The Stalin-Hitler pact debated in the Graun’s letters page

October 19, 2017 at 5:49 pm (fascism, Germany, Guardian, history, Poland, posted by JD, stalinism, USSR, war)

Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov signs the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow, 23 August 1939. On the left is German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop

Above:  Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov signs the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow, 23 August 1939. On the left is German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Photograph: Heinrich Hoffmann/Getty Images

An attempt, in the Guardian‘s letters page, to defend Stalin’s alliance with Hitler (aka the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact), using a well-worn Stalinist line of argument:

Contrary to Tim Ottevanger’s view (Letters, 16 October) of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939, a pact that astonished the western world, I think it was one of the most significant in the last 200 years. At that time any intelligent observer, including Stalin, knew that the Nazis planned to eradicate Bolshevism and to gain Lebensraum in eastern Europe. The Soviets were engaged in a gigantic educational, agricultural and industrial transformation lasting less than a score of years, a process that took the UK over a century. They had to ensure that they were capable of defeating an onslaught from the greatest military machine ever known. The pact not only gave the USSR an extra 22 months of further industrialisation, but also allowed it to occupy eastern Poland after the Nazis attacked it on 1 September 1939. But for this extra 100+ miles of “buffer zone” the Nazis would have probably captured Moscow in 1941 and much land beyond it. Instead, as Churchill said, the Soviets “ripped the guts out of the Wehrmacht”. But for this the Nazis would have won the war in Europe with cataclysmic implications for the UK.
David Davis
Chesterfield

…and three replies:

David Davis’s claim of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939 being all about “buying time” (Letters, 18 October) is like similar claims about Chamberlain at Munich – risible historical revisionism.

If Stalin was really concerned with buying time while Soviet reforms were completed, why was he still merrily engaged in the wholesale slaughter without trial of anyone who looked at him in a funny way, from top generals to the merest peasant? Why did the Nazi Blitzkrieg on 22 June 1941 take the Soviets completely by surprise (and despite umpteen warnings from other nations)? Why in particular did the Nazis and Soviets between 12 and 14 November 1940 negotiate the Soviet Union’s entry into the axis, which only failed over disagreements over spheres of influence?

No, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was nothing more than two bullies coordinating their collective shakedown of their weaker neighbours, who, once there was nothing else left easy to despoil, began eyeing up each other to satisfy their perpetual greed, for there is no honour among thieves.
Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

Reading David Davis’s astonishing defence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (and the Soviet partition of Poland with Nazi Germany), I was inevitably reminded of AP Herbert’s satirical wartime poem Less Nonsense: “In 1940, when we bore the brunt / We could have done, boys, with ‘a second front’. / A continent went down a cataract / But Russia did not think it right to act. / Not ready? No. And who shall call her wrong? / Far better not to strike till you are strong. / Better, perhaps (though this was not our fate) / To make new treaties with the man you hate.”

How depressing that, nearly 80 years later, that shabby and cynical pact still has its advocates.
Andrew Connell
Cardiff

David Davis has a rather rose-tinted view of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. It is true that it kept a slice of Poland (and the Baltic states) out of Hitler’s hands, at least for 22 months, but why did Stalin insist upon imposing his style of repression upon their populations, with mass deportations to Siberia and the killing of several thousand Polish officers at Katyn – or does Davis still believe Moscow’s wartime lie that the Nazis did it? Yes, the pact did buy time for Moscow, but, in that case, why did Stalin do nothing to build defences in the newly obtained land? And why did Stalin do nothing to prepare for a German invasion, and refuse to act on the numerous reports that an invasion was in the offing

That the Soviet forces were woefully unprepared for the invasion was shown by their confused and largely ineffectual conduct as the Wehrmacht stormed in on 22 June 1941. Had Stalin ordered a proper defensive strategy over the previous months, the Wehrmacht would have been stalled and repelled well before it reached, as it did, the outskirts of Moscow. Stalin squandered the temporal and territorial advantages that the pact offered. Moreover, the execution of 30,000 officers and the jailing and killing of many hundreds of thousands of civilians in Stalin’s purges a few years previously hardly helped guarantee the country’s military, industrial and administrative readiness for war – or does Davis still believe that they were “traitors”, as Moscow insisted at the time?
Dr Paul Flewers
London

1 Comment

  1. John Cunningham said,

    Unbelievable that there are still people who believe the kind of drivel spouted by David Davies! Just a couple of points to add:
    1) As part of the ‘pact’ hundreds of detained German Leftists were sent to the USSR where they almost certainly perished in the camps if they weren’t shot first.
    2) One of the Soviet generals shot by Stalin in the late 1930s was Tugachevsky, possibly one of the most brilliant military minds of the 20th century. To put it mildly this is not exactly the best way to prepare for a military onslaught

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