THE Nazi assault on Bolshevik Russia ends one nightmare and begins another. The sinister prospect of a coalition between the two wings of world revolution, which haunted the minds of western statesmen for five years, has now been dissolved by Hitler's panzer divisions. In its stead rises another frightening prospect -- the possibility that Germany will control the resources and labor power in the vast territory stretching from Bohemia to the Himalayas and the Persian Gulf, and that she will use it as a base from which to gain domination of all Asia.

The key to an understanding of the present titantic struggle must be sought in the forces of history which have perpetuated a disequilibrium in the No Man's Land of Eastern Europe, where for centuries Teuton and Slav have contended, where the Catholic and Orthodox churches have proselytized at each other's expense, and where the Western and Eastern influences in European history have remained locked in stalemate. In the transition from the mediæval period to the modern, the breakdown of the unity of western Christendom and the emergence of the nation-state system roughly coincided in time with the elimination of the strong buffer states which had stood between the Germanic and the Russian centers of power. The result was perpetual instability. Any new solution for this tragic area must be considered in the light of its rôle in history. It is the thesis of this article that the solution of the problem of Eastern Europe is one of the prerequisites to the establishment of a lasting world peace.


Eastern Europe attained its maximum usefulness as a buffer between Teuton and Slav during the first half of the seventeenth century, when Muscovy was going through the Time of Troubles. The Ukraine then enjoyed the freedom of Cossack self-government under Polish hegemony, and Germany was the scene of the Thirty Years War. The buffer states (the Swedish-Baltic Empire, Poland and the Ottoman Empire) reached the climax of their power through the traditional policy of the French kings to support opponents of the Hapsburgs. The arrangement was weakened, and eventually destroyed, by the elimination of these historic buffers -- the Ukraine by union with Moscow, 1654; Sweden through defeat by Peter the Great, 1709; Turkey through defeat by Catherine the Great, 1774; and Poland by the three partitions, 1772-1795. By these events the Germanic Empires (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and the Russian Empire became contiguous. Each had a policy for the area in opposition to the other's. Bismarck, during his thirty years of office, did try to "keep the wire open to St. Petersburg." But the policy was abandoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The contest between Russia and Austria-Hungary, supported by Germany, for control of the Balkan heritage of the Ottoman Empire was the particular stage of the historic struggle for Eastern Europe which in 1914 precipitated the World War. With the passing of the four dynasties in that war (Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, Ottoman and Romanov) a drastic reorganization of Eastern Europe became necessary. To replace the contiguity of empire between Teuton and Slav two solutions for the area were expressed in treaty form in 1918 and 1919. Both failed.

The German solution of 1918 was a plan to reorganize Eastern Europe in the interests of the Central Powers. Poland was granted independence, and a separate Ukraine was created as an economic preserve through which Germany might dictate to Moscow. The Germans expected to recover some of the costs of the war through the advantages they acquired in the East. These expectations were written into their Treaty of Peace with the Ukrainian Peoples' Republic, February 9, 1918, and into the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Soviet Russia, March 3, 1918. By the latter treaty Russia recognized the independence of the Ukraine, and renounced sovereignty west of a line extending from the Gulf of Riga to the proposed Ukrainian frontier. By a subsequent treaty, August 27, 1918, Germany forced Russia to renounce sovereignty over Estonia and Latvia, and to recognize the independence of Georgia. The exploitation of the Ukraine, however, proved to be a false hope. The collection of grain from the stubborn peasants required the presence of one million German troops, who in the western theatre of war might well have insured the success of Ludendorf's offensive in France in March-July 1918. The Bolsheviks claim further credit for a share in the eventual Allied victory by their promotion of revolution within Germany, using the Soviet Embassy as a base for propaganda operations. Germany was, in fact, close to a Communist revolution in early November 1918. However, the strength of German Communism was a result, not the cause, of Germany's military defeat in the field.

As a result of losing the war in the West, Germany was forced to disgorge her Eastern conquests through annulment of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. General Hoffmann, who had conducted the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, then proposed to lead an all-European army into Russia to destroy the Bolsheviks. The plan is reported to have received the favorable interest of Marshal Foch. Students of German affairs have believed that many German leaders remained convinced that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk would one day be carried into full execution.

Having defeated Germany and gained control of the destinies of Eastern Europe, the Allies restored the buffer zone in theory, but left it weakened by an over-zealous application of the principle of self-determination. They accepted the separatist forces which parcellated the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They recognized the independent states which were established in the limitrophe areas of Tsarist Russia in the Baltic. They created a large but weak Poland to right the wrongs of the historic partitions.

The result was what has been described, not quite fairly, as the "Balkanization" of Eastern Europe. In the place of contiguous empires there appeared on the map a belt of new or restored states -- what the Germans call the "Teufels Gürtel." It was not a zone of strong buffer power, but an economic vacuum between the two high pressure areas of Germany and Russia. These weak states were left to work out the problems of their agrarian poverty as best they could and to devise means of meeting what they considered the menace of Bolshevism from the East. In order to improve their own security they resorted to an exaggerated economic nationalism which disrupted the natural exchange of agricultural and industrial goods between Eastern and Central Europe. Only an effective federation of Poland with the Baltic states, and the close coöperation of this bloc with the Succession States of the Danube basin, could at that time have restored the historic buffer between Germanic and Russian power. But the Poles, in their new nationalism, were still romantically devoted to the hope of a resurrected Rzecz Pospolita (the Polish-Lithuanian Res Publica after 1569, which extended from the Baltic to the rapids of the Dnieper). They refused to accept the Curzon Line as their eastern boundary. By the Treaty of Riga in 1921, resulting from their expedition to Kiev the previous year, they acquired considerable Russian lands. This added a Ukrainian minority of six millions to the German minority in Poland. The Czecho-Slovak state, already burdened with a German minority and a Hungarian minority, likewise acquired a Ukrainian minority in Carpatho-Ukraine, an area which came into its possession partly because of uncertainty as to how else to dispose of it, partly because the Czecho-Slovaks desired to have a common frontier with Rumania. The multi-national character of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia proved to be a weakness to each.

As no European Slav power showed the capacity to organize the buffer zone, it was only a question of time before a revived Germany, or a strong Russia, would attempt to gain mastery of it. The Allies, by failing to put their solution of the historic problem of Eastern Europe on a firm economic basis, and by failing to settle the problem of European security, created a vacuum. The existence of this vacuum was one of the causes of the second World War in 1939.

In the given conditions -- a highly efficient Germany, with surplus industrial capacity and manpower, and a backward, agrarian "Teufels Gürtel" which blocked her off from the riches of the Ukraine and the Middle East -- the historic German Drang nach Osten was, and is, to the German mind, as natural as the law of gravity. Even the Weimar Republic, whose weakness forced it into the Rapallo policy of coöperation with Soviet Russia, was never willing to accept as permanent the loss of the two eastern provinces, nor to recognize Germany's eastern frontier of 1919 as fixed and final. It remained for Hitler and Alfred Rosenberg to advocate marching to the Urals and to propose a fresh implementation of ideas deeply rooted in German thought. The Hitler "crusade" is an extension of the Hoffmann plan.

Bismarck, as a realist, did not want to add a single Slav to Germany's population. But Hitler, the romantic, had the idea that he could get the Corridor and Posnania from Poland in exchange for giving Poland a free hand in the Ukraine. Further, since Austria-Hungary no longer existed, it became necessary for Hitler to create either another multi-national state or a series of such states, to serve as the nucleus of the territories won by German arms in the push to the East. For a time it seemed that Poland was to be cast for the rôle formerly played by Austria-Hungary. The Nazi-Polish Ten Year Pact of Non-Aggression, in January 1934, was considered a first step in fulfilment of the plan for the creation of a Berlin-Warsaw-Kiev-Baku economic axis against Russia. But after the death of Pilsudski, who held to the dream of a resurrected Rzecz Pospolita, Poland's leaders seemed to believe that any solution of the Ukrainian problem which would benefit Germany would ipso facto be detrimental, if not fatal, to Poland. Accordingly, from 1936 on, they sought to renew their former ties with France and to improve their relations with Soviet Russia. The last Nazi attempt to gain Polish collaboration in their designs on Russia is said to have been made by Göring in his offer to Colonel Beck during the hunting box party near Bialowice, in January 1939.[i] What reply Colonel Beck made is not known. But two months later the Nazi seizure of Prague brought German troops to Poland's southern frontier.

The Anglo-French answer to Hitler's seizure of Prague in March of that year was to guarantee Poland. Whether or not Poland might have been forced to collaborate with the Nazis had that guarantee not been given is not known. Nor is it known whether the Nazi war machine would then have rolled quickly to the Russian frontier and faced Stalin with an immediate decision -- either to fight alone or to request military assistance from other members of the League of Nations. What seems to be fairly clear is that the Anglo-French guarantee to Poland forced Hitler into temporary collaboration with Stalin (1939-41) in order to relieve the anxieties of his General Staff regarding another war on two fronts along the lines of 1914. The Polish leaders might have chosen to collaborate with Hitler and to share in the "New Order" at the expense of Russia. Instead, they kept their pledges to Britain and France, and opposed the Nazi war machine unaided; in the dénouement the Germans and the Russians met again over the body of Poland -- the fourth partition.

From this point of view, the war against Britain and France became for Hitler a necessary interlude, in order that he might destroy the offensive power of his potential enemies in the West before resuming the march to the Ukraine and the Caucasus. He kept his timetable in smashing the Low Countries and France, but he was delayed by the failure of the all-out air offensive on Britain.

Although compelled to postpone the invasion of Britain, the Nazis were able to reorganize the industrial and food production of all the occupied territories to strengthen their war machine for the eventual assault on the U.S.S.R. The Nazi Balkan campaign of the spring of 1941 was preparatory to gain control over the approaches to the Straits. Considerable mystery cloaks the relations between Germany and Russia in the period prior to the assault on June 22, 1941. The novelty was not the attack itself, nor the timing, but the fact that Stalin was not given another opportunity to collaborate on fixed terms. There was no German ultimatum. It is reported that Stalin hoped the attack would not come before August, as winter would then be a more certain ally. His actions (e.g. recognition of the short-lived rebel régime in 'Iraq, and the dismissal from Moscow of the missions of the various small countries conquered by Hitler) indicated that he would have played for more time by collaborating further. But Hitler decided otherwise. His decision to gamble on being able to destroy the Red Army by autumn probably was the greatest risk he has taken since he invaded the Rhineland in 1936.

While it is hard to distinguish between a war emergency arrangement and plans for permanent reorganization, it seems likely that Hitler's political purpose is to create a German Lebensraum by driving the Bolshevik régime into Asia and by setting up a new multi-national state in Eastern Europe to serve as a substitute for old Austria-Hungary. He may conceive of this new state as a West Slav bloc consisting of Lithuania, part of Poland and all of the area inhabited by a Ukrainian-speaking population. For German purposes such a state must be militarily weak and politically dependent on the Reich. Into it would be moved the Czechs, all the Poles, and other Slav groups whose historic lands have bordered on the Reich. The lands vacated by these persons would be occupied by Germans, thus enlarging the purely German Lebensraum. Hitler's economic purpose is likewise vast. In particular it involves the exploitation of Russia's raw materials, especially oil, as supplies for the "New Order" in Europe and as sinews in a long war of attrition against Britain and America.


Whatever the ultimate military outcome of the Nazi-Bolshevik war, it created a new situation for Britain and America. Hitler's "crusade" might spread conditions of civil war to all the occupied territories of Europe. Or it might pave the way for Hitler to make a peace offensive in the West. Meanwhile the British-Bolshevik war alliance of July 12, followed by the British-American promise of all possible aid to Russia, has ushered in a new stage in the joint effort against the Nazis. The many complications which may result from this action can as yet be only guessed at. But it is here suggested that our policy should be formulated with several contingencies in view.

The first contingency assumes the survival of the Bolshevik régime. This requires that the Red Army shall keep the field in Europe through September and shall continue to demonstrate a capacity for counter-offensive tactics in order to avoid envelopment by the Germans. The Red Army must be able to retreat far enough and in time (cf. the success of Joffre's retreat in 1914, and the failure of Gamelin and Weygand in 1940). It may be that the German Army will stop for the winter at Leningrad and at points in the Eastern Ukraine. The Germans would then control about three-fifths of Russia's coal and iron, and a considerable part of the sources of food supply. Further, the Luftwaffe would be within range of the lower Volga and could not only hamper industrial production but also could threaten interruption of Russia's oil supplies by river tanker and pipe-lines. The situation would be serious. Nevertheless, if the Red Armies in European Russia can avoid suffering a knock-out blow, and provided its air force remains effective, the Russians can contain a large part of the German Eastern Army and can continue to exact a heavy Nazi expenditure of manpower, matériel and oil. In that event, provided the British and the Americans have meanwhile acted with increasing rather than decreasing vigor, the situation of 1918 might be repeated: "Germany wins victories in the East, but in the end loses the war through a defeat in the West."

Survival of the Bolshevik régime also involves effective execution of the "scorched earth" policy, so that invaded areas offer insurmountable problems to the enemy; the continuance of effective guerrilla warfare; and effective sabotage of communications and units of production by the secret Russian organizations left behind in the occupied zone. As the Ukrainian collective farms are operated almost exclusively by tractors, the Germans must capture the Russian oil fields to make the campaign pay its costs. Reports indicate the possibility of a sea-borne attack on the Caucasus with barges built or assembled on the lower Danube, and supported by air-borne troops after the manner of the operations in Crete. Granted the British obtain transit privileges through Iran, it remains to be seen how much of the Indian Army can be diverted by General Wavell from Singapore and East Africa for the defense of the oil wells in the Caucasus.

If the Bolshevik régime is forced back to the Urals, how self-contained would be the Ural-Baikal zone? There has been a heavy movement of industries eastward since 1932, nearer to the new sources of raw materials. This has vastly improved Russia's strategic position over that of 1914, when one-third to two-thirds of the key industries were located in the extreme west. The Ural-Kuznets combine (iron and coal), while not yet equalling the output of South Russia, is expected eventually to become the economic center of gravity of the Soviet industrial system. Transport difficulties have been largely met by the building in recent years of numerous feeders to the trunk lines, and by double-tracking of the Trans-Siberian railway. Whether the Ural area and the territories stretching thence to the Pacific can withstand a combined siege from west and east cannot be determined from the data available. Sverdlovsk, the citadel of Russia's inner defense, will be the most likely choice by the Bolsheviks for their capital if their régime moves east of Moscow.

Other factors conditioning the survival of the Bolshevik régime in the circumstances indicated would include the capacity of the military and naval commissars to counter German efforts to spread defeatism and separatism. Further, the Bolsheviks used the "boring from within" process successfully in Germany in 1918. They might do so again.

However, should the contrary happen -- should the Red Army be destroyed this year, or should it be enveloped and captured, or should it be put out of action through the breakdown of transport or a failure of supplies or the general economic exhaustion of the country -- then it is possible that the Bolshevik régime might collapse, and that under Nazi pressure the Soviet Union might dissolve into its component racial parts, at least for a time. This is the second contingency which American policy must take into account.

There can be little doubt that the Nazis expected such a collapse when they again assumed the risk of a war on two fronts. Their plan is to set up puppet régimes from Finland to the Caucasus, with a main focus of Germanic power in the West Slav bloc described above. Control over the puppet régimes would give the Nazis the advantages of control over Russian resources and labor power. From this base they would be in a position to threaten Britain in the Middle East and India.


For the United States this new situation on the world battle front compounds the political confusion. Who is friend and who is foe? Finland, long hailed as the advance guard of the free peoples, is fighting on the opposite side of the line from Britain. France, from whose forge the fires of liberté spread through Europe, is collaborating, under the pressure of defeat and by decision of the Men of Vichy, in the creation of Hitler's "New Order." At such a moment, when yesterday's opponent is today's war partner, when the comrade of many battles is the potential enemy of tomorrow, it is necessary for us to think through a long-range policy which will reconcile the British-American determination to win the war with the requirements of a constructive plan to win the peace after the hostilities are over. Central in all such calculations must now be a consideration of the rôle of Russia, both in the war and in the peace.

If the Bolshevik régime survives, as set forth above as one contingency, and if the United States enters the war on the side of Britain, do we assume any of the obligations Britain may have in regard to Russia? Granted that every effort must be made to maintain the Eastern front so long as the Red Army keeps the field, there exists the element of risk that some American supplies might fall into German hands. Critics of the Bolsheviks, while expressing astonished praise for the heroism of the Red Army, are alarmed over the possibility that American supplies might help preserve Bolshevism in Russia, might even, one day, serve as sinews for world revolution. They argue that the release of war materials to Russia and American financing of Soviet purchases should be made contingent upon the dissolution of all Comintern agencies in America and Moscow's abandonment of world revolution.

A second question involves the Far East. If, after occupying Indo-China as a precaution to the South, Japan abrogates her Neutrality Pact of April 13, 1941, with Russia, and attempts to seize the Maritime Province, the Kamchatka fisheries, or Outer Mongolia, should the United States intervene in order to keep open the line of supply to the Russians? Does the cause of defeating Hitler require that we give military support to the Bolsheviks in the Far East, considering the lessons of our intervention there in the years 1918-20?

A third question concerns the peace. The Bolshevik régime entered a brief period of tolerance in 1934 following the successful completion of the first Five Year Plan, but it hardened again under the threat that the Nazis might march to the Urals. Is there any evidence that it might again soften once the Nazi power were broken, and actually become an economic democracy through faithful fulfilment of the 1936 constitution? Could the democracies share the responsibilities of establishing peace with a chastened Bolshevik régime, one, moreover, which would be dependent on the West for economic reconstruction? That peace will demand, as the foregoing pages have endeavored to show, a balance in Eastern Europe. It can be attained only through the creation of strong buffer states to prevent direct contact between the Germanic and the Russian zones of power and likewise to prevent the division of the area into small nationalistic states having too complete jurisdiction over their separate economic destinies. Can America take part in the war, even merely to the extent of serving as the arsenal for democracy, and avoid responsibility for correcting the historic disequilibrium which, once the Nazis had come to power in Germany, made the war all but inevitable?

Should the Bolshevik régime collapse, another and different question would arise. Should the process of dissolution of the Soviet Union, perhaps into many weak states under shifting local leaders, be allowed to run its course without any attempt being made to save the old national régime or build a new one? The answer might be "yes" by those who imagine that the war can be satisfactorily ended for Britain and America by a "compromise" under which the Ukraine and the Caucasus became part of the Nazi Lebensraum.

It is possible, of course, that in event of a collapse of the Bolshevik régime there would be a new so-called national régime, one of the Vichy type under German domination. In that case, ought we make an effort to prevent the Trans-Siberian railway from falling into its control? Should we, as part of the same policy, support whatever opponents to the Nazis there are at that moment in the Far East -- China, or perhaps even Japan?

On the other hand, if the successor régime were purely Russian and nationalistic in temper, organized by the remnants of the Red Army as a system of military Socialism within the framework of the 1936 Constitution, should America support it by economic and military means? The emergence of a Russian national state of an attenuated socialistic character, which felt too weak to foster world revolution or which was no longer interested in it, might very well offer a solution which we could wholeheartedly support as an economic democracy indigenous to the soil.

Our latest guidepost in reëxamining our attitude toward the Russian problem was provided by the Roosevelt-Churchill "Atlantic meeting." The two leaders there decided to give material support to Russia as part of the "win the war" plan. Their "win the peace" plan was incorporated in the Eight Points, certain of which bear directly on the problem of Eastern Europe. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill agreed:

2. They desire to see no territorial changes which do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.

3. They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see the sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.

6. . . . they hope to see established a peace . . . which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.

The second and third points repeat, in essence, President Wilson's doctrine of self-determination and consent of the governed as enunciated in his speech on the Four Principles, February 11, 1918. The sixth point refers to two of President Roosevelt's four freedoms. The phrase "all the men in all the lands" applies not only to the oppressed peoples of Europe, but to Russians and Germans as well.

It is interesting to recall that President Wilson in 1918 proclaimed that the treatment accorded to the Russian people would be the acid test for the victors. That test was met by putting Russia behind a cordon sanitaire. The acid test may again be the treatment accorded the Russian people who have suffered longer, and more intensely, than any other great nation except the Chinese. By their Homeric labors to "build Socialism," and by their equally Homeric resistance to the Nazi invaders, the Russian people would seem to have earned the right to enjoy President Roosevelt's four freedoms. A purely Russian national state, based on modified Bolshevism but moving in the direction of true economic democracy, as devised in principle by the Bolsheviks in 1936, would seem, in the eyes of the writer, one with which Britain and America could fully coöperate. Should that come to pass, then the British-Bolshevik alliance, supported through to victory by America, may prove to be not just a war marriage for the purpose of defeating the Nazis, but the initial step in a process to bring Russia back into the community of Christian nations. In formulating our policy we should not take any action that might block or impede the attainment of this satisfactory result.


Many of the questions here raised cannot be answered before the military outcome of the Nazi-Bolshevik war is known. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the United States ought to formulate in its own mind the policies which it should follow in each of the various contingencies which may arise. Day-to-day decisions should conform to a pattern and they should add up, at the end, to make a coherent whole.

Even at this early date, and even in such a bewilderingly complex situation, one still is able to make a few general statements. One of them is that the nightmare of a Nazi-Bolshevik coalition is over. Another is that Russian Bolshevism may be regarded as offensively dangerous to the world as a whole only when, in alliance with German Nazism, it unites the two wings of world revolution. A third generalization is that when Germany and Russia do not adjoin each other they are likely to be friendly to each other and remain at peace; and that when they are contiguous they gravitate into war. And fourth is the possibility that out of the crucible of war may emerge a Russian national state which, even though retaining Bolshevik leadership, will abandon world revolution.

From the historical point of view, the fundamental issue being decided on the Eastern front is whether the Muscovite Power, which began as a small nucleus around Moscow in the fifteenth century, can survive in the twentieth. If so, the world will eventually face the problem of building up an effective buffer zone between Germanic and Russian power. Unless a constructive solution is achieved for the "Teufels Gürtel," it will continue as the cradle of wars and the graveyard of peace settlements. The statecraft of the United States, the world's strongest economic power, will share in determining not only Germany's place, but Russia's place also, in the community of nations.

[i] Cf. W. E. D. Allen, "The Ukraine." New York, Macmillan, 1941.

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  • BRUCE HOPPER, Associate Professor of Government at Harvard University; author of "Pan-Sovietism" and other works
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