Eighty one years ago on August 23, 1939 the world was shocked to learn that Communist Russia and Nazi Germany had signed a non-aggression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. It was named after their respective foreign ministers, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Observers would have been even more horrified had they known of the secret protocols that divided Eastern Europe between the two totalitarian powers. What they called a "peace treaty" in reality was a war treaty.
|Rolling Soviet tanks and Nazi motorcyclists in Poland (September 1939).|
|Nazi and Soviet soldiers greet one another in Poland (1939)|
The decision to shoot the prisoners was signed on March 5, 1940 by seven members of the All- Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) authorities: Joseph Stalin, Lavrentiy Beria (proposer), Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Mikhail Kalinin and Lazar Kaganovich.
Thousands of Polish Army officers and intellectual leaders were taken into the Katyn Forest near Smolensk in the Soviet Union, shot in the back of the head or in the neck and buried in mass graves.
Months later, the Soviet Union invaded and annexed the Baltic States in June 1940.
This should not have come as a complete surprise.
The same people who would join Hitler's brown shirts were also susceptible recruits to join Antifa. Communists viewed the SA as a "proletarian-revolutionary paramilitary wing"of the Nazi movement and susceptible to being recruited to the communist cause. The case of Richard Scheringer, a supporter of Adolf Hitler and army officer who converted to communism in the early 1930s is a high profile example of this.
Harvey Klehr, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History, Emeritus, at Emory University, described how communists had mistakenly viewed the Nazis as a means to achieving power and undermining capitalist democracies. Antifa identified all political parties that were not communist as fascist. This meant that social democrats, centrist political parties, and conservative parties were together with the Nazis all labeled fascist. Fascism, according to Antifa, is anti-capitalism. This was the Comintern's class against class approach and fractured any potential broad anti-Nazi coalition.
"Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1932 had been immeasurably aided by the German communists' steadfast support for the Comintern tactic of “class against class,” which demanded no cooperation with other anti-Nazi forces. German communists blithely insisted that Hitler’s triumph would be evanescent—summarized in their optimistic slogan, Nach Hitler, kommen wir ('After Hitler, us').The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is this strategy but on a grander scale. Let the Western democracies and the Nazis exhaust each other in the conflict and then seize everything. Victor Davis Hanson, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. reported that "Stalin shipped huge supplies of food and fuel for the German war effort against the West."
|Soviet and Nazi soldiers fraternize after conquering Poland in 1939|
Good communists were ordered to oppose anyone intending to stand in Hitler’s way. With Ribbentrop’s second visit to Moscow at the end of September and the signing of a German-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, the Comintern emphasized that the primary adversary was those countries that were at war with Germany, and those socialists and social democrats fighting against fascism. Germany had concluded a pact with the USSR, while “reactionary” England, at the helm of a vast colonial empire, was the “bulwark of capitalism.” Thus, communist parties in England and France were ordered to call for the defeat of their countries—ordered, in other words, to officially embrace treason.According to Klehr, Nazi reports confirmed that Communists were fulfilling their part of the agreement siding against Western Democracies.
A June 1940 Gestapo report approvingly noted that the Soviet government was favorably disposed to the Third Reich and had endorsed its invasions of the Scandinavian states and Belgium and Holland “as necessary and proper.” The report went on to note that the Comintern had avoided open attacks on Germany, and that the parties and publications allied with the Comintern were not pushing for communists to struggle against National Socialism or denounce fascism.This arrangement only ended on June 22, 1941 when the Nazis double crossed their Soviet allies and launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.
|Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, Joseph Stalin, and Soviet foreign minister, Molotov|
"The class struggle is continuing and it is our task to subordinate all interests to that struggle. Our communist morality is also subordinated to that task. We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the working people around the proletariat, which is building up a new, communist society."The myth that the communists were anti-fascists is a dangerous one, and the fact is that they viewed the Nazis as an instrument to wipe out Western Democracies and replace them with communist regimes believing that the fascists would quickly fade out of power.
This reckless strategy cost 22 to 28 million Russian lives in World War Two, and nearly led to the Nazi conquest and occupation of Russia.
It also led to Poland spending another half century under Soviet domination and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia occupied by the Russians. A conquest that arose out of the Hitler-Stalin pact that endured following the end of the war.
|The Baltic Way brought an end to one key element of Molotov Ribbentrop|
On June 4, 1989 the Solidarity labor movement won in free elections and the Polish people finally regained their sovereignty after nearly 50 years under Soviet domination. They did it nonviolently.
So did the people of the Baltic states when two million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians joined hands together in a giant human chain stretching 370 miles on August 23, 1989. Fifty years to the day after the treaty that brought them so much grief had been signed.
This history must not be forgotten. The Spanish scholar George Santayana understood that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
In Washington DC on August 23, 2019, we held hands in a human chain to celebrate freedom in front of the U.S. Capitol and afterwards gathered at Biergarten Haus.
At a time when communists are using the Antifa label to legitimize their deadly ideology it is important to remember their alliance with Nazism, and call on others to learn from this history.