By DOUGAL MACDONALD
February 2, 2021 is the 78th anniversary of the great historic victory at Stalingrad. Stalingrad was the turning point of the Second World War and a major turning point in history. At Stalingrad, the united Soviet people led by Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party resoundingly defeated the Nazi invaders who had criminally attacked Stalingrad on August 23, 1942 with the largest military force ever gathered in one place. The battle ended with the encirclement of 300,000 German troops and a crushing irreparable defeat for the Hitlerites which eventually led to their total demise.
Stalingrad, previously named Tsaritsyn, was a significant Soviet city and port on the Volga River. It was renamed Stalingrad in 1925, then renamed Volgograd in 1961 by the Khrushchevites as part of their anti-communist campaign against Stalin. However, currently, the town council changes the name of the city back to Stalingrad six times a year, including on February 2nd. Further over 500,000 people have signed a petition to have the name of Stalingrad restored permanently. So today, Stalingrad is Stalingrad, as it should be. And today of course, huge celebrations are taking place in the city, as well as around the world.
Stalingrad was developed into a major centre of heavy industry following the 1917-22 civil war in the Soviet Union and the accompanying foreign invasion by 21 countries, including Canada. This development was part of the urgent Soviet program to industrialize the USSR as well as ensure it was strong enough to defend itself from future foreign military aggression. There were no illusions that the imperialist powers would leave the Soviet Union alone to complete its socialist project.
The Nazis treacherously invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, deploying 4 million troops in Operation Barbarossa. This was a blatant breach of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact but it was not unexpected. An initial German attempt to capture Moscow was defeated. In June 1942, the Germans targeted the oilfields of the Caucasus and the valuable natural resource to be found there and deployed their troops accordingly. In August 1942, after bitter fighting, Soviet troops took up defensive positions around Stalingrad. Stalin’s standing order to everyone, which he issued July 28, 1942, was, “Not one step back.” It became the overall slogan of Soviet resistance against German invasion.
As the invaders were massing over one million soldiers and thousands of tanks, artillery pieces and planes on the Russian steppe west of Stalingrad, Stalin, the leader of the socialist Motherland, vowed that this was as far east as the criminals would go. “Not one step back!” became the battle cry of Stalingrad.
The prelude to the Battle of Stalingrad began on July 27, 1942. The advancing German Fourth Panzer Army crossed the Don River north of Stalingrad and attacked eastward, cutting the Stalingrad-Salsk railway. Stalingrad sat in the big bend of the Volga river and the Germans wanted to direct their main attack towards the Volga River, trying to outflank the Soviet 64th Army and the whole Stalingrad front. The Germans had planned a two-pronged ground attack on Stalingrad, with the German Sixth Army advancing from the north and the Fourth Panzer Army coming up from the south.
After a month of very hard fighting against the stalwart Soviet defences, the German Sixth Army finally managed to cross the Don on August 23, and launched their attack Stalingrad’s northern suburbs later that day. Bitter hand-to-hand street-fighting went on for months. The tenacity, courage and audacity of the defenders of the city and their sacrifice were without precedent as they implemented the call of Not One Step Back! The peoples of the entire world saw the mettle of the Soviet people under the leadership of Stalin, the field commanders of the armed forces and the Bolshevik Party. In the battle against the Nazis, the Soviet peoples united as one.
The Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, and Romanian armies allied with the Germans were about 60 kilometres from Stalingrad, which was also within reach of Germany’s air bases on occupied Soviet territory. Consequently, aircraft of Luftflotte 4, one of the primary divisions of the German Luftwaffe, were able to attack the city with bombers, dive bombers, and fighter planes, both night and day, vainly attempting to terrorize the city into surrendering.
Meanwhile, the German 14th Panzer Corps opened a narrow breach between the German Sixth Army’s main body and the northern Stalingrad suburbs at the Volga River, while in the south, heavy Soviet resistance stopped the Fourth Panzer Army from making any headway. On August 29, the Fourth Panzer Army finally broke through into the rear areas of both the 62nd and 64th Soviet Armies. The Germans attempted to cut off the 62nd Army, but a strong Soviet counterattack enabled Soviet forces to fall back towards Stalingrad. The German Sixth Army resumed its offensive on September 2, linking up with the Fourth Panzer Army the following day. The nearer the Germans got to Stalingrad, the more intense the fighting became and the Germans suffered huge losses.
On September 12, the Germans entered Stalingrad itself and fighting within the city began the next day. In the forefront of the organized resistance were the units of the Red Army and Workers’ Militia. The Workers’ Militia fortified every factory and workplace so that even after being bombed, any attempt of the invading force to occupy the facility would be repulsed. Students and community members young and old were organized and armed to fight to defend their city and the rights of all. The Urban Committee of Defence, headed by the Secretary of the Stalingrad Communist Party Regional Office, declared, “Dear comrades! Stalingrad citizens! Bloody Hitlerites have torn their way to sunny Stalingrad and to the great river Volga. Stalingrad citizens! Let us not allow the Germans to desecrate our native city. Let us rise as one to protect our beloved city, homes, and families. Please leave your homes and build impregnable barricades on every street. Let us make each quarter, each house, each street an unassailable fortress…. Everyone to the barricades! All those who can carry a rifle must protect their native city and homes!”
The heroic feats of the defenders of Stalingrad are legendary, especially after the Nazis finally entered the city. Bitter clashes raged for every inch of every street, factory, house, basement, and staircase. The Soviets had converted apartment blocks, factories, warehouses, homes, and office buildings into strongholds bristling with machine guns, anti-tank rifles, mortars, mines, barbed wire, snipers, and small units of submachine gunners and grenadiers prepared for house-to-house combat. Control of spaces changed hands many times in a day. The battles for the Red October Steel Factory, the Dzerzhinsky tractor factory, and the Barrikady gun factory became world-famous. As the Soviet defenders said, “The land of the Volga has become slippery with blood and the Germans have found it a slippery slope to death.”
The Soviet women formed advanced sniper brigades and became pilots who caused Hitler’s air force irreparable damage and contributed to blowing their morale to bits. The women and girls also stood second to none in the partisan units behind enemy lines. The women took over assembly lines in the factories and worked on the farms which provisioned the fighting forces and all of the Soviet Union in the war conditions. The unprecedented positions the Soviet women assumed in the trenches and front lines gave inspiration to the women working in the factories and fields of the countries which formed the anti-fascist front and in the resistance organizations and made the entire world proud.
The Germans eventually captured 90 per cent of the city but the Soviet defenders kept fighting. On November 19, the Soviet forces massively counterattacked, shocking their attackers, and eventually encircling 22 German divisions of Field Marshal Von Paulus’ 6th army. About 300,000 enemy troops were trapped in the Stalingrad pocket.
Hitler forbade a breakout. An attempt to send more troops to relieve the trapped forces was stopped many kilometres away. On December 15, Soviet forces launched another major counteroffensive which forced the enemy relieving forces to retreat, leaving the encircled German Sixth army on its own. The Soviets offered a truce on January 9, 1942, but the Germans refused under Hitler’s orders. On January 26th, Soviet forces split the trapped troops into two. On February 2, both groups of enemy troops completely surrendered.
The historic Soviet victory at Stalingrad was soon followed by the Soviet victory in the massive tank battle at Kursk. The Nazis were now on the run and final victory for the people was now in sight, although at the cost of millions of lives and the destruction of factories, collective farms and infrastructure of all kinds. At the same time, the people’s sacrifices were not in vain. Millions of lives were saved by the Red Army with the eventual liberation of entire occupied countries, including the liberation of slave labour and concentration camps such as Auschwitz along the way. The Red Army’s march in pursuit of the Nazi forces soon became unstoppable, inflicting systematic defeats on the Nazi forces all the way to Berlin. The Soviet counter-offensive culminated in the enemy’s total defeat and unconditional Nazi surrender in Berlin on May 9, 1945.
Until Stalingrad, the Nazi forces had appeared to be almost invincible. Country after country fell to their attacks. The vaunted French army surrendered after 46 days. How were the Soviet people able to defeat one of the most powerful armed forces ever assembled? What inspired so many incredible feats of individual courage? Stalin explained how in his important November 6, 1943 speech on the anniversary of the Great October Revolution. He said,
“All the peoples of the Soviet Union have risen as one in defence of their Motherland, rightly regarding the present Patriotic War as the common cause of all working people irrespective of nationality or religion…The friendship of the peoples of our country has withstood all the hardship and trials of the war and has become tempered still further in the common struggle of all Soviet people against the fascist invaders. Herein lies the strength of the Soviet Union.”
Stalin went on to point out the source of the strength of the Soviet state:
“The leading and guiding force of the Soviet people has been the Party of Lenin, the Party of the Bolsheviks…Under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, the workers, peasants and intelligentsia of our country have won their freedom and built a Socialist society. In the Patriotic War the Party has stood before us as the inspirer and organizer of the nation-wide struggle against the fascist invaders. The organizational work of the Party has united and directed all the efforts of the Soviet people towards the common goal, subordinating all our forces and means to the cause of defeating the enemy. During the war, the Party has increased its kinship with the people, has established still closer links with the broad masses of the working people. Herein lies the source of the strength of our state.”
In his November 6 assessment of the battle and the progress of the war Stalin outlined some specifics of how the people provided nation-wide united assistance to the front. Workers built fighting equipment. The collective farm peasantry produced food and raw materials for industry. Transport workers connected the rear and the front with timely delivery of arms and supplies. The intelligentsia worked to continually improve the Red Army’s weapons and to improve the efficiency of industry and agriculture while also advancing science and culture. And just as in the years of peaceful construction, the overall leading and guiding force was the Communist Party which had led the fight for freedom and the building of the socialist society. Now during the Patriotic War, the party inspired and organized the nation-wide resistance against the fascist invaders. The Party united and directed all forces and means to the aim of defeating the enemy, further establishing even closer links with the people.
In his speech, Stalin modestly omits mention of his role but it is precisely because of the leadership of the Communist Party and J.V. Stalin that the Red Army and peoples of the Soviet Union were able to unite as one to achieve their death-defying deeds. Stalin and the Bolshevik Party had seen the Nazi threat coming years before – Hitler had openly outlined his plans in his 1925 book – and had been preparing the Soviet Union and its peoples to defend themselves against the impending aggression. The completion of the First and Second Five Year Plans completely reorganized and re-equipped Soviet industry with the latest machinery and methods. The Soviet Union bought time through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact and then used the time gained to go all out to build up both the defensive capabilities that were required and the means to then go on the offensive and win total victory.
So the victory at Stalingrad shows many things. However, the most important lesson for the people of the world is that the affirmation of Stalingrad’s right to be in the face of Nazi aggression required the organization of a new kind which had been created in the Soviet Union. This organization was in the form of the communist party of a new type and the Soviet Power. The victory in the battle revealed the new quality and strength of organization and resistance that emerged in the war conditions as a result of Soviet Power, where the people and their communist leadership came together as one to realize the justice of their cause. The sacrifice and determination to defeat the scourge of fascism and save humankind made the Soviet Union the vanguard of the world anti-fascist front. The courage, cool-headedness and bold leadership of the great commander Joseph Stalin and the Bolshevik Party he led made them the architects of the anti-fascist victory in Europe
Today also, in the current historical conditions, what is crucial to turn things around in the people’s favour is for them to establish an aim and to build their own organization that is capable of realizing that aim. Fundamental to this is to pay attention to the decisive role of organizing the human factor/social consciousness. People today require new forms of organization in the form of anti-war governments where it is the people who take decisions in their own name. No longer can we just hand over our decision-making power to others, to those so-called representatives who act in the name of the people but then in practice betray the people’s interests in order to advance private interests.
The new forms that are built must be consistent with the requirements of the new historical conditions which have emerged in the last 30 years since the fall of the former Soviet Union. In the time of Stalingrad what was needed was the forms which could contain and eradicate Nazism and fascism to safeguard the future of humankind. This was critical. A Nazi victory would have guaranteed a very dark, inhuman future. Fortunately the people of the world at that time had the powerful Soviet Union on their side to lead the battle for victory and to inspire the rest of the world to also rise up and defeat their oppressors.
The time of Stalingrad, then, was a time of the flow of revolution, with the Soviet Union as its bulwark. Tremendous sacrifice was made by the peoples of the Soviet Union, China, Europe, Britain, other Asian countries, North America, and many other nations to battle back against and contain Nazi-fascism and Japanese militarism. With the end of the war and the victory of the anti-fascist front, humanity was marching forward to the drumbeat of freedom, democracy and peace and people’s democracies were established wherever the communists held onto or were able to establish the people’s power.
Today, conditions are different. This is not the time of Stalingrad. It is a period of retreat of revolution rather than advance. Now it is the imperialists and reactionaries who have the initiative. They have formed huge international cartels consisting of powerful private interests contending and colluding for control of the world’s resources and spheres of influence. These cartels constantly make decisions that affect us all in which we have no say. Whatever they cannot control they destroy. War is no longer politics by other means: it is straightforward destruction, as evidenced by the ongoing invasions of sovereign nations and crimes against humanity that surpass even those of the Hitlerites. All of this is carried out in the false name of so-called freedom, democracy and peace, which the people of Stalingrad and so many others of that time fought so hard to actually achieve.
The complex, dangerous and difficult situation that exists today requires its own analysis and actions with analysis. It will not do simply to try to impose scenarios from the past onto the present. That was then, this is now. It will also not do to spend time responding to distractions by the ruling circles. The people must use their own reference points. Today, we must build anti-war governments on a new historical basis, consistent with the needs of the times. We must go all out to make Canada a zone for peace. We must build anti-war governments that enable the people to make themselves the decision-makers in a manner that permits all of humanity to turn things around in their favour.
This, then, is the critical importance of both celebrating the victory of the Battle of Stalingrad and also discussing its significance for today in order to reach warranted conclusions. The people have the right and duty to deliberate and speak about how to turn the situation around in their favour. Political discussions need to be organized across the country to provide forums where people can bring forward their concerns and together workers and people from all walks of life can think things through and exchange experiences and ideas. This will help those who are trying to intervene in a manner that favours the people.
The importance of discussion can be seen by the fact that the reactionary forces want to avoid and stop that discussion. Their main strategy is to falsely equate communism with fascism, with the very force communism defeated, in order to discredit and dismiss it. Even today, the Trudeauites want to build a monument to anti-communism in Canada that honours Nazis and fascists while their reactionary allies in Europe are systematically dismantling the monuments honouring the Second World War heroism of the Red Army and the Soviet Union. All this is to try to deprive the people of an outlook on the basis of which they can unite against those trampling their rights and who want to create conditions for a Third World War.
In conclusion, the path is clear. We must enable the people to seize the initiative and to turn the current tide of counter-revolution around in their own favour. The people’s opposition to neo-liberal counter-revolution and its aggressive wars and crimes against humanity must be strengthened. We must build a revolutionary movement among the people with a mass character. From acts of resistance must emerge a mighty force that can end the barbaric rule of the present-day rulers, just as the Soviet people ended the Hitlerites’ evil dreams of world domination. The people did it then. We can do it now! It can be done. In fact, it must be done.
(Note: With a file from George Allen and closely based on articles in The Marxist-Leninist Weekly [TML Weekly], www.cpcml.ca)