37th Prague Theoretic-Political Conference on “The anti-communist disinformation about the causes, course and results of World War II; … the danger of a new rise of fascism”.
Presentation by Harpal Brar on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
On 18 April. to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over fascism, District Committee Prague 1 of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia held an impressive conference which was attended by more than 200 people, with the participation of 10 foreign delegates from different European countries. Harpal Brar represented the CPGB-ML, and we reproduce below his contribution to the Conference.
Allow me to thank the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, District Committee Prague 1, for their kind invitation to our Party to participate in this very important event on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of victory over fascism.
” The bourgeoisie turns everything into a commodity, hence also the writing of history. It is a part of its being, of its condition for existence, to falsify all goods; it falsified the writing of history. And the best-paid historiography is that which is falsified for the purposes of the bourgeoisie.” (Engels, ‘Material for the History of Ireland’, 1870).
This shrewd observation of Engels should be kept in mind when judging:
(i) the causes of the Second World War
(ii) the events leading up to it
(iii) the role in it of the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and the imperialist camp, on the other hand, and
(iv) the results of the war.
The Second, as indeed the First, World War is inseparable from imperialism, whose product it was. Tens of millions of people were slaughtered to decide which set of bandits – the Anglo-American-French or the German-Italian-Japanese – was to get what share of the loot.
The only way out of the morass of imperialist wars is socialism; therefore the struggle against war must be inseparably connected with the struggle for the overthrow of imperialism and the establishment of socialism.
The ruling classes of the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries were complicit in the rise and strengthening of fascism. It was the crowning achievement of the Soviet people to have defeated Nazism – this monstrous product of imperialism in crisis.
The Soviet victory in the Second World War was a disaster for imperialism. If the First World War brought into existence the great and glorious Soviet Union, the end of the Second World War led to the creation of a mighty socialist bloc, stretching from the Soviet Union through eastern and central Europe to the Far East.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the bourgeoisie has gone on the rampage not only to belittle the role of the Soviet Union in defeating fascism, but also to malign the record of socialism itself. It is being asserted that the freedom of the Baltic states and east European countries only brought the subjugation of these nations to the Soviet Union. And now it is not uncommon to see the symbols of Soviet socialism and of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet people attacked, hand-in-hand with the glorification of those who collaborated with Nazism during the War.
This is particularly true of the Baltic states, Poland and, especially, Ukraine. In the last-named country, Stefan Bandera, the notorious Nazi stooge, is honoured with statues and street names as a great fighter for national liberation – not against the Nazis but against the Soviet Union!!!
The economic crisis of 1929 made the inter-imperialist war a certainty. The law of uneven development of capitalism saw to it that some countries, notably Germany, Japan and Italy, had spurted ahead in their development, but their share in terms of markets, mineral resources, and avenues for investment was dis-proportionately small compared with the share of countries such as Britain and France. This division of resources arose at a time when the Axis powers were economically much weaker and therefore received a miniscule share of the world’s wealth. Britain and France were the strongest colonial countries; they had amassed huge colonial possessions at a time when they were economically strong. However, during the last three decades of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century their economic development fell behind that of Germany in particular. In view of this, the German ruling class felt cheated and demanded its fair share, which could only be achieved at the expense of Britain and France; and in the world of monopoly capitalism, such matters in the final analysis can only be settled by war. Hence the First World War.
The First World War, far from solving this problem, only sowed the seeds of the Second World War. Not only did the First World War fail to satisfy Germany’s attempts to obtain a ‘fair share’ of the world’s resources, but on the contrary reduced that share still further and heaped extortionate burdens on her in the form of swingeing reparations. Add the 1929 crisis to the mix and the conditions were created for the rise of the revolutionary working class movement for which the imperialist response was of course resort to fascism.
In the conditions then prevailing, it was clear that the bourgeoisie would find no way out of that crisis except through another horrendous war into which one way or another the Soviet Union would be dragged.
Soviet Union’s position on war with imperialism
The leadership of the Soviet Union, in this difficult situation, followed a very complicated policy, which can be summarised as follows:
1. The Soviet Union did not want to be involved in the war at all;
2. Since it was not up to the Soviet Union alone to keep itself out of the war, it was its endeavour to ensure that it should not be left to fight on its own against Nazi Germany, much less against the combined forces of imperialism;
3. Since there were genuine contra-dictions, arising from the uneven development of capitalism, between the fascist powers on the one hand and the ‘democratic’ imperialist powers on the other hand, these divisions could, and should, be exploited by the Soviet Union to safeguard the interests of the Soviet Union.
4. The Soviet Union did its best to conclude a collective security pact with the ‘democratic’ imperialist states to safeguard peace and the interests of the Soviet Union.
5. When the ‘democratic’ imperialist states refused to conclude such a pact, continuing the policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany (see the Munich Agreement signed between Hitler and British prime minister, Chamberlain) in an effort to encourage the latter to march in an eastward direction, the Soviet Union was forced to protect her interests through the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 23 August 1939, which smashed the plans of the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries to embroil the Soviet Union in a war against Nazi Germany.
6. The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact ensured that the Soviet Union would not be fighting against Germany on her own.
Following the signing of this Pact, on 1 September 1939, Hitlerite Germany invaded Poland. On 3 September 1939, the Anglo-French ultimatum to Germany to withdraw her forces from Poland having expired, Britain and France found themselves at war with Germany. Then and since, various people on the right and the left have levelled accusations of betrayal against the Soviet leadership, especially against Stalin, asserting that Soviet actions hastened the onset of the war. On the contrary, what hastened the onset of the war was the policy of appeasement pursued by the ‘democratic’ imperialist camp in an effort to make Germany invade the Soviet Union. In levelling these accusations, this gentry forgets that long before the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, Britain and France had, through the Munich agreement, already handed over Czechoslovakia to the Hitlerites as a down payment to direct German aggression against the Soviet Union.
7. The Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact bought the Soviet Union a valuable period of two years, which she utilised well to strengthen her economy and her defence capability.
Operation Barbarossa and bourgeois predictions of Soviet collapse
At 3.30 a.m. on 22 June 1941, Hitlerite Germany launched its aggression against the Soviet Union under the name of Operation Barbarossa. Almost without exception, western bourgeois statesmen and analysts predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union within weeks of the German assault. The reasons for these predictions were, first, that allegedly the Soviet army had been decapitated following the trial and execution of General Tukhachevsky and some other high-ranking officers; second, that the Bolshevik Party had, following the Moscow Trials, allegedly been denuded of its most talented leaders; third, that if France and Poland had collapsed within two weeks of German invasion, what chance was there that the Soviet Union would not do likewise? In other words, the Soviet Union was militarily and politically leaderless and militarily weak into the bargain and therefore stood no chance of prevailing over Germany.
Bourgeois predictions belied
By its resistance, resilience and fighting capacity, the Soviet Union amazed the entire world. The battles of Moscow (in the winter of 1941-2), Stalingrad (winter of 1942-3), Kursk (July 1943) and Berlin (April 1945) gave lie to these predictions. Each of these battles involved over a million men. The battle of Moscow alone involved 2 million men, 2,500 tanks, 1,800 aircraft and 25,000 guns. The Soviet losses in this battle were horrifying, but the Soviet army emerged with victory and thus had begun to destroy the myth of German invincibility. In this battle, according to Marshal Zhukov, the Germans lost a total of half a million soldiers, 1,300 tanks, 2,500 guns and 15,000 trucks. After the German defeat at Moscow, the strategic initiative on all sectors of the Soviet-German front began to pass to the Red Army command.
In view of the subsequent slanderous assertions by Khrushchev, as well as bourgeois commentators, that the German attack had panicked Stalin to go missing for weeks, it is worth mentioning in passing what Zhukov had to say on this question: I am often asked, said General Zhukov, where was Stalin in those fateful days? He went on to answer this question by saying that Stalin was ‘here in Moscow’ organising the forces and the means for the defeat of the enemy: “he must be given his due … with his harsh demands, he achieved, one might say, almost the impossible …” (‘Marshal Zhukov’s greatest battles’, pp.102-3).
The conclusion of the battle of Stalingrad, with the surrender on 1 February 1943 of Field Marshal Von Paulus and 23 other generals, truly mesmerised the world. Never before had such a spectacle been witnessed. The Nazi losses in Don-Volga-Stalingrad area were as follows: 1.5 million men, 3,500 tanks, 12,000 guns, 3,000 aircraft. It was a defeat ” in which the flower of the German army perished. It was against the background of this battle … that Stalin now rose to almost titanic stature in the eyes of the world” (Isaac Deutscher, Stalin – a political biography, Pelican, London 1966, p.472).
By 30 April 1945, the Red Army had stormed the Reichstag in Berlin at the same time as the Führer committed suicide. The following day the Red Army hoisted the proud red flag atop the Reichstag building.
Reasons for Soviet victory
Through the military trial of some of the generals and the Moscow trials, the Soviet Union had eliminated those who constituted a fifth column who would have collaborated with the invading Nazis had they been left at large. Far from decimating the Soviet military and political leadership, these trials had strengthened the Soviet armed forces’ will to fight and restored the Communist Party’s unity in the face of deadly enemies. If the Soviet High Command had indeed been decimated, how then was it that the Red Army produced such brilliant and world-renowned generals as Zhukov, Chuikov, Shtemenko, Yaramenko, Timoshenko, Vasilivesky, Sokolovsky, Rokossovsky, Koniev, Voroshilov, Budenny, Mekhlis, Kulik and many others?
The second reason for victory was socialism. Through industrialisation and collectivisation the Soviet Union had built up its economy and its defence capability. There had been much discussion in the Soviet Union about the tempo of industrialisation, with some sections of the Communist Party demanding a slower tempo of industrialisation. In his speech of 4 February 1931 to a conference of leading personnel of socialist industry, J V Stalin insisted that the tempo of industrialisation be not only maintained but, on the contrary, increased. To slacken the tempo, he maintained, would means falling behind, and those who fall behind, he added, get beaten. And “we do not want to be beaten”. Continuing he said: ” We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in 10 years. Either we do it, or we shall go under” (Collected Works, Vol. 13, pp.40-41).
Even Deutscher, with his extreme dislike of Stalin, was obliged to admit that following the Second World War these words of Stalin’s proved to be really prophetic.
The third reason for the Soviet victory was that the Soviet people were led by such a tried and tested revolutionary Party as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), headed by that giant of a revolutionary Joseph Stalin.
The fourth reason was the existence of the USSR, which was a unique institution in the history of humanity – a multinational state established by the victorious proletariat which had outlawed exploitation of one human being by another and of one nation by another. It was a free and fraternal association of dozens of nations who lived together to construct a bright future, and where injury to one was regarded as an injury to all. The peoples of this multinational state were prepared to defend their unique motherland to the last drop of their blood.
In the first few weeks of the war, the Soviet forces suffered some reverses. This was due to three factors:
1. The surprise German attack.
2. Second, earlier Nazi mobilisation and two years of the German army’s experience in modern warfare. The Germans amassed 176 of their own divisions and hurled them against the Soviet Union. But let no-one conclude from this that there were no Soviet troops on the frontier and that the Germans simply walked in unhindered. As a result of Soviet resistance, the finest divisions of Hitler’s armies were destroyed by the Red Army. In the first four months of the war, the losses of the two sides were as follows:
Soviet losses: 350,000 killed, 378,000 missing and 1,020,000 wounded, making a total of 1,728 million.
German losses: 4.5 million killed and wounded.
In the three months of the winter 1942-3 offensive alone, the Red Army routed 112 enemy divisions, killing more than 700,000 and taking 300,000 prisoners. The outstanding encirclement and annihilation at Stalingrad of the picked German troops shall forever remain an eloquent tribute to the fearless fighting spirit of the Red Army and to its brilliant tactics.
3. Absence of a second front: as the German rear in the west was safe, owing to the absence of a second front, Germany was able to move to the eastern front no fewer than 176 of its 256 divisions. With the divisions of its fascist allies, it had nearly 240 divisions arrayed against the Soviet Union, leaving merely 90 divisions in the west for generally guard duty. Thus 80% of the Nazi armed forces were concentrated in the east – along the entire front from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. Time and again, Churchill, with the backing of the United States, delayed the opening of the second front.
Why no second front
There was no second front because right up to the end of the war, Britain and the US never gave up their duplicitous desire, and attempts, to come to an understanding with Hitlerite Germany, leaving it free to concentrate its forces on the Soviet front, or, if the possibility should present itself, to march hand in hand with Nazi Germany on Moscow.
In October 1942, at the height of the Battle of Stalingrad, Churchill wrote a secret memo, whose contents came to light only in September 1949. In it, he wrote: “It would be a measureless disaster if this Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient states of Europe.” In view of this, he blocked the opening of the second front.
On 23 November 1954, Churchill made a speech in Woodford, England, in which he said: ” Even before the end of the war, as Germans were surrendering, I telegraphed Lord Montgomery, directing him to stack German arms so that they could be issued again to German soldiers to block Russian advance.” Churchill’s boast on this score proved to be an embarrassment even in imperialist circles. Be it said in passing, these plots of Churchill’s had the full backing of Attlee and Bevin – the leading lights of the allegedly socialist Labour Party.
By March 1945, realising the game was up, the Nazis tried to effect a last-minute reversal of alliances. So on the night of 23 April 1945, in the cellar of the Swedish consulate in the old Hanseatic port of Lübeck, Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden held a secret meeting with Heinrich Himmler, SS chief, who signed a document of surrender to Britain and the US on the assumption that the latter two countries would now take over the eastern front and march on Moscow. Nothing came of it because, by the time of Himmler’s meeting with Count Bernadotte, Hitler’s fate in the bunker was sealed by the advance of the Red Army.
Earlier still, in the autumn of 1944, Churchill, with full American knowledge, entered into negotiations with Kesselring, the German commander in Italy, for a separate peace. Stalin came to know of it and questioned Churchill on it. Churchill was obliged to tender an apology, which Stalin accepted.
Within a few weeks of the defeat of Germany, Churchill instructed the war cabinet to draw up a contingency plan for an attack on the Soviet Union so as to eliminate it. The plan involved the use of US, British and 100,000 defeated Nazi soldiers. The plan was opposed by Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff, and therefore nothing came of it.
So much then for the anti-fascist credentials of the British and American ruling classes.
The long-delayed second front was opened on 6 June 1944. By this time it was clear that the Red Army was in a position to defeat the Nazis single-handedly. The purpose of these landings was not so much to defeat Germany as to prevent the Soviet Union from liberating the whole of Europe on its own and to rescue as many places as possible from coming under the influence of the Soviet Union and the onset of socialism.
The role of Stalin
It is impossible to write anything serious and meaningful about the Soviet war effort and its contribution to smashing German fascism while refusing to recognise the crucial role played by Stalin. Yet precisely this is being attempted by the bourgeoisie and its hangers-on everywhere. The truth is that Stalin’s leadership throughout, in particular during the war, was nothing short of inspirational. Although the credit for the victory must correctly be given to the Soviet armed forces and the heroic efforts of the Soviet people, no narrative of these fateful years is complete without a fulsome tribute to the undisputed leader of the CPSU(B), the Soviet people and the Supreme Commander of the Soviet forces – Joseph Stalin. Even a renegade like Gorbachev was obliged, apropos the Soviet victory in the Second World War, to admit that: ” A factor in the achievement of victory was the tremendous political will, purposefulness and persistence, ability to organise and discipline people, displayed in the war years by Joseph Stalin” (‘Report at the Festive Meeting on the 70th anniversary of the Great October Revolution’, held in Moscow on 2 November 1987, p.25).
Here is what Isaac Deutscher has to say in this regard: ” On 24 June 1945 Stalin stood at the top of the Lenin Mausoleum and reviewed a great victory parade of the Red Army which marked the fourth anniversary of Hitler’s attack. By Stalin’s side stood Marshall Zhukov, his deputy, the victor of Moscow, Stalingrad and Berlin. The troops that marched past him were led by Marshall Rokossovsky. As they marched, rode, and galloped across Red Square, regiments of infantry, cavalry, and tanks swept the mud of its pavement – it was a day of torrential rain – with innumerable banners and standards of Hitler’s army. At the Mausoleum they threw the banners at Stalin’s feet. The allegorical scene was strangely imaginative . . .
” The next day Stalin received the tribute of Moscow for the defence of the city in 1941. The day after he was acclaimed as ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and given the title of Generalissimo .”
In “these days of undreamt-of triumph and glory“, continues Deutscher, ” Stalin stood in the full blaze of popular recognition and gratitude. These feelings were spontaneous, genuine, not engineered by official propagandists. Overworked slogans about the ‘achievements of the Stalinist era’ now conveyed fresh meaning not only to young people, but to sceptics and malcontents of the older generation ” (ibid, p534).
The victory over fascism came at a terrible price. 50 million died; of these 12 million were exterminated in fascist concentration camps. On top of this another 95 million were left invalids. The Soviet Union lost 27 million, of whom 7.5 million were soldiers. A third of Soviet territory and economic resources were laid waste. 1,710 towns and 70,000 villages were completely destroyed. 6 million homes and buildings were ripped apart. 31,800 industrial plants were stripped bare. 98,000 collective farms were broken and their livestock, totalling 64 million animals, destroyed or taken to Germany.
This is the price paid by the Soviet Union in a war waged by imperialism to prolong its outmoded existence.
By comparison, the US lost 300,000 lives and the British empire 353,652, of whom British losses came to 224,723 and an additional 60,000 civilians.
It goes to the credit of Soviet socialism that within 3 years after such a devastating war, the Soviet economy had been restored to its pre-war level. And in the following 3 years, it had doubled in size.
In the course of the war, the Soviet armed forces destroyed 560 German divisions and another 100 divisions belonging to German satellites. In comparison, the American and British forces together destroyed no more than 176 German divisions.
Germany lost 10 million men in the war against the USSR, accounting for three-quarters of its losses in the Second World War.
The victories of the Red Army in the Battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk and Berlin shall forever remain an eloquent tribute to the Soviet people, to the socialist system, to the CPSU(B) and to Joseph Stalin. Humanity at large shall never fail to express its gratitude for the contribution of the Soviet Union in the defeat of fascism.
The Soviet Union, alas, is no more, thanks to the treachery of Khruschevite revisionism. The present, worst-ever economic crisis of capitalism is driving the various imperialist powers to war as the only solution to their problems. Wars from Yugoslavia, through the Middle East and North Africa, and now Ukraine, are reminiscent of the Nazi hordes of yore. While remembering, and paying tribute, to the great sacrifices of the Soviet Union, and ordinary people in several countries, including those in the imperialist countries, in the fight against fascism, progressive humanity must wage a determined struggle against the present-day and coming imperialist wars, remembering that the struggle against imperialism and for socialism is inseparable from the struggle against war and fascism.