The Second World War was not, as is popularly thought, a people’s war or a war fought by democracy against fascism. The Allies were not essentially concerned as to whether the Axis was fascist or not. However the Allies were concerned about the threatening character of the capitalist Axis to their economic and commercial interests. As with the First World War the Second World War was an inter-imperialist conflict. It was a war fought by Britain, France and the USA against a coalition of powers led by German and Japanese imperialism.Britain and other Western powers fought the Axis ultimately in the interests of US imperialism. Washington was prepared to lend and lease the necessary resources to its Allies in order to defeat German imperialism. America did not wish to see German domination over Europe growing as a rival to it. As A.J.P. Taylor wrote in his work The Struggle for Mastery in Europe:
“No one state has ever been strong enough to eat up all the rest; and the mutual jealousy of the Great Powers had preserved even the small states, which could not have preserved themselves. The relation of the Great Powers have determined the history of Europe.”
According to AJP Taylor:
“the balance of power survived Napoleon’s challenge to it almost unscathed. The French bid ended in 1870. A new balance followed; and only after thirty years of peace did it begin to appear that Germany had stepped into France’s place, as the potential conqueror of Europe. The First World War was, on the part of Germany’s enemies a war to restore or preserve the balance of power; but, though, Germany was defeated the European balance was not restored. If the war had been confined to Europe Germany would have won; she was defeated only by the entry into the war of the United States.”
This quasi proxy strategy of Washington’s meant that World War Two was fought by US imperialism at a fire sale price. It ensured that, where possible, European soldiers died instead of American ones. Washington’s strategy largely resembled 19th century Britain’s: ensuring that no single European power dominated Europe. For hegemony over Europe by a single European power meant its rivalry and even its mastery of the world. This is why Washington resolutely sought an enduring power balance within Europe. By a balance of power obtaining between the Soviet Union and the West European capitalist powers no one European power could exclusively dominate Europe and thereby pose a global threat to US capitalism. Through the stratagem of the Cold War Washington hoped to isolate the Soviet Union from Western Europe thereby preventing either European side from gaining hegemony. Western Europe hoped to piggy back its way to prosperity on the back of America prosperity by means of the institutional form of the European Union. This delicate and anomalous power balance has tenuously provided sustained relative post-war stability. The EU has been the institutional form too by which the West could facilitate the economic development of capitalist Germany while institutionally constraining it in such a way that it never posed a mortal threat to the West. We see then that the war against Fascism had little to do with the political character of the Axis powers. However since the collapse of the Soviet Union we have been in transition to a new epoch in the life of world capitalism. The global financial events of 2008 have established this new epoch.
However the extension of Stalinist Russian into the heart of Europe complicated things. Consequently Washington sought through the strategy of the Cold War to isolate and weaken the Soviet Union as a European and global player. In this way it has been able to maintain an anomalous balance of power in Europe. These were the conditions that helped America maintain itself as the leading world power.
The European Union was the strategic form by which Washington hoped to maintain control over Germany while allowing it room to commercially expand without posing as a threatening force strangling Washington and indeed France and British interests. Western Europe, as the EU, hoped to piggy back its way to prosperity and power on American interests. This state of affairs has been largely successful and has prevented the break out of serious inter-imperialist war for the last sixty or more years –some achievement for capitalism it has to be said.
Churchill’s calculations were based on the exclusively strategic interests of British Imperialism and the need to defend the British Empire. In addition he had not given up hope that Russia and Germany would mutually exhaust themselves thereby creating a stalemate in the East. This outcome would relatively strengthen Britain’s hand. The interests of US imperialism and British imperialism were contradictory in this respect. Washington, while formally the ally of London, was all the time aiming to exploit the war to weaken the position of Britain in the world and particularly to break its grip on India and Africa. At the same time it sought to halt the advance of the Red Army and gain control over a weakened Europe. This explains US haste to open the second front in Europe and Britain’s lack of enthusiasm for it. Britain’s delaying tactics may have prolonged the war. However the relentless Soviet advance obliged Churchill to reconsider his strategy.
Britain would probably have preferred a weakened, yet relatively strong, Germany as a counter weight to the Soviet empire. The divisions between London and Washington arose because the interests of British and US imperialism were different and even antagonistic. American imperialism did not want Hitler to succeed because that would have created a powerful rival to the USA in Europe. On the other hand it was US imperialism’s interests to weaken Britain and its empire. Its aim was to replace Britain as the leading power in the world after the defeat of Germany and Japan. The decision to open a second front in Italy was dictated mainly by the fear that following the overthrow of Mussolini in 1943 the Italian Communists would take power. While Churchill’s attention was fixed on the Mediterrean it became clear to the Americans that the USSR was winning the war on the eastern front and that if nothing was done the Red Army would just roll through Europe. This is why Roosevelt pressed for the opening of a second front in France while Churchill argued for delay. This led to friction between London and Washington. The second front had been mooted for 1942. The Mediterrean operations were a sideshow compared to the colossal battles on the eastern front.
In addition the Americans had their own reasons for wanting to satisfy the demands of the USSR to open the second front in Europe. They were involved in a bloody war with Japan in the Pacific where their troops had to conquer heavily defended islands, one by one. They realised that to take on the powerful land armies of Japan on the Asian mainland would be a formidable task in the absence of the Red Army also launching an offensive against the Japanese in China after the German army has been defeated. This was a weighty reason for Roosevelt to agree to Russia’s demand to launch Overlord and overrule the objection of the British.
The Soviet Union’s role in the war was basically one of self-defence against imperialism. Stalin was prepared to engage in any degree of opportunism to safeguard the Soviet State. This is why he could zig zag in his relations with the two imperialist camps. Initially his preference was for a grand alliance with the democratic imperialist powers. However they did not appear to be too interested in such an arrangement. Given that Germany, Japan and Italy had formed an Anti-Comintern Pact and that Japanese forces had attacked Soviet forces he agreed to a non-aggression treaty with Hitler. The USSR and Germany was to divide up Eastern Europe among themselves including Poland. Germany wanted to invade Poland with the support of the USSR.
Internationally this meant that Stalin shifted the policy of the Comintern from involvement in a crusade against fascism to one involving the absence of active support for any imperialist powers involved in future conflict whether they are members of the Allies or Axis. This was an about turn that many elements within the Comintern found difficult to accept. The shift from calling for an anti-fascist front to declaring the conflict as inter-imperialist constituted a staggering turn around. Communist parties were not to take sides. These parties were to focus on the class struggle against the bosses. Neither was a revolutionary workers’ government to be seen to be a possibility. Consequently a popular front government included a government of Stalinists and reformists etc. Indigenous communist parties were not to seize power but join in popular front governments.
But in June 1941 Hitler broke his agreement with Stalin invading the Soviet Union. Consequently a Grand Alliance was not formed consisting of the USA, Britain and the USSR. The Comintern instructed its parties to support every anti-Nazi government and join every anti-Nazi resistance movement. Workers were no longer to go out on strike in countries supportive of the Grand Alliance. Instead they were actively to support Allied governments. As a result of this about face the communist parties around the world increased their popularity.
The point is that that World War Two was an imperialist war. It had nothing to do with democracy. Britain, France and even the USA has colonised and repressed peoples around the world. There was no democracy at work here. Parts of the world were direct undemocratic colonies of Britain and France. A war for democracy against fascism could not be fought by Empires that maintained such colonies.
The principled position of revolutionary communism concerning World War Two is that it was an inter-imperialist conflict involving the unavoidable military engagement of Stalinist Russia in the interests of protecting from destruction by imperialism. Consequently communists were left with no option but to call for the mounting of a popular principled campaign against the war as a means of defeating capitalism thereby replacing it with communism.