World War Two Part 2: Not One Step Back!

“The proletariat has sufficient reasons to overthrow and to chase out the Stalinist bureaucracy, corrupt to the bone. But precisely because of that it cannot directly or indirectly leave this task to Hitler or to the Mikado. Stalin overthrown by the workers – that’s a great step forward toward socialism. Stalin crushed by the imperialists – that’s the counter-revolution triumphant. That is the precise sense of our defense of the USSR.”

~Leon Trotsky, Once Again: The USSR and Its Defense

On Sunday June 22nd, 1941 Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, a full-scale invasion of the Soviet Union that broke with the  Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed just two years earlier. The Nazi armies quickly overran Soviet defensive positions and seized vast territories, while Soviet high command reacted with stunned disbelief.  Stalin, and the Soviet bureaucracy generally, played a miserable role in the war- which has been discussed previously–  but, in spite of their ‘leadership,’ the Soviet people rallied to anti-fascist war and the destruction of the Nazi regime. One of the ludicrous orders handed down by Stalin was Order No. 227, which refused Soviet forces permission to retreat with explicit authorization from Stalin’s high command and codified an unconditional policy  of refusing any withdraw before the advancing Nazi armies. This policy led to several disastrous encirclements and the unnecessary lose of troops forbidden to withdraw from unfavorable positions, nevertheless the Soviet people adopted its most famous line- “not one step back!” as a slogan of anti-fascist resistance.

Prior to the outbreak of war, Trotsky had worried that the Soviet Union could be defeated by an invading power for economic and political- as opposed to military- reasons: an invading army could bring cheap consumer goods in its baggage trains and promise democracy and national self-determination to those oppressed by the Stalinist bureaucracy. In this way the peasantry and non-Russian territories could be turned against the Soviet government. Fortunately, the Nazis were capable of none of this; their armies brought only blood and death and their promises took the form of threats to wipe out the Slavic peoples and turn Moscow into a lake. Against such invaders, the unity of the Soviet people held firm. Partisan resistance bands formed behind Nazi lines, residents in the besieged cities vowed to resist to the last, and the Red Army waged a heroic champion to turn back the Nazi tide. The better organized Soviet economy was seriously outproducing the the Nazi economy by the war’s end, the overwhelming advantage of numbers was on the Soviet side, and- last but not least- the infamous Russian winter proved as much a bane to the Nazi would-be conquers as it had to Napoleon over a hundred years prior. Despite British and American reluctance to launch a second front by invading Nazi-occupied Western Europe, the victory of the Red Army in these conditions was a forgone conclusion.

Moscow and Leningrad held out against the Nazis, the five month battle of Stalingrad proved a costly defeat for the Nazis, and victory in the battle of Kursk shifted the momentum of the war in the Red Army’s favor. The Soviet advance swept across Eastern Europe and into Berlin, breaking the Nazi regime and bring an end to the war in Europe. Then, three months after the fall of the Nazi regime (as agreed at Yalta), the Red Army marched against the Japanese Empire.  This offensive led to rapid Soviet victory over the prestigious Japanese Kwantung Army and was perhaps the major factor in forcing Japan to surrender.


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