By Tim Anderson, First published here:

NATO’s fascist history

Tim Anderson

In recent years NATO – essentially the USA and Western Europe – has bared its fascist roots through multiple interventions across four continents. The NATO states backed fascist coups in Venezuela, Honduras and Bolivia, imposed blockades on dozens of nations, fomented al Qaeda/ISIS/Boko Haram sectarian terrorism to destabilise Libya, Iraq, Syria and Nigeria and are now arming open Neo-Nazis in the Ukraine.

All this seems at odds with the NATO states’ heavily promoted self-image: as models of liberalism and democratic values, even lecturing other countries on that theme. They claim to have fought both fascism and communism. Yet it was European and North American imperialism and colonialism that laid the foundation for 20th century fascism.

Since the Second World War – a massive conflict which took more than 70 million lives – both Washington and the western Europeans made great efforts to hide the contributions and sacrifices of both the Soviet Union (principally Russia) and China, nations which lost more lives in WW2 than any other.

Indeed, in 2019 the European Parliament went so far as to blame both the USSR under Joseph Stalin, alongside Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, as being jointly responsible for WW2. That resolution claimed that “the Second World War … was started as an immediate result of the notorious Nazi-Soviet Treaty on Non-Aggression of 23 August 1939.”

If not entirely cynical, this was an extraordinary self-deception, and the culmination of a long campaign where socialist leaders Stalin and Mao Zedong were presented, over decades, as moral equivalents of the western European fascist Adolf Hitler.

That deceit made use of false claims that Stalin and Mao had instigated famines which killed many millions. In fact the famines in both Ukraine and China were the last in a long cycle of famines of the pre-socialist era. US historian Grover Furr has debunked the myth that the Ukrainian ‘Holodomor’ famine was a deliberate act by Stalin.

Similarly, the claim that WW2 was the “immediate result” of the Soviet-German “non-aggression pact is an utter falsehood. There were a number of similar European agreements with Nazi Germany before this, and several were more substantial.

The Anglo German Naval Agreement of 1935, for example, helped Germany rebuild its fleet, while Britain, France and Italy conceded Berlin’s claim to part of Czechoslovakia, in the 1938 Munich Pact. Then there were the active fascist collaborations between Germany, Spain and Italy, including the Italian-German Pact of Steel.

Much of Europe’s fascist collaboration coalesced under an Anti-Comintern Pact created by Nazi Germany and Japan in 1936, to oppose communist states. This pact later drew in support from Italy, Hungary, Spain and – during the war – from Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Romania and Slovakia. Fascism was aflame across Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Key European agreements with Nazi Germany are set out below, in Table 1.

Table 1: Key European agreements with Nazi Germany

1933, 20 JulyConcordat with the VaticanMutual recognition and non-interference–k1211
1933, 25 AugustHaavara agreement with German Jewish ZionistsAgreement to transfer capital and people to Palestine.
1934, 26 JanuaryGerman-Polish Non-Aggression PactTo ensure that Poland did not sign a military alliance with France.
1935, 18 JuneAnglo-German Naval AgreementBritain agreed to Germany expanding its navy to 35% the size of the British.  
1936, JulyNazi Germany aids fascists in SpainHitler sent air and armoured units to assist General Franco.
1936Rome-Berlin Axis agreementItalian – German fascist and anti-communist alliance.
1936, Oct-NovAnti-Comintern PactAnti-communist treaty, initiated by Nazi Germany and Japan in 1936 and which later drew in 9 European states: Italy, Hungary, Spain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Romania and Slovakia
1938, 30 SeptemberMunich PactBritain, France and Italy concede Germany’s Sudetenland (Czech) claims.
1939, 22 MayPact of SteelConsolidates 1936 Italian German agreement.  
1939, 7 JuneGerman–Latvian Non-Aggression PactSought peace with Nazi Germany.
1939, 24 JulyGerman–Estonian Non-Aggression PactSought peace with Nazi Germany.
1939, 23 AugustUSSR (Molotov-Ribbentrop)  Non-Aggression PactSought peace with Nazi Germany, protocol defined spheres of influence.

What is fascism? The term is used far too frequently but it has real meaning. We cannot be trapped by particular 20th century histories of fascism – conceptual elements must be identified.

Fascism is a heavily militarised, anti-democratic and racist-colonial regime which engages with a private, capitalist oligarchy. While primary fascism is an imperial project, there is also a subordinate fascism, in former colonies like Brazil and Chile, which integrates itself with the imperial power of the day. Fascist regimes are especially hostile to socialist and independent states and peoples. They differ from extreme right regimes only by openly crushing any semblance of social and political democracy. Imperial cultures and interventions, which always and everywhere negate the possibility of local democracy or accountability, are inherently fascist and remain at the root of contemporary fascism.

NATO’s fascism was built by the imperial and colonial history of many (but not all) of the European states, where the crushing of local communities and nations was justified by fabricated theories of race and racial superiority. The denial of this colonial-fascist history has led to suggestions that, as a Russian documentary put it, that the rise of Hitler was “something atypical of European democracies; the Fuhrer’s doctrine of superior and inferior races rather appeared out of thin air in Europe due to an unlucky turn of events”.

In fact, the fascism of Nazi Germany had deep roots in European colonial history and culture. As Gerwin Strobl’s book ‘The Germanic Isle’ points out, Adolf Hitler himself was a great admirer of the “ruthlessness” of the British Empire and dreamed of such achievements. For its part the USA, built myths of ‘liberty’ while running the largest slave economy in human history. As the great Latin American resistance leader Simon Bolivar said two centuries ago, “The United States appear to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.”

Beyond the European ‘appeasement’ of Nazi Germany there was active European and North American collaboration with fascists before, during and after WW2.

First of all the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 helped re-arm Nazi Germany, breaking with the 1919 Versailles Treaty limits on German ships and submarines but pretending to keep the German navy a fraction of the British. Then several north American companies, notably General Motors, Ford and IBM, invested directly in the Nazi regime’s economy, infrastructure and military. There were many influential North American and British admirers of the Nazis. On the verge of WW2, British bankers funnelled third party (Czech) gold into the Nazi controlled banks.

Ford assisted the Nazi war machine before and into WW2 through its motor vehicle factories in Germany and occupied Vichy France. It made use of German slave labour from Nazi concentration camps, though the company later complained that it had no control over these labour regimes. While the Ford company struggled to escape these allegations, Polish officials and former inmates named Ford as “one of 500 firms which had links with [slave labour from the Nazi death camp] Auschwitz”. IBM, a ‘New Deal’ company close to the Roosevelt administration, also invested in Nazi Germany through the 1930s and into the early years of the war, helping build Nazi information systems.

The Swiss sold millions in arms to the Nazis, both before and during WW2. Despite pretensions at neutrality, between 1940 and 1944 “84 per cent of Swiss munitions’ exports went to Axis countries”. Yet, according to researcher Bradford Snell, “General Motors was far more important to the Nazi war machine than Switzerland .. GM was an integral part of the German war effort”.

North American and European investment in and collaboration with the Nazis continued well into WW2. One aspect of this was a desire to participate in what was, between 1940 and 1942, “a spectacular investment boom, primarily directed towards widening the industrial base for war”. No doubt that encouraged Ford and GM to keep collaborating with Hitler.

After 1939-40, when Nazi Germany had invaded much of western Europe, Berlin counted on the support of many European fascist and collaborationist states, as well as civilian volunteers. Alongside its alliance with fascist Italy, Nazi Germany could count on the support of fascist Spain, despite General Franco’s alleged policy of neutrality.

Then there were the pro-fascist statelets set up by the Nazis, Vichy France and the Quisling regime in Norway. The Germans created multiple SS divisions, with tens of thousands of willing pro-fascist volunteers, in the Netherlands, in Croatia and in Albania. Vichy France under WWI hero Marshall Petain enacted a racist anti-Jew law (Statut des Juifs) which made Jews second-class citizens in France and so more readily subject to Nazi predations. The fascist regime of Vidkun Quisling similarly encouraged participation in local SS divisions, helped deport Jewish people and executed Norwegian patriots.

Danish King Christian X may have been friendly with the Jewish community, but he did not stand up to the Nazis. It is often falsely claimed that King Christian “donned the Star of David in solidarity with the Danish Jews”. This is quite false. In reality the Danish regime opposed resistance activities and shared intelligence with the Nazis. One of the factors in this collaboration was that Denmark was “technically an ally of Germany”. Under pressure, they had signed the Anti-Comintern Pact. Despite great efforts to sanitise this history, in 2005 Danish PM Rasmussen apologized on behalf of Denmark for the extradition of minorities and resistance figures to Nazi Germany, many of whom were sent to their death.

Substantial Nazi collaboration took place in all the Baltic states: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all had Waffen SS divisions. They, along with ultra-nationalist Nazi collaborators in the Ukraine played a key role in local massacres of communists, Jews and Gypsies.

Between 1941 and 1944 hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in the Ukraine, many by local ultra-nationalist Nazi collaborators, like Stepan Bandera. Russian historian Lev Simkin says “in practice, the Holocaust of the Jews began in Ukraine”, with the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The mass killings were linked to Hitler’s paranoid view of dangerous Bolshevik Jews. Mass killings of Jews in Kiev, Lviv, Kherson and other parts of Ukraine have been well mapped out. These are some of the sites of current Russian fighting with the Ukraine’s NeoNazis. During WW2 most of the Ukraine’s pre-war Jewish population of about 1.5 million “was wiped out”.

Academic studies have shown a “massive participation of Baltic nationals in the murder of Jews in the Holocaust”. Many tens of thousands of Jews were killed in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, much of this by local hands. There has been a strong reaction to exposure of this ugly history of fascist collaboration. Lithuania, for example, is said to want to hide its “ugly history of Nazi collaboration” by accusing Jewish partisans of war crimes.

Across Europe there was large scale participation in the fascist slaughter. In Hungary Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was said to be “reliant on the collaboration of the Hungarian authorities” to deport more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to the death camps.

All this underlines the fact that WW2, from the European and North American side, was not fundamentally a fight against fascism, even though those states fought a fascist ‘Axis’. The war was more a competition between imperial blocks, with the Hitler-led coalition determined to colonise ‘living space’ (lebensraum) in the east. The struggle of patriots in eastern Europe and Russia, as well as much of the western resistance, was certainly anti-fascist. Those leading the western states, however, were not idealists.

After WW2 the USA immediately sought to take advantage of Nazi science and technology in their subsequent ‘cold war’ against the emerging socialist bloc. The allied powers smashed anti-fascist forces in Greece and militarily occupied western Germany. The Soviet Union, for its part, ensured that it dominated those close neighbours which had been most deeply embedded with its fascist enemies: in particular the Baltic states, Ukraine and eastern Germany.

The US began a project of secretly recruiting Nazi scientists to its war machine. North American use of German rocket specialist Werner Von Braun is often cited with reference to the peaceful Apollo space project. However Von Braun was an SS officer who had hand-picked slave labour from concentration camps. The US military wanted him for his rocket and missile expertise. In the secret but now notorious ‘Operation Paperclip’ thousands of Nazi scientists were recruited and given safe haven in the USA, for their value in building up the US military. The Pentagon was particularly interested in the Nazi development of a “whole arsenal of nerve agents” and in Hitler’s work towards “a bubonic plague weapon”.

For all their later complaints about other states possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the US military wanted every type of WMD at its disposal. And they were prepared to use them on civilian populations, as their biological and chemical attacks in Korea and in Vietnam showed, and as the gratuitous and horrific nuclear ‘demonstration’ attacks on the civilian Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated. Masters of double speak, and with a doctrine of ‘plausible deniability’, US officials hide their own atrocities as much as possible.

Emerging as the dominant power after WW2 Washington, which had used fascist tactics – invasions, coups, dirty wars – to intervene in most other countries of the Americas, began to employ these same methods on other continents. So the terrible war in Korea led to a permanent US military occupation in the south of the peninsula, the democratic government of Iran was overthrown and replaced by a dictatorship in 1953 and the next terrible U.S. ‘anti-communist’ war against the people of Vietnam failed, only after millions had been slaughtered.

In the 21st century Washington backed multiple coup attempts against Venezuela, the biggest oil producer in the Americas and historically important for fuelling the US war machine. In 2002 the USA and Spain backed coup plotters who kidnapped elected President Hugo Chavez, falsely claimed that he had resigned, tore up the constitution, dismissed the elected National Assembly and announced the head of the Chamber of Commerce Pedro Carmona, as President. Carmona only lasted two days, but multiple coup attempts followed. This was pure fascism. Venezuela decided that a strong state, with a large civilian militia, was necessary to defend itself from relentless US-backed fascism.

At the same time, fearing the loss of its dominant role in the world, Washington launched multiple wars in the Middle East, in futile attempts to contain the growing influence of Iran, post-Soviet Russia and China. The wars against Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Yemen are not the subject of this article. However we should observe the US-NATO use of massive proxy armies, al Qaeda and ISIS styled, infused with sectarian Saudi ideology, across the West Asian region and into Africa, in the shape of ‘Boko Haram’.

In Russia’s 2022 retaliatory war on Ukraine – provoked by a post 2014 war on the Russian speaking population of eastern Ukraine and by a NATO military build-up, intended to destabilise and weaken Russia – we see a combination of US fascist method and the older European colonial mentality. The US maintains its double speak over ‘liberty’, while the Europeans speak of lesser human classes. In the Ukraine, ultra-nationalists such as Azov and Right Sektor describe themselves as Nazis who want to kill Russians, Jews and Poles. NATO and its embedded media tries to hides this ugly reality.

German and European Union official Florence Gaub, for example, uses racist rhetoric to dehumanize Russian people: “Even if Russians look European, they are not European, in a cultural sense. They think differently about violence or death. They have no concept of a liberal, post-modern life, a concept of life that each individual can choose. Instead, life simply can end early with death.” Critics called this a very German reversion to the Nazi concept of ‘untermenschen’ or inferior races.

21st century fascism has arisen in new circumstances but carries the key elements of the 20th century project: an imperial, heavily militarised, deeply anti-democratic and racist-colonial regime embedded in a private, capitalist oligarchy. It spawns subordinate fascisms, every bit as venomous as their parent: a global imperial project which remains the key enemy of all democratic peoples.

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