Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Barbarossa legacy

Today is the 70th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa - the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. One of the defining moments of the 20th century it deserves to be marked by more than just the Stalinists apologists I have seen online so far. 

In Eastern Europe it marks the start of  suffering  on a scale and level of barbarity that eclipses anything seen in the West.  But in this country the event went a long way to re-orientating  the political compass for generations - for society as a whole and spcifically for the Left. 

To mobilise the war effort Churchill and the ruling class had to evoke the idea of a 'Peoples' War' - a dangerous game for them to play as would be seen in the 1945 Labour  landslide. But in the dark days of 1941 when Britain was isolated, Hitler's attack on the USSR was a gift to rallying the working class to the cause. The cynical creation of  the character of 'Uncle Joe' Stalin as the lovable popular patriarch of Russian workers, and propaganda campaigns the stressed solidarity with beleaguered Soviet fellow-workers, were all part of a drive to increase industrial production in the cause of 'arms for Russia'. This was notoriously  assisted by the British Communist Party who had little difficulty in doing an about-face from their previous defence of the Nazi-Soviet pact and denunciation of the war effort as an 'imperialist war'.

Leaving aside the jesuitical isomersaults required of the CP to justify this - the significance of popular support for Russia was felt by a much wider layer than those sections of the industrial working class influenced by the Stalinists. If many on the Left had come to the conclusion in the 1930's that Communism and the USSR were the only bulwarks against fascism - Hitler's war against the USSR spread this thinking to a much wider audience. - From the radicalised youth of the ruling class such as the Cambridge spies  who  used their privileged positions within the establishment to assist Stalin's war effort - to a  very much wider layer of workers for whom the propaganda rubbed off: Ordinary 'non-political' people who came to see the USSR as a glimpse of a possible alternative - and better - way of organising society. Of course this was to become steadily eroded by the Cold War and the spreading realisation of the realities of Stalinism, but it was not to be altogether extinguished until the 1990's.

I was born almost 25 years after these events - but still the impact of  the post 1941 era has in a sense defined my own political identity, and many others on the Left:  The label of 'Trotskyist' is still worn in the early 21st Century, but essentially it takes its definition and reference from that time. And as I have said before, whilst it is important to understand this history - and even to  acknowledge the pull that it has a generation of CP-ers - I am not sure that it is useful to allow these things to continue to define us. I think of my daughters who now study this period as school-history.  Questioning and radicalised though they may be, the controversies - and resulting labels - are about as relevant to them as theologians discussing the schisms of the early church. Time for the Left to move on.

No comments: