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Italian partisans

This by British Marxist writer Jonathan White has been requested by readers all over the globe.

While Labour party members were gearing up for their conference this year, they were probably unaware that their representatives in the European Parliament were quietly participating in an extraordinary exercise in the falsification of history. On 18 September, the Parliament voted by 535 votes to 66 to support a resolution with the seemingly innocuous title, ‘On the Importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe’ (2019/2819 (RSP)). The resolution was supported by the Socialist group (S&D). All of Labour’s MEP’s voted for the motion, with the exception of one, who did not vote. Only the European United Left/Nordic Green Left voted against it as a bloc.

So, what did Labour’s MEPs vote for? The motion, largely sponsored by the conservative group, attempted to wholly rewrite the history of the Second World War. In the resolution as adopted, complete equivalence is drawn between Communism and Nazism. Both were equally to blame for the Second World War. The Second World War started, apparently, because of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the dual invasion of Poland. It was the dismemberment of free and independent Poland by the ‘Totalitarians’ that started the war. 

It’s difficult to know where to start with this. As a vision of European history, it relies on a truly staggering ability to will into oblivion a mass of unpalatable historical matter. Perhaps most shockingly, the resolution completely airbrushes European Fascism. The term Fascism doesn’t even appear in the text. Instead, there is only a reference to ‘Nazism’. Nazism and the Holocaust appear almost like an embarrassing accident suffered by the German people, almost like the old claim that the British acquired their empire in a fit of absent mindedness. Yet Nazism was one form of a wider fascism in whose name were ruled the people of Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Vichy France and Hungary. Indeed, in 1939 Poland was itself a dictatorship with a deeply institutionalised antisemitism. Yet the rise of Fascist parties to power, the role of Fascist states in the Spanish Civil War, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and so on are entirely erased from history.

Greek partisan fighters

The Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, far from being the cause of the war, was a tactical last resort by the Soviet Union, which had been engaged in serious diplomatic efforts to convince Britain and France to form an anti-Nazi alliance. As late as 15 August 1939, one week before the non-aggression pact was signed, the Soviets had offered to send a million men to the German border. Britain and France rejected the offer. Britain meanwhile had signed a series of treaties and agreements with Nazi Germany in 1937 and 1938 as sections of the establishment attempted to appease German fascism and steer it toward an attack on the USSR.

In its quest to equate Nazism and Communism, the resolution also claims that both carried out ‘mass murders, genocide and deportations and caused a loss of life and freedom in the 20th century on a scale unseen in human history’. But what happened in the Soviet Union was qualitatively different from the process whereby, under German occupation, Jews were rounded up and taken to extermination camps. And it was different from the German Army and the SS, educated by their Fascist leaders to treat Slavic people as subhuman, systematically murdering their way across the former Soviet states, killing 26 million people and seeking to build a new world order on the basis of slave labour. You don’t have to be a Communist to see the difference and if you can’t see it, I would suggest, it’s because you don’t want to look.  

Scandalously, the resolution, expunges the leading role of the Soviet Union and indeed of Communists in the defeat of Fascism. There simply would have been no liberation from Fascism in Europe without the Soviet Union. The invasion of mainland Europe would have been unthinkable had the bulk of the Wehrmacht not been bleeding to death in Russia. Fully three quarters of German losses were on the Eastern front and the role of the Red Army was reluctantly admitted even by that arch anti-Communist Winston Churchill. Ironically, it was probably due to the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact that the Soviet Union gained precious time for military and industrial reorganisation without which it might not have survived. 

Communists formed the backbone of the partisan and resistance movements across Europe, not least in France. Countless numbers of them paid with their lives for their role in the struggle against Fascism. Yet according to the EU Parliament resolution, their sacrifices were as nothing. Europe appears to have spontaneously liberated itself from ‘Nazism’ in 1945.  

This resolution is the latest in a succession of similar statements and resolutions issuing from various EU bodies. Yet it’s more ambitious and therefore more dangerous than previous versions. In addition to whitewashing history, the resolution condones the drive to political repression of left forces across Europe. The resolution takes aim at ‘the use of symbols of totalitarian regimes in the public sphere’, noting with approval that some Member States have banned the use of both Nazi (not fascist) and Communist symbols and warning that the continued existence of monuments and memorials ‘paves the way for distortion of historical facts’ and the ‘propagation of the totalitarian political symbols.’ The resolution therefore actively condones not only the erasure of public memory but the present-day repression of Communist Parties. In many countries, Communist Parties or their allies are the only forces fighting austerity and the rise of fascist parties. Yet in Poland and Ukraine, distribution of communist materials now carries a custodial sentence. 

Finally, the resolution also justifies an increasingly bellicose imperialism aimed firmly at Russia. Clause 13 declares that the EU has a duty to promote and safeguard democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, not only within but also outside the European Union’. Non-member states are invited to join the EU to enjoy its ‘reforms and socio-economic development’ and are informed that in the name of the duty to promote its values outside its borders, the EU and NATO reserve the right to intervene if necessary. The resolution ends with an instruction to send a copy to the Russian Duma.  

These moves to erase the past role of Fascism, repress Left parties and commit the EU and NATO to military expansion aimed at Russia are rooted in the recent accession of Eastern European states to the EU. The imposition of neoliberal and austerity economic policies has created massive unemployment and poverty, leading to the rise of fascist organisationsd their increasing electoral success, not least in the European Parliament.

The resolution passed by the EU Parliament is a shameful attempt to rewrite history and an expression of forces driving us toward a catastrophic future conflict. In 1945 much of Europe lay in ruins. Tens of millions of people were homeless and displaced having undergone years of slavery, exploitation, starvation, aerial bombing and industrial-scale murder. The war killed an estimated 36 million Europeans, the greatest part of them in the Soviet territories. Though it seems hard to imagine, there can be no doubt that a future war would be far, far worse. If it’s unsurprising that conservative MEPs voted for a resolution that traduces history in the name of a drive to cataclysmic war, it should be a matter of grave concern that Social Democratic MEPs were prepared to line up alongside them so willingly.  

 

2 thoughts on “The battle for Europe’s past and future 

  1. This is excellent but large chunks of it are repeats of what has gone before. Would you mind editing and then I will happily share this important work. Thanks.

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