Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 18, May 16, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

75th Anniversary of the End Of World War II

Causes and Lessons of World War II

The Soviet People celebrate Victory Day in Moscow, USSR, May 9 1945

May 9 marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day and major commemorative events had been planned by the government to mark this historic occasion. What is clear is that the events which were organised by the government for May 8 were not intended to commemorate the fact that the conclusion of the Second World War was a decisive victory over fascism in which the working people of the world played a decisive role. Everything is done to obscure the causes and nature of the war, as well as its significance, and the fact that the victory over fascism in Europe was led by the Soviet Union, which bore the brunt of the fighting, contributed nearly 50% of all allied expenditure on the war and, of the five major belligerents, suffered nearly 60% of all economic damage caused by the war. Above all the Soviet Union contributed the lives of some 27 million of its population.

The people of Britain and its colonies, as well as the people of many other countries, also gave their lives to rid the world of the Nazi menace and scored a historic victory in 1945, despite extremely difficult conditions and the machinations of their governments. It cannot be forgotten that many people who were colonial subjects gave their lives and made massive sacrifices at a time when they had no right recognised to determine their own affairs, and lived in conditions that were barely distinguishable from those in Nazi-occupied Europe. In Britain, racism was not illegal, operated throughout society, and a colour bar even existed in the armed and auxiliary services.

It also cannot be forgotten that fascism in general, and Germany's Nazis in particular, were financed, encouraged and appeased by the governments and ruling circles of Britain and its closest allies. As is well known, the government of Britain completely betrayed the people of Czechoslovakia in 1938, by signing the infamous Munich Agreement with the governments of France, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but without the participation of the governments of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The British government had even demanded that the government of Czechoslovakia should not invoke its mutual defence agreement with the Soviet Union in order to appease Hitlerite Germany.

The Agreement, which handed over Czechoslovakia to occupation and dismemberment by Nazi Germany and other powers, was the culmination of the reactionary appeasement policy followed by the British government and its allies. This policy was designed to encourage and reward fascist aggression in general, such as Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, and particularly to encourage Nazi Germany to expand eastwards, to occupy territories such as the Ukraine, as well as the entire Soviet Union. The British government's appeasement policy had long been based on the hope that fascism would crush the construction of the world's first socialist state, so as to fulfil the long-held wish of Churchill and others that communism might be "strangled in its cradle". It was for also this purpose that the ruling circles in Britain, France and the US not only appeased fascism but financed and re-armed Germany, through such means as the 1924 Dawes Plan and the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement.

The Munich Agreement was a great betrayal by the governments of Britain and France, not only of the people of Czechoslovakia, but the people of all countries of Europe and the rest of the world. Winston Churchill said at the time: "The partition of Czechoslovakia under pressure from England and France amounts to the complete surrender of the Western democracies to the Nazi threat of force. Such a collapse will bring peace or security neither to England nor to France... It is not Czechoslovakia alone which is menaced, but also the freedom and the democracy of all nations." In Parliament he condemned Prime Minster Chamberlain, who had contemptuously referred to "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing," saying: "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war." The Munich Agreement which, amongst other things, ceded Czechoslovakia's important armaments industry to Hitler, sealed the fate of Europe and a year later led directly to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. It is often conveniently forgotten that Prime Minster Chamberlain also signed a non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany at Munich in 1938. France too concluded a Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany in the months following the Munich Agreement.

Neville Chamberlain signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler, 1938

However, despite the plans of the ruling circles of Britain, France and the United States, communism was not strangled. Indeed, it was the Soviet Union's anti-war government led by Joseph Stalin that demanded a policy of "collective security" against fascism. Time and again the Soviet Union sought alliances with Britain, France and other countries in Europe against the menace of fascism, advances that were rejected, the governments of Britain and France preferring instead to appease Hitler and Mussolini. In the same period, it was the communist parties organised in the Communist International that called for a united front of the workers and all democratic people, irrespective of party affiliation, against fascism, a call initially rejected by the leaders of the Labour Party in Britain as well as its sister parties elsewhere. Nevertheless, the call of the Communists for unity in action against fascism, not only in Europe but internationally, was put into practice during the Second World War and was the basis for the victories culminating in VE Day in 1945.

It was the collective security proposals of the Soviet Union which could, if taken up by the imperialist powers, have prevented, or at least limited, the Second World War. Faced with the refusal of Britain and France to take up these proposals, the Soviet Union had no alternative but to sign its own Non-Aggression Pact with Germany, in 1939, order to give it time to prepare for the inevitable Nazi invasion of its territories. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and after the Polish State had collapsed, the Soviet Union's Red Army on September 17, 1939, moved into Ukrainian and Byelorussian territories seized by Poland in 1919-20, thus saving millions from the slaughter visited upon the rest of Poland, and moving its forward defensive line several hundred kilometres west. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Second World War assumed an anti-fascist character and the whole world was inspired by the sacrifices made by the peoples of the Soviet Union, as well as the decisive role which the Red Army and the government of the Soviet Union played in the defeat of fascism, such as during the famous battle of Stalingrad.

The governments of Britain, the United States and other countries were forced to enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union following Nazi Germany's invasion of that country in 1941. However, the Anglo-American strategy of allowing the armies of Germany and the Soviet Union to annihilate each other was implemented throughout the war and led to the delay in the opening of a second front in western Europe. The 1944 D-Day landings did not take place to relieve the onslaught on the Soviet Union, as its government had demanded since 1941. At that time the policy of the Anglo-Americans was perhaps best summed up by the future US president, Harry Truman who wrote: "If we see that Germany is winning, we should help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we should help Germany, so that as many as possible perish on both sides." Instead the Anglo-Americans waited until after the decisive battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of the war in Europe in 1943, when they became concerned that the victorious Red Army might not only defeat Nazi Germany single-handed but also liberate the whole of western Europe. These fears also help to explain the war crimes carried out by the Anglo-Americans, such as the bombing of Dresden and other German cities that had no military significance during the war.

The Second World War was a great tragedy in which over 60 million people lost their lives. However, it was successfully fought to prevent an even greater tragedy and fascism was defeated. The victory over fascism created the conditions for the liberation of many nations in Africa and Asia and for the working people to advance their cause for progress and social emancipation. The period after the victory over Nazi fascism were a time of great momentum, profound changes and the creation of the socialist camp. In 1945, for example, for the first time in history the trade union centres of all countries came together to found the World Federation of Trade Unions and there was even the expectation that the workers of the world, who had sacrificed so much, would be represented in the highest bodies of the United Nations.

However, history shows that these advances were not welcomed by all. They were opposed by those that had nurtured, appeased and financed fascism before the war and principally by the ruling circles in Britain and the United States. Once the victory over fascism seemed assured, the struggle against communism and to prevent the peoples empowering themselves recommenced. This was clearly evident in the Anglo-American intervention in Greece even before the end of the war and the Anglo-American Operation Unthinkable, the plan for an attack on the Soviet Union in 1945.

It is vital that in remembering the sacrifices made to seal the victory over fascism in 1945 there is no distortion nor falsification of the history of the Second War and especially its causes. It is also important that we understand the lessons of history, not just as something in itself, but as part of providing all the information, the perspective, the outlook which enables the working class and all democratic people to discuss and plan the way forward, as to what kind of new society is needed, how to take matters into our own hands, how to bring about democratic renewal and bring into being a pro-social anti-war government, in order to solve ourselves the many problems facing society.


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