OPINION | "Anti-Fascism" as a Political Propaganda by Imre Bártfai
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OPINION | "Anti-Fascism" as a Political Propaganda by Imre Bártfai

"All attempts between 1934 and 1939 to pacify the Nazis by making various kinds of agreements and pacts with them, were unacceptable from the moral point of view" - Vladimir Putin in 2006[1]

By Imre Bártfai

Recently, as expected, a lavish and glorious ceremony celebrated Russia’s victory over fascism in 1945. While the leaders of Western democracies were conspicuously absent, or found a way to give respect elsewhere and in another time, all friends of Russia appeared, (like Serbia) and many even marched on the Red Square. This victory is perhaps the most important historical event for the majority of Russians, it is an identity-defining moment of triumph, sacrifice, heroism.

 Red Army Victory Memorial for 2nd Battle of Kharkiv, 1943-1945
at Kharkiv, Ukraine | PHOTO COURTESY: Rahul Guhathakurta 2009
The more conflicts Russia has the more lavish the ceremonies are. Not only nationalist bikers imitated NATO’s ‘Dragoon ride’ with the pretext of remembering the victory over Nazism, but Russia grabs every opportunity to glorify the Soviets and thus its current self.  They like to label their enemies as fascists, especially the Ukrainians, whose government is indeed nationalist, and some extremists truly fight against Donbass rebels. Using 1945 as a political propaganda is, of course, nothing new.

The Soviet Union after 1945 legitimized its existence on the ruins of Nazism, as the great, humanist superpower, on the quest for a peaceful and prosperous future for all humanity. Their symbolism and ideology drew its strength from anti-fascism. The Soviets were the builders, the Nazis the destroyers. And the builders won, as in Tarkovsky’s epic humanist film ‘Andrei Rublov’.

Yes, the Nazis were the ultimate evil guys, immortalized by the Hollywood-myth of the black- clad, riding outfit-wearer killers with skull-symbols. They were evil in reality too. I saw World War II photographs on which their victims smile while the joke is on them, in the vain hope of earning their mercy. Mostly they did not earn it. Whether children, young or old women, men (even those, who fought for Germany previously) mentally handicapped, Christian or gay, they had always a reason to kill. Those African-American soldiers who sent "Adolph" bombs as Easter gifts understood Nazism very well: this is how one must handle such beasts. With Tigers, there is no negotiation.

Sure, the Soviets defeated the Nazis (together with the rest of the Allies though) while bringing the greatest sacrifice.  John Keagen puts Soviets losses to 14 million[2], while Russian researchers once estimated the losses up to 26 million. In comparison the United States lost 292 000. Whatever the real number is, this war has been intended as a war of eradication against the Russians, and the Soviet system. The Nazis delivered civilians and soldiers alike to death, and they devastated an already very poor and backward country. Possibly generations inherited the psychological shock of the war ever since. Such events leave their print on human souls and institutions. So, the defeat of Nazism wasn't only a feast for Russia, but for all humanity.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939

However the story is not complete, with the tale of Russia defeating Germany, a tale which starts in the summer of 1941. The actual tale started way before it. Stalinism weakened the Popular Front of international workers, thus setting away hindrances from the way of rising fascist both in Italy and in Germany. Stalin’s ideological twist of “social-fascism”, a theory according to which social democrats are the allies of fascist and the downgrading of international worker cooperation weakened resistance in the most crucial minutes.[3] The USSR aided Republican Spain against fascism, but later Stalin just brokered a deal with Hitler, in the hope of a big jackpot. In 1939 USSR made an infamous pact with Hitler’s Reich, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. In this treaty the Soviets and the Germans pledged neutrality in case any of them fights with the French-British alliance, and in a secret part of the pact, they divided the Baltic region and much of Eastern-Europe between themselves. „Contrary to the impression Soviet diplomats wanted to create, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was more than a nonaggression treaty; Germany and the Soviet Union became de facto allies. Remarkably, as long as the Soviet Union lasted, Soviet spokesmen and historians denied that there was such a protocol despite all the available evidence.” [4] wrote Peter Kenez, a researcher of Soviet Union’s history.

Anti-Nazi Soviet Red Army Propaganda  Poster during World War II
Russia wanted to extend its powers sphere to Poland, Finland, Latvia, Romania, getting large parts of these countries (liker Bessarabia) or the entire country. In much cases historical reasons like old territorial claims did not justify these plans. According to Kissinger, this pact was the final deal of ‘Stalin’s bazaar’ in which he manipulated Western powers and Germans into offering him more and more for his neutrality or active cooperation. Kissinger states, that once Germany determined to get Stalin’s neutrality for the short time, the Western powers could only lose this game.[5] Of course, Stalin’s power and profit game was in many ways a continuation of Lenin’s foreign policy, which considered both the former Entente and Central powers as imperialists of the same ilk, fighting for world domination, as a result of capitalism entering into its final, imperialistic-‘finance capitalistic’ phase.

But the Soviets should have realized earlier that Hitler's Germany is no more one of the contending great powers, it is a top player, and a quite dangerous one. Hitler made it clear that fighting Bolshevism is his top priority. Not just with various utterances, (like in Mein Kampf) or his speech in the Reichstag on 30th January, 1937[6], but his entire ideology was built on anti-Bolshevism. Also the Anti-Comintern pact in 1936 clearly determined the route of German efforts in foreign policy.“Fascism is a matter of taste.”-said Molotov at the time of the pact with Hitler, cynically presenting the new tactical twist of Stalinism, and thereby revealed his moral stance on pretty much everything. Foreign policy is surely a nasty business, but this time such cynicism did not go unrewarded.

Defenders of the Soviets, especially hardcore communists then and now, like to point out that the USSR only wanted to defend herself by territorial acquisitions and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. (So does now Vladimir Putin too…[7])There might be some partial truth in this, because the West did little against the Nazis even in the so called “strange war” until Hitler defeated France.  The Soviets could be not sure whether the “capitalists” would not unite against them in the last turn, and such assumptions would have been fitting to Stalin’s paranoia well.

However, what happened in Katyn, and the Stalinist system itself leaves little doubt about the nature of Soviets. Their intentions have been revenge and territorial expansion, not just creating safer borders. They were aggressors both in Finland and Poland, but then the Nazi attack found them relaxed and unprepared.  The gained territories helped Russia scarcely in Poland when the Germans attacked, and the Red Army was unprepared for the coming onslaught. Having lost most of its officers in pointless purges, they were seriously weak too.[8] Once he recovered himself after the initial shock Stalin balanced his own earlier failures with the energetic organization of defense, which was brutal and demanded countless sacrifices from Russians.  Some of the enormous losses could have been avoided perhaps if Stalin had not purged his own army, and if the Russians could had prepared for the German onslaught.  It is necessary to remember that Stalin solved mainly the problems he himself caused. He refused to acknowledge the coming German attack even in the last minutes.

A short-lived Hungarian Revolution,
front cover of  Viktor Sebestyen's book
Also the defeat of Nazism did not mean the liberation for many. Stalin said to Milovan Djilas, that this war would be about the victors forcing their political system on the conquered, and he did so. What exactly the Soviets planned during the war is uncertain, but it is certain that an iron curtain fell on the border between Western and Eastern-Europe. The Soviets installed their own puppet governments through their communist henchmen in entire Eastern-Europe: Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria etc.[9] Liberated from fascism these nations soon received a new yoke: suffocation of any form of democracy, imported Stalinism, central planning, and decades long arrested developments were the fruits of this ‘liberation’. And then we didn't mention mass rape and pillage which followed Red Army at greater extent than any other Allied army. Ivan Maisky, a Soviet diplomat, already in 1944 wrote a  memorandum in which he envisaged Europe after fascism, and in that imagined Europe only the British would exist independently from the Soviets.[10] Everything the Soviets did (like stopping before Warsaw and witnessing passively how the Nazis suppressed the rebellion) points into one direction: achieving domination in most part of Eastern and Central-Europe. “Indeed, {Stalin} with his cruelty, suspicious nature and paranoid urge for control, played a key role in the destruction of democracy in Eastern Europe”-writes Vesselin Dimitrov.[11]

There was, in my opinion a qualitative difference between the Soviet system and the Nazis because the Soviet system existed before and after Stalinism, and while it was built on an erroneous political theory it showed some possibilities for human rights and welfare, while Nazism rose and fell with Hitler, and brought nothing but more and more destruction.[12] Still, the Soviets did not liberate any nation in Eastern-Europe. They only took the place of Nazis.

“Don’t forget, the Soviet Union saved the world from fascism” – a Washington Post article reminds us.[13] Right, but let us take into account three important points:
  • they did it in self-defense,
  • -they cooperated with the Nazis first
  • -after their victory they too oppressed some of the victims of fascism.
I think it is not only right, but necessary to respect the sacrifice and heroism of many Russians who gave much, too much to get the World rid of a great evil. However, we owe nothing to their political system, and to Stalin, even if these heroes themselves believed in them.

[1] Putin Defends Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in Press Conference with Merkel’

[2] John Keegan: The Second World War, Penguin, pp.  588-596.
[3]Isaac Deutscher: Stalin, a Political Biography,  Vintage, pp.386-414.
[4] Peter Kenez: A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End, Cambridge University Press, 2006  p.132.
[5] Henry Kissinger: Diplomacy, Simon&Schuster, 1994 pp. 332-350.
[6] http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Hitler%20Speeches/hitler%20rede%201937.01.30.htm
[7] ’Putin defends Ribbentrop-Molotiv pact in press conference with Merkel’ https://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/putin-defends-ribbentrop-molotov-pact-in-press-conference-with-merkel/520513.html
[8] John Keegan: The Second World War, Penguin, pp. 127-220.
[9] About the Sovietization of Eastern-Europe see: Anne Applebaum: Iron Curtain, The Crushing of Eastern Europe, Anchor.
[10] Krisztián Ungváry: The questions of Hungary’s sovietization.in: Mítoszok, legendák, tévhitek a 20. századi magyar történelemről., ed. Ignác Romsics, Osiris, Bp. 2002. pp. 279-309.
[11] Vesselin Dimitrov: Stalin’s cold war, Soviet Foreign Policy, Democracy and Communism in Bulgaria, 1941-48. p 186.
[12] Historians, especially those with strong  left-wing and right-wing opinions debate on the difference between the two political systems. Trotsky yet claimed that even with Stalin, USSR is still a 'worker's state.'Followers of the totalitarian theory asserted that the Soviet system is not fundamentally different from the Nazi one. Later, this theory has been reevaluated as post-stalinist USSR could be not regarded as a fully totalitarian state.
[13] ’Don’t forget how the Soviet Union saved the world from Hitler’ http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/05/08/dont-forget-how-the-soviet-union-saved-the-world-from-hitler/