History of Russia Between the Wars!

The Russian Government had a two-fold problem—one was to establish communism in Russia and the other was to spread the same throughout the world.

There were many idealists among the Bolsheviks who were of the opinion that communism and capitalism could not live side by side and if communism was to survive in Russia, capitalism in other parts of the world must be overthrown.

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  1. Russia under Lenin
  2. Russia under Stalin
  3. Foreign Policy of Stalin
  4. Stalin and the League of Nation
  5. Stalin and Spain
  6. Stalin and Germany
  7. Stalin and France
  8. Stalin and Czechoslovakia
  9. Stalin and Anglo-Soviet Negotiations
  10. Stalin and Non-Aggression Pact
  11. Stalin and China
  12. Stalin and Japan

1. Russia under Lenin:

Lenin and his followers were able to capture power in 1917, but they had many problems to face. Land was given to the peasants who were expected to cultivate the same, but they were not given full control over the produce of their labours, the whole of which belonged to the state. The peasants were allowed to retain as much as was needed by them, but the surplus was taken over by the state at a price fixed by itself.


The result was that the peasants did not grow more than what was sufficient to sustain themselves. As there was no surplus, famine appeared in the towns. The result was that the government had to change its policy and allow the farmers to sell their surplus produce in the open market.

The Russian Government had a two-fold problem—one was to establish communism in Russia and the other was to spread the same throughout the world. There were many idealists among the Bolsheviks who were of the opinion that communism and capitalism could not live side by side and if communism was to survive in Russia, capitalism in other parts of the world must be overthrown.


The leader of this group was Trotsky who was the right hand man of Lenin. Zinoviev was closely associated with him and his duty was to organise communist propaganda in Western Europe. There were many practical men among the Bolsheviks who were of the opinion that they should concentrate all their energy in Russia and make their country so great that the other countries were made to feel jealous of their progress. The leader of this section was Stalin. The struggle between the two groups continued.

2. Russia under Stalin:

Lenin died in 1924 having put communism on a stable basis in his country. His death was followed by a struggle for supremacy between Stalin and Trotsky. It was both a struggle of personalities and ideologies. Both of them were determined to make themselves supreme in the country. Ultimately Stalin won in 1927. Trotsky was turned out first from the Communist Party and then from Russia itself He ran away to Mexico where he was murdered in August 1940.

The Government of Russia under Lenin and Stalin was essentially a dictatorship where the political opponents had to place. It is true that elections were held but there was only one candidate from each constituency. The very existence of the other parties was not allowed. There was jealousy and suspicion among the members of the Communist Party itself.

The result was that one tried to oust the other. Occasionally there were purges in the Communist Party. Those who did not see eye to eye with the Communist Party were put in labour camps. As Communism was opposed to Christianity, the Orthodox Church suffered in Russia. The Ogpu or the secret police organisation was always busy to trace out every sign of disaffection or disloyalty to the new Communist state in Russia.


If the people in Russia had no liberty as such, they made progress in many ways. Education spread in the country. Both children and adults learned to read and write. Education spread even among the peasants. There was no unemployment as the state found work for all. The working conditions were improved.

Medical and dental treatment was given to all those who were in need of it. Homes were built for the aged. Large blocks of flats were erected in many towns. The general standard of living improved. But the price for all this was to be paid and that was the worker had to be completely subordinate to the state.

After having established his supremacy in the country, Stalin prepared a Five-Year Plan for the development of agriculture and industry in the country. In place of the small peasant farms, very large farms were established in the country and the most modem agricultural machinery was installed to produce the maximum. Those who opposed the change were imprisoned and put in labour camps. Some of them were even murdered. But the result was increased production.

The important industries, such as mines, railways, steel and textiles were entirely under the control of the state. It was for the state to decide what material was to be used, what quantity was to be produced and what wages were to be paid to the workers. In 1932, it was declared that the plan had achieved in four years what was expected to be achieved in five years. A second Five-Year Plan was announced for the period 1933-38. Stalin continued to rule till 1953. He led his country to victory in World War II.

3. Foreign Policy of Stalin:

Up to 1917, the Russian foreign policy had many objectives, viz., security against Japan in the Far-East including ports in Manchuria and trade outlets into Asia, the Russianizing of or acquisition of full rights over the Bosphorus and the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, Pan-Slavism with Russia as a leading member of the Slav family of nations, a belt of subject-nationalities in the West to act as a buffer against the larger nations of Europe.

Then came the Revolution of 1917. The Communists were forced to start negotiations and in March 1918, an armistice was signed with Germany and Austria-Hungary at Brest Litovsk. The war was brought to an end in Eastern Europe, but Russia had to surrender vast territories to the Central Powers. She agreed to pay three hundred million gold Roubles as war indemnity. She undertook to set up independent Finland, Estonia and Lithuania.

The Communists in Russia had to fight against the interventionists from various countries of Western Europe and the United States who seemed to be determined to uproot the Communist regime in Russia. The old aristocracy in Russia also tried to stage a counter revolution and considerable forces were raised by General Denikin in South Russia and Admiral Kolchak in the North.

Great Britain and France also sent assistance to these “White” leaders. People of Russia were asked by the Communist Government to fight what they called a patriotic war against the capitalist countries and it took about three years to drive out the foreigners from the Russian soil. Trotsky played an important part in driving out foreigners from the Russian soil with the help of the Red Army.

To begin with, Russia was regarded as the pariah of Europe and consequently no country would like to deal with her However, the situation began to change gradually. In 1921 Great Britain entered into a trade agreement with Russia and thereby recognised the new regime in Russia.

In the same year, Russia entered into a treaty of friendship with Germany. This repudiated all previous agreements between the two countries. Both parties agreed to refrain from entering into any hostile agreement against each other.

Similar agreements were made with Turkey, Afghanistan and Outer Mongolia. In 1922, Russia and Germany entered into the Treaty of Rapallo by which both the countries gave up all financial claims including war indemnities arising out of the World War I. Diplomatic and consular relationships were started. The principle of the most favourable nation was adopted in the treaty which made a tremendous sensation in the world. However, it had not any lasting effect.

The fact that Germany had made a bargain with Russia damaged her case in the United States and Great Britain. There was close cooperation between the German Generals and the Red Army after Rapallo and consequently many alarmist reports were started. In 1922 the Soviet Union was invited to the World Economic Conference at Geneva.

The Soviet delegation proposed the consideration of that Article of the Treaty of Versailles which had prescribed general disarmament and also recommended that efforts should be made to implement proposals regarding general disarmament. As her suggestions were not accepted, she herself summoned a disarmament conference of the states bordering on her frontiers. She also recognised the independence of Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Poland.

The Peace Settlement had fixed the Polish Eastern frontier on a line suggested by Lord Curzon and known as the Curzon Line. That included in Poland territories with a mainly Polish population, but left to Russia lands farther east that were inhabited by Russian-speaking people. The Poles were dissatisfied and in 1920, they made war on Russia.

They were defeated and driven back almost to Warsaw French assistance was sent to the Poles under General Weygand and the tide turned again. The Russians were defeated in the battle of Vistula and driven back into their own country. By the Treaty of Riga, signed in March 1921, Poland got extensive lands to the east of Curzon Line.

In 1924 Russia entered into an agreement with China regarding the Chinese Eastern Railway. In 1924, de jure recognition was accorded to the Soviet Union by Great Britain and she was followed by Italy and France. The United States granted recognition in 1933.

To begin with, the Communists of Russia believed in spreading Communism in every nook and comer of the world and were prepared to adopt any measures to achieve their objective. The Comintern was started in 1919 for that purpose. However, there was a change in Russia under Stalin.

To quote Stalin “The goal is to consolidate the dictatorship of imperialism in all countries.” After 1927, the Soviet Union entered into the Proletariat in one country, using it as a base for the overthrow of a series of non-aggression pacts with many countries. She not only signed the Pact of Pans, but also saw to it that the countries under her influence did the same. She was in favour of the Pact coming into force at once.

The Soviet Union proposed to Poland and Germany the conclusion of a Baltic Pact including the Baltic States for guaranteeing mutual aid and assistance in the event of any signatory state being attacked, but those proposals were not accepted either by Germany or by Poland.

The Soviet Union proposed to Germany the conclusion of an eastern Locarno in which the principles of the Locarno Pact of 1925 were to be applied, but the suggestion was rejected by Germany. Another attempt was made by the Soviet Union to enter into a tripartite mutual assistance pact with Germany and France. However, she was not successful in her attempt. It was under these circumstances that the Soviet Union entered into a Treaty of Friendship with France alone in 1935.

4. Stalin and the League of Nation:

To begin with, the Soviet Union Condemned the League of Nations as “a Holy Alliance of the bourgeoisie for the suppression of the proletarian revolution” and this continued to be her attitude throughout the 1920’s.

In 1928, a manifesto of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern declared “The League of Nations, the product of Versailles, the most shameless robber treaty of the last decade, cloaks the war-like work of its members by working out projects for disarmament”.

However, as the danger from Nazi Germany began to increase, there was a change in her attitude towards the League. In 1933, both Molotov and Litvinov spoke favourably of the League and gave a hint that the Soviet Union would be willing to join it. The initiative was taken by France and the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations in 1934. Litvinov, the Soviet representative in the League, was very enthusiastic about the work of the League.

He wanted the League to play an important part in world politics. He was particularly emphatic about collective security. His view was that peace was indivisible and he criticised those members of the League who were not prepared to take action against the aggressors. He condemned the attitude of the members of the League on the question of Abyssinia.

5. Stalin and Spain:

When the Civil War broke out in Spain, France and Great Britain followed a policy of non-intervention and refused to support the Russian efforts to save the Republican regime in Spam. The result was that General Franco and his colleagues were successful in over throwing the Republican Government in Spain. That was a great defeat for the Soviet Union.

6. Stalin and Germany:

The Soviet Union expected trouble from Hitler and consequently she left no stone unturned to make her defences as strong as possible. It is estimated that in 1936, the Red Army had 13 lacs of troops, 6,000 tanks and 7,000 aeroplanes. Every effort was made to increase the output of mechanised armaments.

7. Stalin and France:

As both the Soviet Union and France were afraid of Hitler’s designs, they entered into a Treaty of Mutal Assistance in May 1935. This treaty was linked up with an agreement to be signed with Germany Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic states. As the second part was not realised, the treaty between France and the Soviet Union remained practically ineffective. There is no comparison between this treaty and the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 which brought the two countries together into the World War I in 1914.

8. Stalin and Czechoslovakia:

On the occasion of the Munich crisis, over Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union offered to help Czechoslovakia against Germany but nobody bothered about the offer. The things were taken to such extremes that no representative of the Soviet Union was invited to take part in the negotiations with Hitler regarding Czechoslovakia.

This was resented by the Soviet Union. It is possible that this treatment might have forced the Soviet Union to come to an understanding with Germany directly and that could be the possible basis of the non-aggression pact of August 1939.

9. Stalin and Anglo-Soviet Negotiations:

After the annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia by Hitler in March, 1939, the Soviet Union was drawn once more to the side of Great Britain and France. All the three countries joined in the denunciation of the German annexation of Czechoslovakia. The same was the case when Germany began to make territorial demands on Poland and also assumed a hostile attitude towards Rumania.

There was the urgent necessity of an immediate agreement between Great Britain and France on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other for collective action against Germany and negotiations were started for that purpose. However, there were certain difficulties in the way which were not possible to overcome.

The views of the French and the British Governments differed fundamentally from those of the Soviet Union. Great Britain and France proposed a Three-Power Declaration in which the signatories were to announce their readiness to help one another if one or more of them were compelled to fight against Germany, as a result of German attack on Poland or Rumania, but the Soviet Union stood for a binding alliance.

The Great Britain was not willing to do because she still hoped to have some peaceful settlement with Germany. Such an alliance was bound to offend Poland which feared Soviet help as much as the German attack. Moreover, neither Great Britain nor France was prepared to commit herself to war in defence of Finland, Estonia and Latvia. The result was that the negotiations dragged on and nothing came out of them.

10. Stalin and Non-Aggression Pact:

On 23 August 1939, the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union was signed in Moscow. There was a secret additional protocol added to the pact in which the parties agreed to divide the territory of Poland among themselves.

The pact was a bargain between enemies, each of whom gained by it. Germany gained through the assurance that she would not face a Soviet attack from the East and she paid for that assurance by granting concessions to a power whom she expected ultimately to fight.

However, she was confident that she could choose the time of the conflict and Russia was too weak to begin an offensive war. Russia felt that she was making the best of a bad bargain. She was not sure of the attitude of Great Britain and France, and the agreement with Germany freed her for the time being from the fear of involvement in a war and increased her prestige in Eastern Europe.

There was the possibility of a war between Germany on the one hand and Great Britain and France on the other over Poland and all three could exhaust themselves and the Soviet Union could gain thereby. The pact was a gamble which the Soviet leaders were compelled to do. All hopes of Great Britain and France for Three-Power action were ended. For two years from August 1939 to June 1941, there was collaboration between the Soviet Union and Germany, but on 22 June 1941, the German forces invaded Russia and that brought her near Great Britain, France and the United States.

11. Stalin and China:

As regards the relations between Russia and China, the Chinese Government broke off relations with Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. She took part in the Allied expedition to Siberia. She tried to extend her hold on the border areas, notably Outer Mongolia and Sinkiang. It took over the management of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria. The situation in China seemed to be favourable for the spread of Communist propaganda and hundreds of Communist agents were sent to China.

In 1923 Dr. Sun Yat-Sen asked for Russian help to bring about law and order in his country. Borodin, one of the top organizers of the Comintern, went to China along with advisers. He helped Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in re-organising and building the influence of the Kuomintang. In January 1924, the Communists were admitted into the Kuomintang.

The Communists hoped to overthrow the Government in China and take possession of the same. General Chiang Kai-Shek did not like the Communist influence in China and in 1927 he was successful in turning them out from the country. They were not only expelled from the Kuomintang but hundreds of them were killed and many saved their lives by hiding themselves.

After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, tension between the Soviet Union and Japan increased. In order to meet the Japanese danger, the Soviet leaders strengthened their defences in the Far East and tried to improve relations with China. Diplomatic relations with China were resumed in 1932 in 1935 the Chinese Communists offered to join the Kuomintang in order to resist Japanese aggression in China.

From 1935 to 1945, the relations between the Soviet Union and China were technically all right. In August 1937, China and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact. For two years, Russia gave China diplomatic support and considerable war material. After Nazi attack on Russia, the relations between the Soviet Union and China improved again.

12. Stalin and Japan:

As regards the relations of Russia with Japan, Stalin had a horror of war on two fronts. He was eager to avert war in the Far East so that he could fight effectively in the West. In order to maintain peace in the Far East, Stalin sold the Chinese Eastern Rail Road which had cost Russia 225 million dollars to Japan for 30 million dollars only. He also negotiated fishery treaties on terms favourable to Japan. Stalin would not like to follow a policy which could be taken for cowardice.

Consequently, when Japanese troops, in an effort to test Soviet strength, attacked Russian troops in an undeclared war, along the Outer Mongolian frontier, the Soviet Army under General Blucher routed the Japanese forces. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 was considered by the Soviet Union as a direct threat and she condemned it in the strongest possible terms. Between 19^ and 1941, the Soviet Union and Japan were engaged in what is called a semi-war which had all the qualities of a cold war warmed up to the boiling point.

The border clashes at Changkufeng in 1935 and at Namonhan in 1939 were full-scale battles and in both cases Japan was defeated. In 1936 Japan entered into the anti-Comintern pact with Germany against Russia. This pact was treated with contempt by the Soviet Union.

In 1941, the Soviet Union entered into a non-aggression pact with Japan In April, 1942, when Japan renewed the anti-Comintern pact, the Soviet Union protested and cancelled the Japanese oil and coal concessions in Northern Sakhalin. The Soviet Union did not declare war against Japan throughout World War II.