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  • Mezhdunarodnyi krizis 1939 goda v traktovkakh rossiiskikh i pol´skikh istorikov (The International Crisis of 1939 in the Works of Russian and Polish Historians)
  • Daniel Stotland
M. M. Narinskii and S. Dembski, eds., Mezhdunarodnyi krizis 1939 goda v traktovkakh rossiiskikh i pol´skikh istorikov (The International Crisis of 1939 in the Works of Russian and Polish Historians). 480 pp. Moscow: Aspekt Press, 2009. ISBN-13 978-5756705799.

As interest in the Soviet experience of World War II continues to gather steam, it was perhaps inevitable that the tumultuous year spanning the period between the Munich Conference and the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact should become a focus of discussion once again. The diplomatic history of that period has been enmeshed, as few other topics were, in the framework of the Cold War propaganda conflict. The defining battle of its historiography was launched when the Allies brought to light documents captured from the German Foreign Ministry. Published in January 1948, Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939-1941 was a carefully arranged and selected collection illuminating the scope of cooperation between the USSR and Hitler's Germany.1 The implication of this material was that, in the run-up to World War II, the Soviet Union acted as a disruptive influence in international affairs and shared a substantial degree of blame for causing the war.

The USSR wasted little time in responding by launching its own historiographical broadside. In February of the same year, the Soviet Information Bureau published a communiqué titled Falsifiers of History, singling out the Western policy of appeasement as the main contributing factor in Hitler's rise to dominance of Central and Eastern Europe.2 Within the Soviet bloc, the version established by Falsifiers of History persisted until the 1990s as the defining framework for interpreting the causes of World War II.

Western historiography, however, was in fact both more polyphonous and more volatile. Thus A. J. P. Taylor, in the course of his revisionist account of the interwar years, sympathized with the Soviet view that Stalin was [End Page 745] essentially committed to the collective-security approach and was forced into accommodation with Hitler only by the machinations of the Western appeasers.3 His modern heirs, for example Geoffrey Roberts, to this day maintain that—governed by ideological as well as realist concerns—the Kremlin had been genuinely committed to the ideals of collective security.4

This school of thought, in turn, was problematized by the postrevisionists of the late 1970s and 1980s, such as Jonathan Haslam, who envisioned Stalin's foreign policy as the product of ruthless realpolitik adaptation, based on pure self-interest, with the Soviet Union's security as the ultimate touchstone.5 Neither long-term plans nor ideology guided Stalin's actions; rather, all possibilities were considered as they presented themselves. This approach currently reflects the dominant Western view on this issue.

It is not without its critics, however. Scholars who give considerably more weight to the ideological features of the Soviet decision-making process have taken the lead in countering it. The so-called German school and historians like Ernst Topitsch argue that an ideological mindset framed Stalin's policy, the core of which was provocation of war between the capitalist states. These historians postulate that the Non-Aggression Pact was the culmination of a concerted effort on Stalin's part to woo Hitler and to reestablish Soviet-German post-Rapallo cooperation.6 This conception then presents Stalin as the key architect of the conflict, with the Pact as a "blank cheque" issued to Berlin.

The Western debates over war guilt reached their apogee with the Icebreaker controversy. This polemic followed Viktor Suvorov's suggestion that the German attack on the USSR was essentially a preventive measure that preempted an imminent Soviet invasion.7 Largely dismantled by historians like Gabriel Gorodetsky and David Glantz, Suvorov's thesis today occupies a marginal position in Western scholarship, although it remains relevant for the wider Western public and among some scholars in post-Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. In fact, one of the contributors to the volume under review [End Page 746] here, Mikhail Mel´tiukhov, produced a seminal defense of Suvorov...


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