CPUSA, SWP and WWII-Reply to Scott Marshall

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Sat Jul 29 05:53:19 MDT 1995

Was WW2 an imperialist war or was it a war against fascism?  It was
both.  Herein lies the difficulty. The War presented the Left with a new
historical situation that required it to analyze and react to these new

Some parties like the SWP and the Fourth International opposed the war,
others supported the war effort critically, and still others gave
uncritical support to the war.  The SWP's position flowed from their
understanding of the war as essentially an imperialist war (similar to
WW1). The CPUSA's support for the war emphasized the need to defend the
USSR against fascist aggression. (BTW, there was an excellent two-hour
episode on the PBS series "Battlefields" on the "Battle of Stalingrad"
earlier this week).

The positions of neither the SWP or the CPUSA were simple regarding the
war or the struggle against fascism.  The SWP, for instance, supported
and participanted in anti-fascist movements in the US both prior to and
following the declaration of war (as did other parties in the Fourth
International).  Many Trotskyists, in fact, were killed organizing against
fascism in Europe.  In fascist countries, Trotskyists favored a "united
front" of all workers' parties against fascism (something that was
resisted by Social Democrats and many CP's).  When the SU was attacked,
the FI supported a military defense of the SU against Nazi aggression and
participated in limited ways (the Russian section of the FI had obviously
been decimated by the purges and was an underground organization) in the
SU's war effort against Germany.  The position of the SWP was that while
they supported the defense of the SU, they still saw the US war as an
imperialist war and therefore opposed the US war effort.  For opposing
the war, many SWP leaders were arrested under the Smith Act and spend
most of the war behind bars (they viewed this as similar to Debs's
imprisonment for opposing WW1).  The SWP opposed the draft but told its
members to "serve" if drafted and to then organize against the war from
*within* the military (a position that they continued in the Vietnam
War). Obviously, since WW2 was very popular, this strategy was somewhat
less than successful. In the event, many SWPers were killed on the
battlefield fighting in the Army and Navy and others, most notably in the
Navy and the Merchant Marine, disappeared overboard while arguing against
the war.

I have not attempted to defend the SWP's position on WW2 above, only to
explain it more.


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