Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler in 1941? The Historiographical Controversy Surrounding the Origins of the Nazi-Soviet War

By Christopher J. Kshyk
2015, Vol. 7 No. 11 | pg. 2/2 |

Conclusion

The debate over whether or not Stalin intended to attack Nazi-Germany in the summer of 1941 is still ongoing and shows no signs of abating. Part of the problem is the nature of the sources and the (still) limited access to former soviet archives even after the collapse of communism in the 1990s. National pride is another factor which continues to fuel both popular and academic scholarship on the subject; Suvorov’s thesis has been used to attack Stalin’s dictatorship and to exonerate German war-guilt by shifting at least some of the focus onto Soviet, rather than German, aggression.

Yet the debate has also helped to expand our understanding of larger themes in Soviet, and indeed world history, during the interwar period. In particular there has been renewed focus on the nature of Stalin’s , which on the whole has demonstrated its rather than ideological nature as argued by Suvorov and other revisionist historians. Though the verdict on the subject is still inconclusive, I am not convinced by Suvorov’s arguments. While it is possible that Stalin was planning for war against Germany in 1942, the notion that Stalin was preparing to launch an offensive against Nazi-Germany in the summer of 1941 I consider erroneous.


References

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Bobyolev, P. N. “For What Kind of War Was the Red Army General Staff Preparing in 1941?,” Russian Studies in History 36 no. 3 (1997): 47-75.

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Erickson, John. "Barbarossa June 1941: Who Attacked Whom?" History Today 51, no. 7 (2001): 11-20.

Erickson, John. “The Great Patriotic War: Barbarossa to Stalingrad” in Higham, Robin and Frederick W. Kagan, eds. The Military History of the Soviet Union. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002: 109-135.

Glantz, David M. Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War II. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998.

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Kagan, Frederick W. “The Rise and Fall of Soviet Operational Art, 1917-1941” in Higham, Robin and Frederick W. Kagan, eds. The Military History of the Soviet Union. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002: 79-92.

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Litvin, Alter and John Keep. Stalinism: Russian and Western Views at the Turn of the Millennium. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Mel'tiukhov, M. I. “Disputes over 1941: An Attempt at Critical Interpretation of a Debate.” Russian Studies in History 36, no. 2 (1997): 6-34.

Mel'tiukhov, M. I. “Ideological Documents of May-June 1941 Concerning Events.” Russian Studies in History 36 no. 2 (1997): 73-96.

Menning, Bruce W. “Introduction,” Russian Studies in History 36, no.3 (1997): 3-7.

Murphy, David E. What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Nevezhin V. A. “Stalin's Speech of 5 May 1941 and the Apologia for an Offensive War: The USSR on the Eve of War with Germany: Policy through the Prism of Propaganda.” Russian Studies in History 36, no. 2, (1997): 48-72.

Nevezhin, V. A. “Stalin's 5 May 1941 Addresses: The Experience of Interpretation.” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 11, no. 1 (1998): 116-146.

Nordling, Carl O. “Did Stalin Deliver His Alleged Speech of 19 August 1939?.” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 19, no. 1 (2006): 93-106.

Roberts, Cynthia A. “Planning for War: The Red Army and the Catastrophe of 1941.” Europe-Asia Studies 47, No. 8 (1995): 1293-1326.

Roberts, Geoffrey. “Ideology, Calculation and Improvisation: Spheres of Influence and Soviet Foreign Policy, 1939-1945.” Review of International Studies 25 (1999): 655-673.

Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin’s Wars: From World War to , 1939-1953. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Sokolov, B. V. “Did Stalin intend to attack Hitler?”The Journal of Slavic Military Studies11, no. 2 (1998): 113-141.

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Endnotes

1.) Viktor Suvorov, “Who was planning to attack whom in June 1941, Hitler or Stalin?” The RUSI Journal 130, no. 2 (1985): 50-55.

2.) David M. Glantz, and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler (Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1995): 2.

3.) Stalin, J. V. Radio Broadcast: 3 July 1941. Joseph Stalin Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1941/07/03.htm

4.) Stalin, Radio Broadcast: 3 July 1941.

5.) Stalin, Radio Broadcast: 3 July 1941.

6.) David E. Murphy,What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005): xv-xvi.

7.) Iu. N. Afanas'ev, “The Phenomenon of Soviet Historiography” Russian Social Science Review 43, no. 2 (2002): 50.

8.) Afanas’ev, “Soviet Historiography,” 47.

9.) Afanas'ev, “Soviet Historiography,” 42.

10.) Afanas'ev, “Soviet Historiography,” 33, 51; Alter Litvin and John Keep. Stalinism: Russian and Western Views at the Turn of the Millennium (New York: Routledge, 2005): 161.

11.) Hitler justified his attack on the publically by claiming it was a pre-emptive strike against an imminent soviet offensive against Nazi Germany. TeddyJ. Uldricks, “The Icebreaker Controversy: Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler? The Slavic Review 53, no.3 (1999): 628.

12.) Though not the focus of this paper, prior to the 1980s the literature on the subject of the origins of the Nazi-Soviet War primarily focused on explaining why the Red Army fared so poorly during the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa. This debate largely centered around a number of issues, namely the effects of the great purge on the Red Army officer corps, the incomplete nature of soviet rearmament and reform of the Red Army, and finally on Stalin’s failed appeasement policy and unwillingness to acknowledge the imminence of a German invasion in the spring of 1941. John Erickson was probably the leading orthodox historian of this line of inquiry from the 1970s-1990s. A summary of his positions can be found in; John Erickson, “The Great Patriotic War: Barbarossa to Stalingrad” in Higham, Robin and Frederick W. Kagan, eds. The Military History of the Soviet Union (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002): 109-135.

13.) David M. Glantz, Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War II (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998): 2.

14.) Suvorov argues that Stalin had set the start of the Red Army’s offensive against Germany for 6 July 1941. Viktor Suvorov, Ice-Breaker: Who Started the Second World War?(London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987): 9, 323.

15.) Glantz, Stumbling Colossus, 7-8.

16.) Bruce W. Menning, “Introduction” Russian Studies in History 36, no.3 (1997): 3.

17.) Viktor Suvorov, “Who was planning to attack whom in June 1941, Hitler or Stalin?” The RUSI Journal 130, no. 2 (1985): 51.

18.) Suvorov, “Who was planning to attack whom?,” 54.

19.) Suvorov, “Who was planning to attack whom?,”53.

20.) Suvorov, “Who was planning to attack whom?,” 50, 53.

21.) Suvorov, Ice Breaker, 22.

22.) Cynthia A. Roberts, “Planning for War: The Red Army and the Catastrophe of 1941” Europe-Asia Studies 47, No. 8 (1995): 1294.

23.) Frederick W. Kagan, “The Rise and Fall of Soviet Operational Art, 1917-1941” in Robin Higham and Frederick W. Kagan, eds. The Military History of the Soviet Union (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002): 84.

24.) Kagan, “Soviet Operational Art,” 84.

25.) Kagan, “Soviet Operational Art,” 86-67.

26.) Kagan, “Soviet Operational Art,” 84-86.

27.) B. V. Sokolov, “Did Stalin intend to attack Hitler?”The Journal of Slavic Military Studies11, no. 2 (1998): 130; Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006): 69.

28.) Sokolov, “Did Stalin intend to attack Hitler?,” 128.

29.) Sokolov, “Did Stalin intend to attack Hitler?,” 131.

30.) Sokolov, “Did Stalin intend to attack Hitler?,” 131.

31.) Sokolov, “Did Stalin intend to attack Hitler?,” 134.

32.) Glantz and House, When Titans Clashed, 41-43.; Roberts, Stalin’s Wars, 63-64.

33.) Glantz and House, The Stumbling Colossus, 10-11, 258-260.

34.) Carl O. Nordling, “Did Stalin Deliver His Alleged Speech of 19 August 1939?” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 19, no. 1 (2006): 94-95.

35.) V. A. Nevezhin, “Stalin's Speech of 5 May 1941 and the Apologia for an Offensive War: The USSR on the Eve of War with Germany: Policy through the Prism of Propaganda” Russian Studies in History, 36, no. 2, (1997): 51.

36.) Georg Iggers, “The Professionalization of Historical Studies and the Guiding Assumptions of Modern Historical Thought,” in a Companion to Western Historical Thought, edited by Lloyd Kramer and Sarah Maza, (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2006): 226; John Tosh, The Pursuit of History, 5th ed. (Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education Limited, 2010): 314.

37.) Litvin and Keep. Stalinism, 197-98; AlbertL.Weeks, Stalin's Other War: Soviet Grand Strategy, 1939–1941 (Lanham: Rowmanand Littlefield, 2002): 93-96.

38.) Uldricks, “The Icebreaker Controversy,” 639-40.

39.) Roberts, Stalin’s Wars, 67.

40.) Erickson, “The Great Patriotic War,” 113.

41.) Weeks, Stalin’s Other War, 109.

42.) Roberts, Stalin’s Wars, 64.

43.) Suvorov, “Who was planning to attack whom?,” 50.

44.) Suvorov, “Who was planning to attack whom?, 50, 53.

45.) Roberts, Stalin’s Wars, 64.

46.) E. H. Carr, “The Historian and His Facts” in What is History? (London: Macmillan, 1962): 11.

47.) Mel'tiukhov, “Ideological Documents,” 92.

48.) Zubok and Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War, 4-5.

49.) Zubok and Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War, 6-7.

50.) Geoffrey Roberts, “Ideology, Calculation and Improvisation: Spheres of Influence and Soviet Foreign Policy, 1939-1945” Review of International Studies 25 (1999): 658.

51.) Gorodetsky, “Grand Delusion,” 7.

52.) Roberts, “Ideology, Calculation and Improvisation,” 655-56.

53.) Erik P. Hoffmann, “Soviet Foreign Policy Aims and Accomplishments from Lenin to Brezhnev” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science 36, no. 4 (1987): 14.

54.) H.W. Koch, “Operation Barbarossa: The Current State of the Debate” The Historical Journal 31, no. 2 (June 1988): 380.

55.) Suvorov, Ice Breaker, 10; Erickson, John. "Barbarossa June 1941: Who Attacked Whom?" History Today 51, no. 7 (2001): 12.

56.) V. A. Nevezhin, “Stalin's 5 May 1941 Addresses: The Experience of Interpretation” The Journal of Slavic Military Studies 11, no. 1 (1998): 140-141.

57.) Koch, “Operation Barbarossa,” 381.

58.) Koch, “Operation Barbarossa,” 381.

59.) Glantz, Stumbling Colossus, xii-xiii.

60.) Glantz, Stumbling Colossus, xiii.

61.) Menning, “Introduction,” 3.

62.) P. N. Bobyolev, “For What Kind of War Was the Red Army General Staff Preparing in 1941?” Russian Studies in History 36, no. 3 (1997): 47-48.

63.) M. I. Mel'tiukhov, “Disputes over 1941: An Attempt at Critical Interpretation of a Debate” Russian Studies in History 36, no. 2 (1997): 7.

64.) Erickson, “Barbarossa June 1941,” 12; Menning, “Introduction,” 3.

65.) Uldricks, “The Icebreaker Controversy,” 628.

66.) Erickson, “Barbarossa June 1941,” 12.

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