When World War Two ended in Europe, 70 years ago on 8 May 1945, the USA came out of it with an industrial and economic dominance such as no power had ever had before.
The US bourgeoisie and its allies also faced a surge of working-class radicalism and national liberation struggles which would include, in 1946-7 in the USA, a larger strike wave than any known before.
In the end, the US-dominated world found enough elasticity, and enough fear of repetition of what had happened around the end of World War One, to respond by conceding parliamentary democracies, welfare states, and national independence in Western Europe, and bit-by-bit independence to colonies.
That did not happen automatically, uniformly, or smoothly. In Eastern Europe, it was only after the mid-1950s that Moscow domination became more flexible, and even then within narrow limits shown by the military crushing of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia’s reforms in 1968.
The revolutionary socialists of 1945 sought to mobilise and inspire the working class struggles, so that they could win a new society, not just patchy reforms, fated to fade when the capitalist classes launched a counter-offensive as they did with neo-liberalism from the late 1970s. This 14 May 1945 article by Albert Glotzer for Labor Action, the paper of the “heterodox” Trotskyists in the USA, shows how.
The revolutionary socialists were not able in time to transform the labour movements to throw off entrenched Stalinist and social democratic domination; and after about 1948 they became marginalised for decades. The outcome of future crises and times of flux will depend on what we, the revolutionary socialists of today, do now to prepare for them.
The war against Germany and Italy in Europe, and Japan in the Far East, was a conflict between rival powers. The Axis nations sought to change the world in their own favour.
By that they understood the necessity of wresting from the United Nations the economic power lodged in Great Britain, France and the United States. In simple words, what Germany, Italy and Japan sought were the colonies, markets, raw and materials of the Allies.
In order to win the support of their peoples to a war of expansion, i.e. imperialism, they spoke about freedom, the right to live, and “lebensraum”. They spoke of the need to defend culture, the living standards of their people, and civilization.
But they lied, like all rulers need to when they drag their peoples into war.
In defense of their own centuries-old, ill-gotten gains, the Allied rulers pretended that the war to defend their colonies and riches was a war for the four freedoms and the Atlantic Charter, a war against fascism, totalitarianism, militarism and the inhumanity of man towards man.
Yet even before the war ended in Europe, but at a time when the military fortunes of the Allies had changed to the point where victory was a certainty, the “noble ideas” announced by Roosevelt and Churchill, for which the people must give their lives, were completely forgotten.
Hitler had enslaved almost all of Europe on his road to the conquest of the world. He destroyed the independence of nations and enslaved their subject to their brutal rule. During the early years of the war, German fascism seemed all-powerful, incapable of destruction. But its immense power could not prevent the emergence of a new force on the Continent, the mighty movements in all countries fighting for their liberation from all tyrants, fighting for their national independence, fighting for free speech, free assembly, free press and free organisation, and their right to choose their own governments.
The victory of the Allies in Europe, however, did not bring these things to the people. In one country after another the same struggle goes on now against the “liberators”.
Poland, the country over whose independence the war began, is now a Russian puppet state enslaved in the same way as it was under German rule. Its people live under the terror regime of the GPU [secret police] and its Lublin offspring. Finland is completely under the domination of Russia. The Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have been incorporated into the Russian nation and the other United Nations have acquiesced in Stalin’s grab. All of Eastern Europe and the Balkans are under Russian influence.
Italy, after more than a year and a half of “liberation”, has still not achieved its national independence, nor the important freedoms promised it in the early days of the war. Belgium remains under the supervision of Great Britain. Greece is crushed under the jagged heel of British imperialism.
So far as the colonial world is concerned, Great Britain has already announced that it will brook no interference with her empire. Stalin’s interest in Asia has already been made abundantly clear in his intervention in Iran and in remarks subtly made about Russian interests in China and an outlet to the Indian Ocean.
In all of these conflicts, the United States pursues its own aims of preventing any single power from dominating Europe, while seeking to establish its economic weight over the entire world.
The war in Europe did establish the fact more clearly that behind the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy stood their respective industrial and financial ruling classes. These regimes were agents of capital, fighting a war to advance the economic interests of these capitalist classes.
Despite the economic power of a revived German imperialism, the fascist movement, made up of the scum of society, revealed itself to be composed of cowardly mercenaries who disintegrated when defeat became inevitable. Its collapse also revealed that the leaders were in truth merely the servants of their capitalist masters.
But German fascism had accomplished its task at home only too well. In the years preceding the war and especially during the war they succeeded in so effectively destroying the German labor movement that military collapse did not bring about a widespread national movement of revolt, such as had occurred in Italy with a weaker fascist regime. The same German masses which had suffered ten years of Nazi enslavement, now face a new enslavement under the Allied victors.
The defeat of the fascist powers, moreover, does not end the danger of fascism in the world. Fascism has been revealed as the agent of imperialism, as the servant of the capitalist rulers. So long as capitalism continues to exist, so long as imperialism is triumphant, the danger of fascism remains a constant threat to the world.
The most important fact to be borne in mind now is that the hope of the peoples for permanent peace is in vain so long as the present social order continues. The deliberations at the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations aimed at the establishment of a new world organisation to maintain the peace already demonstrate that the new world struggle for power referred to above is inescapable.
The struggle for peace is the struggle of the peoples for a new life, for a new social system, for a socialist world of peace, freedorn, and plenty for all.
The consequences of the European peace for America are already obvious in the widespread cutbacks and cancellation of war contracts. This means the growth of unemployment for millions of American workers.
The war economy which was carried through on the backs of American labor will now be sharply curtailed. But the workers who have toiled throughout the war years to break all records in production and productivity under frozen wages, a no-strike pledge and a deterioration of their working conditions and standard of living, face the coming period with the threat of unemployment under conditions where they will be unable to meet it.
The government in Washington which has so faithfully served the interests of American monopoly capitalism, guaranteed its profits and enriched it beyond all expectations, has seen to it that industry will be well rewarded for its “contributions” to the war by refunds running into hundreds of millions of dollars. This will swell even more the already swollen profits of America's economic rulers. Yet nothing has been done by this same government for labor to help it meet the post-war situation such as has been created by the end of the war in Europe.
The present situation dictates to labour to organise its independent forces in a struggle for its rights. It means a fight to place the burdens of reconversion upon the shoulders of industry which can more than afford it and take it off the overburdened shoulders of labour.
This is only part of the program for labour. To carry on this fight labour must organise itself now, not on the economic field, but on the political as well, by building a party of its own to fight for this programme.
Labor Action, 14 May 1945 (abridged)