Joseph Hansen

Four Fronts of World War II

(November 1941)

Source: Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 9, November 1941, pp. 266–270.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

I. The Soviet Front

Each day we anxiously follow the course of the struggle of the Soviet Union against the Nazi invaders. The lies and boasts of the propaganda bureaus of both Hitler and Stalin make it difficult to follow the battle lines with accuracy. Nevertheless it is possible to draw two major conclusions concerning the development of this crucial conflict: (1) The heroic resistance of the Soviet toilers, which was completely unexpected on the part of both German and Allied militarists, has delayed Hitler’s armies, inflicted enormous casualties upon them, forced revision of the Nazi timetable of conquest, and inspired class-conscious workers throughout the world. (2) Despite this resistance, the richest and most highly industrialized sections of the first workers’ state in history have fallen into the hands of the Nazis. Catastrophe faces the USSR if Stalin’s regime continues in power.

The invasion began on June 22. Hitler’s timetable apparently called for conquest to the Volga River before the winter. Not only Hitler’s generals but American military experts believed this schedule to be realistic. For instance, the June 28 issue of the Army and Navy Journal, a semiofficial organ of the United States armed forces, commented as follows:

“Though Russia covers a seventh of the world’s land area, her 180,000,000 of population are largely concentrated In the area west and south of the Volga – nearest the attacking Germans. Should Germany take this area, it would have all Russia military speaking ... Most observers gave the Russians little chance of final victory. Consensus of opinion was that the reduction of Russia would be completed within three months.”

Both Axis and Allied militarists based their estimate of the vulnerability of the Soviet Union upon the known weaknesses of transportation and supply in the USSR, upon the poor showing of the Red Army in the invasion of Finland, and upon their knowledge that the Red Army had been beheaded by Stalin’s purges. The advance of Hitler’s armies for the first two weeks was so rapid that many bourgeois militarists felt that they had even over-estimated the strength of the Red Army in their prognoses. The July 19 issue of the Army and Navy Journal declared that “only a miracle” could immediately avert “destruction of the Soviet Armies.”

Why They Can’t Explain

To this day the bourgeois military experts have not attempted to explain their error in judgment. It is impossible for them to elucidate the extraordinarily high morale of the Red Army, without at the same time revealing the causes for the extremely low morale among the conscripted soldiers of the American army. They limit themselves largely to recounting purely military factors such as difficulties in providing, replacements, establishing advance bases, maintaining supply lines, directing forces on the colossal battleground – all factors which must have been studiously calculated by the methodical and thorough German General Staff before the invasion.

The truth is that Hitler’s legions are treading upon a revolution in which live coals still glow. The Soviet masses are fighting for the basic conquests that yet remain to them of the October revolution. They wish a return neither of the landlord, the boss, nor the bourgeois state. They finished with Czarist Russia in 1917. They have something to defend.

The slowing down of Hitler’s armies has had its effect upon the oppressed masses of Europe. The restiveness on the part of the English workers over Churchill’s policy of holding aid to the USSR down to the minimum indicates that the example of the Soviet workers has struck a responsive chord in the very capital of the British empire. Undoubtedly the increased unrest now apparent in conquered France and other occupied countries reflects in part the magnificent struggle of the Soviet workers and peasants. Even the American officer caste is able to see the possible consequences entailed by the Nazi invasion of the USSR in the face of a revolution that has not yet been stamped out.

“To control the huge country it will be necessary to garrison it heavily,” declares the Army and Navy Journal of July 19, “and, as Hitler knows, these troops may become prey to the Communistic ideology. The unrest in Russia is apt to encourage unrest in other conquered states, particularly as their peoples are living on the verge of starvation.”

This reactionary journal even believes that a delay on the part of the Nazi armies until next spring in achieving final victory will result in “uprisings in the conquered countries.” The bourgeois military experts understand that a Soviet victory over Hitler would be followed immediately by socialist revolution throughout Europe.

Stalinism Must Be Replaced

The slowing down of Hitler’s offensive, however, does not diminish the danger of defeat and destruction for the Soviet Union. The most powerful weapon in the hands of the Soviet masses is revolutionary war with its revolutionary methods of struggle. Stalin long ago discarded this weapon along with the perspective of the world socialist revolution. He thus discarded the perspective of dissolving Hitler’s armies and turning them against the Nazi regime. Without such a perspective and without these methods of struggle taught and practised by Lenin and Trotsky, the Soviet Union is doomed. The heroism of individual Red soldiers and guerrilla fighters is not enough. Despite epic individual acts of bravery and self-sacrifice, the Nazi juggernaut has rolled on. Hitler’s taking advantage of all the opportunities provided him by Stalin, has succeeded in inflicting terrible blows upon the USSR. Even the most conservative estimates of the loss of life are appalling; before the siege of Leningrad began, British authorities placed casualties for the Germans at 1,000,000 and for the Soviet Union at 1,600,000. The slaughter has continued uninterruptedly since then. The desolation which has been visited upon the richest sections of the Ukraine conjures up the specter of famine. Nor must it be forgotten that this front in the first World War witnessed one of the most deadly typhus epidemics of all history; fresh outbreaks may be expected to add their toll to that of the battlefields. In the south, the loss of Nikolayev and Odessa has crippled the effectiveness of the Black Sea fleet which operated from these bases. The blowing up of the Dnieprostroy dam, which knocked out an important industrial section, did not prevent the Nazis from crossing the flooded Dnieper river. As this is written, they are threatening Kharkov, Rostov, and the vital Donets coal basin and industrial center, and are within sight of the Caucasus oil fields.

In the north, industrial Leningrad, the cradle of the October revolution, has been surrounded, cut off from supplies and reinforcements and is suffering the fearsome consequences of siege under sub-arctic weather conditions.

In the center, the Nazis have opened a new stage of their drive, evidently with the project of forcing Moscow before the winter becomes too fierce. Their tanks are already clattering in the suburbs. Stalin’s removal of Timoshenko as the commander of this sector, and his re-shuffling of the High Command only reveal that as the pillars of the Soviet Union crumble under the hammering of Hitler’s siege guns, he is capable of no other reflex to the disastrous consequences of his own policies than offering up scapegoats. In this way Stalin hopes to divert the anger of the people from himself as the real criminal responsible for all the defeats.

Almost two-thirds of the population and two-thirds of the industry of the USSR have been over-run by Hitler’s armies. This means that the supply of replacements, arms, munitions, food must necessarily begin rapidly to dwindle. Stalin has brought the Soviet Union to the brink of catastrophe.

The imperialist vultures slaver at the mouth as they watch the retreat of the Red Army. Hitler has been releasing ecstatic “news” bulletins. London has suggested that it could keep a benevolent eye upon the oil fields of the Caucasus, thus “releasing” additional divisions of the Red Army to meet Hitler troops. When the Japanese vulture stirred restlessly in its vigil to shake up the Konoye cabinet and stop American freighters en route to Vladivostok, London suggested to Washington that a joint army could well be sent to Siberia where there are vast undeveloped resources, thus “releasing” the Siberian divisions of the Red Army.

The supplies from the capitalist “democracies,” upon whom Stalin now banks for salvation, have proved to be no more than the thinnest trickle. The long delayed conference of the Allied powers in Moscow to determine what supplies were “required” for the defense of the Soviet Union has resulted in nothing tangible except vague discussions in Washington about converting the single-track Iran railway into a double-track line. On top of this there have been hints in successive issues of the Army and Navy Journal since the end of September that “Hitler may attempt to make peace ...” and that “Stalin ... might be inclined to accept a reasonable proposal.”

Although the military situation is extremely grave, the last word has not yet been said – that is, the word of the Soviet people. They can still save the Soviet Union; the masses of Germany and Europe can still be rallied for the overthrow of imperialism; the necessary leadership for the Red Army, Soviet industry and agriculture can still be provided. But for this the Bolshevik policies of Lenin and Trotsky must be substituted for the treacherous, bankrupt policies of Stalinism. The socialist revolution alone can set the world on fire with hope, enthusiasm and the will to struggle. Among the first to warm to the glow of the rekindled revolution would be the German soldiers.

II. The Middle East

Since the British debacle on the island of Crete, which placed Hitler in position to strike from the air at Syria, Tobruk, the Suez Canal, and to threaten Turkey with a pincers movement, little has been said about the war front in the Middle East.. The titanic conflict raging between Hitler’s armies and the Soviet Union has obscured activity on this as well as other fronts. Nevertheless Great Britain has been preparing for the coming struggle with the Axis in this theater. Supplies from the United States have been going steadily to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Syria has been taken from France; Iraq and Iran have been occupied.

With winter sweeping over the northern battlefields, activity will probably shift to this front. The British commander, General Wavell, was transferred from the North African front to India and is reported to have since organized an army in the Middle East of more than a million men from the various countries held under the British Empire. Already Britain has placed demands upon Afghanistan that it clean out “Nazi agents.” This same demand was placed upon the Iranian government before the invasion of that country. It is the British version of Hitler’s formula of “protecting” weak periphery nations from the “enemy.”

Despite assurances of military support from both Moscow and London in case of invasion, Turkey has continued to proclaim her neutrality. These reiterations cover up an increasing tendency to gravitate into the Axis camp. The Army and Navy Journal reports that “train-load after train-load of Nazi materiel and supplies” have been passing over Turkish railway lines.

An idea of the rich booty at stake in the Middle East can be gained from the fact that Iran alone stands fourth of all nations of the world in the production of oil. Her output of more than 59,000,000 barrels for the first nine months in 1940 stands above that of the Netherland Indies and Rumania, who are next below her on the list, and is exceeded only by Venezuela, the USSR, and the United States.

The aims of the British in moving into? Iran are obvious. Besides keeping these oil fields from Hitler, the British are interested in consolidating their military position in anticipation of Hitler’s further moves eastward, and of gaining access by land to the strategic Caucasian oil fields. A railway finished in 1938 reaches from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, providing a shorter route in time from San Francisco to the Russian front than Japanese-threatened Vladivostok and the single-track Trans-Siberian Railroad. Churchill, who took a leading part in Allied intervention in the Soviet Union during the Civil War, naturally has not overlooked the possibility of another English army intervening alongside Hitler’s armies in the event it should become expedient to accept Nazi peace terms. According to the Army and Navy Journal of September 27 there are already reports that General Wavell is moving British troops into the Caucasus “so as to relieve the Soviets of the necessity of guarding that valuable oil region.”

III. “The Battle of the Atlantic”

Recent scare-lines in the press on the sinking of American ships, some of which were Danish ships seized by the Roosevelt administration and sent into the war zone under the Panamanian flag, have served to underline the eagerness of Washington to get into “shooting” war. A case in point is that of the destroyer Greer which was missed by a torpedo on September 4. This attempted torpedoing resulted in Roosevelt’s “shoot on sight” order on September 11 after sensational declarations by leading Roosevelt spokesmen about Nazi “piracy.” The actual facts were completely obscured in the press. The Greer was sailing in a declared war zone. According to testimony by Admiral Harold R, Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, to the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, a British plane informed the Greer of the presence of a submarine about ten miles away. The Greer immediately “followed” the submarine for “three hours and 28 minutes” before the submarine launched the attack. It was after this, according to the story, that the Greer dropped depth charges.

In the case of the torpedoed American freighter Lehigh, the New York Daily News for October 22 reported that there was a “strange note of levity” in Roosevelt’s voice when he described the attack and invited the reporters to deduce that the attacker was a German submarine. There was reason for the “levity.” It is precisely such incidents that Roosevelt has been seeking as pretext to plunge the United States into the “shooting” war. His whole course since the outbreak of the war can be interpreted in no other way.

Roosevelt Heads Directly into War

As American entry obviously draws near, Hitler’s course seems to be to make it as difficult as possible for Roosevelt to find the needed pretexts. With the invasion of the Soviet Union, monthly losses of shipping to Great Britain took a sharp drop which could not wholly be ascribed to the use of the German air fleet on the Eastern Front.

Roosevelt, however, continues to advance into the swirling vortex of the war. 80,000 British troops in Iceland were ordered replaced by American troops. This is a larger army than Britain used in the defense of Crete.

That Roosevelt intends to remain permanently in Iceland can be concluded from the fact that American guns are replacing the coastal batteries set up by the British upon first occupying the island. The final disposition of the valuable deposits of cryolite, a vital war material used in the manufacture of aluminum which the British began working when they decided to “protect” Iceland, has not been revealed.

The belligerent moves of Roosevelt may also be intended to offset the effect of the persistent rumors that Hitler may presently launch a campaign for “peace.” The strain of war on the German economy is undoubtedly enormous. The US Department of Commerce on March 18 estimated that war costs are absorbing 72 per cent of the German national income. The growing unrest throughout Europe necessitates increasingly heavy garrisons. Having gained a dominating position on the European continent and with Churchill and Roosevelt incapable of landing an expeditionary force, Hitler could profit through a truce with the other imperialists. He is in a position to offer a truce at the expense of the Soviet Union. The immediate effect of a peace bid by Hitler would be to make more difficult Roosevelt’s task of plunging the United States into the war. Berlin has already announced that a conference of the nations committed to the “New Order” will be held shortly. It may be Hitler’s intention to have this conference issue the peace bid.

“Shooting” Stage Begins

At present Roosevelt is moving to repeal the so-called Neutrality Act which was passed during the Spanish Civil War and which prevented armaments from reaching the Loyalist government and thus provided Hitler-supported Franco and his fascist legions with a better opportunity to crush the Spanish workers. Having served its purpose, it is now an obstacle. Roosevelt’s request to arm the merchant marine – an amendment to the Neutrality Act – passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 259 to 138. Roosevelt’s proposals can be expected to pass Congress. The isolationist wing, as we long ago predicted, is giving up what positions still remained to it. Senator Wheeler has announced that he will not engage in a “filibuster” against the proposed amendments. Formal entry into the war obviously draws closer every day. From “all aid short of war” Roosevelt has with his order to “shoot on sight” taken a crucial step into the smoking battlefields of World War II. As the United States News for October 24 puts it: “As matters now stand ... War at sea is on in earnest.”

IV. Impending Conflict in the Far East

The question now being studied in the world chancelleries, and particularly Secretary Hull’s State Department, is not “will Japan move?” but “when will she move and in what direction?” The question is of crucial importance to the imperialist bandits. On the decision of the divine Mikado hinges the possibility of Roosevelt’s finding in Japan an easy entry into World War II.

The fundamental line of Japanese politics, both domestic and foreign, is determined by the fact that of all the advanced nations in the world she is the only one whose basic industries, and even light industries, have from the very beginning depended almost entirely upon imported raw materials. Combined with the poverty of the Japanese islands is their geographical proximity to some of the richest natural resources in the world in Siberia, China, the Malay Peninsula and the East Indies. Japan’s economic requirements under capitalist anarchy have forced her into a rapacious expansionist policy which neither shifts of cabinets nor diplomatic gestures alter in the slightest. These requirements at the same time make her singularly vulnerable to economic reprisals. Internally, the necessity to wage constant war has induced an exacerbated class tension which, ruthlessly suppressed, can erupt at any moment.

Although the Japanese government no longer publishes statistics regarding imports and production, a few available figures and estimates indicate her plight. In 1937, Japan imported 258,000,000 lbs. of wool, mostly from such enemy countries as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In 1939 she imported 2,860,000 tons of cotton of which 805,000 bales came from her rival, the United States and 1,131,000 bales from British India. This dependence of her textile industry, including her market for raw silk, upon Great Britain and the United States underlies the uneasiness of that section of her ruling class, termed “moderates” in the US press, who are reported to favor breaking, with the Axis in order to follow a policy of “appeasement” toward the Allies. But they play a subordinate role in determining Japan’s policies.

Less than one-third of Japan’s iron ore supplies and less than one-tenth of her scrap iron supplies come from domestic and occupied zones. The Philippines and the Malay States are the principal suppliers, with scrap coming from the United States. The American source has been cut off. Japan requires 200,000 tons of copper a year but produces only half that, the rest coming from the United States and Latin America. Lately the United States has cornered the entire Latin American supply. Japan’s sources of aluminum ore are the Dutch East Indies, Malay States, India, etc., likewise cornered by the British and Americans. A similar situation exists for all other basic war materials. Practically all of her petroleum and rubber requirements must be imported. According to the China Weekly Review, Great Britain and the United States “together account for almost three-quarters of Japan’s trade outside the yen bloc. Of Japanese imports, American and British shares in 1939 aggregated 75 per cent. In the field of exports... the United States took 37.5 per cent and the British Empire 35 per cent.”

Strategy of Roosevelt’s Moves

The effect of Roosevelt-Churchill’s ending this trade through a series of decrees and of cutting Japan’s trade with such regions as South America through cornering supplies there has been to force Japan into further expansionist moves that cut directly across the sphere claimed by British and American interests in the Far East.

On top of this have come a whole series of diplomatic and military moves by Roosevelt-Churchill deliberately designed to provoke Japan into providing a military incident which Roosevelt could utilize in plunging the United States into war. Washington has long considered that a declaration of war against Japan would prove much more popular with the isolationist Middle West than a declaration of war against Germany.

Roosevelt closed the Panama Canal to Japanese vessels, for example. This action cuts off Japanese access to Brazilian cotton since the needed supply of bunker oil for the long voyage around Cape Horn is dubious. In response to a diplomatic protest from Japan, the State Department declared the Canal was undergoing “repairs.” When the Japanese Embassy presented a list of vessels which were passing through the Canal, the State Department blandly responded that they were carrying “defense materials.”

When Japan moved into Indo-China in agreement with Vichy France, there was a wave of violent indignation in the British and American press. Roosevelt-Churchill warned Thailand that if she cooperated further with Japan she could expect to become a battlefield. Churchill sent additional troops and battleships to Singapore, increasing the garrison to some 100,000 men. The United States in a widely-publicized demonstration sent battleships into Australian waters. Great Britain, the United States, China and the Dutch East Indies froze Japanese assets. Japan and the puppet governments under her control responded with a counter freezing action. The US demanded a formal apology for slight damage to the gunboat Tutuila during the Japanese bombing of Chungking and received the formal apology immediately.

Roosevelt thereupon proclaimed the Philippines on a war footing, with General MacArthur, who has been “military adviser” to President Quezon since 1937, appointed as head of the United States “Far East Command” with headquarters at Manila. Roosevelt ordered the military forces of the Commonwealth of the Philippines into the service of the United States. Some 160,000 Filipinos are estimated to be available for action in addition to 20,000 regular army troops. Since 1936 Roosevelt has carried on feverish preparations to make the Island of Corregidor, key of the Philippine defenses, like Gibraltar, one of the most strongly fortified positions in the world.

The August 2 Army and Navy Journal neatly sums up the course of Roosevelt’s policy as follows:

“It may be therefore that the enforcement of the measures directed at Japan will cause her to move more rapidly in attempting to achieve her goal of domination of East Asia. It is obvious that the one country which is depended upon to atop Japan is the United States. That our intervention in the war is in prospect was indicated by the speech Winston Churchill made in Parliament, intimating that the United States is on the verge of war. Secretary Knox was most emphatic about the Far Eastern situation. He declared this week that we are now confronted in Asia with a whole continent ‘dominated by an Oriental bloody-minded autocracy’.”

Relations with Japan have steadily worsened. Roosevelt spokesmen have continued to make public declarations such as that of Senator Norris who said that since “war with Japan is certain” that it might be “desirable to have it now.” When the Ministry of Premier Konoye fell and was replaced by a ministry formed by Lieutenant General Eiki Tojo, the US Navy within 24 hours ordered American freighters in the Pacific to proceed to the nearest friendly port, officially “to receive instructions.”

The Hour of Decision

When Japanese statesmen declaim that Japan is being “encircled” by the hostile powers of the Allied orbit, there is a kernel of truth in what they say. Japan was encircled from the beginning by coal, iron, rubber, tin, rice and the earlier expansion of the western capitalist powers. Hopes that Japan can relinquish her imperialist aims are delusory. The economic collapse that would follow shutting down her war industries and the releasing of more than a million soldiers among an intensely war-weary populace “put her,” to use the nicely chosen words of the Army and Navy Journal, “in the precarious situation of being unable to depart from the path of war.”

Japan’s next move cannot long be delayed. Most of the military writers estimate that she has a one-year supply of oil stored up for war. J.H. Carmical, who writes on oil problems for the financial section of the New York Times, declared in the August 24 issue that “For almost ten years Japan has been making an almost desperate effort to increase oil stocks,” and estimates that “Japan’s oil supplies now amount to around 80,000,000 barrels, or enough for about two and one-half years, on the basis of the rate of consumption of the last few years.” Stores for two and one-half years more of war would seem therefore to be the maximum. By the end of that time she must have secured a sure supply of oil equal to the production of the Netherland East Indies, or find the wheels of industry and war freezing on dry bearings. This is the time table set for Japan by the Roosevelt-Churchill embargo on oil exports. How much this time table is shortened by the other economic measures directed against Japan can only be determined by her own statesmen.

The Konoye ministry adopted the policy of “watchful waiting,” its eyes fixed upon the struggle between the Soviet Union and the armies of Hitler. If Stalin removed troops from Siberia, Japan would feel free to move without great cost in that direction. If Hitler subdued the Soviet Union completely thus becoming enormously strengthened in the west with consequent weakening of Great Britain and the United States in the Far East, Japan would make her historic decision. The formation of the new Tojo ministry with its tone of messianic belligerency may indicate that the Mikado considers the fate of the Soviet Union to be sealed and that he has already cast the dice.

Two Years of War

Two years of the second World War have brought a series of victories to the Nazi war-machine. But these separate successes do not yet add up to a complete conquest of Europe. A stalemate or repulse at the hands of the USSR would at one stroke nullify all these gains. If the Red Armies should be driven back, the German imperialists would still rule over a restless and ruined continent alive with revolt.

Europe itself for the Nazis can be only a training camp and supply base for the conquest of other continents. Outside European boundaries the Nazis confront British and American sea-power, and the industrial might of the United States, not to speak of the resistance of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples. After all its exertions and triumphs, German imperialism is scarcely a step closer to its goal of world dominion.

Its chief contender for world power, the United States, is about to enter the conflict in full force and hurl its colossal resources against the Axis coalition. Far from drawing to a conclusion, after twenty-four months of fighting the second World War is only now approaching its climactic phases. Its arena is widening to embrace all continents and peoples, regardless of their desires or distance from centers of conflict.

The imperialist commanders of both camps have no perspective of peace. They envisage a war of indefinite duration. And then? And then, they say, we shall see. They are afraid of what tomorrow or the day after will bring, for, despite their bravado, they have little confidence in the prospects of their social order and no program for reconstructing that order to the satisfaction of the masses.

Meanwhile the imperialist slaughter has not only destroyed cities, crops, populations, armies, and the accumulated wealth of centuries of labor; it has at the same time destroyed the habits, illusions, prejudices, and loyalties which shackled the peoples to the putrescent capitalist system and its upholders. This process, still in its preliminary stages, is speeded up by the widening and worsening of the war. The war is now preparing for the advent of the new world out of the torture and ruination of the old. The war is organizing, teaching, training, and tempering the masses for the fiercer struggles ahead against the whole pack of imperialist cannibals.

The revulsion of the masses against the imperialist war, and against its authors and promoters, is everywhere growing. Beneath, beside and behind the battlefronts of the imperialist warriors the suppressed struggle of the peoples against their oppressors goes on. When and where the fight on this front, the class front, will first break forth into revolt cannot be foretold. But it must come – and the coming of that socialist revolution will end this war and strike world imperialism blows from which it will never recover.


Last updated on: 23 March 2019