The 75th anniversary of the great Day of Victory against Nazism in May 1945 coincides with an unprecedented dual global crisis combining an extremely dangerous coronavirus pandemic both in Global North and Global South with a world capitalist economy, already in crisis, collapsing now into an abyss worst than the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The actuality of the 1945 victory and of the decisive role played by the Soviet Union as the land of the October Revolution is examined from today’s urgent needs and perspective.
Key words: fascism, World War II, the antifascist victory of 1945, capitalism, crisis, COVID-19 pandemic
How a historical Event can be celebrated in times of distress? How we can celebrate the 75th anniversary of the world historical victory against fascism in 1945 without reducing it into a formal routine anniversary, or, even worst, into a diversion from the urgent needs of humanity? Only if the great Event, in all its brightness sheds light in history, revealing a path through the darkness of the present into a liberating future.
To draw the lessons from the past for today, and to grasp the potential in the present for the future, history has “to be studied backward”, as the philosopher Bertell Ollman emphasized1, from the standpoint of the most developed present, from today’s historic needs and struggles.
Today, in 2020, humanity confronts a global crisis, unprecedented in its catastrophic scope ravaging human lives in all countries and continents, and spreading a worldwide economic devastation: it is combining a disastrous covid-19 pandemic interacting with a global, insoluble capitalist depression. Angela Merkel in Germany, and other leaders and mainstream exponents of global capitalism warned that Europe and the world faces now “the worst catastrophe from the end of World War Two”.
However, together with the 1939-1945 catastrophe, nobody should forget how this “end of World War Two” came: Nazism, this extreme form of barbarism in modern times, met with a crashing defeat, marked by the triumphant entry of the Soviet Army, the Red Army of the Land of October Revolution, in Berlin, the capital of the Third Reich!
Today, 75 years after this great anti-fascist victory, not only the monster of fascism re-emerges in a global capitalist system in insoluble crisis; humanity faces also a double catastrophe comparable, if not worst, from that of the last world war, while the system proves its incompatibility with the most urgent needs of the real life process.
The coincidence of the 75th anniversary of the anti-fascist Victory with this tragic world situation appears but it is not merely accidental. Friedrich Engels rightly had stressed the dialectical interconnection between chance and necessity2, without reducing the one to the other. The question is to discover if and how are internally related all the above mentioned historical phenomena of the past and present– capitalist crisis, fascism, imperialist war, and last but not least, socialist revolution. Exploring these internal contradictory relations, we should not forget also that historical processes do not occur in a vacuum but are grounded in constant interaction and inter-exchange with the natural environment. They have a material basis in the historically determined form of what Marx has called social metabolism [Stoffwechsel] between Nature and human beings3, the “actual life process” [der wirklichen Lebensprozess].
Capitalist production, crisis, and life process
It is generally forgotten- including and foremost among Marxists- that the central category of Marx’s historical materialism is not economy. Economic categories are alienated abstractions, “only theoretical expressions, the abstractions of social relations of production corresponding to a particular stage of development of material production”4. The Marxian central category is Life [Leben] itself.
In German Ideology, the founding document of the materialist conception of history, Marx, advancing the central historical materialist category of social mode of production makes crystal clear this point: “This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the reproduction of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite from of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life [Lebensweise, the German term and emphasis in the original] on their part.”5
Developing further this historical materialist conception in his magnum opus Capital, Marx revealed that “[t]he real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself”. The driving force and historical limit of the capitalist mode of production as a historically specific mode of life is the contradiction between a production which “is only production for capital”, for “the preservation and self expansion of the value of capital” and the growing needs “for an unlimited expansion of the life process [erweiternde Gestaltung des Lebensprozesses ] of the society of producers”6
A most dramatic demonstration of the explosion of this contradiction is precisely the current global crisis, where capitalist production, having already clashed in 2008 with its real barrier, globalized capital itself, proves to be now, totally unable to meet the most urgent needs of the actual life process in conditions of a pandemic – and it is breaking apart.
Even during the World War II, industries were in function, and there was even a lack of workforce under the pressure of the needs in the war fronts. In the middle of March 2020, even before the coronavirus pandemic reaches its peak, the situation was and remains much worst. Already “according to the U.N. International Labor Organization, full or partial lockdown measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting almost 2.7 billion workers worldwide, or about 81 percent of the global labor force”7
Before the pandemic, particularly from the end of 2018 and during 2019, it had become clear that they were exhausted all the “heterodox” economic measures (stimulus packages, quantitative easing schemes, extremely low or even negative interest rates etc.), introduced by central banks and governments to face the lethal threats from the world capitalist crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Fears were growing that a new, even worst phase of the insoluble so far global crisis is coming. Investors and analysts, writes Katie Martin in Financial Times, “have been endlessly scrutinized for signs that they could prove to be the butterfly’s wing that sets off the next big drama in the real economy […] Instead, investors are being humbled by one thing that they clearly had not considered: real life”8 (emphasis added).
But the COVID-19( which ,as previously SARS-1, is related according to evolutionary biologist Robert Wallace9 and other scientists with the damages made by industrialized agrobusiness to the natural environment) is not just an “exogen factor” invading an empty space. It is ravaging a specific capitalist society, where the national health system were destroyed by the profit seeking neo-liberal assault of capital at a specific time, at the specific time, when a decade long, yet insoluble global economic crisis was plunging into a deeper depression, and , last but not least, when all capitalist governments scandalously ignored the World Health Organization’s alerts, criminally delayed to take appropriate protective measures, and even after the disastrous event, they sacrifice real life to systemic needs of capitalism. Trump’s America, the most powerful capitalist country and center of global capitalism, as the epicenter of the world pandemic now, it is the epitome of the historical bankruptcy of the capitalist Lebensweise.
Real life, the “actual life process” [der wirklichen Lebensprozess- Marx] is the primary, determining material content of the social metabolism between Nature and human society clashing violently now with the asphyxiating limitations of its historically last and outdated form- globalized capitalism. This is an undeniable expression of the historical advanced decline of the capitalist system, and the negative manifestation of the drive for a transition beyond it- to world Socialism.
Precisely, from this standpoint of History as Present, we could and we should “study History backwards” (Ollman) to grasp the objective world historical meaning of the 1945 Great Antifascist Victory.
The epoch of wars and revolutions
World capitalism’s decline as world system was first manifested with a dramatic break in historical continuity: the devastation of the international imperialist Great War of 1914-1918 –which knew, at its end, also the calamities of the epidemic of Spanish influenza killing millions of people- but above all the 1917 October Socialist Revolution in Russia. The victory of Soviet power was not solely a Russian but a world historical Event, which unleashed a world revolutionary process initiating the transition of human society beyond declining capitalism, towards a classless society of “associated producers”, Communism.
Historical decline has to be grasped in its two opposite aspects, as rightly Hegel (although in idealist terms) had grasped. From one side it manifests the exhaustion of historical potential of one social formation, “the simple form of negation of its proper principle”. From the other side, “in this way, it manifests itself in it the emergence of a higher principle, within the simple form of negation of its proper principle”.10 This “higher principle” emerged with the revolutionary victory of the Soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers in October 1917 initiating a world -wide revolutionary transition.
Decline is transition. But a transition never is linear but always moving through zigzags, breaks, regressions and leaps forward, i.e. through the development of contradictions. And the epic tragedy of the last hundred years is a testimony of this truth.
The defeats of the world socialist revolution in the 1920s, above all the defeat of the German Revolution, and consequently the delay of the revolution in the metropolitan centers of global capitalism led to the isolation of the Soviet Union, its bureaucratization under the hostile pressures of imperialism, and the rise of counterrevolutionary forces in Europe and beyond, foremost Fascism and Nazism.
The defeats of the international working class, the exacerbation of the capitalist crisis with the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression, and especially the triumph of Hitler and Nazism in Germany in 1933 opened the road to World War Two, a far worst catastrophe for humankind than the previous World “Great War”.
Fascism and War
Imperialist bourgeois propaganda, in the past but also currently, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and as a byproduct of the ludicrous and now totally discredited “End of the History” myth, and most recently by the ruling bodies of imperialist European Union under German hegemony, it was shamefully advanced the Big Lie to condemn equally fascism and … communism “twin forms of totalitarianism defeated by Western democracy”!!
This anti-communist Hubris pretends to deny, together with the historical truth, the gigantic sacrifices of the Soviet people, of its of its millions of dead as well as of millions of antifascist and communist fighters all over Europe and internationally who fought and were killed inspired by the example of the Land of October 1917!
At the same time this Big Lie covers up real fascist and Nazi criminals as they emerge again dangerously in Parliaments, in provocative mobilizations in the streets, committing growing murderous, often unpunished crimes, in all so-called “Western democracies” in Europe and America.
Quite early, a decade before Auschwitz, in 1934, just one year after the rise of Hitler to power, the (non-Marxist) philosopher Emmanuel Levinas had a clear insight warning that fascism has as target to destroy “neither this or that doctrine of democracy, of parliamentarianism, of dictatorial regime nor a religious policy. Its target is the human element within the human being”11
From the standpoint of Marxism, Leon Trotsky situated fascism in the contemporary context of the epoch of imperialist decline of capitalism, incorporating, in its modernity all the pre-modern, “non-contemporary”, elements of barbarism as they survived throughout the entire history of class society. In Nazism, “capitalist society vomits all undigested barbarism. This is the physiology of National-socialism”12 It is not just a return of survivals of the past but a phenomenon of late bourgeois modernity in crisis. Imperialist capitalism mobilizes, for its interest, all the archaic superstitions, fears and irrational fantasies of petty bourgeois strata and declassés elements in conditions of severe capitalist crisis, when bourgeois political power is put in danger.
Source of the crisis in our epoch is the clash between the demands of the world development of modern productive forces and the barriers of the Nation State, the basis for the expansion of capital and of all national capitalist antagonisms. Nationalism contaminates and poisons all aspects of social economic life, driving towards expansionism, sharpening antagonism between conflicting national interests
leading to provocations, invasion and finally into war conflagration on ever wider and more disastrous scale.
Fascism is “the chemically pure distillation of imperialist culture”13 .
Nazism, World War II, and the Soviet Union
Nazism and Hitler had integrated into a single whole the most toxic anti-communism with genocidal antisemitism raising it as their highest strategic principle to wage their insane “war of races” against the main enemy: “Judeo-Bolshevism”.
As Adam Tooze points out14, Adolf Hitler continued incessantly in his delirious speeches, even during the World War II, to raise the specter of the world socialist revolution as it hovered over Europe in 1917-1918, advancing from Russia to Central Europe, Hungary, Austria, Bavaria, and Germany itself.
The global Blitzkrieg of the Third Reich, with the Wehrmacht advancing invincible and occupying nearly all Europe was first stopped in the Soviet Union, in Smolensk, when Operation Barbarossa met with a fierce resistance and barrier by the Red Army already in July-Autumn 1941.15
According to Adam Tooze(whom nobody could call a communist sympathizer, on the contrary), the German strategists had miscalculated “the extraordinary industrial and military strength of the Soviet Union, which became the principal problem of Wehrmacht in 1942-1943”16. Their strategy proved to be a strategy of defeat in the war, so early as in 1943.
Tooze writes : “But as the Soviets and the Germans knew, the battles of summer, fall and winter 1942-1943 were the key that decided the outcome of the war in the Eastern Front. And in this crucial period, the Soviet industries took the upper hand. The importance of this opportunity window comes from the fact that in most of 1942, the offensive operations by Great Britain and America against the Third Reich have not but a marginal impact. It was no more the case from autumn 1942 on-wards.[…] In July 1943 it became manifest that the war was lost”17 for Nazi Germany.
Very few could deny that the crucial turning point in World War II was the epic and victorious battle of Stalingrad, opening the road of the Soviet Army, through the battle of Kursk, to advance forward towards Berlin, finally entering the capital of the defeated Nazi Reich, and raising on the roof of Reichstag the Red Flag of communism on May 8, 1945.
Adam Tooze, as a left liberal economic historian, focuses on the relevant structural differences and advantages of the centralized Soviet industry and economy in a vast country over the German one, where despite the iron fist of the Nazi State, different competitive groups of monopoly capital were active agents.
In Marxist terms, it was demonstrated the superiority of the central planning methods, despite all the bureaucratic deformations, the crimes of the mass purges of the 1930s, and the strategic errors of the Soviet State authorities, over a very powerful war imperialist machine based on capitalist relations of production.
Furthermore: it was not solely the objective structural changes introduced by the socialist revolution in 1917 that permitted the military victory against fascism in 1945 but also the fact that the October Revolution itself was still very much alive in the consciousness of millions of Soviet workers, as Trotsky quite well emphasized defending the Soviet Union, despite Stalinism, a few years before the war, amid the tragedies of the ‘30s.18
The same world historical Event inspired also the thousands and thousands of the anti-fascist forces of Resistance in occupied Europe, in France, in Italy,in the Yugoslav and Albanian Revolutions, the fighters of EAM-ELAS in Greece.
In other words, the antifascist victory in 1945 expressed the dynamic of the historic break of the continuity of declining capitalism in 1917, the vitality of the social foundations established by the October Revolution, the upsurge of the revolutionary masses by the driving forces of our transitional epoch.
The victory of Red October lives in the Day of Victory on May the 8th.
The dynamic unleashed by the October Revolution, as the emergence of a higher principle of social organization defeated the most barbaric form that the decline of capitalism generated in the 20th century.
The lessons for today are vital not only because we saw the last years a new rise of far right and fascist formations produced by an unresolved world capitalist crisis but above all to confront the dual global crisis threatening humanity and changing the world situation dramatically.
To global problems there are only global solutions. The only way out from the collapsing edifice of a world social system, which, in its historical exhaustion, is incompatible with life itself, it is to continue and to complete the Exodus from its slavery that had started in 1917, later to be lost wandering in the deserts of the last century. We have to revive, renew and complete the work of October 1917 and May 1945.
Contribution in the correspondence round table of the journals “Alternativyi”[Alternatives] and “VoprosiPolititseskoi Ekonomii”[Political Economy Issues” dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the antifascist Victory in 1945, Moscow May 2020
Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers-Moscow 1974
G.F. Hegel, Principles of the Philosophy of the Right and of the State, PUF
Emmanuel Lévinas, Quelques reflexions sur la philosophie du hitlérisme, Rivages 1997
Katie Martin, Financial markets are being humbled by real life, Financial Times March 14, 2020
Karl Marx, Capital vol.I Progress-Moscow 1986
K. Marx Das Kapital ΙΙΙ, Dietz Verlag Berlin 1973, in English Progress Publishers Moscow 1976.
Karl Marx, On Proudhon, Letter of January 24 1865 to J.B. Schweitzer, Marx-Engels Selected Works vol.2, Progress-Moscow 1969
K. Marx-F. Engels, The German Ideology, Collected Works, Progress-Moscow 1976
Bertell Ollman, Dialectical Investigations, Routledge 1993
Robert Wallace, Notes on a novel coronavirus, Monthly Review On Line(MR Online) January 29,2020
Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: the Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, Penguin 2006, French translation Les Belles Lettres 2012
Leon Trotsky The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, Pathfinder Press 1971
Leon Trotsky, Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution, Writings 1939-40, Pathfinder Press 1973
Leon Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, New Park Publications
Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, New Park Publications
1Bertell Ollman, Dialectical Investigations, Routledge 1993 p.133
12Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress publishers-Moscow 1974 pp.217-221
3Karl Marx, Capital vol.I Progress-Moscow 1986 p.173
4Karl Marx, On Proudhon, Letter of January 24 1865 to J. B. Schweitzer, Marx-Engels Selected Works vol.2, Progress-Moscow 1969 p.26
5K. Marx-F. Engels, The German Ideology, Collected Works, Progress-Moscow 1976 p.31
6 K. Marx Das Kapital ΙΙΙ,, Dietz Verlag Berlin 1973 p. 260, and in the English version Progress-Moscow 1976 p250
8Katie Martin, Financial markets are being humbled by real life, Financial Times March 14, 2020
9Robert Wallace, Notes on a novel coronavirus, Monthly Review On Line(MR Online) January 29,2020
10See G.F. Hegel, Principles of the Philosophy of the Right and of the State, paragraph #347
11Emmanuel Lévinas, Quelques reflexions sur la philosophie du hitlérisme, Rivages 1997 p.24
12Leon Trotsky, What is National-socialism? See L. Trotsky The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany , Pathfinder Press 1971 p.405
13Leon Trotsky, Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution, Writings 1939-40, Pathfinder Press1973 p. 193
14Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: the Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, Penguin 2006, Chapter 14 .In the French translation Les Belles Lettres 2012 p. 626
15Adam Tooze op. cit. p.636
16op. cit p.637
17op. cit 638
18See Leon Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed 1936 and In Defense of Marxism, 1939-1940