To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
May 10, 2015
RE: The lessons of World War II

On the struggle against fascism in World War II

The Winter-Spring 2014-15 issue (vol. 30) of the literary zine  Struggle is hot off the press, with poetry and stories inspired by the "Black Lives Matter" movement, the struggle against war and imperialist oppression, and the class struggle.

In the US, Victory in Europe Day is commemorated on May 8. Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9. Either way, it is a commemoration of the defeat of one of the most vicious powers that ever arose in world history, Nazi Germany.

The fascist Axis powers of World War II were a threat to everyone living on the earth. Their defeat was crucial. And the victory over the Axis powers  gave a tremendous impetus to progressive struggles around the world. Among other things, this victory accelerated the national liberation movement in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. And yet, this same national liberation movement fought against some of the victorious governments of World War II. It fought against British, French, and US imperialism in many bloody and protracted confrontations that sometimes won and sometimes lost.

There is a tremendous gulf between the people who heroically fought fascism, and the imperialist motives of the governments. Many more examples could be given. The Western imperialist Allies not only tried to maintain colonialism, but they betrayed the left-wing resistance movements that had sprung up in Europe against the fascists.

And the same thing happened on the Eastern Front in Europe. The Soviet Union was one of the Allied powers. The sacrifice of the Soviet peoples against fascism will never be forgotten. They bore the brunt of assault by the bulk of the Nazi armies. Millions upon millions of Soviet working people died in this struggle, and they helped save the world. But the Stalinist government stained the anti-fascist banner.

There was the Katyn massacre of over 20,000 Poles in 1940 by the Soviet government; this was a major crime and an embarrassment to the anti-fascist cause. During the war, there was also the mass deportation in 1944 of all Chechens from Chechnya, of all Crimean Tatars from Crimea, and of a number of other small nationalities from their lands. No Chechens were left in Chechnya, or Tatars in Crimea, and return didn't start until well after Stalin died. Back in World War II, Red Army soldiers of these nationalities, soldiers who had fought fascism, might return home only to find their families gone, and they themselves would be deported. There was also the extensive rape of women by the Soviet army during the occupation of its sector of Germany, and to some extent elsewhere in Europe.

Many more examples could be given. The Soviet government had betrayed the Russian revolution and Marxism long before World War II;  it had become the government of a new  bourgeoisie; and this could be seen in the way it acted during the war.

The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, but today the Russian government is saying that it bears the banner of anti-fascism and deserves to have a sphere of influence that includes any country that was in the old Soviet Union.  It has been shouting about this louder and louder as its intervenes in Ukraine. It says that anti-fascism is peculiarly Russian, and that its neighbors such as the Ukrainians are fascists. What a lie! The Ukrainian people fought against the fascists as did the Russian people. There are good and bad class trends in all countries: anti-fascism isn't a  matter of being Russian. The Putin government in Russia talks about being anti-fascist: but after annexing Crimea, it began oppressing the Crimean Tatars again (those who were able to return to Crimea).  It denigrates the right to self-determination to Ukraine, although that was supposedly guaranteed in the Soviet Constitution. It makes a mockery of the democratic rights of the Russian people. And Putin makes deals with fascist forces across Europe, such as with Le Pen's infamous National Front in France.

Let's remember the sacrifice made by millions upon millions of people in the struggle against fascism in World War II, a struggle that not only took place in Europe but in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.  But let's also remember that both the Western capitalist governments and the Soviet state-capitalist government carried out their own imperialist plans under cover of this war. If we are going to carry forward the anti-fascist banner today, it would help to be clear about what happened in the past. We need a class perspective on why World War II occurred, on what happened in this war, and on what the different class forces did.  We need to remember: the working people fought fascism, and they fought it for the sake of freedom,  but the Allied governments fought the Axis with different goals from that of the working people.

We must keep the legacy of anti-fascist struggle alive and vigorous; this means supporting today all peoples who fight for freedom and the right to self-determination against dictatorial regimes or occupiers. We must not allow the symbols of the struggle in World War II to be used against the anti-fascist and liberation struggles of today.  We must not forget about what the Western governments did after defeating the Axis, and we must not forget what the Soviet government did either.

-- Joseph Green, editor, Communist Voice

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Posted on May 15, 2015.