As a member of the League, Moscow participated in the imposition of sanctions on Italy after Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935 (Parker, 1974, pp. 293-332), and called for action against Hitler's invasion of the Rhineland in March 1936.
In contrast, following Hitler's election in 1933, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations and began to rearm. Throughout the 1930s, Berlin embarked on an aggressive foreign policy which included marching into the Rhineland, intervening almost immediately in the Spanish Civil War, declaring the Anschluss in March 1938, and threatening invasion of the Czech Sudetenland by September. During this period, the British public also learnt of the persecution of the Jews and other minorities within Germany. What was known about Stalin's purges was equally abhorrent. Yet, much had occurred to suggest to any objective observer of the international situation that Nazi Germany was in fact Britain's greatest threat. Despite this, members of the Conservative Party in particular continued to 'believe Nazis on the whole are more conservative than communists and socialists'.
On Aug. 23, 1939 Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin agreed to what became known as the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact. With that, Stalin made World War II possible. Assured that he was protected from Soviet counter-aggression in the East, Hitler invaded Poland a week later, Sept. 1. (Beichman, 1999, 19)
The signal that something was up between the two totalitarian powers had come some four months earlier but European chancelleries overlooked it. For on May 3, 1939 came the startling news that the Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov had resigned "at his own request." Litvinov, of Jewish origin and strongly anti-Nazi, had been replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov. His ethnic origins would not embarrass Hitler in dealing with communists.
Until the official announcement of the Nazi-Soviet pact, few believed such an agreement possible, especially the Communist Party leaders in the United States and the rest of the world - because the Soviet Union had posed as the dedicated leader in the fight against fascism. When Berlin and Moscow announced on Aug. 20, 1939 the signing of a trade treaty and newspaper dispatches began hinting about a further strategic alliance, communist spokesmen denounced such speculation as fascist in inspiration. They had every reason to disbelieve such a story because, after all, the Comintern line the world over was to seek a united front with the democratic West against fascism in the name of "collective security." Ignored was the editorial in Pravda Aug. 21 that the trade treaty "could be a serious step toward a further improvement of relations, not only economic but also political, between the USSR and Germany."
But newspaper speculation about the Nazi-Soviet alliance turned out to be correct. From Soviet archives we have now learned that on Aug. 19, 1939, Stalin told the Soviet Politburo that if a world war should follow a Nazi-Soviet pact it would only serve to strengthen Communist Parties in France and Britain. Stalin then accepted Hitler's suggestion that a German delegation