution had the masses of German workers cherished fewer illusions about their Social-Democratic leaders. It would have been difficult for fascism to sweep into power in Germany had there been organized in Germany a powerful united front.

It cannot be denied that there were certain weaknesses in the work of the Communist Party of Germany, but opposition to the united front was not among them. The Communist Party did not succeed in bringing all its members into the reformist trade unions so as to have there a stronger revolutionary support. It did not work sufficiently in the reformist trade unions – and this was the most neglected sector of its activities, although it did build the red trade-union opposition with a membership – prior to the advent of fascism of over 300,000. It did not root itself sufficiently in the factories and plants. It was not flexible enough in approaching Social-Democratic rank-and-file workers. All these shortcomings were repeatedly pointed out by the Communist International, and the Party made strong efforts to improve its work. As a result its influence grew tremendously.

“During the last period before Hitler came to power, the Communist Party succeeded in penetrating the broad masses and even in obtaining influence among the social-democrats, the members of the reformist trade unions and also the members of the Republican Flag (Reichsbanner) organization, for the very reason that it was able to organize the struggle against this emergency decree. The authority of the Party was greatly enhanced, and members of reformist trade unions began to participate in the strikes led by the Red Trade Union Opposition and the Communists. Thus, besides Communists, members of reformist trade unions and even National Socialists participated in the Berlin transport strike committee.” (O. Piatnitsky, The Present Situation in Germany, p. 20.)

The Communist Party of Germany was ready to fight fascism. As a matter of fact, the Communists did fight the fascist bands in the streets on numerous occasions, meeting their attacks and the attacks of the police which, in Prussia for instance, was under Social-Democratic command and everywhere protected the Brown Shirts.

That the Communists were working for a united front with the Social-Democratic workers, if need be through an agreement with the Social-Democratic leaders, may be seen from the following:

In 1925 the Communist Party proposed to the Social-Democratic Party a united struggle against the monarchist danger. Later in the year, seeing that the Communists and the Social-Democrats had a majority of members in the Berlin municipality, the Communists proposed to the Social-Democrats a common program of action for the interests of the workers. In 1926 the Communists called upon the Social-Democratic leaders to join in a plebiscite against returning the property to the former German royal family. In the Spring of 1928 the C.P. proposed joint May-Day demonstrations. In October, 1928, it proposedjoint anti-militarist action against the building of a battle cruiser. In 1929-1932 it repeatedly proposed joint action against wage-cuts. In April, 1932, it proposed a joint struggle of all working-class organizations against an impending wage-cut.

All these proposals were turned down by Social-Democracy. Broad masses of workers responded to some of the Communist appeals for united action. Social-Democratic leaders preferred cooperation with the capitalist parties.

When Von Papen drove the Social-Democrats out of the Prussian government, the Communist Party proposed a joint general strike for the repeal of the emergency decrees and for the disbanding of the Storm Troops. On January 30, 1933, when Hitler came into power, the Communist Party again proposed a general strike to fight reaction. Again in March, 1933, after the burning of the Reichstag, the Communist Party called upon the Social-Democratic Party and the trade unions to declare a general strike against the attack on the workers. All these proposals were rejected by the Social-Democrats who preferred to believe that they could function and maintain a modicum of power under any capitalist régime.

Who is to be blamed?

Trotsky says: the Communists are to blame. Why? Because they called the Social-Democrats social-fascists. Trotsky cannot deny the fact that the Communists were trying to organize the united front. They organized the Anti-Fascist Action which was to unite workers of various parties. They tried to organize the united front in the factories and unions. The Social-Democratic leaders sowed mistrust toward the Communists and toward the united front, and this hampered the Communist action. Trotsky did his bit.

Now he is dissatisfied.

Here is his chief trump:

“Had the Comintern placed, from 1929, or even from 1930 or 1931, at the foundation of its policies the objective irreconcilability between Social-Democracy and fascism, or more exactly between fascism and Social-Democracy; if upon this it had built a systematic and persistent policy of the united front, Germany, within a few months, would have been covered with a network of mighty committees of proletarian defense, potential workers’ Soviets, that is.” (Leon Trotsky, The Militant, March 10, 1934.)

But, my dear Mr. Trotsky, there was no irreconcilability between Social-Democracy and fascism, or more exactly: between the Social-Democratic leaders and fascism. There was no irreconcilability as far as the Social-Democratic leaders were concerned. They certainly had not anticipated that they would be so ruthlessly driven out. They had formed a substantial part of the State apparatus under all regimes prior to that of Hitler and they were convinced that even under Hitler would they retain a certain share of power. No matter how much the Communists would have painted before them the dire results they were to expect from the ascendancy of fascism – they simply would not have believed it. They would have said they knew better.

Witness the conduct of the Austrian Social-Democratic leaders who were supposed to be much more radical than their German brethren and who had the experience of their German comrades. Listen to the testimony of the “Left” Marxist, Otto Bauer, in his interview with the New York Times correspondent, C, E. R. Gedye (published February 18, 1934) as to how the Social-Democrats of Austria were ready to cooperate with the fascist dictator Dollfuss at the expense of the Austrian constitution:

“Since the date of the Hitler triumph in Germany (March 5)when the Reichstag ‘elections’ gave the German Nazis control, our party has made the very greatest efforts to come to an agreement with the government…. In the first weeks of March our leaders were still in close personal contact with Dollfuss and frequently tried to get him to agree to a constitutional solution. At the end of March he promised our leader, Dr. Dennenberg, personally that at the beginning of April he would open negotiations with us for the reform of the Constitution [for the limiting of bourgeois democracy to suit fascism – M.J.O.]. This promise he never fulfilled, for at the beginning of April he passed over definitely to the fascist camp… and refused to speak to any of the socialists. When he said that he could not see the existing leaders we offered to send him other negotiators. He refused sharply. As we could not see him again, we tried to negotiate through other people. Honestly, we left no stone unturned. We approached President Miklas…. Then we tried the clerical politicians, whom we had known for a long time…. But everything was shattered on the stubborn resistance of Dollfuss who simply refused to hear of the socialists again. A group of religious socialists got together with a group of Catholic democrats and tried to induce the Church to intervene. This also failed.”

Suppose you offered them at that time a united front with the Communists to fight Dollfuss? They did not think of fighting fascism. They had no intention of defending bourgeois democracy. Listen to this precious admission by Bauer in the same interview:

“We offered to make the greatest concessions that a democratic and socialistic party ever made. We let Dollfuss know that if he would only pass a bill through Parliament we would accept a measure authorizing the Government to govern by decree without Parliament for two years [our emphasis – M.J.O.], on two conditions, that a small parliamentary committee, in which the government had a majority, should be able to criticize decrees and that a constitutional court, the only protection against breaches of the Constitution, should be restored.”

They certainly were prepared to go far enough. The “Left” Social-Democrats were ready to agree to the abolition of Parliament provided the abolition is passed by Parliament (a procedure actually practiced in Germany under Hitler). They were ready, they say, to agree to a government without Parliament “for two years”, but it is quite obvious that it would not have been over-difficult to induce them to accept an extension of the time. They were interested in maintaining their positions in the trade unions, in the municipalities, in the police power, in the judicial system – knowing very well that those positions would be curtailed under fascism. They clung to a shadow of power at the time when, according to their own testimony, “the dissatisfaction and agitation of the workers against the conservative policy of our Party committee grew as the government provocations increased…. Excitement rose to a fever pitch during the last weeks.” (Ibid.)

It is for not having induced such leaders to organize a united front that Trotsky blames the Communists.

Be it remembered that he does not blame the Communists for not approaching the workers because he knows very well that they did approach the workers and did make every effort to induce them to join the united front. His chief stock in trade is the accusation that the Communist leaders did not make peace with the Social-Democratic top leaders.

Trotsky s argument in support of the possibility of a united front with the Social-Democratic leaders holds no water.

“Social-Democracy [he says] can neither live nor breathe without leaning upon the political and trade union organizations of the working class. Concurrently it is precisely along this line that the irreconcilable contradiction between Social-Democracy and fascism takes place; precisely along this line does there open up the necessity and unbridgeable stage of the policies of the united front with the Social-Democracy.” (The Militant, March 10, 1934.)

This argument is just as incorrect as the English translation of the sentences is rotten. Events have proven that the bourgeoisie resorts to fascism when it finds that Social-Democracy is no longer able to keep in check the revolutionary movement of the masses. For this reason all the mass organizations of the working class, even if dominated by Social-Democratic leaders, are suppressed. But prior to the advent of Hitler the Social-Democratic leaders did not believe this.

They relied on capitalist democracy, on the Weimar Constitution, on the German respect for law and order and – last but not least – on their record in the service of the bourgeoisie. They invented the policy of supporting the “lesser evil” just to have an excuse for collaborating with the bourgeoisie. Their Berlin Chief of Police Zoergiebel opened machine-gun fire on workers participating in a May-Day parade (1929) without a permit. The number of victims was over 30. Their leaders approved of semi-martial law introduced to quell the workers’ revolts. Their leaders supported wage-cuts and armaments. Social-Democracy supported the governments of Bruening, Von Papen and Schleicher. It was ready to support Hitler. Did it not give its recognition to the Hitler government after the elections of March 5, 1933, declaring that Hitler had been legally appointed by Hindenburg and given a clear mandate by a majority of the people? Was it not ready to cooperate with the Hitler government if offered a chance? Was it not assuming the role of a loyal opposition even after being kicked in the face by the Nazi boots? Did not the Social-Democratic parliamentary group, on May 17, 1933, vote unanimously in the Reichstag in favor of Hitler’s policy? Did not Carl Severing remain a supporter of Hitler in spite of all? Did not the same veteran Social-Democratic leader appeal to the population of the Saar to vote for the Nazis? Did not the Social- Democratic union leaders make overtures to Hitler?

When their collapse came, when they were ignominiously driven out without resistance, then the process of revaluation of values began not only among the Social-Democratic workers but also among some of the leaders. One section (Severing & Co.) are just waiting for an opportunity to be “taken in” by the fascists. The center is vacillating. The Left Wing is for a united front with the Communists. The united front is making headway, notably in France, in Spain and also in the United States – under the initiative and leadership of the Communists. But to expect that the leaders of German Social- Democracy would have agreed to the united front with the Communists before January, 1933, is to be a Trotsky.

At the bottom of all this preachment is Trotsky’s Menshevik attitude to Social-Democracy. The old Menshevik asserts himself in the leader of the “Left opposition”. He does not believe that Social-Democracy is “as bad as that”. He is sincere when he says that the Communists should not have called the Social-Democratic leaders social-fascists. He believes they are not. He believes they are also fighters, at least for bourgeois democracy and for the interests of the workers as far as they can be defended under bourgeois democracy. The Social-Democrats to him are “also” socialists. Now it is perfectly true that if the Communists had abandoned their Communist position and made peace with the German Social-Democratic leaders on the terms of these leaders, then there would have been a united front. The trouble is, it wouldn’t have been a united front against fascism.

The travesty of the whole barrage is evident from the experiences of. France. When the united front was established in France, when huge mass movements against fascism began to develop on a united-front basis, the Trotsky group joined the Socialist Party, fused with it, and is fighting within the Socialist Party against the united front.

Here you have the Trotskyites in action.

But why did not the Communist Party attempt an armed uprising in Germany in the early part of 1933 with its own forces? This question is often asked by Trotskyites.

The answer is given by Lenin who explains “the fundamental law of revolution”.

“It is not sufficient for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; for revolution, it is necessary that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule as of old. Only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want the old regime,and when the ‘upper classes’ are unable to govern as of old, then only can revolution succeed. This truth may be expressed in other words: Revolution is impossible without an all-national crisis, affecting both the exploited and the exploiters. [Our emphasis – M.J.O.] It follows that for revolution it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand the necessity for revolution, and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it; secondly, that the ruling class be in a state of governmental crisis, which attracts even the most backward masses into politics… weakens the government and facilitates its rapid overthrow by the revolutionaries.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. XXV, p. 222.)

In discussing the German situation of the time when Hitler came to power, O. Piatnitsky, a leader of the Communist International, quotes the above Leninist definition of a revolutionary situation and draws the inevitable conclusion. He says:

“Had all these conditions matured in Germany in January 1933? No. The entire bourgeoisie, in the face of the menace of a proletarian revolution, in spite of the existence of discords among them, stood united against the revolutionary proletariat. The overwhelming majority of the petty bourgeoisie followed the bourgeoisie as represented by Hitler, who promised them the return of the ‘grand’ old Germany in which the petty bourgeoisie had lived in more or less tolerable conditions. The proletariat was split by the Social-Democratic Party which was still followed by the majority of the workers. So the exploiters were still able to live and administer, were still able to exploit the working class as of old, although by new, fascist methods.” (O. Piatnitsky, The Present Situation in Germany, p. 27.)

The Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, evaluating the German situation, came to the only conclusion which a responsible leadership could draw from the existing relationship of the social forces in Germany.

“Under these circumstances [says the Presidium resolution] the proletariat was in a position in which it could not organize and in fact failed to organize an immediate and decisive blow against the state apparatus, which, for the purpose of fighting against the proletariat, absorbed the fighting organizations of the fascist bourgeoisie: the Storm Troops, the Steel Helmets and the Reichswehr. The bourgeoisie was able without serious resistance to hand over the power of government in the country to the National-Socialists, who act against the working class by means of provocations, bloody terror and political banditry.

“In analyzing the conditions for a victorious uprising of the proletariat, Lenin said that a decisive battle can be considered as fully mature,

“ ‘…if all the class forces which were hostile to us have become sufficiently entangled, have sufficiently come to blows, have sufficiently weakened themselves by the struggle which is beyond their strength. If all the vacillating, hesitating, unstable, intermediate elements, i.e., the petty bourgeoisie, petty-bourgeois democracy as distinguished from the bourgeoisie, have sufficiently exposed themselves to the people, have sufficiently disgraced themselves by their practical bankruptcy. If among the proletariat mass sentiment has begun, and is rising strongly in favor of supporting the most decisive, supremely bold and revolutionary action against the bourgeoisie. Then the revolution has matured, and if we have properly taken into account all of the conditions mentioned above… and have properly selected the moment, our victory is assured.’

“The characteristic feature of the circumstances at the time of the Hitler coup was that these conditions for a victorious rising had not yet managed to mature at that moment. They only existed in an embryonic state.

“As for the vanguard of the proletariat, the Communist Party, not wishing to slip into adventurism, it, of course, could not compensate for this missing factor by its own actions.”

Trotsky’s criticism of the Comintern is the expression of the despair of a petty bourgeois frightened by fascism and disbelieving in the revolutionary forces of the proletariat. Trotsky’s proposed policies, therefore, are policies of a frightened petty-bourgeois reformist.

“Democratic slogans and illusions [he says] cannot be abolished by decree. It is necessary that the masses go through them and outlive them in the experience of battle…. It is necessary to find the dynamic elements in the present defensive position of the working class; we must make the masses draw conclusions from their democratic logic; we must widen and deepen the channels of the struggle.” (Leon Trotsky, “Our Present Tasks,” The Militant, December 9, 1933.)

In these words is contained a whole program. It presupposes a general political situation where black reaction is destined to reign supreme for a very long period and where there can be no thought of a determined proletarian fight for power. It presupposes a stable capitalist system. It assumes that the struggle of the workers for the improvement of their immediate conditions must necessarily proceed in parliamentary channels. It therefore advances the struggle for democratic reforms as the prime task of the workers.

Like all such Social-Democratic creations it is both reactionary and utopian.

It is reactionary because it gives up the proletarian struggle for power at a time when conditions are rapidly maturing for such a struggle. It is utopian because it is not possible for the workers at any time to confine themselves to “democratic slogans” alone if they are to defend their right to live.

The workers are hungry. They are oppressed. They must fight for higher wages, social insurance, against police brutality, against lynch laws. Whenever they undertake a real fight they inevitably reach out beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy. They clash with the police. They defy the courts. They break injunctions. They forcibly annul evictions. They “riot”. When capitalism is shaken and undermined as at present the seizure of power becomes a task for the near future. Every fight is a step nearer to the seizure of power. Every battle gives the working class new experience, teaches it the lessons of unity and concerted advance against the bourgeoisie. Only such an advance can yield immediate improvement of the workers’ lives today, can secure for them elementary rights and better economic conditions.

It is the class struggle against capitalism that the Communists are inscribing on the banner of the working class – the class struggle which in its sharpest form is armed uprising, the final battles for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is class collaboration on which Trotsky is building the flimsy structure of his “fourth international” program.

Listen to a Trotskyite “Bolshevik” exhorting the world in the following piece of sonorous declamation:

“We, Bolsheviks, consider that the real salvation from fascism and war lies in the revolutionary conquest of power and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship. [But our ‘belief’ is just a shadow, bloodless, lifeless. – M.J.O.] You, Socialist workers [Read: Social-Democratic bureaucrats – M.J.O.] do not agree to this road. You hope not only to save what has been gained but also to move forward along the road of democracy. [In collaboration with Roosevelt, Richberg and Perkins. – M.J.O.] Good! As long as we have not convinced you and attracted you to our side we are ready to follow this road with you to the end. [It is easier to follow you than bother with rank-and-file workers who may not agree to submit to ‘democratic’ edicts of chiefs of police – M.J.O.] But we demand that you carry on the struggle for democracy not in words but in deeds [For instance, let Norman Thomas pay a new visit to the ‘First Lady’ of the land. – MJ.O.]…. Make your Party open up a real struggle for a strong democratic movement. [Which is to be even more misleading than the Epic or LaFollette movements which contain economic planks in their programs. – M.J.O.] For this it is necessary first of all to sweep away all the remnants of the feudal state. It is necessary to give the suffrage to all men and women who reached their 18th birthday, also to the soldiers in the army [Forget about the hunger of the boys and girls. Give them the happiness of suffrage that will be a balm to their wound. Incidentally it costs the bosses less than social insurance. – M.J.O.] Full concentration of legislative and executive power in the hands of one chamber! Let your Party open up a serious campaign under these slogans! Let it arouse millions of workers, let it conquer power through the drive of the masses. [Hurrah for a new Ebert-Noske-Scheidemann-Ramsay McDonald government. – M.J.O.] This at any rate would be a serious attempt of struggle against fascism and war. [In the same way as Severing, Otto Bauer and Julius Deutsch fought against fascism and war. – M.J.O.] We, Bolsheviks, would retain the right to explain to the workers the insufficiency of democratic slogans; we could not take upon ourselves the political responsibility for the Social-Democratic government; but we would honestly help you in the struggle for such a. government [We would help you to deceive the masses. – M.J.O.] Together with you we would repel all attacks of bourgeois reaction. [And help shoot down workers and farmers who infringe on ‘democratic’ laws in their fight for bread – M.J.O.] More than that, we would bind ourselves before you not to undertake any revolutionary actions which go beyond the limits of democracy (real democracy) so long as the majority of the workers has not consciously placed itself on the side of revolutionary dictatorship. [It will be our democratic duty to break ‘unlawful’ strikes and to disperse ‘unlawful’ assembly. How dare they go beyond the limits of real bourgeois democracy! – M.J.O.]” (Trotsky, “Our Present Tasks,” The Militant, December 9, 1933.)

It must be made clear at the outset that when Trotsky addresses himself to the “Socialist workers”, he means the Socialist leaders – those who prevent the Socialist workers from engaging in the real class struggle. It must be noted, secondly, that the program which he proposes is purely reformist. He would help Social-Democracy to become the government in a capitalist State (“honestly” help it); he would help Social-Democracy improve the machinery of the capitalist State; he would bind himself to undertake no actions that go beyond bourgeois democracy (when he says “real democracy” he ought to know that such democracy exists only as the dictatorship of the proletariat – and that every bourgeois democracy, no matter how embellished, is a sham democracy designed as a weapon of the exploiters against the exploited); in other words he undertakes to help fasten upon the workers the rule of the capitalists operating through the instrumentality of bourgeois fake democracy. It must be noted, third, that not in vain did Trotsky omit such vital demands as higher wages, a shorter labor day, unemployment insurance, the right of the oppressed nationalities. For, the moment the workers undertake the fight for such demands, bourgeois legality goes smash. The limits of bourgeois democracy are overstepped. Trotsky implicitly promises the Social-Democratic leaders not to undertake such actions, not to countenance them. Moreover, he knows well that when the Social-Democrats are in power they will use the State armed forces against the workers if they undertake such actions. When he appeals to the Social-Democrats to join with him, he is forced to confine himself to such innocuous demands as one chamber and the lowering of the voting age. It is only here that the Social-Democrats can meet him half way. And it is on such a program that he is willing to bind up the fate of the Trotskyites with the fate of the Social-Democratic leaders.

Once more we have before us the petty bourgeois who is panic-stricken. He has seen the advent of fascism. He believes that fascism has come to stay. He believes that the working class is crushed. He calumniates the Communist Party of Germany, saying that it is dead when in reality it lives and fights. He does not wish to see the forces making for a social revolution. He does not wish to understand that once the masses rise – and wherever they rise – they must fight for their lives, against hunger, against annihilation at the hands of finance capital – and that means fight against the capitalist State whether in its fascist or in its democratic form. He does not wish to realize that the workers – the masses of the workers, the majority of the workers – will join the banner of struggle against the capitalists, which is always a struggle undermining the capitalist State. He wants to keep the masses of workers from engaging in the struggle against capitalism under Communist leadership. He appeals to the Social-Democratic leaders for a united front on this program. No wonder he is against the united front as built by the Communist Parties. Such united front is directed against capitalism, it does not build fortresses for capitalism. It comes to destroy them.


Further Material on the Affair of Marshal Tukhachevsky


“The Moscow press announced that they [the primary Generals on trial] had been in the pay of Hitler and had agreed to help him get the Ukraine. This charge was fairly widely believed in foreign military circles, and was later substantiated by revelations made abroad. Czech military circles seemed to be especially well informed. Czech officials in Prague bragged to me later that their military men had been the first to discover and to complain to Moscow that Czech military secrets, known to the Russians through the mutual aid alliance, were being revealed by Tukhachevsky to the German high command.”

– Anna L. Strong, “The Soviets Expected It,” page 134.

“The Trotskyist Deutscher rarely missed an opportunity to denigrate and slander Stalin. However, despite the fact that he claimed that there was only an ‘imaginary conspiracy’ as basis for the Moscow trials, he did have this to say about Tukhachevsky’s execution:

‘(A)ll the non-Stalinist versions concur in the following: the generals did indeed plan a coup d’état …. The main part of the coup was to be a palace revolt in the Kremlin, culminating in the assassination of Stalin. A decisive military operation outside the Kremlin, an assault on the headquarters of the G.P.U., was also prepared. Tukhachevsky was the moving spirit of the conspiracy …. He was, indeed, the only man among all the military and civilian leaders of that time who showed in many respects a resemblance to the original Bonaparte and could have played the Russian First Consul. The chief political commissar of the army, Gamarnik, who later committed suicide, was initiated into the plot. General Yakir, the commander of Leningrad, was to secure the co-operation of his garrison. Generals Uberovich, commander of the western military district, Kork, commander of the Military Academy in Moscow, Primakow, Budienny’s deputy in the command of the cavalry, and a few other generals were also in the plot.’

– Isaac Deutscher, “Stalin: A Political Biography,” page 379, cited in Ludo Martens “Another View of Stalin.”

“I gave him [Spiegelglass] the contents of a brief confidential dispatch from one of my chief agents in Germany. At a formal reception tendered by high Nazi officials, at which my informant was present, the question of the Tukhachevsky affair came up. Captain Fritz Wiedemann, personal political aide to Hitler – appointed subsequently to the post of Consul-General at San Francisco – was asked if there was any truth in Stalin’s charges of espionage against the Red Army generals. My agent’s report reproduced Wiedemann’s boastful reply:

‘We hadn’t nine spies in the Red Army, but many more. The GPU is still far from on the trail of all our men in Russia.’

– Walter G. Krivitsky, “I Was Stalin’s Agent,” page 242.

“But how could generals of the Red Army have envisaged collaborating with Hitler? If they were not good Communists, surely these military men were at least nationalists?

This question will first be answered with another question. Why should this hypothesis be any different for the Soviet Union than France? Was not Marshal Petain, the Victor at Verdun, a symbol of French chauvinist patriotism? Were not General Weygand and Admiral Darlan strong defenders of French colonialism? Despite all this, these three became key players in the collaboration with the Nazis. Would not the overthrow of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the bitter class struggle against the bourgeoisie be, for all the forces nostalgic for free enterprise, be additional motives for collaborating with German `dynamic capitalism?’

And did not the World War itself show that the tendency represented by Petain in France also existed among certain Soviet officers?

General Vlasov played an important role during the defence of Moscow at the end of 1941. Arrested in 1942 by the Germans, he changed sides. But it was only on September 16, 1944, after an interview with Himmler, that he received the official authorization to create his own Russian Liberation Army, whose first division was created as early as 1943. Other imprisoned officers offered their services to the Nazis; a few names follow.

Major-General Trukhin, head of the operational section of the Baltic Region Chief of Staffs, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-General Malyshkin, head of the Chiefs of Staff of the 19th Army. Major-General Zakutny, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-Generals Blagoveshchensky, brigade commander; Shapovalov, artillery corps commander; and Meandrov. Brigade commander Zhilenkov, member of the Military Council of the 32nd Army. Colonels Maltsev, Zverev, Nerianin and Buniachenko, commander of the 389th Armed Division.

What was the political profile of these men? The former British secret service officer and historian Cookridge writes:

‘Vlasov’s entourage was a strange motley. The most intelligent of his officers was Colonel Mileti Zykov (a Jew)…. He had a been a supporter of the ‘rightist deviationists’ of Bukharin and in 1936 had been banished by Stalin to Siberia, where he spent four years. Another survivor of Stalin’s purges was General Vasili Feodorovich Malyshkin, former chief of staff of the Far East Army; he had been imprisoned during the Tukhachevsky affair. A third officer, Major-General Georgi Nicolaievich Zhilenkov, had been a political army commissar. They and many of the officers whom Gehlen recruited had been ‘rehabilitated’ at the beginning of the war in 1941.’…”

– E. H. Cookridge, “Gehlen: Spy of the Century,” pages 57-58.

“I was to meet Tukhachevsky for the last time on the day after the funeral of King George V. At a dinner at the Soviet Embassy, the Russian general had been very conversational with Politis, Titulescu, Herriot, Boncour, Potemkin, and Madame Potemkin. On that occasion his eyes had been alive, and his melancholy had disappeared in constructive talk. For he had just returned from a trip to Germany, and was heaping glowing praise upon the Nazis. Seated at my right, he said over and over again, as he discussed an air pact between the great powers and Hitler’s country: ‘They are already invincible, Madame Tabouis!’

Why did he speak so trustfully? Was it because his head had been turned by the hearty reception he had found among German diplomats, who found it easy to talk to this man of the old Russian school? At any rate, I was not the only one that evening who was alarmed at his display of enthusiasm. One of the guests–an important diplomat– grumbled into my ear as we walked away from the Embassy: ‘Well, I hope all the Russians don’t feel that way!’

And two years later, when the Soviets were to accuse and convict Tukhachevsky of complicity in a military plot hatched by Germany, my thoughts often reverted to his attitude during that dinner.”

– Genevive Tabouis. “They Called Me Cassandra,” page 257.

“After Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech,’ it became the practice to accuse Stalin of murdering the ‘flower of the Red Army.’ At the same time, mitigating circumstances were adduced: Stalin had fallen victim to the forgeries of the Nazi Secret Service….[They ignore the fact that] Above all, it has been known for a long time that the first arrest (of Generals Putna and Primakov) took place almost a year before the Nazi forgeries reached the Kremlin. Furthermore Tukhachevsky had already been incriminated during the second Moscow show trial of former leading Bolsheviks (Pyatakov, Radek, et al.), which took place in early 1937.”

– Walter Laqueur, “Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations,” page 89.

“[...] the organs of state security began preparations for the trial of Soviet generals nine months before the German forgeries reached Moscow. Pavlenko had it on the authority of Major General Golushkevich (who was present at the 1937 trial) that the Heydrich documents were never once brought up in the course of the proceedings.”

- Ibid., page 90.

Grover Furr: New Light On Old Stories About Marshal Tukhachevskii : Some Documents Reconsidered


Grover Furr
Montclair State University

Originally published in RUSSIAN HISTORY/HISTOIRE RUSSE, 13, Nos 2-3 (Summer-Fall 1986), 293-308.

The innocence of Marshal Tukhachevskii and the other military commanders condemned with him in 1937 has become firmly accepted by both Soviet and Western historians. [1] The current scholarly consensus also includes the view that “the nazi secret archives contain no sort of evidence of anything” like a plot between the Soviet military and Germany, that “not a jot of evidence has emerged from the German archives.” [2] The present article re-examines some of the material bearing upon the Tukhachevskii case which has come to light so far from the captured German Foreign Office files, and concludes that it suggests a plot of some kind involving Tukhachevskii and the German High Command may, in fact, have existed.

In 1974 a newly-discovered document from these files was examined by British historian Frederick L. Carsten. [3] It is a report concerning high-level rumors current in Munich in early 1937, which ended up in the Vienna Bureau of the Austrian Chancellor. Among other matters it deals with relations between the German and Soviet military commanders, about which it makes four points: 1) It claims that the top men in the German General Staff, including Generaloberst Freiherr Werner von Fritsch, Chief of Staff of the German Army (Chef der Heeresleitung), were at that time involved in trying to form an alliance with the Soviet military. 2) It claims that Marshal Tukhachevskii had been present at the German army’s autumn maneuvers in the past year (den vorjährigan detuschen Herbstmanoevern). 3) At that time Tukhachevskii is said to have proposed a toast to the German Army “as the champion (Vorkämpferin) against world Jewry.” and to Goring. 4) It claims that the German military was closely following the “power struggle presently taking place in Russia,” in hopes that Stalin would be overthrown in favor of a military dictatorship. [4]

Carsten denies the validity of the first three of these points on several grounds: 1) He claims that the last time any Russian officers attended German maneuvers was the autumn of 1933. 2) Though admitting that Tukhachevskii congratulated General Ernst Köstring, German military attaché in Moscow, upon the German army’s successful occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, Carsten avers that “this is a far cry from being a declared anti-semite and a sympathizer with the Nazi ideology. Even Karl Radek congratulated General Köstring on the same occasion in Moscow.” [5] 3) For Carsten, the existence of this document is explained by the story that Reinhardt Heydrich’s Sicherheitsdienst (SK, the intelligence division of the SS) was busy fabricating a dossier of forged materials to incriminate Tukhachevskii and decapitate the Soviet military. No doubt, then the SD would have been “spreading this kind of `news’ about Tukhachevskii, his sympathies with Nazism and his allegedly intimate relations with leading German officers.” [6]

The present article uses an analysis of this report from the Austrian Bundeskanzleramt (BKA) as a framework within which other documents, including those from the German Foreign Office files which bear on the Tukhachevskii case, are re-examined. It examines each of the assertions (one through four) in the document, and each of Professor Carsten’s objections (1 through 3).

General Ernst Köstring former German military attaché  in Moscow, stated in memoires published in 1965 that “Autumn 1935 was the last instance of Russian officers participating (Teilnahme) in our maneuvers.” [7] Evidently Carsten has misinterpreted this passage, for Köstring  says nothing to rule out Soviet attendance at, as opposed to participation in, German maneuvers in later years. In letters to Paris at the time General Renondeau, French military attach‚ to Berlin, reported that Soviet officers attended German army maneuvers in both 1936 and 1937. [8] Apparently either Komkor (corps commander) Orlov (according to Renondeau) or Komandarm (army commander) Uborevich (as Walter Görlitz has it) were present at German maneuvers in autumn 1936. [9] Tukhachevskii, Uborevich, and Orlov were closely associated with the Soviet military cooperation with Germany under the Treaty of Rapallo. This association might account for the rumor, reported in the Austrian BKA document, that it was Tukhachevskii who had attended the 1936 German maneuvers (point one) — particularly since the marshal had visited Berlin at least once in 1936. [10] Thus the rumor is perhaps not very wide of the mark.

Carsten would have it (2) that it is hard to believe Tukhachevskii would have made such a pro-Nazi and anti- Semitic toast as the document recounts. In fact, the opposite is true: such a statement would have been entirely consistent with what was widely reputed to be Tukhachevskii’s attitude.

In 1928 a former French officer published a short biography of Tukhachevskii “Pierre Fervacque” – nom de plume of the French journalist Remy Roure — had been Tukhachevskii’s fellow prisoner-of-war in 1917 in the German officers’ camp at Ingolstadt, Bavaria. In his biographical sketch he set down the contents of several conversations he had had with the young Russian lieutenant during their captivity, among them the following:

– You are an anti-semite, then, I said to him. Why? — The Jews brought us Christianity. That’s reason enough to hate them. But then they are a low race. I don’t even speak of the dangers they create in my country. You cannot understand that, you French, for you equality is a dogma. The Jew is a dog, son of a dog, which spreads his fleas in every land. It is he who has done the most to inoculate us with the plague of civilization, and who would like to give us his morality also, the morality of money, of capital. — You are now a socialist, then? — A socialist? Not at all! What a need you have for classifying! Besides the great socialists are Jews and socialist doctrine is a branch of universal Christianity. … No, I detest socialists, Jews and Christians. [11]

Tukhachevskii never protested the contents of this well-known book. On the contrary, until shortly before his execution Tukhachevskii maintained friendly relations with Roure. He spoke with the French journalist at a banquet in Paris in 1936, and then three days later held another, private, conversation with him. Roure recalled in July 1937 that, in his book, he had portrayed the young Tukhachevskii as expressing horror and disgust for Western civilization and a juvenile love of “barbarism” in hair-raising tones (which, we note, could have come from the most radical Nazis). Twenty years later Tukhachevskii had mellowed, had become an admirer of French culture, but remained a “patriotic” pan-Slavic nationalist and imperialist who felt that, by serving Bolshevism, he had served his country. [12]

We have examined and rejected Carsten’s first two objections to the Austrian BKA report, and in so doing have determined that the second and third points made in that report accord well with facts attested elsewhere. We now turn to points four and one of the Austrian document. The fourth point is the claim that the German military was watching the “power struggle” (meaning the Moscow trials) in the USSR in hopes that a military dictatorship might replace Stalin. In December 1936 the Soviet government assigned David Kandelaki, head of the Soviet Trade Delegation to Germany, the task of “feeling out” the German government concerning the possibility of opening secret talks. By early 1937 Hitler had turned the USSR down, [13] as is illustrated in an interesting document, noted by Erickson, from the German Foreign Office files whose significance for the Tukhachevskii Affair has not yet been appreciated. This is a letter to Dr. Hjalmar Schacht (head of the Reichsbank and the person whom Kandelaki had approached concerning the Soviet Government’s desire for formal secret talks) from the German Foreign Minister, Baron Constantine von Neurath. [14] In this letter Neurath summarizes Hitler’s view, with which Neurath also declares his agreement. This is expressed as follows:

As concerning the eventual acceptance of talks with the Russian government, I am, in agreement with the Führer, of the view that they could not lead to any result at this time, would rather be made great use of by the Russians to achieve the goal they seek of a closer military alliance with France and, if possible, to achieve as well a further rapprochement with England. A declaration by the Russian government that it dissociates itself from Comintern agitation, after the experience with these declarations in England and France, would be of no practical use whatever and therefore be unsatisfactory.

Neurath adds an interesting qualification: “It would be another thing if matters in Russia should develop in the direction of an absolute despotism propped up by the military. In this event we should not let the opportunity pass us by to involve ourselves in Russia again.” The Neurath-Schacht letter is dated 11 February, 1937, while the cover letter to the Austrian BKA document, on BKA stationery, is dated four days later, and the report itself deals with the previous month. Thus the letter proves that the rumor set down in the report does, in fact, reflect the real views of the Nazi hierarchy at precisely the time it claims: in other words, the Neurath-Schacht letter strikingly verifies point four of the Austrian BKA report.

In early 1937 there were two leading military figures in the soviet Union: Tukhachevskii and the Commissar for Defense, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov. It was well known that tensions within the top leadership of the Soviet military were profound. [15] Too much should not be made of an argument e silentio. But later in the same letter Neurath may be tacitly letting Schacht know which one of the two Soviet military leaders he means: “In this connection I should also note, for your personal information, that, according to reliable information reaching us concerning the events in Russia, there is nothing to any slit between Stalin and Voroshilov. So far as can be determined, this rumor, which is being spread by our press as well, originated in interested circles in Warsaw.” Perhaps this passage suggests that, with Voroshilov still a staunch Stalinist, German would only be interested in talks with Russia in the event of a military dictatorship under Tukhachevskii.

There remains the first point in the Austrian BKA report, the supposed attempt by the German General Staff to form an alliance with the Soviet Army. To begin with, we note that Neurath was very close to Fritsch and to General Blomberg, worked with them behind Hitler’s back on several occasions, and was replaced as foreign minister by Ribbentrop on 4 February, 1938, the same day that Fritsch and Blomberg resigned and dozens of other generals and officials were dismissed to be replaced by officers more compliant with Hitler’s desire for war. [16] If Fritsch were in secret touch with Tukhachevskii, Neurath might well have been informed. But there is other evidence of a Tukhachevskii-Fritsch connection.

In his famous book I Paid Hitler, Fritz Thyssen, the former German steel magnate, one of the immensely influential “Schlotbarone,” the Ruhr heavy industry magnates, and an early member of the Nazi party explicitly associated Tukhachevskii with Fritsch: “Fritsch always advocated an alliance with Russia, though not with a Communist Russia. Attempts were made to establish relations between Fritsch and the Russian generalissimo, Tukhachevskii. The two had one point in common: each desired to overthrow the dictator in his own country.” [17]

Thyssen was certainly in a position to know of the kind of secret liaisons he alleges here, and may have been in on it too, since by 1936 or 1937 he himself was deeply disillusioned with Hitler. Professor Erickson, who cites this passage but would clearly like to dismiss it, confidently states in the text of his book that “not a single item of evidence has emerged to justify the charge of treasonable contact with the Germans.” However, in a footnote on the same page he refers to the `Thyssen passage quoted above, and adds the following remark: “It is difficult to know where the support for this statement comes from, although there was a contemporary Polish newspaper report that a letter or note from Fritsch had been seized from Tukhachevskii.” [18]

There is yet more evidence from the German Foreign Office files hinting at a link between Tukhachevskii and the German General Staff. This is the set of documents referred to on page 435 of Erickson’s study, The Soviet High Command. These documents record the loan, between February and November, 1937, of military court papers concerning Tukhachevskii when he was a prisoner-of-war in Germany during World War I (the court papers themselves are not extant). A study of the four loan request documents reveals that the Tukhachevskii files were requested from the Potsdam branch of the Heeresarchiv(army archives) by the Wehrmachtamt, Aus. (Ausland) VI, the section which dealt with foreigners. Wehrmachtamt requested it on behalf of the “GZ.” This is the abbreviation for Generalstab-Zentralstellung, the main headquarters of the German General Staff. [19] GZ was of course in Berlin, and was headed by General von Fritsch.

It is noteworthy that someone in Fritsch’s Berlin HQ was apparently showing some considerable interest in Tukhachevskii at precisely the same time that: 1) the report to the Austrian BKA told of Fritsch’s interest in an alliance with the Soviet military — a report backed up by Thyssen’s testimony; and 2) both that report and Neurath speak of an interest in a military coup in the USSR.

Our examination of the Austrian BKA report shows that, as regards German-Soviet military relations, it is highly consistent with other evidence available. Points one, three, and four are fully consistent with this other evidence, while point two may simply be due to a confusion (or may even be correct as well). We have also disposed of the first two of Professor Carsten’s objections to it. However, there remains his third point: that the documents might have been related to the well-known SD plot to forge a dossier incriminating Tukhachevskii as a traitor. The whole matter of this alleged forgery is very complex, and cannot be unraveled in this article. In addition, it is in principle impossible to prove a negative — in this case, that no German forgery attempt was made. One can merely examine the evidence cited to support the existence of such a forgery attempt and see how it holds up. This said, several considerations are relevant to the matter at hand.

First, the crucial sources for the “SD-NKVD forgery” story are untrustworthy. In his introduction to the English edition of Walter Schellenberg’s memoires, Alan Bullock concludes: “nor would it be wise to accept Schellenberg as a trustworthy witness where his evidence cannot be corroborated.” Erickson also points out several important passages of Schellenberg’s which he recognizes cannot be true. [20] The account by Alfried Naujocks, the SS man who claimed to have been personally responsible for organizing the forgery and who is usually taken at his word, is even more patently false. [21]

Second, according to all the accounts of the forgery plot, Hitler and Himmler were both a party to it. But nothing of the kind could be inferred from their later references to the military purges. For example, Himmler is reported to have discussed the Tukhachevskii Affair in a conversation with the renegade Soviet General A. A. Vlasov on 16 September 1944 in a manner which makes it clear he believed Tukhachevskii had been guilty of some plotting: “Himmler asked Vlasov about the Tukhachevskii Affair. Why this had gone awry. Vlasov gave a frank answer: ‘Tukhachevskii made the same mistake that your people made on 20 July [21a]. He did not know the law of masses.’” [22] In an important speech in Posen on 4 October 1943 Himmler stated:

When — I believe it was in 1937 or 1938 — the great show trials took place in Moscow, and the former czarist military cadet, later Bolshevik general, Tukhachevskii, and other generals were executed, all of us in Europe, including us in the [Nazi] Party and in the SS, were of the opinion that here the Bolshevik system and Stalin had committed one of their greatest mistakes. In making this judgment of the situation we greatly deceived ourselves. We can truthfully and confidently state that. I believe that Russia would never have lasted through these two years of war — and she is now in the third year of war — if she had retained the former czarist generals. [23]

This probably reflected Hitler’s assessment as well, for, according to Goebbels (diary entry of 8 May 1943): “The conference of the Reichsleiters and Gauleiters followed…. The Führer  recalled the case of Tukhachevskii and expressed the opinion that we were entirely wrong then in believing that Stalin would ruin the Red Army by the way he handled it. The opposite was true: Stalin got rid of all opposition in the Red Army and thereby brought an end to defeatism.” [24]

Finally, the German forgery — if indeed there was one — does not exclude the existence of a real military plot. In fact, all of the  SD sources for the forgery story leave open the possibility that the marshal was in fact plotting with the German General Staff. [25]

Thus the story of the “SD-NKVD forgery” is very problematic. Based purely on hearsay, it abounds in contradictions and outright lies. If it were nonetheless consistent with the other evidence concerning the Tukhachevskii Affair, it might merit consideration despite it all. but the opposite is true.

The only pre-war account of any plot to frame Tukhachevskii is that of Walter Krivitsky, which concludes that the NKVD possessed its own evidence against Tukhachevskii quite independent of any forged dossier. [26] This coincides with the opinion of Heinz Höhne, the most recent student of the forgery plot from the German and SD side. [27]

Important testimony asserting the existence of a real conspiracy including Tukhachevskii and other military leaders comes from Nikolai N. Likhachyov, better known as Andrei V. Svetlanin. A lecturer in Russian at Cambridge, then journalist and finally editor (1955-65) of the emigre Russian journal Posev, Svetlanin claimed second-hand knowledge of the conspiracy as a member, during the mid-1930s, of the staff of the Far Eastern Army (later the Red Banner Far Eastern Front) commanded by Marshal Bliukher.

In this account, the military and party leaders executed during 1937 as part of the “Tukhachevskii Affair” were in fact part of a wider conspiracy the central figure in which was Yan Gamarnik. [28] Chief of the Political Directorate in the Army, Gamarnik had probably begun the plot, together with Tukhachevskii, as early as 1932. By the time of the Seventeenth Party Congress in 1934, it was well developed. The plotters, motivated by the disastrous consequences of collectivization, were said to have considered two distinct plans. Plan “A,”, originating with Tukhachevskii and the young commanders around him, centered on a coup in the Kremlin, to be supported by party and military leaders in some of the provinces. Plan “B,”, envisaging independent revolts in different border areas of the USSR, originated with Gamarnik and the state and party officials in the plot, and was the version finally approved by the conspiratorial center. The Far Eastern Region was to have been the site of the initial revolt.

Svetlanin never claims to have been a part of the conspiracy himself which, he insists, was limited to men of the highest rank. Apparently no one of his acquaintance in the Far Eastern Army believed the Tukhachevskii Affair to have been a frame-up against innocent men. His story can be partially checked from independent sources, the main one of which is the account by Genrikh S. Liushkov given to the Japanese interrogators after his defection to them in June, 1938 (Liushkov, head of the Far Eastern NKVD, had been sent there to help the 1938 purge). Liushkov disclosed to the Japanese the existence of an plot in the Far East, and his account of the plot confirms Svetlanin’s in several minor respects. [29]

Curiously, none of the post-1956 Soviet accounts have revealed any information other than that which was already available in the West, and draw principally upon the SD accounts of the forged dossier. Even the Western sources used by Nikulin, the “official” Khrushchev-era biographer of Tukhachevskii, are carefully pruned of evidence they contain that suggests some real conspiracy in fact occurred. there is, strictly speaking, so Soviet post-Stalin historical account of the Tukhachevskii Affair at all, since Nikulin’s work, upon which all others rely, is filled out with dramatic dialog and frankly termed fictionalized (povestvovanie). [30]

Taken single, none of these bits of evidence is very significant in itself. But when considered as a whole, they constitute at lest a prima facie case that some real military conspiracy involving Tukhachevskii may have actually existed. Nor is it difficult to understand why Khrushchev might have wanted to rehabilitate real conspirators. Khrushchev used the rehabilitations of the Tukhachevskii group as a stick with which to beat Stalin and, more importantly, remaining “Stalinists” in high places — that is, in order to hold power and support certain policy decisions. The Soviet military elite regards Marshal Tukhachevskii and those associated with him as the fathers of the contemporary Soviet armed forces. [31] To accuse Stalin of having wrongly killed them was at once to make of the military a firm ally and to blacken any policies associated with Stalin’s name.

In conclusion, each of the points concerning Tukhachevskii mentioned in the Austrian BKA document is consistent with other, independent evidence. The “SD forgery plot” story, and the Khrushchev-era versions of the Tukhachevskii Affair, have been accorded a degree of scholarly acceptance that is not justified by the contradictions and inconsistencies which abound in them. Any new study should examine them far more skeptically than has hitherto been the case. The present scholarly consensus notwithstanding, there is little about the Tukhachevskii Affair, including the very basic matter of Tukhachevskii’s guilt or innocence, about which we can be certain.

Montclair State University


–N.A. Series T-120, Roll No. 1448, page D 567 777.

Now as always there are efforts under way within the Wehrmacht which aim at the possibility of an alliance with the Russian army. The argument is simple: the Russian army cannot be taken care of by force; therefore it should happen in friendship. Fritsch, Admiral Raeder, and even General von Reichenau are rumored to be proponents of this plan. Blomberg is seen as a mere accessory (Figurant). But the proponents of these efforts are found chiefly among the younger school of the General Staff. When he was in Berlin on the occasion of last year’s German autumn maneuvers, Marshal Tukhachevskii offered, in return for Colonel-General Fritsch’s toast to the Russian army in Wüzberg, a toast to the German army as the champion against world Jewry, and to General Goring. The power struggle presently taking place in Russia, which might possibly end with Stalin’s fall and the establishment of a military dictatorship, is being followed by the Wehrmacht with closest attention, and with unconcealed sympathy for a solution of that kind.


* I would like to thank Professor J. Arch Getty, of the University of California at Riverside, and Professor S.G. Wheatcroft, of the University of Melbourne, who read and commented upon earlier versions of this article. Naturally they are not responsible for any shortcomings it still contains.


1. Khrushchev’s “secret speech” to the Twentieth congress of the CPSU (February, 1956) attacked Stalin for his “annihilation of many military commanders” after 1937, but did not mention any of the executed officers. Marshal Tukhachevskii was first “rehabilitated” in 1958. See Robert Conquest, “De-Stalinization and the Heritage of Terror,”, in Alexander Dallin and Alan F. Weston, et al., eds. Politics in the Soviet Union: 7 Cases (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966), pp. 57-58. Virtually all Western scholars today accept Khrushchev’s story; e.g. Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties, rev. ed. (New York: Collier Books, 1973), pp. 300-02.

2. Conquest, Great Terror, p. 285; Leonard Shapiro, “The Great Purge,”, chapter 6 of Basil Henry Liddle-Hart, ed., The Red Army (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), p. 70. Professor John Erickson, in his authoritative work The Soviet High Command (London: Macmillan; New York: St Martin’s Press, 1962, p. 464 and note), states that “not a single item of evidence has emerged to justify the charge of treasonable contact with the Germans,” and “no post-war evidence has come to light to disprove this.”

3. Frederick Ludwig Carsten, “New `Evidence’ against Marshal Tukhachevskii,” Slavonic and East European Review, 52 (1974), 272-73. The document itself is in N(ational) A(rchives) microfilm series T-1220, Roll no: 1448, pages D 567 772 – D 567 778; page D 567 771 is the cover letter.

4. page D 567 777; see the Appendix for a translation of this part of the document.

5. According to K; see Herman Teske, ed., Profile bedeutender Soldaten. Band I. General Ernst Köstring Der militärischer Mittler zwischen dem Deutschen Reich und der Sowjetunion. 1921-1941. (Frankfurt/M.: Mittler, 1965), pp. 125-26.

6. Carsten, “New ‘Evidence’,” p. 273.

7. Ibid., citing Teske, Profile bedeutender Soldaten, p. 69. These words were written by Köstring for this volume, more than thirty years after the fact.

8. Georges Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge, 1920-1939,” in J.-B. Duroselle, ed., Les relations germano-sovietiques de 1933 – 1939  (Paris: Colin, 1954), pp. 218-19 and n. 97, p. 218.

9. Ibid., nn. 97 and 98, citing Gen. Renondeau’s letter to Paris of 5 October and 28 September, 1937. For Uborevich, see Walter Görlitz, History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945 (New York: Praeger 1962), p. 307 (German edition 1953). The whole affair is omitted, however, from Görlitz’s Kleine Geschichte des Deutschen Generalstabes (Berlin: Haude & Spener, 1967). Since the Austrian BKA report was compiled in December 1936-January 1937, it is impossible to be certain whether it refers to maneuvers in autumn 1935 or in autumn 1936.

10. On the question of this visit (or visits) see Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge, 1920-1939,” pp. 217-18; 224; also Pierre Dominique, “L’affaire Toukhatchevski et l’opinion française,” L’Europe nouvelle, 19 June 1937, p 590; Ian Colvin, Chief of Intelligence (London: Gollancz, 1951), pp. 39-40; Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 411-13, and 729, n. 27. Disagreement exists about what Tukhachevskii did during this visit or visits but it is sufficient for our purposes to note that all agree he did visit Berlin in 1936.

11. Pierre Fervacque, Le Chef de Larm e Rouge: Mikhail Toukatchevski (Paris: Fasquelle, 1928), pp. 24- 45. Remy Roure was one of the most prominent journalists and newspapermen in France in his day, a founder of Le Monde and its political editor from 1945 to 1952, when he left it for the conservative Le Figaro. See the necrology by Louis Marin-Chauffier, “L’Honneur de Notre Profession,” Le Figaro, 9 Nov. 1966, pp. 1, 32; also,  “La Carrière de Remy Roure,” ibid, p. 32.

12. Pierre Fervacque, “Le Julien Sorel de bolchevisme,” Le Temps (Paris), 24 July 1937, p. 3. Julien Sorel, the protagonist of Stendhal’s novel Le rouge et le noir, assumes holy orders out of cold-blooded careerism; Fervacque implies this was also Tukhachevskii’s motive for adhering to Bolshevism.

13. Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 432 and 453.

14. N(ational) A(rchives) Series T-120 Roll No. 1057, pp. 429-296-7.

15. For tensions within the Soviet military leadership, see John Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s War with Germany. Vol. I (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 3; and idem, Soviet High Command, passim.

16. There is no evidence that these dismissals (the famous “Fritsch Affair”) had anything to do with Tukhachevskii. What linked Neurath with Fritsch and Blomberg was opposition to Hitler’s plan to move swiftly against Austria and Czechoslovakia. See Harold C. Deutsch, Hitler and His Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January-June, 1938 (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1974), pp. 64, 70- 71, 258-66.

17. Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (New York: Cooperative Pub., 1941), p. 163. According to Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., “Fritz Thyssen und das Buch ‘I Paid Hitler’,”, in Turner, Faschismus und Kapitalismus in Deutschland (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973), p. 95, n. 20, the Tukhachevskii-Fritsch passages occurs in one of the few chapters in German in the original manuscript of the book and so probably reflects Thyssen’s personal work (Emery Reeves, Thyssen’s ghost-writer, conducted his interviews with Thyssen in French).

18. Erickson, Soviet High Command, p 464. According to Professor Alvin T. Coox, the Japanese considered Polish intelligence to be “the best anti-Soviet service in the world at the time.” See his “L’Affaire Lyushkov: Anatomy of a Soviet Defector,” Soviet Studies, 20 (Jan. 1968), 406.

19. N.A. Series T-78, Roll No. 10.

20. Alan Bullock, “Introduction,” in The Labyrinth: Memoires of Walter Schellenberg (New York: Harper, 1956), p. xix; Erickson, Soviet High Command, pp. 731, n. 84 and 735, nn. 25 and 27.

21. Naujocks’ story is in Gunter Peis, The Man Who Started the War (London: Oldham Press, n.d. [1960]), pp. 76-103. The names of the printing establishments Naujocks claimed to have visited in trying to find a forger do not occur in the very complete lists in the Berliner Adressbuch of 1932, 1936 or 1938. Erickson rejects Schellenberg’s account of the forgery because “it certainly took longer that four days to prepare the dossier” (Soviet High Command, p. 735, n. 25); what then can be said of the later Naujocks account, which states that the forgery took place in one night? Finally, Naujocks’ account of the Polish border incident (the “Gleiwitz transmitter” affair) set up by Hitler as a cause de guerre., has been proven heavily falsified; Jürgen Runzheimer: Der Überfall auf den Sender Gleiwitz im Jahre 1939,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 10 (1962), 408-26.

21a. This is a reference to the assassination attempt on Hitler of 20 July 1944.

22. Archiv des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte (Munich), Signatur ZS 2, Bd I., page 55. This document contains the notes of conversations between Gunter d’Alquen,  an SS officer present at the Himmler-Vlasov interview, and a co- worker of Jürgen Thorwald, the German author. The ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so) phrase “das Gesetz der Masse” could refer either to the law of inertia or to the behavior of the masses. In either case it means about the same thing. Thorwald cited the phrase in Wen Sie Verderben Wollen (Stuttgart: Steingr ben-Verlag, 1952), p. 394.

23. Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal {Nuremberg, 1949], Vol. 29, p. 111 (Document 1919-PS).

24. Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries: 1942-1943, ed. & tr. Louis P. Lochner (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1948), p. 355.

25. Peis, Man Who Started the War, p. 79; Walter Schellenberg: Memoiren (Köln: Politik und Wirtschaft, 1959), pp. 48-49; Walter Hagen [pseudonym of Wilhelm Höttl], Die Geheime Front: Organization Personen und Aktionen des Deutschen Geheimdienstes (Linz und Wien: Nibelungen-Verlag, 1956), p. 63. A close study of these accounts reveals, however, that they are mutually contradictory more often than not and that, in general, they cannot be trusted.

26. Walter G. Krivitsky, I Was Stalin’s Agent (London: Right Book Club, 1940), pp. 257-58. But Krivitsky’s book is harshly condemned as untrustworthy by his friend of many years and wife of his assassinated friend Ignace Reiss; see Elizabeth Poretsky, in Our Own People: A Memoire of ‘Ignace Reiss’ and His Friends (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1970), pp. 71; 75, n.2; 124; 146; 204, n. 1; 211, n.1; 269-70. See also Castellan, “Reichswehr et Armée Rouge,” pp. 233, 2234 & nn.; 257, n. 194, for criticisms of Krivitsky.

27. Heinz Höhne, The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS, tr. Richard Barry (New York: Coward-McCann, 1970), p. 233; similarly, idemCanaris, tr. J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979, p. 248. Höhne  interviewed other German sources and also studied the SD survivors’ accounts; while accepting their story of the forgery plot, he believes it was not the cause of the arrests of Tukhachevskii and the others.

28. A. Svetlanin, Dal’nevostochnyi zagovor (Frankfurt/M.: Possev-Verlag, 1953). Details about Likhachyov/Svetlanin’s life are given in the necrology by N. Tarasova, Grani, No. 61 (1966), pp. 82-97. A very intelligent discussion, from an emigre  viewpoint, of Svetlanin’s account of the conspiracy took place in the pages of the journal Posev in 1949-50; for a complete list of the articles, see ibid, No. 32 (1950), p. 10, n. I am indebted to the late Professor Nikolai Andreyev, of Cambridge, England, for additional information about his colleague and personal friend, Mr Likhachyov, alias Svetlanin.

29. See the article by Coox cited in n. 18 above. The post-war Soviet defector Grigory Tokaev also claimed first-hand knowledge of high-level military opposition to the Stalin government which survived even the military purges; he knows nothing of any Tukhachevskii involvement, however. See his Betrayal of an Ideal (London: Harville Press, 1954), and Comrade X (London: Harville Press, 1956). A Soviet dissident account of the Khar’kov trial, in November, 12969, of the engineer Genrikh Altunian (Khronika tekushchikh sobytii, No. 1, pp. 312-13), states the following: “IRKHA, witness for the prosecution and party organizer of the military academy at which ALTUNIAN taught, stated at the court that it was still not certain whether Komandarm I. Iakir’s rehabilitation was correct (`eshche neizvestno, pravil’no li reabilitirovan komandarm I. IAKIR’).” Robert Conquest also cites this quotation, though without identifying his source, in the introduction to Pyotr Yakir, A Childhood in Prison (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 12973), p. 17.

Altunian was involved in dissident activities with Pyotr Iakir, son of the general condemned with Tukhachevskii. According to Victor Krasin, Iakir and he were tried in 1973 for collaborating with “the old Russian emigre organization, the National Labor Union (N.T.S.).” (Victor Krasin, “How I Was Broken by the K.G.B., The New York Times Magazine, 19 March 1984, pp. 71, 75). Founded in the 1930s as a fascist-type organization the N.T.S. collaborated closely with the Germans during their invasion of the USSR. George Fischer, ed., Russian emigre Politics (New York: Free Russia Fund, 1951), p. 72. Iakir had thus been working with a fascist group whose “ultimate goal” is “the armed overthrow of the Soviet regime ” (Krasin, p. 71). Almost precisely these activities constituted the most dramatic charges against Iakir’s own father, condemned with Tukhachevskii — charges which Iakir believed were false. In a further irony, it was the N.T.S. publishing house, “Possev-Verlag,” that published Svetlanin/Likhachev’s 1952 book in which the author claimed direct knowledge of a plot against the Soviet government by Iakir, Tukhachevskii, and the others (Svetlanin/Likhachyov went on to edit Posev, the N.T.S’s main journal, from 1955 until his death in 1965).

30. Lev Nikulin, Tuchachevskii: Biograficheskii ocherk (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1964), pp. 192-93. uses the account of the forgery plot and President Benes’ involvement taken from Colvin and Churchill, but omits all their evidence for the marshal’s guilt. The Soviet reader would never suspect that Colvin, Benes, Churchill, and the SD agents all believed there really had been a Tukhachevskii conspiracy (Nikulin also leaves out Colvin’s name, making the source harder to identify). Cf. Colvin, Chief of Intelligence, pp. 39-40, and 42; Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948), pp. 288-89;Memoires of Dr. Edward Benes: From Munich to New War and New Victory (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949), pp. 19-20, 47.

31. For examples, see Col M.P. Skirdo, The People, the Army, the Commander (Washington, DC, n.d.; orig. ed. Moscow: Voenizdat, 1970), p. 141; V. Savost’ianov and N. Egorov, Komandarm pervogo ranga (I.N. Uborevich) (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1966), pp. 212-13; Soviet Life (June, 1981).


Molotov on Marshal Tukhachevsky


“CHUEV: Now some think you appointed such untrained people as Pavlov, but if it had been Tukhachevsky….
MOLOTOV: Take someone like Tukhachevsky. If trouble started, which side would he have been on? He was a rather dangerous man. I doubted he would have been fully on our side when things got tough, because he was a right-winger. The right wing danger was the main danger at the time.”

– Feliks Chuev, “Molotov Remembers,” page 26.

“The right wing already had a channel to Hitler even before this. Trotsky was definitely connected to him, that’s beyond any doubt…. Many of the ranking military officers were also involved. That goes without saying.”

– Feliks Chuev, “Molotov Remembers,” page 275.

“Nevertheless, he [Tukhachevsky] organized an anti-Soviet group in the army.”

– Feliks Chuev, “Molotov Remembers,” page 279.

“CHUEV: He [Tukhachevsky] was accused of being a German agent.
MOLOTOV: He hurried with plans for a coup. Both Krestinsky and Rosengoltz testified to that. It makes sense. He feared he was at the point of being arrested, and he could no longer put things off. And there was no one else he could rely on except the Germans. This sequence of events is plausible. I consider Tukhachevsky a most dangerous conspirator in the military who was caught only at the last minute. Had he not been apprehended, the consequences could have been catastrophic. He was most popular in the army.
Did everyone who was charged or executed take part in the conspiracy hatched by Tukhachevsky? Some were certainly involved….But as to whether Tukhachevsky and his group in the military were connected with Trotskyists and rightists and were preparing a coup, there is no doubt.”

– Feliks Chuev, “Molotov Remembers,” page 280.

“MOLOTOV: Take Tukhachevsky, for example. On what grounds was he rehabilitated? Did you read the records of the trial of the right-wing and Trotskyist bloc in 1938? Bukharin, Krestinsky, Rosengoltz, and others were on trial then. They stated flat out that in June 1937 Tukhachevsky pressed for a coup. People who have not read the record go on to say that the testimony was given under duress from the Chekists. But I say, had we not made those sweeping arrests in the 1930s, we would have suffered even greater losses in the war.”

– Feliks Chuev, “Molotov Remembers,” page 285.

Mikhail Tukhachevsky on Communists and the Jews

“Also in the camp [Ingolstadt] was a Russian officer, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, son of tsarist nobility, who also made repeated attempts to escape and with whom, according to a fellow prisoner, de Gaulle shared a cell for a time. Tukhachevsky played mournful airs on his violin, spouted nihilist beliefs and inveighed against Jews as dogs who ‘spread their fleas throughout the world.’”

– Jonathan Fenby, “The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved,” page 68.

“– You are an anti-semite, then, I said to him. Why?

– The Jews brought us Christianity. That’s reason enough to hate them. But then they are a low race. I don’t even speak of the dangers they create in my country. You cannot understand that, you French, for you equality is a dogma. The Jew is a dog, son of a dog, which spreads his fleas in every land. It is he who has done the most to inoculate us with the plague of civilization, and who would like to give us his morality also, the morality of money, of capital.

– You are now a socialist, then?

– A socialist? Not at all! What a need you have for classifying! Besides the great socialists are Jews and socialist doctrine is a branch of universal Christianity. … No, I detest socialists, Jews and Christians.”

– Pierre Fervacque (Remy Roure), Le Chef de Larm e Rouge: Mikhail Toukatchevski (Paris: Fasquelle, 1928), page 24- 45. Remy Roure was one of the most prominent journalists and newspapermen in France in his day, a founder of Le Monde and its political editor from 1945 to 1952, when he left it for the conservative Le Figaro. See the necrology by Louis Marin-Chauffier, “L’Honneur de Notre Profession,” Le Figaro, 9 Nov. 1966, pp. 1, 32; also, “La Carrière de Remy Roure,” ibid, p. 32.

Nazis Joseph Goebbels and Léon Degrelle on Tukhachevsky


“The Führer explained one more time the Tukhachevsky case and stated that we erred completely at the time when we thought that Stalin had ruined the Red Army. The opposite is true: Stalin got rid of all the opposition circles within the army and thereby succeeded in making sure that there would no longer be any defeatist currents within that army…

With respect to us, Stalin also has the advantage of not having any social opposition, since Bolshevism has eliminated it through the purges of the last twenty-five years…Bolshevism has eliminated this danger in time and can henceforth focus all of its strength on its enemy.”

– Joseph Göbbels, Tagebücher aus den Jahren 1942–1943, (Zurich, 1948), p. 322. Quoted in Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, La seconde guerre mondiale: caractères fondamentaux de la politique et de la stratégie, vol. 1, pp. 213–214.

“Who would have thought during the crimes of the Great Terror during the French Revolution that soon after a Bonaparte would come out and raise France up from the abyss with an iron fist? A few years later, and Bonaparte almost created the United Europe.

A Russian Bonaparte could also rise up. The young Marshal Tukhachevsky executed by Stalin on Benes’ advice, was of the right stature in 1937.”

– Léon Degrelle, quoted in Degrelle m’a dit by Louise Narvaez, Postface by Degrelle (Brussels: Éditions du Baucens, 1977), page 360-361.

Winston Churchill on Conspiracies in the Soviet Union


“In the autumn of 1936, a message from a high military source in Germany was conveyed to President Beneš [President of Czechoslovakia – E.S.] to the effect that if he wanted to take advantage of the Fuehrer’s offer, he had better be quick, because events would shortly take place in Russia rendering any help he could give to Germany insignificant.

While Beneš was pondering over this disturbing hint he became aware that communications were passing through the Soviet Embassy in Prague between important personages in Russia and the German Government. This was a part of the so-called military and Old-Guard Communist conspiracy to overthrow Stalin and introduce a new régime based on a pro-German policy. President Beneš lost no time in communicating all he could find out to Stalin. Thereafter there followed the merciless, but perhaps not needless, military and political purge in Soviet Russia, and the series of trials in January 1937, in which Vyshinsky, the Public Prosecutor, played so masterful a part.


The Russian Army was purged of its pro-German elements [...] The bias of the Soviet Government was turned in a marked manner against Germany. […] The situation was, of course, thoroughly understood by Hitler; but I am not aware that the British and French Governments were equally enlightened. To Mr. Chamberlain and the British and French General Staffs the purge of 1937 presented itself mainly as a tearing to pieces internally of the Russian Army, and a picture of the Soviet Union as riven asunder by ferocious hatreds and vengeance.”

– Winston Churchill, “The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Volume 1,” page 258.

Alexander Werth on the Military Purges and Tukhachevsky


“I am also pretty sure that the purge in the Red Army had a great deal to do with Stalin’s belief in an imminent war with Germany. What did Tukhachevsky stand for? People of the French Deuxieme Buereau told me long ago that Tukhachevsky was pro-German. And the Czechs told me the extraordinary story of Tukhachevsky’s visit to Prague, when towards the end of a banquet – he had got rather drunk – he blurted out that an agreement with Hitler was the only hope for both Czechoslovakia and Russia. And he then proceeded to abuse Stalin. The Czechs did not fail to report this to Kremlin, and that was the end of Tukhachevsky – and so many of his followers.”

– Alexander Werth, quoted in Harpal Brar, Perestroika: The Complete Collapse of Revisionism, page 161.

Joseph Davies on the Soviet Military Purges


Entries dated June 28 and July 4, 1937

“[T]he best judgment seems to believe that in all probability there was a definite conspiracy in the making looking to a coup d’état by the army — not necessarily anti-Stalin, but antipolitical and antiparty, and that Stalin struck with characteristic speed, boldness and strength.’”

“Had a fine talk with Litvinov. I told him quite frankly the reactions in U.S. and Western Europe to the purges; and to the executions of the Red Army generals; that it definitely was bad…

Litvinov was very frank. He stated that they had to ‘make sure’ through these purges that there was no treason left which could co-operate with Berlin or Tokyo; that someday the world would understand that what they had done was to protect the government from ‘menacing treason.’ In fact, he said they were doing the whole world a service in protecting themselves against the menace of Hitler and Nazi world domination, and thereby preserving the Soviet Union strong as a bulwark against the Nazi threat. That the world would appreciate what a very great man Stalin was.”

– U.S. Ambassador Joseph E. Davies, Mission in Moscow, pages 99 and 103.

The Tukhachevsky Conspiracy


Yuri Yemelianov

On the 70th Anniversary of the Treason Trials

On the 11th of June 1937 Moscow radio announced the arrest of the former chief of the Red Army General Headquarters Marshal M. Tukhachevsky and 7 other Soviet leading military figures. The arrested were put to trial before the military branch of the USSR Supreme Court. The radio report said that they were ‘accused of having violated their duty as soldiers, of having broken their military oath of allegiance and of having committed treason against the Soviet Union in the interests of a foreign country… It was established that the defendants… had organised an anti-State movement and had been in contact with the military circles of a foreign country pursuing an anti-Soviet policy. In favour of that country the defendants conducted military espionage. Their activity was aimed at ensuring the defeat of the Red Army in the event of the country being attacked. The ultimate aim was the restoration of big land ownership and capitalism. All accused made confessions’.

After a brief trial the USSR Supreme Court passed death penalty on all the defendants. Subsequently a substantial number of other military and Party officials were arrested and put to trial.

Now these events which happened over 70 years ago are used in post-Soviet Russia as a pretext for another noisy anti-Soviet propaganda campaign. Mass meetings and marches with Christian crosses are organised to commemorate the 70th anniversary of these events. TV and other mass media use this occasion in order to continue depicting the USSR history as the time of ‘Great Terror’ against innocent people, falsely accused of crimes which they did not commit. It is also claimed that the arrest of Tukhachevsky and other Soviet military leaders seriously handicapped the Red Army which led to severe setbacks in 1941, loss of great Soviet territories and manpower.

For the first time this interpretation of the arrest and trial of Tukhachevsky and others was made public by N. S. Khrushchev over 50 years ago. The then First Secretary of the CPSU asserted that the German Gestapo concocted papers, which compromised Tukhachevsky and others in order to weaken the Red Army on the eve of World War II. These forged papers were passed to the Soviet Government. Khrushchev claimed that Stalin was pathologically suspicious and this was the reason why he took the German fabrication at its face value and ordered the arrest of Tukhachevsky and others. According to Khrushchev further arrests and trials were caused by Stalin’s paranoia and his inborn cruelty.

Though there are some real facts behind Khrushchev’s version (e.g. the existence of papers forged by the Gestapo) his explanation is refuted by a number of comparatively recent publications made by a number of Russian historians, including the author of the present article. In such books as A. Martirosyan’s ‘The Conspiracy of Marshals’ (Moscow, Veche, 2003), S. Minakov’s ‘Stalin and the Conspiracy of Generals’ (Moscow, Yauza, 2005), ‘The Conspiracies and the Struggle for Power. From Lenin to Khrushchev’ (Moscow, Veche, 2003) by R. Balandin and S. Mironov, a reader will find detailed and ample evidence which contradicts the essence of Khrushchev’s version.

But even before the publication of these and other Russian books a number of authors in the West presented some facts which proved beyond doubt that the Tukhachevsky conspiracy was not a result of Stalin’s gullibility or a figment of his imagination but a stark reality. The appropriate facts were narrated in memoirs by a former German Intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg, in a book by a former NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) officer Alexander Orlov, who escaped from the USSR to the West in 1938, in a book ‘The Conspirators’ by an American historian Geoffrey Bailey. A brief account of how the Tukhachevsky plot was formed and developed was given in the book ‘Hitler Moves East 1941–1943’ by a former personal interpreter of Hitler, Paul Schmidt (his literary name — Paul Carell).

Summarising all these facts narrated and analysed by Russian, German and American authors one comes to a conclusion that the origin of the June 1937 events differs radically from the explanation given by Khrushchev and modern Russian political mass media. First of all, these events were connected with the struggle going on inside the Soviet Communist Party in the 1920s. One should take into account that since 1918 L. D. Trotsky was the chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Soviet Republic and its People’s Commissar for military affairs. Many of the leading figures in the Red Army were appointed by Trotsky during the Civil War. Sharing the political views of their chief they tended to overrate military methods of administration and the role of the Red Army in the world revolutionary process. Many of them continued to occupy commanding posts in the Red Army after Trotsky was ousted from his posts in 1925.

Despite their public recantations, many of them continued to share Trotsky’s views and attitudes with their typical blend of adventurism and disregard for ideological principles, especially when dealing with the enemies of the Soviet Revolution. The adventurist approach to the problems of military strategy and organisation of the Red Army was characteristic for Tukhachevsky and the group of his supporters. The differences on these issues led to latent but growing confrontation of this group with the majority of the Red Army commanders.

Like Trotsky himself many of the Trotskyists in the Red Army were prone to put their personal ambitions above the interests of the working class and the Soviet state. Some of them dreamt of Bonapartist careers.

The tendency to conclude alliances with politically and ideologically alien forces for the sake of personal struggle for power (so typical for Trotsky during his political career) revealed itself in establishing close relations between some Soviet and German officers. At that time the Versailles treaty barred Germany from having military educational establishments. According to a secret Soviet-German agreement concluded at the initiative of Trotskyist Karl Radek who was then influential in the Soviet Government, a large group of German officers set up their military schools in Soviet Russia thus by-passing the clauses of the Versailles treaty. Not only Radek, but other Soviet leaders supported this agreement since at that time the cooperation of Soviet Russia with Germany was seen as a breakthrough of the united Anti-Soviet front of capitalist states. The possible negative consequences of the agreement were not taken into account.

While the Soviet-German agreement existed Tukhachevsky and a number of other Soviet military commanders cultivated friendly relations with their German colleagues. The latter often invited the Soviet officers to Germany. Unfortunately such contacts were not limited to exchanges of opinions in the field of purely professional problems. Some of the military of both countries tended to discuss the benefits of military rule and possibilities of joint interference of the military into civilian lives of both countries. Plans for mutual assistance of the military of the two countries in case of political changes in the two countries began to evolve.

The Nazi takeover in 1933 interrupted the active military cooperation between Germany and the USSR. Though at that time the German military wholly supported Hitler, they were keen to mind their own interests and were ready to take power if the Nazi regime was to totter. (The German military plotters almost performed a coup d’etat in September 1938. Then they were afraid that Germany would lose the war in case Britain and France would take a resolute stand and defend Czechoslovakia. Only the capitulation of France and Britain at Munich made the plotters discard their plans. Another attempt to overthrow the Hitler government was undertaken by them in July 1944 at the time when the Nazi regime was already doomed.)

Their own plans of military takeover in the USSR were nourished by Tukhachevsky and his supporters. At the same time Tukhachevsky and others tried to enlist support of some ambitious Party leaders for realisation of their Bonapartist plans. According to Paul Carell, ‘since 1935 Tukhachevsky had maintained a kind of revolutionary committee in Khabarovsk… Its members included senior administrative officials and Army commanders, but also some young Party functionaries in high posts, such as the Party leader in the Northern Caucasus, Boris Sheboldayev’.

Despite the termination of the Soviet-German military agreement Tukhachevsky maintained close cooperation with the German generals. Carell wrote: ‘In the spring of 1936 Tukhachevsky went to London as the leader of the Soviet delegation attending the funeral of the King George V. Both his outward and homeward journeys led him through Berlin. He used the opportunity for talks with leading German generals. He wanted to make sure that Germany would not use any possible revolutionary unrest in the Soviet Union as a pretext for marching against the East. What mattered to him most was his idea of a German-Russian alliance after overthrow of Stalin… Tukhachevsky became increasingly convinced that the alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union was an inescapable commandment of history’.

In his book ‘The Conspirators’ Geoffrey Bailey quotes an attested remark by Tukhachevsky made at that time to the Rumanian Foreign Minister Titulescu. He said: ‘You are wrong to tie the fate of your country to countries which are old and finished, such as France and Britain. We ought to turn towards new Germany. For some at least Germany will assume the leading position on the continent of Europe’.

Meanwhile the pro-German statements made by Tukhachevsky in Western European countries during his trip to Britain became known in France and Czechoslovakia. The mutual assistance treaties of both countries with the USSR concluded in 1935 united them in a joint anti-Nazi coalition. The information that such an important figure as Tukhachevsky took a pro-German stand caused grave concern in Paris and Prague. The two governments notified the Soviet Government about Tukhachevsky’s statements.

Meanwhile at the end of 1936 and the beginning of 1937 a number of Red Army officers were arrested in the USSR. During their interrogation the NKVD got information about the existence of a wide-spread plot against the Soviet Government. It was a time when arrests of some saboteurs, connected with the Trotskyist opposition revealed the lack of vigilance and political insight on the part of many Party functionaries.

It all happened at the time when the USSR adopted a new Constitution, called Stalinist, as Stalin was its initiator. Its constitution was meant to promote the democratisation of Soviet society. Unfortunately many of the Party officials, especially on a local level were reluctant to put the principles of the new Constitution into practice. Since 1917 during almost two decades they got accustomed to methods of administration used at the time of the Civil War. Many of them grew accustomed to their unchallenged high positions and they drew support from close circles of their personal friends. In fact their political attitudes were close to those of Tukhachevsky and his supporters. At the plenary session of the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party held in February-March 1937 many of its members demanded increased repressive measures instead of the democratisation urged by the Stalinist Constitution.

In his speech at this plenary session Stalin spoke about the urgent need to raise the ideological and political level of all Party functionaries and offered a plan for their education. At the same time he severely criticised the tendency of Party officials to surround themselves by groups of their personal supporters. He suggested electing new functionaries at every Party level while the old functionaries were being educated at specially set-up schools. Stalin warned that unless the Communist Party kept close contacts with the working class it might perish. He reminded of the fate of Antaeus from Greek mythology, who lost the battle with Hercules as soon as he failed to have a contact with the Earth, who was his mother.

But the words of Stalin were unheeded by many of the Party officials. They were afraid to lose their jobs and they started to devise plans of mass reprisals in order to get rid of potential competitors for their posts.

Meanwhile Tukhachevsky and other conspirators, using unrest among the Party functionaries, accelerated preparations for a coup d’etat. Tukhachevsky intended to ask the USSR People’s Commissar for Defence K.E. Voroshilov to convene a conference on military problems in the Kremlin. Tukhachevsky planned to come to the conference with his supporters and to surround the Kremlin with troops loyal to him. Stalin and some of his Politbureau colleagues were to be arrested and shot immediately.

After the end of the plenary session of the Central Committee the conspirators increased their preparations. Carell wrote: ‘In March 1937 the race between Stalin and Tukhachevsky was becoming increasingly dramatic… Why did the Marshal not act then? Why was he still hesitating? The answer is simple enough. The moves of General Staff officers and Army commanders, whose headquarters were often thousands of miles apart, were difficult to coordinate especially as their strict surveillance by the secret police forced them to act with the utmost caution. The coup against Stalin was fixed for the 1st of May 1937, mainly because the May Day Parades would make it possible to move substantial troop contingents to Moscow without arousing suspicion’.

At that time Trotsky in his ‘Bulletin of the Opposition’ wrote about a probable rebellion of the Soviet military against Stalin. On the 9th of April 1937 the chief of the Red Army Intelligence Board S. Uritsky informed Stalin and Voroshilov that in Berlin there were rumours about the opposition of the Soviet military to the Soviet leadership.

By that time the Gestapo got wind of the negotiations of Tukhachevsky with the German military leaders. In order to get fuller information about relations between the military leaders of the two countries Gestapo agents penetrated the archives of the Wehrmacht and stole some of the documents pertaining to the contacts of the German military with the Soviet. The Gestapo agents tried to conceal the theft of documents by setting fire to the archives. After the stolen documents were analysed the Gestapo deputy chief Heydrich came to the conclusion that there was ample evidence of the secret cooperation between the leaders of the Wehrmacht and the Red Army. The Gestapo informed Hitler about the documents.

Despite the pro-German statements of Tukhachevsky, Hitler and others in the Nazi leadership were not happy over clandestine contacts between the military leaders of Germany and the USSR. The Nazi leaders considered that the establishment of the military dictatorship in Russia might stimulate similar developments in Germany. And the military dictator of Russia Tukhachevsky might help his German colleagues during the future coup. Hitler decided to thwart the joint conspiracy of the military leaders of the two countries. He ordered the sending of the stolen documents to Moscow, but adding to them fabrications to make the materials even more shocking. German Intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg later wrote that the false additions constituted but a minor part of the whole collection, which was secretly sold to the Soviet Union. (Later in 1971 V. M. Molotov claimed that he, Stalin and other Politbureau members knew about the Tukhachevsky conspiracy before they got the German documents.)

There are different versions of the subsequent events. On the one hand there is substantial evidence that the military coup scheduled for the 1st of May was frustrated at the last minute. Some people present at the time at Red Square remembered that immediately after the beginning of the parade the rumours were spread about an imminent terrorist act against Stalin and other Politbureau members who at that time occupied the tribune on the Lenin Mausoleum. Later NKVD officer Pavel Meshik claimed that he personally arrested a terrorist on the upper floor of the building adjacent to Red Square just when he was getting ready to shoot. Meshik said that he was awarded the Order of Lenin for this arrest.

A British correspondent Fitzroy MacClean who was present at the May Day parade stated that he noticed nervousness in the conduct of the Politbureau members. Some of them hardly watched the parade. According to MacClean only Stalin preserved an unperturbed mien.

On the other hand there is evidence that the coup was postponed. Just before the 1st of May in London it was announced that on the 12th of May there would be the coronation of George VI who had become the King after the abdication of Edward VIII. The Soviet delegation was invited for the ceremony and the Soviet Government decided that Tukhachevsky would be a leader of the delegation. According to Carell, Tukhachevsky ‘postponed the coup by three weeks. That was his fatal mistake’.

On the 3rd of May documents of Tukhachevsky were sent to the British Embassy in connection with his visit to London. But on the next day the papers were called back and it was announced that the Soviet admiral V. M. Orlov would be a chief of the delegation.

On the 10th of May it was announced that Tukhachevsky was relieved from the duties of the deputy of the People’ Commissar for Defence and made the commander of the Volga military district. On the 24th of May Stalin sent a circular letter to all the members and alternate members of the Party Central Committee. They were informed about the conspiratorial activities of Tukhachevsky and others. Since Tukhachevsky was an alternate member of the Central Committee, other members and alternate members of this highest body of the Party were asked to vote for or against his expulsion from the Party and transfer of his case to the NKVD. All the members and alternate members of the Central Committee supported the suggested measures against Tukhachevsky.

The leader of the conspiracy was arrested on the 27th of May. Between 19 and 31 his major collaborators were arrested. But one of them, the deputy People’s Commissar for Defence Y. B. Gamarnik committed suicide just before his arrest.

On the 2nd of June the session of the Military Council of the People’s Commissary of Defence was convened. Though the investigation was not over yet and it was probable that some of the participants of the plot were present at the session Stalin attended it and spoke before it.

He began his speech, saying: ‘Comrades, I think that now nobody has doubts about the existence of military-political conspiracy against the Soviet power’. Stalin explained the reason why the conspiracy was not exposed earlier by euphoria of the Party and the Soviet people. He said: ‘The general situation, the growth of our ranks, the achievements of the Army and the country as a whole decreased our political vigilance, diminished sharpness of our sight’.

Stalin spoke about the dependence of Tukhachevsky and other arrested commanders on the German military and suggested that the conspirators did not have any profound ideological platform. Stalin said: ‘What was their weakness? They lacked contact with the people… They relied on the forces of the Germans… They were afraid of the people’.

Stalin suggested that some of the military officers got involved into conspiracy out of sheer opportunism. At the same time Stalin spoke about some of the plotters who were intimidated by Tukhachevsky and others and were forced to join them. Stalin proposed to forgive such people if they came and honestly told about their participation in the plot.

Refuting concern expressed by some of the speakers at the session that the arrests among the military might weaken the Red Army Stalin said: ‘We have in our army unlimited reserves of talents… One should not be afraid to move people upwards’.

Though Stalin expressed hope that the number of conspirators was not great, soon many of the military, including some of those who participated at the 2nd of June session, were arrested. Among those who were arrested many were innocent. First and foremost their arrests were caused by the atmosphere created by many local Party officials (and Khrushchev was among the most active) who, instead of searching for political and social reasons for the military conspiracy started to foment mass hysteria. They used the Tukhachevsky conspiracy as a pretext to prove that the USSR was full of foreign spies and thus to retain administrative methods typical of the Civil War. (Later Khrushchev tried to conceal his participation in this witch hunt by putting all the blame for it upon Stalin.) The toll of arrested increased also due to slanderous accusations made by careerists in the NKVD, ready to get promotion for their successes in exposing ‘enemies of the people’, or by career-minded military officers, eager to take the posts of those who were arrested.

Now the Russian mass-media assert that the arrests and executions of the Red Army commanding officers were fatal for the development of the Great Patriotic War. It is claimed that the officers’ corps of the Red Army was almost decimated. Some point out that 40 thousand of the commanding officers were subjected to various reprisals in 1937 – 1939. In fact out of 37 thousand officers who were dismissed from the Army in this period about 9 thousand were those who died due to natural causes, got severe chronic diseases or were punished for non-political crimes and misbehaviour. Out of 29 thousand officers sacked for political offences 13 thousand were later restored to the Army. Many of them (like Marshal Rokossovsky) fought heroically in the Great Patriotic War. Four thousand were executed and about 12 thousand served their terms in the labour camps. Though these are large numbers, one should be aware that the total number of the Army officers in 1941 was 680 thousand.

In place of Tukhachevsky and his supporters came a new cohort of generals and marshals who proved quite worthy in performing their military duties. The recognition of this fact came from none other than Joseph Goebbels. When Nazi Germany was practically defeated he recognised at last the merits of those whom he for many years treated as representatives of an inferior race. In his personal diary Goebbels wrote on the 16th of March, 1945: ‘The General Staff presented me a book with biographies of Soviet generals and marshals… Most of them are young; almost none of them is over 50 years. They have a rich experience of revolutionary-political activity. They are convinced Bolsheviks, very energetic people. When one looks upon their faces one can see that they are made of healthy folk staff. Most of them are sons of workers, cobblers, small holding peasants, etc. In short, I must make an unpleasant conclusion that the military leaders of the Soviet Union are of better social origin than our own… From this book it is easy to see what mistakes we made in the previous years’.

Belatedly lamenting that Nazi Germany did not get rid of its own Tukhachevskys before it was too late, Goebbels explained the strength of the Red Army in the fact that it had strong ties with the popular masses. Inadvertently the chief of Nazi propaganda recognised the truth of Stalin when the latter spoke about ‘unlimited reserves of talents’ in the ranks of the Red Army and stated that Tukhachevsky and others ‘lacked contact with the people’ and ‘were afraid of the people’.

The victory over Nazi Germany and its allies achieved mostly by the Soviet effort would not be possible if the Soviet leadership failed to get rid of its ‘Fifth Column’, similar to those which existed in many countries of the world and which allowed Hitler to establish his control over half of Europe. Unfortunately by 1991 both the Soviet Army and the Party changed their character and lost most of their staunch ties with the people. These changes facilitated the temporary triumph of capitalist restoration forces over socialism.


Subhas Chandra Bose in Nazi Germany


Subhas Chandra Bose meeting Hitler

Sisir K. Majumdar

It was probably in Germany that Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) was first known as ‘Netaji’, which literally means ‘leader of leaders’ (‘Führer’ is the equivalent German expression). The period of his stay in Germany was from April 1941 to February 1943. These ‘Berlin Years’ of Netaji are still a riddle for most of his objective and biased biographers. It is still a puzzle how a self-respecting and dynamic personality could put up for two long years with an inhuman fascist clique which desperately tried to submerge the whole of humanity in rivers of blood. But it is beyond any shadow of doubt that he was solely and unequivocally guided by one desire– the liberation of his mother India from the cruel clutches of British colonialism.

Germany and India: The prime idea which motivated Netaji was to explore all possible means for achieving the cherished goal of India’s independence. It seems that he had adopted the concept that the ‘enemy’s enemy is your friend’. He looked at Nazi Germany solely from that perspective. It followed the approach taken by Indian revolutionaries towards German during the First World War. However, the Germany of the Second World War was very different, even with respect to India. After the defeat of Germany in the First World war, the ambition of Germany was to bring about a global redistribution of colonies with the goal of establishing German supremacy on the world stage. Vis-à-vis India, a plan was hatched to form an ‘Afghan Army’ to invade India after the possible defeat of the Soviet Union in order to snatch ‘the jewel of the British Empire’. The idea of India’s independence was no where in German strategic consideration. Indeed, Germany had a long standing covetous eye towards India, and its sympathy and support for India’s struggle for independence was always superficial, and fluctuated with the changing situations on the war front, especially on the Russian front. Netaji was completely unaware of this behind the scene conspiracy. He did not seem to think about this seriously enough initially, and remained blindly optimistic about the German attitude for quite some time.

Low-key Reception: When Netaji arrived in Germany in April 1941, he was received by a low-ranking official of the Foreign Department. He was disappointed at this first encounter. Of course his hotel accommodation was fairly luxurious, with an easy telephonic link to high officials. But he had to wait for more than a year to meet the Führer personally. In the meantime, constant clashes of perceptions on the Indian situation between Netaji and his German hosts became routine. He was confused and bewildered from time to time.

Meeting with Foreign Ministry: Netaji met the higher officials of the Foreign Department on April 3, 1941, and expressed his desire to form an ‘Indian Government in Exile’ and expected its immediate diplomatic recognition from the Axis Powers. He was keen to form an Indian Army with the Indian prisoners of war from North Africa. As requested, he submitted a draft proposal on April 9, 1941. It contained the following (i) The Axis Powers would sign a treaty with the ‘Free Indian Government in Exile’ guaranteeing India’s independence from British rule once the war was won; (ii) The Indian Army would consist of 50,000 soldiers of Indian origin; (iii) After liberating India, Germany would hand over responsibility to the Government in Exile headed by Netaji himself.

However, Netaji probably failed to realize that the Germans might have their own plans regarding India. The German perception had to be different. Agreeing with Netaji’s plan virtually amounted to the declaration of India’s independence as one of the aims of the war. Netaji was no longer a leader of the Indian National Congress which was leading India’s independence movement on India’s soil. Forming an Indian government in exile would antagonize the leaders and the people of India. This would not have offered any political dividend to Germany. The Germans were reluctant to discuss any military plan with Netaji in advance of liberating India. He did not have access to Germany’s war plans, and he provided an opportunity to be used for German expansionist ambitions in India.

Netaji was considered merely a refugee leader who happened to be in exile in Berlin and not ‘the Leader of the great Indian Nation’. He was more an object of sympathy rather than of authority to dictate terms or to influence directions. He was at best treated as an honourable guest; and all guests have limitations in the host’s place; Netaji was no exception.

The Turning Point: The invasion of Russia was being planned. Netaji probably came to know about it; he sent a memorandum to the Germans pleading that the status quo be maintained with Russia in order to achieve total destruction of the British in the Near and Middle East. He was completely against the invasion of the Soviet Union. Netaji met the German Foreign Minister J. Von Ribbentrop, and is reported to have told him emphatically that Indian public opinion was against German fascism, and was sympathetic to the socialist Soviet Union. He insisted with Ribbentrop on a German declaration for India’s independence. Ribbentrop asked lots of intriguing questions about the internal situation in India, and only made a verbal commitment to consider Netaji’s proposal, and promised to arrange another meeting. This did not take place for another seven months. He could not arrange to see Hitler, and did not get what he wanted from Ribbentrop, but he did not lose hope.

Netaji prepared and sent a draft declaration of India’s independence to the German authorities on May 13, 1941, and wanted it published. The declaration envisioned that the people of India would themselves decide on the future constitution of India after she was liberated, and Germany would accept this absolute right. Germany would take full responsibility to liberate India, and after liberation, would recognize that government of independent India. On May 24, he was informed that the time was not right for the publication of such a document. Netaji was told that instead, he could set up the ‘Free India Centre’ in Berlin. Ten million Reichmarks were allotted as a ‘loan’ for the centre, and a monthly allowance of 12,000 Reichmarks was sanctioned for his personal expenses. In spite of this generous hospitality, he was feeling stifled. His movements were under constant surveillance, his telephone was tapped, his letters were opened and censored. He seemed to be locked in an iron cage, an unbearable condition for ‘the Springing Tiger’.

Holiday in Rome: Netaji went on a visit to Rome in May 1941, and stayed there for six weeks with his newly married wife Emilie Schenkl. He also met the then Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, and discussed with him the draft declaration. Ciano took Netaji to the Duce Benito Mussolini on May 5, 1941. Italy at the time was only a puppet of Germany, and too weak to take any independent decision on anything.

On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Soviet Russia, and the whole political table was turned around. On August 15, 1941, he wrote a long letter to Ribbentrop and pointed out in the strongest possible words that the German invasion of the Soviet Union would be viewed by Indians as the beginning of as invasion of the East, and therefore Germany would be regarded as the enemy of India. he again insisted on the publication of the draft declaration, and his request was again turned down. There was another meeting with Ribbentrop on November 29, 1941. Netaji requested him to arrange a meeting with Hitler, but Ribbentrop made no commitment. He also pointed out the offensive comment made by Hitler in his book ‘Mein Kampf’, and demanded its immediate correction. Part of this particular comment reads as follows: ‘… Quite aside from the fact that I as a man of Germanic blood, would in spite of everything, rather see India under English rule than any other.’ [1] Netaji was unable to persuade Hitler to amend this offensive comment.

Japan Enters the War: The Japanese declaration of war against Great Britain and the US on December 7, 1941, coupled with the advance of the Japanese army towards the Indian frontier radically altered the war situation. The German Foreign Minister prepared a draft declaration on India without any consultation with Netaji. Japan also prepared one. There was an understandable difference in attitude towards India in Germany and Japan, and Netaji tried to cash in on this rift by again insisting on the publication of his own draft declaration. Ribbentrop, however, was interested in using him for Nazi propaganda, and for the invasion of Soviet Union. Netaji, as clever as he was, surely realized that he was in the wrong company in Berlin to achieve the right objective, and also that the world and future history would portray him as an ally of the hated fascist clique. He decided to leave for the Far East. Many historians assign his decision to the failure of Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1942. In fact, he wanted to be nearer home when Japan decided to invade India so that he could be physically available to offer leadership to the people and the prisoners of war of Indian origin in South East Asia. He came to know from the Italian Foreign Minister Ciano on May 4, 1942, that the publication of his draft declaration on India had again been postponed. He was very disappointed. But he had to swallow this indifference silently and with subdued anger.

Encounter with Hitler: It happened on May 29, 1942 at the Reich Chancellery. Though a few other ministers like Ribbentrop were present, Hitler was the sole actor at the show. He seemed to have been reasonably briefed in advance by his military intelligence on the internal situation in India. After an exchange of initial formalities, Hitler gave a long lecture on the world situation of the day. He spoke extensively on the Soviet threat to India once she was freed from the British, and euphorically boasted that for Germany, it is only possible to reach India over ‘the dead body of Russia’. It was more a ‘talking shop’ staged with racial hatred and national chauvinism, banal boasting and empty threats. Netaji firmly drew attention to the comments in ‘Mein Kampf’, and advised Hitler to make a public declaration on his stand and intentions about India. He noted that otherwise enemies would use his comments in the book for anti-German propaganda. But Hitler was not interested in continuing on this topic. He stated that it would take 1-2 years for Germany to spread its influence over India, and for India herself it would take 100-200 years to put her house in order and for reconstruction to achieve Indian unity. Instead of amending his stand on India, he proudly reiterated his well known ugly racist chauvinism against India. In his talk with Netaji, Hitler gave sufficient indications about his expansionist intentions towards India. It was not clear whether Netaji understood it and took it seriously. Possibly, at that juncture of history, there was no other alternative for him but to depend on the devil. Hitler did reassure Netaji that if and when German forces reached the Indian frontier, he would be invited to set foot on Indian soil in the company of German liberators to trigger ‘the revolution’. It was an empty promise and a cruel joke.

It was not a meeting of two national leaders, rather it was a frosty encounter between Hitler the demon-genius and Netaji, a nationalist giant. Netaji spoke very little to his colleagues in Berlin about his unpleasant meeting with Hitler, except that it was not possible to continue a logical dialogue with him. After this episode, Netaji seemed to awaken from his illusion about Hitler.

Within certain limitations he was allowed to pursue his organizational work, and he was able to mobilize Indians living in Germany at the time under the banner of the Free India Centre (total members: 35) with an avowed allegiance to Netaji personally and not to India. It was an granted diplomatic status with fabulous financial grants. One important activity of his in Germany was the formation of the first unit of what he thought would be the future Indian army recruited from the Indian prisoners of war from North Africa. In forming this he had the idea that: it would not be a part of the German military; it would be self sufficient; it would only fight against the British army on Indian soil and not on any other front or country; and, it could not be engaged at the German-Soviet front. But recruitment was very slow. Only 3,500, less than one third of the total Indian prisoners of war from North Africa, were recruited. They took an oath of allegiance to both Netaji and Hitler. This paved the way for using this Indian legion in other war fronts. Contrary to his wishes, after Netaji left Germany this legion was dispatched to Holland and France to perform various military duties.

The Final Departure: Even after deciding to leave Germany for the Far East, Netaji wasted one whole year in Berlin only to meet Hitler. He was held up by the Germans because they wanted to use him in the event of a German victory over Russia. He was allowed to leave only after the German surrender in Stalingrad, and Hitler’s secret plan for India fell apart. The long journey to the Far East was very dangerous. He boarded a German submarine (U Boat) on February 8, 1943 from Kiel with another Indian colleague, Abid Hassan, leaving behind his wife and only child, daughter Anita, and many well wishers in Germany.

[1] Mein Kampf: The National Socialist Movement by A. Hitler, translated by Ralph Manheim; Hutchinson, London, 1974, reprinted 1990; p.601.

Courtesy: ‘South Asia Forum Quarterly’, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1997, Chery Chase, Maryland, pp. 10-14.


V.I. Lenin on World Imperialism and the Great War


“It is proved in the pamphlet that the war of 1914-18 was imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies, and spheres of influence of finance capital, etc.

Proof of what was the true social, or rather, the true class character of the war is naturally to be found, not in the diplomatic history of the war, but in an analysis of the objective position of the ruling classes in all the belligerent countries. In order to depict this objective position one must not take examples or isolated data (in view of the extreme complexity of the phenomena of social life it is always possible to select any number of examples or separate data to prove any proposition), but all the data on the basis of economic life in all the belligerent countries and the whole world.

It is precisely irrefutable summarised data of this kind that I quoted in describing the partition of the world in 1876 and 1914 (in Chapter VI) and the division of the world’s railways in 1890 and 1913 (in Chapter VII). Railways are a summation of the basic capitalist industries, coal, iron and steel; a summation and the most striking index of the development of world trade and bourgeois-democratic civilisation. How the railways are linked up with large-scale industry, with monopolies, syndicates, cartels, trusts, banks and the financial oligarchy is shown in the preceding chapters of the book. The uneven distribution of the railways, their uneven development — sums up, as it were, modern monopolist capitalism on a world-wide scale. And this summary proves that imperialist wars are absolutely inevitable under such an economic system, as long as private property in the means of production exists.

The building of railways seems to be a simple, natural, democratic, cultural and civilising enterprise; that is what it is in the opinion of bourgeois professors, who are paid to depict capitalist slavery in bright colours, and in the opinion of petty-bourgeois philistines. But as a matter of fact the capitalist threads, which in thousands of different intercrossings bind these enterprises with private property in the means of production in general, have converted this railway construction into an instrument for oppressing a thousand million people (in the colonies and semi-colonies), that is, more than half the population of the globe that inhabit the dependent countries, as well as the wage-slaves of capital in the ‘civilised’ countries.

Private property based on the labour of the small proprietor, free competition, democracy, all the catchwords with which the capitalists and their press deceive the workers and the peasants — are things of the distant past. Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries. And this ‘booty’ is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), are drawing the whole world into their war over the sharing of their booty.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk dictated by monarchist Germany, and the subsequent much more brutal and despicable Treaty of Versailles dictated by the ‘democratic’ republics of America and France and also by ‘free’ Britain, have rendered a most useful service to humanity by exposing both imperialism’s hired coolies of the pen and petty-bourgeois reactionaries who, although they call themselves pacifists and socialists, sang praises to ‘Wilsonism’, and insisted that peace and reforms were possible under imperialism.

The tens of millions of dead and maimed left by the war—a war to decide whether the British or German group of financial plunderers is to receive the most booty—and those two ‘peace treaties’, are with unprecedented rapidity opening the eyes of the millions and tens of millions of people who are downtrodden, oppressed, deceived and duped by the bourgeoisie. Thus, out of the universal ruin caused by the war a world-wide revolutionary crisis is arising which, however prolonged and arduous its stages may be, cannot end otherwise than in a proletarian revolution and in its victory.”

 – V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” Preface to the French and German Editions

Karl Liebknecht on the Spartacist Uprising


“Yes. The revolutionary workers of Berlin have been defeated. Yes. Hundreds of their best have been slaughtered. Yes. Many hundreds more have been thrown into dungeons. Yes. They were defeated because they had been abandoned by the ones they relied on: the sailors, the soldiers, the security forces, the people’s militia. Their power was inhibited by the indecision and the weakness of their leaders. They drowned in the counterrevolutionary sea of mud where the uneducated sections of the population unite with the ruling classes.

Yes, they were defeated. It was a defeat that followed the law of history. The time was not ripe for victory yet. And still, the struggle was inevitable. It would have been disgraceful to surrender the police headquarters, this palladium of the revolution, to Ernst, Hirsch, and their cohorts without a fight. The struggle was forced upon the proletariat by Ebert and his gang, and the masses of Berlin responded instinctively, despite all doubts and concerns.

Yes, the revolutionary workers of Berlin were defeated. Ebert, Scheidemann, and Noske won. They won because the generals, the bureaucrats, the Junkers, the priests, the moneybags, and everyone with a narrow mind and empty heart supported them, assuring their victory with cannons, bombs, and mines. However, there are defeats that are victories, and victories that are more deadly than defeats.

Those who were defeated during the bloody week of January can be proud. They fought for something big, for the noblest goal of the agonizing masses. They have spilled blood for a sacred cause, and their blood has been sanctified. From every drop of it avengers will emerge; from every frazzled fiber new fighters for the mighty cause will grow, a cause as eternal and unfading as the firmament.


Spartacus stands for the fire and the spirit, the soul and the heart, the will and the deed of the proletariat revolution. Spartacus stands for all the misery, longing, and determination of the class conscious proletariat. Spartacus stands for socialism and world revolution.

The Via Dolorosa of the German proletariat has not been completed yet. But the day of salvation, the Judgement Day for Ebert, Scheidemann, Noske, and the capitalist rulers who still hide behind them is near. We are caught in events that resemble enormous waves, taking us up and down. We are used to being thrown from the mountaintop into the abyss. But our ship follows its course undeterred and proud until it will reach its final port. Will we still be alive when this happens? Our program will be. Its principles will guide humankind to salvation. Despite it all!

The clatter of the imminent economic collapse will awake the sections of the proletariat that are still asleep. They will hear the trumpets of Judgment Day, and the corpses of the murdered fighters will rise from the dead to demand justice from the cursed traitors of the revolution. Today, the volcano is still rumbling underground – tomorrow it will erupt and bury them all in ashes and lava!”

Karl Liebknecht, “Despite It All!” Published as “Trotz alledem!” in Die Rote Fahne, no. 15, January 15, 1919.