Soviet Role in the Outbreak of the War?

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Negative Creep, Jan 6, 2009.

  1. Negative Creep

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    I'm currently writing an essay on the degree that Soviet foreign policy was implicit in the outbreak of WW2. Everything I've read thus far supports the more traditional argument that it was largely due to Hitler's aggression and him underestimating the resolve of Britain and France over Poland. Whilst they had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact it seems neither Hitler or Stalin had any aims of a long term peace, except to give their respective armies time to build.

    Before the pact was signed, Stalin saw Britain and America as just a bigger threat and in the late 1930's it seems war with him was just as likely as war with Hitler. Although Stalin took the Baltic states and attempted to conquer Finland, other than that he seemed very passive and extremely reluctant to do anything that might been seen by Hitler as aggressive. Case in point would be his reaction to Barbarossa; he refused to believe it was going to happen and did nothing even after the invasion had begun.

    So does anyone have an alternate to the traditional view, or links to places that do? History is never black and white so it can't be seen solely as the fault of Germany. Would Poland and Czechoslovakia have been invaded if Hitler hadn't made a treaty with Stalin? Or was Stalin simply biding his time until the Red Army was strong enough to invade?

    yes, it's a 'help with homework' thread
     
  2. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    I am not an expert on Communist Ideology but I am pretty sure Stalin saw the war in the West in terms of the inevitable decline of Capitalism, a war for profit. He thought Germany fighting Britian, France and others was an opportunity which he would seize when they had exhausted themselves (much as had happened in the First World War). In fact, he invaded both Finland the the Baltic States while Germany was busy in the west. He also seized part of Rumania. Again, while the Western powers were fighting, Stalin was busy grabbing territory to use as a buffer.

    He was amazed France collapsed as fast as it did. He expected it to last longer. He now considered the German Army far more of a threat than he had previously considered. As a result (and against the advice of his Army Commanders), he moved his troops out of the defense positions in Western Russia and into Poland. In the end, this, as much as his ingnoring the growing threat of German Invasion, cost the Soviet Union dearly when the Germans came.

    As far as him building his armed forces to the point they would be effective in an invasion of Germany, it is a theory that has gained credibility in the last decade or so. Not sure how much hard evidence there is on it, I don't recall seeing very much. This is not to say there were not tensions between Hitler and Stalin. The two political forms are ideological opposed to each other. Given Stalin's actions up to June of 1941 (invasions and bullying countries into giving him territory), it is a good bet that he would've gone after Hitler sooner or later.
     
  3. Amsel

    Amsel Active Member

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    I agree timshatz. I think it would be a good bet that Stalin would have waited for the approprate time and invaded Eastern Europe. Was Barbarossa about Lebensraum (living room) for the aryan master race or was it a preemptive strike? The nazis eventually blundered the invasion and it seems that Stalin took advantage of the situation and gained much of Europe perhaps taking advantage of his allies. But I believe that in the late thirties and early forties that Stalin knew that his chance for winning a war against Germany in Europe was unlikely.
     
  4. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    Barbarossa was part quest for Lebensraum and part ideological necessity - Slavic Communists did not rate highly in Hitler's proposed world order. However, I'm not sure Stalin would have started a war with Germany, or anyone else in Europe, by himself. For one, his purges of the armed forces are not the action of a state gearing for war. Stalin was a megalomaniac, but an exceptionally clear-minded one, and would not have decapitated his armed forces just before he was going to use them.

    Furthermore, he lacked the motive for military action in the late thirties/early forties. Like Leninism before it, Stalinism was not much interested in spreading the revolution - rather, it looked inward to plans of internal reconstruction and development. Granted, there was the Khalkin-Gol incident, but that border scuffle was initially conducted through proxy forces, and ultimately settled little in terms of international relations. Starting a major war would not have helped Russia's cause in 1939-41, as the country was not well prepared, had almost no military leadership, and still had rather inferior equipment. An attack on Eastern Europe might have added a few vassal states to the CCCP, but any serious confrontation with Hitler's Germany would probably have ended in Russian defeat and negotiated peace, IMHO.
     
  5. Venganza

    Venganza Member

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    As luck would have it, I'm currently reading a book about the defense of Moscow in 1941. It's clear from what's written about the events leading up to Barbarossa that Stalin, although very cognizant of the threat from Germany, had no short or medium-term intentions of invading the German sphere of influence in Central and Western Europe. I don't think he cared one way or the other what Hitler did to the Western countries as long as he left the Soviet Union alone. Stalin was too busy rebuilding his military after the purges and the Finnish debacle to think seriously about a preemptive strike against Nazi Germany, although some generals did consider it (it would have certainly ended up disastrously).

    The Russo-German Pact did free up Hitler for an invasion of the West without worrying about a two-front war. In that sense, Stalin did enable Hitler. In defense of Stalin (an unenviable task), he was prepared to stand up to Hitler over Czechoslovakia during the Munich Crisis if the Western Powers, the United Kingdom and France had done so. It was his disgust over their appeasement that led at least partly to the Russo-German Pact.

    Venganza
     
  6. Venganza

    Venganza Member

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  7. Negative Creep

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    I'm not sure about that. Doesn't Marxist theology aim for a world wide worker's revolution? I think the leadership were expecting far more states to follow after 1917 and were rather surprised when it didn't. I also think Stalin was very confident of the abilities of his army, hence the disaster in the Winter War
     
  8. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    Marxism aims for a worldwide revolution, yes, although the anticipation is that rebellion will spread from one state to another as a result of a fundamental breakdown in the fabric of capitalist society. Stalin, however, wasn't a Marxist. And I would not call Marxism s theology - it is squarely opposed to organised religion :squarewink:

    The attitude of Russian leaders to exporting the revolution by military means was largely pragmatic. Trotsky wanted the Red Army to sweep westward, much as Napoleon's forces did in the late eighteenth century. Lenin was more interested in defeating the Whites and then setting Russia back on it's feet. Stalin devoted much energy to re-industrialising Russia and creating the conditions for massive re-armament. But no Soviet leader ever made a serious attempt to export the revolution by force of arms - although they did much to sponsor and arm Communist regimes across the globe, and also invested much in undermining the cultural foundations of capitalism through attempted demonstrations of Communism's ability to provide better standards of living.

    To address the other points, I think that Bolshevik supporters were disappointed by the slow uptake of the revolution abroad, and I think this has much to do with the failure of the German revolts. Had Germany collapsed, I am fairly sure France would have followed, and this may have triggered a chain reaction across Europe.

    And Stalin was perhaps over-confident in 1939 - but I think this was because he had underestimated his enemy. He must have realised that his forces had almost no leadership and equipment which was not up to Western European standards - he just thought that the Finns would be in an even worse state, and did not consider the ferocity with which they defended their country.
     
  9. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    But Stalin's realization of the feebleness of his forces came after the war started, not before, after his troops inept performance in the winter war. As such, it had a hand in his calculations, contributing to the war (the invasion of Poland a benefit of it).

    I also think Stalin was a true believer of Communist/Marxist ideology. He didn't just pay it lip service. While aspects of his character diluted his effectiveness and perspective, he believed all the way through that the revolution would spread and that Capitalism would spread.
     
  10. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    Good question.

    Stalin told Churchill that the Molotov Ribbentrop pact was to buy time while Soviet forces were rebuilt after the Finnish Disaster.

    As said, Stalin was a master of cold cruel calculation and he knew Hitler would invade one day. But the pact gave Hitler his oil and gave Stalin what he wanted which was machine tools and access to the latest German weapons.

    Odd think was that if he decided to fight with France and UK over Poland then he would have scared Hitler off and WW2 may have been very different.
    Possible military revolt because even Keitel would seen a war as suicide against such huge powers.

    But he saw the western powers give up Prague without a whimper and he though the west was a waste of time and so he decided to deal with Hitler while the going was good.

    In my view, Stalin blundered in 1939 but since it turned out alright for Joe and he never lost sleep over millions of deaths then he could say he had the final say.
     
  11. Negative Creep

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    Right, I've come to the conclusion that the USSR had only a limited role in the outbreak of war. After writing 2500 words I'm feeling rather lazy so I'll just paste my conclusion

    It has been argued that Stalin’s reluctance to take sides increased the instability in Europe and thus made war more likely. As with 1914, it was a complex series of alliances between the European states that resulted in a total, as opposed to regional, war. It would be wrong to lay the blame solely at the feet of one country or leader. The policy of appeasement has been much criticised, as has the West’s lack of action during the so called ‘phoney war’. In reality, all powers were rushing to mobilise and rearm, so were simply not ready for an all out war. Throughout this period the Soviet Union remained largely distant from European politics and thus can only shoulder a limited amount of responsibility. Whilst it seems all but certain that two diametrically opposed regimes as Germany and the Soviet Union would end up at war, when and under what circumstances would not have been known in 1939. Hitler had always intended an invasion and it is almost certain that Stalin knew of this. Both leaders had presumed Britain would sue for peace when faced with invasion and Stalin in turn assumed Hitler would never start a war on two fronts.

    By agreeing a peace with Japan, the Soviet Union both let herself concentrate on the West and Japan focus on planning her own war with Britain and America. Since the War only became global in 1941, in that respect the USSR can be said to have significantly contributed to the outbreak of world war. With regards to 1939, the role is less significant. Although the main aggression came from Germany, the territorial ambitions of Italy must also be factored in. It seems likely that Hitler would have invaded Poland even if the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact had not been signed. The Russian people had no love for the Poles and would not have provided military assistance. The possibility of any pre-emptive strike on Germany seems disproved by the Red Army’s lack of readiness in 1941. For these reasons, the Soviet Union can be said to have had a limited contribution to the outbreak of World War 2

    Opinions?
     
  12. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    I would say that Stalin was not a Marxist - nor was Lenin. At no stage did either leader hand control of the means of production over to the workers - this is the key tenet of Marxism. Indeed, much of 20th century Communism is far removed from Marxist theory, and like capitalism, it tends to take different forms in different countries.
     
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