Communist account of swallowing hard the Nazi – Soviet Nonaggression Pact

As the world outside our movement grew increasingly hostile, we huddled more closely together.  Crowds at street corner meetings were becoming less friendly.  In some places our supporters were so few we had to give up holding meetings altogether.

Then, in August of 1939, came a political thunderclap — the Nazi – Soviet Nonaggression Pact.  It felt like the end of our cause.  Maybe it was.  How could we explain this treaty between a socialist country and the most hated fascist regime?

As the headlines were screaming out the news of the pact to divide up Europe, I made my way in a state of total confusion to the YCL headquarters.  Everyone was there, looking for explanations.  Seymour told us that the Politburo of the Central Committee was in session at that very moment to consider the Party’s position.  He was sure they would come up with a clear explanation of why the Soviets had signed the pact.

On our way to a meeting at Webster Hall that evening we were beseiged by a group of Trotskyites waving copies of their paper, The Militant.  Its headline read “Socialism Betrayed — Stalin Signs Pact With Hitler.”  An argument with the Trotskyites invariably ended in a screaming match.  Even to me, my arguments sounded limp, and I was glad when someone pulled me away:  “C’mon Schrank.  It’s a waste of time.  Nobody is going to convince anyone of anything.”

In the packed, hushed hall, hundreds of party members leaned forward in their seats as Earl Browder, the general secretary of the party and our very own midwestern college professor, quietly began to explain.  Ever since the rise of Hitler in Germany, he said, the central objective of the imperialist powers had been, directly and indirectly, to supprt and build German fascism in order to prepare for an assault on the Soviet Union.  It was no accident that the West had stood back as Hitler marched across Europe.  The Munich agreement, Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, the failure of the West to act — all convinced Stalin that Russia should not, as he put it, “pull their [the capitalists’] chestnuts out of the fire.”  Browder explained that at times socialism had to take many steps backwards in order to move forward.  This was such a time.  Stalin’s agreement with Germany would defeat the capitalists’ scheme of letting these two powers destroy each other while Britain, France, and the United States looked on, licking their chops in anticipation of spoils.

The hall broke out in wild applause.  Of course!  That was it!  It was a brilliant manuever!

But did we believe it?  At the cafeteria after the meeting, we were not so sure.  Henry pointed out that intellectuals like Browder could explain anything.  It was a Faustian gamble.  Could we sign a pact with the devil and not be destroyed by him?  Hitler was now ready to move east against Poland, and Churchill was saying that World War II was about to begin.

To those of us in the American Communist Party, Moscow was something like the Vatican to Catholics.  It was a far-off place that periodically issued directives — papal bulls or the party line — about subjects followers in distant lands may have known or cared little about.  With the exception of high party officials, most of us in the movement had never been outside the United States.  To me, Europe was a place Papa had characterized as cursed by an incurable and deadly nationalism.  Looking back, I think the outlook I learned from him didn’t give me much hope for Europe, and even less for Russia.  I suppose I was a provincal American.  I was humbled by the intellectuals in the party leadership.  I simply assumed they knew things I couldn’t possibly understand and continued to think of myself as a dumb worker.  Whatever doubts I had about the wisdom of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, I continued to believe in what we were doing in the United States.

Wasn’t That A Time, Robert Schrank, 175-176, 1998

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