Vijay Prashad
Vijay Prashad is the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Chief Editor of LeftWord Books in New Delhi, Chief Correspondent for Globetrotter, a columnist for Frontline. An Indian historian and journalist, in 2013−2014, he was the Chair at the American University of Beirut and has been a Senior Fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut. In 1996−2017, he was professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, United States. Vijay Prashad is the author of twenty-five books, among them: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press), award winning The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (2013), No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (LeftWord Books, 2015) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). Vijay Prashad was born in Kolkata, India, in 1967.
When the Soviet Flag Flew Over the Reichstag
On 30 April 1945, the Red Army was highly motivated to seize Berlin, the capital of the Third Reich, by International Workers Day or May Day. The troops fought fiercely that day, but were not able to break the back of the concerted Nazi defence of Berlin. For a few hours, the Red Army took the Reichstag, the main government building of Germany, but they were pushed back. It was not until 2 May that the Red Army was able to subdue the Nazis. To commemorate the event, three Red Army soldiers — Aleksei Kovalev from Kiev, Abdulkhakim Ismailov from Dagestan, and Leonid Gorychev from Minsk — climbed the roof of the Reichstag, Kovalev held the Soviet flag while Yevgeny Khaldei from Donetsk took the photograph. It was the iconic image of Communism atop the bastion of fascism. Each year, on 9 May or Victory Day in the USSR, this image makes its appearance.
The Victory Banner over Reichstag, by Yevgeny Khaldey. May 2, 1945, Berlin
Hitler's Ambitions
In the 1930s, Adolph Hitler’s ambitions were not so far away from those of the ruling classes in the other imperialist states on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Even Hitler did not see his agenda to be antithetical to that of the United States or the United Kingdom; he merely wanted his Third Reich to become a partner with them in the domination of the world. His goals included:

1. The creation of the Third Reich by the unification of the German — and therefore to his mind, Aryan — peoples.

2. The subordination of the non-Aryan European nations at two levels, with the French and Low Countries to be lower-level allies and the southern Europeans and Slavs to be reduced to enslaved nations.

3. The extermination of peoples whom Hitler deemed to be too inferior to remain within the Reich’s empire — Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and Communists.

Hitler’s adversary was clearly the same as the adversary of the imperialist powers: so-called lower races who needed to be dominated, including European non-Aryans such as Jews and Slavs, as well as Communists.
The animus focused on the USSR, which was — to the eyes of Hitler — a Communist project populated by mainly Slavs. It, more than anything, needed to be annihilated
That is mainly why the USSR signed an agreement with the Nazis in 1939. It was, as the Soviets have long argued, a mechanism to buy time, since the Red Army needed to be prepared and the ordinance factories needed to be upgraded. Those months between the pact of 1939 and the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941 were crucial for the Red Army and for the people of the USSR.
Soviet Resistance
When Hitler authorized Operation Barbarossa in 1941 against the USSR, he had dreams about the productive lands of Russia. The Volga River, he said, would be 'our Mississippi', a great waterway that would convert northern Europe into the productive and self-sufficient state like United States of America. 'Europe — and not America', Hitler said, 'will be the land of unlimited possibilities'. That, and the annihilation of Communism and the subordination of the Slavs to the Aryan colonizers, was the agenda.

The war between fascism and communism ran from June 1941 to May 1945. In this period, the USSR lost 27 million Soviet citizens, of whom 11 million were soldiers. The technologically superior Nazi battalions encircled Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad, where the ordinary citizens and the Red Army fiercely defended their land. It was a great struggle against the Nazis deep inside the Soviet Union — led by military leaders Georgy Zhukov, Aleksandr Vasilevsky, Ivan Konev, Vasily Sokolovsky, and Konstantin Rokossovsky, who said, 'The German army is a machine, and machines can be broken'. It is important to recall the immense sacrifices of the Soviet people and the remarkable turnaround of the Red Army, which broke the Nazi military force, liberated many of the camps such as Auschwitz (where the Nazis conducted the Holocaust), and advanced rapidly to Berlin.
They Shall Not Pass!
When the flag went up on the Reichstag, Hitler’s ambitions had been thwarted. Within a few years, the imperialist powers hastily airbrushed their version of history, and ascribed similar characteristics to Nazism and Communism (the central book in this propaganda campaign was Hannah Arendt’s The Origin of Totalitarianism, 1951). Considerable energy went into burying the Soviet role in the defeat of fascism. Scholarly works emphasized the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, but offered all kinds of illusionary statements for the European acceptance of the Munich Agreement of 1938; Hollywood films made the American GI the hero of the war, showing the US forces landing at Normandy in June 1944 as the key moment, not the Operation Uranus in 1942 or the Vistula-Oder Offensive of January 1945.
This ideological framework, promoted by the Western ruling classes, portrayed those who fought and defeated fascism as the twins of fascism, and painted themselves as the only ones who fought against the Nazis. This view of history, thoroughly ideological and erroneous, remains today
It was true then and it is true now that the only authentic force against the fascists then and the neo-fascists now is the Left. It was the Left — in all its shades — that went to Spain to defend the Republic, and it was the Left that stood beside Ethiopia against the Italians, only the Left that defended the anti-colonial movement and the anti-imperialist struggles for national liberation. When the Cuban volunteers left Spain after the fall of the Republic in 1939, their leaders Manuel des Peso and Jose Agostini wrote a note that is message to us ninety years later:
Spanish comrades,

As we depart, we are taking with us the most precious treasure of which all true anti-fascists must be proud: a sense of unity, a readiness to sacrifice oneself, and the will to victory. Three unforgettable and invaluable lessons. From now onwards, they shall be our motto
Amongst their ranks was Alberto Bayo, who would train Fidel Castro and his comrades from the Granma. They carried home with them the great certainty that it was sensitive people like them who would stand up against fascism, be prepared to sacrifice themselves in this difficult struggle, and allow La Pasionaria’s motto No Pasaran! — They shall not pass! — echo through them.

It was the slogan of the Spanish Republic, of the USSR as it fought against the Nazi menace, and now of the Cuban people who inspire us with their long struggle against today’s menace.
On the use of information

All materials on this website are available under license from Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International and may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, provided the source is acknowledged.

Demonstration of Nazi and fascist paraphernalia or symbols on this resource is related only to the description of the historical context of the events of the 1930−1940s, is not its propaganda and does not justify the crimes of fascist Germany.