It’s one of the most famous images from World War II – perhaps of the entire 20th century. Yevgeny Khaldei’s photograph of soldiers from the Soviet Red Army, raising the red banner over the fallen Nazi Reichstag on May 9, 1945, is the unquestioned symbol of the victory of the people over fascism.
This month marked the 75th anniversary of that victory.
In part, it is a victory that needs to be remembered. We recall the heroism of the Soviet people, whose victory in the Battle of Stalingrad turned the tide of the war and opened a path to the liberation of Europe. Theirs was a heroism that came at a terrible price – 27 million deaths, 1700 cities and towns and 70,000 villages destroyed.
But the defeat of fascism is also a victory that needs to be defended. In the first place, it needs to be defended against those who distort it by downplaying the decisive role of the Soviet people and the Red Army or, even more perverse, suggesting blaming the USSR for starting the war. To accept such a view of history is to liquidate the working class struggle.
In addition, we also must defend the victory of May 9 by preventing the resurgence of fascism in the contemporary world. In this country alone, the Prime Minister has chosen to support war crimes by opposing Israel’s investigation at the International Criminal Court. The Deputy Prime Minister has chosen both to justify and support the actions of fascists past and present in Ukraine. The government, with the full encouragement of the Conservative opposition, chose to raid Indigenous lands in order to suppress opposition to pipelines. Similarly, it has chosen policies that seek imperialist domination over Latin America – from Bolivia to Brazil to Venezuela to Nicaragua to Honduras. It chose to train and fund a bloody, terrorist campaign against the people of Syria and their legitimate government. And it has chosen to conduct a Cold War campaign against China, fully willing to sacrifice the safety of Asian Canadians as it fans the flames of racism and xenophobia. It has made these choices, and others, in order to save and reproduce a capitalist system that breeds inequality, poverty, militarism and war, and that is doomed by its own contradictions.
This does not mean that the government of this country is fascist. But it does show that, in response to sharpening contradictions of capitalism, governments are willing to make more and more concessions to fascist ideas. These concessions, employed within seemingly democratic institutions, threaten to suppress labour and democratic rights and prevent dissent.
If we take seriously the 75th anniversary of the victory over fascism, we must take seriously the threat that fascism can return. If we honour the heroic sacrifice of those who raised the red banner over the Reichstag, we will ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain.
That one photo captures so much of that victorious struggle – the elation, the exhaustion, the destruction, the hope.
That one photo also conveys the urgency of continuing the struggle.
Support socialist media!
If you found this article useful, please consider donating to People’s Voice.
We are 100% reader-supported, with no corporate or government funding.