Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938-1945
The Origins of the Cold War

by R.C. Raack. Stanford, CA. Stanford University Press. 1995. viii + 265 pages. Hardcover.

Paul Saydak

The Cold War remains one of the most debated topics between scholars of American, Russian, West European and Central European history. Who was to blame for the start of the Cold War? Was it an aggressive Russian policy or American actions which set off the struggle? Likewise, was it the West's fault for having pushed Stalin into the arms of Hitler and set up a paradigm through which Moscow would continue to mistrust the Western powers even after the war? Given the lack of access to the Soviet archives, the academic community has produced a colorful array of interpretations explaining the initiation of the Cold War.

With the help of the newly available sources from Eastern Europe as well as a few from the former Soviet Union, R.C. Raack has undertaken to contribute to thefield of Cold War interpretation in his latest work. Responding to recent historiography claiming that Stalin, after the West failed to give Moscow a firm alliance offer, had little choice but to sign the Nazi-Soviet pact in August 1939, Raack makes a case that Stalin in fact allied himself with Hitler for other reasons. Raack's major contribution to the field of interpretation of the origins of the Cold War lies in the fact that he dates Stalin's planned offensive intentions further back than most: back to 1938.

Raack dates Stalin's planned offensive intentions to 1938. They led the Soviet leader to advocate the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in the late summer of 1939. The earlier Soviet attempt to move westward was stopped by the Poles.
Citing the evidence of Molotov's private boastings of expansionism in the summer of 1940, Raack demonstrates Stalin's desire to expand into the west of Europe. This desire, according to Raack, led the Soviet leader to advocate the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in the late summer of 1939. The author writes that if Stalin's international motives are closely examined, we can infer that in 1938 and in 1939, Stalin wanted a general war in the West, though without his participation, with the British, French, and Germans bogged down in a mutually debilitating conflict over Czechoslovakia. It was this kind of war that his quick agreement with Hitler, manufactured in the summer of 1939, was designed to encourage. (p. 20) In fact, the Soviets did gain valuable time in the almost two years after the Nazi-Soviet Agreement with which to consolidate its new officer ranks (previously handicapped and reeling from massive purges). Additionally, Raack's contention about Soviet desires for westward expansion as early as 1938 is supported by the often ignored attempts by Moscow to do the same less than two decades earlier in the summer of 1920. That Soviet attempt to move westward was eventually stopped at the gates of Warsaw and pushed back by Józef Pisudski's Polish armies.

Raack's work offers other compelling contributions to Cold War scholarship. Probably the most interesting is Raack's contention that Stalin did not view the future of Nazism and Socialism as forever divergent. Introducing a possible affinity between Stalin and Hitler, Raack uses the recently available Soviet documentation to show that Stalin, in November 1939, testified to having believed that someday Communism and National Socialism would converge. Stalin told several trusted colleagues that he believed that the German political system would increasingly take on socialist characteristics leading to the eventual convergence.

The remainder of Raack's study documents further the increasing aggression of the Soviet army throughout the war. First, after two and a half weeks of fighting the Germans, the Poles found themselves attacked from behind by Soviet armies which, in cooperation with Hitler, partitioned Poland for the fourth time. The Finns were attacked soon afterwards in November 1939. By August 1940, the Balts were annexed to the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, the Nazi attack on its former Soviet ally drew Stalin into the eventually victorious Allied coalition with the West.

What is refreshing about Raack's approach is his familiarity with East European sources which Western writers continue to ignore. For instance, he cites standard works in Polish on the period by such scholars as Piotr ¸ossowski, Krystyna Kersten, Jan Karski and Anna Cienciala. These studies enable him to portray with incomparably higher accuracy the East European experience in the context of Russian diplomacy with the West.

The immediate postwar period is illuminated by one of the most creative moments of Raack's book. Through his brilliant use of Soviet cinematic footage, the author captures Moscow's intentions at the end of the war. In May 1945, Stalin demanded that the Allies stage a repeat for cameras of the German surrender which had already occurred at Reims. On May 8, Soviet cameras and props were prepared for the affair in the Soviet-controlled German city of Karlshorst. Raack points out that the Soviet films which captured the event made sure to keep Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov in center screen throughout 'to emphasize the Red Army's major importance, this point likewise reiterated by the narrator.' (p. 115) An overnight feud among Allied powers about placement of representatives before the episode did not stop a favorable seating arrangement for the Soviets. Raack writes:

The squabble and the lack of Western preparation for the Soviets' pettifoggery here anticipated the conflicts to come and recalled such past inter-Allied wartime diplomatic exchange. It was an almost too obvious display of the East-West dichotomy that Stalin already had in mind. On the one side were the victorious Soviet armies; on the other, seated together as one scarcely significant group, were the Western Allies. This split is particularly emphasized in the Moscow-edited film, most certainly the official Soviet version, that was released in June [1945]. Already the Soviets were scorning that wartime parlance about 'allies'.... (p.116)
Raack shows the cynicism of Stalin's approach to the West at war's end. However, Stalin's intentions would not become fully apparent to Washington until 1946. Unfortunately for the Central and Eastern Europeans, the Red Army's presence upon their territory, until then unchallenged by the Americans, began what would become the loss of independence for Central and Eastern Europe for the next forty-four years.

The origins of Eastern Europe's occupation by Soviet troops, as presented by R.C. Raack's book, deserve more than a casual read. For those interested in his argument about Stalin's early aggressive strategies towards the West, and for those tired of historians making ignorant generalizations about Central and Eastern Europe, or for those who simply want a good solid account of the origins of the Cold War, Raack's book is a rare find.

Paul Saydak is a doctoral student in history at Yale University.

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