28. World II: The Peoples' Anti-Fascist War (1941-1945)
|Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in famous photograph|
of the Yalta Conference of 1945. After the war
the former allies of the USSR would turn again to
anti-Communism and reactionary policies.
Realities in the U.S.S.R. were fundamentally different from the fantastic lies that had long been spread over the capitalist world by the professional Soviet haters. Economically the country had been growing at a stupendous rate for fifteen years past, and it had become the leading industrial land in Europe. Also the Red Army, in anticipation of the attacks that were sure to be made by imperialist capitalists against the Soviets, had been built up to a high level of strength and efficiency. Indeed, events were to show that in discipline and fighting spirit it was far and away the most effective army in the world. As for the morale of the people, that was superb. They were proud of their new Socialist system and willing to defend it with their lives. The great state trials during the 1930's, of the Trotsky-Zinoviev-Tukhachevsky-Bukharin wreckers and counter-revolutionaries, instead of weakening the country as capitalist leaders believed, had enormously strengthened it. The trials destroyed the sprouting fifth column root and branch and had deprived Hitler of a most powerful weapon, one that he had counted upon heavily.
THE GREAT GERMAN OFFENSIVE
When the German armies crossed the frontiers of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Hitler threw a mighty power against the great Socialist Republic. He had behind him not only the vast armies and industries of Germany and Italy, but also the factories and manpower of a host of satellite countries and conquered nations, comprising virtually all of Europe—France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, Luxemburg, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. He also dominated the production powers of the "neutral" nations, Sweden and Switzerland. Hitler's forces enormously outnumbered those of the Soviet Union in manpower and industrial production—in everything except the main things, revolutionary fighting spirit and Socialist organization.
Hitler's great "blitz" blow carried him far and fast into the Soviet Union. His "irresistible" Wehrmacht marched to the tune of the most fantastic stories of Russian defeats and the destruction and capture of millions of Red Army soldiers. These lying tales, sent out by the Nazi propaganda agencies, were readily believed by the gullible in all the capitalist countries, who daily expected the complete collapse of the Soviet government. But again the realities of the situation were far different from the picture painted for the capitalist world by Goebbels. The German army was advancing at frightful cost, the Red Army taking a ghastly toll as it backed up against the main Soviet bases. Already, by August 11th, only six weeks after the great offensive began, General Haider was warning Hitler that they had fatally "underestimated the Russian Colossus," and was saying that "Germany's last reserves were committed in a last desperate effort to keep the line from becoming frozen in position warfare."2
How much of the great Russian withdrawal was a question of calculated strategy and how much of it a matter of compulsion, remains to be told by Soviet military historians. The bourgeois military writers' insistence that the Soviet government had been "surprised" strategically by the Nazi invasion is obviously incorrect; if that had been true, the Red Army would have been destroyed before it could mobilize its real strength.
The German army besieged Leningrad on September 8th, and on October 3rd the vainglorious Hitler shouted to the world that Russia was defeated and "will never rise again." On November 12th the Germans reached the gates of Moscow, but Hitler's forces, held at both Moscow and Leningrad, were forced into the dreadful winter struggle of 1941-42. Hitler's army then got a triple taste of what Napoleon's legions, over a century before, had experienced from the indomitable Russian people.
THE JAPANESE ATTACK UPON PEARL HARBOR
Meanwhile the Japanese imperialists, encouraged by Hitler's conquests in Europe, decided that the time had come for them also to deliver their major blow against their traditional enemy, United States imperialism. So they struck at Pearl Harbor. Early on December 7, 1941—one of the most tragic days in American history—the Japanese sent 105 planes over the sleeping, unsuspecting garrison. "So great was the surprise that most American aircraft were destroyed on the ground, leaving the American fleet at the mercy of the treacherous foe. Nineteen of the eighty-six American ships in the harbor were seriously hit, five great capital ships were either sunk or otherwise put out of action, and casualties to personnel reached 4,575 killed, wounded, or missing. . . . Had the Japanese brought with them troops to effect a landing, they might with ease have taken the whole of the Hawaiian Islands."3
This monstrous crime, made all the more outrageous because it was committed during the course of U.S.-Japanese peace negotiations, utterly shocked and enraged the American people. The next day Congress recognized a state of war with Japan. On December 11th, Germany and Italy, in common action with Japan, declared war against this country. The United States was now in World War II, with its navy badly crippled. The American officers responsible for permitting the barbarous assault upon Pearl Harbor were never punished for their criminal negligence. Indeed, the two ranking men, General W. C. Short and Admiral H. E. Kiinmel, were allowed to resign on full retirement pay, and the whole disgraceful matter was eventually hushed up. The "great" General Douglas MacArthur was equally guilty, his planes being all destroyed on the ground in Manila by the Japanese at the same time, despite repeated warnings from Washington beforehand.
After Pearl Harbor, Japan launched an aggressive expansionist offensive. Within the next five months its forces conquered the Philippines, Wake, Guam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, British Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, much of China, and they were threatening India. Almost overnight the Japanese had built up one of the hugest empires in history and had come into possession of enormous quantities of manpower and natural resources.
THE SOVIETS MARCH TO VICTORY
The winter of 1941-42 was a disastrous one for the Germans, at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow. In the spring of 1942, however, Hitler managed to organize another offensive, aimed against industrial Stalingrad and the Caucasus oil fields, with the end in view of eventually encircling Moscow and finally defeating the U.S.S.R. But with this vast plan Hitler broke his neck. He tried in vain to capture Stalingrad. His troops arrived before that city in August 1942, and for five months nearly a million men were locked in desperate struggle. On January 31, 1943, the Nazi Marshal Von Paulus, defeated, encircled and isolated, surrendered with 200,000 men and 16 generals to the Red Army. This was all that was left of the 400,000 men in the German Sixth Army. The heroic defense of Stalingrad was the most decisive battle in world history. It ruined the German Wehrrnacht and wrote finis to Hitler's dreams of world conquest.
The world rang with praise of the Russians for their great fight. Long before the battle of Stalingrad, even reactionary General Douglas MacArthur was constrained to declare, "The world situation at the present time indicates that the hopes of civilization rest upon the worthy banners of the courageous Russian Army. During my lifetime I have participated in a number of wars and have witnessed others, as well as studying in great detail the campaigns of outstanding leaders of the past. In none of these have I observed such effective resistance to the heaviest blows of a hitherto undefeated enemy, followed by a smashing counterattack which is driving that enemy back into his own land. The scale and grandeur of this effort marks it as the greatest military achievement of all time."4
After Stalingrad the Red Army, in a never-ending offensive, proceeded to drive the German-Italian-Romanian-Hungarian-Finnish-Spanish armies out of Russia, inflicting catastrophic losses on them. For the next two years, almost daily, the world's press heralded great victories of the advancing Red Army. On February 16, 1943, Kharkov was recaptured; on November 6th, Kiev was retaken; and on November 26 th the Russians liberated Gomel. On April 10, 1944, the Red Army retook Odessa; on May 9th it captured Sevastopol; and on June 4th, it crossed the Polish border. Since Stalingrad, the "invincible" Nazi Wehrrnacht had been driven back halfway across Europe by the "defeated" Red Army. With boundless joy the peoples of the world, including those in the United States, hailed the victorious advance of the Soviet forces.
On June 6, 1944, the United States and Great Britain opened up the long-promised western front in France and the death agony of the Nazi regime was on. On August 25th Paris was liberated, and on September 11th, the Anglo-American-Canadian forces crossed the German border. On January 17, 1945, the Russians captured Warsaw, and on February 7th, they reached the defenses of Berlin. On April 25th the American and Soviet forces met on the Elbe; on May 2nd, the Russians captured Berlin; and on May 7th, Germany surrendered unconditionally. President Roosevelt died on April 12th, less than a month before the victory was won. The great offensive of the Soviet people and their Red Army against the Nazi hordes was guided daily by Stalin, a highly experienced soldier from the time of the Russian revolutionary wars. This brilliant war achievement greatly enhanced Stalin's already tremendous prestige among the Soviet people, won by his vital services, side by side with Lenin, in founding and defending the Soviet Republic, his magnificent leadership in the building of Soviet socialism, his epic defeat of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, and the rest of the wrecker opposition in what were perhaps the most complex political debates and struggles ever to take place, his outstanding theoretical work as the greatest living Marxist, and his brilliant diplomacy as far and away the outstanding statesman of our times. Now Stalin faces the most difficult task in his entire career of leading the Soviet People—to fend off the malignant and aggressive offensive of the Anglo-American imperialists, to preserve world peace against their war policy, and to protect Soviet socialism, the bulwark of world democracy and social progress.5
THE QUESTION OF THE WESTERN FRONT
No sooner had the U.S.S.R. become involved in the war than Great Britain and the United States, which in the pre-war years had so stubbornly rejected Soviet anti-fascist co-operation, pronounced the Soviet Union their ally. Churchill promptly declared that "any man or state who fights against Nazism will have our aid," and a couple of days later Roosevelt announced that Russia would be given military help under the lend-lease plan. On January 1, 1942, also, 26 anti-Hitler nations, laying the foundation of the United Nations war alliance, endorsed the Roosevelt-Churchill Atlantic Charter of August 14, 1941, pledged each other all-out mutual aid, and agreed not to make any separate peace with the fascist powers. 6
On the surface, therefore, the U.S.S.R. was considered a full-fledged ally by the western powers, but the truth was quite otherwise. The big imperialist powers did not lay aside their anti-Soviet hatred and fear so easily. In reality Anglo-American war policy was based throughout upon the old pre-war Munich project of letting the Soviet Union and Germany fight out the war together in the hope that they would undermine or destroy each other in the process. Neither before, during, nor after the war was the U.S.S.R. either accepted or treated honorably as an ally by the United States or Great Britain.
With the fate of the world at stake, many bourgeois statesmen even openly proclaimed the let-Germany-and-Russia-fight-it-out treachery. Thus, President—then Senator—Truman, declared on June 23, 1941. "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany."7 Ex-President Hoover, in the same outrageous and reactionary vein, declared that when "Stalin and Hitler were locked in deadly combat . . statesmanship required the United States to stand aside in watchful waiting;, armed to the teeth."8 This was also Churchill's line. The Truman-Hoover-Churchill conception was in fact the decisive opinion of the American and British bourgeoisie and it provided the basis for the policy of their two governments. If President Roosevelt thought otherwise, he certainly was not able basically to change American-British war policy. The attitude of betrayal toward the U.S.S.R., however, was buried under a mountain of hypocritical expressions of co-operation—to avoid alienating the Soviet Union and in order to satisfy the strong pro-Soviet sentiment among the American masses.
The purpose of the Anglo-American imperialist advocates of the let-Germany-and-Russia-butcher-each-other policy was easy to understand. They figured cold-bloodedly that in the post-war period, with both Russia and Germany knocked out, they would be able to reorganize and dominate the world to suit themselves, with the United States playing the decisive role. Already in 1941, Henry Luce, the big magazine publisher, was filling the air with his shrill cries that "The twentieth century is the American century."9
The great test of Anglo-American policy toward the U.S.S.R. came on the question of the western front. Obviously a sound allied military strategy demanded that a front in western Europe should be established at the earliest possible date, to catch Hitler in the vise of a two-front war and to relieve the heavy pressure against the U.S.S.R. A prompt establishment of the western front could have ended the war at least a full year earlier. The Soviet government demanded this second front, and the masses all over the world clamored for it. The Communist Party of the United States made this fight its major campaign, and undoubtedly the bulk of the American people agreed with its general contention. But the United States and British governments stubbornly refused to set up the badly-needed western front, although military means were undoubtedly at hand in Great Britain to have invaded Europe by the fall of 1942. The American and British forces refused to stir, however, and they went on piling up military supplies in the British Isles until, as the current saying had it, they were in danger of sinking the country into the sea.
Meanwhile, lend-lease supplies were being forwarded by the United States to the embattled Soviet Union. But here, too, the strong anti-Soviet bias of Anglo-American policy was in evidence. That is, the Russians, who were doing practically all the fighting in Europe, were given only about one-fourth as much lend-lease war materials as Great Britain, which was doing hardly any fighting at all.
Finally, in November 1942, in the face of a widespread demand for the western front, the western allies got into motion—but by invading Africa, not Europe. The African-Italian invasion was in no sense the second front needed. First, it involved relatively few divisions, and second, it was essentially political, not military, in character. The basic purpose of this Churchill-inspired invasion against "the soft underbelly of Europe" was not to relieve the pressure upon the Soviet Red Army, but to occupy Italy and if possible the Balkans with Anglo-American troops in order to forestall expected post-war revolutions in these areas.
It was not until June 6, 1944, nineteen months later, that the American-British-Canadian forces finally crossed the English Channel, established themselves in France, and began their push into Germany. The invasion could not have been postponed any longer. Not only was the mass demand for the second front imperative, but—what was even more urgent—the Russians had decisively licked the Germans and were triumphantly advancing across enslaved Europe. The Red Army, as we have noted, had smashed the backbone of the Wehrmacht, driven it back 1,300 miles, and crossed the border of Poland on June 4th, two days before "D-Day" in France. It was only then that the gigantic forces of Great Britain and the United States were activized and the long-delayed western front opened. It was a matter of comment among the newspaper columnists at the time that if Eisenhower did not hurry up and get his troops across to France it would be too late, as the Red Army would march across the whole continent in its fight to destroy the Nazi forces.
THE WAR AGAINST JAPAN
The main enemy and by far the most powerful fascist power in World War II was Nazi Germany, controlling as it did nearly all of Europe. It was against Hitler, therefore, that the decisive blow had to be struck.
Japan, as it turned out, proved to be only a second-rate power so far as fighting capacity was concerned. The Roosevelt Administration was aware of the primacy of Germany as the major enemy and the need of making the heaviest concentration against it. Secretary of the Navy Knox declared, "We know who our great enemy is, the enemy who before all others must be defeated first. It is not Japan, it is not Italy. It is Hitler and Hitler's Nazis, Hitler's Germany."10
This remained ostensibly the American as well as the United Nations policy throughout the war. Actually, however, the United States struck its hardest blows against Japan, leaving the main enemy, Germany, as we have seen, primarily for the U.S.S.R. to dispose of. This course was partly due to heavy pressure from those reactionary elements who wanted to let Russia and Germany fight each other to death, but it was especially due to the fact that American imperialism felt itself much more affected by the far-flung conquests of Japan in the Pacific and the Far East, areas which American imperialism had staked out for itself.
It was not long after the disaster of Pearl Harbor, therefore, that the tremendously superior production and manpower of the United States began to make itself felt in the Pacific phase of the world war. The naval Battle of Midway, fought June 3-6, 1942, was an American victory and it marked the end of Japan's advance toward Australia. Then came Guadalcanal—in August-November 1942—which was another major defeat for Japan. After this the "island-hopping" got under way, with the American and allied forces gradually pushing north, capturing during 1942-43 the Solomons, New Guinea, Tarawa, and other key islands. The 1944-45 campaign found the Japanese everywhere on the retreat and the (chiefly) American forces taking one island stronghold after another—the Dutch East Indies, Kwajalein, Saipan, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc. Then came the fire-bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, and on August 6th and 9th the horrifying and needless atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The war in the Pacific has been falsely portrayed to our people as almost exclusively an American affair; but it was in reality a coalition war, far more so, in fact, than the war in Europe. Indispensable factors in defeating Japan were the great armies of Russia and People's China. All through the war the Soviet Red Army, although locked in a death struggle against Hitler's powerful armies in Europe, kept Japan's finest land force, the Kwantung army of one million men, tied up along the Siberian frontiers. This enormously weakened Japan's armed strength available to extend and defend its conquests against American and otherallied troops. Without this fact, the American advance would have been vastly more difficult, if not impossible. The U.S.S.R. also gave powerful aid to the Chinese People's Army in the field in the early stages, at a time when the United States was still sending scrap iron and other war materials to Japan. And when the U.S.S.R., in accordance with the agreement with its allies, entered the war against Japan on August 8th, it speedily wiped out the crack Kwantung army. This was another body blow against Japan.
The forces of Free China, led by the Communists, also were a most vital factor in winning the war in the Pacific. For several years they kept over a million Japanese soldiers fully occupied in the field, inflicting upon them gigantic losses in manpower and war material. "In the eight years of the War of Resistance, they [the Eighth and Fourth People's Armies] engaged 64 percent of the Japanese troops in China and 95 percent of the puppet troops."11 Japan was greatly weakened by the war in China and was hamstrung in its fight against the American and Soviet forces. As for Chiang Kai-shek's national armies, however, they directed their main attacks, not against Japan but against the Chinese people's armies.
Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, thoroughly beaten by the combined American, Russian, and People's Chinese forces. The British had little to do with Japan's defeat.
AN ESTIMATE OF WORLD WAR II
The U.S.S.R. was the decisive force in the coalition which won the general victory over fascism in World War II. Its entry into the hostilities changed the character of the war in that it greatly strengthened the democratic element in the struggle, making it basically a peoples' war. This was a qualitative as well as a quantitative strengthening of the fight of the peoples. With its enormous political, economic, and military strength, the Soviet Union contributed to the war its perspective and final realization of victory. When the U.S.S.R. entered the war, the struggle was a lost cause so far as the western allies were concerned. They were virtually defeated, politically as well as militarily, and their prospect for victory was just about hopeless. From the time of its entry into the hostilities the Soviet Union became the peoples' leader of the war. This was the basic reason why the war was won.
The Soviet Union gave the cause of the allies democratic political strength, stability, and direction. As a great Socialist country, the very antithesis to fascism, the Soviet Union, a land without imperialists, was squarely and irrevocably anti-fascist in its whole war drive. Its interest in utterly destroying fascism was identical with that of the democratic masses of the world. In the war the U.S.S.R. gave a smashing demonstration of the political idiocy of those who shout that "fascism and Soviet socialism are the same."
The capitalist governments of the United States and Great Britain, controlled by reactionary ruling classes tainted heavily with fascism and having in mind only one objective—the making of billions for themselves, could not possibly rise above the sordid level of their own imperialist interests during the war. They could not represent the anti-fascist spirit of the American, British, and world masses, nor could they have led a people's democratic anti-fascist war. Their imperialist interests in pulling such territorial and other conquests as they could out of the war, had nothing in common with the aims of the peoples, who were fighting desperately for their freedom and their very lives. The imperialists constantly betrayed the democratic war aims of the allied coalition. The only consistently anti-imperialist and anti-fascist force among the big powers in the war alliance was the U.S.S.R.
The imperialists of the United States and Great Britain showed their unwillingness and inability to fight fascism by their active support of Hitler before the war and by their constant pressure for a negotiated peace during the war. Without the anti-fascist influence of the Soviet Union, they would have arrived at a settlement with Hitler, far more definitely than they did with Hirohito. Significantly, in the present postwar years of "cold war," when the Anglo-American imperialists are trying desperately to organize an all-out capitalist war against the U.S.S.R., they are complaining that the biggest mistake they ever made was to yield to the mass pressure and to smash the Hitler regime so completely in World War II. The only way that the war could have the degree of anti-fascist content that it did attain, and the "unconditional surrender" slogan be carried through, was by the predominant democratic influence of the Soviet Union. In this respect, the Soviets were in harmony with the democratic masses everywhere, including those of the United States. The political leader of World War II in the fight against Hitlerism was the U.S.S.R., and it could not have been otherwise.
The Soviet Union also, naturally enough, contributed the basic political-military strategy to the democratic side of the war. That is, the policy of an all-out international alliance of the democratic powers, and of national, anti-fascist unity in the various countries, was simply the wartime expression of the line developed by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935; namely, that of an international peace front to halt the fascist aggressor states and of a people's front to defeat fascism in the individual countries. Great Britain and the United States (and their Social-Democratic stooges) rejected this antifascist co-operation with the Communists in the pre-war years, and if they accepted it in the war situation (to the limited degree we have indicated), it was only because of the desperate debacle into which they had plunged themselves through their "appeasement" policies. In this grave crisis their need for Communist help was imperative.
In addition to being the political leader of the war and giving it its main political-military strategy, as we have remarked, the U.S.S.R. also did the bulk of the fighting to win the war. This is obvious at once from a comparison of the list of killed, wounded, and missing of the respective big powers on the democratic side—Britain, 755,257; the United States 994,893; the U.S.S.R. 23,417,000 12 In soldier deaths, the Russian losses, 6,115,000, were almost eleven times as great as those of the United States (325,464) and Britain (244,723) combined.
As we have seen earlier, it fell to the lot of the Soviet Union, virtually single-handed, to defeat the main enemy, Nazi Germany. Hence the gigantic Russian losses in manpower and territorial devastation. Of course, the U.S.S.R. got some help from the Anglo-American bombing of German cities and Lhrough American lend-lease military supplies. But this help was more than offset by the fact that the U.S.S.R., all through the war, was subjected to the tremendous strain of keeping over a million of its best troops on the Siberian borders to hold the Japanese in check. Moreover, the crippling effect of the air-bombing of German industry upon the Nazi war effort has been greatly overestimated. The fact is that German production of war materials went on increasing right up to within two months of the end of the war.
As for lend-lease help, which some people, anxious to rob the Soviet people of their due war credit, claim saved the Russians from being defeated—this help was relatively small in amount and late in arriving. The $10 billion worth of munitions sent to the U.S.S.R. from the U.S.A. (large amounts of which never arrived) was less than five percent of our total of $210 billion of wartime munitions production. Moreover, this assistance began to arrive on the eastern front only after the Russians had done the main job of defeating Germany. We have this fact from no less an authority than the Soviet-hating Herbert Hoover, who has said that "she [the U.S.S.R.] had stopped the Germans even before Lend-Lease had reached her."13
A basic lesson to be drawn from all these facts is that in World War II the Soviet Union saved the world from fascist enslavement. This was a fitting role for the U.S.S.R. as the great champion of democracy. The capitalist governments of Great Britain and the United States neither could nor would have saved even their own limited democracy from fascism. This was so because they lacked the military strength to do so and, more important, because they did not have the necessary democratic political compulsion (despite the democratic urge of their peoples), these governments having been soaked with fascism and imperialist reaction. Had Hitler been able to demolish the Red Army that would have been the end of world democracy for an indefinite period. The United States, although not falling an immediate victim, could not have long withstood the tremendous power Hitler would then have had at his disposal. These are important facts to bear in mind during the present years of the "cold war," when Anglo-American imperialism, more reactionary and more expansionist than ever, is violently on the offensive, under the false pretense that it is striving to preserve world democracy from attacks by the Soviet Union.
1 Of all the military experts in the United States, only Max Werner stated that the U.S.S.R. had a fighting chance, and only Captain Sergei Kournakoff predicted the victory of the Red Army.
2 New York Times, Dec. 14, 1948.
3 John D. Hicks, A Short History of American Democracy, p. 581, Boston, 1943.
4 Associated Press Dispatch, Feb. 23, 1942.
5 Joseph Stalin, The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, N. Y., 1945.
6 L. P. Todd and Merle Curti, America's History, p. 798, N. Y., 1950.
7 New York Times, June 24, 1941.
8 Cited boastingly by Herbert Hoover, New York Times, Feb. 10, 1951.
9 Henry R. Luce, The American Century, N. Y., 1941.
10 Associated Press Dispatch, Jan. 13, 1942.
11 Hsiao Hua in People's China, Aug. 1, 1951.
12 Information Please Almanac, pp. 220-21, N. Y., 1951.
13 New York Times, Feb. 10, 1951.