Fascism defeated 68 years ago; will it return?

On May 8 and 9, 1945, the world celebrated the end of the Second World War. Since then, VE (Victory in Europe) Day has been celebrated by scores of countries, in Russia on May 9 and in Western Europe on May 8.

On May 7, Germany signed surrender documents. Italy had already switched sides in the war in 1943. Italy and Germany’s minor allies had long since gone under. Only Japan fought on, finally surrendering on September 2, 1945.

The May 7 surrender documented was signed in Berlin by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg and Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff for Germany, Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov for the USSR, Air Chief Marshal William Tedder for the British, General Carl Spaatz for the United States, and General Jean de Lattre de Tasigny for France.

Of the western allied generals signing, all were major figures with strong military records, but their battlefield achievements were dwarfed by those of Marshal Zhukov and of the Soviet armed forces in general. All serious historians today credit the soldiers, sailors and pilots of the U.S.S.R., as well as its civilian population, of having bourn the greatest suffering and struck the greatest blows by far in the titanic struggle that ended on that day.

Almost as soon as the war was over, however, the ruling classes of the capitalist countries, especially the United States, began a campaign to falsify the history of those events and diminish the role of the Soviet fighters. At the same time, even while various European countries, including both parts of Germany, began “denazification programs”, the United States quietly allowed numerous fascists from Germany and its former allies to slip into this country, with some even being brought into highly sensitive scientific and military operations now aimed at our former ally, the U.S.S.R.

With the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, a secretive rapprochement between Western military and political officials and European fascism took another form, namely the NATO “stay behind” organizations whose ostensible purpose was to organize resistance against an imaginary future Soviet invasion of Western Europe. These links between NATO structures and local fascists caused serious problems in Italy and elsewhere, and were deeply involved in the overthrow of the government of Greece and the military dictatorship which ruled that country from 1967 to 1974. It is not coincidental that Greece had been a military dictatorship going into World War II and had never undergone thorough “denazification” afterward, nor that the U.K. and the United States had aided a process whereby former collaborators of the Germans were integrated into the government, police and military structures involved in suppressing the Greek communists after World War II.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialism in 1987-1991, fascism began to make a comeback in all of Europe. In many cases, fascists posed as the victims of “communist persecution” in order to gain public sympathy and to retrieve confiscated property.

Then came the fiscal and economic crisis of 2008 and the recession and hard times that have followed. In country after country, old or new fascist groups have tried to take advantage of the economic distress, social disruption and ideological

In several European countries, the political parties that have alternated in power in recent decades -conservatives and social democrats – have not been able to come up with solutions either to the crisis or, especially, to the demands for austerity that are being imposed by international monopoly capital through the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank. So conservative governments in power have been thrown out by the voters and replaced by social democratic ones, who have in turn failed to deal creatively with the crisis and have been tossed out by the voters and replaced by the conservatives.

In this situation, the communist parties and others on the left have made some electoral and other advances by holding fast to an anti-austerity line which calls for the conditions created by the capitalists to be resolved at the expense of capital and not of labor. However, these advances are in most cases not quantitatively sufficient to hold a promise of state power any time soon.

So the danger is obvious, that resurgent fascism may rush into this opening with bogus remedies involving the scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, Jews, other ethnic or national minorities. They also take advantage of widespread disillusionment with the European Union and the Euro currency, but present no solutions other than inflated rhetoric and thuggish attacks on minorities and immigrants.

This is happening in France with Marine LePen’s National Front, in Hungary with Jobbik, in Greece with Golden Dawn, in Spain with España2000, in Italy with the Northern League, in Ukraine with Svoboda, in Belgium with Vlaams Belang, and many others. In some cases, the fascist history behind these movements is toned down for public consumption but in others, it is shouted from the rooftops, as in Latvia and Estonia.

These fascist movements are not quite ready to grab state power, if only because the “respectable” conservative capitalist parties have shown themselves adept at coopting the anti-immigrant and jingoistic-nationalist rhetoric and policies of the fascists. But the move to the right of these so called “responsible” bourgeois politicians feeds the fascist beast also.

What applies to Europe goes double for the United States. Since we were on the winning side in World War II, we never had a “denazification” program here. But if we had, we would have been forced to recognize that both international and native fascist tendencies have struck deep roots in our country also. Racism, anti-immigrant agitation, gay-bashing and such like are the functional equivalents in the United States of the fascist agitation in Europe.

Like the Europeans, we must maintain ourselves vigilant and mobilized so that what was gained in 1945 is not lost to us today.

Photo: An image demonstrating an opposition to Nazism upon the side of a building in Oslo,  Norway.   Flickr (CC)


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.