In 1919 Lenin founded the Third International, known thereafter as the Comintern. It summoned communists all over the world to unite against the “bourgeois cannibals” of capitalism. Gregory Zinoviev was put in charge, and his chief assistants were mainly Russians.
Labor, socialist, and anarchist parties in Bulgaria, Norway, Italy, and Spain began to adhere to the new organization, although some idealists withdrew in disgust when it became clear that the Bolsheviks were establishing a dictatorship in Russia through their secret police and army. Yet the Comintern continued to operate side by side with the Soviet foreign office, and during the next few years often in apparent contradiction to it. This duality gave Soviet foreign policy a unique and at times unpredictable aspect.
Treaties were concluded between the Soviet Union and Poland, the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Germany, and Italy, exchanging trade for a promise not to interfere in the domestic affairs of these states. While binding on the Soviet foreign office, these agreements did not, in reality, affect the Comintern. In 1922 the Soviets were invited to an international economic conference at Genoa.
The British and French assumed that NEP meant a return to capitalism, and they worked out a scheme for investment in Russia. Not only did the Soviets reject this plan, but they signed the Treaty of Rapallo (April 1922) with defeated Germany, which provided for the renunciation of all claims for reparations and implied a German willingness to recognize Bolshevik nationalizations of industry. The other powers, especially France, were unwilling to grant such recognition because of the large investments they had in Russia before the revolution.
In 1923 at Lausanne Russia lost a dispute with Britain over international regulation of the Straits, and further friction with Britain arose over Afghanistan. But Britain recognized the Soviet regime in 1924. Many members of the Labour party, while aware of the bloodshed in Russia, had great admiration for the rapidity with which Lenin was modernizing Russian society. Later in 1924 the so-called “Zinoviev letter” was published in England, which purported to instruct the British Communist party in the techniques of revolution.
It was probably a forgery, but the Zinoviev letter influenced the British voters to turn MacDonald’s Labour party out of office and elect Baldwin’s Conservative government. In 1927 a raid on the offices of a Soviet firm doing business in London produced further evidence of communist agitation in England, and the British government broke relations with the Soviet Union altogether. The United States, meantime, had no diplomatic relations with the Soviet regime and did not recognize it until Roosevelt became president in 1933.
During 1918-1927 the Comintern compiled a record of failure. First, the Soviet Union failed to restrain the Italian left in 1921 and thus contributed to the success of Mussolini in the next year. Next, its failure in Bulgaria to collaborate with a liberal agrarian regime allowed a right-wing group to triumph in 1923. Most important, it failed in Germany, where a revolution actually threatened in 1923 as a result of French occupation of the Ruhr.
The Soviets also failed in Poland, where they helped Pilsudski gain dictatorial power in 1926, after which he turned against them. They failed in the Muslim and colonial world. But their greatest failure came in China, where in 1923 the Chinese nationalist revolutionary leader, Sun Yat-sen, agreed to take communist advice and received one of the Comintern’s best men, Michael Borodin (1884– 1953). Borodin helped Sun reorganize the Kuomintang and admit communists to it.
In March 1926, Sun having died, Chiang Kai-shek led a coup against the government and began to arrest communists. Stalin now fell back on a theory that the Bolsheviks had not espoused since Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917—that a bourgeois revolution must precede a socialist revolution, and that all the communists could do in China was to help Chiang achieve this first revolution. The eventual result was the massacre of Chinese communists by Chiang and a loss of prestige for the Soviet Union.
Stalin had apparently never really believed in the effectiveness of the Comintern as an instrument of world revolution. When he came to power he could not abandon it, however, because of the criticism he would have aroused and because he sought to dilute and eventually to eradicate the Trotskyite sentiments of some communists in other countries. He therefore applied to the Comintern the same techniques he had used against the party at home, and used the Soviet delegation to establish full control over it. The Comintern was thus influenced to denounce the enemies of Stalin: Trotsky and the left in 1924, Bukharin and the right in 1928. Thereafter, there was no divergence between the Comintern and the foreign office.
Stalin then directed the Comintern into a new period of militant revolutionary activity. The Social Democrats of Western countries were now denounced as “social fascists” and the most dangerous enemies of communism. Yet Stalin’s personal belief in the possibility of worldwide revolution seems always to have been slight. This lack of interest in the behavior of communists abroad led directly to the triumph of Hitler in Germany in 1933.
The communists in Germany, who had been instructed by the Comintern that the Social Democrats and not the Nazis were their worst enemies, fought the Nazis in the streets but allied themselves with them in the Reichstag. They believed that a Nazi triumph would very soon be followed by a communist revolution. Thus even after Hitler came to power, the Soviets renewed their nonaggression pact with Germany.
The shock of realization that Hitler had meant precisely what he said about liquidating communists and the fear that the Soviet Union itself might be in danger soon led Stalin to support collective security. After Hitler had refused to guarantee the Baltic states jointly with Stalin, the Soviet Union entered the League of Nations in September 1934. The Soviet delegate, Litvinov, became an eloquent defender of universal disarmament and of punishment for aggressors.
Soon afterward, the Soviets began to negotiate for an “eastern Locarno” security pact to balance the agreement reached by the western European nations. Although no such structure could be created because of Polish and German hostility to the USSR, the Soviet Union did sign pacts with France and Czechoslovakia in 1935 providing for consultation under the terms of the League and for mutual aid in the event of aggression. However, Soviet aid to Czechoslovakia, if the Czechs became victims of aggression, was to be delivered only if the French, who were bound to the Czechs by an alliance, honored their obligations first.
With the shift in Soviet foreign policy, the Cornintern also shifted its line. In 1935 the communists’ recent enemies, the Social Democrats and bourgeois liberals of the West, were embraced as allies against the fascist menace. Communists were to join popular fronts against fascism and might welcome anyone, no matter how conservative, who would stand with them on this principle. Revolutionary propaganda and anti-capitalist agitation were to be softened.
The Soviet Union and the western European bloc each assumed that the chief purpose of the other was to turn the full force of Hitler’s forthcoming attack away from itself and in the opposite direction. That Hitler intended to attack, few doubted. On September 12, 1936, he specifically declared:
If I had the Ural mountains with their incalculable store of treasures in raw materials, Siberia with its vast forests, and the Ukraine with its tremendous whea0elds, Germany under National Socialist leadership would swim in plenty.
There was, then, much reason for the West to hope that the attack would be directed against the Soviets; this Stalin was determined to avert.
Soviet intervention in the Spanish Civil War demonstrated Stalin’s real position. General Francisco Franco had obtained aid from Mussolini and Hitler. The Soviets, though reluctant to intervene in Spain because of their anxiety to prove their respectability to the Western powers, realized that a failure to help the Spanish republic would cost them support all over the world. But their aid was too little and too late. The Soviets hoped that the Western powers would also intervene, but Western neutrality
Still more important was the Western appeasement of Hitler, which reached its climax in the Munich agreement among Britain, France, Germany, and Italy in September 1938. From the Soviet point of view, Munich’s grant of Czech lands to Hitler and the French failure to support Czechoslovakia and thus make operative the RussoCzech alliance could have only one purpose—to drive Hitler east. Stalin was apparently ready to support the Czechs if the French did; when they did not, he apparently decided that he had better sound out Hitler for an understanding. Thus a truly effective alliance between Stalin and the West proved impossible between 1935 and 1939.
When the British and French realized that appeasement had failed to stop Hitler. they reluctantly sought a firmer alliance with the Soviets. From March to August 1939, Stalin kept open both his negotiations with the West and his slowly ripening negotiations with the Germans. The British and French mission, when it finally arrived in Moscow, was not composed of sufficiently high-ranking men to inspire Soviet confidence. Moreover, the Western powers would not agree to turn over to Stalin the territories that he wanted as a bulwark against Germany—Finland and the Baltic republics.
The growing eagerness of the Germans to secure a nonaggression pact gave Stalin his opportunity to divert war from the Soviet Union. In May 1939 Litvinov was dismissed as foreign minister because he was Jewish and therefore could not negotiate with the Germans; he was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov (1890-1986). In the pact that Molotov eventually reached with Hitler on August 23, 1939, each power undertook to remain neutral toward the other in the event of war. A secret additional protocol provided for a division between Germany and the Soviet Union of Poland, which Hitler was about to attack; this put the Soviet Union’s frontier farther west in the event of a subsequent German attack.
The publication of the Hitler-Stalin pact necessitated an abrupt shift in the world communist line. Now it was once more necessary for communists to denounce liberals and Social Democrats as enemies and to call the war that Hitler launched against Poland within a few days an “imperialist war,in which there was no difference between the two sides in which communists should not get involved. Thus Soviet foreign policy, especially under Stalin, was one major avenue in the road to the war that erupted in September 1939.