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I have read a couple of books by Viktor Suvorov, such as Icebreaker as a child where he presents a theory that before World War 2, Stalin was planning to attack the West via Germany, and/or had set things up so that Germany attacked.

Back then I had no evidence to support or contest this, and no experience in spotting crackpots. Right now I still have no evidence for or against (because I'm pretty bad at history), but it sure does have some signs of a crackpot theory.

Is this accepted or discredited by the community of historians? Is there sufficient evidence to be sure one way or the other?

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It's probably hard to find direct evidence, but IIRC Suvorov had plenty of circumstantial ones. One that stuck in my brain was that Stalin was mass-producing the type of tanks that would be very useful on European fancy roads but would be all but useless in USSR territory with what always passed for "roads" in Russia. It's been a while but I recall many easily verifiable facts like that which individually don't prove anything but alltogether do make you go "huh? this makes no sense UNLESS that's what Stalin planned". –  DVK Apr 17 '11 at 3:23
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@DVK: First of all, the "stupidity before evil" applies here. If the tanks USSR was producing was useless, that's an effect of centrally planned government and bureaucracy, not secret intents. Ask yourself how Stalin knew what kind of roads the tanks would be useful on. :-) Secondly, I assume he is referring to the BT tank (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BT_tank) which could be converted to run fast on paved roads. That did not make it useless in USSR. I betcha most of his circumstantial evidence is like that: Bogus. –  Lennart Regebro Apr 17 '11 at 8:37
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@Lennart - the Hanlon's Razor concept that you refer to does not really apply to dictators of Stalin's caliber. The dude was anything but stupid, and absolutely believed in military aggression. As far as BT, Wiki explicitly says "However, Soviet tank forces soon found the convertible option of little practical use in a country with few paved roads, and it consumed space and added needless complexity and weight. The feature was dropped from later Soviet designs". Don't you think that Stalin did not know the state of infamous russian "roads" before approving the design? –  DVK Apr 17 '11 at 11:58
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@Lennart - mind you, I'm not saying that the evidence is slam dunk incontrovertible; or anything but circumstantial. Merely that most of it is AT LEAST plausible, and a lot of it - if true - matches up. Jury verdicts were decided on significantly less convincing stuff. A proper response to this question would analyze every piece of main evidence one by one and try to rebuff it with facts (and not Hanlon's Razor) if possible –  DVK Apr 17 '11 at 12:00
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@DVK: Nobody called Stalin stupid. But one person can not be an expert on everything. Did he know how well it would work on Russian roads? Did even the inventor know? Whose idea was it? Did Stalin order something that worked well on German roads? I don't think this claim is plausible, because it assumes that 1. Stalin ordered this functionality and that 2. he knew it was of little use in Russia. It is way more likely that 1. somebody (perhaps Stalin, perhaps not) approved this, because 2. it sounded like a good solution to a well known problem. –  Lennart Regebro Apr 17 '11 at 15:49
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The prevailing view is that Stalin saw Hitler as a kindred spirit (and it's hard to call him wrong) and he probably thought Hitler recognized this kindred spirit as well.

As a result it's documented that Stalin refused to believe that Hitler would invade, even when he got reports of a buildup.

This view is presented for example in Gabriel Gorodetsky's book "Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia" and in Simon Sebag Montefiore's acclaimed "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar".

As such, the theory is if not discredited, then at least not shared by the majority of historians.

One of the arguments put forward to support this is the lack of defensive plans. But that's easily explained away by Stalin's documented refusal to believe Hitler would invade. To make plans for something Stalin claims never will happen was like asking to get sent to Siberia.

What is also important to know about claims about "plans", is that "plans" is a very vague term and can mean anything. If Stalin sat down over a cup of coffee and a smoke and thought about how he would go about invading Germany, is that a "plan"? In some sense it is. And the military will make plans for all sorts of events. That doesn't mean they want the plans to happen.

So to say that Stalin planned an attack he must have had not only military plans, but also the intent to put them into practice. So the plans can't be simply "just in case". And that is very hard to prove.

Other arguments are incomprehensible. Apparently Suvorov takes the dismantling of the Stalin line (a defensive line along the Soviet borders before the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) and the building of the Molotov Line (a defensive line along the Soviet borders after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) as some sort of evidence for an invasion. How the logic there works is beyond me. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact meant that the Soviet Union expanded westward quite a lot. It's natural that a new defensive line is built along the new border. How that is evidence of offensive plans is beyond me.

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In fact, Zhukov proposed a plan for a Soviet pre-emptive strike early in 1941, IIRC. This was in response to the German buildup, while Suvorov's claim is that the Soviets were planning to attack for the sake of attacking. –  David Thornley Apr 17 '11 at 19:39
    
@David - I don't see how the two purposes contradict one another. If you read the works of soviet propagandists (including Stalin), they view offensive warfare as legitimate tool in the victory of the world proletariat. Heck, they DID wage offensive war (Iran, Finland, Poland are just the ones that I came up with in 3 seconds of typing the comment). This does not invalidate Zhukov's intentions at all –  DVK Apr 18 '11 at 13:58
    
@DVK: I'd have to do a little digging currently to find cites disproving Suvorov's claims. The Soviets did consider offensive war legitimate, but they were cautious in using it. However, they didn't have plans for a general offensive in 1941, although it will take me a little time to nail that down. –  David Thornley Apr 18 '11 at 14:04
    
@Lennart - were any of the specific claims Suvorov made actually disproven? (as opposed to just "there is a less conspiracy-like competing explanation with no evidence backing either one up")? The way I see it based on your answer, the claims COULD be valid, just not as likely. –  DVK Apr 18 '11 at 14:27
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(Alleged) soviet tanks designed to fight exclusively in autobahns is all one need to know about Suvorov to get the right idea of the credibility of his books. –  user288 Apr 22 '11 at 4:06
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Is there sufficient evidence to be sure one way or the other?

Perhaps not. There's an entire Wikipedia article on the subject which claims various historians are for or against the idea, and presents some evidence from both sides of the argument.

The question in the OP isn't very precise, for example: would or should developing weapons that are capable of being used in an offensive war, during the 1930s, be counted as "evidence" that Stalin "planned" to "attack the West via Germany"?

The same controversy is documented in the article about the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact:

Some critics of Stalin's policy, such as the popular writer Viktor Suvorov, claim that Stalin's primary motive for signing the Soviet–German non-aggression treaty was his calculation that such a pact could result in a conflict between the capitalist countries of Western Europe.[citation needed] This idea is supported by Albert L. Weeks.[257][page needed] Claims by Suvorov that Stalin planned to invade Germany in 1941 are debated by historians with, for example, David Glantz opposing such claims, while Mikhail Meltyukhov supports them.[citation needed]

The following claims to be a summary of the consensus position:

While most agree that Stalin made extensive preparations for an eventual war and exploited the military conflict in Europe to his advantage, the assertions that Stalin planned to attack Nazi Germany in the summer of 1941, and that Operation Barbarossa was a preemptive strike by Hitler, are generally discounted.[8]

However the question may be unanswerable due to lack of published evidence:

Asked to what degree the leaders of the Wehrmacht needed to feel threatened by the Soviet military buildup, van Creveld replies "very much" and adds: "In 1941, the Red Army was the largest army in the world. Stalin may, as I said, not have planned to attack Germany in autumn 1941. But it would be hard to believe that he would not have taken the opportunity to stab the Reich in the back sometime."[50] The actual documents of the Central Command of the Red Army, headed by George Zhukov for the last 6 months preceding the Nazi invasion, remain classified in Russia.

Incidentally there were at the time some similar suspicions in the opposite direction:

Hitler's fierce anti-Soviet rhetoric was one of the reasons why the UK and France decided that Soviet participation in the 1938 Munich Conference regarding Czechoslovakia would be both dangerous and useless.[22] The Munich Agreement that followed[23] marked a partial German annexation of Czechoslovakia in late 1938 followed by its complete dissolution in March 1939,[24] which as part of the appeasement of Germany conducted by Chamberlain's and Daladier's cabinets.[25] This policy immediately raised the question of whether the Soviet Union could avoid being next on Hitler's list.[26] The Soviet leadership believed that the West wanted to encourage German aggression in the East[27] and that France and Britain might stay neutral in a war initiated by Germany, hoping that the warring states would wear each other out and put an end to both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.[28]

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