How close was the world to being a Fascist-Leninist dystopia if a joint alliance of Hitler, Stalin, and Hideki Tōjō had won World War II? This could have been a consequence if it weren’t for a series of blunders made by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, including one by Adolf Hitler, when he turned one of his most powerful allies into one of his most fateful enemies. That ally turned enemy was Joseph Stalin. But wasn’t Stalin’s Russia one of the Allied powers fighting against the tyrannical Fascists? How was Stalin an ally of Adolf Hitler? First, Stalin had no noble intentions of destroying tyranny when he joined the fight against the Fascists. He was dragged into the war by Hitler’s betrayal (Turner). Furthermore, Stalin was a notorious tyrant himself, not that different from Adolf Hitler, or Benito Mussolini, or Hideki Tōjō (Moorhouse). Despite being perpetually paranoid and famously “trusting nobody,” Stalin trusted and admired Hitler (Lukacs). Even though Fascists and Marxists are sworn enemies ideologically, and the Soviet Union is remembered for defeating Nazi Germany, their often overlooked diabolical union in the early days of World War II might have caused one of the most debilitating wars in history.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact formed by emissaries of Hitler and Stalin aided Hitler’s invasion of Poland and Eastern Europe, thereby directly causing World War II. The Fascists and Marxist-Leninists never got along. Nazi propaganda condemned the Soviet Union, and vice versa. However, after months of negotiation with Britain and France to form an alliance with them against Germany, Russia eventually relented in trying to ally with them and turned instead to an alliance with Germany. Stalin understood Britain was not eager to enter an alliance with Russia because of their distrust of the Communists (Lukacs). Britain and France agreed to defend Poland if it were ever invaded, but they had done nothing when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia despite its violation of the Munich agreement, making Stalin doubt their resolve (Klein). The Soviet Union was already engaged in a war with Japan on its eastern front and considered peace with Germany to be an attractive option (Klein). Interestingly, Imperial Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Hitler was scrambling for an alliance with Stalin before he invaded Poland so that he would not have a two-front war like Germany did in World War I (Klein). He arranged for German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop to meet with Soviet counterpart Molotov. Stalin did voice his skepticism when he said, "For many years now, we have been pouring buckets of sh*t on each other's heads, and our propaganda boys could not do enough in that direction. And now, suddenly, are we to make our people believe that all is forgotten and forgiven? Things don't work that fast” (Evans). Still, within just a few hours, an ominous pact was formed between Fascist Germany and the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union. “The sinister news broke upon the world like an explosion,” Churchill wrote (Klein). The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact directly kickstarted World War II, making the debilitating war as much Stalin’s culpability as Hitler’s.
If Stalin had remained an ally of Hitler and become an Axis power, the result might have been devastating for the Allies and the entire world. Even as Western Communists left the Soviet Communist party in great numbers after the pact, and German Nazis were shocked by the alliance with the Communists they had fought for years (Moorhouse), the pact was mutually beneficial to Stalin and Hitler for nefarious reasons. The pact had secret clauses where they partitioned Poland between the two countries (Evans). They jointly invaded Poland, Germany from the west and Russia from the east, giving the world a taste of what was to come. The Soviets also invaded Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, and parts of Romania (Evans). Moorhouse also claims that, with this pact, Stalin was ready "to set the world-historical forces of revolution in motion.” The alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union even went so far that Germany provided state-of-the-art military equipment to the Soviet Union in exchange for raw materials such as oil and grain (Moorhouse). In eastern Poland, the Soviets carried out “mass arrests and deportations, shootings, torture and expropriation” (Evans). Thousands of Polish army officers were massacred in the Katyn Forest, and millions of Poles were sent to suffer in the harsh terrain and climate of remote Siberia and Central Asia (Moorhouse). Meanwhile, in Western Poland, things were even worse, where the Germans carried out “the expropriation of Polish farms and businesses, the mass confiscation and looting of private property, the deportation of more than a million young Poles to work as slaves in Germany, the brutal displacement of Polish populations, the massacres of Poles, and the confinement of the majority of Poland's 3 million Jews in overcrowded, insanitary, and deadly ghettoes in the major cities in the Nazi zone.” (Evans). Stalin even sent German communist refugees in the Soviet Union to the Gulags, and from there, they were deported to the Nazi concentration camps (Moorhouse). What happened in occupied Poland is a horrific reminder of what could have happened to the world if Germany and Russia had stayed allies.
Thankfully, Hitler and Stalin’s alliance did not last very long, and Hitler backstabbed Stalin mid-war, therefore triggering the two-front war he had feared all along. There are a few explanations as to why Hitler might have turned on one of his most powerful allies when he was winning. Many believe that Hitler turned on Stalin because he was a fanatical anti-communist with a profound hatred for Slavs (Lukacs). He was probably also disappointed by Stalin’s failed invasion of Finland. Additionally, the war was deadlocked in 1941, with neither the United Kingdom nor Nazi Germany being able to defeat each other, and USA inching closer to joining the war (Lukacs). Churchill famously inspired his troops by saying “We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender” (Turner). But Hitler believed that if he conquered the Soviet Union, Germany would be invincible with complete control of Eastern and Western continental Europe. After this, he could focus on the UK and USA, and these last bastions of freedom would have to reconsider their positions (Lukacs). Hitler was convinced he could invade the Soviet Union and win, and most of his generals agreed it would be over within three months. Even the USA and UK believed the Soviet Union would fall easily (Lukacs). Meanwhile, Stalin was obdurate in his belief that Hitler wouldn’t court a two-front war, and rumors of invasion were just Churchill trying to provoke a German-Soviet split. Even though Hitler had betrayed everyone else and broken all the rules and treaties, Stalin truly believed he was special (history channel). But when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Stalin was left with no choice but to ally with those he neither liked nor trusted (and who neither liked nor trusted him). If Hitler wanted a war, Stalin would give him just that. The Germans initially won until they reached Stalingrad, where the tides turned. Soviet civilians and soldiers alike were ordered to protect the city at all costs as it bore Stalin’s name. Men, women, and even children were made to fight, sometimes on suicidal charges against the enemies, without weapons or equipment (or they had to take one from the dead) (Turner). NKVD officers were waiting in the back to execute anyone who fell behind or tried to flee (Turner). The determination of the Soviet soldiers and civilians to protect Stalingrad, coupled by the fact that the Germans were not prepared for fighting in the harrowing conditions of a Russian winter, led the Soviets to eventually drive the German soldiers out after “some of the bloodiest, most atrocity-filled fighting ever seen in which several million perished” (Greenspan). Like the Soviet Union, the United States also had no interest in directly engaging in the war and fighting alongside Britain because of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s harsh criticism of the UK’s imperialist tendencies (Greenspan). Also, America had lost many soldiers in World War I and did not want to get involved in another “blood-soaked European conflict” (Greenspan). But when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt joined the war. Dave Roos summarizes it well when he says, “The Americans were isolationists, the Brits were imperialists, and the Soviets were Communists—the unlikeliest of political bedfellows.” Yet, they had no choice but to fight alongside each other. Stalin asked Churchill and Roosevelt to draw Nazi forces away from the Soviet Union by attacking Germany on the Western front. Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to do so in return for the Soviet Union assisting them in the war against Japan. Thus, the Allied Forces were formed, and Hitler got what he feared. A war on two fronts. Four years later, the Allied forces defeated Nazi Germany, and as Soviet forces entered Berlin, Hitler took his own life to avoid capture. After the war, the alliance between the USA, UK, and USSR was quickly broken. Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, was less trusting of Stalin than his predecessor, and refused to provide economic aid. This, coupled with increasing fear in the United States and Western Europe about the dangers of communism, led to the Cold War.
Even though it’s widely considered that Hitler is responsible for World War II on his own, people forget about his secret alliance with Stalin (generally remembered as one of the Allied leaders who helped defeat Hitler). Maybe Hitler would never have grown into the master of continental Europe without Stalin’s help. But when Hitler turned on Stalin, Stalin was forced to ally himself with Churchill and Roosevelt despite the deep distrust between them. Through a series of fortuitous blunders from Germany and Japan, the Allied forces was formed. In the end, the Allies were able to prevail, thereby stopping a devastating Fascist or Communist future for the world.
Evans, Richard J. “The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941 – Review.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 Aug. 2014.
Greenspan, Jesse. “When Stalin Was Caught Napping.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 22 June 2016.
historychannel. “The World Wars: Hitler Turns on Stalin (S1, E2) | History.” YouTube, YouTube, 29 May 2014. Klein, Christopher. “How a Secret Hitler-Stalin Pact Set the Stage for WWII.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 22 Aug. 2014, https://www.history.com/news/the-secret-hitler-stalin-nonagression-pact.
Lukacs, John. “Book Examines Relationship between Hitler and Stalin.” NPR, NPR, 27 Apr. 2006.
Moorhouse, Roger. The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-41. Vintage, 2016.
Roos, Dave. “FDR, Churchill and Stalin: Inside Their Uneasy WWII Alliance.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 June 2020.
Turner, Daniel. “Simple History: A Simple Guide To World War II”, SimpleGuides.