The Meaning of World War II—An Anarchist View
Saturday June 27, 2015 17:10 by Wayne Price drwdprice at aol dot com
The Imperialist War and the People's War
It is now 70 years since the end of the Second World War (1939—1945). It is often referred to as the “Good War” or even the “Last Good War.” The U.S. soldiers who fought it have been called the “Greatest Generation.” Since wars are best seen as evils unless proven otherwise, it is worth asking why World War II has such a good reputation, and whether it deserves it. After all, approximately 60 million people died around the world from that war.
The aftereffects of the Second World War are still being felt. While very popular, it was an inter-imperialist war, a struggle for world domination. But it also included popular struggles against fascism, for national independence, democratic rights, and the possibility of socialist revolution. At their best, anarchists and other revolutionary socialists looked for ways to be part of this working class and people’s war.” Analyzing the war, and thinking through its issues, may help to prepare revolutionary anarchists for future upheavals.
The Meaning of World War II—An Anarchist View
It is now 70 years since the end of the Second World War (1939—1945). It is often referred to as the “Good War” or even the “Last Good War.” The U.S. soldiers who fought it have been called the “Greatest Generation.” Since wars are best seen as evils unless proven otherwise, it is worth asking why World War II has such a good reputation, and whether it deserves it. After all, approximately 60 million people died around the world from that war.
I am going to argue that World War II was not the “Good War,” that it was a war between imperialist states fighting for global domination. But it was not “nothing but” an inter-imperialist war—not “simply” an inter-imperialist war. It had several aspects, some of which were worth supporting, and others which were not. Of course, the war is long over. But its effects are still being felt, and thinking it through may help us to deal with current issues.
“World War II was an immensely popular war. The entire American left, with the exception of minuscule groups of pacifists and Trotskyists, enthusiastically supported it.” (Wald 1987; 195) (The Communists were “antiwar” for the duration of the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939-1941. Once Germany attacked the Soviet Union, they became super-American-patriots—for the sake of the USSR.) In this it differed from the First World War. In World War I, there was a significant Left minority which opposed it as an inter-imperialist conflict. In the US, Eugene Debs went to prison for speaking against the war. Among Marxists internationally, there were Luxemburg and Leibknecht, Lenin and Trotsky, and others who laid the basis for the Communist International. Among anarchists, a few prominent anarchists agreed with Kropotkin in fervently supporting the Allies, but the big majority repudiated them and opposed the whole war.
Yet in the Second World War, opposition on the Left was tiny. It was down to the Trotskyists (a splinter of the Communists), libertarian Marxists (“ultra-leftists”), some anarchists, and radical pacifists. A few radicals might be said to have “supported the war” only in the sense of being in solidarity with the anti-fascist and democratic aspects of its mass struggles—while still opposing the capitalism and imperialism of both sides.
The most obvious reason for wide-spread support for the war, on the Left and far beyond, was the nature of the Axis powers: mainly Germany, Italy, and Japan. Unlike the First World War, there really was a qualitative difference between the two sides. As authoritarian as was the Kaiser’s Germany, it had an elected parliament, with a large Social Democratic party. In the Second World War, Hitler’s Germany, the main Axis power, was also a product of capitalism and the national state. But Nazism was the vilest, most anti-human, political system ever created by human beings. Authoritarian police states had repressed people but left them alone so long as they did not rebel against the government. Nazism was not merely authoritarian but totalitarian, trying to control every aspect of social and personal life under its twisted ideology, from churches to chess clubs. It smashed the unions and leftist parties, jailing and killing thousands of workers and millions of people who did not fit into its psychotic racial framework.
The German capitalist class had responded to the world economic crisis of the ‘thirties by junking its capitalist democracy and putting the Nazis in power. Its rulers sought to revive its capitalism through arms production and looting other countries. They dragooned large numbers of conquered workers for super-exploited slave labor in German factories. They occupied old, well-established, nations and reduced them to colonies. Besides exterminating millions of Jews, Romany (Gypsies), Gay men, physically disabled, and political opponents, the Nazi regime was planning` to exterminate tens of millions more in Eastern Europe. Its aim was not merely to expand its power but to replace Britain as the major world power, and to repopulate Eastern Europe with its own people.
Of the other two main Axis states, Mussolini’s Italy was the first to establish fascism. Being weaker than Germany, its capitalist establishment had been eager to save itself from economic crisis and working class discontent by bringing the Fascist Party to power. It sought to build a new empire in North Africa and the Middle East. Militarist, Imperial Japan had its own racist mythology by which it justified its brutal conquest of China and, if it could, most of Asia and the Pacific nations.
Being late-comers to the imperialist division of the world, these nations’ rulers had “no choice” (as imperialists) but to attack the existing order—making them the “aggressors.” So Japan attacked China and then the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. Italy attacked Ethiopia. Germany attacked Poland (setting off the war) and later attacked the Soviet Union (with whom it had a nonaggression pact). In the end, the Axis did not have the forces to defeat the British empire, the vast and populous Soviet Union, and the big and industrially productive U.S.A., while popular resistance grew in every occupied country. The victory of the Allies was highly probable from the start—but not inevitable (which is why they had to fight a war).
The Western Allies
A lot of support for the Allies was based on their (bourgeois) democracy. This was true of Great Britain, the U.S., and (before being conquered), many other European states. They had elected governments, (relative) civil freedoms, the right to form labor unions and workers’ parties, and so on. Whatever their limitations under capitalism, these democratic rights made a real difference in workers’ lives and were far different from what existed under fascism.
However, these were still capitalist countries. In every one, a small number of people, the capitalists (or bourgeoisie), without any democratic control over them, owned and controlled the economy. They dominated the government and every other aspect of society. This fit the Marxist and anarchist view that even the best bourgeois democracy was a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.”
These capitalist democracies were imperialist states. There was nothing subtle about this for Great Britain, with its British empire literally “owning” many nations. It covering a quarter of the world—an empire “where the sun never sets and the blood never dries.” In India, the British ruled more people than Nazi Germany conquered at its height. The French empire had ten percent of the world. The Dutch and Belgium empires were smaller yet, although the Dutch “owned” the large nation of Indonesia.
The U.S. only directly owned a few countries, such as Puerto Rico and—at the time—the Philippines. Hawaii, where Pearl Harbor was located, had been stolen from the Hawaiian government by US marines, in the interest of the plantation owners. But the U.S. used its domination of the international market to rule over Latin America, only occasionally using direct military intervention. Internally, the U.S. was rotten with white racism. Thousands of African-Americans lived under conditions of terror in the Jim Crow South and faced white race riots in the North. Loyal Japanese-Americans were put in concentration camps for the duration of the war. The U.S. military was rigidly segregated.
During the war, as the Nazis were gassing and burning millions of European Jews, the U.S. and Britain refused to open their borders to let the Jews escape from Europe. They also rejected suggestions to bomb the death camps such as Auschwitz or the railroads leading to them. The motivation for this callousness was due to anti-Semitic racism. Objectively, of course, the victory of the Allies ended the mass murder. Had the Axis won, many millions more would have been turned into ashes. But so long as the war continued, the Allies were junior partners with the Nazis in the Holocaust.
Despite calling themselves “democracies,” the Allied states ruled vast numbers of people in their colonies—people who had no more control over their governments than did the people of Germany or Italy. This made the championing of “freedom” and “democracy” sheer hypocrisy. Their real interests were to reconquer their empires and—in the case of the U.S.—to expand its empire, to take over from the weakened British and French empires.
The Soviet Union and China
Then there was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, ruled by the despot Stalin. Around the world, millions had illusions in the Soviet Union, believing that it was some sort of “socialism” (or “workers’ state” or the equivalent). It had the authority of the 1917 October Russian revolution, and the reality that private, stock-owning, capitalism had been replaced by a collectivized, nationalized, economy. Except for the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact, Soviet Russia had been an opponent of Nazi Germany. Anti-fascists wanted to think well of the Soviet Union, which caused them to shut their eyes to its reality.
The Soviet Union had a totalitarian state structure similar to Nazi Germany’s. It did not have share-holding, traditional, capitalists, but the bureaucracy ruled collectively, with absolute power. The workers and peasants had no democratic rights whatsoever and were ruthlessly exploited at work and oppressed outside of it. This was state capitalism (because the workers sold their ability to work to the bureaucrats as commodities and the economy was driven to accumulate). Yet, while the repression was ruthless (murdering millions), unlike the Nazis it did not kill vast numbers for no reason at all except for bizarre racial phantasies.
The Soviet Union was also an empire. The Russians ruled over a set of nations oppressed within the USSR (including Ukraine, Kazakstan, and others). It expanded its empire in the course of the war, coming to rule over almost all of Eastern Europe, up to a third of Germany. This de facto empire included Poland, which is ironic considering the war officially started because Germany attacked Poland.
To whip up support from its people, the Stalinist state dropped its pseudo-socialist rhetoric, which its people did not take seriously any more, and pushed nationalist Russian propaganda. Their soldiers were not told that they were liberating German workers from their Nazi rulers but that they were defending the Russian people from the German hordes. Partly as a result, the conquest of eastern Germany by the Soviet Union’s army was accompanied by a wave of mass rapes of German women.
Also on the Allied side was China. The Japanese military attacked and occupied China in an extremely brutal fashion, slaughtering civilians and committing mass rapes. China had been an oppressed nation, dominated, divided, and exploited by the European empires (with the U.S. demanding its right to also exploit China through its “Open Door” policy). Now it faced its worst national oppression, by the Japanese imperialists. China was officially led by Chiang Kai-Shek’s corrupt and inefficient Nationalist government, but this was in a semi-civil war with Mao’s Communist army. Some other Asian and Pacific nations, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, also developed anti-Japanese resistances.
Popular Opposition to the Allies
It is obvious why so many supported the Allies as the “good guys” in World War II. But, to a certain extent, to see the war as the “Good War” is a Euro-centric view. Millions of people throughout the world detested the European and US empires. They were glad to see these empires defeated. They were impressed by the defeat of the white imperialists by the Japanese—People of Color. If they did not support the Axis, they were at least neutral in the war.
Anti-Allied sentiment was widespread in the Arab North Africa and Middle East. Hating their British and French masters, many Arabs looked to Germany to save them (on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy must be my friend”—not always a reliable approach). There were similar feelings throughout much of colonized Africa and Asia. Led by Sukarno, the Indonesians welcomed the Japanese, hoping they would free them from the Dutch. Many Malaysian and Burmese were glad to see the Japanese defeat the British colonists.
In India, the Congress Party offered to support the British in the war, if only the British would grant India its independence. The British refused and Congress declared a program of “Quit India!” The British threw Gandhi and Nehru into prison. During the war years, there were massive riots, strikes, and the occupation by Indian workers of whole cities. Subhas Chandra Bose attempted to build up an Indian National Army, in alliance with the Japanese. By the end of the war it became obvious to most English politicians that they could not hold onto India.
In Europe, the Irish Republic remained officially neutral. It would not allow British warships to dock in its ports. Irish leaders knew that if the Nazis won, the Gestapo would be even worse than the Black-and-Tans. But it would have been impossible—even laughable—to tell the Irish population that the British were fighting for “freedom,” “democracy,” and the rights of oppressed nations!
In the Soviet Union, Ukrainians hated the Stalinist regime. The Communist state had waged a war against the Ukrainian peasants, taking their land and forcing them into state-run collective farms. Stalin had seized a large part of the wheat crop, for overseas’ sales, creating an artificial famine in which millions died. So when the German army arrived, many Ukrainians greeted them as liberators, offering them bread and salt. Some formed military forces to fight alongside the Germans. But the Germans did not want the Ukrainians, whom they regarded as subhumans, like the rest of the Eastern Europeans. The Nazis drove the Ukrainians, and other Soviet peoples, back to the side of the Russian empire.
In Latin America and the Carribean, there was a great deal of pro-Axis or neutral sentiment, in opposition to U.S. imperialism. There was an anti-draft movement in Puerto Rico (subject to the U.S. draft) as there was in Quebec.
Within the U.S., there was dissatisfaction with the war among African-Americans. For the U.S. to tell Black Americans that it was fighting for “freedom” and “democracy” was a hard sell. Polls showed that most African Americans did not believe the democratic claims of the U.S. government.(See Malcolm X , for his account of how he kept from being drafted by acting “crazy.”) Others supported the war, under the slogan “Double V for Victory!” which was raised for awhile by Black newspapers. It meant, victory against fascism abroad and against racism at home. Black discontent was also channeled into the “March on Washington Movement,” initiated by A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The MOWM protested segregation in the military and in the arms industry. It threatened the liberal Roosevelt administration with a large African-American demonstration. (See Price 2013)
My point is to not to deny the deep evil of the Axis states, but to reject the popular image that good people everywhere enthusiastically supported the Allies in its “Good War.” Reality was more complex than that.
The Imperialist War and the People’s War
So the Second World War cannot be seen as just a good, anti-fascist, war—not without denying the imperialism, oppression, racism, and exploitation of the Allied side. But it cannot be simply described as an inter-imperialist war. Such a description, while accurate, is too abstract. There was a qualitative difference between the two sides. For humanity’s sake, it was better for the Axis power to lose the war. Enormous numbers of people saw themselves as fighting for their freedom. Nor were they simply duped into supporting Allied imperialism. The anti-Nazi resistances of Occupied Europe, for example, really did fight for political democracy, national independence, and the possibility of socialist revolution. Among U.S. anarchists, many felt “…it was imperative that the war against fascism be regarded as a two-front war—defeat of fascism abroad by military victory…” and defeat of fascism, racism, and capitalist oppression at home. (Dolgoff 1986; 114)
Donny Gluckstein (2012) suggests that we look at the Second World War as composed of two semi-distinct but intertwined wars: an “inter-imperialist war” and a “people’s war.” In Europe these two wars ran mostly parallel. The national resistances of France, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia were focused on fighting the German occupiers. So were the Soviet partisans. So were Jewish rebels in the concentration camps, the forests, and the ghettoes (especially the Warsaw ghetto). So did the Chinese guerrillas fighting the Japanese. The same is true for the Greek resistance, until the end of the war when the British intervened to crush it and restore fascists to power. In the last year of the war, the Italian working class developed their own anti-fascist resistance which fought the Fascists and the German army. All these popular forces fought in collaboration with the imperialist Allied armies, with varying degrees of conflict and tension between them.
At other times and places, the “two wars” were at cross-purposes, especially in Asia (where the imperialist aspects of both sides were clearer than in Europe). The Indians, Indonesians, Burmese, and others did not support the Allies but worked against them.
“To the question, ‘Was the Second World War an imperialist war or a people’s war?’ the answer is, ‘It was both’.” (Gluckstein 2012; 212)
A similar view is raised by Ernest Mandel (1986). He divides World War II into “a combination of five different conflicts.” (45) These are:
“1. An inter-imperialist war fought for world hegemony and won by the United States….
“2. A just war of self-defense by the Soviet Union….
“3. A just war of the Chinese people against imperialism which would develop into a socialist revolution.
“4. A just war of Asian colonial peoples against the various military powers and for national liberation….
“5. A just war of national liberation fought by populations of the occupied countries in Europe….[including] North Italy…..” (Mandel 1986; 45)
Mandel’s view is distorted by his “orthodox Trotskyist” theory that the Stalinist (“Communist”) system was some sort of “socialism” or “workers’ state” (supposedly because it had collective, nationalized, property). Therefore he separates out the Soviet Union from the “inter-imperialist war.” And he sees the Chinese revolution as not only winning national liberation (political independence and a unified country), as it did, but as also having a “socialist revolution”—even if set up by a totalitarian urban elite controlling a peasant-based army and without a working class revolution. (Gluckstein correctly sees Stalinist Russia and Maoist China as state capitalist.)
That aside, it is still possible to be in solidarity with the workers and peasants (not the Stalinist government) of Russia, Ukraine, and other “Soviet” nations against the genocidal Nazi invaders. If the Nazis had won in the East, “…a German administration…could have ruled for years or decades. Millions of people could have been reduced to virtual serfdom [or killed—WP]. The resources of the destroyed Soviet Union might have ensured that the Nazis’ New Order would have survived for a generation [or longer—WP]….The human race would have been losers, since anti-Nazi resistance movements would have faced a stronger enemy.” (Drucker 1999; 137-8) The Soviet Union’s soldiers and guerrilla partisans had every reason to fight the Nazis.
Apart from his false view of Stalinism, Mandel, like Gluckstein, sees World War II as both a war among the imperialist powers and as justifiable war(s) of the workers and oppressed peoples fighting for national liberation and democratic rights, in alliance with the Allies or against them.
After the repeated defeats of the working class in the 20s and 30s, many leftists decided that, by now, if the fascist powers were going to be beaten it could only be through the armed forces of the Allied states—like it or not. This was a reasonable view. But it led most to deny the reality that the U.S.A., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union were imperialist. (In other words, because it would be better for the world if the Allies won the war did not change the imperialist goals of the Allied governments—as many radicals seemed to assume it did.) So besides being in solidarity with the Allied soldiers, sailors, and armament workers, most leftists also gave political support to the imperialist governments and their military leaders. They were then unprepared for the reactionary acts of the Allied governments after the war, as capitalist states were re-established.
The world war ended with the complete defeat of the Axis empires and the victory of the U.S. as the new world hegemon. The main goal of U.S. rulers had been to become the dominant world power, replacing the declining British empire, as well as the lesser European empires. This was achieved.
Revolutionary socialists, including anarchists, had hoped that the war would culminate in opportunities for anti-capitalist revolutions. There were rebellions and upheavals, and a general world swing to the left after the war. In Europe, there were successful revolutions (led, alas, by Stalinists) in Yugoslavia and Albania—establishing state capitalism. A revolution was crushed in Greece. There were workers’ rebellions in Italy and France, kept within limits by the Communist Parties (Stalin hoped the U.S. would leave his new East European empire alone if he did not challenge U.S.-domination of Western Europe). Britain elected a Labour Party government which passed significant reforms. The U.S. had its largest strike wave in its history. China had a (Stalinist-led, state capitalist) revolution and India won its independence. This was the beginning of decades of national liberation wars and revolutions throughout the colonial world (the “Third World”).
Yet all these rebellions and struggles were kept within capitalist limits by their Stalinist, social democratic (pro-Western reform socialist), liberal, and nationalist leaderships. During the war, the Stalinists and social democrats had told the people to trust the imperialist Allies, to regard them as friends, and not to challenge them. This approach only prepared for the defeat of the “people’s wars.”
The totalitarian, state-capitalist, bureaucracy of the Soviet Union solidified its hold (contrary to the Trotskyists who were sure it would fall apart after the war). The U.S. state reorganized world imperialism under its rule. Rather than a return to conditions of the pre-war Depression, the war resulted in an extended prosperity in the U.S. and allied imperialist nations. That lasted until about 1970.
European fascism was gone (except for Spain and Portugal) and the non-Stalinist states restored bourgeois democracy in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere. Inter-imperialist conflict continued, as revolutionaries had said it would. But World War II was not followed by World War III, mainly because the U.S. and Soviet Union’s rulers recoiled from mutual nuclear suicide. (Had the rulers slipped into international nuclear war, they would have destroyed civilization and perhaps life on earth. This would have justified a worse evaluation of the victors of World War II—if anyone had been here to make it.) Smaller wars were (and are) continuous. For the U.S., the main ones were the Korean and Vietnamese wars (until the most recent wars).
The underlying problems of the world capitalist system were not solved by the Second World War: trends to economic stagnation and depression, failure to industrialize the poorer nations in a balanced fashion, real democratic self-government, ending war (including the continuing threat of nuclear war), ecological destruction, and so on. These are still with us.
Programatic Reactions to World War II
Gluckstein criticizes Trotsky for seeing “the Second World War…as 100 percent imperialist….Trotsky argued that as an imperialist war the Second World War should be opposed, but that it should be replaced by a people’s anti-fascist war….[He] did not live to see that the two processes he discussed ran in parallel rather than being separated in time.” (2012; 6-7) (Many antiwar anarchists made the same error.) Aside from his wrong analysis of Stalinism, Trotsky (and the Trotskyists) made two mistaken arguments against the war. One was that the capitalist democracies would turn into fascist-like states by waging the war. The other was that they would capitulate to the Axis, the way the French capitalists had. Therefore real socialist governments were necessary. There was some truth to both of these arguments. The U.S. and British governments did get increasingly authoritarian, laying the groundwork for today’s “national security state.” But they did not give up bourgeois political democracy. The Allies did make deals with fascists in Spain, the French colonies, Greece, and Italy—even with former Nazis once the Cold War began. Right after victory over Japan, the Allies used Japanese troops and administrators to control the people in Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other Asian colonies. Yet they did insist on complete victory over the Axis powers. (For discussion and critique of the Trotskyists in World War II, see Hobson & Tabor 1988, and Wald 1987.)
I do not have space for a discussion of how revolutionary socialists, including anarchists, acted in the Second World War—that is, those who did not just reject both sides and had nothing else to say, or those who simply endorsed the Allies, becoming patriotic reformists. But some radicals agreed with the great Italian-American anarchist and anti-fascist Carlo Tresca. While openly stating his desire for the victory of the Allies over the Axis, he declared that he would do whatever he could “to transform the war of international imperialism into an international civil war for social revolution—the only solution to world problems.” (Quoted in Pernicone 2010; 251)
Given the above analysis, it was necessary for revolutionaries to find ways to participate in the war, to be part of the popular struggles, without giving political support to the governments waging imperialist wars. At least, this is what they should have tried to do.
“The genocidal policies of the German government…argue[d] for pursuing…a military bloc [with the Allies]…cooperating only to the extent necessary to defeat Germany.” (Hobson & Tabor 1988; 447-9) This is “while working to spread opposition to the ‘Allied’ powers’ imperialist aims, organizing the workers, peasants, and other oppressed people as independently of the imperialists as possible, and thus increasing the chances for successful revolutionary uprisings at the close of the war.” (447) “In the colonial and semi-colonial countries….revolutionaries should have been willing to maneuver among the imperialist powers, blocking now with one camp, now with the other, taking advantage of the temporary weaknesses of the imperialist rulers to enable the colonial peoples to press their own anti-imperialist struggles.” (450-1)
In actuality, anarchists did carry out some valuable activities, of varying sorts. British anarchists put out anti-imperialist/anti-war newspapers (Freedom Press 1989). Anarchists served in national resistances. For example, anarchist exiles from Spain participated in the French anti-fascist war. Korean anarchists fought against the Japanese army.
In the U.S. (which was not immediately threatened with occupation), revolutionaries did not sabotage the war effort or organize draft resistance. But various Trotskyists, for example, played key roles in the movement against the war-time “no strike” pledge in industry—in opposition to the Roosevelt administration, the union bureaucracies, and the (by now) super-jingoist Communist Party. Others participated in the March on Washington Movement against African-American segregation in the military and the arms industry. Some were involved in the Bring the Troops Home movement at the end of the war; the U.S. government wanted to keep its military forces in Asia and Europe as long as possible to shore up its expanded empire. However, rank-and-file soldiers organized mass meetings and letter-writing campaigns to pressure the government to demobilize them as quickly as possible (after all, the war was over, wasn’t it?). This campaign had a significant impact. Had U.S. anarchists existed in larger numbers and been better organized, they would no doubt have participated in such struggles.
The Second World War created the world we now live in. Its aftereffects are still being felt, 70 years later. While very popular, it was an inter-imperialist war, a struggle for world domination. But it was not only an imperialist war. It also included real struggles against fascism, for national independence, democratic rights, and the possibility of socialist revolution. At their best, anarchists and other revolutionary socialists looked for ways to be part of this “people’s war,” in order to fight for international revolution. Analyzing the war, and thinking through its issues, may help to prepare revolutionary anarchists for present and future upheavals.
Dolgoff, Sam (1986). Fragments; A Memoir. London: Refract Publications.
Drucker, Peter (1999). Max Shachtman and His Left. Amherst NY: Humanity Books/Prometheus Books.
Freedom Press (1989). World War—Cold War: Selections from War Commentary and Freedom 1939—1950. London: Freedom Press.
Gluckstein, Donny (2012). A People’s History of the Second World War; Resistance versus Empire. London: Pluto Press.
Mandel, Ernest (1986). The Meaning of the Second World War. London: Verso.
Pernicone, Nunzio (2010). Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel. Oakland CA: AK Press.
Price, Wayne (2013). The “Negro March on Washington” movement in the World War II period. Anarkismo.
Hobson, Christopher Z., & Tabor, Ronald D. (1988). Trotskyism and the Dilemma of Socialism. NY: Greenwood Press.
Wald, Alan M. (1987). The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930s to the 1980s. Chapel Hill NC/ London: University of North Carolina Press.
X, Malcolm (1999). The Autobiography of Malcolm X (ed. Alex Haley). NY: Ballantine Books.
*written for www.Anarkismo.net
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The following was received from Eric Laursen:
I'm glad you've written about this, I'll have more to say once I've had a chance to read it in detail. A couple of thoughts:
* There wouldn't have been a need for WWII if the warnings of people on the left about German and Italian fascism had been taken seriously by mainstream bourgeois politicians; instead, the latter deliberately ignored it, believing the left itself to be their greatest threat.
* Arguably, the biggest change wrought in our world by the war was the emergence of the atomic bomb. This, ironically,
was built by a democracy, not a dictatorship (the Nazis had the expertise but decided not to pursue it for the time being), and was first used entirely as a political weapon to guarantee world domination. So much for the "good" war.
*Opposition to the war was small, but not insignificant. Alex Comfort (my biographical subject) correctly ID'd the firebombings of German and Japanese cities as crimes against humanity that made Churchill etc war criminals as well as Hitler and his crew. He organized an impressive campaign against these atrocities (the rationales that some intellectuals gave him for not signing on
are worth a good deal of commentary by themselves), and was blackballed from the BBC as a result. There are other examples. Comfort regarded the Bomb as the logical extension of the firebombings.
* At least in this country, the government's propaganda created a sense of America under siege that's never abated; a great deal of what our rulers do today is aimed at maintaining this identity as a country
constantly facing "existential threats." The Cold War and the War Against Terror merely extended what was created after Pearl
To which I responded:
There wouldn't have been a second world war if there had been a successful revolutions in Europe after the first world war. But as to your point, the British and French dragged their heels in resisting Nazism and fascism because (1) they were sympathetic to them, as against the workers, as you say, and (2) as sated imperialists, "have" states, they could see that they had nothing to gain from a war and much to loose. ( In fact, they did loose their empires during or soon after WWII, to the local bourgeoises but really to the US which dominated the world market.) So they had hoped to avoid another big war. Unfortunately for them, the German rulers felt that they needed to expand and that they had an opportunity to be the replacement for the British, and the Japanese rulers felt similarly. So the British et al were forced to fight.
course, but I think even the unsuccessful revolutions (and one
that did take place, left the Brits, French, and
Americans scared stiff that
it could still happen. A revolution in
Germany would, of course, be the
ultimate nightmare, and so they
welcomed a forceful regime in that country,
committed to keeping the
They were in bad straits throughout the interwar period (the
Roaring 20s weren't so roaring in Europe), and desperate to avoid
Unfortunately for them, the German rulers felt that they needed to
expand and that they had an opportunity to be the replacement for the
British, and the Japanese rulers felt similarly.
So the British et
> were forced to fight.
But they tried, quite delusionally, to avoid it
right up until the last
second. I read something remarkable a while back,
can't remember where:
At Munich, Chamberlain and Daladier were still
attempting to interest
Hitler in a master plan to settle all the war debts --
as if that was
still the main issue.
My friend Bob McGlynn has written to me and others that he likes this essay but disagrees on at least one point: my description of the Soviet Union and Maoist China as “state capitalist.” Instead he prefers to describe them as having the “Asiatic Mode of Production.” This was the term used by Marx and Engels in their analysis of ancient empires in China, India, Peru, and other pre-capitalist societies (which they regarded as neither feudal nor slave). They accepted that there could be collective bureaucracies which were the ruling classes over societies with mostly state-owned economies. (However, unlike the anarchists of their time, they did not foresee that their own program of “workers’ states” which nationalized the economy would also lead to bureaucratic ruling classes.)
As Bob writes, some people believe that the Asiatic Mode of Production also applied to the former Soviet Union and similar states. Believers include people who have lived under these states. This view also has similarities to other theories which regard Stalin’s USSR as neither capitalist nor socialist, yet with a collectivist bureaucracy as the ruling class which exploited the workers and peasants. Such theories include “bureaucratic collectivism” (Shachtman) and “coordinatorism” (Albert).
The “Asiatic Mode of Production” theory has the virtue of recognizing the influence of pre-industrial society on the culture, ideology, politics, and economy of modern, totalitarian, societies—the effect of Czarism on Stalinism, of Confucianism on Maoism. Yet it remains superficial in not also seeing the distinctive nature of these societies' mode of production. It also is correct in seeing the existence of a bureaucratic ruling class, yet it has certain flaws when applied to the Soviet Union.
1) Marx and Engels saw these empires as mostly stagnant. The Soviet Union grew rapidly, at least in its early decades. Like capitalism, the Soviet Union was driven to accumulate and became crisis-ridden when it was unable to.
2) These societies mainly produced for use, for the consumption of the masters and workers. Unlike the Soviet Union (and capitalism) they did not produce many commodities for sale on an internal market. Nor did workers sell their labor power to the masters as a commodity on a labor market.
3) The transition from the bureaucratic system (whatever it was) to a share-holding, stock-owning, bourgeois version of capitalism was relatively smooth, despite ups and downs. We would have expected a much greater upheaval if the transition had been from the old Asiatic Mode to a totally different system of production and class relations—unlike the actual change from one version of capitalism to another. The “Asiatic Mode of Production” is a theory which has been disproved by history.
COMMENTS ON WAYNE PRICE'S WW2 ARTICLE :
Comment on wayne price's ww2 article
By Bob McGlynn- email@example.com
Just some thoughts- waynes piece was great and we're "comrades" (i hate that taken over by leninoids word) in same milue that got goin by now relativly famed Niether East Nor West-NYC and its crossover "zine" On Gogol Boulevard/OGB that at end of 6 issues lived on as sections in 6 US anarchist (@) publications. to put it short by those not in know we were huge historical one of a kinders that mostly networked alternative, @ and many others east and west for dual solidarity. If u haven't read our history yet and care email me.
ANARCHISMO- THIS IS IN "BOB SPEAK" IE NOT GOOD ENGLISH ETC BUT PEOPLE WILL GET IT THEY HAVE BEFORE
these aren't in any order- @=anarchist
- there was also an anarcho-syndicalist type IWW leader Big Bill Haywood, that was famed for opposing ww1 and had to beat it to ussr, became an alki addict and sadly went away.
- @'s were very few and far between during ww2.
- i'd read 1st troops to liberate paris were @'s from spanish civil war! under under some none-@ command.
- kropotkin suppurting ww1 is disgusting and a grave traitor to @'s as he was "prince" with respect and pull- but, i never understood why. could someone answer this?
- what would i have done? certainly not support allies but fought with @'s or POUM in spain or/and joined some partisans who weren't under authority of communists as most were. POUM (i can never remember what it s real name was someone please spell out) were in close league with hugest by far, and in begining most powerful @'s. they are stlill something of a mystery to me and though some say were trotish i don't know of Trotsky excidedly runnin to join an armed group in his name. see george orwell in homage to catalonia where he fought with POUM who he gave thumbs up to. catalonia was taken by @'s (and POUM?) with relative ease. nice story of former catalonia governer goin to @'s and sayin "gentleman i am at your service". i can't remember but orwell in book may have given @'s thumbs up and he certainly hated the communists. spanish cp in beginning was nuthin and not peasant/working class like @'s. cp only grew when spain could find no western power to hold its gold so with hand on nose had to give it to stalin. stalin/kgb then got its grip and cp grew a bit and got armed. that famed author of the "old man and the sea" (only bad memory me could forget name of only one of world's greatest authors- someone add in) and authored so much else wrote a book about spain and dismissed @'s as "undiciplined drunks" type of thing (yeah they were sometimes) cozied up to cp as so many west intellectuals criminally did. @'s were killed by cp during supossed "united front"- @'s should have had sense and finished them off 1st. barcelona was taken by @'s with cp killing them. post office in barcelona was run by @'s with bullet holes on outside by cp (mostly?) never repaired. good. i saw it yrs ago...
- nazis= National Socialist German Workers Party emph. mine. nazis had real left-wing hitler eventually wiped out. nazis in beginning had own trade union before nazis wiped unions out. some top nazis excidedly read and dug marx. key was "national", "german". "socialist" meant for simple-headed "good" of "german" "nation" "collectivly" BUT totalitarian like Communism but not supposed internationalist-thing. ussr and nazi germany had amazingly similar stuff only mostly pro-historians speak of while leftoids have to shy away from: marshal music, uniforms, mass psychlogy, mass marches, mass rallies (hitler avidly took speed before he ranted) groups for girls, boys - everyone, every aspect of all life however private controlled etc etc (some hypocrite stalinist wrote "mass psycology of fascism" that every dope should know to have Communism in title-ok of course fascism was a particular ideology and proposed state and is 1 of 4 different "right-wing" -types of dictatorship. i'm not schooled on Fascism but was i believe was the state acting as arbitor between capitalists and working class to (hah!) eliminate class struggle but with uh oh classes still existing and KABOOM in the end).
famed german cp'er leader karl wittfogol claimed in a long interview by 3 cool people in telos spring '80 that while he was busy being unrelentingly anti-nazi before they came to power that another cp'er told him to cool off as moscow wanted the nazis to come to power to finish off the western capitalist powers. interesting.
- i believe the poles were also specifically picked to be in camps. DON'T as some do say "polish death camps" but say "nazi german death camps in poland". poles are right when someone says this and man do they get pissed. anyway all sorts of peoples were also in camps.
- the resistence/partisans were mostly in end run by cp's. too bad of course but cp's WERE popular, only real alternative, great of course on paper, with many surviving members that only grew. a maoist group in US long ago issued a pamphlet graphicaly describing them and claiming it was them that really were defeating nazis not allies but allies had to overpower them of course. US had to step in with huge troops. interesting.
- wayne finally helps get out there again (as Neither East Nor West-NYC and forerunners did that his milue was involved in) the fact that the ussr was an "empire" as it was also historically used "The Russian Empire" and same term could be used for ussr as russia proper was the imperial power holding 1/6th of the earth's surface together in 1 place same size of broken up brit empire. i wish he also used the term "imperialist" as former soviet colonies "republics" did as did "iron curtain" nations that fits in its real original dictionary sense but was ruined by lenin as in only a capitalist "export of capital". OH COMON CUT IT OUT! quite sensible leftists in any sense and @'s keep using the word "imperialist" as only for western-type countries and reify the word. "export of capital" is one of a myriad of ways now the major way but still in a myriad of ways. lenin was a pig but no dope but silly and unscientifically stated as "historically nessesory" crap the way marx and modern crass marxists talk very few of them now, that his type of imperialism was capitalisms last stage. we'll see. nobody has a cristal ball. rosa luxemberg was smart in comin up with the term "socialism or barbarism" that many picked up on. environmentalists buffered the barbarism prediction and now with global warming starting its rage civilization could easily come apart with all the awful uncontrolable mass choas ensuing and dogmatist politisized "theories" tossed - lenin would be laughted at today and left in the dust. severe crises is comin- there's no stopin it yet and time is ticking fast . everone of my age (59) and older are glad we'll be gone once things start to really crack open.
bye now! good luck to others!!
ANARCHISMO- THE FOLLOWING IS RELEVANT RE WAYNE ON WW2 AS HE OPENED THE DOOR WITH the ussr was "bureaucracy ruled collectivlty" AND MENTIONED "STATE-CAPITALISM" AND I CRASHED RIGHT THRU IT AS ITS NEEDED AND AM SETTING HISTORY STRAIGHT WITH ANOTHER THEORY ALTOGETHER AND ITS TIME WE GREW UP AND RE-HEARD WHAT EVERYONE USED TO TALK ABOUT, LENIN/MARX/ENGALS/BOLSHEVIKS/MENSHEVIKS AND CENTURIES BEFORE BEFORE BOLSHEVIKS PURPOSELY BURIED IT THE REPERCUSSIONS STILL FELT TODAY AS IT WILL BE THE 1ST TIME MANY OF YOU HAVE HEARD OF THIS- ITS LONG WINDED, UNFINISHED, MAYBE UNFOCUSED, UNFAIR TO WELL MEANING STATE-CAPITALISTS, ETC BUT WORTH IT- I WAS IN A RUSH AND WILL DO A GOOD JOB IN THE FUTURE AND MAKE SURE YOU GET A COPY AND HOPEFULLY RUN IT- BOB MCGLYNN
- ok here we go and lst thing PAY ATTENTION. IT'S ON THE NATURE OF COMMUNISM- WAYNE OPENED THE DOOR WITH REFERENCES TO "STATE CAPITALISM AND that some have been waiting for me to write something meaty on (can't yet do a full piece) that's not a problem among eastererns and from what i can see don't bother to make a fuss but i will with good reason. wayne and i agree to disagree on this. he correctly noted calling it in USSR "bureaucracy run collectivly" -"bureaucratic collectivest" would be fine but that easy to understand term was already long ago invented by lefties who had jumped the official ship but used the term ahistrically (a wrong way of viewing history) and are long gone. hell i'd easily use it again as long as it would be historically rooted as in what's to come that i'm saying.
in the 1800's (and way before when west met east) historians, intellectuals, diplomats, travelers etc. (marco polo set the stage) the terms "oriental despotisms"/"asiatic" and then marx's "asiatic mode of production" (for simplicity i'll use amp) was the lingo. "Asia" (incas and others were non asian exeptions- amp wasn't rascist talk) was picked on because of arid conditions needing centralixed but had despotic ways of controlling huge rivers overrunning, irrigation, flash flood control etc. "hydrolic societies" (Karl Wittfogal in his ground-breaking Oriental Despotim '58- more on him later). All agreed that western fuedal societies didn't exist in the east and the despotism so severe it outdid western fuedal absolutism. marx noted "the general slavery of the orient". Russia was known as "semi-asiatic" due to 1200's mongol invasion picking up asiatic despotic statecraft from its northern-china siege. marx penned a scathing picture of mongol terror in russia dammit the quote of which i can't find. marx wrote for the most widespread paper in the US NY Daily Tribune about the amp. he and engals had on going correspondence about it some i bet not translated to english yet but the bolshivics stangled such stuff as i'll get into. according to wittfogal marx/engals (wittfogol extremly well scooled in their writings) stopped going furthur into it and didn't get to its logical conclusion because the amp-theory was beginning to look like their vision of Communism except there were obvious classes- the state and working masses. the amps were as agreed by many but theres debate, the most prevalant form of ancient class society with managerial, bureaucratic, despotic, terroristic ways. sounds similar now to Communism? marx went on about it in his "notebooks" for das capital the huge grundissa. US leftists paid no attention to it only focussing on a small -but special on what may come but forget it for now- passage where marx notes professional technological workers may take the lead in revolution. oh but not on the amp- too emmbarasing... marx trails off mentioning amp here and there in das capital. he mentions "asia fell asleep in history" ala stagnent. the old amp's came apart from outside like invasions. ussr mainly came apart from the outside the pressure of keeping up with western tech they coulnd'nt handle competing anymore. other inherently amp historically Communist countries had similar outside pressures and e.europe/cuba had soviet/amp-type regimes fakely imposed which had internal revolutions cept cuba yet we'll see as its slowly reforming - without ussr/china having popular uphevals for change.
lenin et al used the term semi-asiatic to describe russia. the "father of russian marxism" plekhanov debated lenin in 1905 meet in stockholm at their then russian social democratic labor party saying state ownership of land would lead to an "asiatic restoration". too bad he died but if he carried on woulda been executed by bolsheviks. bols circa '26 to '31 debated amp but concluded amp "didn't exist" as it obviously looked like Communism just in time as stalin had started eliminating original bols and followed lenin/trotsky in killing others but on a scale that would go down in history as the worst or up there. the effects of wiping out amp history/theory are of course still being felt- how many western lefties, @'s talk/know about it ? for good reason...
along comes some trots rebelling against trotsky's silly " bueaurcratic deformism" comming up with "state-capitalist". "state-capitalist" continued and gain adherents not only rebel trots but @'s and others and is in plenty of western well-meaners but i'm sorry misguided u'll see. wayne and i agree to disagree i suppose but no bad blood.
then wittfogol comes along (originally a faithful top member of early german cp who kept up original Communist beliefs even after lenin/trotsky then stalin raped them) who blew the lid off in "oriental despotism" '58 linking old amp's historically to Communism - wow a final opening to the past portal! but poof who among western leftists gave a damn- almost no one to no effect. well when easterners found out they ran with it! but again west lefties paid basically no attention. easterners can't forget their own real history. an example an alexader lukin of a soviet international affairs official organization wrote a long piece during the gorby period mentioning informal pubs of perestroika amp-ish stuff can be found in a reference to an abundace of a "backslide to [Asianism]" "or at least a society covered by the sprouts of the Russian past" were broadly shared by various orientations (i'm paraphrasing the rest of what i'd not put qoutes around to shorten this). the independent groups of course weren't privy to outside works and russian sources like marx/engals/lenin/plekhonov et al were hidden/censored.
a soviet woman emigre long ago put it perfectly when she heard me speak on amp vs state- capitalism in that the latter "trivialized" the difference and horror of their experience. sure communist states were attached to the western market (save the "hermit kingdom" of n. korea) sure capitalist (really just industrial perhaps) methods/practices emerged (and debated still by west and soviet economists) but stick with the overwelming evidence and aspects of an amp- restoration dressed up differently for public relations.
qwit lookin at soviet-type states with a western imperial capitalist lense. all the plenty easterners i knew back in the day 80's/early 90's when i'd bring this up were almost insulted and said "yes, of course we're amp-sh"...
nuf said for now.
ANARCHISMO- THE FOLLOWING IS RELEVANT EXCITING STUFF RE WW2
How the US got fooled and helped place Communists in positions of power during WW2 and how the CIA got its vengence and helped get innocent Communists slaughtered during Communist purge trials.
THE CIA AND THE EAST EUROPEAN COMMUNIST PURGE TRIALS
foreword by Bob McGlynn
In the news were stories of the CIA delivering prisoners to Poland and Romania for interrogation and torture. The following story is a flip of an equally odious chapter in the USA CIA's history.
Though there is no smoking gun, all circumstantial evidence points to the fact that the U.S. fed the murderous Stalinist spy and purge trials in post-war Central/ Eastern Europe.
The story was broken by British author Steven Stewart in London (1974) in a book named after the purported Operation Splinter Factor.
The following was printed in On Gogal Boulevard years ago and is excerpted from The CIA: A forgotten History by William Blum* (Zed Books). it is an excellent summary of Steven's book.
I had tried to no avail to reach Stevens to see if his story had been substantiated. I did speak to Blum though over 20 years ago. But he had no further info either.
Those of us in the West and Third/4th World will find the story completely believable- that the U.S. is completely cynical in its anti-Communism is hardly a new thought to us.
We wish especially though to reach the many Easterners who continue to have understandable blinders on vis-a-vis the yes imperialist** West and U.S.- their purported “liberators” . . .
Oh yes, I make a good guess that Stewart and Blum did their best with the U.S. “openness” many fought so hard for; the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which in theory will open to us citizens the U.S. truth behind the scenes. Of course it's mostly a joke. But I'd ask anyone who wants to follow this sick story to go through the headache of the FOIA. That the U.S.A. is a joke when it comes to freedom is old and most will laugh at an FOIA search. But what the hell. If you are a student or whoever who wants to expose the real than please make the attempt- if you lose it still is history . . .
Please all spread this amazing story that is again timely.
Please spread it to all media contacts- presently I only have mostly anarchist sources but this needs to get in the more mainstream media.
I would greatly appreciate it anyone had a good press list for me or advice in spreading this. I'm especial interested in press contacts in the East and human rights and CIA expose groups.
And good luck . . .
56 Pondfield Rd. W. #2A
Yonkers NY, 10708
for Neither East Nor West-NYC
*Blum has turned out to be a Communist supporter who I disown as he was in a committee to support Serbia's now dead murderous dictator Milosivech who was being accused of war crimes (of course he was guilty!). I spoke to Blum on the phone about this and he crumbled.
** DON'T WORRY! We hate Russian imperialism and authoritarianism too. We are NOT like the “left” as it's normally known and do not cooperate with Leninists.
Did the CIA Have a Hand in the Post-War Central/East European Communist Purge Trials?
COLD WAR INTRIGUE: OPERATION SPLINTER FACTOR
by William Blum
Jozef Swiatlo surfaced at a press conference in Washington on 28 September 1954. Swiatlo was a Pole, he had been a very important one, high up in the Ministry of Public Security, the secret police. The story went that he had defected in West Berlin the previous December while on a shopping trip, and now the State Department was presenting him to the world to clear up the mystery of the Fields, the American citizens who had disappeared in 1949. Swiatlo revealed that Noel Field and his wife Herta had been arrested in Hungary, and that brother Hermann Field had suffered the same fate in Poland at the hands of Swiatlo himself, all in connection with the trial of the leading Hungarian Communist. The State Department had already dispatched strong letters to the governments of Hungary and Poland (1).
There is an expanded and more sinister version of the Jozef Swiatlo story. This story has Swiatlo seeking to defect to the British in Warsaw back in 1948 at a time when he was already in his high security position. The British, for various reasons, turned his case over to the United States and, at the request of Allen Dulles, Swiatlo was told to remain at his post until further notice.
Dulles was not yet director of the CIA, but was a close consultant to the Agency, had his own men in key positions, and was waiting only until November for Thomas Dewey to win the presidential election and appoint him to the top position. (Harry Truman's surprise re-election postponed this for four years, but Dulles did become Deputy Director in 1951.)
Noel Field, formerly a State Department Foreign Service Officer, was a long-time Communist fellow-traveler, if not a party member in the U.S. or Europe. During WWII his path converged with Dulles' in intrigue-filled Switzerland. Dulles was an OSS man, Field the representative of the Unitarian Church in Boston helping refugees from Nazi occupation. Field made it a point to particularly help Communist refugees, of which there were many, as Communists were second only to Jews on the German persecution list. The OSS aided the operation financially; the Communists in turn were an excellent source of information about happenings in Europe of interest to Washington and his allies.
Toward the end of the war, Field induced Dulles to provide American support for a project which placed agents in various European countries to prepare the way for the advancing Allied troops. The men chosen by Field, unsurprisingly, were all Communist and their placement in certain Eastern European countries helped them get their hands on the reins of power long before non-Communist forces were able to regroup and organize themselves.
It could be concluded from this that Allen Dulles had been duped. Added to this was the fact that the OSS, under Dulles' direction and again with Field involved, had financed the publication of a clandestine newspaper inside Germany; anti-fascist and left-wing, the paper was called Neues Deutschland, and immediately upon liberation became the official newspaper of the East German Communist Party.
After the war these incidents served as jokes which intelligence services of both East and West could and did appreciate. Before long, the joke fell heavily upon Noel Field.
In 1949 when Field visited Poland he was regarded with grave suspicion. He was seen to have worked during the war in a position which easily could have been a front for Western espionage, a position which brought him into regular contact with senior Communist Party members; and he had, after all, worked closely with Allen Dulles, famous already as a spymaster, and the brother of John Foster Dulles, prominent in the “liberation” of the Soviet bloc nations. At the time of Fields arrival in Poland, Jozef Swiatlo was looking to implicate Jakub Berman, a high party and state official of whom Swiatlo was suspicious and detested. It was his failure to convince the Polish president to act against Berman that reportedly drove Swiatlo to defect the year before. When Noel Field wrote to Berman asking his help in obtaining a job in Eastern Europe, Swiatlo learned of the letter and saw his chance to nail Berman.
But first Noel Field had to be established as an American spy. Given the circumstantial evidence pointing in that direction, that would not be too difficult for a man of Swiatlo's high position with U.S. intelligence, Swiatlo couldn't very well be exposing him since the Polish security officer was now himself an American agent. Accordingly, he sent his first message to the CIA, describing his plan about Berman and Field and the harm it could do to the Communist Party in Poland. He concluded with: “Any objections?”
Allen Dulles had none. His reaction to Swiatlo's message was one of the pleasure and amusement. The time had come to settle accounts with Noel Field. More importantly, Dulles saw that Swiatlo, using Noel Field, “the American spy” as a bludgeon could knock off countless leading Communist officials in the Soviet bloc. It would put the whole of the bloc into a state of acute paranoia and set off a wage of repression and Stalinist tyranny that could eventually lead to uprisings. Dulles called his plan Operation Splinter Factor.
Thus it was that Jozef Swiatlo was directed to find spies everywhere in Eastern Europe. He would uncover American plots and British plots,“Trotskyist” conspiracies and “Titoist” conspiracies. He would report to Soviet secret police chief Lavrenti Beria himself that at the center of the vast network was a man named Noel Haviland Field.
Field was arrested and wound up in a prison in Hungary, as did his wife Herta when she came looking for him. And when his brother Hermann Field sought to track down the two of them, he met the same fate in Poland.
Swiatlo was in a unique position to carry out Operation Splinter Factor, Not only did he have the authority and command, he had the files on countless Communist Party members in he bloc countries. Any connection they had with Noel Field, anything that Field had done, could be interpreted to show the hand of American intelligence or an act of real or potential subversion of the socialist states. The Soviets and Stalin himself were extremely interested in he “Fieldists.” Noel Field had know everyone who was anyone in the Soviet Bloc.
Just in case the level of paranoia in the infant, insecure governments of Eastern Europe was not high enough, a CIA double agent would “corroborate” a vital piece of information, or introduce the right rumor at the right time; or the Agency's Radio Free Europe would broadcast certain tantalizing, seemingly coded messages; or CIA would direct the writing of letters from”East European expatriates” in the US to leading Communists in their homelands, containing just the bit of information, or the phrase, carefully designed to lift the eyebrows of a security officer.
Many of the victims of Swiatlo's purges were people who had spent the war years in the West rather than in the Soviet Union and thus had crossed Field's path. These were people who tended to be more nationalistic Communists, who wanted to put more distance between their countries and the Soviet Union as Tito had done, and who favoured a more liberal regime at home. Dulles brushed aside the argument that these were people to be supported, not eliminated. He felt that they were potentially more dangerous to the West because if their form of Communism were allowed to gain a foothold in eastern Europe then Communism might become respectable and accepted; particularly with Italy and France threatening to vote Communist into power, Communism had to be shown at its worst.
There were hundreds of trials all over Eastern Europe “show trials” and lesser spectacles-in which the name of Noel Field played an important part. What Operation Splinter Factor began soon took on life of its own; Following the arrest of a highly-placed person, others fell under suspicion because they knew him of had been appointed by him; or any other connection to an arrested person might serve to implicate some unlucky soul.
Jozef Swiatlo had his counterpart in Czechoslovakia, a man firmly entrenched in the upper rungs of the Czech security apparatus. The man, whose name is not known, had been recruited by General Reinhard Gehlen. the former Nazi intelligences chief who went to work for the CIA after the war,
Czechoslovakia was the worst case. by 1951 an unbelievable 169,000 card-carrying members of the Czech Communist Party had been arrested - ten percent of the entire membership. There were tens of thousands more in Poland, Hungry, East Germany, and Bulgaria. Hundreds were put to death, others died in prison or went insane (2).
After Swiatlo defected in December 1953, East European intelligence services realized that he had been working for the other side all along. Four weeks after Swialto held his Washington press conference, the Polish government announced it was releasing Hermann Field because investigation had revealed that the charges that had been brought again him by “an American agent and provacateur,” Jozef Swialto, were 'baseless' (3). Field was paid $50,000 for his imprisonment as well as having his convalescence at a sanitarium paid for (4).
Three weeks later Noel and Herta Field were released in Hungary. The government in Budapest stated that it could not justify the charges against them (5). They were also compensated and chose to live in Hungary.
Once Noel field had been officially declared innocent, the case of countless others in East Europe had to be reviewed. First in trickles, then in rushes, the prisoners were released. By1956 the vast majority stood outside the prison walls.
In 1955 East Europeans could be found at Fort Bragg, North Carolina training with the green berets, learning guerrilla warfare tactics, hopefully to be used in their native lands (6).
By the following year hundreds of Hungarians, Rumanians, Poles and others were being trained by the CIA paramilitary specialists at a secret installation in West Germany. When, in 1956, the uprising in Hungary occurred, these men, according to the CIA, were not used because they were not yet ready (7), but the agency did send its agents in Budapest into action to join the rebels and help organize them (8). In the meantime, Radio Free Europe was exhorting the Hungarian people to continue their resistance, implying that American military assistance was on the way. It never came.
There is no evidence that Operation Splinter Factor contributed to the Hungarian uprising or to the earlier ones in Poland and East Germany. Nonetheless the CIA could point to all the cold war, anti-Communist propaganda points it had won because of the witchhunts in the East. A(n) (im)moral victory.
1. New York Times, 29 September 1954.
2. The story of Operation Splinter Factor comes from the book of the same name by Steven Stewart published in London in 1974. Steven, a veteran British journalist and currently editor of the Mail on Sunday (London), provides much greater detail than my short summary. He presents a strong case, and one has to read the entire book to appreciate this, but his central thesis remains undocumented. Steven states that this thesis- Allen Dulles instigating Jozef Swialto to use Noel Field in the manner described- comes with personnel interviews with former members of the CIA, the SIS (British Secret Intelligence Service) and other people involved in the conspiracy who insisted on remaining anonymous. Flora Lewis, who wrote the definitive work on Noel Field, Red Pawn: The Story of Noel Field (New York 1965; published in London the same year as The Man Who Disappeared; The Strange History of Noel Field), stated in her book that she ran into an “official barrier of silence” when she requested information from American, Swiss, French, British, and German intelligence centers on even “plain questions of dates and places." And she was not inquiring about Operation Splinter Factor per se, which she knew nothing about, only about Noel Field a decade after he'd been released. Similar, the U.S. government, without exception, flatly refused her assess to Swialto.
3. New York Times, 25 October 1954, p. 1.
4. Ibed., 19 February 1955, p. 1.
5. Ibed., 17 November 1954, p. 1.
6. Ibed., 30 August 1955, p. 1.
7. ibid., 30 November, 1976.
8. Stephen Ambrose, Ike's Spies (Doubleday & Co., New York, 1981) pp.235, 238.
addendum by Bob McGlynn:
At the famed post war meeting in Yalta- The Yalta Conference- Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met. In a funny/not so funny moment Stalin or Churchill passed a piece of paper between each other. One wrote what countries the West would get and what countries the Soviets would get. The paper was passed back and the word "yes" or "ok" was written divying up Europe. In Italy the CP could have walked into power but followed Stalin's orders and went disarming the partisans. In France the CP followed directions but waited for elections like the Italians did. Both were subject to CIA meddling it seems. Greece was up in the air with a civil war which the CP lost. And the rest is history.
Skimmed this - as always Wayne, very much to read and think about. WWII has always been a bit confusing for me, as far as what the ideal response would have been. Look forward to reading in full. Thank you.
I have thoughts:
Wayne focuses on the politics of World War II in a straightforward, perceptive way. I agree with you Wayne about WWII being two wars: imperialist war, and people’s struggles against fascism or colonialism. It’s been interesting to gradually learn of less-known more radical struggles during WWII (Koreans, Italians, etc.).
I also agree with Eric’s comment that WWII might not have been needed had there been a stronger left movement that was taken seriously by bourgeois politicians. We could say even more: that left movements either didn’t try, or failed to if trying, go beyond bourgeois politicians (capitalism, nationalism, imperialism, colonialism) to revolution. Wayne points back to the failed left uprisings (Germany, etc.) after WWI that may have lead to fascism.
Orwell said a similar thing on the Spanish Civil War he fought in: tens of thousands of global leftist workers responded to the fight against Franco, but millions did not and many millions were needed. There was global indifference. There should have been more willing to fight, and general strikes, boycotts, etc. against Franco, Hitler, etc.
A concern I have maybe falls outside parameters of Wayne’s article. That is, the 2nd World War was a gargantuan occurrence of violence and destruction. Eric mentions emergence of the atomic bomb. Such violence and destruction is horrible. Maybe it couldn’t have been avoided. But “what if”? What if workers called general strikes against fascism? What if non-cooperation, both non-violent and violent, created a situation of un-governability for the Nazis? We don’t know, and it may have been too late anyway.
There are psychological, ethical, spiritual, artistic and personal ways of looking at WWII. Some see it as a needed response to tyranny. It had a sincere purpose many millions shared. From another angle it also feels like mass insanity to me!
The “good war” is still celebrated by many, from those on the left (Woody Guthrie called it about “the greatest thing man has ever done”) through liberals, centrists, to conservative militarists. Such an enormous struggle did lead to defeat of the fascist bloc of nation-states. WWII spurred anti-colonial struggles in following years. But left revolutions didn’t happen. The main capitalist powers remained. Older empire Britain bowed to a newer US empire. And fascism (or authoritarian capitalism) as a tendency can still revive; it has in some corners of Europe. Many millions died around the world; with massive destruction of infrastructure from Japan to Italy.
While many who fought in it were forced into it by circumstances—being attacked; or by conscription; many were volunteers. I’m not a pacifist but I abhor the idea of modern mechanized war. I might fight if I felt a need to defend my life and people around me. I also share Howard Zinn’s skepticism on war (he’d fought in WWII). He later even had doubts about results of the US Civil War, if it really was worth it. Yes, slavery was abolished, US union preserved. But the death and destruction didn’t soon lead to a freer society. There were short-lived black gains, soon reversed for a century or more.
I don’t know if the world can “handle” another war on the scale of WWII. Today we know more about ecological crises— partly exacerbated by militarism. The world is plagued by more militarism. Though there isn’t a “world war,” there are many wars. Some wars are justified as an ideological fight against Islamic “terrorism”. Oil and mineral resources are behind them, and geopolitical maneuvering too. One war has been on a massive scale, the Congo War. Some are civil wars (Syria, Yemen) exacerbated by world powers. Etc. There are even more liberation-type wars like in Western Sahara or by the Kurds.
Militarism and authoritarianism are growing within most societies; surveillance, militaristic police, corporatizing life, exacerbating poverty. We’re over half a century after the war; did WWII end the chance of fascism re-emerging? No. In newer forms fascism (or authoritarian capitalism) as a tendency has revived; in some corners of Europe.
There are nuclear and other high tech issues. Can another world war avoid the use of nukes? The increasing militarism of major states, the ongoing several-to-many wars, plus the ecological crisis, makes another world war on the scale of WWII a nightmare to imagine. It might not involve armies as massive as in the previous World Wars because of technological weaponry, (drones, satellites—yes, sci-fi!) more specialized forces, proxies. One might have to fight in it if forced to by the state, or by circumstance. But one might also try to oppose it. Depends.
But instead of the war which states prepare for, we must prepare for revolution, hopefully much less violent than their wars. I am influenced by the Zapatistas. In 1994 they initiated war in Chiapas. It may have been needed to announce themselves and then to create liberated areas. But they say, they’re armed and willing to fight but they don’t want to, don’t want more bloodshed.
These are some of my random thoughts, qualms.
I appreciate Duff's comments. We agree on the horribleness of war and the inability of the world to withstand another World War. We have to disarm these nation states before they destroy everything.
Note that the folksinger Woody Guthrie was a Stalinist through-and-through.
A workers' uprising against fascism would have been great, but it should have happened before fascism took power. The Communists sabotaged efforts to build united workers' struggles against fascism, first in Italy (when the anarchist-syndicalists proposed it, but Bordiga led the Italian CP and opposed any united efforts) and then in Germany (when Trotsky advocated it but the Stalinists opposed it). But the Italian workers did have an uprising against the fascist/Nazi regime at the end of the war, one which was betrayed by the CP again--now capitulating to US imperialism.
Readers might note that this article was republished on Anarchistnews, with a lengthy tail of Comments, of varying interest, and a reply by me. It may be found at
Wyane , when I read your analysis i wondered what you can conclude from that historical experience when we encounter what is called the war on terrorism , between ISIS and US - led coalition ; plus the new anti - ISIS coalition led by Mr . Putin ? We have to admit that ISIS resembles Hitler in various ways except of course that it is much weaker , and the other side to the Allies of WW2 , what do you think ?
Mazen, The war between the US and its Allies, and Nazi Germany and the Axis was a war between (among) imperialist states—modified by various struggles of the working classes and oppressed nations. Similarly today's conflict between the US and Putin’s Russia is an inter-imperialist struggle.
But ISIS, Assad’s Syrian regime, the various Syrian rebels, the Kurds, and the Iraqi state are not imperialist, even if they are capitalist and (especially ISIS) horribly oppressive and reactionary. In that case we (revolutionary anarchists) must be against any support for the US or Russian states, against all their interventions. The key issue here is not how bad the local regime is, but the need to oppose imperialism (consider how progressive people supported Ethiopia under its reactionary king when it was attacked by Italy in the prelude tof WWII). We should reject the "war on terror"--which does not mean opposing reasonable police actions to prevent some people from randomly killing working people.
Whether we should support any of the above factions, on the grounds of national self-determination and anti-imperialism, is another question and complicated. For example, I am in solidarity with the Kurdish people (the people, not their leaderships) but not at all with ISIS (which seeks to crush the Kurds and oppress all the people of the region). But that is a longer discussion.
"Among anarchists, a few prominent anarchists agreed with Kropotkin in fervently supporting the Allies, but the big majority repudiated them and opposed the whole war."
1. Were you there?
2. a. Did you take a formal parliamentary vote of on the matter or a straw poll with a straw vote, by straw people, and for straw issues?
2.b. If so do you not substantiate the accusations that often anarchist were dupes of the fascists in what began in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and thereby lend credence to the points of view for the Spanish Republic
3, How many times have those supposed to be anarchists lent themselves to the Cold War as allegedly they were often encouraged by both the CIA and KGB?
4. Where Emma Goldman was friends with Nadezhda Krupskaya (Lenin's wife [the Lenin whose brother was executed as a nihilist of People's Will]) according to Sam Dolgoff with to what degree has the modern anarchiste drifted from their own original political context in what well seems to suit many police agents and establishments as they find it difficult to be even civil with those who disagree with them on reasonable grounds in that as what maybe considered part of the CIA supported Anti-Stalinist Left subsidized by the FBI CIA types like Gloria Steinem that secretly funded those like Norman Thomas.
Where all too many believe we are free and countries like America are "socialist" and many anarchists share views with the Alt-right and Tea party Libertarians, just as prior to WWII there were self proclaimed anarcho-nationalists (fascists) as they were financed by Mussolini and Hitler amongst others.
Where the first Venceremos was ?? You know. there should be room but often there are distractions due to circumstances. Where the lines of tact taken all too often seem inappropriate as adventures by those who seem all to comfortable to "discard the baby with the bath water" and where they as anarchist fell victim to provocations.
Best wishes. ~A~