23 August marks the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact which allowed Hitlerite Germany to attack Poland nine days later without fear of Soviet intervention against it. There will undoubtedly be comment in the western Mainstream Media about Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin «betraying» his would-be French and British «allies», about «stabbing Poland in the back», «colluding» with Adolf Hitler, and so on.
It’s an annual event, anxiously awaited by western Russophobic propagandists, to remind us of the iniquitous Soviet role in starting World War II. Nowadays of course when the Mainstream Media say «Soviet», they want you to think about Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Western «journalists» can’t make up their minds about Putin: sometimes he’s another Hitler, sometimes another Stalin.
When it comes to World War II, Poland is above criticism and gets a lot of sympathy in the West, as the first «victim» of both Nazi Germany and the USSR. The Wehrmacht invaded Poland on 1 September; and the Red Army moved in from the east 17 days later. It was a Soviet «stab in the back».
Or was it? Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, saw the matter differently. In a BBC broadcast on 1 October 1939, he observed that Soviet action «was clearly necessary for the safety of Russia against the Nazi menace.» Given that the Polish government had collapsed, better the USSR stood in those eastern borderlands than Nazi Germany.
During the 1930s Poland played a spoiler’s role. It was a far-right quasi-dictatorship, anti-Semitic and sympathetic to fascism. In 1934 as the USSR raised the alarm about Hitler, Poland signed a non-aggression pact in Berlin. Who stabbed who in the back? France had a formal alliance with Poland and felt betrayed. Until 1939 Poland did all it could to sabotage Soviet efforts to build an anti-Nazi alliance, based on the World War I anti-German coalition of France, Britain, Italy, and in 1917 the United States. It may surprise, but Maksim Litvinov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, saw fascist Italy as part of a defensive alliance against Hitlerite Germany. Litvinov also wanted to bring Poland into his anti-Nazi coalition, and in 1934 warned his Polish counterpart, Józef Beck, of the danger of Hitler. Beck laughed him off.
Poland felt itself caught between two hostile great powers, but of the two, the USSR was by far its «worst enemy». These were old lines; Polish Russophobia dated back many centuries. In 1934-1935, when the USSR sought a mutual assistance pact with France, Poland attempted to obstruct it. In 1938, during the Czechoslovak crisis, Foreign Minister Beck said that if Hitler was to get the Sudeten territories, Poland should have the Teschen district. In other words, if Hitler gets his booty, we Poles want ours. Litvinov accused Beck of playing into the hands of Hitler, but Beck laughed him off again. Poland was Hitler’s accomplice in 1938 before becoming his victim in 1939.
What about France and Britain? The USSR saw France as «the pivot» of collective security in Europe. Supported by Stalin, Litvinov warned his western counterparts that Hitler was bent on war and that it was essential to organise a defensive alliance against him. It was Litvinov, not Churchill, who first conceived of the «Grand Alliance» against Hitler. Unfortunately, Soviet policy suffered setback after setback. Litvinov’s coalition became the Grand Alliance that Never Was.
How is that possible? Amongst other reasons, because the conservative elites of Britain and France and also generally in Europe, feared Bolshevism more than they feared Nazism. There were important exceptions of course to this general rule; Soviet diplomats called them «white crows». The Nazis were admired for their virility and masculinity. The odour of fascist leather and sweat was a powerful aphrodisiac for insecure, tired European elites who saw Nazi Germany as a bulwark against Bolshevism.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain feared victory allied with the USSR more than he feared defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany. A victorious Red Army, with Bolshevism in its baggage trains, could advance into the heart of Europe. «I have met Hitler», Chamberlain declared in September 1938 after one of three visits to Germany, «and I believe him». But the Munich accords, which sacrificed Czechoslovakia, only encouraged further Nazi aggression.
There was one last chance in 1939 to conclude an alliance against Nazi Germany. Again, the Soviet side took the initiative. And again the British, followed reluctantly by the French, dragged their feet. In fact, if you read the Soviet diplomatic papers from the mid to late 1930s, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Britain was chief saboteur of Soviet collective security. Stalin sacked the seemingly quixotic Commissar Litvinov in early May 1939 and replaced him with the tougher Vyacheslav Molotov. Maybe French and British negotiators would take Molotov more seriously. It didn’t happen. They still dragged their feet, with the result that last ditch negotiations in Moscow in August 1939 failed. They’re not serious, Stalin concluded, and so he made a deal with Hitler to avoid war with unreliable allies.
The final chapter of this abysmal history occurred during the autumn of 1939 and the winter of 1940, when the British decided to publish a collection of telegrams and dispatches, a so-called White Paper, on the 1939 negotiations. Their objective was to show that the failure of these negotiations lay with the Soviet side, not with the British and French. The White Paper got to proofs in January 1940, and the British Foreign Office was impatient to publish.
The whole exercise proved to be a fiasco because the Quai d’Orsay, the French foreign ministry, had «certain misgivings» about publication and vetoed it. French diplomats were masters of understatement. In Paris they thought that the White Paper might be interpreted to show that the Soviet side was serious about concluding an anti-Nazi alliance while they, the French and British, were not. The White Paper provoked additional irritation in Paris because it omitted to show that France was keener for agreement with Moscow than London. The Quai d’Orsay threatened to publish its own Livre jaune to save France’s credibility, though there was precious little of that.
The Polish government in exile was also none too eager for publication since Poland attempted to obstruct the 1939 talks. It was beginning to look like a falling out amongst thieves. To add to the embarrassment, one senior Foreign Office official worried that the White Paper was «tendentious». Another official was apprehensive about the US reaction. Would Americans believe the British account «since our reputation [in the United States] for telling the truth is none too bright»? Then there was the additional worry that the USSR might publish its own account. What if public opinion believed the Soviet side and not the British? In the end, the British government wisely decided not to publish the White Paper. It was quickly forgotten during the military catastrophes which engulfed Britain and France in the spring of 1940.
Here is the real context to the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact which you will never hear about in the western Mainstream Media. Western historians have tried mightily to explain appeasement and save Chamberlain’s reputation. But even British and French diplomats at the time felt the need to conceal their conduct for fear they would get the blame for the failed 1939 alliance. We cut «a rather sorry figure,» said one Foreign Office official. And they did too. It was sympathy for fascism which confused the west about Hitler.
What a comedy. And what scruples in London. These days western governments and their «inspired» journalists, if one can call them journalists, don’t worry about «tendentious» argument when it comes to blackening the Russian Federation. It’s anything goes. Should we let them equate the roles of the USSR and Nazi Germany for starting World War II? Certainly not. It was Hitler who intended war, and the French and British, especially the British, who repeatedly played into his hands, rejecting Soviet proposals for collective security and pressuring France to do the same. Then and only then did Stalin seek to appease Hitler through the non-aggression pact. As it turned out, Soviet appeasement did not work out any better for the USSR than it had for France and Britain. In fact, in June 1941 it proved to be a catastrophe.
If indisputable facts and real history mattered, the Mainstream Media would have one less weapon in its toolbox of scurrilous propaganda with which to attack President Putin and Russia. Unfortunately, western propagandists don’t pay much attention to what really happened in the past which so resembles what is going on in the present. There’s the danger and why these purveyors of deceit must be exposed and challenged.
Michael Jabara Carley, professor of history at the Université de Montréal (Canada)