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How the USSR made the World War II victory over German fascism a reality

Commentary by Daniel Sullivan |
May 8, 2020
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Soviet flag over Berlin.
Soviet flag over Berlin.

On May 8, 1945, at 11:01 pm Central European Time – already May 9 in the USSR – the German surrender took effect, ending World War II in Europe. The war with Germany and her fellow members of what we now call fascist allies in Europe – Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Slovakia and Finland – had already claimed the lives of perhaps 50 million people. In the ensuing years, oceans of ink have been spilled by right-wing historians and polemicists in an attempt to distort or even minimize the significance of this date. The purpose of this rewriting of history is in some cases to defend fascism, but in many more it is simply to diminish the prestige of the Soviet Union, the first socialist state. We think it is appropriate to call to mind a few facts.

First, the Nazi empire was guilty of the most astounding crimes, some without any real parallel in history. Over the summer of 1944, some 400,000 Hungarian Jews – almost the whole Jewish population of Hungary – were transported by rail to Auschwitz, a death camp the Nazis had built in occupied Poland, and murdered, down to the last child. Most were gassed, but history records that many of the children were thrown alive into crematory fires – sometimes more than a thousand children were killed this way in a single day. In all, 6 million Jewish people were murdered in the most efficient genocide campaign the world has had the misfortune to witness. Many millions more were murdered among the Romani, Slavic and other peoples the Nazis considered racial inferiors and among Soviet prisoners of war. Still hundreds of thousands more were murdered among people with disabilities, sexual minorities and other targeted groups.

Second, the capitalist world was for a long time complacent about the rise of Nazism. The governments of France, England and Poland stood idly by while Hitler annexed first Austria and then Czechia. The cost of this was enormous. Almost half the tanks used by the Nazis in the conquest of France were built at the Skoda works in occupied Czechia. And this was not an isolated case. Even with Hitler's racism on full display, the democratic governments of Europe were far more concerned with his value as a bulwark against socialism.

Third, it was the Soviet Union which, from the beginning, was the main enemy of Nazi Germany. What we now know as the Axis originally called itself the Anti-Comintern Pact. Long before what is widely considered the start date of World War II, Soviet soldiers had already fought bloody battles against German and Italian fascists in Spain, and against Japanese militarism in Manchuria. Throughout the period of appeasement by the capitalist powers, the Soviet government urged the strongest possible resistance to Nazi aggression, even going as far as to offer one million Soviet soldiers for the defense of Czechoslovakia – an offer which Czechoslovakia would probably have accepted, but the Polish government refused to allow transit or supply of this army through their country. The period of the non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR was an emergency measure, agreed by the Soviets only when it was clear they would otherwise be standing alone against Germany and might have to fight a second front against Japan. Throughout the period of this pact, the Soviet government and people frantically built weapons, constructed defenses, and organized and prepared for the decisive confrontation they knew very well was only a matter of time.

Fourth, the decisive sacrifices and the decisive victories in the war against Nazi Germany occurred on the Eastern Front. Casualty figures compiled by the German military showed that between the start of the war and January 31, 1945, 3.5 million of the 4.4 million German casualties had occurred on the Eastern Front. The single Battle of Stalingrad cost the Germans as many casualties as the entire fighting in France, including both 1940 and 1944. When the German invasion of the USSR began in the summer of 1940, the Soviets faced 3.8 million soldiers and 7000 armored vehicles. When the Western Allies made their greatly delayed landing in Normandy, they faced only 600,000 men and 2000 armored vehicles. Worse for the Germans, the crack Nazi units which had conquered France in six weeks in 1940 had been destroyed in the battles on the Eastern Front and rebuilt with raw recruits. In sacrifice, the USSR lost 27 million of her citizens in the war – by far the most of any country in the European conflict. Many of them were killed in combat, but millions more were murdered in prisoner of war camps and concentration camps or were among the civilians massacred or starved by the invaders.

Fifth, the Soviet victory in World War II was possible only due to socialist construction. In World War I, the Russian empire fielded by far the weakest army of any of the major powers. Though it had an almost unlimited supply of soldiers, its level of training, organization, and equipment was disastrously bad. During World War II, in every single year, the newly industrialized USSR outproduced Germany – at the time, Europe's premier industrial power – in every major category of war material – planes, tanks, cannons, rifles, machine guns. This tremendous advantage in war material was key to the Soviet ability to resist and ultimately defeat an invasion force which had completely conquered Belgium and France – at the time, a major military power in her own right – in just six weeks.

The reality is that the Soviet Union was the most consistent and dangerous enemy of fascism, the worst evil that Europe has ever suffered, and Soviet efforts and the strength of the USSR were key to fascism's defeat. This fact was not lost on many people in 1945, and certainly not on the handful of survivors of Auschwitz concentration camp liberated by the Soviet 322nd Rifle Division on January 31 of 1945.

No objective evaluation of socialism is possible without an objective evaluation of the real world history of socialism. In the long list of accomplishments of real world socialism to date, we must prominently include playing the key role in the defeat of Nazism.

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