One does not immediately think of communism as in any way involved in the outbreak of war in 1939. But it was centrally involved.
In the 1920s not only did it play a critically destabilising role immediately after World War I, resulting in the emergence of fascism in Italy and an overriding fear of revolution within the Eastern Europe (the march on Warsaw and the occupation of the factories in 1920). It also directly threatened the destruction of British imperialism in China (1925-27).
The rise of fascism ultimately resulted in Hitler’s emergence, facilitated by Stalin’s German policy to keep Western Europe divided. The crisis the British had faced in China, reinforced by renewed alarm at the événements in France and the threat of revolution in Spain (1936) led Britain’s rulers to fear that the collapse of fascism would open the way to communism in Europe. Appeasement of Hitler was therefore deemed vital, as only communism would benefit from war, as it had in 1917.
Jonathan Haslam is a Fellow of the British Academy, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and Emeritus Professor in the History of International Relations at Cambridge. He has just retired as the George F. Kennan Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and is currently researching the Literary Left of Latin America and the Cuban Revolution. His blog on contemporary Russia is throughrussianeyes.com He will be speaking to his new book: The Spectre of War: International Communism and the Origins of World War II
Chair: Brendan Simms, Professor of the History of European International Relations, University of Cambridge, and Director of the Centre for Geopolitics