Stalin's alleged speech of 19 August 1939
This article covers a speech allegedly given by Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, on 19 August 1939 to members of the Politburo, wherein he supposedly described the strategy of the Soviet Union on the eve of World War II.
The historicity of the speech is still the subject of academic debate. Plausible textual evidence of this speech found in various reputable archives has been academically studied and published, however no formal first-hand evidence of a Politburo meeting held on 19 August 1939 or the delivery of the quoted speech has yet been proven. The Russian version of the speech (registered as f. 7, op. 1, d. 1223) can be found at the Center for Historic Documents of the former Special Archives of the USSR. Speeches given in secret were common at the time, the Politburo being a closed and secretive body. There are also contrary views that these copies were intended originally as propaganda and disinformation. Accordingly until consensus is reached by historians, the discussion of the documents supporting such a thesis are described in this article as an "alleged" speech.
In these reports, Stalin is represented as talking about his strategic view of the growing conflict in Europe, and his view that it would be beneficial for the Soviet agenda, insofar as it would weaken the West, allowing possible territorial expansion.
Summary of documents
In the source material available to historians, Stalin is represented as expressing an expectation that the war would be the best opportunity to weaken both the Western nations and Nazi Germany, and make Germany suitable for "Sovietization". There is also expectation of eventual territorial expansion to the Baltic countries, Finland and Poland, with the approval of either the Western powers or Germany.
Historians who have studied these documents have suggested that if such a speech took place, which is usually considered plausible but not proven (see below), then this view may have formed the basis for the Nazi-Soviet pact of non-aggression signed in 1939, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was also signed days later around 23 – 24 August 1939.
Source material and timeline
First published in 1939
The first version of this speech was published, partially, on 28 November 1939, in the Paris newspaper Le Temps by the news agency Havas despatch from Geneva. Since then several versions, varying in content, have been in circulation.
Stalin denies the news in Pravda
In Pravda of 30 November 1939, the day of the outbreak of the Winter War, Stalin was asked for his opinion on the report of "the speech" allegedly made "by Stalin to the Politburo on 19 August", in which he is said to have expressed the thought that the war should go on as long as possible, so that the belligerents are exhausted." Stalin stated this was an incorrect assertion, and was quoted by Pravda as saying:
- that it cannot be denied that it was France and England that attacked Germany and consequently they are responsible for the present war;
- that Germany made peace proposals to France and England, proposals supported by the Soviet Union on the grounds that a quick end to the war would ease the situation of all countries and peoples;
- that the ruling circles of England and France rudely rejected Germany's peace proposals.
Refound and authenticity issues
In 1994, Russian publicist Tatiana S. Bushuyeva published an archival reference because of the speech in an article printed in the Novy Mir magazine (#12, 1994), based on what she claimed was recent findings in Soviet Special Archives of a text that according to her was supposedly recorded by a Comintern member present at the meeting.
The actual original text is not available yet. Bushuyeva also printed a Russian translation of a version available in French. This caused another surge of speculations on the issue. Bushuyeva omitted to mention that the referred archival record was from stock related to the documents of General Staff of the French Army.
Historicity and debate
Whether this speech was ever given by Stalin is still the subject of dispute by historians and no proof is as yet unanimously accepted. According to Viktor Suvorov's book M-Day, Soviet historians laid special emphasis on proving that no Politburo meeting took place on 19 August 1939. Nevertheless, Suvorov states in his book that Russian military historian Dmitri Volkogonov has found evidence that a meeting really took place on that day.
An article in the Otechestvennaya Istoriya ((History of the Fatherland), Отечественная история, 2004, № 1) by Sergey Sluch (С.З. Случ) critically reviews the history of "Stalin's Speech", its textological analysis, and possible reasons and sources for the possible forgery. Carl Nordling, a Finnish statistician and amateur historian, pointed out some counter-theses to Sluch's disapproval of the existence of such a speech.
- Viktor Suvorov, a controversial historian who used the speech as an evidence for his thesis in works such as Icebreaker
- Stalin's Missed Chance, a research work by military historian Mikhail Meltyukhov, covering Stalin's alleged offensive plans
- Carl O. Nordling, Did Stalin deliver his alleged speech of 19 August 1939? published by the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 19:93-106, 2006 (Internet Archive).
- "Weeks quotes heavily from a speech which Stalin allegedly gave at a meeting of the Politburo on 19 August 1939 just prior to the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. Stalin talked about playing off the French and British against the Germans, undermining the Western democracies and coming in at the end of a long war to spread world revolution (Appendix, pp. 171–173). Weeks should have thought this document too good to be true. He attributes its to Georgi Dimitrov's diary, but it is nowhere to be found there. In fact, it turned up in French military intelligence documents captured by the Red Army at the end of World War II. It is not clear whether the 'original' document, obtained by the French 2e Bureau, was written in French or in Russian.' On 28 November 1939 the Paris daily Le Temps first published a Havas despatch from Geneva quoting Stalin's comments. The story caused a 'sensation', according to Ya. Z. Surits, the Soviet polpred in Paris. Both Le Temps and Havas were semi-official government sources. Surits linked the release of the 'document' to domestic anti-communist politics." Unlike Weeks, Pons is more cautious in assessing the authenticity of Stalin's 'speech' (pp. 190–191). The forgery of Soviet government documents was good business prior to World War II. Weeks appears to be the last in a long line of buyers of such material, though surprisingly Pons also lends it some credibility. In a recent article the Russian historian Sergei Z. Sluch notes that the 'speech' has a long history and many variants, and he argues persuasively that it is a fake. Surely, Sluch writes, historians have enough legitimate materials to study without indulging in 'sensationalism' based on counterfeit documents." (Review: Soviet Foreign Policy in the West, 1936–1941: A Review Article Author(s): Michael Jabara Carley Reviewed work(s): Stalin and the Inevitable War, 1936–1941 by Silvio Pons Stalin's Other War: Soviet Grand Strategy, 1939–1941 by Albert L. Weeks Source: Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 56, No. 7 (Nov., 2004), pp. 1081–1093)
- The archive files location: Centre for the Preservation of Collections of Historical Documents, former Soviet Special Archives; fund 7, list 1, file 1223, in Russian: Центр хранения историко-документальных коллекций, бывший Особый архив СССР, ф. 7, оп. 1, д. 1223
- Vivos Voco: Я.Г.Яксв,"Певэ Ярюкхмю,Йнрнпни Ме Ашкн"
- Случ С.З. Советско-германские отношения в сентябре-декабре 1939 года и вопрос о вступлении СССР во Вторую мировую войну
- Revue de Droit International, de Sciences Diplomatiques et Politiques (The International Law Review), 1939, Nr. 3, Juillet-Septembre. P. 247-249.
- Otechestvennaya Istoriya Отечественная история, 2004, № 1, pp. 113–139.
- A.L.Weeks Stalin's Other War: Soviet Grand Strategy, 1939–1941 ISBN 0-7425-2191-5
- Stalin's speech to the Politburo on 19 August 1939, reconstructed from renderings in Novyi Mir, Moscow, and Revue de Droit International, Geneva, pieced together by Carl O. Nordling, Sweden
- (Russian) Tatjana Bushuyeva’s article in Novyy Mir
- (Russian) Irina Pavlova about documents related to beginning of World War II
- (Russian) Irina Pavlova about findings by Bushueva