Nazi-Communist Partnership
Elective Affinities, Offensive Alliances
  

Essay by
Robert Wilfred Franson
  

  

February 2011


  
Rivals & enemies?

Politics and war make strange bedfellows. Now, war brought by a common enemy often throws together all sorts of people, nations, and ideologies in a defensive alliance. However, to create an offensive alliance or partnership or combination of powers, there must be some real or honestly perceived affinity among the disparate powers. Sometimes these affinities appear surprisingly between avowed enemies, even as though conjured out of thin air.

An infamous example of an offensive alliance is the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939-1941. This treaty allowed Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to conquer and partition Poland between them; and secondarily for Germany to then concentrate on taking over most of its neighbors in Western Europe without worrying about possible Soviet action against them from the East, while the Soviet Union was enabled to recapture most of its smaller neighbors in Eastern Europe which had been part of the Russian Empire up through the First World War.
  

A transportation strike in Berlin

The Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union cooperated in some military matters during the 1920s, such as the secret training of German pilots at Russian airfields. The two countries in those years were not dedicated opponents as they would become after Adolf Hitler's accession to power on 30 January 1933.

In domestic politics within Germany during the Weimar Republic, the Nazi Party (NSDAP, or German Workers' National Socialist Party) and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) were avowed and bitter rivals. It surprises many people today, as it did their contemporaries, to learn of instances of cooperation between the "opposed" radical parties. These were hostile toward each other but also toward their common enemy: Germany's struggling constitutional republic with its pillars of reasonably free elections, newspapers, economy, traditional rights, and so on. Communist Party members in Germany were on occasion ordered to vote for the Nazi Party ticket; this is tactical cooperation, the Communist leaders presuming that Nazi rule would make things so bad that a sadder but wiser German people gladly would turn to Communism.

I illumine some contemporary views of the November 1932 election in Germany in Hitler's Shattered Dream, 1932. Yet even in the midst of their intense rivalry, the Nazi and Communist Parties could find some common ground. Eliot Barculo Wheaton's focused chronicle of the Nazi takeover of Germany, Prelude to Calamity: The Nazi Revolution 1933-35, describes a little-known account of an offensive alliance between the Nazi and Communist Parties:

In the face of new elections, scheduled for November 6 [1932], both the populace and the [Nazi] party leaders displayed palpable weariness of feverish political campaigns; and the present one, the fifth within nine months for most of the country, was prosecuted with less intensity than usual. Even so the Nazis tried hard to summon up their flagging energies, for this time they had good reason to be apprehensive. Several recent incidents had cost them a substantial amount of popular support — Hitler's presumptuous demands in his interview with [President] Hindenburg on August 13, the way he and other prominent Nazis had ten days later sprung to the defense of the Potempa murderers and, finally, Goering's arrogant behaviour as Reichstag President on September 12.

Just before the elections the Nazis again jolted the average German when, to general amazement, they joined forces with the Communists in precipitating a five-day transportation strike in Berlin. Starting on November 3, it was conducted with such violence — street-car rails were removed, overhead wires ripped down, switches blocked with cement, emergency strike-breakers beaten up — as to completely disrupt the capital's transportation system (subway, seventy-three street-car and thirty-three bus routes). Except in radical quarters all this would not win votes for the Nazis.

Eliot Barculo Wheaton
"The Papen-Schleicher Period"
Prelude to Calamity:
The Nazi Revolution 1933-35
  (1968)
  
The Nazi-Soviet Pact

Once in control of Germany, the Nazis' official fear and loathing of Communism and of the Soviet Union was unrelenting. The two radical parties and the countries they controlled seemed poles apart in their very natures, and the propaganda of both reinforced this at every logical turn, and even at some illogical ones. Infamous low points of the propaganda war were the show trials: the Reichstag Fire Trial in Germany and the Great Purge Trials in the Soviet Union. I discuss these in my reviews of Fritz Tobias' The Reichstag Fire: Legend and Truth and (briefly) of Stephen F. Cohen's Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography 1888-1938.

In their excellent history, The Deadly Embrace: Hitler, Stalin, and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939-1941, Anthony Read & David Fisher fascinatingly describe the private festivities in Moscow as the negotiations were completed and the treaty signed, with Stalin, Molotov, Ribbentrop, and other officials in attendance:

While the agreed drafts of the pact and the secret protocol were taken away to be properly typed up in German and Russian and generally made ready for signature, Stalin relaxed, called for drinks, and prepared to entertain his guests. ...

One or two of the Germans noticed that Stalin always had his drinks poured from his own personal flask. The drink was colourless, and looked like vodka — but was it? After several drinks, greatly daring, the young Richard Schulze [an SS officer with the German diplomatic delegation] managed to fill his own glass from Stalin's flask. It contained water. As he drank, he was aware of Stalin watching him steadily, a faint smile on his lips. Schulze said nothing. ...
  

Stalin belittled British power, stating that England dominated the world only through the stupidity of other countries, which allowed themselves to be bluffed. Ribbentrop eagerly agreed. But when Ribbentrop sneered at the latest British warnings, saying he had proposed that Hitler should tell them that 'every hostile act, in the event of a German-Polish conflict, would be answered by a bombing attack on London', Stalin cautioned that England, 'despite her weakness, would wage war craftily and stubbornly'. He also pointed out the strength of the French army.

By now, however, there was no stopping the German Foreign Minister. He waved aside the threat from France, and returned to his obsessive attacks on Britain, even managing to lay the Anti-Comintern Pact at her door, Incredibly, he announced in all seriousness that it had never been directed against the Soviet Union, but against the Western democracies. What was more, he declared, he knew, and was able to infer from the tone of the Soviet press ,that the Soviet government fully recognized this fact.

Stalin must have had a hard time keeping a straight face as he chipped in with the remark that it was not him but, 'in fact, principally the City of London and the English shopkeepers who had been frightened by the Anti-Comintern Pact'. Ribbentrop, failing to recognize the joke, seized on this enthusiastically. Emboldened, he put an arm round Stalin's shoulder, and was rewarded with a jovial bear hug.

Anthony Read & David Fisher
"The Pact Is Signed"
The Deadly Embrace:
Hitler, Stalin, and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939-1941
  (1988)
  
Conclusion

To any upholder of the Western tradition, and certainly to an American Constitutionalist, the Nazi Party and the principal state it captured which became the Third Reich, and the Communist Party and the principal state it captured which became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, have far more in common with each other than with any pro-freedom political parties or truly constitutional states. A basic similarity in character appears in their ideas, their leaders, and their acts of oppression and destruction.

Free men do not stand in the middle of their two "opposed extremes", but on the high ground from which we can, if we care to look, discern their basic commonality.

  

© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson



  
Eastern Europe after the German-Soviet Pact, 1939-1940 (map);
photos & newsreels of the signing & the new border:
The German-Soviet Pact
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

R. W. Franson's
Oops — Hitler!
A Surprise in Context

Utopias at Troynovant
utopia in power, or dystopia
  

  
R. W. Franson's review of
The Reichstag Fire:
Legend and Truth
by Fritz Tobias

The Sudetenland and Anti-Nazi Options
Points on Central Europe, 1936-1938

Germany at Troynovant
Imperial Germany, Third Reich
Prussia, Bavaria, Austria
history, geography, literature
  



  

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