Node your homework they say. This is especially true when it can be submitted to a Quest.
In 1939, Germany and the USSR signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Later, in 1941, the two states broke their alliance in the Nazi invasion known as Operation Barbarossa. This writeup attempts to analyze the USSR's reasons for its initial alliance with Germany, and its later break. Most interesting is that the Soviet Union attempted to form an alliance against Germany before the start of WWII. The two countries were in a shaky alliance at best.
Initially, the Soviet Union held good relations with Germany. Both were isolated after World War I for different reasons. The "war guilt" clause of the Treaty of Versailles placed the blame for the war squarely on Germany, and other sections of the treaty forced it to pay heavy reparations to the victors. The USSR had undergone a revolution in the midst of the war, and in the process had reneged on treaty commitments to Great Britain and France, and had confiscated British and French assets in Russia as well. The end result was that both countries were isolated, and so joined together out of mutual interest. This friendly relationship manifested itself most notably in 1922 in the German—Soviet Treaty of Rapallo. With this treaty in place, a policy was established in which Germany helped train the Soviet army in return for the ability to carry out military soil experiments in the USSR. Another provision allowed the Germans to train their air force, the Luftwaffe, in the Soviet Union.
This relationship continued unchanged through the 1920’s and into the 1930’s, during which some important changes occurred. Lenin’s illness and subsequent death in 1924 allowed the rise of Stalin to power. In 1931 Stalin made his famous speech and began the process of industrialization.
One feature of the history of old Russia was the continual beatings she suffered for falling behind, for her backwardness…She was beaten because to do so was profitable and could be done with impunity…That is why we must no longer lag behind. 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 they crush us. (Barber and Harrison, 1991: 3-4)
With this in mind, Stalin instituted his several Five-Year Plans, in which the leadership would place extraordinarily high goals for industrialization. Factories were forced to raise output regardless of cost or quality. Those that failed to meet demands were purged as "saboteurs." Industrialization moved in fits and spurts. Quick improvements led to periods of stagnation, as resources ran out and experts were killed off. Eventually, industrialization would continue as the government would cut back on its goals and focus resources on those plans closest to completion, and remove funding from those that were most expensive. Much of this industrialization was focused on the military, since Stalin constantly feared invasion, and so took away resources from other areas, especially the quality of life of Soviet citizens. This resulted in a Soviet Union with a severely weakened economy despite all of its growth.
Meanwhile, the stock market crash of 1929 led first America and later all of Europe as well into the Great Depression. This increased pressure on Germany’s economy, which in turn increased unrest in its citizenry, and ultimately led to the election of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany in 1933.
This change in both the Soviet Union and Germany led to uncertainty about their relationship under Rapallo, but all remained as normal temporarily. "In 1938 and 1939, the Soviet Union fought two small and undeclared border wars with Japan," (Barber and Harrison, 1991: 13) at Lake Khasan and at Khalkin-Gol. With this in mind, the USSR believed Japan to be a far more likely aggressor than Germany, and so strongly desired to maintain the status quo in the hopes that it could have Germany as an ally in case of an attack.
Eventually, however, fear of Hitler and his policies led the USSR to pursue anti-German policies. Hitler was a fascist, and as such was leader of a government that was the polar opposite of the Soviet Union. Public opinion in the USSR stated that "Britain and France would rather unite with Hitler and sacrifice Czechoslovakia than allow Russian troops to march into Europe." (Basseches, 1952: 327) Foreign Communist Parties were ordered to form "popular fronts" composed of all types of liberals, including socialists and moderates, to fight against fascism. The Anti-Comintern Pact, signed in 1936 by Germany, Italy, and Japan, stated that all were dedicated to fighting communism, and specifically, would take an attack by the Soviet Union on any one of the three states as an attack on all. Soviet leaders took this as an ominous warning, and looked urgently for an ally, now looking upon a war as unavoidable. Public opinion, based strongly on Bolshevik communism, considered violence as the inevitable conclusion to capitalist competition for resources and markets. (Deutscher, 1967: 410)
Other states, however, did not respond to the Soviet Union’s requests for alliances against Germany. France had constructed its Maginot Line, a series of fortified trenches for defense, in 1930 along its border with Germany, and so felt relatively safe. Great Britain, due to the Great Depression, could not afford to spend its resources on a war, and so pursued a policy of appeasement of Hitler rather than joining an alliance against him. Germany annexed Austria in 1938 without any international condemnation. Hitler then seized Czechoslovakia in 1939. The USSR was willing to come to its aid, but France refused to get involved, and Great Britain actually facilitated the takeover in the Munich Conference.
Faced with such indifference, the Soviet Union had no choice but to temporarily collaborate with Germany. Indeed, Stalin believed that such signs of weakness as were exhibited by Great Britain and France made alliances with them seem not only useless but possibly dangerous. (Basseches, 1952: 327) In 1939, approximately five months after the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, the foreign ministers of Germany and the USSR signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. This document essentially said that both states would attempt to settle differences through negotiation, instead of war, and that each would remain neutral in case the other became involved in a conflict with any other country. More important, though, were secret protocols within the document that gave Germany the right to take western Poland without Soviet interference, while in return Germany allowed the USSR to take eastern Poland, as well as Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bessarabia. Thus both states were assured that they would not have to fight a two-front war, while the Soviet Union obtained eastern Poland and gained time to prepare its troops for the imminent war. Slightly a week after this agreement was reached, Germany attacked Poland. Britain and France finally declared war, and World War II officially began.
The conquest of eastern Poland served several purposes simultaneously to the Soviet Union. First, it served as a buffer zone of defense between the USSR and Germany. Any attack by Hitler would have to go through Poland before it could reach the Soviet Union. Second, the Soviet Union gained valuable resources to help restore its economy after the havoc of industrialization. The Soviets gained possession of the valuable Carpathian oil region, and appropriated Polish property on a wide scale, taking bank accounts, machinery, spare parts, food, as well as virtually everything else that was movable, all without compensation. (Sword, 1991: 81-93) Third, the Soviet Union was able to increase its military capabilities with the addition of naval bases in the Baltic states.
Germany had already won sweeping victories in Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France when it finally turned its sights on the Soviet Union in 1941. Despite all of the advantages the USSR gained with the annexation of eastern Poland, it was still woefully unprepared for Operation Barbarossa, when Germany finally began its attack. Germany began preparations for its invasion in secret, and stated the buildup of troops was for an invasion of Great Britain. Later, as the German army began moving eastward, it was explained as a "deception against the British, to lull them into a false sense of security." (Barber and Harrison, 1991: 24) As time passed, and it became clear that the troops were for a confrontation with the Soviet Union, they were still explained as defensive preparations against the possibility of Soviet aggression. Despite these German attempts at secrecy, the USSR still received several warnings of the coming attack. Soviet field agents, deserters from Germany, and even Roosevelt and Churchill warned Stalin, giving even the day of the possible attack. (Barber and Harrison, 1991: 24)
These conflicting reports were received by a Soviet Union that was loath to enter the war. Its economy was in a depression and its military was in a shambles. Most of the millions of Soviet soldiers were poorly trained. Nearly all of the weapons they used were manufactured in the first Five Year plan, meaning that they were both outdated and of shoddy quality. Finally, most of the army’s commanders were killed in the Great Purge of 1937-8. "Those who had advocated a flexible response to external aggression, including the inevitability of giving ground to the invader and the need to plan for defence in the interior of the country, had been accused of conspiring with Nazi leaders to hand over territory, and executed or imprisoned." (Barber and Harrison, 1991: 18)
Under these circumstances, those reports that suggested that Germany did not intend war were favored over those predicting an attack. Stalin believed that warnings from Great Britain and the US were merely ruses to get the USSR involved in war, and his views were dominant in foreign policy. Any that might have disagreed with him were already killed off in the purges of the military. Thus, when Germany finally attacked, the Soviet Union was heavily damaged. Stalin’s policy of fighting over every inch of land resulted in huge casualties. Then, instead of changing his tactics, Stalin blamed the commanders at the front, dubbing them cowards and traitors, and having many executed.
Soviet society itself was hit hard. Not only were resources being sent to the military instead of the common population, but resources were being lost and destroyed as the Germans continually gained ground in Soviet territory. Supplies of food were especially hard hit, and the Soviet government began a ration system that still did not give enough food to the populace. Citizens were encouraged to find "local resources" since the national government could not help them. Approximately a million people died in Leningrad alone of hunger and hunger-related causes. (Barber and Harrison, 1991: 87)
After this initial catastrophe, the USSR was glad to accept the help of Great Britain and the US (who had entered the war in December of 1941 with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor), despite their ideological conflicts. Although this assistance was mainly symbolic at first, the Allies eventually gave the Soviet Union significant military aid. As Germany moved forward, the Soviets began to fight harder. The Polish people were indifferent as to the progression of the war, and so did little to help the Red Army as it was continually pushed back. Once the Soviets hit their own territory, however, Soviet citizens banded together to help them, building defenses and even occasionally fighting hand to hand. In the factories, motivated workers formed the "two-hundreders," a group that attempted to increase its daily production by two hundred percent. "Three-hundreders" and even "thousanders" soon followed. (Barber and Harrison, 1991: 174) All of this, combined with the decision to change its own failing military tactics, allowed the USSR to eventually push Germany back, ultimately leading to the end of World War II with the Allies as the victors.
Thus the Soviet Union began as Germany’s ally, only to become its enemy, to later reverse itself in favor of a temporary alliance, and finally to end in war.
John Barber and Mark Harrison, The Soviet Home Front 1941-1945. Longman Inc., New York, 1991.
Nikolaus Basseches, Stalin. Staples Press, Great Britain, 1952.
Isaac Deutscher, Stalin, A Political Biography. Oxford University Press, Great Britain, 1967.
T. H. Rigby, Stalin, Great Lives Observed. Prentice Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1966.
James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of World War II. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1980.
Keith Sword, The Soviet Takeover of the Polish Eastern Provinces, 1939-41. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1991.