The Guardian 4 May, 2005
The long struggle
for collective security against Nazism
Immediately after the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933 the Soviet Union and communist parties worldwide warned that Nazism and fascism meant war and the destruction of all working class and progressive organisations. The Nazis violently smashed trade unions and all liberal opinion. Virulent anti-communist and anti-Jewish propaganda flooded the German people. In the German cities blackshirts and brownshirts prowled the streets terrorising all who opposed the Hitler regime, ransacking homes, offices and places of worship, arresting and torturing dissidents, and destroying books in massive public bonfires.
Hitler denounced the treaties imposed on Germany following WW1 and commenced the rearmament of Germany. He intended to take his revenge for Germany’s defeat in WW1 and for the seizure of German colonies by Britain and France.
Far from opposing Nazism, however, the political leaders of Britain and France and a number of other western countries believed that they could use Hitler to destroy what they saw as a far greater danger to their power and privileges — the Bolsheviks of the Soviet Union.
The socialist USSR was an example that a new social system bringing an end to capitalist exploitation was possible. It was a hindrance to the plans of the imperialist states to re-divide the world’s markets and control the resources of the colonies to their own advantage.
While the governments of the US, Britain and France wanted to unite the capitalist world against the Soviet Union by forming a compact with Hitler’s Germany, the capitalists of Germany sought such a union through the subjugation of other capitalist countries.
Some imperialist politicians saw this contradiction clearly — Churchill in Britain, Barthou in France, Roosevelt in the US — but they were the minority. Most were so blinded by anti-communism that they were prepared to give the fascists a free hand.
In Australia, Robert Menzies publicly praised Hitler and helped the Japanese militarist regime arm for war with exports of strategically important resources. The name of "Pig Iron Bob" was associated with the conservative PM from that time on.
Barthou brought the USSR into the League of Nations and, as Germany and Japan left it, the Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov began the fight for the adoption of the principle of collective security.
However, influential leaders of the capitalist powers believed that German fascism was the only bulwark against Bolshevism. They confidently expected that a re-armed Germany would sweep to the East and destroy the centre of the Red contagion — the USSR.
Western leaders consistently rejected calls for collective security — it was intended to restrain aggressors, and could only be aimed at Hitler’s Germany.
Instead, Germany was helped to rearm, to re-occupy the Rhineland, to force through an Anschluss with Austria (basically Germany was allowed to seize the country).
When Germany moved to occupy Czechoslovakia, which had a strong army and an advanced armament industry, the imperialists found themselves in a quandary.
The British and French public demanded that their governments support the independence of Czechoslovakia while the strategic aims of the British and French rulers called for Czechoslovakia to be given to Hitler.
A conference of the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy held in Munich betrayed Czechoslovakia and handed that country to Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union was not invited to attend.
The Soviet Union offered to stand by Czechoslovakia without France if necessary. But while Czech Communist MPs demanded that President Beneš request Soviet assistance, he refused, apparently more fearful of communism than of Hitler.
The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London from Munich following the conference with Hitler to make one of the great hypocritical utterances of all time. Waving Hitler’s signature on the Munich agreement he declared "It means peace in our time". It was called appeasement.
For anyone with eyes, the aims of the imperialists were now clear. Nevertheless, the Soviet government tried once again to forge a collective security agreement with Britain against the Nazis.
A British delegation went to Moscow. The Prime Minister had flown to Munich to see Hitler and betray Czechoslovakia, but only a minor Foreign Office official was sent to Moscow.
He did not fly but went by a steamer with a top speed of only 12 knots. When he finally arrived he revealed that he had no power to sign an agreement — he could only discuss one. His visit was merely a sop to British public opinion. The USSR was being left to face Germany alone.
At this juncture the contradictions between the Franco/British and German capitalists became crucial. Germany sent its Foreign Minister to Moscow to offer a non-aggression pact. The Soviet government, having failed in its efforts to forge a collective security agreement against the Nazis, agreed to sign a Soviet-German non-aggression pact.
The British and French imperialists were stupefied. The chickens of appeasement had come home to roost. Before long Germany invaded Poland and a distraught Chamberlain had to declare war and declared significantly at the time, "All our plans have fallen to the ground".
Except at sea, however, the declaration of war was accompanied by little military action. The reactionary leaders of Britain and France patiently waited for Germany to do as Hitler had indicated he would — attack the USSR. Instead, he invaded the Low Countries and France and commenced the bombing of Britain. He would not now invade the USSR until he had subjugated France and severely crippled Britain.
However, when Hitler did invade the Soviet Union, he discovered that it was not isolated as the German capitalists and those who aided and abetted Hitler had anticipated. Churchill had replaced Chamberlain as British Prime Minister.
The Soviet leadership had skilfully exploited the contradictions between the blocs of capitalist states and, backed by the popular anti-fascist struggles of the people around the world, was able to forge a formidable anti-fascist coalition.
And, to the horror of the capitalist class everywhere, the "Soviet rabble" fought tenaciously for their country and their socialist way of life.
The Red Army turned out to be technologically and industrially advanced — the Soviet T34 was the finest tank of the war. In the heavily armoured close ground-support Stormovik fighter-bomber the Soviet forces had a virtual flying tank that had no counterpart in any other army. Fearsome batteries of truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers ripped hell out of the German armies.
Before the year was out the Soviet Red Army had not only stopped the German advance but had inflicted the first major defeat of the war on the hitherto "invincible" Wermacht in the Battle of Moscow. Workers and democratically-minded people everywhere were inspired by their resistance and rejoiced in their victories. Guerilla resistance to German occupation grew rapidly in the occupied countries of Europe.
In England, to the alarm of capitalists, the Red Army was viewed with something akin to awe. None-the-less, except for the ardent support of British and US factory workers, the Red Army fought largely alone for almost three years. American commentators would have you believe that the US was the mainstay of the Soviet war effort, but in fact supplies from the US and elsewhere accounted for only four percent of Soviet war supplies.
The factories created under socialism’s five-year plans to industrialise the country produced the other 96 percent of Soviet war material. When winter came, it was the "efficient" German war machine that was unprepared, whose men froze, whose fuels froze, and whose planes could not get off the ground.
British and US supplies and the Russian winter are credited by anti-Soviet historians with defeating the Nazis but both claims are false.
Winter is hardly a secret weapon, nor does it affect only one side of the front line. The German High Command failed to prepare for it, the Soviet Supreme Command — and the Soviet State — did.
Collective security and an anti-Nazi front was finally created in the crucible of the war but the failure to form such a front when it was first proposed cost the lives of millions of people.
The resistance and the victories of the Soviet Red Army inspired the struggles of the people in the occupied countries and made the Second World War a just, anti-fascist liberation struggle. The defeat of Nazism had long term consequences, a fact that is still influencing events in the world today.