On 8 May 1945, the bloodiest military conflict in human history ended in Europe. The War in the Pacific would continue until August, when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki (9 August).
Jeferson Choma, PSTU-Brazil
At the end of the conflict, the defeat of the Nazi-fascism produced the greatest revolutionary wave in the last century. Despite the reaction of imperialism, aided by communist parties linked to Stalin, the revolutionary wave led to the expropriation of capitalism in a third of the planet’s population.
The driving force that triggered World War II was the inter-imperialist rivalry in the dispute for new investments, markets, and sources of cheap raw materials. The dispute over the hegemony of the world system had not been resolved in World War I, despite it costing the lives of 6 million civilians and 8 million troops.
The main imperialist powers involved in WWII (the United States, England, and Germany, with Italy and France occupying a secondary role) sought, finally, to solve the issue: to conquer the hegemony of capitalism and impose a new order, not only on the colonial peripheral countries but also on the industrialized ones.
But the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (USSR) on June 22, 1941, changed the social character of the conflict. If until that time the war was marked by the dispute between the imperialist countries to decide who would have priority in world looting, the German imperialism invaded the USSR to plunder the collective property achieved by the October Revolution.
Although the defense of the country was disorganized, due, above all, to Stalin’s policy of purging the command of the Red Army some years before, the enormous resistance of the Soviet people hindered the advance of the Wehrmacht (German Nazi armed forces). Another unpleasant surprise was the arrival of the terrible Russian winter that wiped out thousands of unprepared German soldiers.
The Red Army’s victory in the protracted defense of Stalingrad caused a radical turn in the war. For the first time, the Wehrmacht was defeated and could not rise again. The Soviet victory put the initiative in the hands of the Red Army, which would only stop after the seizing of Berlin and the red flag fluttered over the Reichstag.
The change of the balance of forces between 1943 and 1945 led Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt to trade off the parameters of future world order, dividing it into spheres of influence. In 1945, they met in conferences at Yalta and Potsdam and agreed to divide Berlin and Germany. Eastern Europe was occupied by the Red Army and converted into a zone of Soviet influence. Eventually, the capitalist property was expropriated in the region by a “top-down revolution” under USSR military coercion. But the Stalinist bureaucracy initiative, based on agreements with imperialism, was fell short of stimulating the world revolution.
The defeat of fascism in Europe triggered the wave of the world revolution, that hit Europe and Asia simultaneously, exceeding the limits agreed in Yalta and Potsdam.
The struggle against the fascist occupation in Europe carried out by the resistance movement in Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, France, and Italy, led mainly by the Communist Parties, unfolded in a powerful revolutionary uprising.
In Yugoslavia, contrary to imperialist plans of recolonizing the region – plans that were fully accepted by Stalin, it must be said – the army of communist partisans led by Tito, who at that time numbered 900 thousand people, disobeyed the Kremlin’s orders. Moscow had ordered the total deposition of the partisans’ weapons and ordered their participation in a coalition government with pro-imperialist parties. But the partisans were powerful, they had accomplished great military feats, they were self-assured, and their guts told them that Moscow’s guidelines would lead to defeat. So, they turned their backs on Stalin, seized power, and started expropriating the capitalists.
In Italy, the Italian Communist Party organized an important resistance in the North and Center of the country that outnumbered 100 thousand combatants. The partisans captured Mussolini and executed him in 1945. Of the little more than 5,000 pre-war activists, most of whom were imprisoned in fascist prisons, the PCI emerged from the war with more than 800 thousand members, who joined, above all, for the prestige obtained by the party’s performance in the resistance movement against Mussolini and the Nazi occupation.
In France, likewise, the PCF came out with enormous prestige after years of resistance to the occupation. In that country, however, the partisan resistance was also exerted by bourgeois sectors, led by General De Gaulle. Even so, the French Resistance was hegemonized by the communists who fought bravely for the liberation of the country. Many of their fighters were refugees from the Spanish civil war.
On the eve of the liberation of Paris, an insurrection against the Nazis led by the French resistance took place. American soldiers on their way decided to stop 30 kilometers from the capital of France, hoping that the Germans would kill the insurgents. It is estimated that between three and five thousand people were killed during the battle. However, the insurgents managed to dominate the situation, captured the enemies, and frustrated the expectations of the USA, which had to enter Paris while it was occupied by the communists.
But in both Italy and France, the revolution was blocked when the CPs decided to follow Stalin’s orders and participate in bourgeois governments that aimed to rebuild the state and the capitalist economy. For that, they counted on the millionaire’s resources of the Marshall Plan.
Maurice Thorez, general secretary of the PCF, and Ercoli Togliatti, leader of the PCI, start to exercise ministerial positions in the bourgeois governments of “national unity,” managing successfully to placate the workers’ and peasants’ protests and mobilizations. In this regard, Thorez launched an emblematic slogan that would render the CPs counter-revolutionary policy at the time. He said in a CC meeting: “a single state, a single army, a single police.”
That was seen as a betrayal of Stalinism with historical dimensions: a socialist revolution, victorious in France and Italy, two imperialist countries, would change the course of human history.
Greece experienced an even more dramatic situation. The ELAS (Greek People’s Liberation Army), led by the CP of Greece (KKE), expelled the Nazi troops from the country and controlled most of the territory. Power was at hand. However, Stalin had other plans. Trying to gain the confidence of the allies, especially British imperialism, it guided the KKE to form a government of national unity with Papandreou (bourgeois politician allied with British interests). In December 1944, however, a general workers’ strike took the streets of Athens, which soon would turn into an insurrection. The fighting in Athens lasted five weeks. The masses fought with the greatest combativeness and heroism; there were thousands of victims in those days. Churchill then wired the commander of the British forces and gave him the order: “…act as though you were in an occupied city.” The order was soon carried out. British troops were deployed in Athens and British planes and ships bombarded the city’s working-class neighborhoods mercilessly.
Meanwhile, the KKE isolated Athens from the rest of the country. The ELAS backup forces, long-awaited by the workers, never arrived. The final offensive order would never be given. Stalin maintained his commitment to Churchill to ensure “stability” in the Mediterranean, at the expense of the lives of thousands of Greek workers.
In Asia, the revolutionary movement went beyond the limits of allied agreements and produced formidable victories after years of anti-imperialist struggle. In China, Mao Zedong’s communist guerrillas, after a long struggle against Japanese imperialism, defeated Chan Kai Chek’s pro-American forces and seized power in 1949, breaking its colony status and starting the expropriation of capitalists some years later.
Japanese surrender also sparked on the Indochina peninsula, a former French colony, a powerful anti-colonial revolutionary movement that took power before the allies could even cast their eyes on the region. An eyewitness to the revolution said: “Hours after the news (Japan’s surrender), a social storm of such proportions started that anything could have been brought down.” The reaction of imperialism in this region will later trigger the Vietnam War. For Vietnamese, World War II would only end in 1975, when the U.S. military was definitively expelled from Saigon.
In Europe, the collaboration of Stalinism with imperialism was essential to stop the revolutionary processes. However, U.S. imperialism would also launch the European Recovery Program, also known as the Marshall Plan, whose goal was to rebuild Europe’s allied countries in the post-war period and stop the revolutionary wave. At the time, 14 billion dollars were raised for the reconstruction. It laid the foundation for the European Welfare State, the granting of countless social rights and workers’ demands, etc. The Marshall Plan was a concession from imperialism that thought it was better to lose the saddle than an entire herd of horses for the European revolution.
Without this plan, even the Stalinist collaboration would be jeopardized. After all, how would the communist parties’ rank and file that had just defeated the powerful Nazi-fascism feel in the face of the brutal growth of misery and hunger? Would they collaborate, as Stalin had agreed, with the reconstruction of European capitalism even if it would be grounded on their bare bones? Probably not. Perhaps the revolutionary wave that hit Asia – where no recovery plan has been put in place, except for Japan – offers a glimpse into what could have happened in Europe: the widespread explosion of anti-colonial revolutions that led to the leadership of communist parties to advance much more than their bosses in Moscow had allowed.