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The New International, May 1945

Notes of the Month

The End of the European War


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 4, May 1945, pp. 99–101.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe was declared to have officially ended. It had taken five years, eight months and seven days for the Allied coalition to achieve a decisive victory over the once invincible armies of renascent German imperialism, the strongest single military power in the world. The defeat of Germany was certain after the Allied landings on the Normandy coast of France. The only question that remained was how soon the triumph would come. To say that the war is not yet over, that there is a great conflict going on in the Far East, is only to stress the global ramifications of a war which has engulfed, in one way or another, all the nations of the world.

It is too early to draw up a balance sheet of the victory of the Allies, but enough material is at hand to illustrate the point that humanity cannot live through another war like this one. Modern wars, employing the highest achievements of science, embrace the total society and leave nothing unmarked. Casualties are now estimated at 40,000,000. These include soldiers and civilians. A year ago the Allies estimated their own dead at seven and a half million, which exceeded the total casualties for all countries incurred in the protracted trench warfare of the First World War. The Russians admit to almost six million dead. A year ago, too, various estimates placed the German dead at over two and a half million. American casualties have now passed the one million mark. But that is not all.

Immense tanks with the fire power of artillery, a variety of big guns, fast bombers carrying heavy loads of block-busters and four-block-busters, incendiary and demolition bombs, rockets of every description – all that the modern science of destruction could produce and place at the service of imperialism – were used to destroy a continent. Cities centuries old, as well as the new, were reduced to rubble. The transportation and communications systems of Europe have been thoroughly disrupted. Vast industrial areas were totally destroyed. Perhaps as many ships have been sunk as now sail the seas of the world. Millions of people have been imprisoned and enslaved. Other millions have been taken from the lands of their birth and moved like cattle, in the most literal sense, to other lands to work the farms and factories of their enslavers, the first time in the name of the fascist reorganization of Europe and now in the name of democracy and the Atlantic Charter.

Capitalism in Decline

To grasp the degree of the degeneration and decay of capitalism, remember that this social order once boasted of its progress. It was justified in its claim of having advanced society and humanity along the path of progress. It built the cities of the world, constructed gigantic factories of production, raised the level of production and the standard of living of hundreds of millions of people, and created a world-wide network of transportation and communication. It created the world market, the world division of labor; it linked the peoples of the world, and established the interdependence of all nations.

All that was progressive in capitalism, however, was in the dim and distant past. It long ago lost its capacity for genuine and lasting progress. Capitalism is now capable only of destruction. Capitalism not only cannot provide for the needs of all the people (it did not do this even in its most progressive periods), but its path of development is toward a worsening of their condition. Capitalism is the guarantor of social retrogression, not progress. It is the guarantor of mass unemployment, mass starvation, mass misery and permanent war.

This war in Europe, as well as in Asia, is not distinguished from the First World War by any difference in origins or purposes, but only in the magnitude of the struggle, in the power of its destruction of wealth, property and lives, in the manner in which it brought about the economic ruin of Europe and engulfed the whole world. The causes for this war were rooted in the imperialist organization of the world, in the domination and division of the globe by a handful of powers. To exist on a capitalist basis, i.e., to continue accumulation and the production of surplus value on an expanding scale, German economy had to win the domination of the European economy and to break the control of the Allied powers over the markets and colonies of the world .Hitler described the needs of German capitalism in five graphic words which summarized the position of that imperialist power: “We export, or we die!” To an equal or lesser degree there were the needs of Germany’s main allies, Japan and Italy.

Germany, Japan and Italy attempted to reorganize the world in the classic capitalist way, even though the techniques used were in many respect startlingly new. The resort to arms, i.e., war, was the only path open for these “have not” powers to achieve their aims. The magnitude of the war merely expressed the contraction of the world, the inability of all the powers to have a share of the markets and resources of the world. This, then, is one of the outstanding features of the present period of decay capitalism: it no longer permits of expansion of all the powers. At best one power, or a small group of them, can survive at the expense of the rest of the nations. The word “survive” is used in the scientific sense for, from the point of view of economy, that is the-problem which confronts almost all the nations, Allied and Axis.

How was it possible for Germany and Italy to prepare for war on such a scale as this one was fought? Germany had been utterly defeated in the First World War. Its economy had been completely disrupted and the country was rent with sharp class struggles. Italy, which had been “cheated” out of her share of the imperialist booty in the First World War, remained a second-class power, and there are many who doubted that she deserved that designation. Japan, which came out of the last war enriched by booty as a sort of silent partner of the Allies, had been preparing for this war for many years. But, characteristically enough, all three countries, on the basis of particular national developments and a peculiar conjuncture in w6rld relations which can .in one respect be summarized as an absence of riches and resources, had to first solve internal class relations to make it possible for them to prepare a total mobilization of the countries for the war. This the ruling classes did by adopting fascism, or quasi-facism, i.e., totalitarianism, in order to prepare for conquest and a redivision of the world. Italy, of course, merely followed in the wake of her real master, Germany.

Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933 marked the beginning of the actual preparation for this war. So long as Hitler confined himself to “internal” tasks, to the liquidation of the class struggle, he had the support of the Allied ruling classes who had no difficulty understanding their kinship to Germany’s bourgeoisie. So long as they thought it was possible to turn Hitler’s attention to the East they aided him in the rearmament of the nation and bolstered his regime as they had Mussolini’s. Were they shortsighted? Only to a limited degree. The Allied rulers could not have failed to understand that even if Hitler directed his first blows to the east it was only a matter of time before he would demand his due from the western powers, especially such western powers as Holland, Belgium and France, with their obviously exaggerated share of colonial possessions. For them to keep Hitler occupied in the east was a way to gain for themselves the necessary time to prepare for war with this “upstart.” Their calculations were so wrong as to make any comment on them sound trite.

In the midst of diplomatic intrigue worthy of a comic opera, but with tragic consequences for the masses of the world, Stalin signed his pact with Hitler. It was an act which stunned the world, not because Stalin seemed to step out of character, but because the whole preceding period had been spent in negotiations with the Anglo-French military missions for the establishments of a military alliance. This alliance between totalitarian Germany and totalitarian Russia was not a pact solely for the purpose of gaining time for Russian arms. It was, as Stalin described it, “sealed in blood.”

The German-Russian pact was the signal which started the war. The German invasion of Poland and the swift collapse of the “colonels’ army” was followed by the partition of the country between Hitler and Stalin on the basis of arrangements made by them in their pact. Poland was not alone. Russia attacked Finland and annexed the Baltic States. German arms marched victoriously in the West. Holland, Belgium and France fell in rapid succession. German armies had reached the Atlantic Coast. Only the narrow English Channel stood between them and England. And here they hesitated.

With so much of Europe in his hands, Hitler now turned to the East. Vast Russia with its enormous agricultural areas beckoned. Without warning, his tremendous armies marched against his partner of yesterday. The armies pushed deep into White Russia, Great Russia and the Ukraine. Hitler turned southward and here too the path to the Mediterranean and North Africa was without formidable obstacles. And soon he stood astride the Continent.

Invincible German armies! Nothing like them had been seen before in history. Or, so it seemed.

The invasion of Russia gave the Allies the breathing spell they needed, and another war partner with seemingly unlimited manpower which was poured into battle by the millions. Thus, from the end of August 1941 until the invasion of France, the Allies were able to prepare their vast forces and their enormous resources for the push that finally spelled the military defeat of Germany. Hitler had dragged Germany into a dreaded war on two fronts; of which the results were inevitable.

“Outlived Tasks”

The rise of Hitler and his conquest of Europe, the destruction of the national independence of nations which had achieved their freedom in the early decades of the rise oi capitalism pushed forward for solution “outlived tasks.” The issue of national independence became momentous for all countries. Every nation occupied and sacked by German arms gave birth to national resistance movements. Thus, the struggle for national independence through the resistance movements became the means for the reconstitution of workers’ organizations.

Under conditions created by the victories of Hitler, the issue of democracy assumed a new importance. Freedom of speech, assembly, organization, and the right of the people to form their own governments, while appearing as a throwback to conditions long past, were once more essential as a channel through which the revolutionary struggle for socialism could begin again. The issue of democracy in Europe (first under Hitler and now under the Allies) is not merely a question of reform, but is integral to the development of the revolutionary struggle for power. Observe how Lenin estimated the place of democracy and the struggle for it in the general movement of the masses toward socialist emancipation. In March 1916, in the midst of the first imperialist world war, when similar situations existed, he wrote:

Only those who are totally incapable of thinking, or those who are entirely unfamiliar with Marxism, will conclude that, therefore, a republic is of no use, that freedom of divorce is of no use, that democracy is of no use, that self-determination is of no use! Marxists know that democracy does not abolish class oppression, but only makes the class struggle clearer, broader, more open and sharper; and that is what we want ... the more democratic the system of government is, the clearer it will be to the workers that the root of the evil is not the lack of rights, but capitalism ... “Democracy” is nothing but the proclaiming and exercising of “rights” that are very little and very conventionally exercised under capitalism. But unless these rights are proclaimed, unless a struggle for immediate rights is waged, unless the masses are educated in the spirit of such a struggle, socialism is IMPOSSIBLE. (Emphasis in the original – AG)

Revolutionary socialists, like Lenin, are not the only people who understand the indispensable nature of the struggle for democracy as an avenue for the conquest of socialism. The more intelligent bourgeois leaders (Churchill and Roosevelt), recognized in the national movement and the struggle for democracy a serious danger to the continued existence of capitalism. Their method of combating it was to subvert the existing mass movements for reactionary purposes. How? by acknowledging the legitimate nature of the struggle, placing themselves at the head of it and directing it in to channels that would bar an effective struggle for socialism. In addition to this general course pursued by sections of the world bourgeoisie, the war itself intervened to produce a curious situation.

In the concrete circumstances of the German conquest of Europe and the admitted perilous position of Great Britain and the United States, which had not yet entered the conflict, Churchill and Roosevelt made a grand gesture to win the support of the unenthusiastic masses of the world to their cause in the imperialist war. Their historic ocean meeting in August of 1941 produced the Atlantic Charter, which, while it was not a socialist doctrine, was not inimical to socialist aims. The Charter, declared among its aims the following:

  1. The Allies seek no territorial or other aggrandizement.
  2. They desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.
  3. hey respect the right of all people to choose their own form of government; they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.
  4. They will guarantee equal economic rights to all nations, victor or vanquished.
  5. hey will secure freedom from fear and want for all the people of the world.
  6. They will foster disarmament to guarantee the peace.

The Charter seemed to mark a turning point in the bourgeois thinking and policies, for it promised a new era in world relations. The apologists for imperialism rejoiced. They jeered at the handful of revolutionary socialists who remained true to the banner of international socialism. “See,” they cried, “this is truly a war against fascism. This war is different. This is a war against tyranny, for lasting peace, freedom and security.”

These cries did not last very long. For shortly after the turn in the military fortunes of the Allies, their real aims became clearer. Churchill announced that he had not become the King’s first minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. Then he announced that the provisions of the Charter did not apply to Germany. The U.S. declared its intention of retaining all islands seized during the war in the Pacific. Stalin annexed territories in Eastern Europe and planned the destruction of an independent Polish state.

Dividing the Spoils

Within the short period of a few months, the mad scramble of the winning powers for imperialist aggrandizement, became a spectacle before the eyes of the people in Europe and America. Already before the victory was assured, the latent differences between the Big Three as the dominant core of the United Nations became open and sharp. The true political aims of the Allies were revealed as reactionary – different from Hitler’s, to be sure, but reactionary just the same.

For Germany they advocated a “hard peace.” Translated into simple language it meant to compel the German people, and in the first place, the working class, to pay for the war. Of the real criminals in Germany, the industrial and financial ruling class whom Hitler and his gang of beasts served, there was not a word. The bourgeois rulers of the United Nations, this time joined by Stalin, hold the working class and all toilers responsible for the crimes of their rulers and their enslavers. This is in keeping with the needs of the ruling classes in the Allied countries and happens to serve the immediate interests of Stalin in Russia. The bourgeois rulers are blood brothers of the German ruling class; their greatest fear in Europe is a revolution of the masses. But this is Stalin’s great fear too. In that respect, the Big Three are firmly united as the most dangerous counter-revolutionary force in the world.

This unity against the masses of Europe is shaken only by the extreme rivalry which exists between them on the subject of how Europe and the world shall be reorganized. San Francisco is merely the arena in which the Big Three are fighting out their differences on how the world shall be split among them. But one can readily see by the events of recent months that the Atlantic Charter was a fraud and farce from the very beginning. The liberation of the countries of Europe is still to be achieved. The democratic rights of the masses have still to be won. The main historical problem of the unification of Europe remains unsolved.

Socialist United States of Europe

Hitler came closest to establishing a unified continent. His attempt was based upon reactionary doctrine and practice. But the Big Three are incapable of bringing about any kind of unification of the Continent. On the contrary, their plan for Europe is to keep the Continent divided and its hundreds of millions of people separated by artificial and long-ago outlived boundaries, by the usurpation of the rule of the small countries, by chopping up Europe into spheres of influence, by the seizure of independent territories and the construction of puppet states, and by preventing any kind of social changes which would benefit the masses.

Europe must be unified, but its unification can take place only as a Socialist United States of Europe. This is the great task of European socialism. But this force, the only progressive force in society today, is weak and disorganized. Its great need is to reconstitute the European economic and political movements of the workers and the development of the broad struggle for socialism. To achieve the goal of freeing Europe from the fetters of capitalist decay, a revolutionary party needs to be built in Europe. This is the immediate great task of the scattered revolutionaries on the Continent.

There is no hope whatever in a new, peaceful, democratic, and secure world under the reactionary forces of “democratic” capitalism and Stalinism. The abolition of the profit system, the defeat of the capitalist ruling classes and the destruction of Stalinism will be an indispensable preliminary task before a free world, the socialist world of real peace, freedom and security can be achieved.

The task of American labor is to assist the European workers in their struggle for freedom. The future of humanity lies only on this road. It must be achieved before the world is once again plunged into a third world war which can end civilization.

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