Eighty years since the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union
Red Army soldiers preparing for the onslaught of the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad

In the early hours of June 22, 1941, over 3 million troops of the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union, launching the bloodiest conflict in the history of humanity. By the end of the war in May 1945, at least 27 million Soviet citizens would be dead, among them 1.5 million Soviet Jews and over 3 million Soviet prisoners of war.

Many of the biggest battles of the Second World War were fought on the Eastern Front and the Nazis committed many of their worst atrocities on Soviet soil, including the systematic starving out of major cities such as Leningrad. The invasion also marked a turning point in the anti-Jewish policies of the Nazis: It was in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union that the Nazis began genocidal massacres of the Jewish population. Then, in January 1942, at the Wannsee Conference, the Nazi leadership decided on the systematic annihilation of Europe's Jewish population in death camps.

From the beginning of the rise of the Nazi movement in the 1920s, Hitler always stressed that its primary goal was the “complete destruction of Marxism,” inside Germany and across Europe. German imperialism pursued two fundamental aims with the war: First, the annihilation of the workers state that had arisen out of the 1917 October revolution, the Nazis hoped, would deal a major blow to the international working class movement. Second, German imperialism needed the resources of the Soviet Union for its planned war against the US, its main imperialist rival.

The Nazi war of annihilation against the Soviet Union
Wehrmacht advances in 1941

This map depicts the German advances in 1941. Over 3 million troops invaded across the entire 1,800 kilometer long Soviet border in an operation code named “Operation Barbarossa”: By the end of the year, much of the European part of the Soviet Union was under Nazi occupation. Within the first year of the war, the Nazis and their local collaborators had murdered large parts of the Jewish population of what is now Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Major cities, including Leningrad, the city of the revolution of 1917, were under siege and their population was subject to a policy of systematic starvation. Soviet prisoners of war were starved to death in camps and on death marches at a rate of up to 300,000 per month in the fall of 1941 and into the spring of 1942, with 85 to 90 percent of all Soviet POWs killed. These policies were part of the Nazis' “Hunger Plan,” which aimed at the murder of 30 million Slavs, targeting above all the Soviet working class. It was not until late 1942, with the Battle of Stalingrad, that the tide in the war was turned and the Red Army was able to force the Wehrmacht to retreat.

The October Revolution, the Red Army and Stalinism

The rise of Stalinism in the USSR left the Soviet and international working class woefully ill prepared for the war. The disastrous policies of the Stalinized Communist International were critical in disarming the German working class in the face of the fascist threat, and enabled Hitler to come to power in 1933. In Spain, the Stalinists strangled the struggle of the proletariat, aiding the victory of Franco in the civil war.

Then, in the Great Terror of 1936—1938, Stalin murdered thousands of revolutionary socialists, including the entire leadership of the Red Army, which had been trained in the Russian Civil War by Leon Trotsky. In August 1939, Stalin, in the vain hope that he could thus guarantee “peace” with Nazi Germany, struck a pact with Hitler. The result was the Nazi invasion of Poland and beginning of World War II in September 1939.

Despite these crimes, the Soviet people rose up to defend the conquests of the October Revolution against the Nazi invaders. As Leon Trotsky had predicted in 1934, “should the Russian Revolution … be forced to direct its stream into the channel of war, it will unleash a terrific and overwhelming force.” In his last major work before his assassination by a Stalinist agent in 1940, In Defense of Marxism, Trotsky stressed that the Soviet Union remained a workers state, albeit a degenerated one, and had to be defended by the international proletariat against imperialism. However, the only way to truly defend the conquests of the October Revolution was through the overthrow of the bureaucracy in a political revolution by the Soviet working class, and the extension of the socialist revolution to the advanced imperialist countries.

The heroic struggle of the Red Army and the Soviet people was the decisive force in the defeat of Nazi Germany and helped inspire a wave of revolutionary struggles across Nazi-occupied Europe from 1943 onwards. It was only their betrayal at the hands of Stalinism that made possible the restabilization of capitalism after the fall of fascism and the end of the war.

More on Stalinism in the 1930s
The fight against historical falsification and fascism today

As part of the state-led promotion of far-right forces, recent years have seen systematic attempts to whitewash the crimes of fascism and rehabilitate Hitler. In Germany, professor Jörg Baberowski declared in 2014 that “Hitler wasn’t vicious”. He has also published books seeking to whitewash the crimes of the Wehrmacht against the Soviet Union. Since then, the neo-fascist Alternative für Deutschland has become part of parliament and far-right networks in the police, military and intelligence services have been discovered.

Since the far-right, imperialist-backed coup in Kiev in February 2014, US and German imperialism have openly worked with far-right forces that stand in the tradition of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators. In the US, former President Donald Trump is seeking to build a fascist movement. The temporary culmination of these efforts was the fascist coup attempt in Washington of January 6, 2021.

For many years, the International Committee of the Fourth International has waged a systematic struggle against these historical falsifications and the rise of fascist forces in Europe and internationally.

More on fascism
For an international class strategy against fascism