Foreign Policy

See Chapter 15: Soviet Security or Spreading Revolution?

Soviet Foreign Policy 1921-39

Commissars of Foreign Affairs

Commissars: Background and Experience Status in Party Attitude to Germany
Chicherin: Foreign Commissar 1918-1930 Employed buy tsarist foreign ministry; Extensive experience working abroad;Was in jail in Britain Ex-Menshevik; Not a Politburo member Favored close relations with Germany; Helped bring about the Treaty of Rapallo; Anti-British; Believed in peaceful co-existence with Capitalism
Litvinov: Deputy Commissar 1921-1930; 1941-1946 Spent a long time abroad, including 10 years in Britain; Talented negotiator; Very organized Ex-Menshevik; Not a Politburo member Suspicious of Germany; Grudgingly accepted Treaty of Papallo; Favored disarmament and signing the Kellogg Pact to outlaw war; Pro-British; Supported collective security against Fascism
Molotov: Foreign Commissar 1939-1949 Never exiled abroad; No direct foreign experience Bolshevik; Politburo member Favored improved relations with Germany; Helped cause the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939

Factors determining Soviet Foreign Policy during the inter-war years

  1. Security-fear of Invasion
    • Russia's geography lacked natural borders
  2. Ideology
    • Marxist Socialism required worldwide Communist revolutions
  3. Economic backwardness
    • Technological inferiority
    • There was a need for Western technological aid to industrialize
  4. Attitudes of other countries
    • Foreign intervention in the USSR's Civil War left a legacy of suspicion
  5. Backgrounds and views of those making Soviet policy
    • The leaders of the country
      • Lenin
      • Trotsky
      • Stalin
    • Their Commissars for Foreign Affairs
      • Chicherin
      • Litvinov
      • Molotov
  6. Internal situation
    • The state of the country at the end of the Civil War, the power struggle to succeed Lenin, the Five-Year Plans, and collectivization

Lenin's Aims and Changes to his Policy

  • Lenin's aims:
    • To divide the imperialist countries
    • To prevent them from forming a capitalism bloc against the USSR
  • Lenin's belief:
    • That revolution would spread worldwide
    • Lenin wanted to use the Polish invasion as a Communist bridge to Europe
      • The Poles fought against the Communists instead of siding with them, which caused Lenin to take up a policy of Peaceful Coexistence

The Comintern

  • The Comintern (Communist International) was an international congress of revolutionary socialists who wanted the workers of the world to support Communism.
  • The second International Congress aimed to bring foreign Communist parties under Comintern control.
    • The conditions for membership were:
      • Communist parties had to be organized on Leninist principles of centralization and discipline
      • Parties had to prepare for civil war by establishing an underground organization, by spreading revolutionary propaganda among the proletariat, peasantry and armed forces, and by setting up cells in trade unions and other worker organizations
    • Moscow insisted on centralized control and discipline and made the national security of the USSR the top priority for all Communist parties in other countries.
      • This reduced the appeal of the Communist Party to workers in other countries, so party membership and influence declined.
      • As well, the Comintern's intentions and the financial support it gave ended up weakening the USSR's chances of achieving reliable and stable commercial and diplomatic relations with Europe.
    • Examples of how the Comintern damaged diplomatic relations with Britain:
      • In 1923, the British Foreign Secretary Curzon threatened to cancel the Anglo-Soviet trage agreement of 1921 unless the Soviets abandoned their Soviet activities in Persia, Afghanistan, and India. The Soviets agreed to "Curzon's Ultimatum"
      • In 1924, the forged Zinoviev Letter, claimed to have been from the Comintern to the British Communist Party instructing the latter to conduct propaganda in the armed forces and elsewhere, revealed how British opinion perceived the threat presented.
Moves that strengthened or maintained relations with Britain 1921-33 Moves that weakened relations with Britain Moves that strengthened or maintained relations with Germany 1921-33 Moves that weakened relations with Germany
The Anglo-Soviet trade agreement of 1921 marked the first positive contact with the USSR 'Curzon's Ultimatum' caused the Conservatives in Britain to become suspicious of Soviet activity Co-operation between Germany and the USSR was mutually beneficial The Comintern's involvement in the Communist risings in Germany in 1921 and 1923 created heightened tensions
Ramsay MacDonald's Labour governments first recognized the USSR in 1924 Because the Trade Union Congress sent the Russian Central Council's check back, a greater sense of anti-Sovietism stirred in Britain The 1926 Treaty of Berlin reaffirmed the terms of the Treaty of Rapallo. The USSR and Germany pledged neutrality if either were attacked by another power. Also, Germany agreed to abstain from the League of nation trade as financial boycott of the USSR The Locarno Treaties were a set of treaties between the western powers that guaranteed the frontiers; it indicated better relations between Germany, Britain, and France. This worried the USSR because they were afraid that they would become isolated
N/A In 1927, the British carried out a raid on the Russian trade mission in London. This led to a break in diplomatic relations. Militarily and economically, but not politically, the two countries grew closer N/A
N/A The moderate Labour Party leadership in Britain might have been a major barrier to the spread of Communism in Britain N/A N/A

Stalin and Trotsky on Foreign Policy

Stalin Trotsky
not internationally minded internationally minded
didn't believe that the Comintern would bring about a world-wide revolution alarmed that Stalin was sidelining the Comintern
thought it was a waste to risk a Socialist movement abroad at the chance of harm to the USSR believed that revolution couldn't survive long in one country
dismissed potential of foreign Communists to achieve revolutionary change argued that under Stalin, foreign Communist parties changed from being "vanguards of world revolution" to "pacifist frontier guards of the Soviet"
committed to "Socialism in One Country," which is the idea that the focus should be on achieving and preserving Communism in the USSR above all else committed to "Permanent Revolution," which is the idea that the focus should be on achieving world revolution above all else

The USSR and China

  • After the 1921 Chinese Revolution, the USSR helped establish the Chinese Communist Party in 1921
    • The CPC was to join the Chinese Nationalists, who represented the Chinese bourqeoisie
  • In 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became the leader of the Nationalists
    • Chiang had received military training in Moscow
  • Chiang showed anti-Communist tendencies, but Stalin decided to support him
    • Stalin thought that the Chinese Communists were too few to achieve anything on their own and that he needed to work with the Nationalists to bring about a revolution
    • Stalin also believed that a Nationalistic government would be the USSR's ally
  • Stalin's support of China's Nationalists over their Communists illustrates to an extent that Stalin thought more about preserving the USSR than about instigating world-wide Communism

Internal Concerns

  • Internal concerns shaped Stalin's attitude towards the Comintern
    • In 1928, Stalin opted for the extreme left-wing policies of rapid industrialization
      • He moved against Bukharin and the Right of the Party
    • As Stalin moved Left, so did the Comintern
      • Foreign Communist parties were instructed to denounce social democratic parties as social fascists because they cooperated with Bourgeoisie parties and governments
      • This mirrored the attack on Bukharin for his cooperation with Bourgeoi elements of the NEP and peasantry
    • The KPD, the Communist Party of Germany, was instructed to attack the Social Democrats as social Fascists
      • This divided the Left just as Fascism was growing.
      • Stalin rejected pleas for joint actions by the Left against the Nazis, which contributed to their rise to power

Soviet Foreign Policy 1934-1939 (Zach and Sadia)

Collective Security:

  • Litvinov, the commisar for foreign affairs wanted fight off fascism but they maintained relations with Germany between 1935 and * 1937 in hopes of improving economic and political relations
  • 1934, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations and Litvinov used it to denounce appeasement and increase awareness against the evils of Hitler and Fascsim
  • May 1935, Soviet Union signed Mutual Assistance Pact with France and Czechoslovakia
  • The USSR only had to help Czechoslovakia only if France intervened as well
  • No military was involved, just diplomatic ties. It was mainly a political move to scare Hitler.
  • The possibility of France allying with Russia meant the possibility of a war on 2 fronts would deter Hitler from attacking Czechoslovakia
  • August 1935 Comintern switched from attacking social democrats and everyone who was not a Bolshevik to trying to create a popular front in other countriesincited leftist parties everywhere to fight against fascismpopular front in France failed, in Spain it caused a split between b/t the right wing and left wing government and that tension led to the Spanish Civil War

Historiography (Stalin's Foreign Policy 1934-39)
Official Soviet Line

  • Resorted to Collective Security as a shield against Hitler. Collective Security failed because Britain and France wanted to see communism fail. If Britain and France weren't willingly to work for Collective Security then they finally decide to take matters into their own hands by signing the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 with Hitler.

German School
*Stalin always preferred cooperation with Germany. Stalin was only interested in Collective Security as long as an agreement with Hitler was out of reach. In other words, Collective Security was a second-best consolation prize. It was basically a mask for Stalin to become morre politically powerful by allying with powerful nations like Britain and France and it was a bait to attract Hitler. Purges was necessary to remove opposition to deal with Hitler.

“Collective Security” school

  • Campaign for Collective Security arose from a need to make common cause with other states in opposition to Hitler. It wasn't that Stalin really believed in the policy, but he stuck to collective security because it gave him an in into the circle of diplomats that wouldn't recognize the Soviet Union just ten years a ago. They clung to it even when it wasn't working.

The USSR and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-9 (Tyler and BenJammin)


  • Prior to 1936, Spain ruled by King Alfonso XII, a military dictator in the body of a monarch
  • In 1931, the monarchy collapses and is replaced by the Second Republic, supported by socialists, democrats, and urban and agricultural workers; former conservative leaders in opposition.
  • Second Republic also known as "Republicans" of the "Popular Front"
  • Between '31 and '36, power shifts between the left (Communists, Socialists, Democrats, other liberals) and the right (the old guard), creating tensions expressed in this painting by Salvador Dali.
  • In 1936, The Popular Front reelected in an extremely tight election, putting the country on the cusp of revolution; Gen. Francisco Franco launches rebeelion in July 1936, starting the war.

International Influence

  • Franco's Fascists receive aid from Germany and Italy (although Franco never claims to be a fascist)
  • Stalin pressured to support the Popular Front, to oppose the spread of fascism in Europe
    • Example of Collective Security policy, championed by Commissar for Foreign Afffairs Litvinov
    • However, GBR and FRA failed to come through on their obligations to oppose the spread of fascism in order to avoid becoming entangled in another international war
    • Stalin has to decide to what extent he should aid the socialists in Spain:
      • Stalin wants to help militarily due to the propaganda value of Russian soldiers backing the communist revolution around the world, as well as for the benefits of war (the Russians managed to pillage Spain's gold reserves in the war, the 4th largest in the world)
      • Stalin did not want to help militarily, because that could lead to a confrontation with neighboring Germany: if German troops were going to fight Russian troops, they might as well do it at home, rather than in Spain.
    • In the end, Stalinadvised by Froeign Minister Litvinovsent military advisors to Spain, and allowed the COMINTERN to organize "International Brigades" of soldiers from around the world who, united by their Commie sympathies, were sent to Spain to fight for the Popular Front
      • This is a compromise that helps the Spanish Communists without pissing off the Germans too much.


  • Despite limited Soviet assistance, Franco and his nationalists took Madrid and Valencia, defeating the Republicans and ending the war in March 1939. Franco would stay in power for decades to come.
  • The war was a long and brutal one; the photo above is a famous image and example of wartime journalism, while the painting below is a Picasso masterpiece about the bombing of his small Basque town by German planes during the war.
  • The USSR gains the Spanish gold reserves, which isn't very important but certainly appreciated by Stalin.
  • The propaganda value of the USSR's anti-fascist engagement ruined by the Russians' brutality in war and extremist views; Stalin had to send a letter to the Republican general demanding that the Soviets be more careful, to avoid sparking a war with Germany.
  • No military experience was gained by the Soviet Union, because every Russian general in the conflict was purged immediately upon returning to the Motherland.
  • Collective Security unsuccessful, because Britain and France fail to intervene, and fascism takes another nation.

Why the USSR chose to make an agreement with Germany rather than Britain and France in 1939 (Hanh)

USSR's perspective

  • Stalin suspected that Britain wanted to turn German aggression on them
  • Stalin was still reeling from how USSR wasn't invited to the Munich Conference in September 1938. Also, during the Munich Conference, Britain and France tried to appease Hitler by making many concessions to him, which made the Soviets wonder if they would ever stand up to Hitler
  • The alliance with Great Britain and France might not prevent war with Germany
  • Great Britain and France were not prepared to let the USSR take territory or have a sphere of influence across Eastern Europe, and Hitler had no problem with giving land to Stalin.
  • A pact with Germany was the only way to avoid a war in the West, and this was very important because collective security was Stalin's main concern.
  • A pact with Germany would avoid a war on 2 fronts as well (Japan and the West)
  • It would give USSR more time to restore the Red Army, since they were weakened by the purges.
  • USSR would gain half of Poland and a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe if they allied with Germany
  • Germany was still USSR's main trading partner
  • An alliance with Germany would be in line with the Treaty of Rapallo

Germany's Perspective

  • Hitler needed to defeat Poland before the autumn rain and a pact with USSR would scare of Great Britain and France from interfering in his plans
  • Hitler wanted to avoid war on 2 fronts
  • His ultimate goal was still to defeat USSR, but since Great Britain and France refused to help, he turned to Stalin

Great Britain and France's perspective

  • British and French leaders greatly distrusted the USSR because they were Communist. Communism was seen as a threat to their empires.
  • Britain believed the Red Army had been seriously weakened by the purges
  • They did not anticipate a deal between Germany and the USSR
  • They had given a guarantee to Poland in March 1939. Britain would not put pressure on Poles to give Soviet troops rights of passage across Poland

Tyler is an open socialist in one country. and corporate whore. which is kinda an oxymoron

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