By: Abhishek Banerjee for Firstpost
The Communists led by the erstwhile Soviet Union collaborated with Hitler, and shared in his victories, until Hitler decided much later to betray them
For decades now, one of the most powerful tactics used by Left liberals has been their effort to connect the history of Hindu nationalism in India to Nazism in Europe. Left-wing thinkers have harped on this theme endlessly in their articles, books and speeches. With the BJP in power, the Left has been using this to shape public opinion around the world on what Hindu nationalism means in India. But this narrative deserves to be challenged seriously, by bringing out the facts of history.
Because this narrative is not just wrong. It is also ironic, considering who usually makes these charges. Instead of drawing spurious connections between Hindu nationalists and Nazis, we need to know that it is actually the Left, indeed the communists, who were military allies of Hitler. The communists collaborated with Hitler and shared in his victories until Hitler decided much later that he would betray them.
Two things are surprising here. First, the extent to which the collaboration between Nazis and communists has shaped our modern world. The second is how cleverly Leftist historians have kept us from talking about what is hidden in plain sight.
The most widely accepted date for the beginning of World War II is 1 September 1939, when German troops invaded the western frontier of Poland. It is not equally well known that this was part of an arrangement between Hitler’s Germany and the communists in the Soviet Union. On 17 September, the Red Army invaded the eastern frontier of Poland. Having destroyed Polish resistance in a coordinated two-front attack, the victors met up for celebrations and a Nazi-Soviet joint parade in the city of Brest-Litovsk. Western Poland was then annexed by Nazi Germany, while the Soviets took the east. In fact, the communist share was slightly bigger.
The pact between Nazis and communists
We need some background here. With both Nazis and communists looking to expand in Europe in 1939, the two sides decided to come to an understanding. The pact was signed by Hitler’s foreign minister Ribbentrop and Stalin’s foreign minister Molotov at a meeting in Moscow on 23 August. The protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact split Europe into two spheres of influence. Now that his border with the Soviets in eastern and central Europe was secure, Hitler was free to expand the Nazi empire into the west.
In their turn, the Soviets would invade six countries: Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. The brutality of the Soviet occupations deserves mention, in particular the Katyn forest massacre, when 22,000 Polish citizens were executed by the Red Army and buried in mass graves.
This was in 1939-40, during which time the Nazis occupied most of Western Europe, including France and began to threaten Britain. In this period, the friendship between the Nazis and the Soviets was deepened by a number of agreements on economic cooperation. While the more industrialised Germany exported military technology and hardware to the Soviets, the largely agrarian USSR kept Nazi Germany supplied with food, oil and raw materials. When German tanks rolled into France, they were using fuel from the USSR. Their troops ate bread supplied by the Soviets.
Communists courted Adolf Hitler
The events in the run-up to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939 are quite revealing. By mid-1939, it became clear to Stalin that he would have to remove irritants that stood in the way of a deal with Hitler. One of these was the fact that the Soviet foreign minister Litvinov was Jewish and therefore vilified in the Nazi press. Then, in a sudden move on 3 May, Stalin’s police surrounded the foreign ministry in Moscow. Litvinov was expelled, to be replaced by Molotov. As Molotov recalled in later years, Stalin’s express order was to purge the ministry of Jews. The path was now clear for the Nazis and the communists to come together.
Communists worldwide mobilised to help Nazis
When war broke out, communist parties in Western Europe, especially in France and Britain, had to get creative. How could they justify to their own people that they should welcome an invading enemy? This was a war between imperialists, the communists said. And therefore, the working classes had to be “anti-war”. In other words, they would have to undermine the efforts of their own countries to resist the Nazi aggressor.
Accordingly, communist parties in France and Britain organised strikes in weapons factories and even sabotages. When the communist party in Britain appeared unhappy at being called on to betray their own people, Stalin promptly replaced its leaders. It should be noted that all communist parties at the time functioned under orders of the Communist International or Comintern, based in the USSR and headed by Stalin.
Of course, once a country was successfully occupied by the Nazis, the stance of the communist party promptly changed from “anti-war” to “neutral”. This was especially true in France. There, the communist party petitioned Nazi officials to allow publication of the communist party mouthpiece L’Humanité, which would adopt a neutral stance on the occupation and call on the French people not to resist Nazism.
Communists also signed up with Japan
If there is still doubt about which side the communists expected to be on in World War II, it was removed by Stalin’s actions in April 1941. At this time, the USSR signed a pact with Japan, which guaranteed no war between the nations for four years. This pact did for Imperial Japan what the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 did for Nazi Germany. With their Asian side secure, the Japanese were free to turn to the Pacific and attack the United States at Pearl Harbour. The USSR was now firmly in the Axis camp, with Japan and Germany. It is indeed remarkable how steadfastly Stalin kept his word to Japan, even after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. All the way till 1945, the Soviets would not fight Japan, nor give the appearance of helping anyone else who was fighting Japan.
Hitler broke the alliance, not the Communists
On 22 June 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, or the invasion of the Soviet Union. The communists were taken by surprise. They had sent 5,000 tons of rubber to the Germans in just the preceding month. Now Nazi troops were rolling into the USSR on those tires. The Communists did not break the alliance, Hitler did.
Overnight, the communist party line on Nazism changed. The formerly “imperialist war” was now suddenly a “people’s war”. And communist parties across the world were supposed to help out. The communists rose up not for the sake of their own countries, but for the sake of the Soviet Union.
And that is how the Soviet Union came to be on the winning side in World War II. And no, the communists never returned eastern Poland which they had captured as part of their arrangement with the Nazis in 1939. They permanently annexed it to the Soviet Union. Poland was compensated for the loss of territory in the east by taking territory from Germany in the west. And then Stalin also imposed a communist dictatorship on the whole of new Poland. And on whatever remained of eastern Germany.
That is our modern world, at least until the end of the Cold War, shaped by the alliance between communism and Nazism.
What does all this have to do with Communists in India? It should be repeated that all Communists everywhere at the time answered only to Stalin’s Comintern and not to their respective countries. In fact, the Communist Party of India was also formed as a division of the Communist International at Tashkent in 1920.
All this should be to the eternal shame of Communists everywhere, including Indian communists. But for some reason, it never comes up. We should ask our Left-leaning historians why, as well as our media and our civil society.