Image of Hammer and Sickle

New Communist Party of Britain

Stalin: world statesman
by Alfred Browne

This is the third part of an appraisal of the life of Joseph Stalin on the 50th anniversary of his death

by Alfred  Browne

THE PREVIOUS article on the "crimes" of Stalin dealt with events at home.

For a world statesman, world events, foreign policy, are of equal concern.

One of Stalin's first acts after the revolution was to sign, with Lenin, the annulment of two treaties with Britain: one of 1907 on the partition of Persia; the other of 1915 on the partition of Turkey and the Ottoman empire (Turkey then being a co-belligerent of Germany).

 As it is a century later, the land mass between the eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean was then a matter of prime concern to imperialist powers.


Another of his early actions as commissar for nationalities, a matter of days after the Bolshevik revolution, was to give Finland independence from the old Tsarist empire as the bourgeois parties, which had taken control there, requested. Despite cries of "sell-out" from some, it was in accordance with Bolshevik policy.

 In the 1920s, after the defeat of foreign intervention, little of note happened in foreign affairs. Fascism was in its infancy. All was to change in the 1930s.

 Before the First World War there had been an entente, an understanding between Britain, France and Russia on the common menace, to them, of Germany, an upstart threat to old empires.

 It was natural for many, in and out of government, to see the need for a new entente in face of a renewed threat, ever more menacing, as Hitler's power and demands grew.


Stalin stepped cautiously at first. A year or so after Hitler came to power Moscow proposed to Berlin a joint guarantee of the frontiers and independence of the small Baltic states: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia - a northern corridor for an invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler rejected it.

Later in 1934 the USSR joined the League of Nations. An attempt to get a pledge of non-aggression and mutual assistance covering all countries of eastern Europe, Germany and the Soviet Union, which was supported by France, foundered on opposition from Poland as well as Germany.

In 1935 the target moved from an east Europe defence system to alliance with the West. Britain's future Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, then a junior minister, was greeted cordially in Moscow but to no definite result. 

Soon after visits to Moscow by two more statesmen - Laval from France and Benes from Czechoslovakia - brought tangible results, alliances with both countries.

 A Popular Front between social democratic and communist parties became Comintern policy.

Still the menace grew. Hitler, at the Nuremberg rally of September 1936, claimed the Ukraine and other large areas of the USSR as part of Germany's Lebensraum. Later that year the Axis powers: Italy, Germany and Japan announced their anti-Comintern pact. There were continuing border clashes with Japanese troops.

 Then came the fascist uprising in Spain, backed by Hitler and Mussolini.

Stalin decided to intervene also, on behalf of the democratic government, urging France to do the same. She refused. So did Britain.

 The opportunity to face down the aggressors - for the rearming of the German Wehrmacht - had passed as it had done in Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland. So had the opportunity for Britain and France to make a firm military commitment against Hitler, with or without Russia.

  Then came 1938: Czechoslovakia and Munich. Britain snubbed the Soviet Union. The Soviet foreign secretary, Litvinov, was instructed by Stalin to tell the Czechs that the USSR was ready to go to war in their defence if the French carried out their obligation.

 France however tore up her treaties with Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, which were linked. - a breach of faith by France.

 Even so Stalin persevered in the hope of an anti-Nazi front. Asked by Britain in 1939, on the Nazi occupation of Prague, what would be the Soviet attitude to aggression against Rumania, Moscow proposed a conference of Britain, France, Rumania, Poland, Turkey and the USSR.


Chamberlain refused even to consider it. Churchill asked Chamberlain: "If you are ready to be an ally of Russia in time of war, why shrink from it now when you might prevent war?"

 It was only then that Stalin, whose first duty of course was to his own country, made a speech in which, while emphasising the need to resist aggressors, he referred to improving relations with his neighbours.

In April, in response to a British request for the Soviet Union to give a one-sided guarantee to Poland and Rumania - "the bear to leave its lair when told, dance when told, go back when told"-he proposed a military convention between Britain, France and Soviet Union, guaranteeing all countries between the Baltic and the Black Sea against aggression.

Chamberlain refused to consider it.


There followed a summer of shilly-shallying by Chamberlain - long drawn-out talks in Moscow with British political and military missions.

 The political mission was headed by a junior foreign office official, the military one led not be the Chief of the Imperial General Staff but by a retired admiral. Neither, it turned out, had any real powers and both travelled by the slowest possible means to Moscow.


The Germans, reading more than the British into Stalin's speech, first started trade talks and then mooted the possibility of a non-aggression pact. Only when the summer had passed without any sign of agreement with Britain and France did Stalin agree to consider it.

 No doubt Stalin, like those in London and Paris, expected stronger Polish resistance to Germany. The country, despite its own imperial history, was one of those re-created from defeated powers after World War One.

 Its eastern boundary moved in and out of the Soviet Union during the war of intervention, in which Poland was helped by the French. At one time it included Kiev.

 When stabilised by the Treaty of Riga, it still included large parts of the Ukraine and Byelo-russia.

 Hitler offered Stalin all east Poland up to the River Vistula and Warsaw.

When the Poles collapsed, not before, Soviet troops moved only to the River Bug, only into those annexed lands.

 Finland, before the revolution, had been a duchy of the Tsarist Empire.

After independence its border was across the Karelian Isthmus, a neck of land between Lake Ladoga and the Baltic, only a few miles from Leningrad.


After the collapse of a government friendly to the Soviet Union, this was heavily fortified by Finland's military dictator General Mannerheim, from 1931.

 With war a reality, this was a menace to Leningrad. The Soviet Union offered to exchange large tracts of more valuable land for this threat to its second city. Mannerheim refused to negotiate. The threat could not be ignored.

 The winter war that followed was inconclusive at first and both Britain and France - who had not lifted a finger to help Poland - made ostentatious moved to intervene on behalf of "poor little Finland".

 Stalin's direct intervention brought a quick end to the war with the cession of the Karelian Isthmus but on terms that were no onerous otherwise.

 Mannerheim was quick to strengthen his links with Germany and German troops were already installed in Finland in force before Hitler's assault on the Soviet Union.

 Many Finns though were unwilling to attack the Soviet Union. The Finnish war effort fizzled out with the German defeats after Stalingrad. In its retreat from Finland the German army did great damage to the country. In contrast the Finnish prosperity of today was built on post-war trade with the Soviet Union.

 So much for the start of the Second War. What of the Cold War?

 In retrospect some might say it had its origins in the autumn of 1944 when the allies seemed to be united in the final thrust to victory. Against the basic principles of an alliance, British premier, Churchill with, at least, American understanding, entered into talks with the German commander in Italy, Kesselring, for a separate ceasefire.

 One can only surmise if there was a deliberate intention to go behind his ally's back. However it turned out that among those Soviet spies we were later to hear so much about was a Russian who had worked his way into German army intelligence, the Abwehr, and had become involved in those talks.


There came a questioning telegram from Stalin to Churchill. Churchill made an abject apology, which Stalin accepted.

 Not long after, fearful of disaster in the Ardennes and with the possibility of another Dunkirk facing the Anglo-American forces, Churchill appealed to Stalin to bring forward his next offensive to relieve the pressure.

 The Soviet leader did so, not just a generous gesture but a remarkable organisational achievement.

 With the coming end of the war in Europe, Churchill's anti-Bolshevism took full sway. He instructed a group of generals to prepare a pre-emptive strike against the Red Army through that northern corridor, the Baltic States, with the support of the Royal Navy.

 He kept it from his own Chief of Staff, Alan Brooke, but Brooke got to hear. He pointed out to his boss that the Japanese had sunk two battleships he had sent, unprotected to Malayan waters with just a dozen or two planes.

 The Red Army had 7,000 much superior attack bombers. The navy would end up as iron coffins on the seabed.


The plan was scrubbed. It took 50 years for it to become public knowledge.

When it did it had little effect on British public opinion, which still voted Churchill "greatest Englishman". The French once called us "Perfidious Albion".  One part of that episode did come out a decade after the war. Churchill had instructed Bernard Montgomery, the British Commander-in-Chief, not to disarm surrendering German troops. They might be wanted for that new war.

When it leaked out Montgomery was summoned to London.

 A friend of mine was on a television crew when he arrived at Heathrow and stood smartly to attention. Montgomery went to him and said: "I've been called to London for a bollocking . it's all true, the telegram's in my desk."

 Then came the Potsdam conference of allied leaders. Roosevelt, now dead, had been succeeded by his vice-president, Truman, best known for having said in 1942 that the United States should support both Germany and the USSR in turn to ensure the collapse of both.

 At Potsdam Churchill learnt he might have lost the support of his troops as well as his Chief of Imperial General Staff for his Baltic venture. He arrived thinking he had won the general election of that year, the civilian vote putting him just ahead. Army votes, however, still being counted, kicked him out of office.

 Stalin took musicians to Potsdam to entertain his fellow leaders. Soviet entry into the war against Japan, eagerly sought at earlier meetings, was no longer wanted - the Soviet Union should have no part in its settlement.


Stalin however went ahead. His troops destroyed the main Japanese army in ten days and the peace settlement returned to the Soviet Union territory it had lost in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905.

The two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing scores of thousands and inflicting slow death on thousands more, were, in the event, unnecessary. Were they dropped to overawe the Soviets?"

 Truman then made it clear that the Soviet Union could expect no material help for its war-damaged economy, as had been promised by its allies. It had of course suffered far more than they had.

 In March 1946 Truman was on the platform at Fulton in the United States, when ex-premier Churchill made a speech of hostility to the Soviet Union, effectively splitting the world into two camps.


Faced with this reality Stalin set about the task of seeing the USSR lifting itself by its own bootstraps, in another unprecedentedly successful five-year plan. A million homes a year were built, Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and other towns were rebuilt while rosebay willow herb bloomed on London bomb sites.

 Industrial production rapidly overtook pre-war figures, approaching in some cases equalling, the US. For the population social services were free, rents and fares unbelievable low. Stalin proposed making bread free but was dissuaded when told it would be fed to pigs.


Then, against all American calculations, the first Soviet atom bomb was exploded, more powerful than the American prototypes, followed by the first deliverable H-bomb.

 Then came better means of delivery and the rockets that launched the first Sputniks. There were now two super-powers but an era of peace between them, despite Fulton, Churchill and Truman, the MAD era of Mutual Assured Destruction.

 The world has much for which to thank Stalin, Man of Unparalleled Success.

What a tragedy there has been no one to succeed him.

New Worker - 4th april 2003