What was Stalin's foreign policy

Fight against Hitler : Foreign policy under the eyes of Stalin

On September 29, 1938, the conference took place in Munich at which Hitler was granted the occupation of the Sudetenland. That was what Hitler had asked for, and that was how the Western powers Great Britain and France had consented. “Chamberlain and Daladier have completely surrendered,” wrote the Soviet ambassador in London, Iwan Maiski, about the two heads of government in his diary the next day. And he continued: "It is difficult to grasp the real meaning of what just happened all at once, but I sense and understand that a landmark of colossal historical importance was passed last night."

"For the Soviet Union (...) the Munich Agreement meant a catastrophic setback," explains Gabriel Gorodetsky, historian at Tel Aviv University and Fellow at Oxford. He discovered the diaries of Maiskis, who was accredited in London from 1932 to 1943, in the archives of the Russian Foreign Ministry in 1993 and reviewed them critically over many years. The German translation of the selected edition published by Gorodetsky on the basis of the three-volume Russian complete edition is now available.

A steady rise

In his explanations, Gorodetsky often quotes from official correspondence. The British ambassador from Moscow, the Soviet Foreign Minister, reports that "Litvinov's long and tireless efforts to help his policy of collective security against Germany achieve a breakthrough" seem to have fallen into the water ". Maiski was exposed to serious accusations ... “It was he who fought tirelessly for a common defensive front against Nazi Germany.

Iwan Maiski (1884–1975), of Polish-Jewish origin on his father's side, studied history in St. Petersburg when he joined the revolutionary social democracy and later entered politics on its right wing. It was not until 1921 that he switched to the Bolsheviks and soon afterwards worked in the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. His career has been steady; with Maxim Litvinov, foreign minister from 1930, he shared the political goal of creating a system of “collective security” against Hitler's Germany and contractually binding the Western powers with the Soviet Union.

The Munich Conference and the willingness of the British Chamberlain Government to meet Hitler at all costs in order to save the peace marked the turning point. From then on, Stalin moved towards Hitler, culminating in the pact of August 23, 1939, which Litvinov's successor Vyacheslav Molotov signed as a pioneer and vehement supporter.

A diary, a rarity

Getting to know the interior view of such milestones in world history is the outstanding benefit of the edition. Maiski's diary is almost the only one of a Soviet official that has survived from this period. There have been various speculations about the authenticity of the diaries; Gorodetsky emphasizes, however, that there are “no traces” that “Maiski ever edited his entries afterwards”. The diaries live from the stupendous memory of their author, who knew how to record the discussions of the day in direct speech and, as Gorodetsky reports, often wrote twenty or more pages in one go.

From the start of his activities in London in 1932, Maiski recognized the rise of Hitler and, as a consequence, the European war, and he tried by all means of diplomacy to promote the resistance of Great Britain, which Churchill, Prime Minister from May 1940, unrelentingly organized. The appeasement policy almost drove him to despair. It is interesting, however, that he soberly records the words of Foreign Minister Halifax, whom Maiski meets after the German invasion of the Sudentenland. He quotes him as saying: “We believe that the world today is witnessing a struggle between two ideologies - fascism and communism. We as English support neither one nor the other. (...) In the struggle between the two fronts, we take a neutral or, if you will, middle position. It is precisely for this reason that we are so often misunderstood on the mainland ... "

British appeasement

Halifax ’share of responsibility for the British policy of appeasement is beyond question, but these are words that Maiski, who as a former Menshevik always had to fear Stalin's distrust, is neutral. Only rarely does he prove an ideologically correct position. “In addition, class hatred of the USSR is and will remain an established reality,” he notes at the time of the Spanish Civil War and the “Great Terror”.

For him, the justification of Soviet policy was paramount, especially after he had survived the "Great Terror" that also hit the diplomatic corps in 1937. "At least 62 percent of all high-ranking diplomats and officials from the old guard of the People's Commissariat," explains Gorodetsky, "were murdered, only 16 percent remained in their posts." Only three ambassadors remained alive; including Maiski, because he believed Stalin to be irreplaceable for relations with Great Britain. There is nothing in the diaries about terrorism. It would have been life-threatening if Maiski had to reckon with surveillance by agents of the NKVD at all times, which happened in his late London years.

There is plenty of evidence of this for the years later, in Stalin's paranoid end times accusation that he led an "Anglophile way of life". Maiski, who knew how to effectively cultivate his excellent relations with the government, the opposition and the media with small gifts of vodka or caviar, confronts the reader as an old-school diplomat who led and loved an upper-class lifestyle.

The Hitler-Stalin Pact seals the end of efforts for “collective security”. The diary entry of August 24, the day after it was swiftly signed in Moscow, is short and formal. On September 1, 1939, it was almost relieved to say: “So the war has broken out. Today the world has crossed the threshold of a new era. It will emerge from it in a greatly changed form. ”In the days that followed, as Britain had to enter the war that had begun, contempt for the completely failed appeasement policy and its protagonist Chamberlain unfolded unbridled:“ A tearful, broken voice. Bitter, depressed gestures. A broken person, a wreck. "

Now Maiski has to represent the consequence of the Hitler-Stalin Pact: the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland. Significantly, he does it by quoting the Soviet note to Poland in indirect speech. The Polish state had collapsed, the Soviet-Polish non-aggression pact null and void; in the eastern part of the country “there are ten to eleven million Belarusians and Ukrainians who are oppressed by the Polish state and Polish landowners. From this it follows: The Red Army will cross the Polish border (...) in order to protect the lives and property of the local population. ”For Great Britain Maiski predicts - quite correctly - the end of its imperial empire End up in 'socialism'. The belief that 'socialism' would be the inevitable result of a great war is now widespread - even in bourgeois circles. "

Looking ahead to the post-war period

Maiski states that the British are looking for allies and says - rather euphemistically - "in the long term, despite all the denials, the ruling circles dream of an alliance with the Soviet Union". The postscript, “This is how I see things now from my 'London window'”, shows that Maiski is no longer involved in Moscow politics. However, Maiski, who has since been recalled but is present at negotiations such as in Yalta, soon sees more clearly than others. "The USSR and the USA will form the two social and international poles of the post-war period", he stated in April 1942: "Because in the USA capitalism will have retained infinitely more of its vitality than in England." Competition between the USSR and the USA ”.

According to Stalingrad, he rightly writes: “The moral and psychological importance of Stalingrad is colossal. Never before in military history has it happened that a powerful army that besieged a city became a besieged wagon itself and then fell victim to annihilation. "

There had to be cheers for Stalin

A little later he dutifully cheered Stalin: “What rare luck the Soviet people have been given to have two such leaders as Lenin and Stalin in the course of the last 25 years, the decisive phase in our development and the development of humanity as a whole! "

None of this saved Maiski from being recalled and frozen by Apparachik Molotov. Editor Gorodetsky describes Maiski's final, downright absurd return journey to the Soviet Union via the Middle East, where he was traveling in a convoy of eleven vehicles. The fact that Maiski spent three days in Palestine and met Ben Gurion and Golda Meir long before the Palestinian question was decided in favor of a state of Israel is one of the most remarkable episodes of his ambassadorial life.

Retirement after the last horror

After Maiski almost got under the wheels of Stalin in the last months of his life, but then found himself in the dock after a chain of unfortunate circumstances, he spent the last two decades of his life in Moscow and, if possible, at his dacha, where he had his - if at all, only censored - wrote books. He died at the age of 91 in the fall of 1975.

“Maiski's long service in London” - concludes Gorodetsky - “was and undoubtedly remained his greatest hour‘ ”. His diaries are a sensation. Written during the time of the Stalin regime, since private records could mean arrest, camp and death, they allow a rare insight into the interior of Soviet politics - admittedly in an exposed place and far away from the terrible reality of the Stalin Empire.

The Maiski Diaries. A diplomat in the fight against Hitler 1932–1943. Edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. Translated from the English by Karl Heinz Siber. Publishing house C.H. Beck, Munich 2016. 896 pp., € 34.95.

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