Eighty years ago, on August 23rd, 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Nazi Germany and the USSR, the treaty known to the world as the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The signing in Moscow stunned the world. Communist parties all over the world had opposed Nazism, but now they were ordered by Moscow to swing behind the deal.
The pact left Hitler free to make war in the West, and World War II started only 8 days later when his troops invaded Poland. It looked to the world like a cynical move on Stalin’s part, to make peace with his sworn enemy in order to unloose Germany’s military machine on other countries. What the world did not know at the time was that there were secret protocols to the treaty that carved up neutral countries between Germany and Soviet Russia. Lines were drawn up on a map delineating the spheres of influence of the two powers. It carved up Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. The secret protocols were only revealed at the Nuremberg Trials after the war.
When World War II began, Communist parties in Europe were ordered to oppose the war in order to respect the Soviet neutrality. The Pact lasted 22 months, ended unilaterally when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union. With hindsight’s 20-20 vision, it looks as though this had been Hitler’s intention all along, and that his conquest of Western Europe was designed to prevent it allying with the Soviets when he invaded their territory.
It seems extraordinary now that Communists, thought of as extreme Left, should have aligned themselves with fascists, regarded as extreme Right, but Stalin and Hitler were alike in many respects. Both were totalitarian despots who wielded absolute power. Both murdered without a qualm and killed millions. Both sought to grab territory from other nations and subdue their peoples. Neither had any time for liberty and democracy, and both fostered a personality cult that brainwashed their peoples into thinking of them as gods.
There were differences, though. Anyone raising the Red Flag in Trafalgar Square today could be regarded by some as campaigning for a “just” society (meaning one like Stalin had), and could perhaps hope that Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell might give speeches in front of it. On the other hand, anyone raising a swastika in Trafalgar Square would probably be arrested and imprisoned.