Nazi-Soviet Pact: Preceding events
In 1939 Stalin amazed the world by doing a deal with his deadly enemy, Hitler. Within a few days of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact the Second World War broke out.
Why did Stalin agree to the Nazi-Soviet Pact?
As a communist Stalin believed that there was little difference between the fascist dictatorships and the Western democracies. Germany, Italy, Britain and France were all, to him, capitalist states and potential enemies of the Soviet Union. The most important task for him was to ensure that they did not unite to fight against the USSR. He was perfectly happy to do a deal with either.
Communist writers taught that capitalist powers were naturally aggressive. Countries attacked each other to get more markets or raw materials. Stalin believed this and expected that sooner or later there would be another war like the First World War. His concern was that capitalist countries did not gang up together against the Soviet Union. He tried to make sure that the USSR was on the winning side in any war among capitalist countries.
Reacting to Hitler
The rise of Hitler posed a problem for Stalin. As early as January 1934 Stalin made it clear that he was prepared to do business with Hitler. In that month he made a speech stating that the USSR could work with any country that did not threaten it. At this stage Hitler had no interest in good relations with Stalin and this early attempt by Stalin to do a deal with Nazi Germany was not successful.
Support for the League and collective security
Having failed to establish a relationship with Hitler, Stalin turned instead to the Western powers. In September 1934 the Soviet Union suddenly joined the League of Nations. Before that, the Soviet government had referred to the League as 'a gang of robbers'. In 1935 communist parties across the world were ordered to stop trying to organize revolution. Instead they co-operated with any anti-fascist forces.
The Soviet Foreign Minister was Maxim Litvinov. Between 1934 and 1938 he tried to build links with Britain and France, in order to counter the threat from Germany. He was a great believer in the idea of collective security: by standing together, the countries of Europe could stop German aggression.
Appeasement and the Soviets
The policy of appeasement disappointed Litvinov and Stalin and forced them to think again about the value of a link with Britain and France. With regards to the Rhineland, Austria and at Munich the Western Allies seemed too ready to ignore Hitler or do a deal with him. Stalin had never really trusted the British and the French. He suspected that their secret aim was to encourage a war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the hope that the two sides would destroy each other.