“World War II had nothing to do with fighting fascism. Quite the contrary, the whole course of British foreign policy in the inter-war years and during the war itself, demonstrated just how far Westminster would go to crush democracy in order to protect its imperialist interests”
[This is an edited version of an article I wrote in Spanish for the website Unidad y Lucha published by the Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain. Whislt the article is in response to the role of the Soviet Union it is still relevant to the labour movement as a whole which continues to see World War II as a war against fascism. The core of the article is a rebuttal of that cenral fallacy and how it led to a disaster for working people.]
A Soviet victory in the midst of a universal disaster.
The article entitled “9th May, Day of Victory over Nazi-fascism” written by Eloy Baro, provides us with some important information regarding the heroic role of the Soviet working class and peasantry in the defense of the USSR and the victory over the Nazi army. The article criticises western celebrations of VE Day for not recognising the decisive role of the Red Army. There is not the slightest doubt that it was the heroism of the Soviet peoples in Stalingrad and many other places which changed so decisively the course of the war and made the Allied victory possible.
Nevertheless, both in its title and at the heart of the article itself, there is a fundamental error; namely that it classifies the entire war as “anti-fascist” and asks that the working class continues to celebrate the Allied victory but on another date which reflects the Soviet contribution. Apart from a sentence referring to the future confrontation between the USA and the USSR as a clash of two different social systems, the article lacks any basic class analysis about the causes of the war, the different interests of the main protagonists and their imperialist ambitions. As such, other than contesting the date, no line is drawn between working class internationalism and social patriotism.
The Second World War was a catastrophe for humanity. Tens of millions of workers, overwhelmingly in their teens and early 20s, lost their lives. British workers killed German workers, Italian workers killed Somali workers and peasants. Germans massacred French workers and Japanese workers did the same to British and American workers. There was a multitude of carpet bombings of civilian population both in Britain and in Germany. Massacres, torture and war crimes were committed both by the Allied and Axis powers.
In this global slaughterhouse, international working class solidarity was suffocated by a putrifying social patriotism trumpeted by the right wing establishment and buttressed too by the social democratic parties (Labour and Socialist) and by the Communist parties also. In every sickening annual glorification of Britain's victory, Labour's leaders, whether they be Blair or Corbyn, jockey with the Tories to become imperialisms's prizewinning patriots.
Although the sabers of the Queen's mounted troops remain sheathed, their bloodstained silence is deafening.
Hitler, Mussolini and Franco: the acceptable face of capitalism
According to these parties – slavishly echoing the false claims of Churchill, Rosevelt and Stalin - this global massacre was justified as a war of democracy against fascism.Revolutionary working class parties offered a different outlook and explained that the war as a whole was an inter-imperialist war and had nothing to do with the defense of democracy and least of all the gains of the October revolution. For British imperialism in particular, it was a war in defence of its global empire and the interests of British capital in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It was only as a final recourse that the UK government – which stood idly by as Franco trampled over the Spanish republic – eventually abandoned their pact with the fascist regime in Berlin. Until then, both Downing Street and the White House supported Hitler, seeing him and fascism in general as a bulwark against the international workers movement and the USSR in particular.
German fascism was a monster but this monster, like its Italian and Spanish counterparts, was the final reponse of the capitalist class in these countries to an insurgent proletariat and an economic crisis that offered no possibility of reforms. With the exception of Spain, it was also the means by which they could prosecute their imperial ambitions against their historic rivals.The Spanish capitalist class had already lost its empire at the end of the 19th century and, with its military resources already exhausted from the civil war, it was in no position to participate in a territorial war. In other words, although fascism was an international phenomenon, it recognised its limits and can only be understood and explained in relation to its imperialist interests.
Contrary to popular mythology no fascist regime attempted to export fascism by means of military conquest, a task that would be impossible to fullfil by war alone. Indeed, fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain co-existed peacefully with Western parliamentary democracies for prolonged periods.
Neither democracy nor fascism but a war of imperial conquest
For the capitalist classes of Germany, Italy and Japan (the latter not being fascist anyway), this was a war of conquest to gain more territories,access greater mineral resources and open new markets that were denied to them by American, British and French imperialism.As we can see in the actual unfolding of the war, the true monster was imperialism itself whether fascist, democratic or – in the case of Japanese imperialism – an in-between type of military despotism. In other circumstances when there was agreementt on how to share their common booty particularly in Asia and the Pacific region, Japanese imperialism was an integral part of the Allied forces in World War 1.
At that time the Japanese political system was no less absolutist or repressive but its interests still coincided with those of Great Britain and the USA. It was only when those interests began to diverge – particularly in China and the Phillipines – that the military alliances changed, In other words, it had absolutely nothing to do with spreading fascism or defending democracy and everything to do with land grabbing and profit ratios.
This imperialist character of the war was recognised as such by the Soviet bureaucracy at the beginning of the Nazi agression. Unfortunately, this was totally dissimilar to the internationalist working class policy advanced by the Bolshevik Party in World War 1.In place of calling upon the workers of the world to rise up against the warmakers in their own countries, the Stalinist epigones first instinct was to secure their own position by forming a strategic alliance with one or other of the rival imperialist blocs.
Having decapitated the high command of the Red Army and assassinated or imprisoned most of the original Bolshevik leadership, the Soviet Union was totally unprepared for war. Instead of preparing to fight the enemy on its doorstep, Stalin committed the unpardonable crime of entering into a pact with them.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact
The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was much more that a peace accord between the two powers. The world is fully aware now of the secret protocol embedded within the pact which gave a green light to the partition of Poland and later to the division of the Baltic states into different spheres of influence. This betrayal of tens of millions of eastern European workers and farmers was bolstered by Soviet guarrantees supplying the Nazi war machine with massive industrial resources underpinning the Wehrmacht and its Panzer divisions assault on Poland. Stalin believed he could succeed where Chamberlain failed and both miscalculations were in fact responsible for the beginning of the unfolding nightmare.
Even more so than fascism, communnism and social revolution cannot be exported either. In any case this was the last thing on Stalin’s mind when he ordered the Red Army’s invasion of eastern Poland, a shameful act that was the exact opposite of proletarian internationalism but one that was necessary to seal the pact with Hitler.
Characterising this war as imperialist might appear to some as being too simple and easy, a bit like a black and white portrait which lacks the necessary shades and hues to explain its complexities. So perhaps here it is necessary to deal more with the nature of the Soviet Union which, despite the Stalinist political counter-revolution, still embodied many of the social and economic gains of the October revolution, gains which 14 imperialist armies including from Germany, Britain, the USA and France had tried to overturn following the end of World War 1.
The Soviet Union was no longer an imperialist power governed by a rapacious capitalist class dependent on overseas trade, investment and colonies. That had ended witht the October revolution. The rise of Stalinism represented the triumph of a highly privileged and incredibly conservative social strata which acted as a brake on the revolution. Instead of advancing the cause of world revolution that began in October, the Soviet bureaucracy embarked on a policy of peaceful coexistence with imperialism, chosing to play off one sector against the other and ordering the Communist Parties in each country to follow suit according to who was the friendlier at any particular moment. The fruit of this policy were the catastophic defeats of the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 and the Spanish revolution of 1936-39, two revolutions whose success would have changed the course of history and stopped fascism in its tracks.
It was because of the opportunist twists and turns of the Soviet bureaucracy led by Stalin, that the social gains of October became perilously close to extinction during the course of the war. Nevertheless, although the pact with Hitler had disarmed the Soviet Union both militarily and politically,the Soviet masses responded heroically in face of the Nazi aggression proving that the gains of October and the fire of the revolution had not been extinguished. However, this heroic struggle in which 23 million lives were lost, had nothing to do with the so-called anti-fascist alliance with the Allied forces. On the contrary, if we read the correspondence between Stalin, Churchill and Rosevelt, it shows Stalin on his knees pleading continuously with his supposed allies to open up a second military front against the Nazi army in Europe.
The long delay in opening a second front in Europe
The fact that the Allied forces delayed this for years afer Stalin’s first request reflected other priorities that bore little in common with a fight against fascism. For Churchill, De Gaulle and Rosevelt, as well as for Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, the war was prosecuted like a game of chess in which every manoeuvre was calculated in order to make territorial gains, open new frontiers and weaken their competitors when the time came to sue for peace. Hitler’s volte face had begun as early as 1940 with the result that Operation Barbarossa which commenced in June 1941 involved the largest ever invasion force in the history of warfare.
Even so, Stalin didn’t see it coming or if he did he chose to divert it by means of further compromises which he hoped would strengthen the 1939 pact. It wasn’t just bungling on Stalin’s part. Churchill’s war cabinet was fully aware of the impending invasion and chose not to alert Stalin until the very last minute, by which time it was too late. The immediate aim of the invasion was to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories and with that in sight, the 3 million strong Axis force comprising 600,000 motor vehicles and a further 600,000 horses marched across a 1,800 mile stretch of the USSR’s western border.
Caught with his trousers down, Stalin rose in panic pleading to join the allied forces which the USSR did so within weeks of the German invasion. It was then that the Communist Parties throughout the world were ordered to perform their own humiliating volte face by slavishly pronouncing themselves as the greatest partisans of the war effort against the Axis powers. They too were pawns in a game whose kings and queens and bishops and knights were in no rush to make needless sacrifices on European terrain.
The delay in opening a second front - lasting 4 years – corresponded also with the beginning of direct US involvement In the war in December 1941, ostensibly in response to Pearl Harbour. In reality, Washington’s war preparations began years earlier. Here also calculations were being made regarding global strategy. Whilst the US entered the war firmly on the side of the Allies, it was also using its immense economic and military strength to weaken Britain’s grip on its colonial posessions. A second front in Europe did not serve the interests of either Britain or the USA. Indeed their preferred scenario – which was what actually happened – was a prolonged and mutually destructive German-Soviet war on the Eastern front which would allow the Allied forces to focus on the real prize in Asia, north Africa and the Middle East.
In every long, laborious and tentative step towards the Normandy invasion of 1944 and the subsequent nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki , Rosevelt fought a tenacious battle with Churchill to open routes and break down tariff barriers that hindered US penetration of British imperialism’s global markets. This conflict within the very heart of the “anti-fascist alliance” is further confirmation of the imperialist character of the war as a whole and is fully illustrated by the cynical way in which the world was carved up at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. History has shown that from a military standpoint the nuclear attack on Japan was entirely unnecessary What It did accomplish was to underline US imperial hegemony. Churchill may have won important battles against Germany but he lost the war with the USA. In the subsequent post-war division of spoils, British imperialism was confirmed as junior partner.
British imperialism’s jackboots in India
The imperialist character of the war was also illustrated by the liberation struggles of colonial countries oppressed as much if not more so by their “democratic” overlords as well as their fascist ones. It is in this theatre of war more than anywhere else that the alleged democratic aims of the Allied powers was revealed as an utter fallacy. The clearest example of this is the historic battle for national independence waged by the people of India to free themselves from the jackboots of British imperialism.
The Raj was the the jewel in the crown of the British empire and Churchill was determined to do his utmost to retain it. Without any attempt at consultation far less sovereign decisiion making India was automatically drawin into the war by decision of an all British, all white cabinet meeting thousands of miles away in London. In response the Indian Congress party issued the following statement:
"If the war is to defend the status quo of imperialist possessions and colonies, of vested interest and privilege, then Indian can have nothing to do with it. If, however, the issue is democracy and world order based on democracy, then India is intensely interested in it... If Great Britain fights for the maintenance and expansion of democracy, then she must necessarily end imperialism in her possessions and establish full democracy in India, and the Indian people have the right to self-determination... A free democratic India will gladly associate herself with other free nations for mutual defense against aggression and for economic co-operation”
Churchill was having none of it and when the Congress party issued its Quit India manifesto in 1942, the entire leadership, including Ghandi, was imprisoned for the duration of the war. The Congress Party was banned and as mass demonstrations and strikes spread like wildfire across the country, British forces arrested more than 100,000 people. Many protesters were shot dead by the police and army, some were subject to public floggings and heavily fined. This was imperialist democracy at work and worse was to come.
At the beginning of the war, when Stalin and Hitler were still allies, the Communist Party of India issued the following declaration:
“the war crisis reveals itself most sharply and is intensified one thousand times by the conflict between the British government and the people of India….In this way it opens the possibility of transforming the imperialist war into a war of national liberation.”
Without batting an eyelid, once the alliance with Hitler collapsed, the CPI changed its stance to one of unconditional suport to the British war effort and in the process attacked the independence movement for being a “fifth column of the Japanese army”. The latter was heavily engaged in a prolonged campaign against British forces in the neighbouring colony of Burma and so concerned was Westminster about this that they carried out a scorched earth policy throughout the state of Bengal which bordered Burma.
The result was a catastrophic famine in which around 14 million workers and peasants starved to death. Even when the Viceroy of India pleaded for supplies and Canada offered to divert food shipments to the region, Churchill categorically refused. The Indian people whom he had so openly disdained were needlessly massacred.
For all these reasons, the working class movement internationally has no interests in celebrating VE day. No matter what the date might be, this is a celebration of their class interests, not ours.