Thursday, 6 January 2011
The Nazi-Soviet Pact; cutting through the propaganda
In line with efforts of many party and YCL members to draw up answers to FAQs that we face everytime we do stalls and other public activity, I have decided to take on on of the biggest tricks up the anti-communist sleave, I will attempt to put the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact into perspective.
The Nazi-Soviet pact is one slice of history that is always brought up by those seeking to equate Communism with fascism. Revisionist historians, notably Niall Ferguson, have claimed that the "blame" for the second world war should be equally shared by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Ferguson has stated that Stalin was "as much an aggressor as Hitler." Most outrageously Orlando Figes has described the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact as "the licence for the Holocaust."
These claims may appear to be ludicrous enough to alienate most people. However, this view of history is becoming more popular. The Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact is a key element to this line of argument and is inseparable to the recent increase in repression of communists in Europe. This piece of realpolitik diplomacy has been taken out of its context and used by ultra-right wingers in the EU, grouped around the Prague Declaration, representing the forces behind a huge, Europe-wide campaign to outlaw communism.
Those seeking to equate Nazis Germany and it’s fascist allies with the socialist nations of Eastern Europe are doing so on the basis of their anti-communist ideology alone. There can be no genuine comparison. On the one hand you have Nazi Germany, a violent and expansionary fascist state-funded by big business-who carried out a systematically planned genocide based on racial identity. On the other, the Soviet Union and socialist states of Eastern Europe, established by revolutions with mass support, that raised the general standard of living by means of a centrally planned economy.
In practise that has meant that communist symbols have been made illegal in countries such as Hungary, Lithuania and Poland. In the Czech Republic the youth section of the communist party-a party with mass support-was outlawed. While in Moldova anti-communists have resorted to riots when the communist party won the elections.
While the stated aims of these European anti-communists are to equate communism with fascism, communists-often the largest force fighting cutbacks-are being repressed in their respective countries while violent fascist groups are thriving.
In the Baltic republics anti-communism is being used in order to rehabilitate nazism. Veterans of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS now parade through the streets of Riga and Estonian parliamentarians have honoured those who served the Third Reich as "fighters for independence." Across Europe monuments to those who fought the nazis being dismantled on a daily basis. Most shamefully, NATO and EU member Lithuania opened a war crimes investigation into four Jewish veterans of the country's partisans.
Efraim Zuroff, the famous nazi hunter, has stated: "People need to wake up to what is going on. This attempt to create a false symmetry between communism and the nazi genocide is aimed at covering up these countries' participation in mass murder."
The Nazi-Soviet pact is used as cover for the repression of communists by claiming that communists and fascists are both ‘totalitarian’. This attack on communists has been exploited by holocaust denying neo-nazis seeking to use this anti-communist onslaught to distract the people of Europe from the crimes of fascism.
The idea that communists and fascists are somehow one and the same is a false concept that is catching on and is in danger of becoming fashionable. Yet we can fight against this naked piece of anti-communist propaganda by placing the act in its historical context.
On the surface the idea that communists and fascists, supposed arch-enemies, should sign an act of non-aggression may seem strange. But we must go back to the mid-1930s in order to explain the act.
It was the dominant section of the British ruling elite, together with British and American capital, that ensured the rise of Nazi Germany. Treaties that allowed the Nazis to increase the size of their armed forced were signed by British politicians sympathetic to the Nazis, falling for the propaganda of ‘Living space’ and seeing them as a useful ally against the Soviet Union.
When a fascist military uprising broke out in Spain, it was the British Secret Service who had flown it’s leader General Franco from prison in the Canary islands to Morocco. While people of nations across the globe flocked to the communist organised international brigades in order to fight for Spanish democracy, Britain headed a non-intervention committee that prevented men and material from reaching republican forces.
The British government invoked the 1870 enlistment act that prohibits Britons from volunteering to fight against an ally-in this case fascist Italy! The non-intervention committee turned a blind eye to troops and material pumped into Spain from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. This act enabled Hitler to test new tactics and encouraged him that Britain would not respond to his plans to conquer Europe. The only nation that sent significant numbers of war material and personnel to fight for democracy was the Soviet Union.
Members of the international brigades-who went on to play a massive role in resistance movements to the Nazis, or the army and Home guard in Britain-left Spain as Franco’s troops raped, tortured, murdered and pillaged, completing their conquest of the nation. Britain was the first nation to recognise the fascist military junta as a legitimate government.
As Nazi troops occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia Britain collaborated with Hitler at Munich, while repeated Soviet calls for Britain and France to form an anti-fascist alliance to stop the Nazis from invading European countries were ignored.
It was clear that war was only a matter of months away, the British government still favoured an alliance with Nazi Germany and continued to sign treaties and trade deals. High profile diplomatic delegations were sent to Berlin and Rome to drink to the health of Hitler and Mussolini, the Soviet Union was sidelined with only minor clerks, with no powers to sign treaties, sent to Moscow.
When it become clear the Nazis would invade Poland, the Soviet Union proposed to sign a treaty with Britain and France to guarantee Poland’s borders backed up with the threat of war. Poland continued to refuse to sign any treaty that allowed Soviet troops to cross Polish territory in order to attack Nazi Germany. Britain refused to join the Soviets in declaring war on Hitler in the event of a Nazi invasion of Poland, however-with very dubious motives-Britain encouraged the Soviets to go to war with Nazi Germany.
With the experience of the 1918-1920 intervention in living memory, where 22 nations including Germany, Britain and Poland had invaded Russia, committing widespread atrocities, the Soviet Union was wary of a repeat performance. The pro-nazi element in Britain’s ruling class wanted to support, formally or informally, a Nazi war with the Soviet Union. Britain’s international relations demonstrated this strategy in action.
It was in this context that a non-aggression pact was signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. This move sidelined British and Nazi war plans and enabled the Soviet Union to spend two years preparing for war-a period in which defence spending rose by 27%. The decision to occupy parts of Eastern Poland, 8 days after the Nazis invaded from the West, put fascist artillery out of range of Russian cities and ensured that the population of eastern Poland-many ethnically Ukrainian or Belorussian-were saved from the horrors of the holocaust for two years.
Britain, having signed huge deals with Germany and Japan handing over valuable materials needed for war just months earlier, was outmaneuvered by Stalin. When the Nazis invaded Poland the appeasers hesitated for several days. Only after pressure from parliament, with Churchill writing to Chamberlain threatening to make a speech in favour of war revealing the government‘s treacherous nature, did Britain reluctantly declare war on Germany.
Events during the early ‘phoney war’ period appeared to vindicate the Nazi-Soviet pact. Was this an imperialist war? The pro-Nazi appeasers remained in the British government and acted to sabotage Britain’s war effort. One revealing chapter of history which is conveniently left out of the history books is Britain’s role in the Soviet-Finnish war. In direct contrast to their use of the 1870 enlistment act to prevent Britons volunteering for the fight to save Spanish democracy from fascism, the British government used a clause in the act in order to encourage volunteers to fight for Finland against the Soviet Union. In 1940 the formation of a British Legion-with the aim of recruiting 10,000-was declared. By the end of the conflict only three Britons were found to be fighting for the reactionary Finnish government, in contrast to the thousands who fought in Spain.
At a time when Britain stood alone against the threat of a Nazi invasion, a huge amount of war materials were shipped to Finland. Instead of reinforcing our armed forces, or ill equipped home guard, we shipped 30 'Blenheim' bombers, 246 fighter planes, 400,000 rifles, and 250,000 grenades to Helsinki. The Nazi ally also received supplies from Italy and Germany so much of the British supplies ended up in the hands of the Nazis. We only stopped shipping arms to this fascist ally when the Soviet Union was invaded and the conflict became a ‘people’s war’.
The Soviet Union managed to occupy parts of Finland and deny the Nazis launch pad for it’s later invasion. The example of Britain supporting a Nazi ally, against the needs of it’s own people demonstrate that the war was imperialist at this point. The occupation of parts of Finland ensured that Nazi Germany was defeated sooner than it would have otherwise and was only possible because of the Nazi-Soviet pact of non-aggression. A similar pact was signed with Japan shortly before the Nazi invasion, this is another example of realpolitik that helped make the destruction of fascism occur earlier.
The Nazi-Soviet pact and occupation of Poland, which Churchill felt ‘was clearly necessary for the safety of Russia against the Nazi menace’, cannot be isolated from the context of the events leading up to and during the start of the Second World War. If it somehow proved that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were secret bedfellows why did the Soviets demand the German signatories drink a toast to Lazar Kaganovitch, the most senior Jewish communist in the Soviet government? Why did the Soviet’s refuse the German suggestion to include in the treaty the phrase ‘the friendly character of German-Soviet relations’?
At the end of the day the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact was a reluctant move that was hard to swallow, but necessary to the ultimate aim of destroying Nazi Germany, a feat which wouldn’t have been possible without the contribution of the Soviet Union who faced 80% of the German armed forces for the duration of the ‘people’s war’ which cost the Soviet Union nearly 24 million lifes.
For more information read the fantastic book 'Freedom from Tyranny; The fight against fascism and the falsification of history' by Phil Katz and the Communist Party history group. Available at www.manifestopress.org.uk