There is an ongoing myth that to be anti-fascist, one ought to appreciate the Soviet Union and communism. Indeed, many anti-fascists groups today support this idea and consider themselves to be communists. News media continue to push a narrative that the communist Soviet Union was a major, if not sole, factor in defeating fascist Nazi Germany in World War II. But the actual historical relationship between fascism and communism is more complicated than appearing to be on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum.
On September 1, 1939, the Second Republic of Poland, a nation on the verge of celebrating 21 years of independence, was invaded by Nazi Germany. The German war machine was well prepared and equipped to take the small nation. As Poland’s air force and forward positions were wiped out by the Germans’ surprise assault, the Poles could only wage a defensive war and hope its allies would come to its aid.
Once France, Great Britain, and its Commonwealth all declared war on Germany, the Poles hoped Germany would now have to fight a two-front war. For 17 days, the Polish fighters lost ground, but their resolve did not break. Polish military leaders decided to not give an inch to the Germans, and hoped that Poland’s capital, Warsaw, could be defended. Reserves were called to the frontlines in a last ditch defensive effort.
This plan evaporated on September 17, as 500,000 Red Army soldiers of the Soviet Union moved into Poland from the undefended East. These soldiers didn’t intend to reinforce the Poles but instead to take their nation. Once the Soviets joined the war on the side of Nazi Germany, Poland’s defense broke. The Polish government then fled to Romania and became a government-in-exile first in Paris, then in London.
We Can’t Forget The Soviet Union’s Oppression
The Soviet Union’s actions should not be forgotten. This takeover resulted from a signed agreement between Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; it was known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The official statement was a non-aggressive pact between the two countries agreeing to not attack one another, but the secret meetings were much more devious.
The two nations agreed that Poland would be split in two, and the two agreed on the spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. Germany would have influence in Hungary and Romania, while the Soviets would gain Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and parts of Romania. The agreement also had a trade deal: Germany would supply the Soviet Union with manufactured goods (weapons), while the Soviets would provide Germany with food and raw materials (such as oil).
While German troops took Norway and Denmark, the Soviet Union sent troops into Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Finland. When Nazi Germany launched its massive offensive in the West against France, Great Britain, and the Low Countries, the Soviet Union provided German troops with food. When the Nazi panzers began to move into North Africa, defeating British troops, and as the German Air Force bombed British cities like London, the Soviet Union provided oil to keep the Nazi war machine advancing.
The Soviets Let Nazis Slaughter The Poles
All of this would be bad enough, but even in late 1940, Ribbentrop and Molotov were still in negotiations with one another. This time it was to make the Soviet Union the fourth main Axis partner, a formal agreement which would put the Soviet Union in alliance with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. The final terms of which country would control what in Eastern Europe could not be agreed on, and the pact with Nazi Germany was broken when Hitler decided to invade the Soviet Union.
The people of the Soviet Union paid a very high price for their leadership cooperating with Nazis for so long. It is estimated that the Soviet Union suffered over 25 million casualties during the war. While the Soviet Union did bear the brunt of the German military over the remaining years of the war, Joseph Stalin would still use Nazi Germany to advance his own goals.
Back in occupied Poland, in 1944, the Warsaw Uprising occurred: Polish freedom fighters took to the streets to finally get the German occupiers out of the Polish capital. The fight was long. Eventually, the Nazis gained the upper hand and eliminated all the partisans. While fighting ensued in the city of Warsaw, Soviet tanks and troops were on the outskirts of the city—even as those who valued freedom and democracy were wiped away by the Nazis. It is not noted if the Soviets halted on purpose, or just ran out of supplies. But what is known is that Stalin refused to give the Allies air bases to drop supplies into the city to support the Poles.
We Have To Correct The Soviet Union’s Legacy
After the war, the Soviet Union never returned the land it took from Poland in 1939, or Finland in 1940. And while in the West, borders and nations returned back to their pre-war settings, the Soviet Union moved numerous ethnic groups in the region and built Communist puppet governments in Eastern Europe. While the Soviet Union suffered the largest amounts of casualties in the war, the highest percentage of people lost for a nation is Poland. Throughout the entire war, Poland would lose an estimated 20 percent of the total population. A large portion of this came from Nazi Germany’s war atrocities and ethnic cleansing, but the Soviet Union also contributed to those numbers.
In 1940, the Soviets killed 22,000 Polish officers who were captured the previous year in what would become known as the Katyn Massacre. The Soviet Union denied this massacre, as they denied many of their other atrocities during the war. They finally acknowledged it in 1990. Also in 1990, when Poland was finally a democracy, the Polish government—which had been in exile since its invasion and occupation by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939—could finally return home.
The time between 1939 and 1941 has largely been forgotten by many on the left, who only see the Soviet Union as the nation that beat Nazi Germany in World War II. But the legacy of the Soviet Union—and correspondingly, Communism—should be corrected. The Soviets were Nazi collaborators who saw Nazi Germany as a tool to expand their power and influence, as well as to destroy the West. Without Soviet support in the early years of the war, Germany would not have gotten so powerful. It is estimated that 70 percent of German imports, during 1940, came from the Soviet Union.
The Hammer and Sickle and the Swastika
The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany desired the same goals: to defeat democracies, independent Republics, and individual freedom throughout Europe (and the world). Communism and Nazism are just different sides to the same totalitarian coin. When the war ended in 1945, the agreement of open elections after the war never happened, as Soviet troops remained to occupy the nations and the peoples who helped defeat Nazism. The legacy of the Soviet Union and its occupation of Eastern Europe can still be seen today: every single nation that was part of the Warsaw Pact is now a member of NATO, its apparent enemy for 40 years. During its reign over Eastern Europe, the Soviets suppressed any protests and movements for freedom in those countries.
Communism stood side by side with Nazism, and marched with it across Europe. As Friedrich Hayek in his book, “Road to Serfdom,” states: “[t]o both [Nazis and Communists], the real enemy, the man with whom they had nothing in common, was the liberal of the old type.”
If the left wants to remove offensive objects from history, then perhaps they should start by acknowledging that the hammer and sickle is just as hateful and oppressive as the swastika.