History Today subscription

Was Stalin's Foreign Policy a Failure?

Martin McCauley reviews Stalin's foreign policy, paying special attention to his covert involvement in the Korean war. He shows that, despite short-term successes, his record can be seen as one of long-term failure.

In Russia at present there is growing support for the view that the Stalin years (1929-53) were the best experienced by Russia in the 20th century. The present Russian government has had to ask the US and the EU for food aid, while the western world feared the expansion of communist power during the last years of Stalin. The Korean war (1950-3) appeared to add credence to this view. The Soviet Union was only a regional power when Stalin became leader in 1929 but, when he died in 1953, it had become a world power, soon to be a superpower. Does this mean that Stalin was brilliantly successful in foreign affairs'? Yet the state he built up collapsed in 1991 and today Russia is again only a regional power. So Russia has gone full circle. May one trace this fiasco back to Stalin, or is it the fault of his inept successors? To answer these questions, we need to examine the purpose of foreign policy and criteria for its success or failure.

Soviet foreign policy, 1928-39

In general, foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy and its major task is to ensure the security of the state. Soviet foreign policy was different from that of capitalist countries. It consisted of two tracks: enhancing the security of the Soviet state and promoting world socialist revolution. There was an international organisation, the Communist International or Comintern. It became an instrument of Stalin's foreign policy from the late 1920s onwards. The Comintern was dissolved in 1943, to allay suspicions that Soviet foreign policy was expansionist, and its duties passed to the newly established International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Soviet foreign policy was always global but, of course, particular countries and areas assumed paramount importance at various times.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.



Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week