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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 22, May 16, 2009

On the Anniversary of Victory over Fascism

Monday 18 May 2009, by Anil Rajimwale


The Nazi German troops surrendered to the Soviet Red Army, and the allied troops, on May 8, 1945 in Berlin. The Second World War ended on May 9, which is celebrated as the Day of Victory over Fascism. Hitler had earlier committed suicide on April 30, 1945. The war continued for a few more months in Asia, till September 12, 1945, when the Japanese troops surrendered to the Soviet Far Eastern Red Army.

Mussolini was earlier caught and hanged by the Italian partisans in 1943.

Thus ended the most destructive war in human history. And thus the dreams of fascist domination over humanity and the earth were shattered, but not before unprecedented destruction, remnants of which can still be met with.

We, the whole of mankind, have quite a few lessons to learn from the events leading to the rise of fascism that held the world and its people to ransom for several years.

The seeds of the Second World War were sown much before it, in the First World War itself, in the Versailles Treaty (1919), world imperialism’s general crisis, the rise of fascism, and other factors. Lenin had prophetically advanced his theory of general crisis of capitalism as an extension of the theory of imperialism. The emergence of the Soviet Union (1917) deepened imperialism’s general crisis.

Out of this crisis rose fascism, which caused the Second World War.

Rise of Fascism

‘Fasci’ is an Italian word for a bundle of twigs or tree branches. Using this simile, Benito Mussolini called the Italian people to ‘unite’ to save Italian nationalism. He established the Fascist Party and marched upon Rome with his ‘fasci’-st gangs. The Fascist Party was organised into countrywide fasci or branches. Our own RSS was later organised on much the same lines. Mussolini and Hitler became models for the RSS. Mussolini destroyed whatever democracy was there by 1926. That is what the nation was sought to be defended against: democracy. The call to defend Italy was also directed against the working class.

But much more serious was the rise of fascism in Germany. It was ruled by a series of weak bourgeois governments. The First World War had already thrown Germany deep down into crisis. Then came, along with others, the Great Economic Depression of 1929-33, which smashed the German economy. The ruling capitalist governments were thoroughly discredited. The governments were generally led by this or that section of leaders of Social Democrats. Fascism took full advantage of it: Germany produced a typical, well-organised fascist movement, party and its armed bands.

German Fascism

Adolf Hitler founded the Nazi or Natsi Party of Germany in 1924, the words as acronyms formed from the initials of the German name of the party. Its name was: National Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany! Therefore, fascism, most interestingly and unfortunately, was also known as National Socialism! Later simply as Nazism or Natsism.

The Nazi Party was basically a party of gangsters and lumpens. The general crisis and the economic crisis led to an unprecedented rise in unemployment and devaluation of the German currency, the mark, so much so that by 1928-32, it was no more counted but carried in bags!

Bands of unemployed youths and petty-bourgeois mass and petty shopkeepers and small owners, discontented middle class, most of them massed up behind the chauvinistic slogans of the Nazi Party. Hitler hit two sensitive chords: one, national chauvinism generated due to unequal treatment meted out to Germany after the First World War, as exemplified by the Versailles Treaty. This helped him and his gangs to fan extreme chauvinistic slogans, directed against the Jews and against the Soviet Union as well as the West (England, France, the US etc.). Hitler developed highly pretentious and hypocritical theories of Germans being the purest ‘Aryan’ race, to the exclusion of everybody else in Germany. Others were to be excluded, hit, killed, and thrown out of the country. A national chauvinistic frenzy marked the years preceding the rise of Hitler. This campaign was directed mainly against the Jews and Communists.

Germany was swamped in a mad frenzy of ‘pure German-Aryan’ chauvinism. There are a lot of similarities with our own RSS, which has simply copied the Nazi ideology and slogans, just Indianising them.

Second, the pseudo anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism of the Nazi Party. It gave all possible slogans against capitalism and imperialism, and for ‘National Socialism’! It used all possible signs of crisis of capitalism and the weakness of the capitalist rule to its own advantage.

Though its base was petty-bourgeois, petty traders, the youths and the unemployed, its class character was that of extreme Rightwing of monopoly-imperialist capitalism.

The fascist Nazi Party and its SS became a mass movement and its leader Adolf Hitler a mass leader. They staged anti-Jew, anti-working class, anti-Communist and anti-Social Democratic mass killings, pogroms, attacks and destructions all over Germany. For this purpose was created two armed wings of the Nazi Party: the SA and the SS (also known as ‘Storm Troops’, hence SS) They were highly organised armed gangs with the participation of millions of youths and others. Our RSS has drawn much inspiration from them!

Division between Communists and
Social Democrats

It is not the case that the Hitlerite fascists had the full sway over the masses. In all the elections till Hitler came to power, the combined votes of the Communist Party of Germany (CPG) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) were more than those of the Nazi Party. That means, had the CPG and SDP fought the elections together, Hitler’s chances of coming to power were bleak: he would have had to use non-parliamentary, military, armed or whatever other path to power.

Even in the elections of 1932, when Hitler was invited to form the government by the Chancellor, the combined strength of the CPG and SDP was more than that of Hitler’s party. He could have been prevented and fought. The Communists did fight back, and it was a great fight. The Social Democrats too fought: but both of them separately.

There is a great lesson from this for the secular forces in India vis-à-vis communal fascism.

Dimitrov’s Theses

Georgi Dimitrov was a leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party, who became the General Secretary of the Comintern (Communist International) in the early 1930s. As the Comintern General Secretary, he delivered his world famous Report on Fascism and Anti-Fascist, Anti-Imperialist United Front (or simply on Fascism and United Front) at the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern in 1935. It’s a historic document of the world communist movement, and every Communist must read it. It helps us to understand the nature of fascism and how to combat it.

Another document that helps us to understand fascism is the famous lectures on fascism by Palmiro Togliatti, the General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). ‘RPD’ or Rajni Palme Dutt’s book Fascism and Social Revolution is also very revealing, wherein he says that fascism is the punishment for not carrying out the revolution!

It was Georgi Dimitrov who for the first time provided a comprehensive definition, explanation and characterisation of fascism. It will help us to fight communal fascism in our own country. Fascism is born out of the crisis of imperialism, and is the open, naked extreme dictatorship of the most extreme Rightwing reactionary sections of the monopoly and finance capital. They have a mass base among the disgruntled, discontented petty-bourgeoisie, traders, middle class, the unemployed, petty owners, youths etc. They use culture, pseudo-nationalism, chauvinism, racism, communalism etc. to cover up their real nature and agenda, said the Dimitrov Report (or Theses).

Dimitrov said further in his Theses on United Front that the only way to fight, prevent and defeat fascism was to create the broadest possible united front of all the non-fascist and anti-fascist forces. There could not be any ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. Those countries and CPs that followed the anti-fascist UF tactics prevented fascism (France etc.), and those which could not, succumbed to it (Germany etc.). Therefore, on the question of struggle against fascism and imperialism the unity and cooperation had to be the broadest possible.

Nazi Germany’s Strategy in World War II

Nazi Germany formed a world fascist front or ‘Axis’, as it was called. Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan came to be known as the ‘Axis Powers’. The other camp consisting of the Soviet Union, USA, UK, France etc. came to be known as the ‘Allied Powers’.

The fascist forces planned to overrun the whole world and divide it among themselves, turning it into a giant concentration camp, with millions to be killed every day! Had the fascist Axis Powers succeeded, the world today would have been totally different!

Germany began occupation of Europe beginning with 1934 itself. It said it was fighting for ‘Anschluss’: greater living space for itself! Mussolini was assigned mainly northern Africa, and fascist Japan parts of Asia.

The Nazi German tactic was to first occupy the whole or almost the whole of Europe. It occupied Austria in 1934, then Czechoslovakia after the infamous Munich Pact, Poland and several East European countries, France (1940), drove out the British forces from Belgium, occupied Finland and the Baltic states, etc.

Hitler had relatively easy campaigns in Europe. The Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact was signed in 1939; it was particularly beneficial to the USSR as it gave a breathing time before the impending attack. Germany used it to expand in the West. London was bombed in 1940 to silence Britain, so that it did not move against Germany. Both the USSR and Germany knew that war would come inside the Soviet borders.

Abyssinia in Africa was attacked in 1935 by Italy. China was attacked by Japan in 1936. Poland was attacked on September 1, 1939; that date is taken as the beginning of the Second World War, because after that countries began declaring wars against each other.

Nazi Germany Attacks USSR

Having captured almost the whole of Europe and taking control of its resources, men, materials, food supplies, troops, etc, Nazi German troops attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. The decisive battles of the Second World War were fought there. Nearly five million German and allied (Italy, Hungary etc.) forces attacked the huge border of 4500 kms on the night of that date. It was the biggest offensive in history. The Soviet troops had to retreat initially.

The Soviet Union, led by Stalin, began massive mobilisation, which in fact had begun earlier. Stalin was the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (he was also the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party as well as the country’s Prime Minister). Marshal Vassily Zhukov was the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Red Army.

This phase of the war is also known as the People’s War again Fascism. The fate of Europe and the whole world depended upon who would win: fascist Germany or the Soviet Union. The anti-fascist forces and peoples all over the world supported and helped the Soviet Union in its war against the Nazi troops.

By 1942, the front of the War had stabilised along a line of Leningrad-Moscow-Stalingrad. Decisive battles were being fought along this line. The German troops were not allowed to advance further. They had planned to break out near Stalingrad into Asia, and meet the Japanese troops advancing into Asia, somewhere in India, and divide Asia etc. among themselves.

Decisive Battles

The siege of Leningrad lasted 900 days. The Germans were halted just outside Moscow, almost in its suburbs. And battles raged for every house and street of Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad lasted from almost the middle of 1942 to February 1943. It was the decisive battle of the Second World War; the fate of mankind depended upon this battle because it could have opened ways for the German advance in many directions.

By February-March 1943, the German troops began to retreat from Stalingrad, for the first time in the Second World War.

Soviet Advance and Victory

From 1943 onwards, the Soviet Army began to advance, and the Nazi German Army began to retreat all along the front. The world heaved a sigh of relief. The Battle of Kursk was another major battle. But the retreat of the German Army was accompanied by huge scales of destruction. Its repressive machinery, led by the SS and the dreaded ‘Gestapo’ (the Nazi secret service), intensified repressions. Europe and the Soviet Union was dotted with concentration camps like the Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and many others, which were liberated mostly by the Soviet Army.

By 1944 the Soviet Red Army crossed the borders and entered European countries. At the same time partisan guerilla groups intensified their armed actions behind the German lines.

The Soviets organised their offensive on three major battle fronts in Eastern Europe: they were known as the 1st Byelorussian Front led by Marshal Zhukov, 2nd Byelorussian Front led by Marshal Rokossovsky and the 1st Ukrainian Front led by Marshal Konev. There were other major fronts, though.

The first two fronts were instrumental in the capture of Germany and Berlin, and other areas.

Call for Second Front

There was a worldwide campaign calling for the opening of the “second front” by the British-French-US troops. That would have forced the Germans to fight on two fronts simultaneously and this would have helped defeat the Nazis speedily.

But the Western powers were delaying the opening of the second front. They wanted to see the USSR bleed as much as possible, and thus to weaken it. But later, when they found that the Red Army was defeating the Nazis and advancing into Europe on their own, they decided to open the ‘second front’. The Western armies landed in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, and thus Germany now had to fight on two fronts. The Western armies also made a race for Berlin but were beaten to it by the Soviet Army.

The Soviet Red Army liberated a whole series of countries of East Europe in 1944-45, and reached Austria. They liberated Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria etc.

These battles against the fascist forces were some of the grimmest and closely fought ones in history, unparalleled in heroism.

Hitler could never even dream that he would face defeat. Fascism’s dreams of world domination were shattered. Hitler committed suicide. The Nazi commanders surrendered to the Soviet Red Army in Berlin, which was liberated by it. The Red Flag was hoisted on top of the German Reich building. Fascism came to an end.

Certain Lessons

Fascism could have been averted had the antifascists not taken time to recognise its nature. The Social Democrats in particular took long to understand fascism. The Communists also made certain mistakes. A united action, front and cooperation between all the antifascist forces would have spared Europe and the world of unprecedented destruction.

Certain crucial proposals of Marshal Zhukov and other Soviet commanders would have lessened the destruction faced by the Soviet Army. This is described by Marshal Zhukov, General Chuikov, Gromyko and many other Soviet commanders and leaders. Stalin led the Army brilliantly, as the Supreme C-in-C but did not accept many crucial proposals. Besides, his actions against Marshal Tukhachevsky and others cost the Soviet Army dearly. It was ultimately Tukhachevsky’s and Zhukov’s tactics that were adopted by the Red Army.

There should be a balanced analysis of Stalin’s role. The Soviet Union produced a mass of heroes and heroines in the face of the fascist onslaught.

Destruction and Sacrifices

Five crores of people died in WW II, two crores of the Soviet Union alone. Tens of thousands of towns and villages, farms, industries etc. were simply eliminated, art and culture destroyed, people’s psche affected. The scars are still there.

This is fascism and it must be avoided at all costs: it is the enemy Number One of the people.

Imperialist Propaganda

After the disintegration of the USSR, the Western propaganda, media, TV, journals, cinema etc. try to pose as if it is they who defeated Hitler and his allies. They not only try to belittle but even erase the role of the Soviet Union and many other anti-fascist forces, particularly the Communists.

The fact is that the Soviet Union bore the main brunt of the fascist offensive and was mainly instrumental in defeating the German and other kinds of fascism. It was the Soviet troops that defeated Japan in Manchuria, for example.

Besides, the Communists were the most active force among all the anti-fascist forces, and they sacrificed the most. Social democrats and nationalists, for example, people like Pandit Nehru, also made great contributions to the anti-fascist struggles.

The Communists were the first to recognise and characterise fascism.

Therefore, their contributions should not be allowed to be belittled, even while recognising, and in no way demeaning, the contributions of all others.

The victory over fascism opened the path to national liberation in Asia and elsewhere.

Fascism must never be allowed to happen again.

There can’t be even a moment’s relaxation in the struggle against fascism.

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