Max Shachtman

Stalin Offers an Olive Branch to Hitler in
Apologizing for the ‘Fascist War-Mongers’

(17 March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 16, 17 March 1939, pp. 1 &3.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Marked up by A. Forse for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The text of Stalin’s report to the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is as yet available only in abridged form and there has not, at this writing, been enough time to give the report the detailed and thoroughgoing analysis it merits.

Even the condensed version, however, is important and clear enough for a number of preliminary observations, both with reference to what it omits as well as to what it contains.

  1. On the eve of one of the most catastrophic defeats ever suffered by the policy of the Communist International – which is another way of saying the Political Bureau of the Russian Communist Party – or, for that matter, ever suffered by the working class in Europe, namely, the collapse of the People’s Front in Spain, Stalin delivers a report to a Party Congress without so much as a word about the Spanish defeat. So far as his speech is concerned, the Spanish civil war never existed.
  2. Moreover, the policy and movement of the People’s Front in general, Stalin’s main contribution to the labor movement in recent years, goes entirely unmentioned. Its existence and the course it has followed is simply not referred to, much, less reviewed and analyzed, so far as a close examination of the rather extensive report summary in the Daily Worker reveals.

    There are some things it is better to be silent about!
  3. About the work of the sister parties – remember, he is speaking, after all, to the Russian section of the Comintern – not one word. About the Jewish refugees from fascist barbarism and the Soviet attitude towards them, not one word. About the collapse of his whole foreign policy, not one word. About the physical extermination of the entire Old Guard of the Bolshevik party, of hundreds of leading officials of the government, the party, the army and navy, the police ... passing reference, as to a trifle.
  4. At least as significant as the omission of reference to his past foreign policy, is the series of statements concerning the present foreign policy. It would be more accurate to say that Stalin did not state a new foreign policy, except in such tentative and cloudy form as to enable him to make another “strategic retreat” to the old one. But even in its tentative form, it is already a complete condemnation of the policy that has hitherto been considered sacred and inviolate in all official Stalinist circles.
  5. The “democratic front” on which all Stalinist foreign policy hinged – the “united front of the democracies against the fascist aggressors and war-mongers – Stalin has dropped overboard without a splash. In its place, is something so “new” that it must have had a stunning effect upon the Stalinist parrots all over the world.

Stalin holds out the olive branch to the fascist powers, to Germany primarily. The thunderous denunciations of fascism which, up to now, have filled the pages of the Stalinist press, give way in Stalin’s report to an extremely soft and restrained comment on the activities of the Axis powers. But his change in front is far more drastic than that. In actuality, he offers an apology for them and their activities.

For the first time in years, we hear from the lips of a Stalinist a very careful explanation of the reason for the “fascist aggression.”

It is all due, we now learn (rather, the Stalinists are instructed to learn) to purely imperialist rivalries between the “democracies” and the Axis powers. These rivalries, we are further enlightened, go back to the unequal distribution of the loot taken in the last World War (in the case of Italy and Japan) and to the iniquitous Treaty of Versailles which was imposed upon Germany. “Germany, which suffered severely as a result of the first Imperialist war and the Versailles Peace, joined with Japan and Italy and demanded extension of her territory in Europe and the return of the colonies which were taken from her by the victors in the first imperialist war,” Stalin says now.

Democracies Are Now the Aggressors

In other words, the conflicts of the powers have not been based upon the noble idealism of the “democrats” on the one side and the “aggressors” on the other, but upon such classic imperialist considerations as “a new redivision of the world.” But was not this idea the sheerest “Trotskyist-Fascist” heresy up to yesterday?

But Stalin goes still further. The real aggressors, the real warmongers, he points out very elaborately, are actually not such powers as Germany, but rather ... the Democracies! Unbelievable, yet true.

How? Very simply. Nobody in Russia is thinking of a war with Germany, it goes without saying. But what’s more important, nobody in Germany except for a few lunatics, is thinking of war against the Soviet Union. All the talk about Hitler seeking to conquer and annex the Ukraine is so much nonsense. Who invented this myth? THE DEMOCRACIES! So says Stalin.

It was the “democrats” who, according; to Stalin, began “urging the Germans to march further East, promising them easy pickings and prompting them on: ‘Just you start a war against the Bolsheviks and then everything will proceed fine.’ It must be admitted that this too looks very much like egging on, like encouraging the aggressor”.

Warns of Bargain with Germany

If Stalin means to say anything by this, it can only be that it is the “democracies” who are trying to drive the fascist powers into a war! To make this point even clearer and more emphatic, Stalin points out that the “democracies,” the supporters of the “non-intervention” policy, have as their aim

“not to prevent, say, Germany from becoming entangled into European affairs, from becoming involved in war which the Soviet Union; [but rather] to allow all the belligerents to sink deeper into the mire of war, to encourage them stealthily to follow this line, to allow them to weaken and exhaust one another, and then, when they have become sufficiently weakened, to appear on the scene with fresh forces, to come out, of course, in the interests of peace and to dictate their terms to the weakened belligerent nations.

Stalin is saying to the “Democracies”: Don’t think that I intend to pull your chestnuts out of the fire. If you do not string along with me, I can always make a bargain with your rival, Germany.

To Hitler, he says: I am by no means wedded to London, Paris and Washington. There is no reason why we should go to war against each other until we are both worn out and the “democracies” come in and squeeze us both out of the picture. Instead of allowing yourself to be egged on against the Soviet Union, let us get together, so that you can turn your attention to retrieving the colonies “which were taken from her (Germany) by the victors in the first imperialist war.”

To his League of Nations allies of yesterday, Stalin offers the threat of a new turn in foreign policy. To Hitler, Stalin offers a hand at least half-way outstretched.

Which, boiled down to essentials, means that Stalin has turned over the initiative for the next step in world politics to – Hitler!

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 29 November 2015