their aim simply to divert war away from them, or did they genuinely think
a pact would be a good idea?
think the Nazi-Soviet Pact is a really difficult one to understand –
which makes it all the more thrilling for real historians.
WHAT was going on????
Many Britons genuinely liked Hitler
I think we need to appreciate is that OUR perception of Hitler has been
formed by and after WWII and the Holocaust.
Our view of Hitler is the image of the Beast, pure evil.
When an historian named
tried to suggest in the 1980s that maybe there were some good things about
him, he was ruined by the anti-Nazi outcry that followed – even
historians are not ready to attempt a reassessment of Hitler.
We cannot believe that anyone would actually like him, or think it
was a good idea to support him.
before wartime anti-Hitler propaganda, before the Final Solution (1942),
people thought of Hitler differently.
Yes, they thought him brutal (they knew about the Night of the Long
Knives) and a racist (they knew about Kristallnacht).
But there were lots of good things about him too – the autobahns,
the revival of the German economy and the spirit of the German people, the
Volkswagen! The German
state – which had been on chaos – was now quiet, and there was law and
order. Many people in
the west actually admired Hitler.
, Moseley’s Blackshirts aped the SA and sought to set up a fascist state
. King Edward VIII (the
one who abdicated) actively approved of Hitler.
Many businessmen liked the way Hitler had squashed the Trade Unions
and got the German people working so hard.
Many right-wing Conservatives (the Party of Chamberlain, remember)
were all-but-fascist in their attitudes and – as far as racism is
concerned – talked about Indians and Africans in exactly the same way
Hitler talked about the Jews. There
was a secret fascist group in MI5 which was in constant touch with Hitler,
and which went on to spy for the Nazis during the war.
was it that attracted these British people to a man who we now consider to
be the incarnation of evil?
Many Britons feared
understand that, you need to understand another thing – just how much
British people feared Communist Russia between the wars.
, together with
, had sent troops to try to destroy the Russian Revolution during the
Russian Civil War. At
that time the Communist International was committed to destroying
capitalist governments throughout the world.
British Trade Unionists were talking about setting up Workers’
Councils and overthrowing Parliament.
Russian money helped the strikers in the General strike and coal
miners during the coal strikes.
The historian HAL Fisher was a liberal and good man, a friend of
Lloyd George, who improved education in
, and was
’s delegate to the
League of Nations
. I have included long
extracts from his ‘History of Europe’ on the website.
But in 1935 he wrote about ‘the Russians infection’, and added:
‘The period in which we are now living is still dominated by the shade
of Lenin… of a totalitarian state ruthlessly repressive of liberty and
set upon the creation of a new type of society’.
such a situation it was natural that many people in
should see Hitler’s
as a welcome barrier to the spread of Communism.
the great historian and respected
politician HAL Fisher certainly wrote: ‘the Hitler revolution is
a sufficient guarantee that Russian Communism will not spread westward’
91935). Other British
people suggested that maybe it would be a good thing if evil
had a war with evil
and they destroyed each other! Stalin
suggested that this was actually British policy – in March 1939 he gave
a famous speech, saying that the capitalist countries of Britain and
France were Russia’s real enemy, and accusing them of ‘encouraging the
Germans to march east… prompting them: “Just start a war on the
Bolsheviks and everything will be alright”’.
historian Alan Bullock thinks that Stalin did not believe this.
Stalin was not a fool. He
could see that Hitler was a danger to
. Hitler came to power
in 1933 – in 1934,
had joined the
League of Nations
, hoping that collective security would keep the Nazis locked up.
Of course, it didn’t.
caved into German aggression, and Hitler marched into the
, the Sudentenland and finally, in March 1939, into
. Stalin was utterly fed
, and Bullock thinks he was sending a message of friendship to
(the first hint of the Nazi-Soviet Pact).
’s policy towards
don’t think that Chamberlain was trying to cause a Nazi-Russian war,
either. Everything he
said throughout this period re-echoes the same theme: ‘I am a man of
peace to the depths of my soul.
Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me’ (Sept 1938).
I don’t think he trusted the Russians, and he certainly thought
that it was a waste of time trying to make a treaty with them.
But he wasn’t trying to cause a war between
– he seems to have tried just to keep the Russians stringing along in
1939 in the hope that it might deter Hitler from invading
Churchill, on the other hand, was very keen to make an alliance with
. He told
Chamberlain’s government ‘to get some brutal truths into their
heads’ – that
could not defend
without an alliance with
. Many British
politicians at that time were talking about a policy of restraining Hitler
by ‘encircling’ him. But
Chamberlain was a better politician than Churchill.
He could see what Stalin could see and what the German delegates
who went to
told the Russian minister Molotov: ‘What could
? At best a war in
and conflict with
’. And Stalin said in
July 1939 that his government was not going to make the same mistake as
the Tsar had in 1914 – agreeing to fight
’s war against
a while in 1939, the Russians appeared to be very keen on an alliance with
, but all they wanted to talk about was how
would march into
. Chamberlain dragged
his feet against such an alliance. And
all the time, Stalin was seeing delegates from
, who were bartering a different deal, to divide
historians believe that Chamberlain dragged his feet for other reasons –
because he was weak and gutless, because he favoured pro-Nazi elements in
the Conservative Party, because he didn’t want to spend money on a war.
But the run of events suggests that he always knew that the
Russians would merely use any alliance as an excuse to seize more power.
The Russian totalitarian dictatorship, remember was even more
vicious than Hitler’s totalitarian dictatorship.
the answer to the question is this:
British people DID see
as a buffer against
, and some people DID talk about
destroying each other in a war.
Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, many British people
(including Winston Churchill) pushed hard for an Anglo-Soviet Pact (an
alliance with Russia against Germany), on the grounds that that was
the only way to defend Poland.
Some of them genuinely believed that they could restrain Hitler
by encircling him with an alliance.
They forced Chamberlain to at least begin talks with
, but Chamberlain was not keen, and eventually the talks collapsed.
I don’t believe that Chamberlain ever thought the idea had any
chance at all. And I
think he was right – I don’t think Stalin ever intended to fight a
war to defend
. In August 1939 he
made the Nazi-Soviet Pact with
, and they attacked
in September 1939, starting World War II.