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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 21, New Delhi, May 9, 2020

75th anniversary of Victory over fascism in WW II

Saturday 9 May 2020, by Anil Rajimwale

This year, world celebrates 75th anniversary of the Second World War (WW II), which ended with victory over fascism, on 9 May 1945. The most destructive war in human history, it caused 5 crore deaths, two crores of them from Soviet Union alone. Soviet Red Army was in the forefront of the struggle and victory.

The greatest lesson it taught us was not to underestimate fascism. Humanity paid a heavy price for letting fascism and Nazism come to power. The western imperialist powers US, Britain and France pampered and encouraged Hitler and other fascists to further anti-Soviet agenda.

Fascism rises in Italy

The word fascism comes from ‘fasci’. It was born in Italy mainly after First World War (WW I). ‘Fasci’ is an Italian word meaning ‘a bundle’, referring rhetorically to ‘unity of the nation’. Benito Mussolini founded Fascist Party of Italy in 1919, helped by Giovanni Gentile and others. Its emblem was ‘fasces’, a bundle of rods with an axe in the centre. Fascist squads of ‘Italian fighters’ or ‘Squadrismo’ were already attacking socialists and communists as WW I was drawing to a close.

Factory Council movement of the working class was a massive one in Italy. Working Class Councils of Italy had occupied factories in 1920-21, and were on the verge of a revolution. But they did not know what to do next, nor did its leadership. Lenin had sharply criticized the Italian Communist Party leadership for failing to grasp the nature of fascism. Taking advantage of the Councils’ vacillations, Mussolini’s ‘Black Shirts’ marched on Rome in October 1922 and captured power. Fascism was in full control by 1926.

Nazism: a form of fascism in Germany

Nazism was a more virulent form of fascism. Fascism in Germany was known as ‘Nazism’ from party’s name NATSI or NAZI. Its full form was ‘National Socialist German Workers Party’ (!), Natsi or Nazi from German initials. It was founded by Hitler and cronies in 1920, among its leaders being Anton Drexler.

Nazi Party formed storm troopers (SA) or the ‘Brown Shirts’, who were headed by Ernst Rohm, and later the more dreaded SS (Protection Squadron) or the ‘Black Shirts’, headed by Himmler, on the pattern of the Italian ‘black shirts’. Hitler got Rohm murdered and made his SA subservient to the SS.

It was the period of World Economic Crisis, and fascism took advantage of severe economic and political crisis of capitalism and imperialism, concentrating fire on democratic institutions. It appealed to the unemployed youths, petty producers, shopkeepers, middle class, and the big bourgeoisie. It drummed pseudo nationalism loudly, holding other countries responsible for its defeat and humiliation in the WW I. It targeted the Communists and socialists, working class and Jews as the root cause of the economic and cultural crisis, and presented the ‘Pure Germans” as real ‘Aryans’.
Europe went through worst crisis and recession in 1929-33. German Mark became worthless, carried around in sacks! Alround unemployment, near total loss of purchasing power, waste of industrial capacities, crash of banks, etc marked the scene.
Financial and monopoly super-profits system strengthened, concentration and centralization of production and capital went apace in chemical, heavy and steel industry, railways, electricity. But armaments and war industry was most profitable. A powerful section among the giant financial monopolies decided to do away with existing bourgeois governments, and install Hitler in power.

Gerogi Dimitrov, general secretary of the Comintern, defined fascism as the dictatorship of the most extreme rightwing sections of finance capital in his Report on United Front in 1935.

General elections in Germany, 1930s

The general successive elections in Germany under the Weimer Republic were not really favoring and to the liking of the Nazi (NATSI) party. They showed that the Nazis were not too popular even with finance monopolies’ support. Though it emerged largest party, it could not manage majorities. Other parties including Social Democrats and Communists kept fighting each other due to their sectarian politics as also because they failed really to grasp the nature of fascism. But gradually they realized their folly, began to come together, but it was rather late. General secretary of KPD (Communist Party of Germany) Ernst Thaelmann said significantly that the leaders of the two parties may even end up in the same jail if they did not cooperate. This is what exactly happened: he and some other SDP leaders were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, tortured and ultimately shot.

The Nazi Party got humiliated when Hitler lost the two presidential elections of March and April 1932 to Hindenburg. They enhanced their machinations to capture power. In the parliamentary elections (to Reichstag) of 31 July 1932, Nazi Party got 230 seats out of 608 with 37% votes, SDP 133 (21%) and Communists 89 (14%). In the elections of 6 November 1932 (total seats 584), Nazis lost some ground with 196 seats and 33% votes, SDP 121 (20% votes)and KPD 100 (16% votes). These elections were necessitated due to political instability, when no government could last.

Though they kept losing seats and votes, the Nazis emerged as single largest party by end of 1932. Combined votes and seats of SDP and KPD were more than those of Nazi party in November ’32 elections. Had they combined, they would have won a resounding victory.

There was serious governmental crisis. The successive governments went through series of crises and collapse. Nazis pressed their advantage. They also used their armed SA and SS to terrorize others into submission. They tried to maneuver von Papen the earlier Chancellor (prime minister) and later vice-chancellor. He was a weak and compromising character and played into the hands of Hitler easily. Schleicher, the Chancellor, resigned only after 57 days through conspiracy to pave way for Hitler, who maneuvered the Army also. Though he disliked Hitler immensely, President Hindenburg had to invite him as leader of the largest party in the Reichstag, on 30 January 1933, which proved to be a Black Day for Germany and the world. This was to be the last election in Germany.

Thus the ‘Third Reich’ or the third ‘empire’ was established.

Era of fascistization and militarization, and of concentration camps, began in right earnest.

In Japan, Gen Hideki Tojo was appointed prime minister of Japan by the Emperor in 1940. Japan joined the Fascist Axis, capturing huge areas in Asia, even attacking Indian borders, coming up to Imphal.

Outbreak of Second World War (WW II) and victory over fascism (1939-45)
Under a well thought-out plan, Germany captured most of Europe over next few years. It took over Austria in 1934, which ceased to exist by 1938, Czechoslovakia in 1938 through the Munich Pact, attacked and captured parts of Poland around the time, Italian troops entered Abyssinian capital Addis Ababa in May 1936. Italy took over Albania in April 1939. WW II began with German attack on Poland on 1 September 1939 after staging the sham incident at Gleiwitz in that country.

Denmark and Norway fell easily in April 1940 to German troops, Belgium and Luxemburg fell quickly in mid-1940, France surrendered in June the same year. London was bombed by hundreds of German bombers for 57 continuous days in September-November that year, silencing Britain.

Massive assault on USSR: ‘Operation Barbarossa’, 1941

In the meantime ‘Operation Barbarossa’ was being readied. Having
captured Europe, Hitler turned to Soviet Russia. Stalin grossly underestimated the danger from Nazi Germany, despite repeated warnings about the impending German attack on June 22, 1941, as mentioned by Marshal Zhukov, Commander-in-Chief. Stalin ignored the repeated warnings from various sources about the magnitude and even exact date of aggression. He considered it a provocation, and did not expect Hitler Germany to attack so soon and on such a scale.

After the attack, Stalin took over active command as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and led the armies in the course of the War.
Nazi Germany and allies launched ‘Operation Barbarossa’, the biggest aggression in history till date: 190 divisions numbering 5.5 million troops, 47200 artillery pieces, 4300 tanks, and 5000 planes attacking Soviet Union in the night of 21-22 June 1941 along a border of about 4500 km. They were faced by 2.7 million Red Army men, 37500 artillery pieces, less than 2000 tanks and less than 2000 combat aircraft.

The Soviet armies retreated at first. The Germans almost captured Moscow but were halted just outside the city. In the north they surrounded Leningrad (St Petersburg). Hitler had announced that he will ‘wipe it off the face of the earth’. Germans surrounded it for 900 days but could not enter. In the south pitched battles took place for Stalingrad (now Volgograd). Thus a line of front from Leningrad through Moscow to Stalingrad held the thread of WW II.

Lifeline over the solid snows of Lake Ladoga kept Leningrad alive. Moscow offered continued resistance, as the government offices were shifted to Kuibyshev and other places behind Moscow.

Battle of Stalingrad: turning point

The battles for Caucasus, the Caspian and for Stalingrad were most intensive and extensive and decisive for WW II. A Nazi victory would have opened the Caucasus, the Caspian and Asia for them, planning to meet Japan in India and the continent. Beginning in July-August, the battle of Stalingrad mainly lasted from 23 August 1942 to 2 February 1943. German 6th Army along with 4th Panzer (tank) Army, Rumanian, Italian and Hungarian armies, combined with Luftwaffe air bombing, reduced Stalingrad to a rubble, leading to house to house battles. Soldiers and people fought for every room, door, window and floor! If one room was occupied by the Germans, the next was in the Soviet hands!!

Millions died, hundreds of tanks and aircraft were destroyed. The 6th German Army got completely surrounded after 6 months of continuous battles. General Field Marshal von Paulus, Generals Schmidt, Heitz, Strecker and others surrendered despite Hitler’s orders to the contrary. General Mannstein tried to retrieve positions with his tanks formations but lost. Lakhs of German soldiers including Gen von Paulus were taken prisoners.
Red Army leaders Marshal Zhukov, Yeremenko, Khrushchev, Vatutin, Chuikov, Vasilevsky and others planned the Soviet operations.

German retreat

After the defeat at Stalingrad, the Nazis began to retreat for the first time in WW II. By 1944 Soviet armies had reached borders, entering Europe. Moscow, Leningrad, Smolensk, Kharkov, Kursk and other fronts were relieved and turned against German armies. Three Byelorussian, four Ukrainian and other ‘fronts’ were created as groups of armies to fight Nazi and fascist forces in Europe from Poland to Bulgaria and other countries. They were led by Marshals Zhukov, Konev, Rokossovsky and others. By mid-1944 Red Armies were in European countries, driving out the Germans.

Victory over fascism

Western countries like the US, Britain, France and allies refused to open the ‘Second Front’ despite repeated demands the world over. That would have made it easier to defeat the Nazi Germany. The West held back till they found that the Red Armies were advancing even without it. So they landed on 6 June 1944 in Normandy in France, bringing some relief. They tried to race through to Berlin before the Soviet armies but failed in their attempts.

Soviet armies poured into Europe. Battle for Germany and Berlin proved very difficult as concentration of forces increased. Soviet troops entered Germany by February-March 1945 and Berlin by April. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April. The German forces surrendered to the Soviet and other Allied forces in early morning 9 May 1945: Marshal Kietel signing surrender to Marshal Zhukov and others. Thus the WW II came to an end.
Mussolini had been executed on 28 April 1945. Tojo was hanged on 23 December 1948 after being sentenced by an International Tribunal.

WW II: Lessons for us

The world had to pay a very heavy price for underestimating and even failing to grasp the nature of fascism and Nazism. The scars of destruction in WW II are still to be overcome. Fascism has proved to be the biggest enemy of humanity ever. This must not be forgotten nor danger from fascism be underestimated. It must be fought against everywhere. A mass united front of parties and classes to prevent fascism rearing its head again is best way, as was shown by Dimitrov Theses (1935). Dimitrov theses helped the people of Europe to forge anti-fascist unity to defeat it. Dimitrov theses are relevant even today.

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