chapter  5
9 Pages

The military leader

Very little has so far been said about Stalin’s conduct of foreign policy. During the 1920s the Soviet Union pursued an ambiguous and seemingly contradictory course in its relations with the outside world. On the one hand, she needed to establish a peaceful working relationship with the hostile capitalist powers with which she was surrounded, if possible gaining diplomatic recognition and establishing overseas trade links. On the other hand, the government was still ideologically committed to the concept of world revolution and the overthrow of the capitalist system with which it was, nevertheless, striving peacefully to co-exist. To this end, Lenin had inaugurated the Third (Communist) International (Comintern) in March 1919. However, it soon became apparent that, as in its dealings with foreign governments, so with foreign communist parties, the immediate national self-interest of the Soviet Union was paramount and took precedence over the long-term ideological goal of international communism. Lenin’s disputes with the so-called Left Communists over the treaty of BrestLitovsk established the precedent (see Chapter 3), and Stalin was later to reinforce the primacy of nationalist over internationalist aims with his policy of Socialism in One Country, even if this meant abandoning foreign comrades in favour of alliances with moderate political parties. In China, this policy ended in tragedy in 1927 when the Cominternbacked nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang butchered the Chinese communists in Shanghai.