September marked the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. The ruling class has used the occasion World War. The ruling class has used the occasion to hold up the war as a defining moment of the 20th century, when democracy stood up to and defeated fascism in order to allow the development of human rights and democracy. This message has been given added weight by the Kosovo war, where we were also told that NATO was struggling against the 'new' Hitler and his fascist hordes. Communists would agree that the Second World War was a defining moment of this century but not for the same reasons. What the slaughter of 60 million people in the war showed was the depths of barbarity that decadent capitalism can plumb.
This war was not fought for democracy, but to defend imperialist interests. The mechanised destruction of World War One had marked the entry of capitalism into its decadence. By the beginning of the century capitalism embraced the whole planet and thus the only way that nations could expand was through the economic and military conquest of their rivals' markets and colonies. In 1914 Germany was a giant imperialist power with a minuscule empire; it launched the war to break the global grip of its main rivals, especially Britain. In 1939, Germany struck out again to overturn the humiliating limitations imposed on it by the victors of the previous war. On the other hand, its main rivals had the advantage of their huge economic power, in the case of the US. or their empire, in Britain's case. This enabled them to defend the status quo mainly y through economic and diplomatic means, and to appear as the innocent, peace-loving victims when Germany launched its desperate struggle for imperialist survival. "The democracies must never appear as the aggressor", as President Roosevelt said on the eve of war with Japan - which like German imperialism had to strike out because of its inferior imperialist position.
The myth of anti-fascism
In the First World War, Britain and its allies had justified the war as a struggle against the despotic "Hun" and for King and Country. To mobilise the population for the next war, after the experience of the Russian Revolution and the Depression, such unalloyed patriotism was not enough. The ruling class needed a much more sophisticated mystification and the fascist menace provided it. The war in Spain from 1936-39 showed the ideological power of anti-fascism as a means of mobilising the working class. The fact that all of the democracies had supported the rise of fascism in Germany, first as democracy's death squads against the German Revolution, then as a bulwark against Russia - Britain signed a naval treaty with Germany in 1935 - was carefully hidden. In this new alliance, Stalinist Russia (whose repression of the workers was no less bloody than Hitler's) became an honorary democracy and its pretensions to be being a socialist fatherland were uwere used as a further proof that the cause of anti-fascism was the cause of the working class.
Barbarism - fascist and democratic
For five years the world was shaken by an orgy of destruction and unprecedented levels of barbarity. The most obvious expression of this was the Nazi death camps and the wholesale genocide against the Jews, gypsies etc. But this barbarity was seized upon by the Allies at the end of the war to serve as an alibi for their own slaughter of millions of innocent people in the war. This slaughter took many forms: the policy of terror bombing all German cities ("An offensive of extensive bombing could sap the morale of the enemy providing it is directed against the working class areas of the 58 German towns which have a population of more than 100,000..." - Linndeman, Churchill's adviser, March 1942, quoted in International Review No 66); the bombing of cities in France and other occupied areas during the war and after D-day (for example Caen and St Malo were flattened in '44); the carefully calculated atomic liquidation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the forced starvation of millions in West Bengal in 1943 - approximately three million died when the crops were taken to feed the troops... As regards the death camps, the Allies didn't mention them until the end of the war, though they knew about them. In fact when theen the SS offered to release a million Jews in exchange for 10,000 lorries or other goods the Allies refused. In 1943, Roosevelt made clear the thinking behind such a refusal: "transporting so many people would disorganise the war effort" (Churchill's Memoirs, Vol 10). Thus, the refusal to help the Jews, the starvation and bombing of civilian populations were not signs of moral weakness but part of the logic of imperialism: nothing must get in the way of the war effort.
The war required the crushing of the working class
The defence of democracy was also the banner under which the international bourgeoisie crushed the revolutionary struggles of the world proletariat between 1917-27. This wave of struggle swept the ruling class from power in Russia, nearly toppled the bourgeoisie in Germany and rocked them internationally: it had been provoked initially by the horrors of the First World War. The ruling class, through a combination of brutal repression and the use of illusions in bourgeois democracy, smashed the revolution and so nullified the only force capable of blocking the road to another war. In 1939 the defeated proletarians were dragooned off to war in their millions; but towards the end of the war there was the beginning of a proletarian response to the war. In 1943, there was a massive wave of strikes in Northern Italy. The Allie Allies, seeing the class enemy raising its head, stopped their advance through southern Italy in order to allow "the Italians to stew in their own juice" (Churchill). This meant leaving the German bourgeoisie to brutally repress the strikes, while the Allies helped their Nazi class brothers by bombing Milan. Such acts of bottomless cynicism (fear of the German working class rising up at the end of the war was also a prime motive behind the terror bombing of German cities) enabled the Allies to strangle at birth the danger posed by the proletariat.
Even in these darkest of hours for the working class, revolutionary voices were raised against the war. Despite their small forces, groups of the communist left in Europe - who had make a complete break from both the official Communist Parties and the Trotskyists, political forces which had all enrolled in the anti-fascist war effort - carried out a determined internationalist intervention. They produced publications and leaflets calling for revolutionary defeatism; where possible these were distributed to troops on both sides. "Workers! The war isn't just fascism! It's also democracy and 'socialism in one country', it's also the USSR. It's the whole capitalist regime, which, in its death throes, is dragging the whole of society down with it! Capitalism can't give you peace; even when the war ends, it can't give you anything more.
Against the capitalist war, the class solution is civil war! Only through civil war leading to the seizure of power by the proletariat today can there arise a new society, an economy of consumption and no longer of destruction!
Against parasitism and the war effort!
For international proletarian solidarity.
For the transformation of imperialist war into civil war"
(The Communist Left, French Fraction - L'Etincelle (the Spark) No 1, January 1945, Quoted in International Review No 59)