Many people believe that Germany was crushed by unfair war reparations in the Great Depression and that was why the desperate people turned to Hitler. Yet the Soviet archives reveal a different story. They show that although the German people may have been poor, Germany itself was rich and powerful. Moreover its great industrialists secretly spent millions helping Stalin modernise his armed forces – for political ends – between 1929 and 1933.
The German army and the Bolsheviks
The German army was stung by the restrictions to its fighting force under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1922, after the Treaty of Rapallo, the German army established a secret army officer training camp in Russia. By the mid-1920s they had a tank school at Kasan, a flying school near Lipetsk, an air-firing training area at Woronesch and a poison gas experimental establishment at Wolsk. The Germans found the discipline of Soviet soldiers impressive, but the Soviets had only a few elderly tanks, ancient machine guns etc. Naturally they wanted better equipment.
In 1928, after six months negotiations, the German armaments makers agreed to modernise the Soviet Union’s armaments and provide a heavy industrial base to support it, on draconian conditions. But Stalin agreed to them so German help flooded in. The production of Soviet aircraft and machine guns soared, rifle production almost doubled and the manufacture of tanks, protected by Krupp’s special steel, rose tenfold between 1929 and 1932. Germany also provided the heavy industrial factories so that Stalin could manufacture them himself. But why did the German armaments makers decide to help Stalin and what was their price?
The price Stalin paid for a modernised army
The armaments makers and their friends had not respected the Russian army as a fighting force in World War I and could not believe that Russia would ever pose a threat to Germany. Horrified at the arrival of a socialist coalition government in power in the German Reichstag, in 1928, they longed for the return of the monarchy, or if the German people would not accept it, a man of the people like Italy’s Mussolini, who would maintain their power and influence. They decided to help Stalin on two conditions; the first was that he paid for his precious armaments in hard currency and the second, crucially, that the German Communists never voted again with the Social Democrats in the Reichstag.
How the American ‘dust bowl’ was caused?
Neither demand could have been fulfilled except by a man of Stalin’s iron will. The Soviet Union was practically bankrupt. There was no way of paying for Germany’s goods except through selling wheat on world markets and Russia’s kulak farmers refused to surrender their wheat to Stalin in return for worthless currency. However, Krupp had already created a giant farm in the North Caucasus to help Lenin export wheat so that he could buy German trains. So Stalin decided to expel his Kulak farmers to the icy wastes of Siberia and to create giant farms himself. He was successful. While the kulaks died of cold and starvation, an avalanche of Soviet wheat hit unsuspecting already overprovided world markets in 1930 and 1931, at rock-bottom prices, causing misery and bankruptcy in America’s important farming sector.
How the Soviet Union helped Hitler come to power
Stalin had an incredible control over world communism. He also kept his promise to ensure that the German Communists never voted with the Social Democrats in the Reichstag again.
The German Communists faithfully voted with the parties of the extreme Right, Hugenberg’s Nationalists and Hitler’s National Socialists, between 1929 and 1932, even though they fought them on the streets. Indeed, according to the Russian historian, Aleksandre Nekrich in 1997: ‘At Moscow’s order, the German Communist party pronounced the Social Democrats ‘enemy no.1, drove a significant proportion of the workers into the Nazi’s arms … and contributed to Hitler’s triumph at the polls’ in the 1932 elections.
The ultimate victory?
Stalin paid the Germans for their weapons. Hitler became dictator in 1933 but the German armaments makers had underestimated Stalin. It was he who won the Second World War with the help of Krupp’s special steel to protect his tanks.