May 10, 2015
70th Anniversary: Victory over Fascism: An Epochal Event

Prakash Karat

THE Second World War, or, the war against fascism, was one of the truly epochal events of the 20th century. The war was like no other in history because of its global scale and the immense destruction of human lives and productive capacities. It also exemplified the collision of various historical forces set in the background of the worst crisis faced by capitalism and imperialism. The barbarous force which emerged in the inter-war period, between the First and the Second World Wars, was the phenomenon of fascism and its German variant Nazism. The First World War had seen the rise of a new social system – the socialist revolution in Russia. The First World War was a product of imperialist rivalries and the main theatre of war was in Europe and a bit of the Middle East. Though millions of soldiers died in this war, it was generally viewed as a pointless war perpetrated by the rival imperialist powers of Europe clashing over the division of territories and resources. The Second World War, was in a sense, a continuation of the inter-imperialist contradictions which got aggravated in the inter-war period. Germany, which had to sign a humiliating treaty in Versailles (1919) after losing the war, was now seeking to assert itself. The Great Depression, the biggest global capitalist crisis, provided the catalyst for Hitler and the Nazi party to come to power in Germany. The reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie in Germany were ready to seek drastic remedies to sustain their class rule. The Executive Committee of the Communist International characterised fascism as “The open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” Fascism stood for militaristic nationalism. To this must be added the Nazi ideology of racial superiority of the so-called Aryan race which led to the worst genocide and holocaust the world has ever seen. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was a dress rehearsal for the forthcoming world war. On one side were the Republicans and the Left forces who were supported by the Soviet Union and progressive forces from all over the world who fought to save the Republican government; on the other side were the reactionary leaders of the armed forces and the landed interests who got the support of Germany and Italy. The latter won the war and established the Franco dictatorship. The Second World War broke out because Hitler’s Germany was set upon aggression and military conquest to subdue other countries. Germany, allied with Italy and Japan, formed the fascist axis. Benito Mussolini had come to power with his fascist movement in Italy in the 1920s. Japan had another variety of fascism under an authoritarian dictatorship. Italy had attacked Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935 and later sent its troops to North Africa to fight alongside the Germans. Japan began its aggression on China and occupied Manchuria in 1931. Hitler after occupying Europe, with the exception of Britain, unleashed his troops on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Three million troops were thrown into the fray and Hitler hoped to occupy Russia and crush Soviet power in three months time. Thus began the life and death struggle between fascism and socialism. The central cause for the defeat of Hitler and Nazi Germany was the war of resistance by the Soviet Red Army and the partisans backed by the whole people of the Soviet Union. No other people, or, country made such heroic sacrifices in war as the Soviet people, led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin. The Nazi armies reached the outskirts of Moscow within weeks of the invasion. Here they were held back and the Battle of Moscow halted the offensive. In Leningrad, the old St Petersburg, the Nazi armies began the siege within a few days of the invasion in summer 1941. The siege lasted 900 days. One million civilians died in Leningrad. But the city did not surrender. 300,000 Soviet soldiers died defending the city and for lifting the siege. The next major battle was the Battle of Stalingrad where the Nazi attack began in July 1942. A 600,000 strong German army under General Von Paulus laid siege to the city. The Red Army mobilised and launched a counter offensive. After a five month battle, the Sixth Army under General Paulus was decimated and had to surrender. It is the victory in Stalingrad that turned the tide and marked a decisive turning point in the Second World War. The Red Army went on to win the battle of Kursk and swept into Eastern Europe and finally reached Berlin where the Red Flag was hoisted on the Reichstag. The formal surrender by Germany to the Allied Commanders took place on May 9. The four years of the Great Patriotic War waged by the Soviet people against the Nazi war machine is an unimaginable feat. Of the 50 million people who died in the war on both sides all over the world, 26.6 million (2.66 crore) were Soviet soldiers and civilians. The Nazis occupied France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and other European countries, but they did not resort to mass killings and extermination of the civilian population. Given the Nazi pseudo-racial theories, Jews were to be exterminated and the Slavic people which include Russians were treated as sub humans. In the Nazi occupied territories of the Soviet Union, they resorted to mass murder, deportations, deliberate starvations of prisoners, burning alive of school children and target practice on civilian hospitals. While it is estimated that six million Jewish people died in the concentration camps, it should also be remembered that out of the 5.7 million Russian prisoners of war in Germany, 3.3 million died. The enormous sacrifice, courage and resilience of the Soviet people and the Red Army in fighting back the Nazi war machine cannot be attributed only to their deep patriotism. Certainly, the war inspired patriotic fervour among the masses. But the heroic war effort drew its strength also from the people who had deep faith in the socialist system which they saw as their own. It was the centralised planned economy of the Soviet Union which could survive the huge destruction of its productive capacities and infrastructure and quickly marshal resources, relocate its factories and production facilities in the interior of the country. The war against fascism was not just a war of conflicting countries and interests. It was, as the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote, a war of ideologies at least as far as Europe was concerned. On the one side were the heirs of the Enlightenment and the revolutions it spawned including the Russian Revolution and on the other side was the reaction which was opposed to all the values of the Enlightenment. In Asia there was a different context. Japan’s imperial conquest extended from China to Burma. Many of the countries of South-East Asia were under the colonial rule of the European powers before Japan invaded. The fight against Japanese aggression and occupation assumed the shape of a national liberation struggle which did not end with the struggle against Japanese rule but went on to fight against the old colonial powers – in Vietnam against the French colonial rule and in China to end the semi-colonial status, where the European powers had carved out their areas of influence. In the war against fascism worldwide, the Communists were everywhere in the forefront, irrespective of their strength in the various countries. The partisan resistance to the Nazi occupation in France, Greece and other European countries and the Mussolini dictatorship in Italy had Communists in the forefront leading tens of thousands of partisans. It was the Tito led Communist partisans who fought and overthrew the Nazi occupation in Serbia, Croatia and other parts of the Balkans which later became Yugoslavia. In China, Korea and Vietnam it was the Communist Party and its armed forces which conducted the successful struggle against Japanese aggression. The Soviet army defeated the Japanese army in Manchuria and the Far East in August 1945 which led to the eventual defeat of Japan. It is the victory over fascism which opened the way for the tide of national liberation struggles which culminated in the end of the old style colonialism. All over Europe, the Communist and Left forces gained political prominence. This alarmed the Western powers and the stage was set for the post-war phase of the Cold War and the struggle between imperialism and socialism. The Cold War transformed the erstwhile allies in the war against fascism into implacable foes with the ideological divide between imperialism and socialism. From then on, the West has sought to play down the role of the Soviet Union in the victory over fascism. History was distorted. Stalin and the Soviet system was depicted as a totalitarian state which fought another totalitarian system, ie, Hitler’s Germany. With the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the anti-Communist propaganda has gone to the extent whereby in certain East European governments and in the European Parliament, Nazism and Communism have been equated as twin evils. There can be no greater insult to the memory of all those millions of Soviet fighters and Communist partisans in Europe who fought fascism. Four and a half decades after the victory over fascism, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. But in the immediate post-war period, the prestige of the Soviet Union was at its highest. The Eastern European countries joined the bloc of socialist countries. The success of the Chinese revolution and the formation of the socialist States in North Vietnam and North Korea and the tide of the national liberation struggles, all combined to create a situation by which in the central struggle against imperialism, the forces of socialism, progress and national liberation had the upper hand. Looking back over this period, we can see how some of the pieces in the overall picture were missed. The great contribution of the Soviet Union to the smashing of the Nazi war machine came at a heavy cost to its own economy and society. A full 14 per cent of its population was decimated by the war and an entire generation of its youth had to be sacrificed. Much of its industrial bases and infrastructure were destroyed. Though the Soviet Union recovered with a mighty effort at reconstruction in the years after the war, the stark reality was that the world’s first socialist country had suffered tremendous damage. In contrast, the main imperialist power – the United States of America – saw no war on its soil. The status of the US as the world’s strongest capitalist power was reinforced after the war. The capitalist system saw a resurgence with the golden age of capitalism which lasted a quarter of a century (1947-73). The eventual weakening and collapse of the Soviet Union had many important reasons – ideological, political and the structure of its economy. But the destructive impact of the war and its consequences have to be factored in among the reasons. As the world observes the 70th anniversary of the victory over fascism, the ideological and political divide continues. Russia, which is now a capitalist power, will be celebrating the 70th anniversary with all fervour, given the legacy of its enormous contribution and sacrifice. But the leaders of its erstwhile allies – the United States, Britain and France – will not attend the military parade in Moscow to mark the occasion. The conflict in Ukraine is the immediate cause for the Western boycott. Instead, Russia and China have decided to jointly commemorate the 70th anniversary. President Xi Jinping will attend the Moscow parade on May 9. China will hold a military parade to commemorate the victory in September this year in which President Putin will attend. The 70th anniversary is an occasion to remember what enormous sacrifices were made by the Communists and all democratic forces to protect humanity from the fascist danger. It is also appropriate to absorb the lessons from this titanic struggle. The threat of fascism taking over the world was ended at great cost. But imperialism and the predatory capitalist system, whose crises spurred the fascist threat, is still all prevalent. In the contemporary times, the fascist germ with various mutations makes periodical eruptions. In the 1970s we saw the fascist Pinochet regime in Chile. The neo-Nazi movements like the Golden Dawn in Greece and the extreme right in Europe have their counterparts in the ISIS and a variety of reactionary fundamentalist and ethnic forces in different parts of the world. The lasting tribute to all those died fighting fascism is to resolve to see that these forces never raise their heads again.