Neil Richardson, Phil Catter, LysanderPhil is quite right to stress that the way that events developed reflected Hitler's personal obsessions. And in looking at the shaping influence of his background amid the bitter racial tensions of the dying Hapsburg Empire, as well as his manic anti-Semitism one needs to take into account his virulent Slavophobia.There was a coherent alternative vision of a 'national socialist' global order, which was rooted in Prussian traditions, and which was championed by the so-called 'Ostlers' of the German Foreign Office. Of these, the most significant was the ambassador to Moscow in the years leading up to the invasion of the Soviet Union, Friedrich Werner, Count von der Schulenberg.There are fascinating – and readable – memoirs of Schulenberg's diplomacy by two of his erstwhile subordinates, Gustav Hilger and Hans von Herwarth, available in English. And what is essentially the German Moscow Embassy view of Stalin's diplomacy underpins Grand Delusion, a notable 1999 study of the events leading up to Barbarossa by the Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky.At the risk of crass oversimplification, the 'Ostlers' tended to see the First World War as in substantial measure the product of the foolish abandonment by their own country of the traditional Bismarckian emphasis on good relations between Berlin and St Petersburg.
It was this abandonment, they were inclined to think, which had resulted in the ruin alike of Russia and Germany, one element of which was the triumph of Bolshevism in the latter country and the emergence of a serious communist threat in the latter.However, they believed that experience showed that national loyalties generally trumped transnational ones – the emotional force of the idea of the nation had been shown to be greater by far than that of the proletariat. One manifestation of this was Hitler's own success in smashing German communism – another the increasingly 'national socialist' nature of the system Stalin was creating.In essence, the Ostlers' view of the directions in which Stalin was taking the Soviet Union was not so very far from that of Trotsky, or the largely Trotskyist view expressed by Orwell in Animal Farm – they thought he was betraying the revolution, and with judicious encouragement could be persuaded to betray it some more.(Indeed, in his memoir, published in 1981, Herwarth would go so far as to describe Stalin as 'the liquidator of Communism', regretting that the National Socialists, 'prisoners of their own anti-Communist propaganda', had not realized the impact of the changes going on in the Soviet Union.)The case that Schulenberg was making to Hitler was, in essence, that you yourself have disposed of the internal communist threat and Stalin is turning from an international to a national socialist, why not transform the Anti-Comintern Pact by incorporating in it the power against which it had been directed? The creation of a 'continental bloc' of Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union could, in the view of the Ostlers, have satisfied concerns about access to raw materials and markets in a world of trading blocs, without any need for a recourse to war.This conception was taken up by Ribbentrop. But, having returned from his disastrous time as ambassador in London in 1936-8 consumed with hatred for Britain, Ribbentrop radicalised Schulenberg's vision into one where the members of the 'continental bloc' would slake their thirst for territorial expansion by dismembering the British Empire: which meant war.In the lead-up to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, there was an extraordinary parting of ways in the German Moscow Embassy. Unlike Schulenberg, Herwarth realised that if he concluded a pact with Stalin, Hitler would become involved in a war with the Western powers.Accordingly, he ended up attempting to subvert his ambassador's strategy, warning fellow diplomats in Moscow – including his American colleague Charles Bohlen – of what was going on, in a desperate attempt to make the Western powers realise that they needed to make terms with Stalin before Hitler did. Unfortunately Bohlen's reports were not passed on to London until it was too late, and other information we had about the likelihood of a pact was ignored.A fundamental problem then emerged with Ribbentrop's conception – that Stalin did not want to be drawn into a war against the British Empire, and refused to abandon the Balkans to Germany and redirect his ambitions towards the Near East and India. It was this refusal, Gorodetsky argues, which precipitated Hitler's final decision in favour of Operation Barbarossa.According to Gorodetsky, moreover, it was in the wake of the decision, rather than before it, that Hitler's Slavophobia came to the fore, and he made the suicidal decision to attempt the kind of war of annihilation and enslavement against the Russian people foreshadowed in Mein Kampf, rather than a war of liberation against communism, which might just have succeeded.As to the question raised by Lysander as to whether Stalin 'would not have seized the moment and launched his own surprise attack circa 1943 or so':The counterfactual is unanswerable, because there are so many imponderables about how the war would have developed had Hitler not attacked Russia. However, it is important to remember that the Soviets were the inheritors of a long Russian tradition of attempting to project an image of invincible might, which was – to quote the historian Moshe Lewin, who himself fought in the Red Army in the war – 'sometimes nothing more than a way of concealing, exorcizing or distracting attention from internal fragility.'The view of the German Moscow Embassy diplomats, echoed in Bohlen's reporting of the time, was that the Soviets were too fearful of a war with German to attack, unless there was an obvious breakdown. A decade later, Bohlen would deploy the same argument in a scathing critique of the key NSC 68 paper of April 1950. In that paper and its successors, he told Dean Acheson:No attempt whatsoever is made to analyze the great body of Soviet thought in relation to war between states or the even more elementary fact that any war, whether the prospect of victory be dim or bright, carries with it major risks to the Soviet system in Russia. The fact of war alone, its attendant mobilization, added strain on an already strained economy, exposure of Soviet soldiers to external influences, the entire problem of defection, the relationship of party to Army, the question of the peasantry and many other factors, which I am convinced are predominantly present in Soviet thinking on any question of war, are either ignored or treated as insignificant.The memorandum is on pps 181-2 of the first volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States series for 1951, available online at http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/FRUS/FRUS-idx?id=FRUS.FRUS1951v01.