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RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY The revolutionary period: 1917-21 When the Bolsheviks came to power, they largely ignored foreign policy, believing that revolutions would soon sweep Europe. This would eliminate the old diplomacy and create a new order based on comradely relations between socialist nations. As such, the main foreign policy initiative of this period was the establishment of the Communist International (the Comintern), to foster revolution worldwide. Parties affiliated with the Comintern were ordered not to cooperate with their socialist counterparts, even though they shared many policies in common with them. The defeat of the communist revolutions in Germany and Hungary in 1918 put paid to the idea that revolutions would occur around the world. Even so, the Bolsheviks were preoccupied with fighting the Civil War, and had little time to devote to foreign policy beyond their own borders. The ‘united front’: 1921-29 The end of the Civil War gave the Bolsheviks some breathing space. They now realised that they would have to improve their relations with the capitalist nations, in order to keep the peace and to foster trade and investment. This was not so easy, since Western governments were reluctant to recognise the USSR. Britain objected to the anti-colonial propaganda of the Comintern; the US was gripped with a red scare during the 1920s; and France was still smarting over the repudiation of its pre-war loans. To mollify international opinion and to bring Comintern policy into line with the new policy of moderation in Russia (the NEP), the Bolsheviks ordered all communist parties around the world to end their hostility to the socialist parties in their respective countries. The hope was that if the political left united, this might allow the socialists to come to power, thereby increasing the likelihood of cooperation with the USSR. For this reason, the policy was known as the ‘united front’ – a unity of all working class parties. The nation Russia first turned to for help was Germany, which was also suffering diplomatic isolation. A trade agreement was signed in 1921, and soon after, the two nations began cooperating militarily. Russia allowed the Germans to build munitions factories and to train their army on Russian soil; Germany provided the Red Army with training and technical assistance. In 1922, the two nations signed the Treaty of Rapallo, which re-established diplomatic relations between them. Finally, in 1926, they signed the Treaty of Berlin, under which each promised to remain neutral in the event of an attack on the other by a third power. Relations between Russia and Britain were poor throughout the 1920s. Although the two nations signed a trade agreement in 1921, diplomatic recognition did not follow. The Conservatives made use of a forged document from the Comintern to British trade union leaders (the so-called ‘Zinoviev Letter’ to discredit the Labor Party, which was planning a new trade agreement with Russia. The Comintern then made matters worse, by encouraging British workers to join the 1926 General Strike. Public opinion turned against Russia, and the Conservative government terminated all relations with the USSR. (Diplomatic relations would not be re-established until 1930, following the election of the Labor Party to government.) By the late 1920s, relations with Germany had also soured. Germany was concerned about the activities of the Comintern, and both nations began to look elsewhere for allies. But the biggest foreign policy disaster occurred in China. In the mid 1920s, Stalin recommended that Russia provide aid to Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist forces rather than the Communists, since he believed Chiang had the best chance of success (and he hoped to acquire influence in a future Nationalist government). Trotsky had opposed this, but lost the debate. When the aid was delivered, Trotsky’s objections proved valid. Once the Nationalists had established control, they turned on the Communists and almost wiped them out. Russia lost all its influence in China. The ‘war’ against the social democrats: 1929-34 By 1929, Stalin realised that the ‘united front’ policy had failed to end Russia’s diplomatic isolation. He also believed that the Great Depression would spark a new wave of revolutions in the West. As such, he decided to bring the Comintern into line with the radical policies he was embracing in Russia (collectivisation and central planning). Communist parties were now ordered to end all cooperation with other leftist groups (branding them as ‘social traitors’). In 1929, Stalin ordered the German Communist Party (the KPD) to direct its opposition to the socialists (the SPD) rather than the Nazis. This proved disastrous, since it split the leftist vote and allowed the Nazis to become the largest party in Germany. As the economic and political crisis deepened, President Hindenburg turned to Hitler as the only hope of preventing another communist insurrection. The Nazi leader was appointed chancellor in January 1933, and within three months had effectively eliminated all political opposition. The Communist Party was banned and its leaders sent to concentration camps. All military cooperation with Russia was ended. The ‘Popular Front’ against Fascism: 1935-38 Stalin now realised his mistake, and immediately began seeking better relations with the western nations, in the hope of ending Russia’s diplomatic isolation. The United States obliged, and in 1933 recognised Russia for the first time since the Revolution. Then, in 1934, Russia joined the League of Nations (which it had previously branded a ‘capitalists’ club’). By so doing, Stalin hoped the USSR could call on the organisation for help in the event of a German invasion (since the League was based on the notion of collective security). Finally, he signed treaties of alliance with France and Czechoslovakia in 1935. That same year, Stalin ordered the various member parties of the Comintern to form a ‘Popular Front’ with all anti-fascist groups in Europe. His aim was to bolster support within the Western nations for an alliance with Russia against Germany. The Spanish Civil War In 1936, following the election of a left-wing government in Spain, elements of the Spanish army under the control of General Francisco Franco revolted and attempted to seize power. An amalgam of left wing and centrist forces (Stalinists, Trotskyists, anarchists, socialists and liberals) rallied behind the government to prevent the coup from succeeding, but they could not defeat the fascist forces. A civil war ensued. At first, Stalin hoped France would help the republican government, since it was very difficult for Russia to supply aid to Spain without French cooperation. However, the Popular Front government in France was crippled politically, and chose not to take sides. Britain was also reluctant to get involved. Stalin too had good reason to keep out of the war, since he wanted to keep Britain and France on side and avoid the impression that Russia was exporting revolution. He feared that if the fascists won, they might be sufficiently emboldened to stage a coup in France. However, he also feared that if the Republic won, France might be driven into an alliance with Hitler, as a bulwark against a communist-aligned Spain. Although he delayed his decision for as long as possible, in the end it was difficult for him to justify not helping the Spanish left in its fight against fascism. He also found it useful to help the democratic forces in Spain as a means of countering the bad publicity the purges were generating among leftists in the West. (He feared that Trotsky’s views might be taken more seriously.) Russian aid to the Republican government was considerably less than German and Italian aid to the fascists, and this helped the latter get the upper hand in the war. Stalin soon found it convenient to prolong the conflict rather than win it, since this would keep Hitler preoccupied with that part of the world. After the Munich Agreement in 1938 (ceding parts of Czechoslovakia to Germany), Stalin decided there was no prospect of forming an alliance with Britain and France, and that his best bet was a non-aggression pact with Germany. He reduced aid to Spain to almost nothing. Of course, Hitler never reduced the level of his aid to Franco and, as a result, the fascists won the Spanish Civil War in 1939. The Nazi-Soviet Pact In 1936, Germany and Japan signed the anti-Comintern Pact, leaving Russia to face the prospect of a war on two fronts. (In fact, Russia was already at war with Japan, although this was at a very low level.) Stalin’s fears were raised when France allowed Germany to reoccupy the Rhineland in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles. When Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, and began making demands on Czechoslovakia, Stalin tried to get France to make a stand – enforcing Russia’s 1935 treaty to defend Czechoslovakia. However, France was not willing to contemplate a war with Germany. Some in the French government hoped Hitler might turn his attention east rather than west; others doubted the Red Army was in a position to fight Germany, following the purges; still others felt it was not worth going to war over such a small, distant country. At the Munich Conference in 1938, France and Britain gave Hitler what he wanted – control of the border regions of Czechoslovakia. As historian J.N. Westwood has put it: “Thus the Munich agreement of 1938 was not only a betrayal of Czechoslovakia, but in a sense of Russia too. Probably it was at this time that Stalin began to visualise his own Munich, a bargain with Germany. He still preferred an alliance with Britain and France but these two powers, though less uncongenial, seemed unenthusiastic and unreliable. He probably did not expect the western powers to fulfil Britain’s guarantee of the Polish frontiers in the event of a German attack.” (Westwood: page 331) The first hint of Stalin’s intentions came in April 1939, when he replaced the pro-western Litvinov with Molotov as foreign minister. The Germans responded by offering Russia large tracts of land in Eastern Europe in return for Russian neutrality in their coming war with Poland. For Stalin, this was an attractive proposition since it gave him breathing space to build up his forces and recover from the purge of the Red Army. It also gave him a buffer zone against future German aggression. When Britain and France were unable to make an acceptable counter-offer, Stalin decided they were not serious about an alliance. In August 1939, he accepted the German offer and signed a ten-year Non-Aggression Pact. The Pact contained a secret protocol which divided Poland into Russian and German sectors and ceded Finland, Estonia and Bessarabia to Russia. This so-called ‘Nazi-Soviet Pact’ took the communist parties of Europe by surprise, and their credibility was badly damaged when they agreed to support it. The partition of Poland and the start of World War Two On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Two and a half weeks later – once the Polish army had been defeated – the Red Army did likewise. Germany and Russia formally agreed to partition Poland and eliminate it as a nation. Stalin then moved to occupy the Baltic states. He subsequently invaded Finland, after the Finnish government refused to accede to his demands for territorial gain. However, the Red Army was defeated in the opening months of campaigning and only managed to defeat the Fins after their reserves were exhausted. Russia annexed some Finnish territory, but succeeded only in losing prestige in the west and military credibility in Germany. Hitler became convinced that the Red Army was useless. He also gained diplomatically, since Finland became a German ally and Russia was expelled from the League of Nations. By the end of 1940, he began preparing for his next campaign – the invasion of Russia. RUSSIAN FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC POLICY: 1917-41 For much of the period between 1917 and 1941, Russian foreign policy matched domestic policy. When the government was waging war against its enemies at home, it was uncompromising towards its enemies abroad; when it sought accommodation at home, it did the same abroad. Only in the mid 1930s did the link come unstuck, resulting in a catastrophic failure on Stalin’s part to protect Russia from external attack. The table below shows the connection between domestic and foreign policy in the period between the November Revolution and the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War. Years Domestic Policy Foreign Policy 1917-21 War Communism and Civil War; confrontation with the Bolsheviks’ internal foes; the Red Terror. 1921-29 NEP and a return to rural capitalism; a reduction in class conflict within Russia; a flowering of the arts; the industrialisation debate. 1929-34 Collectivisation and a return to class warfare; elimination of the kulaks as ‘class enemies’. Kirov’s murder and the first wave of purges. 1935-38 The Great Terror; the war against ‘class enemies’ and traitors reached its zenith. The Russian Army was ruthlessly purged of 90 percent of its officers. 1939-41 The purges ended; Stalin began preparing the nation for war against Germany. Confrontation with other nations; attempts of foster revolution in the rest of Europe. Establishment of the Communist International (Comintern), to coordinate the activities of communist parties around the world. When it became clear that revolutions were not going to occur in Western Europe, the Bolsheviks decided to make peace with their neighbours, particularly Germany. Communist parties were ordered to cooperate with their socialist counterparts, creating a ‘United Front’ on the left of politics. Stalin expected the Great Depression to spark revolutions in Western Europe, so ordered all communist parties to cease cooperation with their socialist counterparts. Russia’s relations with its neighbours deteriorated. The Nazis came to power in Germany, thanks to Stalin’s error. The Popular Front Against Fascism: Stalin tried to unite all anti-fascist groups, in opposition to Nazi Germany. Russia joined the League of Nations and signed treaties of alliance with France and Czechoslovakia. The Nazi-Soviet Pact: Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, in an attempt to buy time before Russia was attacked. He hoped Germany would attack France first.