Poison Partners:  The Alliance of the US and the Soviet Union

Published: 2020-11-28

This document is part of the Inconvenient History periodical.
Use this menu to find more documents that are part of this periodical.

One of the most-incongruous aspects of World War II is the American alliance with the Soviet Union before and during the war. The U.S. government, which claimed to fight for democracy and freedom, made common cause with one of the most-brutal dictatorships the world has ever seen. This article documents the crucial role that American aid played in the Soviet Union’s victories during World War II.

Historical Background

Josef Stalin is today widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s most-ruthless dictators and one of the greatest mass murderers in all of history. Stalin launched a bloody war against Soviet peasants, which was called collectivization. Units of the Red Army would herd peasants and their families into railroad cattle cars that would roll them deep into Siberia, the Urals or Kazakhstan, where they were thrown out onto the cold and barren steppes. This operation was ordered by Stalin and executed by his deputy Vyacheslav Molotov.

Many years later, when Molotov was asked how many people were transferred during collectivization, Molotov answered: “Stalin said that we relocated 10 million. In reality, we relocated 20 million.”[1] The Soviet collectivization of 1932-1933 is estimated to have resulted in 3.5 million to 5 million deaths from starvation, and another 3 million to 4 million deaths as a result of lethal conditions at the places of exile.[2]

Stalin also greatly expanded the vast network of labor camps known as the Gulag that began under Lenin’s regime. Mass terror against real and alleged opponents was a part of the Soviet Revolution from the very beginning, and people (classes) deemed to be “unreliable elements” were locked up in concentration camps outside major towns. Thus, from the earliest days of the new Soviet state, people were sentenced not for what they had done, but for who they were.[3]

Anne Applebaum writes about the Gulag:

From 1929, the camps took on a new significance. In that year, Stalin decided to use forced labor both to speed up the Soviet Union’s industrialization, and to excavate the natural resources in the Soviet Union’s barely habitable far north. In that year, the Soviet secret police also began to take control of the Soviet penal system, slowly wresting all of the country’s camps and prisons away from the judicial establishment. Helped along by the mass arrests of 1937 and 1938, the camps entered a period of rapid expansion. By the end of the 1930s, they could be found in every one of the Soviet Union’s 12 time zones.[4]

From 1929, when the Gulag began its major expansion, until Stalin’s death in 1953, an estimated 18 million people passed through the Soviet Gulag. Fortunately, within days of Stalin’s death, the camps no longer served as a system of mass forced labor involving millions of people. Stalin’s successors knew that the Gulag was a source of backwardness and distorted investment.[5]

Stalin also conducted purges against Communist-Party members during the 1930s. Stalin purged party members and then arrested, tried, sent to prisons and labor camps, and executed them according to court sentences with no appeal. These permanent purges of the party coincided with a continuous process of replacing personnel in the secret police, as well as in the fields of science, art, literature, industry, trade and agriculture. Stalin’s terror campaign against his own people created great fear among the general population, since Soviet citizens who did not follow Stalin typically suffered fates that might include an agonizing death.[6]

Roosevelt Admires Stalin 

Despite Stalin’s record of criminality, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a good friend of Josef Stalin. Roosevelt indulged in provocative name-calling against the heads of totalitarian nations such as Germany, Italy and Japan, but never against Stalin or the Soviet Union.[7] Roosevelt always spoke favorably of Stalin, and American wartime propaganda referred to Stalin affectionately as “Uncle Joe.”

Roosevelt’s attitude toward Stalin is remarkable considering that his first appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union warned Roosevelt of the danger of supporting Stalin. William Bullitt served as America’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union from November 1933 to 1936. Bullitt left the Soviet Union with few illusions, and by the end of his tenure he was openly hostile to the Soviet government.

Bullitt stated in his final report from Moscow on April 20, 1936 that the Russian standard of living was possibly lower than that of any other country in the world. Bullitt reported that the Bulgarian Comintern leader, Dimitrov, had admitted that the Soviet popular front and collective-security tactics were aimed at undermining the capitalist systems of other countries. Bullitt concluded that relations of sincere friendship between the Soviet Union and the United States were impossible.[8] Bullitt stated in his final report to the State Department:

The problem of relations with the Government of the Soviet Union is…a subordinate part of the problem presented by communism as a militant faith determined to produce world revolution and the “liquidation” (that is to say murder) of all non-believers. There is no doubt whatsoever that all orthodox communist parties in all countries, including the United States, believe in mass murder…The final argument of the believing communist is invariably that all battle, murder, and sudden death, all the spies, exiles, and firing squads are justified.[9]

Joseph E. Davies succeeded William Bullitt as ambassador to the Soviet Union. Davies reported to President Roosevelt on April 1, 1938 that the terror in Russia was “a horrifying fact.” Davies complained of the crushing Soviet expenditures for defense, totaling approximately 25% of the Soviet Union’s total income in 1937. Davies reported that Stalin, in a letter to Pravda on February 14, 1938, had confirmed his intention to spread Communism around the world. Stalin also promised in his letter that the Soviet Union would work with foreign Communists to achieve this goal. Stalin concluded in his letter, “I wish very much…that there were no longer on earth such unpleasant things as a capitalist environment, the danger of a military attack, the danger of the restoration of capitalism, and so on.” Davies stated in his report that the Soviet Union could best be described as “a terrible tyranny.”[10]

Roosevelt was fully aware of the slave-labor system, the liquidation of the kulaks, the man-made famine, the extreme poverty and backwardness, and the extensive system of espionage and terror that existed in the Soviet Union. However, from the very beginning of his administration, Roosevelt sang the praises of a regime which recognized no civil liberties whatsoever. In an attempt to gain swift congressional approval for Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union, Roosevelt even stated that Stalin’s regime was at the forefront of “peace and democracy in the world.” At a White House press conference, Roosevelt also claimed that there was freedom of religion in the Soviet Union.[11]

Henry A. Wallace, vice president during Roosevelt’s third term, joined the chorus hailing the Soviet Union as a gallant ally whose good faith and good intentions could not be questioned. Vice-President Wallace preached that the Soviet Union could do no wrong, and that any criticism of Stalin’s dictatorship was akin to treason.[12] Wallace even stated in a speech that “There are no more similar countries in the world than the Soviet Union and the United States of America.”[13]

The Roosevelt Administration’s support for the Soviet Union was also hailed by former Ambassador Joseph Davies in his book Mission to Moscow. Despite his former harsh criticism of Stalin’s regime, Davies in his book praised Stalin’s tough-minded ability to protect himself from internal threat. Published in 1941, Mission to Moscow provided beguiling assurance to the American public that their government was in alliance with a fair-minded and trustworthy Soviet leader. The book became a runaway international success, selling 700,000 copies in the United States alone, and topping the bestseller lists in the 13 languages into which it was translated.[14]

Among other things, Davies said in his book that the Soviets wanted “to promote the brotherhood of man and to improve the lot of the common people. They wish to create a society in which men may live as equals, governed by ethical ideas. They are devoted to peace.”[15] Mission to Moscow was turned into a Hollywood movie in 1943 at a time when the American media were celebrating Soviet military triumphs. State Department experts on the Soviet Union called the movie “one of the most blatantly propagandistic pictures ever seen.” Stalin awarded Joseph Davies the Order of Lenin in May 1945 for his contribution to “friendly Soviet-American relations.”[16]

The Soviet Union had been a totalitarian regime since 1920. By the time Hitler’s National-Socialist Party came to power in 1933, the Soviet government had already murdered millions of its own citizens. The Soviet terror campaign accelerated in the late 1930s, producing the murder of many more millions of Soviet citizens as well as thousands of Americans working in the Soviet Union. Many Americans lost their entire families in the Soviet purge of the late 1930s. Despite these well-documented facts, the Roosevelt Administration always fully supported the Soviet Union.[17]

By contrast, the Roosevelt Administration’s relationship with Germany steadily deteriorated due to Roosevelt’s acerbic hostility toward Hitler’s regime. Roosevelt and his administration made every effort to convince the American public to support war against Germany even though Hitler had never wanted war with either the United States or Great Britain.

American Aid in Building Stalin’s Military

The Soviet Union in 1927 adopted a Five-Year Plan for developing heavy industry. The main focus of the first Five-Year Plan was not the production of arms, but rather the creation of the industrial base which was required to produce armaments. The military emphasis was not so noticeable in these first five years. The Red Army had 79 foreign-made tanks at the beginning of the first Plan; at the end of the first Plan it had 4,538 tanks, 3,949 of these produced domestically.[18]

The second Five-Year Plan that began in 1932 was a continuation of the development of the industrial base. This meant the purchase and installation of furnaces, giant electricity plants, coal mines, factories, and machinery and equipment. American technology and hardware were crucial in building the Soviet industrial base. Stalin had plenty of gold in reserves to pay for technology, and American companies sought the business to help offset the effects of the Great Depression.[19]

In the early 1930s, American engineers traveled to the Soviet Union and built the largest and most-powerful enterprise in the entire world—Uralvagonzavod (the Ural Railroad Car Factory). Americans talk with deserved pride about this giant factory, as it remained the largest enterprise in the world for the next 60 years. Uralvagonzavod was built in such a manner that it could at any moment switch from producing railroad cars to producing tanks. In 1941, an order was issued to produce tanks, and Uralvagonzavod without any delay began the mass production of tanks. Uralvagonzavod produced 35,000 T-34 tanks and other weapons during World War II.[20]

The third Five-Year Plan, which began in 1937, had as its goal the production of military weapons of very high quality in enormous quantities. The Soviet Union under Stalin was highly successful in achieving its goals, and produced superior military weapons on a huge scale. For example, the Chelyabinsk tractor factory was completed in the Urals, and similar to Uralvagonzavod, this factory was built in such a way that it could switch to producing tanks on short notice. It was also built according to American designs and outfitted with American equipment. The Chelyabinsk tractor factory was called Tankograd during the course of the war. It built not only the medium T-34 tanks, but also the heavy IS and KV tank classes.[21]

A third gigantic factory, Uralmash, was built not far away in Sverdlovsk with American help. This factory is among the top 10 engineering factories in the world. The Soviet network of steel-casting factories was greatly expanded in order to supply these three giant factories in the Urals. Magnitogorsk, a “city of metallurgists,” was built in addition to a huge plant the main output of which was steel armor. In Stalingrad, a tractor factory was also built that in reality was primarily for producing tanks. Automobile, motor, aviation, and artillery factories were also erected at the same time.[22]

The most-powerful aviation factory in the world was built in the Russian Far East. The city Komsomolsk-na-Amure was built in order to service this factory. Both the factory and the city were built according to American designs and furnished with the most-modern American equipment. The American engineers sent to Komsomolsk to install the equipment were astounded by the scope of the construction.[23]

The lives of the people in the Soviet Union were not improved with the Soviet industrialization. Basic necessities such as pots and pans, rubber boots, plates, furniture, cheap clothing, nails, home appliances, matches and other goods all became scarce. People had to wait in long lines outside the stores to obtain these items. Stalin let his people’s standard of living drop extremely low to focus practically all of the Soviet Union’s industrial production on military expansion.[24]

American Aid during World War II

The Soviet Union lost almost all of its industry capable of producing ammunition at the beginning of the war. From August to November 1941, German forces took over 303 Soviet ammunition factories as well as mobilization reserves of valuable raw materials located in those factories. These factories produced 85% of all output from the Ammunition Commissariat. All of these resources went to Germany and were used against the Red Army. The Red Army also lost an unthinkable number of artillery shells in the border regions of the Soviet Union at the start of the war. However, Stalin’s prewar potential was so great that he was able to rebuild his ammunition factories beyond the Volga River and in the Urals.[25]

Stalin was also helped by aid from the United States and its allies. Aid from the United States and Canada alone to Stalin in the first four months of 1942 averaged 149,500 tons a month. For the same period in 1943, this average monthly figure increased dramatically to 270,350 tons. Stalin by February 1943 had already received approximately $376 million worth of tanks and motor vehicles, and this amount increased rapidly in succeeding months.[26] 

Historian John Mosier writes about the Allied aid to Stalin:

His resources were being augmented daily by the vast flow of British and American aid coming into the USSR. In the first half of 1943, Stalin had received 1,775,000 tons of aid; in the second half of the year he received 3,274,000 tons, a considerable increase. Given that aid, and his willingness to see his citizenry slaughtered, the struggle would be bitter…[27]

Debates on the Allied aid to Stalin have essentially been comparing the numbers of actual working armored vehicles that the British and Americans loaded onto ships and transported to the USSR with the theoretical numbers of armored vehicles that the tank factories claimed they had produced in order to satisfy Stalin’s demands. Even on that comparison, however, the shipments were substantial: 12,575 British and American tanks were sent to the Red Army, enough to equip 273 tank brigades based on the theoretical Soviet organizational charts of December 1941, an armored force substantially larger than the one Stalin had lost in the first six months of the war. So, the notion that this massive injection of armor was insignificant does not bear scrutiny.[28]

One weakness of the Red Army was that it entered the war lacking the means to efficiently transport its infantry over rough terrain. This was a critical weakness given the abysmal nature of Russian roads throughout the entire country. However, the 750,000 trucks and jeeps given to the Red Army by the United States and Great Britain gave the Soviets a transport capability they had never had before. Beginning in 1944, for the first time in the war, the Red Army was able to advance more quickly than the Germans were able to retreat. American aid to the Soviet Union during World War II was crucial in enabling the Soviets to defeat Germany.[29]   


Viktor Suvorov writes:

The Soviet Union was created for war and conquest. It was not adapted for peacetime. It could either spread over the entire planet and kill off all normal life, or die. Stalin did not succeed in taking over the world, and this meant another war or the end of the Soviet Union in the near future. The Soviet Union was preparing itself for a new war, World War III. It concentrated all its strength and resources in preparing for a new war, and it was crushed in 1991 by the burden of its military expenditures.[30]

Even dedicated communists who fought against Germany during World War II were highly critical of Stalin. For example, Milovan Djilas, a prominent Yugoslavian resistance leader during the war, said about Stalin: “Every crime was possible to Stalin, for there was not one he had not considered. Whatever standards we use to take his measure, in any event, let us hope for all time to come, to him will fall the glory of being the greatest criminal in history.”[31]

U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and other American leaders supported Stalin with full knowledge that Stalin had committed innumerable acts of atrocity against his own people and against neighboring nations.[32] American leaders even referred to World War II as the “Good War,” a morally clear-cut conflict between good and evil.[33] In reality, American support enabled Stalin to win the war and add Eastern Europe to the domain subject to his ruthless totalitarian control.[34]


[1] Chuev, Felix, Molotov: Master of Half a Domain, Moscow: Olma-Press, 2002, p. 458.

[2] Suvorov, Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2008, p. 27.

[3] Applebaum, Anne, Gulag: A History, New York: Doubleday, 2003, pp. xv-xvi, 6.

[4] Ibid., p. xvi.

[5] Ibid., p. xvii.

[6] Suvorov, Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, Annapolis, Md., Naval Institute Press, 200, p. 92.

[7] Fish, Hamilton, FDR The Other Side of the Coin: How We Were Tricked into World War II, New York: Vantage Press, 1976, pp. 8, 16.

[8] Hoggan, David L., The Forced War: When Peaceful Revision Failed, Costa Mesa, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1989, p. 423.

[9] Tzouliadis, Tim, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, New York: The Penguin Press, 2008, p. 73.

[10] Hoggan, David L., The Forced War: When Peaceful Revision Failed, Costa Mesa, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1989, p. 423.

[11] Tzouliadis, Tim, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, New York: The Penguin Press, 2008, p. 204.

[12] Chamberlain, William Henry, America’s Second Crusade, Chicago: Regnery, 1950, pp.  242-244.

[13] Tzouliadis, Tim, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, New York: The Penguin Press, 2008, p. 224.

[14] Ibid., p. 147.

[15] Davies, Joseph E., Mission to Moscow, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1941, p. 511.

[16] Dobbs, Michael, Six Months in 1945, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012, p. 215.

[17] Tzouliadis, Tim, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, New York: The Penguin Press, 2008, pp. 100-102, 105, 127.

[18] Suvorov, Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, Annapolis, Md., Naval Institute Press, 2008, p. 23.

[19] Ibid., p. 25.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., pp. 25-26.

[22] Ibid., p. 26.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., pp. 26-27.

[25] Ibid., pp. 131-132.

[26] Mosier, John, Hitler vs. Stalin: The Eastern Front, 1941-1945, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010, pp. 236-237.

[27] Ibid., pp. 277-278.

[28] Ibid., pp. 347-348.

[29] Ibid., pp. 295-296.

[30] Suvorov, Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, Annapolis, Md., Naval Institute Press, 2008, p. 280.

[31] Mosier, John, Hitler vs. Stalin: The Eastern Front, 1941-1945, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010, pp. 334-335.

[32] Suvorov, Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, Annapolis, Md., Naval Institute Press, 2008, p. xxi.

[33] Terkel, Studs, The Good War, New York: Pantheon, 1984, p. vi.

[34] Applebaum, Anne, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, New York: Doubleday, 2012, pp. 192-193.

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): John Wear
Title: Poison Partners:  The Alliance of the US and the Soviet Union
Published: 2020-11-28
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 28, 2020, 8:55 p.m.
Last revision:
Appears In: