VE Day 75: a living legacy and an unfinished struggle

Johnnie Hunter, YCL General Secretary & Challenge Editor

It is easy for young people in Britain today to overlook the importance of the outcome of the Second World War for world history and the current political situation we face today. It is difficult to comprehend the scale of the sacrifice and the bravery of previous generations in the struggle to defeat Nazi Fascism.

The war was not inevitable and it was not the product of chance or the deranged project of one man, Adolf Hitler, or several men. Hitler came to power with the backing of Germany’s monopolies however fascism was not uniquely German. Fascism was the answer of monopoly capitalism in many countries across the world to economic crisis, the rise socialist and democratic forces at home and the progress of the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union and national liberation movements abroad.

Britain’s ruling class heartily supported Hitler and the rise of the Nazis. Viscount Rothermere’s Daily Mail was famous for trumpeting praise for Hitler and Mussolini, and their admirers in Britain – declaring Hurrah for the Blackshirts. They were enthused by the Nazis swift and brutal assault on Germany’s powerful labour movement and Communist Party. They only wished they could implement the same measures at home. They sought to appease Hitler and turn his attention east, towards the Soviet Union. Numerous attempts by the Soviet Union to form an alliance with Britain and France to prevent war were rebuffed. Right up to the eleventh hour, Britain’s ruling class was desperate to appease Hitler.

When it came, the war would prove to be the most devastating in human history to date. Over 60 million died in the conflict, mostly civilians. Atrocities were committed by Axis powers in all theatres of war, including the Holocaust. But it was not the ruling class political leaders of the Western Powers who defeated fascism. It was the combined might of the working peoples of the world.

It was the peoples of the Soviet Union which stopped the Nazi Fascism in its tracks, ripped the guts from the seemingly invincible German Army and drove Hitler’s generals all the way back to Berlin. Four-fifths of the Germany Army were defeated on the Eastern Front. But this was only achieved at a great and terrible cost. 28 million Soviet citizens died in the struggle. This is a debt owed by the working people and youth of the world which can never be repaid.

At the same time, across occupied Europe the indomitable will of the people to resist was embodied by the communist led partisan movements. The Nazi occupation was never secure. Despite almost impossible odds and in the face atrocities and retributions, the fascists found the free peoples of Europe to be indomitable. Britain’s Communists organised and led the resistance on the Channel Islands, the only British soil occupied during the war. Their heroism and sacrifice are a continuing example to the youth.

It would be wrong however to think of the Second World War merely as a history lesson. It is a living legacy.

It perhaps the proudest chapter so far in the story of the working people of this island. Britain’s workers threw themselves into the anti-fascist struggle. In the Battle of Britain, the Battle for Production, the campaigns in North Africa and Italy, the Artic Convoys and the D-Day Landings and many other struggles, Britain’s workers demonstrated they were made of the same mettle as their Soviet comrades.

The left and the labour movement cannot afford to neglect or shy away from this history. It is our history and our culture. If we are to build the broad and united democratic alliance necessary to sweep working people to power in this country it will be necessary to develop and celebrate a radical and left collective national identity based on the story of our class. Not nationalistic jingoism, not the crimes of Empire or the story of royalty and aristocrats. Working class and internationalist patriotism, Britain for the people, not imperialism or the monopolies. The story of the working people of this island.

We have seen the alternative over the recent decades and especially in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Boris Johnson, the Tory Party and the far-right laying claim to this history and national identity. A powerful tool in the hands of the ruling class.

All sections of the left and the labour movement have a duty to resist anti-communism in all its forms. The heroic and decisive role of the Soviet Union in ending World War II and the Holocaust, should serve as a clear lesson to those, especially the European Union, who have the audacity to equate Nazi Fascism and Soviet Socialism. We must oppose gross historical revisionism which is an insult to the memory of millions of Soviet war dead. The European Union and NATO have over seen a resurgence of fascist ideologies across Eastern Europe and in Ukraine, especially, have given political and material support to open neo-Nazis.

We can only work to repay the debt we owe to the generations which won the great anti-fascist struggle in one way – constant and increasing dedication to the struggle today. We must fight against the resurgence of fascism and racist ideology wherever we find it. We must win the fight for peace including withdrawal from NATO and the increasingly militarised European Union.

It is the historic task of working people and our generation to finish the work that the heroes of 1945 started – to win the struggle for socialism. A land fit for heroes and a world based on peace and solidarity.

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Johnnie Hunter
General Secretary
Young Communist League

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