Imperialist War, Revolution and Anti-Imperialist Resistance
70 Years since the End of the Second World War in Europe – Lessons for Our Class
By Johannes Wiener, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), May 2015, www.thecommunists.net
The Second World War was the biggest slaughter of human beings in the history of mankind. Never before did the forces of destruction – which are closely tied to the capitalist system itself – have such a huge impact in a relatively short time. For us as revolutionary workers it is very important not just to remember the victims of slaughters and to celebrate the heroic fighters against barbarism but to learn from the defeats and the victories of our class and the oppressed peoples during and after the Second World War.
The Second World War was characterized by three big lines of development:
1. A reactionary war on both sides between the imperialist great powers for world domination (Germany, Italy and Japan – the Axis powers – on one side; Britain, USA and France on the other side – the so-called Allied powers).
2. The just defensive struggle of the Soviet Union – a degenerated workers state ruled by the Stalinist bureaucracy – against German imperialism and fascist barbarism.
3. The independent revolutionary struggle of the working class and anti-imperialist struggles of the oppressed peoples.
The First Phase of the War
The Second World War began 1939 with military victories by German imperialism against French and British imperialism as well as against its allies (like the small imperialist states Belgium and Netherlands or semi colonial countries like Poland, Yugoslavia and Greece). This first period of the Second World War led to a crisis amongst the ruling classes of France and, in an accentuated form, also in Britain. The faction that was in power failed to resist the German war machine and were unable to gather sizable popular support for the imperialist war. The capitalist class in Britain and France were very weak at this time. Especially in France A major faction of the ruling class took a very skeptical approach to the weak bourgeois regime at the time. They had a defeatist approach – their spirit can be described by: “let German militarism deal with the communist workers and we can get rid of their democratic rights”. That’s why the French ruling class, after the defeat against the Nazis in summer 1940, split into two factions: one that subordinated to German imperialism General Petain and another who subordinated to British imperialism General de Gaulle. In Britain Churchill came to power in May 1940 and defeated the section of the British ruling class which was in favor of a peace treaty with Germany.
The war in East Asia was different from the war in Europe. Japan had occupied large parts of China since the early 1930s, but the “official” bourgeois historians insisted that the war began with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Japan occupied large parts of the British, French and Dutch colonies in East Asia and established through Imperialist conquest. Japans initial military successes against the European imperialists as well as against the USA reflected its economic expansion.
After the military victories of Germany against the France and Britain in 1939 and 1940, the Nazis were confident enough to turn against their former ally – Stalin. The Soviet Union was a degenerated workers state which means that the economy of this state was not in the hand of a capitalist class. It was rather socialized, but the state was not ruled by the working and poor masses but by a bureaucratic caste. The October Revolution of 1917 overthrew capitalism in the former Tsarist Empire. In this revolutionary process the power was in the hands of the soviets – the democratic ruling organs of the working class and the peasantry. Through an internal political counterrevolution after the death of Lenin the bureaucracy of the state and the party apparatus took the power from the masses away and established their own rule. Their leading figure was Stalin. He developed a brutal counterrevolutionary terror against honest revolutionaries and against all attempts of the working class to reestablish their tradition of self-governing. Despite these counterrevolutionary aspects the Soviet Union was still a thorn in the side of the imperialists.
In the summer of 1941 the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union. The military defense of the Red Army disintegrated rapidly and millions of soviet soldiers were taken prisoner or were killed. It took till the winter of 1941 for the defense to be reorganized and the morale of the Red Army got higher. The Wehrmacht was still able to occupy nearly the whole western region of the Soviet Union (Ukraine, Belorussia, the Baltic States and even huge parts of western Russia).
Although the Nazis were very brutal to the people of every nation they occupied, there was a huge difference between the occupied imperialist countries (France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and Norway) and the oppressed nations Balkans and Eastern Europe. The Barbarism of the capitalist destructive forces was very clear in the policy of the Nazis in relation to the oppressed masses of Eastern Europe, especially the most oppressed. The most oppressed layers of society at this time were the Jews and the Romani people. The bloody crusade of the fascists against these people was similar to the crimes of imperialism. This is shown in the hundreds of massacres against the peoples of Eastern Europe, the brutal crackdown against the anticolonial uprisings in India or Algeria or the massacres and mass rapes against the Chinese people. The extermination of the European Jews which is called “Shoah” was met with the heroic resistance of the revolutionary fighters of Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943. The struggle of the Partisans in Eastern Europe and the 1941 February strike in the Netherlands showed how the worst effects of the “Shoah” and “Porajmnos” (the extermination of the Romani people) could have been prevented.
All in all, the first phase of World War II – from its beginning up late 1942/ early 1943 – had a thoroughly counterrevolutionary character. In this period the working class and the oppressed nations were suffering from the unprecedented repression as well as of ideological demoralization caused by pro-imperialist social democracy as well as Stalinism.
Revolutionary process despite of Stalinism
In the second half of 1942 and early 1943 the balance of power changed decisively. Despite their advanced military technology the territory occupied by German and Japanese imperialism was overstretched in proportion to their actual, numerical strength. This led to military victories for the Red Army in Stalingrad and the US army in Midway.
The shrinking power of the brutal imperialist occupiers strengthened the confidence of the oppressed people both in Eastern Europe and East Asia. The initial counterrevolutionary phase of the Second World War ended and a new, revolutionary, phase opened. In Italy, there were mass strikes against the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini which began in March 1943. The Partisan movement in Eastern Europe and the Balkans grew.
However, this dramatic change did not occur only in the countries under control of the Axis powers. In India too, occupied by British imperialism, a revolutionary mass uprising for independence began in August 1942. The “Communist” Party of India, which was a Stalinist party, disgustingly betrayed the anticolonial struggle of the people of India. A similar stand was taken by the Stalinists in the other colonies of France and Britain.
The Stalinist logic had different approaches to the different imperialist camps. Before 1941 they orientated towards Germany and praised Hitler as a “peace-loving man” while they denounced the “war-mongering” French and British imperialists. In France they opened negotiations with the German occupation forces in summer 1940 to restart legal political work. It is also no coincidence that dozens of German and Austrian communists and even hardline Stalinists who were in exile in the Soviet Union were handed over to the German repression apparatus by the Stalinist secret Police.
After the German army attacked the Soviet Union, the Stalinists had to look for other allies amongst the imperialist powers. So they again orientated toward Britain, France and the United States. Like the Social Democrats the Stalinists advocated during the war peaceful coexistence with the Imperialists and that no anticolonial struggles should be organized in the territories which were under control of the Allies. In Sri Lanka it was possible for the Trotskyites to gain the majority in the Lanka Sama Samaia Party (this was the only sizeable Workers Party in Sri Lanka) and to expel the Stalinists because of their latter betrayals in the anti-colonial struggle. This shows that it was possible to win masses for the Trotskyist program and to form independent revolutionary workers parties as part of the 4th International.
The bureaucratic caste which was ruling the Soviet Union was fighting on two fronts not just against the occupation forces of the German Reich (and their allies) but also against independent struggles of the masses.
The anti-colonial uprisings in the territories of the Allies intensified at the end of the war. On 8th May 1945 (the day of the capitulation of Nazi-Germany) protests in Algeria broke out and were brutally suppressed by the French colonial administrators. In the massacre of Sétif and Guelma thousands of Algerians were murdered by the French army. This once again shows the evil role of imperialism. However the French Stalinists didn’t raise a finger against this massacre – quite the opposite, they were part of the French government at that time.
At the same time the anti-imperialist and anti-fascist struggle in Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia exploded. The partisans in Eastern Europe became more and more powerful; the German Wehrmacht had to withdraw many troops from the front to hold down the revolting masses in the occupied territories. This increased the moral of the troops of the Red Army as well as improving supply routes, driving the German Wehrmacht out of the Soviet Union by the spring to summer of 1944.
After defeating German imperialism was completed by the Soviet Union and the rebelling masses of Eastern Europe, the Allies launched their invasion into France in June 1944. It is a historic fact that 9 out of 10 German soldiers died on the Eastern Front killed by the soldiers of the Red Army and the partisans. The Red Army and the partisans paid a heavy price to defeat the Nazis. Bourgeois historiography will not be able to falsify this!
The defeats of German and Italian imperialism led to revolutionary situations in 1944/45 in Greece, Italy and France. Stalinism used its influence to disarm the partisan militias and pressurized the workers to stop their strikes. On the orders of Moscow the Stalinist parties formed coalition governments with social democratic and conservative parties and helped to rebuild capitalist society. When the revolutionary situation had passed, the ruling class kicked out the Stalinists from the governments since these useful idiots were no longer needed by the bourgeoisie.
Stalinism bears a Historic responsibility for its betrayals of the working class and the peasantry of these countries and didn’t use the post-war crisis of the Second World War to advance the socialist revolution. Socialist revolutions in these countries would have destroyed Stalinism and that’s why Stalinists were so afraid of the independent, revolutionary struggle of the Working class.
Because of the revolutionary situations in France, Italy and Greece the Soviet Union was able to expand their influence into Central Europe. Unsurprisingly they didn’t use their gains to help the European working class liberate itself through the socialist revolution – quite the opposite! They used their new position of power to rule over the poor masses and continue to collaborate with Imperialism.
As revolutionaries we build on the historic legacy of Lenin and Trotsky. We try to learn from the struggle of the internationalists during the First World War, as well as from the victories of the 3rd International and the heroic struggle of the 4th International against Imperialism and Stalinism. The 4th International was the only force which took a revolutionary stand during the Second World War.
Before 1939 the Trotskyists laid down the correct revolutionary policy during the war. They made it clear from the beginning that in a war between two imperialist great powers revolutionary workers cannot side with one camp against the other. Therefore they took a revolutionary defeatist position in the war between Britain, France and the United States on one side and Germany, Japan and Italy on the other side. They revived the famous slogan of Karl Liebknecht against the imperialist war: “The main enemy is at home!”
The Trotskyists called for the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism and capitalism. Despite its bureaucratic degeneration the Soviet Union still possessed the economic basis of a workers state and this meant that the economic basis as well as the social rights of the masses of the working class and the peasantry had to be defended! Unlike the Stalinists the revolutionary fighters of the 4th International defended all anti-colonial uprisings no matter in which part of the world they were happening. The Trotskyists tried to organize an independent revolutionary workers struggle against the imperialist war, in solidarity with the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles and for the rule of the working class. The exemplary work and sacrifices of the revolutionary fighters of the 4th International are extremely important. They show how it would have been possible to transform the Second World War from a slaughterhouse for the poor to slaughterhouse of imperialism.
Trotskyites were fighting from a very difficult position. We want to especially point out the antimilitarist work of the French section of the 4th International and what they achieved. They were able to win dozens and dozens of German occupation soldiers for a revolutionary struggle against German and Allied militarism. The French section also participated in the uprising in Paris against the German fascists. They were hunted and killed by the German fascists, as well as by the Stalinists and the western “democracies”. We stand with the heroic struggle of revolutionary fighters of the revolutionary 4th International. Hundreds of Trotskyists were murdered during the Second World War. Most of them are unknown to history. But we want to take the time to name some of these brave fighters.
* Leon Trotsky, killed by a Stalinist agent in 1940.
* Abraham Leon, a Jewish member of the 4th International, was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
* Heinz Epe (known as Walter Held), a German revolutionary, “disappeared” while he was a prisoner in the Stalinist Soviet Union.
* Marcel Hic, leader of the French section of the 4th International, died in concentration camp Dora.
* Franz Kascha, Austrian revolutionary fighter, was executed by the Nazis in 1943.
* Léon Lesoil, one of the founders of the Communist Party Belgium and a leading member of the Belgian section of the 4th International, was murdered in the concentration camp Neuengamme.
* Jean Meichler, a revolutionary who fought at the same time for the revolution in France and in Germany, was taken as a hostage during the German occupation of France and was executed.
* Pantelis Pouliopoulos, leader of the Greek section of the 4th International, was shot in 1943 by Italian occupation forces.
* Ta-Thu-Thau, leader of the Trotskyists in Vietnam, “disappeared”; he was probably murdered by the Stalinists.
Sadly the massive losses of comrades, the collapse of the communication between the different national organizations and the failure of the Trotskyists to find a correct orientation in the new post-war situation lead to the disintegration of the 4th International into different centrist camps.
What can we, as revolutionary workers, learn for today from the struggles during the Second World War? The face of the political world has changed not just in the last 70, but also in the last 25 years. Stalinism collapsed and capitalism was reintroduced in Eastern Europe, Russia and China during 1989-92. Once and for all history has proven that Stalinism is not an alternative to capitalism but a dead-end in history. The special historic conditions in the first half of the 20th century made it possible for Stalinism to rise to power. Stalinism was able to conquer the Soviet Union and to oppress the masses. Once they had the power they did everything to prevent the world revolution. Imperialism was not fully satisfied with what they did. Stalinism wanted to coexist with capitalism but this was no mutual love affair. Capital is always desperately looking for new markets – particularly in periods of crisis and stagnation.
Imperialism waged wars against States that the Stalinists have conquered (the Second World War, the War in Korea, the failed invasion of Cuba, the occupation of Vietnam). Hence, the Stalinists were forced to resist and to organize (a limited) struggle against imperialism. Out of their position which depended on their rule over the masses of the working class, they were never able (how should they?!) to encourage the self-organization of the poor masses. They were afraid of every independent action of the working class and the poor masses against imperialism. They were afraid that such actions would be examples for the oppressed working class inside the Soviet Union and the Stalinist bloc like the heroic rebellions and uprisings in Easter Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, in the CSSR in 1968, in Poland in the 1980s and finally in the unfulfilled political revolution in nearly the whole Stalinist bloc (which led to a social counterrevolution because of the political weaknesses of the movements).
Unlike the 1930s and 1940s, Stalinism is not a strong force in today’s world. A very important change is the fragmentation of Stalinism into different national splinters. In the 1930s and 1940s there was a very strong and homogenous Stalinist movement around the world. Today the Stalinists have a much lower mass influence and they are not united. The reason for this is the fall of the Soviet Union and their function as a “planet” for different Stalinist “satellites”.
A very important lesson for our class is the following: The Stalinists and social democrats tried to appease the imperialist ruling classes; they tried to make a deal with imperialism. It is completely understandable that an isolated and economic weak workers state has to maneuver in world politics in order to survive and to prepare for the next upswing of the world revolution. But that was not the case with the Soviet Union under Stalin. They tried to betray the world revolution to imperialism in order to “buy” peace from them. That is completely different from the revolutionary diplomacy of Lenin, Trotsky and Joffe in the revolutionary Soviet Union in 1917-23.
Today again we can see in the swamp of centrism, left reformism the tendency to adapt towards one or other imperialist camp. Most of today’s Stalinists and Stalinophile centrists adapt towards the new imperialist great powers like Russia and China. They support or supported bourgeois, pro-imperialist dictators like Assad and Gaddafi when they slaughter their own people because in their eyes they are “resisting imperialism”. The partisans in Eastern Europe in the Second World War had the active support of British imperialism, in Greece British agents fought alongside the partisans or in former Yugoslavia where they got weapons from them. The Kuomintang, the Chinese bourgeois nationalists, had active support in their just struggle against Japanese imperialism. The Japanese tried to build up an Indian National Army after the uprisings in 1942. German, Italian and Japanese imperialism gave limited support to anti-colonial actions in the colonies of the French and British. Did all these imperialist interferences change the just and democratic character of these anti-imperialist struggles? Did this transform this struggle into imperialist proxy wars? No absolutely not! The dominant factor in these struggles was the just anti-imperialist and democratic aspect and not the imperialist interference.
Today we see again that so called revolutionaries who are in reality centrists or reformists slander the Syrian Revolution as an “imperialist conspiracy”. They should try to learn from history and don’t repeat the nonsense which is shown in Russia Today! Many of those “revolutionaries” even deny the fact that Russia and China are imperialist nations!
Another sector of the workers movement, especially in Northern America and Western Europe, are open or hidden supports of western imperialism. We saw the social democrats who hailed the imperialist “War on Terror” which was in reality a step into the direction of the colonization of the Middle East. This bloody and disgusting war was opposed by nearly all centrist organizations. But hardly anyone dared to speak openly about the conclusion one has to take from this. The conclusion real revolutionaries took was to call for the military victory of the rebels in Iraq and Afghanistan against the US Army and their allies. The same has to be done during the occupation of Mali by the French colonial rulers. Actually, this was the revolutionary line which the RCIT and its predecessor organization stood for. Many western “socialists” also supported the reactionary “Maidan Movement” in Ukraine which was strongly supported by western imperialists to bring the Ukraine into the sphere of influence of the European Union.
A revolutionary policy which is urgently needed by our class has to take an independent anti-imperialist stand. It is crucial that the working class and the oppressed masses are led into the struggle for liberation completely independent from one or the other imperialist camp. This is especially important in the imperialist conflicts or proxy wars today. We call out to our class brothers and sisters in the imperialist powers of China and Japan that they need to break with the support of “their” masters and do not support the war mongering over the Diaoyu islands. We call on the workers in the Ukraine, Russia and Western Europe that they should not support the inter-imperialist rivalry over “who has the right to exploit which part of Ukraine”. If we say: “Workers of the world unite!” It is a necessary precondition that the working class and especially their vanguard are broken away from “their” imperialist rulers. Neither is it a progressive solution to support the imperialist great power which is in conflict with the domestic ruling class. Sooner or later the imperialists will prepare for a now world war. Their economic rivalry in Latin America, Africa and Asia (especially between China and the US) is a herald of this. The struggle against the destruction of our planet by the destructive forces of imperialism is an essential task for our class. We must teach our class to resist all imperialist war mongering.
At the time of the Second World War – and now it is important that revolutionaries unconditionally support the struggle of all oppressed peoples against their imperialist rulers. This was true for China, India, Eastern Europe and the African colonies and this is true for Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, East Turkestan, Iraq, Central Africa, Mali and Yemen today.
Revolutionaries during the Second World War gathered around the banner of the 4th International. Sadly the 4th International failed the historic tests after the war and collapsed as revolutionary forces in 1948-52. The revolutionary continuity which reached from the days of Marx and Engels to the revolutionary internationalists during the First World War, to the October Revolution and to the struggle of the International Left Opposition and Trotsky’s 4th International was broken. We as new generations of revolutionary workers must learn from the struggles of the history of our class as well as from the new historic period in which we are living. We don’t have another choice but to fight for our liberation through socialist revolution if we want to live in a world without new world wars and capitalist destruction.
We are one class all around the world with one aim and one struggle – therefore we need one organization to fight in this battle. The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) is dedicating its forces to build such a revolutionary organization. It is necessary that all revolutionaries, and especially the new generation who rose from the struggles of the current period, who are serious in building such an organization and who want to orientate it towards the working class and the oppressed peoples, work together. Therefore we must unreservedly break with the centrist traditions of the various splinters of the 4th International! It is urgent to build such a strong international organization in the next years to toughen it in the fire of the coming struggles, to learn from the victories and the defeats of our class. We don’t have indefinite time for the formation of such an organization because capitalism works very fast towards its own and the planet’s destruction. Hurry, revolutionary workers of the world!