Celebrate the 104th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution
Today is the 104th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution that started in the early hours of 7th November (25th October – old style) 1917, when the battleship Aurora, anchored on the Neva River in Petrograd, fired its guns to signal the attack on the Winter Palace and to begin the destruction of the failed Tsarist State of Russia.
The actual revolution was relatively painless and easy – maintaining it in the early days and then the years from 1918 to 1922 when White reaction tried to turn back the tide of history was much more difficult. Even with the full and active support of the world’s imperialist and capitalist powers (who had spent the previous 4 years trying to physically destroy each other) they failed. The glorious Red Army of the workers and peasants, of what was to become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the Soviet Union), displayed their mettle, courage and determination against all comers in order to attempt – for the first time in the world – the momentous and glorious task of the construction of Socialism (leading to Communism) the only way for the oppressed and exploited of the world to finally liberate themselves from the shackles of thousands of years.
Through the trials and tribulations of the 1920s and 1930s the young Socialist state was able to achieve many successes and as well as making mistakes (although this doesn’t include the purging of the Party of opportunist elements) – both from which future generations will have to learn. Mistakes are to be expected. The first to make their way to their goal along an uncharted course will always face difficulties that for the weak are insurmountable. The Soviet people, under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik) (CPSU(B)) of Comrades Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin, showed themselves up for the task.
This was never more so than during some of the darkest days in Europe where it was the Red Army of the Socialist Republic which defeated the Nazi Beast and chased it down to its lair to make the victory final. The debt that the people of Europe, and the world, owe to those courageous Soviet men and women is incalculable.
But the road to a new future is tortuous and difficult. Traitors within ally with the forces of reaction without and undermine the achievements of the past with false promises of plenty in the world of capitalist dominance. In these times of the victory of reaction, ignorance and opportunism there are some (a very few) who benefit from the theft of the public wealth but for the majority of the population such changes are a disaster, in economic, political and cultural terms.
Capitalism never has, doesn’t now and never will offer any long term future for the benefit of the majority of the population of the world.
The victory of Revisionism (and ultimately capitalism) in the Soviet Union in the 1950s was later followed by the collapse of the Socialist systems in the other major revolutionary societies of the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Other societies in Eastern Europe which also attempted to build a new society were to later fall lacking the substance to remain independent (for reasons that are too complex to go into here).
This means that 104 years after the momentous events in what was to become (and still is) Leningrad the world is yet again totally dominated by the moribund system of capitalism and imperialism.
People continue to fight – they always will – but without the leadership, the strategy and the perspective that can lead them to a bright future. Issue politics dominate and even in those national liberation movements that are nascent in certain countries the movement is fractured, divided and weak.
Comrade Mao Tse-tung, said that ‘either revolution will prevent a world war or a world war will lead to revolution’. That insightful analysis is as pertinent now as it was many years ago – at a time when the tide of revolution was on the rise.
For the world is becoming a dangerous place once more – with various capitalist/imperialist states jockeying for position of dominance.
The leaders of the erstwhile Socialist states of China and Russia no longer have the social conscience of the revisionists of the past. Even the arch-renegade Khrushchev recognised that when faced with the belligerent and bellicose attitude of the warmonger Kennedy in 1961 in Cuba. The American imperialists were prepared to destroy the world in order to determine what should happen in ‘their back yard’ but it was Khrushchev who made the moral decision to withdraw and prevent a potential nuclear holocaust – even against the wishes of the Cuban people themselves.
Now the contending forces no longer have that social conscience ‘brake’ on their ambitions.
However, the future does not belong to the old order. It constantly demonstrates, even in its homelands, that the sufferings of working people are of no concern and that their lives are expendable if they produce no profit for their system.
Yes, the weapons at the disposal of these warmongers are vastly superior and more destructive than those available just a few decades ago. If the world falls into another international conflict (different from the surrogate wars that have dominated the last 70 or more years) then the destruction will be immense and there are doubts whether society would be able to recover from such devastation.
That makes learning the lessons of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the strategy and tactics, the importance of leadership, the embedding of the Party amongst the population even more of an urgent task.
The people will win, ultimately. What they have to do is to decide if they want to build a new society free from exploitation when conditions are more or less stable or whether they want to do so from the ashes and in a poisonous atmosphere of a world destroyed at the whim of capitalism, whether it be through the destruction of the ecosystem due to the constant thirst for profit or the result of a nuclear or biological holocaust.
Long live the Great October Socialist Revolution!
Long live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!
Forward to a future free of exploitation and oppression!
6th and 9th August 1945 – Dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Myth-making and the Atomic Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
by Jacques R. Pauwels
[The following essay was published on the CounterPunch website on August 6th 2021. Although the analysis of Soviet intentions during and following the Great Patriotic War is open to question the essay points out clearly US Imperialism’s justifications for the dropping of the two atom bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th August 1945 respectively, and their aspirations for hegemony in the Pacific area.]
Myth: The war in the Far East only ended in the summer of 1945, when the US president and his advisors felt that, to force the fanatical Japanese to surrender unconditionally, they had no other option than to destroy not one but two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with atom bombs. This decision saved the lives of countless Americans and Japanese who would have perished if the war had continued and required an invasion of Japan.
Reality: Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed to prevent the Soviets from making a contribution to the victory against Japan, which would have forced Washington to allow Moscow to participate in the postwar occupation and reconstruction of the country. It was also the intention to intimidate the Soviet leadership and thus to wrest concessions from it with respect to the postwar arrangements in Germany and Eastern Europe. Finally, it was not the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the Soviet entry into the war against Japan, which caused Tokyo to surrender.
With the German capitulation in early May 1945, the war in Europe was over. The victors, the Big Three, now faced the complex and delicate problem of the postwar reorganization of Europe. The United States had entered the war rather late, namely in December 1941. And the Americans only started to make a major contribution to the victory against Germany with the landings in Normandy in June 1944, that is, less than one year before the end of the hostilities in Europe. When the war against Germany came to an end, however, Uncle Sam occupied a seat at the table of the victors, ready and eager to look after his interests, to achieve what one might call the American war aims. (It is a myth that the presumably deeply isolationist Americans just wanted to withdraw from Europe: the country’s political, military, and economic leaders had urgent reasons for maintaining a presence on the old continent.) The other big victorious powers, Britain and the Soviet Union, also looked to pursue their interests. It was clear that it would be impossible for one of the three to ‘have it all’, that compromises would have to be reached. From the American point of view, the British expectations did not present much of a problem, but Soviet aspirations were a concern. What, then, were the war aims of the Soviet Union?
As the country that had made the biggest contribution by far to the common victory over Nazi Germany and suffered enormous casualties in the process, the Soviet Union had two major objectives. First, hefty reparation payments from Germany as compensation for the huge destruction wrought by Nazi aggression, a demand similar to the French and Belgian demands for reparations payments from the Reich after World War I. Second, security against potential future threats emanating from Germany. These security concerns also involved Eastern Europe, especially Poland, a potential springboard for German aggression against the USSR. Moscow wanted to ensure that in Germany, Poland, and other Eastern European countries, no regimes hostile to the Soviet Union would ever come to power again. The Soviets also expected the Western allies to certify their recuperation of territories lost by revolutionary Russia during the Revolution and the Civil War, such as ‘Eastern Poland’, and to recognize the metamorphosis of the three Baltic states from independent countries to autonomous republics within the Soviet Union. Finally, now that the nightmare of the war was over, the Soviets expected that they would be able to go back to work on the construction of a socialist society. It is well known that the Soviet supremo, Stalin, was a firm believer in the idea that it was possible and even necessary to create ‘socialism in one country’, hence the hostility between him and Trotsky, an apostle of worldwide revolution. Less well known is the fact that, as the war came to an end, Stalin did not plan to install communist regimes in Germany or in any of the Eastern European countries liberated by the Red Army, and that he also discouraged communist parties in France, Italy, and elsewhere in Western Europe, liberated by the Americans and their allies, from trying to come to power. He had already formally stopped promoting worldwide revolution in 1943, when he dissolved the Comintern, the communist international organization created for that purpose by Lenin in 1919. This policy was resented by many communists outside of the Soviet Union, but it pleased Moscow’s Western allies, especially the US and Britain. Stalin was eager to maintain good relations with them, because he needed their goodwill and cooperation to achieve the objectives, described above, aimed at providing the Soviet Union with reparations, security, and the opportunity to resume work on the construction of a socialist society. His American and British partners had never indicated to Stalin that they found these expectations unreasonable. To the contrary, the legitimacy of these Soviet war aims had been recognized repeatedly, either explicitly or implicitly, in Tehran, Yalta, and elsewhere.
The Americans and their British, Canadian, and other partners had liberated most of Western Europe by the end of 1944. And they had made sure that in Italy, France, and elsewhere, regimes were established that were congenial to them, if not always to the population at large. This usually meant that the local communists were sidelined entirely; if that proved impossible, for example in France, they were denied a share of power commensurate with the important role they had played in the resistance or the considerable popular support they enjoyed. And even though the inter-allied agreements had stipulated that the ‘big three’ would collaborate closely in the administration and reconstruction of liberated countries, the Americans and British prevented their Soviet ally from providing any input into the affairs of Italy, for example, the first country to be liberated, already in 1943. In that country, the Americans and British sidelined the communists, who were very popular because of their role in the resistance, in favour of former fascists such as Badoglio, without allowing the Soviets any input. This modus operandi was to set a fateful precedent. Stalin had no choice but to accept that arrangement, but, as US historian Gabriel Kolko has observed, ‘the Russians accepted the [Italian] ‘formula’ without much enthusiasm, but carefully noted the arrangement for future reference and as a precedent’. (The Soviets were unquestionably entitled to a voice in the affairs of Italy, since Italian troops had participated in Operation Barbarossa.)
In Western Europe, in 1943-1944, the American and British liberators had acted ad libitum, ignoring not only the wishes of a large part of the local population but also the interests of their Soviet ally, and Stalin had accepted that arrangement. In 1945, on the other hand, the shoe was on the other foot: the Soviets clearly enjoyed the advantage in an Eastern Europe liberated by the Red Army. Even so, the Western Allies could hope that they might be able to provide a measure of input into the reorganization of this part of Europe as well. Everything was still possible over there. The Soviets had obviously favoured the local communists but had not yet created any faits accomplis. And the Western Allies were well aware that Stalin craved their goodwill and cooperation and would therefore be willing to make concessions. The political and military leaders in Washington and London also expected that Stalin would be indulgent because, if not, he had reason to fear the consequences. The Soviet leader was keenly aware that it was already an enormous achievement for his country to have emerged victoriously from a life-and-death struggle with the Nazi behemoth. But he also knew that many US and British leaders, exemplified by Patton and Churchill, hated the Soviet Union and were even considering waging war against it as soon as the common German enemy was defeated, preferably in a march on Moscow side-by-side with the remainder of the Nazi host; that plan called Operation Unthinkable, had been hatched by Churchill. Stalin had reason to try to avoid such a scenario.
The aspirations of the Soviets with respect to reparations and security, described above, were not unreasonable, and the US and British leaders had recognized their legitimacy, explicitly or implicitly, during a meeting of the Big Three in Yalta in February 1945. But Washington and London were far from enchanted by the prospect of seeing the Soviet Union receiving its due after having made such outstanding efforts and sacrifices on behalf of the common anti-Nazi cause. The Americans, in particular, had their own ideas with respect to postwar Germany and Eastern as well as Western Europe, to be examined in the next chapter. Reparations, for example, would enable the Soviets to resume work, possibly successfully, on the project of a communist society, a counter system to the international capitalist system of which the USA had become the great champion.
Essentially, in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Uncle Sam wanted governments, democratic or not, that would pursue a liberal economic policy, involving an ‘open door’ for American products and investment capital. Roosevelt had displayed a measure of empathy vis-à-vis the Soviets, but after his death on April 12, 1945, his successor, Harry Truman, had little or no sympathy or understanding for the Soviet point of view. He and his advisors loathed the idea that the Soviet Union might receive major reparations from Germany, since this was likely to disqualify Germany as a potentially lucrative market for American products and investment capital. And they also found it abominable that the Soviets were certain to use that German capital to build a socialist system, an undesirable form of competition for capitalism.
The Soviet aspirations were reasonable, and the Soviet leaders, including Stalin, who is usually wrongly depicted as making all the decisions by himself, were certainly willing to make major concessions. It was possible to talk with them, but such a dialogue also required patience and understanding of the Soviet viewpoint and had to be carried out in the knowledge that the Soviet Union was not prepared to leave the conference table empty-handed. Truman, however, had no desire to engage in such a dialogue. (That Stalin was interested in dialogue and could be most reasonable was to be reflected in his approach to the postwar arrangements regarding Finland and Austria; the Red Army would in due course pull out of these countries without leaving behind any communist regimes.)
Truman and his advisors hoped that it would prove possible to force the Soviets to abstain from German reparations and withdraw not only from the eastern reaches of German territory but also from Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, so that the Americans and their British partners could operate there as they had already done in Western Europe. Truman even hoped that it might be possible to cause the Soviets to put an end to their communist experiment, which remained a source of inspiration for ‘reds’ and other radicals and revolutionaries everywhere on earth, even in the United States itself.
In the early spring of 1945, Churchill had flogged the idea of having US and British troops march to Moscow together with the remaining Nazi forces. But that plan, called Operation Unthinkable, had to be abandoned mainly because of the same stiff kind of opposition displayed by soldiers and civilians that had led to the aborting of the armed intervention in the Russian Civil War. Like Patton, who had looked forward to playing a major role in ‘Barbarossa Bis’, Truman must have been disappointed. But on April 25, 1945, only days before the German capitulation, the president received electrifying news. He was briefed about the top-secret Manhattan Project, or S-1, the code name for the construction of the atom bomb. That new and powerful weapon, on which the Americans had been working for years, was almost ready and, if tested successfully, would soon be available for use. Truman and his advisors thus fell under the spell of what the renowned American historian William Appleman Williams has called a ‘vision of omnipotence’. They convinced themselves that the new weapon would enable them to force their will on the Soviet Union. The atomic bomb was ‘a hammer’, as Truman himself put it, that he would wave over the heads of ‘those boys in the Kremlin’.
Thanks to the bomb, it would now be possible to force Moscow to withdraw the Red Army from Germany and to deny Stalin a say in its postwar affairs. It now also seemed a feasible proposition to install pro-Western and even anticommunist regimes in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and to prevent Stalin from exerting any influence there. It even became thinkable that the Soviet Union itself might be opened up to American investment capital as well as American political and economic influence, and that this communist heretic might thus be returned to the bosom of the universal capitalist church. ‘There is evidence’, writes the German historian Jost Dülffer, that Truman believed that the monopoly of the nuclear bomb would be ‘a passepartout for the implementation of the United States’ ideas for a new world order’. Indeed, with the nuclear pistol on his hip, the American president did not feel that he had to treat ‘the boys in the Kremlin’, who did not have such a super-weapon, as his equals. ‘The American leaders waxed self-righteous and excoriated Russia’, writes Gabriel Kolko, ‘[and] they refused to negotiate in any serious way simply because as self-confident master of economic and military powers the United States felt it could ultimately define the world order’.
Possession of a mighty new weapon also opened up all sorts of possibilities with respect to the ongoing war in the Far East and the postwar arrangements to be made for that part of the world, of great importance to the leaders of the US, as we have seen when dealing with Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, playing that powerful trump card would only be possible after the bomb had been successfully tested and was available to be used. Truman needed to bide his time. He therefore did not heed Churchill’s advice to discuss the fate of Germany and Eastern Europe with Stalin as soon as possible, ‘before the armies of democracy melted’, that is, before the American troops were to pull out of Europe. Eventually, Truman did agree to a summit meeting of the Big Three in Berlin, but not before the summer, when the bomb was supposed to be ready.
The meeting of the Big Three took place, not in bombed-out Berlin but in nearby Potsdam, from July 17 to August 2, 1945. It was there that Truman received the long-awaited message that the atomic bomb had been tested successfully on July 16 in New Mexico. The American president now felt strong enough to make his move. He no longer bothered to present proposals to Stalin but made all sorts of non-negotiable demands; at the same time, he rejected out of hand all proposals emanating from the Soviet side, for example proposals concerning German reparation payments. But Stalin did not capitulate, not even when Truman attempted to intimidate him by whispering into his ear that America had acquired an incredibly powerful new weapon. The Soviet leader, who had certainly been informed already about the Manhattan Project by his spies, listened in stony silence. Truman concluded that only an actual demonstration of the atomic bomb could persuade the Soviets to give way. Consequently, no general agreement on important issues could be achieved at Potsdam. 
In the meantime, the Japanese battled on in the Far East, even though their situation was totally hopeless. They were in fact prepared to surrender, but not unconditionally as the Americans demanded. To the Japanese mind, an unconditional capitulation conjured up the supreme humiliation, namely, that Emperor Hirohito might be forced to step down and possibly be accused of war crimes. American leaders were aware of this, and some of them, for example Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, believed, as historian Gar Alperovitz writes, ‘that a statement reassuring the Japanese that unconditional surrender did not mean dethronement of the Emperor would probably bring an end to the war’.
The demand for an unconditional surrender was actually far from sacrosanct: in General Eisenhower’s HQ in Reims on May 7, a German condition had been accepted, namely their request for the cease-fire to be implemented only after a delay of no less than 45 hours, long enough to permit a large number of their troops to slip away from the eastern front in order to end up in not in Soviet but in American or British captivity; even at this late stage, many of these units would be kept ready – in uniform, armed, and under the command of their own officers – for possible use against the Red Army, as Churchill was to admit after the war. It was therefore quite possible to bring about a Japanese capitulation in spite of the demand for immunity for Hirohito. Furthermore, Tokyo’s condition was far from essential: after an unconditional surrender was finally wrested from the Japanese, the Americans never bothered to lay charges against Hirohito, and it was thanks to Washington that he was able to remain emperor for many more decades.
Why did the Japanese think that they could still afford the luxury of attaching a condition to their offer of surrender? The reason was that in China the main force of their army remained intact. They thought that they could use this army to defend Japan itself and thus exact a high price from the Americans for their admittedly inevitable final victory. This scheme would only work, however, if the Soviet Union did not get involved in the war in the Far East, thus pinning the Japanese forces down on the Chinese mainland. Soviet neutrality, in other words, allowed Tokyo a small measure of hope, not hope for a victory of course, but hope that Washington might accept the condition about their emperor. To a certain extent, the war with Japan dragged on because the USSR was not yet involved in it. But Stalin had already promised in 1943 to declare war on Japan within three months after the capitulation of Germany, and he had reiterated this commitment as recently as July 17, 1945, in Potsdam. Consequently, Washington counted on a Soviet attack on Japan in early August. The Americans thus knew only too well that the situation of the Japanese was hopeless. ‘Fini Japs when that comes about’, Truman wrote in his diary, referring to the expected Soviet intervention in the war in the Far East.
In addition, the American navy assured Washington that it was able to prevent the Japanese from transferring their army from China to defend the homeland against an American invasion. Finally, it was questionable whether an American invasion of Japan would be necessary at all, since the mighty US Navy could also simply blockade that island nation and thus confront it with a choice between capitulating or starving to death.
In order to finish the war against Japan without having to make more sacrifices, Truman thus had a range of attractive options. He could accept the trivial Japanese condition, immunity for their emperor; he could also wait until the Red Army attacked the Japanese in China, thus forcing Tokyo into accepting an unconditional surrender after all; and he could have instituted a naval blockade that would have forced Tokyo to sue for peace sooner or later. But Truman and his advisors chose none of these options. Instead, they decided to knock Japan out with the atomic bomb.
This fateful decision, which was to cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians, offered the Americans considerable advantages. First, the bomb might still force Tokyo to surrender before the Soviets got involved in the war in Asia. In this case it would not be necessary to allow Moscow a say in the coming decisions about postwar Japan, about the territories that had been occupied by Japan (such as Korea and Manchuria), and about the Far East and the Pacific region in general. The United States would then enjoy total hegemony over that part of the world, something that was Washington’s true, albeit unspoken, war aim in the conflict with Japan, as we have seen in the previous chapter. It is for this reason that the option of a blockade was also rejected: in this case, the Japanese would have capitulated only many months after the entry into the war of the Soviet Union.
A Soviet intervention in the war in the Far East threatened to achieve for the Soviets the same advantage that the Americans’ own relatively late intervention in the war in Europe had produced for themselves, namely, a place at the round table of the victors who would force their will on the defeated enemy, decide on borders, determine postwar socio-economic and political structures, and thereby achieve enormous benefits and prestige. Washington absolutely did not want the Soviet Union to enjoy this kind of input. The Americans had eliminated their great imperialist competitor in that part of the world and did not relish the idea of being saddled with a new potential rival, a rival, moreover, whose detested communist ideology was already becoming dangerously influential in many Asiatic countries, including China. By making use of the atom bomb, US leaders hoped to finish off the Japanese quickly and start to rearrange the Far East without a potentially pesky Soviet partner.
The atom bomb seemed to offer the American leaders an additional important advantage. Truman’s experience in Potsdam had persuaded him that only an actual demonstration of this new weapon would make Stalin pliable. Using the atom bomb to obliterate a Japanese city seemed to be the perfect stratagem to intimidate the Soviets and coerce them to make major concessions with respect to postwar arrangements in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. Truman’s secretary of state, James F. Byrnes, reportedly declared later that the atom bomb had been used because such a demonstration of power was likely to make the Soviets more accommodating in Europe.
To make the desired terrifying impression on the Soviets – and the rest of the world – the bomb obviously had to be dropped on a big city. It is probably for this reason that Truman turned down a proposal, made by some of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, to demonstrate the power of the bomb by dropping it on some uninhabited Pacific island: there would not have been sufficient death and destruction. It would also have been extremely embarrassing if the weapon had failed to work its deadly magic; but if the unannounced atomic bombing of a Japanese city backfired, no one would have known and no one would have been embarrassed. A big Japanese city had to be selected, but the capital, Tokyo, did not qualify, since it was already flattened by previous conventional bombing raids, so that additional damage was unlikely to loom sufficiently impressive. In fact, very few cities qualified as the required ‘virgin’ target. Why? In early August 1945, only ten cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants remained relatively unscathed by bombing raids, and quite a few of those were beyond the range of the bombers which, on account of inexistent Japanese air defences, the latter had already started to obliterate towns with a population of less than 30,000. But Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unlucky enough to qualify.
The atom bomb was ready just in time to be put to use before the USSR had a chance to become involved in the Far East. Hiroshima was obliterated on August 6, 1945, but the Japanese leaders did not react immediately with an unconditional capitulation. The reason was that the damage was great, but not greater than that caused by earlier bombing raids on Tokyo, where an attack by thousands of bombers on March 9 and 10, 1945, had caused more destruction and killed more people than at the ‘virgin’ target of Hiroshima. This ruined Truman’s delicate scenario, at least partly. Tokyo had not yet surrendered when on August 8, 1945 – exactly three months after the German capitulation in Berlin – the USSR declared war on Japan, and the next day the Red Army attacked the Japanese troops stationed in northern China. Truman and his advisors now wanted to end the war as quickly as possible in order to limit the ‘damage’ (from their perspective) done by the Soviet intervention.
Already on August 9, 1945, just one day after the Soviet Union’s entry into the war in the Far East, a second bomb was dropped, this time on the city of Nagasaki. About this bombardment, in which many Japanese Catholics perished, a former American army chaplain later stated: ‘That’s one of the reasons I think they dropped the second bomb. To hurry it up. To make them surrender before Russians came’. (The chaplain may or may not have been aware that among the 75,000 human beings who were ‘instantaneously incinerated, carbonized and evaporated’ in Nagasaki were many Japanese Catholics as well an unknown number of inmates of a camp for allied POWs, whose presence had been reported to the air command, to no avail.)
Japan capitulated not because of the atom bombs but because of the Soviet entry into the conflict. After the obliteration of most of the country’s big cities, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no matter how horrible, made little or no difference from a strategic viewpoint. The Soviet declaration of war, on the other hand, was a fatal blow, because it eliminated Tokyo’s very last hope for attaching some minor conditions to the inevitable capitulation. Moreover, even after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese leaders knew that it would take many months before American troops might land in Japan, but the Red Army was making such rapid progress that it was estimated to cross into Japan’s own territory within ten days. Because of the Russian involvement, in other words, Tokyo ran out of time and of options other than unconditional surrender. Japan capitulated because of the Soviet declaration of war, not because of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even without the atomic bombs, the Soviet entry into the war would have triggered a surrender. But the Japanese leaders took their time. Their formal capitulation occurred on August 14, 1945.
To the great chagrin of Truman and his advisors, the Red Army was able to make considerable progress during those final days of the war. The Soviets even began to drive the Japanese out of their Korean colony, and did so in collaboration with a Korean liberation movement led by Kim Il-sung, which proved to be immensely popular and therefore poised to come to power after the liberation of the entire country from Japan’s nasty colonial yoke. But the prospect of an independent, socialist Korea did not fit into American plans for the postwar Far East. Washington therefore quickly send troops to occupy the south of the peninsula, and the Soviets agreed to a division of the country that was supposed to be only temporary but has lasted until the present.
It looked as if the Americans would be stuck with a Soviet partner in the Far East after all, but Truman made sure that this was not the case. He acted as if the earlier cooperation of the three great powers in Europe had not set a precedent by rejecting Stalin’s request for a Soviet occupation zone in the defeated Land of the Rising Sun on August 15, 1945. And when on September 2, 1945, General MacArthur officially accepted the Japanese surrender on the American battleship Missouri in the Bay of Tokyo, representatives of the Soviet Union, and of other allies in the Far East, including Great Britain and the Netherlands, were allowed to be present only as insignificant extras. Japan was not carved up into occupation zones, like Germany. America’s defeated rival was to be occupied in its entirety by the Americans only, and as American viceroy in Tokyo, General MacArthur would ensure that, regardless of contributions made to the common victory, no other power would have a say in the affairs of postwar Japan.
The American conquerors recreated the Land of the Rising Sun according to their ideas and to their advantage. In September 1951, a satisfied America would sign a peace treaty with Japan. The USSR, however, whose interests had never been taken into account, did not co-sign this treaty. The Soviets did pull out of the parts of China and Korea they had liberated, but they refused to evacuate Japanese territories such as Sakhalin and the Kurils, which had been occupied by the Red Army during the last days of the war. They would be mercilessly criticized for this in the United States afterwards, as if the attitude of the American government itself had nothing to do with this issue.
American leaders believed that after the Japanese rape of China and its humiliation of traditional colonial powers such as Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands, and after their own victory over Japan, only the elimination of the USSR from the Far East – seemingly a mere formality – was required in order to realize their dream of absolute hegemony in that part of the world. Their disappointment and chagrin were all the greater when, after the war, China was ‘lost’ to Mao’s Communists. To make things worse, the northern half of Korea, a former Japanese colony the US had hoped to reduce to vassalage together with Japan itself, opted for an idiosyncratic path to socialism, and in Vietnam a popular independence movement under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh likewise turned out to have plans that proved to be incompatible with the grand Asian ambitions of the United States. No wonder, then, that it would come to war in Korea and Vietnam, and almost to an armed conflict with ‘Red China’.
To force Japan to its knees, it was not necessary to use the atom bomb. As a thorough American study of the war in the air, the US Strategic Bombing Survey, was to acknowledge categorically, ‘Japan would certainly have surrendered prior to 31 December 1945, even if the atom bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated’. Several American military leaders have publicly acknowledged this, including Henry ‘Hap ’ Arnold, Chester Nimitz, William ‘Bull ’ Halsey, Curtis LeMay, and a future president, Dwight Eisenhower. Truman, however, wanted to use the bomb for a number of reasons, and not just to get the Japanese to surrender. He expected that dropping the atom bomb would keep the Soviets out of the Far East and terrorize that country’s leaders, so that Washington could impose its will on the Kremlin with respect to European affairs. And so, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pulverized. Many American historians realize this only too well. Sean Dennis Cashman writes:
‘With the passing of time, many historians have concluded that the bomb was used as much for political reasons . . . Vannevar Bush [the head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development] stated that the bomb ‘was also delivered on time, so that there was no necessity for any concessions to Russia at the end of the war’. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes [Truman’s secretary of state] never denied a statement attributed to him that the bomb had been used to demonstrate American power to the Soviet Union in order to make [the Soviets] more manageable in Europe.'
Truman himself, however, hypocritically declared at the time that the purpose of the two nuclear bombardments had been ‘to bring the boys home’, that is, to quickly finish the war without any further major loss of life on the American side. This explanation was uncritically broadcast in the American media and thus was born a myth eagerly propagated by them and by mainstream historians in the US and in the Western World in general, and of course by Hollywood.
The myth that two Japanese cities were nuked to force Tokyo to surrender, thus shortening the war and saving lives, was ‘made in USA’, but it was to be eagerly espoused in Japan, whose post-war leaders, vassals of the US, found it extremely useful for a number of reasons, as Ward Wilson has pointed out in his excellent article on the Bomb. First, the emperor and his ministers, who were in many ways responsible for a war that had caused so much misery for the Japanese people, found it extremely convenient to blame their defeat, as Wilson puts it, on ‘an amazing scientific breakthrough that no one could have predicted’. The blinding light of the atomic blasts made it impossible, so to speak, to see their ‘mistakes and misjudgments’. The Japanese people had been lied to about how bad the situation really was, and how the misery had dragged on so long just to save the emperor, but the Bomb provided the perfect excuse for having lost the war. No need to apportion blame; no court of enquiry need be held. Japan’s leaders were able to claim they had done their best. So, at the most general level the Bomb served to deflect blame from Japan’s leaders.
Second, the Bomb earned Japan international sympathy. Like Germany, Japan had waged a war of aggression and committed all sorts of war crimes. Both countries looked for ways to improve their image, seeking to exchange the mantle of perpetrator for that of victim. In that context, post-war (West) Germany invented the myth of the Red Army, depicted as a latter-day horde of racially inferior Mongols, storming towards Berlin, raping blond Frauleins and pillaging peaceful gingerbread towns en route to Berlin. Hiroshima and Nagasaki similarly permitted Japan to pose as ‘a victimized nation, one that had been unfairly bombed with a cruel and horrifying instrument of war’.
Third, echoing the American notion that the Bomb had ended the war was certain to please Japan’s post-war American overlords. The latter would protect Japan’s upper class against the demands for radical societal change emanating from radical elements, including communists, whose gospel ‘resonated among Japan’s poor, threatening plutocratic rule’. But for quite some time, the elite worried that the Americans might abolish the institution of the emperor and put many top government officials, bankers, and industrialists on trial for war crimes. It was therefore deemed useful to please the Americans and, as a Japanese historian has put, ‘if they wanted to believe that the Bomb won the war, why disappoint them?’ Japanese acceptance of their Hiroshima myth gratified the Americans because it served to spread the word in Japan, elsewhere in Asia, and around the world, that the US was militarily all-powerful yet peace-loving, and willing to use its monopoly of the atom bomb only when absolutely necessary. Ward Wilson continues and concludes as follows:
‘If, on the other hand, the Soviet entry into the war was what caused Japan to surrender, then the Soviets could claim that they were able to do in four days what the United States was unable to do in four years, and the perception of Soviet military power and Soviet diplomatic influence would be enhanced. And once the Cold War was underway, asserting that the Soviet entry had been the decisive factor would have been tantamount to giving aid and comfort to the enemy.'
Over the years, the myth that the ‘nuking’ of two Japanese cities was justified, has lost much of its appeal on both sides of the Pacific. In 1945, an overwhelming 85% of Americans saw it that way, but that share declined to 63% in 1991 and 29% 2015; of the Japanese population, only 29% approved in 2015, and in 2015 merely 14%. The myth obviously needed a boost, and it was duly provided by one of Truman’s successors, President Barack Obama.
Obama visited Hiroshima in May 2016. In a public address he coolly described the pulverization of the city by means of the atom bomb in 1945 as ‘death falling from the sky’, as if it had been a hailstorm or some other natural phenomenon his country had nothing to do with, and he neglected to utter a single word of regret, let alone an apology, on behalf of Uncle Sam. In an enthusiastic report about this presidential performance, the New York Times, one of America’s leading newspapers, wrote that ‘many historians believe the bombings on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, which together took the lives of more than 200,000 people, saved lives on balance, since an invasion of the islands would have led to far greater bloodshed’. That numerous facts contradict this ‘belief’, and that numerous historians believe the exact opposite was not mentioned at all. This is how myths, even ailing myths, are kept alive.
Alperovitz, Gar. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam. The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power, new edition, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1985 (original edition 1965).
Cashman, Sean Dennis. Roosevelt, and World War II, New York and London, 1989.
Cummings, Bruce. The Korean War: A History, New York, 2011.
Dülffer, Jost. Jalta, 4. Februar 1945: Der Zweite Weltkrieg und die Entstehung der bipolaren Welt, Munich, 1998.
Gowans, Stephen. Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, Montreal, 2018.
Karl Marx was born on 5th May 1818 in the German town of Trier. In his twenties he started to develop the political theory which is now known as Marxism, very soon developing his ideas with his life time companion, friend and collaborator Frederick Engels.
These two, simple sentences are the very essence of Marxism. And since the early 1840s, when Marx started to develop his ideas, there has been a continual struggle to keep that issue at the forefront of workers’ movements throughout the world.
In the 19th century workers who attempted to change the world were far in advance of some of the so-called ‘leaders’, intellectuals and demagogues who spoke well but were found to be wanting when it came to action. The Paris Commune of 1871 was the prime example of this where workers knew instinctively what had to be done.
VI Lenin, the great Marxist theoretician, who was the first leader to be able to lead a successful proletarian revolution, learnt – and implemented – the lessons, both positive and negative, from the Commune and ensured that the Russian workers, peasants and soldiers had a better chance of success against an even more powerful reactionary force. However, Lenin’s ideas were based on the solid bedrock of Marxism, which philosophy he developed into what is now known as Marxism-Leninism.
The significance of Marx’s ideas have never been underestimated by capitalist, imperialist and reactionary forces. In the, now, 173 years since the publication of The Manifesto of the Communist Party (in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, pp477-519.) there have been countless occasions when those movements who have used Marxism as their ideological base have been attacked and vilified as being inappropriate to the circumstances or as being a ‘foreign import’. The danger that these ideas pose to the ruling classes in most countries of the world demonstrate the value they have for those who are oppressed and exploited – the majority of the population of the world.
But from its inception Marxism has not only had to contend with the attacks from capitalism and imperialism. Within the working class itself there have been those revisionists who have sought to emasculate Marxism of its revolutionary content and these cowards, traitors and renegades have caused incalculable damage to any advances in the conditions of the world’s workers and peasants.
However, those attacks only serve to make Marxism relevant in the present circumstances, where the people of the world are suffering during a health pandemic which has been made worse – and longer lasting – due to the fact that capitalism has no real interest in effectively dealing with such a situation that benefits the majority of people.
So far there’s been no indication that this crisis – caused by the political and economic situation under which all in the world live – has caused workers to rethink the old certainties (even if they did exist pre-2019). The negative effects of covid-19 will last for a long time and there’s no chance that the world will just change, taking into consideration the situation of the majority of the population, without them taking action to change their condition themselves.
Those ‘crumbs’ which capitalism have thrown to avoid the destruction of its rotten and moribund system are becoming harder to find and are getting scattered more widely.
Implementing the ideas of Marx – and how they have been developed by Lenin and Mao – is the only way there will be a long-term and sustainable future for the workers and peasants of the world.
Marxism is far from being dead.
Long Live Marxism!
As part of the commemoration of Marx’s birth we reproduce the interview below (first published on the 200th Anniversary) with David Harvey who has produced a series of video lectures which seek to make Marx’s most important work, Capital, (Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Capital Volunme 1, Capital Volume 2 and Capital Volume 3) understandable and more accessible to those who might find the three, large volumes too daunting.
Why Marx Still Matters
An interview with David Harvey
This article originally appeared as an interview on Daniel Denvir’s podcast, The Dig, in 2018
On the second centenary of Karl Marx’s birth, global capitalism is stumbling from crisis to crisis. In the wake of the financial crash, interest in Marx’s ideas has blossomed once again. This should come as no surprise: they remain vital to understanding not only the dynamics of capitalism itself but the manner in which it structures our modern world.
David Harvey is one of the world’s leading scholars of Marx. His course on the three volumes of Capital became synonymous with Marx’s re-emergence in recent years, and has been viewed by millions online. This course has been condensed into the recently-published Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason, a companion to Marx’s magnum opus, which addresses its relevance today.
In this interview, David Harvey speaks with journalist Daniel Denvir about Marx’s work, his understanding of capitalism’s contradictions, and why his ideas endure so long after his time.
You’ve been teaching Capital for quite a long time. Can you lay out a brief overview of each of the three volumes?
Marx is very much into detail, and it’s sometimes hard to get a sense of exactly what the whole conception of Capital is about. But really, it’s simple. Capitalists start the day with a certain amount of money, take the money into the marketplace and buy commodities like means of production and labour power, and put them to work in a labour process that produces a new commodity. That commodity is sold for money, plus a profit. Then the profit is redistributed in various ways, in the form of rents and interest, which circulates back into money, which starts the production cycle again.
It’s a circulation process. And the three volumes of Capital deal with different aspects. The first deals with production. The second deals with circulation and what we call ‘realisation’ — the way the commodity is converted back into money. And the third deals with distribution — how much goes to the landlord, how much goes to the financier, how much goes to the merchant, before it is all turned around and sent back into the circulation process.
That’s what I try to teach, so that people understand the relationships between the three volumes of Capital and don’t get lost entirely in any one volume or parts of them.
You differ with other Marx scholars in that you pay a lot of attention to volumes two and three, in addition to volume one. Why is that?
It’s clear that in Marx’s mind, he had an idea of the totality of the circulation of capital. His plan was to break it down into these three component parts in the three volumes. So I just follow what Marx says he’s doing. Now, the problem of course, is that volumes two and three were never completed, and they aren’t as satisfactory as volume one, which is a literary masterpiece. So I can understand why, if people want to read Marx with a certain sense of joy and fun, that they would stick with volume one. But I’m saying, ‘No, if you really want to understand what his conception of capital is, then you can’t understand it as just being about production. It’s about circulation. It’s about getting it to market and selling it, then it’s about distributing the profits.’
One reason that it’s important is that we need it to understand this dynamic of constant expansion that drives capitalism.
You get this idea of a ‘bad infinity’ in volume one. The system has to expand because it’s always about profit, creating what Marx called a ‘surplus value’, and the surplus value then gets reinvested in the creation of more surplus value. So capital is about constant expansion.
And what that does is this: if you grow at 3 percent a year, forever, then you get to the point where the amount of expansion required is absolutely huge. In Marx’s time, there’s plenty of space in the world to expand into, whereas right now we’re talking about 3 percent compound rate of growth on everything that’s happening in China and South Asia and Latin America. The problem arises: where are you going to expand into? That’s the bad infinity coming into being.
In volume three, Marx says maybe the only way it can expand is by monetary expansion. Because with money there’s no limit. If we’re talking about using cement or something like that, there’s a physical limit to how much you can produce. But with money, you can just add zeros to the global money supply.
If you look at what we did after the 2008 crisis, we added zeros to the money supply by something called ‘quantitative easing’. That money then flowed back into stock markets, and then asset bubbles, especially in property markets. We’ve now got a strange situation where, in every metropolitan area of the world that I’ve visited, there’s a huge boom in construction and in property asset prices – all of which is being fuelled by the fact that money is being created and it doesn’t know where to go, except into speculation and asset values.
You’re trained as a geographer, and for you Marx’s account of capitalism is fundamentally about dealing with problems of space and time. Why are these two axes of space and time are so critical?
For instance, the interest rate is about discounting into the future. And borrowing is about foreclosing on the future. Debt is a claim on future production. So the future is foreclosed on, because we’ve got to pay our debts. Ask any student who owes $200,000: their future is foreclosed, because they’ve got to pay off that debt. This foreclosure of the future is a terribly important part of what Capital is about.
The space stuff comes in because as you start to expand, there’s always the possibility that if you can’t expand in a given space, you take your capital and go into another space. For instance, Britain was producing a lot of surplus capital in the nineteenth century, so a lot of it was flowing to North America, some through Latin America, some to South Africa. So there’s a geographical aspect to this.
The expansion of the system is about getting what I call ‘spatial fixes’. You’ve got a problem: you’ve got excess capital. What are you going to do with it? Well, you have a spatial fix, which means you go out and build something somewhere else in the world. If you have an ‘unsettled’ continent like North America in the nineteenth century, then there’s vast amounts of space you can expand into. But now North America has been pretty much covered.
The spatial reorganisation is not simply about expansion. It’s also about reconstruction. We get deindustrialisation in the United States and Europe, and then the reconfiguration of an area through urban redevelopment, so that cotton mills in Massachusetts get turned into condominiums.
We’re running out of both space and time right now. That’s one of the big problems of contemporary capitalism.
What do mainstream economists miss about all of this?
They hate contradictions. It doesn’t fit with their world view. The economists love to confront what they call problems, and problems have solutions. Contradictions don’t. They exist with you all the time, and therefore you have to manage them.
They get heightened into what Marx called ‘absolute contradictions’. How do economists deal with the fact that in the crisis of the 1930s or the 1970s or more recently, surplus capital and surplus labour sit side by side, and nobody seems to have a clue as to how to put them back together so that they can work for socially productive purposes?
Keynes tried to do something about this. But by and large, economists have no idea how to deal with these contradictions. Whereas Marx is saying that this contradiction is in the nature of capital accumulation. And this contradiction then produces these crises periodically, which claim lives and create misery.
In terms of that contradiction, you describe in your book ‘surplus capital and surplus labour existing side by side with seemingly no way to put them back together.’ How has capitalism attempted to resolve this?
The response to the 2007–8 crisis was to, in most of the world – except China – double down into a neoliberal austerity politics. Which made things worse. Since then, we’ve had more cuts. It hasn’t worked very well. Slowly, unemployment has come down in the United States, but of course it’s gone shooting up in places like Brazil and Argentina.
The neoliberal argument had a lot of legitimacy in the 1980s and 1990s as being liberatory in some way. But nobody believes that anymore. Everybody realises it’s a con job in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
But now we’re seeing the emergence of an ethno-nationalist protectionism-autarky, which is a different model. That doesn’t sit very well with neoliberal ideals. We could be headed into something which is much less pleasant than neoliberalism, the division of the world into warring and protectionist factions who are fighting each other over trade and everything else.
The argument of somebody like Steve Bannon is that we need to protect the working people of America from competition in the job market by limiting immigration. Instead of blaming capital, you blame the immigrants. The second thing is to say, we can also get support from that population by putting up tariffs and blaming Chinese competition. In effect, you’ve got a right-wing politics that is gathering a great deal of support by being anti-immigrant and anti-offshoring.
You’re well known for your scholarly work, but you’re perhaps known better as a teacher of Marx. Why do you think it’s important for leftists outside of the academy to engage with Marx’s work?
When you’re involved in political action and activism, you’ve usually got some very specific target. Let’s say, lead paint poisoning in the inner city. You’re organising around what to do about the fact that 20 percent of the kids in inner-city Baltimore suffer from lead paint poisoning. You’re involved in a legal battle, and in fighting with landlord lobbies and with all kinds of opponents. Most people I know who are involved in activist forms of that kind are so consumed with the details of what they’re doing that they often forget where they are in the overall picture – of the struggles in a city, let alone in the world.
Often you find that people need assistance from outside. That lead paint thing is much easier to handle if you’ve got all of the people who are involved in the educational system, who see kids in schools with problems with lead paint poisoning. You start to build alliances. And the more alliances you can build, the more powerful your movement could be.
I try not to lecture people about what they should think, but try to create a framework of thinking, so that people can see where they are in the totality of complicated relationships that make up contemporary society. Then people can form alliances around the issues they’re concerned with, and, at the same time, mobilise their own powers to help other people in their alliances.
I’m into building alliances. In order to build alliances, you have to have a picture of the totality of a capitalist society. To the degree that you can get some of that from studying Marx, I think that it’s helpful.