World War II: Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Another barrage of anti-Soviet lies attempts to equate fascism with communism.

As the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II is marked in Europe, every opportunity is being taken by ‘our’ ruling class to rewrite history and blame the Soviet Union for starting the war, in the process whitewashing the crimes of imperialism (then and now) and avoiding all mention of how interimperialist contradictions give rise to wars.

Unable to destroy the truth that the Soviet Union played by far the greatest role in the defeat of Nazi fascism, imperialist ideologues are now blaming Stalin for starting the war by concluding the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact (referred to in the press as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in 1939.

This is part of an increased anti-communist propaganda barrage across Europe. With the depth of the present economic crisis of capitalism, workers are being told that the solution to their problems is not with socialism and communism. The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 3 July passed, in the name of “promoting human rights”, a horrendous resolution proposed by Lithuania and Slovenia, equating “Stalinism and Nazism” and affirming that 23 August (the date the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact was signed) should be a Europe-wide Day of Remembering the victims of “Stalinism and Nazism”.

Gdansk 2009

So on 1 September, when European presidents and prime ministers gathered in the Polish city of Gdansk to mark the 70th anniversary, whereas German Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted that Germany started the war, the present leaders of Poland and other Baltic states were demanding that Russia apologise for its action in concluding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, with Polish President Lech Kaczynski accusing the Soviet Union of “stabbing Poland in the back” by signing the Pact.

Thus British newspapers were full of allegations such as “ Poland, partitioned in 1939 by the twin tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin ” (‘Bitter row over war blame marks Gdansk day’ by Traynor and Harding, The Guardian , 2 September 2009); “ Stalin was Hitler’s accomplice before 1941 ” (‘The unhistory man’, The Economist , 3 September 2009); while the Guardian special series on WWII started with an article by Niall Ferguson alleging that Stalin was “ the dictator with by far the bloodiest hands. And he was as much an aggressor as Hitler. ” (‘Why did the second world war begin?’ 5 September 2009)

Imperialist ideologues thus competed to blame Stalin for either starting WWII or being as much to blame as Hitler, in order to hide from the proletariat the simple fact that both fascism and the carnage of the second world war, which claimed nearly 60 million lives and wreaked untold devastation, were the product of imperialism; that the imperialist ‘democracies’, in their blind hatred of Soviet communism, did everything in their power to strengthen Hitlerite fascism and direct its aggression against the USSR; that the Soviet Union, in signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Germany, turned the tables on imperialism and forced the principal imperialist countries to fight against each other; that in this war, while the Soviet Union and the people of the world fought against fascism, the imperialist powers were merely engaged in a struggle for domination through redivision of the already completely divided world.

To hide all these facts, attempts are being made to convince the proletariat that the Soviet Union, in signing the Non-Aggression Pact, brought about the onset of the war and that, therefore, it was as guilty as Nazi Germany, and Stalin as wicked as Hitler, in unleashing this unprecedented slaughter. In other words, attempts are being made through the falsified version of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, to equate fascism and communism and present imperialist ‘democracy’ as the only solution and ultimate destiny of humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is significant that, such is the high esteem and respect for Stalin in Russia today that, not surprisingly, Russian President Medvedev, before the Gdansk anniversary, condemned the OSCE resolution that had equated Stalinism with Nazism as a “flat-out lie” and that Prime Minister Putin, while perversely referring to the pact as “immoral”, nevertheless correctly argued that the Munich agreement signed by France and Britain wrecked efforts to build an anti-Nazi alliance.

It is important that the truth about the Non-Aggression Pact is told widely and the following are the salient points.

Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact: the facts

First , it was the endeavour of the Soviet Union not to embroil herself in a war with imperialism.

Second , since it was not entirely up to her to avoid such war, then, if imperialism should be bent on waging a war against the Soviet Union, the latter should not find herself in the position of having to fight alone, let alone face the combined onslaught of the principal imperialist countries – Germany, Britain, France, the USA, Italy and Japan.

Third , to this end, divisions between the fascist imperialist states on the one hand and the democratic imperialist states on the other should be exploited to the hilt. These divisions between the two groups of imperialists were not a figment of Stalin’s imagination. They were real, based on the material interests of the two groups of states under consideration.

Uneven development of capitalism causes some states to spurt ahead and others to lag behind. The old division of the world no longer corresponds with the balance of forces, thus making necessary a new division of the world. This is precisely what the first world war was about; and this is precisely what Germany, Italy and Japan, having spurted ahead in the capitalist development of their economies, were clamouring for. On the other hand, the old imperialist countries, notably Britain and France, having lagged behind in the capitalist development of their economies in comparison with the newcomers, notably Germany, were quite happy with the old division of the world.

In demanding a new division, the fascist states were encroaching upon the material interests of the democratic imperialist states. There was thus scope for this conflict of interests to be exploited by the USSR.

Fourth , to this end, the USSR, pursuing a very complicated foreign policy, did its best to conclude a collective security pact with the democratic imperialist states to deter aggression by the fascist states, providing, in the event of such aggression taking place, for collective action against the aggressors. These attempts were made by the Soviet Union and rebuffed by Britain and others on not one, but several occasions. (i)

Fifth , when the democratic imperialist states, overcome by their hatred of communism, refused to sign a collective security pact with the USSR and continued their policy of appeasement of the fascist states, in particular that of Nazi Germany, in an effort to direct her aggression in an eastwardly direction against the Soviet Union, the latter was forced to try some other method of protecting the interests of the socialist motherland of the international proletariat.

The USSR turned the tables on the foreign policy of the democratic imperialist states by signing on 23 August 1939 the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

Sixth , in signing this pact, the USSR not only ensured that she would not be fighting Germany alone, but also that the latter would be fighting against the very powers who had been trying, by their refusal to agree on collective security, to embroil the USSR in a war with Germany. On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. Two days later, the Anglo-French ultimatum expired, and Britain and France were at war with Germany.

Seventh , the provisions of the additional secret protocol went far enough to safeguard the Soviet ‘spheres of interest’, which proved vital to Soviet defences when the war actually reached her. Under the secret protocol it was agreed that in the Baltic “ the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR ”, and in the case of Poland, “ the spheres of interest both of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and Sau ”. (Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-45, Series D, Vol 7, London 1956, p264)

In other words, the Curzon line was to be this boundary, and in the area east of it, which had been seized by Poland from the Soviet Union after the October Revolution, Germany had agreed to the USSR taking whatever action it liked.

Finally , the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact bought the Soviet Union an extremely valuable period of two years for strengthening her defence preparedness before she entered a war she knew she could not stay out of forever.

All revolutionary and honest bourgeois historians and politicians agree on the above summary. Only the most die-hard anti-communists, including most Trotskyites, ever dare to dispute it. (ii)

Poland ‘partitioned’

In making the accusation that Poland was partitioned by the ‘twin tyrannies’, circles hostile to the Soviet Union have always equated the Soviet march into Poland east of the Curzon line with the Nazi invasion and occupation of the rest of Poland. In fact, the two are qualitatively different.

First, the Soviet forces moved only into territory that was internationally recognised as theirs before it had been snatched by Poland after the October Revolution. Second, and much more importantly, the Soviet Union waited for 16 days after the Nazi invasion of Poland.

When, on 5 September [1939], Ribbentrop began to press the Russians to march into their share of Poland, Stalin was not yet ready to issue the marching orders … He would not … lend a hand in defeating Poland, and he refused to budge before Poland’s collapse was complete beyond doubt. ” (Isaac Deutscher, Stalin – a Political Biography , London, 1966, p432)

The Soviet forces entered Poland on 17 September, when it became absolutely clear that the Polish state had collapsed. This move was to safeguard both Soviet defences and those of the territories that the Soviet forces had entered. The truth is that the Soviet troops were greeted by the local population as liberators and heroes.

In his speech to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October 1939, Molotov said: “Our troops entered the territory of Poland only after the Polish state had collapsed and actually ceased to exist. Naturally, we could not remain neutral towards these facts, since as a result of these events we were confronted with urgent problems concerning the security of our state. Furthermore, the Soviet government could not but reckon with the exceptional situation created for our brothers in western Ukraine and western Byelorussia, who had been abandoned to their fate as a result of the collapse of Poland.” (Molotov, Soviet Peace Policy , pp31-32)

And further: “When the Red Army marched into these regions it was greeted with general sympathy by the Ukrainian and Byelorussian population, who welcomed our troops as liberators from the yoke of the gentry, from the yoke of the Polish landlords and capitalists.” (Ibid , p33)

The Soviet march into these areas had the effect of rescuing 13 million people, including one million jews, from the horrors of Nazi occupation and extermination. It can only be surmised that those opposed to the Soviet entry into the territories east of the Curzon line would rather have seen these areas overrun by the Nazis! A very queer ‘internationalism’ indeed! Such people are actually to the right of even some Conservatives.

Let the following words, spoken in the House of Commons on 20 September 1939 by Conservative MP Robert Boothby, put such ‘socialists’ and ‘internationalists’ to eternal shame: “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.” (iii)

Stalin turned the tables on Anglo-American imperialist schemes

The Bolshevik party, under the leadership of Stalin, turned the tables on Anglo-American imperialist ruling circles by concluding the Non-Aggression Pact with Germany, which proved so advantageous to the Soviet Union and to socialism, and so harmful to world imperialism. By its brilliant tactics, the USSR caused its two deadly enemies – German fascism and Anglo-French-American imperialism – to fight against each other rather than combining their might against the Soviet Union, and finally compelled one of these enemies, Anglo-American imperialism, to fight on the Soviet side against German fascism.

As a consequence, the end of the war resulted in the further weakening of imperialism, giving a tremendous boost to the world proletarian and national-liberation movements all over the globe, bringing in its wake people’s democracies in eastern Europe, the earth-shaking successes of the Chinese revolution and the loosening and freeing from colonial grip of countless countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In view of these results, which changed the political and economic geography of the entire globe, it is understandable, and not in the least surprising, that imperialists and their ideologues should concentrate their attack with such venom on Stalin. These venomous attacks alone are proof enough of the correctness of the brilliant tactics of Stalin and his government.

What we have written above was fully corroborated by Seumus Milne in his article in the Guardian of 10 September. While Milne is unable to resist anti-Soviet and anti-Stalin slurs and slanders, he nevertheless clearly and courageously states in an otherwise excellent article that “ to claim that without the [Soviet-German Non-Aggression] pact there would have been no war is simply absurd” and that the pact was simply, in the words of historian Geoff Roberts, an “instrument of defence, not aggression ”.

Seumus Milne correctly added that: “ That was a good deal less true of the previous year’s Munich agreement, in which British and French politicians dismembered Czechoslovakia at the Nazi dictator’s pleasure. The one pact that could conceivably have prevented war, a collective security alliance with the Soviet Union, was in effect blocked by the appeaser Chamberlain and an authoritarian Polish government that refused to allow Soviet troops on Polish soil.

Poland had signed its own non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany and seized Czech territory, which puts last week’s description by the Polish president Lech Kaczynski of a Soviet ‘stab in the back’ in perspective. The case against the Anglo-French appeasers and the Polish colonels’ regime over the failure to prevent war is a good deal stronger than against the Soviet Union, which perhaps helps to explain the enthusiasm for the new revisionism in both parts of the continent.

Mr Milne continued: “ But across eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and the Ukraine, the drive to rewrite history is being used to relativise Nazi crimes and rehabilitate collaborators. At the official level, it has focused on a campaign to turn August 23 – the anniversary of the non-aggression pact – into a day of commemoration for the victims of communism and nazism ”.

And further: “ The real meaning of the attempt to equate Nazi genocide with Soviet repression is clearest in the Baltic republics, where collaboration with SS death squads and direct participation in the mass murder of jews was at its most extreme, and politicians are at pains to turn perpetrators into victims. Veterans of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS now parade through Riga, Vilnius’s Museum of Genocide Victims barely mentions the 200,000 Lithuanian jews murdered in the Holocaust and Estonian parliamentarians honour those who served the Third Reich as ‘fighters for independence’.

Most repulsively of all, while rehabilitating convicted Nazi war criminals, the state prosecutor in Lithuania – a member of the EU and Nato – last year opened a war crimes investigation into four Lithuanian jewish resistance veterans who fought with Soviet partisans: a case only abandoned for lack of evidence. As Efraim Zuroff, veteran Nazi hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, puts it: ‘People need to wake up to what is going on. This attempt to create a false symmetry between communism and the Nazi genocide is aimed at covering up these countries’ participation in mass murder.’

As the political heirs of the Nazis’ collaborators in eastern Europe gain strength on the back of growing unemployment and poverty, and anti-semitism and racist violence against Roma grow across the region, the current indulgence of historical falsehoods about the second world war can only spread this poison ”. (‘This rewriting of history is spreading Europe’s poison’)


(i) For example: 15 March 1939, Litvinov proposed that Britain, France, the USSR, Poland and Romania meet – rejected; 31 March 1939, Polish-British pact giving unilateral British guarantee to defend Poland announced – Soviet Union not consulted; 17 April 1939, Soviet proposal for British-French-Soviet pact of mutual assistance – Britain rejected it; 2 June 1939, Molotov proposed another British-French-Soviet pact – Britain sent junior official to Moscow – 23 July sent elderly retired Admiral Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax – arrived on 11 August to ‘talk’ not negotiate; 21 August 1939, Soviet Union adjourned talks. And this is not to mention the events of 1938, when on 28-30 September, without consulting, let alone including, the Soviet Union, France, Britain, Germany and Italy met at the Munich conference to surrender Czechoslovakia to the tender mercies of fascist Germany, while at the same time the western powers refused to respond to the Soviet proposal for a grand collective security alliance under the aegis of the League of Nations.

(ii) The above points are extracted from ‘The Soviet-German non-aggression pact’ by Harpal Brar, in 60th Anniversary of the Victory over Fascism , published by the CPGB-ML. For a very full and valuable substantiation of these points and a thorough knowledge of the war, this book is absolutely essential reading.

(iii) Quoted in ‘The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939’ by Bill Bland, an excellent paper presented to, and published by, the Stalin Society in 1992.