The Soviet Union’s contribution to the defeat of Japanese Militarism

The following is the text of a presentation delivered to the AGM of the Stalin Society on 24 February 2008 by Keith Bennett. Lalkar is pleased to publish it to mark the 63rd anniversary of the defeat of Japanese militarism this 15 August.


In considering the part played by the Soviet Union in the defeat of Japanese militarism, one must locate it within the following, interrelated contexts:

·       The overall situation, tasks and goals of the Soviet Union in the period under review,

·       The relationship between the anti-Japanese struggle and the global anti-fascist struggle as a whole,

·       The contributions to the defeat of Japanese militarism made by other political forces, within which by far the greatest contribution was made by those forces under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

They provide the strategic backdrop, which cannot be lost sight of if the distinct phases of Soviet-Japanese relations in the period under review are to be correctly understood.

In a word, the Soviet Union consistently promoted a policy of peace, seeking to preserve both the Soviet people and people throughout the world from the scourge of war, to be able to concentrate on socialist construction, and to gain maximum time to prepare for an imperialist onslaught on the land of the Soviets that Comrade Stalin knew would come at one point or another.

Furthermore, once it was clear that such an onslaught would occur sooner rather than later, the whole thrust of Soviet strategy was directed at ensuring that the country would not be placed in a position where it would have to fight on two fronts simultaneously.

In this struggle, warfare and diplomacy, fighting and talking, were but two sides of the same coin – two aspects of a conscious, scientific, comprehensive and integral revolutionary strategy pursued brilliantly and victoriously by the CPSU(B) under the correct leadership of JV Stalin.

True character of the Second World War

This topic also has to be considered in the context of the widespread distortion of the true character of the Second World War spread via the bourgeois education system, mass media and popular culture. According to this, the main protagonists fighting the fascist powers were the United States and Britain and the main theatres of war were in Europe and North Africa. Two things are downplayed here – the fact that it was the Soviet Union and the Red Army that by far bore the brunt of the fighting and, even in Winston Churchill’s words, literally “tore the guts” out of the Nazi war machine; and the significance of the war in Asia and the Pacific. Again, here, it is the contributions of the United States and Britain that are absolutised, whilst the role of others, especially of China, principally the forces led by the Communist Party of China, as well as of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of Mongolia, and the communist-led guerrilla forces in Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Burma and Malaya, all of whom were actively aligned with the Soviet Union, are slighted and ignored.

Indeed, it is even necessary to clarify when the war began. In school, we are taught that it began on 3 September 1939, when Neville Chamberlain went on the radio to declare that Hitler had defied a British ultimatum to pull out of Poland and that “consequently we are at war with Germany”.

However, 3 September 1939 marked only the commencement of an inter-imperialist conflict between British imperialism and the Third Reich. If one talks about the armed anti-fascist struggle of the people of the world, then in Europe we would have to date this from the Spanish War, which broke out in 1936. In Asia, we may date the outbreak of conflict to 18 September 1931, when Japanese troops destroyed a section of railway and attacked a Chinese garrison in Shenyang and proceeded from there to occupy the whole of north eastern China, or at the very latest from 7 July 1937, when the nationwide War of Resistance against Japan began.

War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression

According to Chinese government figures, Chinese casualties at the hands of the imperial Japanese army reached 35 million.

As Chinese President Hu Jintao put it in a 3 September 2005 speech marking the 60th anniversary of victory in the war:

“The Chinese people refused to be slaves and rose up in a heroic resistance. The 18 September incident in 1931 marked the start of their War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, and the unrelenting struggle they put up on a local basis was, in fact, the prelude to the World Anti-Fascist War…

“The War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression constitutes a glorious page in the history of the World Anti-Fascist War, for it broke out much earlier and lasted the longest. For a long time, we Chinese contained and pinned down the main forces of Japanese militarism in the China theatre, and annihilated more than 1.5 million Japanese troops. This played a decisive role in the total defeat of Japanese aggressors. The war of resistance lent a strategic support to battles of China’s allies, assisted the strategic operations in the Europe and Pacific theatres, and restrained and disrupted the attempt of Japanese, German and Italian fascists to coordinate their strategic operations. … The victory of the war in China sets a shining example of the weak vanquishing the strong for the people all over the world and boosted the confidence and morale of the oppressed and victimised nations to carry on their liberation wars.”

From these remarks of Comrade Hu Jintao, we can surmise that the Chinese people’s resistance was an important factor in pinning down the Japanese imperialists and thereby deterring them from attacking the Soviet Union.

However, such support is always mutual. In the same speech, Comrade Hu Jintao also said:

“The victory of the War of Resistance Against Japanese aggression was inseparable from the sympathy and support of all the peace- and justice-loving countries and peoples, international organisations and various anti-fascist forces. The Soviet Union was the first to provide invaluable aid to the Chinese people in the war… In the last phase of the war, the Soviet Red Army marched into China’s northeast battlefields and fought against Japan shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese military and civilians, thus speeding up the doom of the Japanese aggressors … We will never forget those foreign military advisers and others who contributed to China’s victory of the war, in particular those Soviet Red Army soldiers who laid down their lives heroically in the battlefield of northeast China.”

So, from these remarks of Hu Jintao, two key points stand out – that it was the Soviet Union that stood alongside the Chinese people in resisting Japanese aggression from the very first; and that it was the direct intervention of the Soviet Red Army in the final phase of the war that was the decisive factor in expediting victory.

Emergence of Japanese Imperialism

Against this background, let us look at the history of Soviet-Japanese relations. Since the emergence of Japan as a capitalist nation after the bourgeois revolution of the late 1860s known as the Meiji Restoration, the ruling class of Japan, a country lacking in most raw materials, had cast covetous eyes at the Far East of Russia and at Siberia, with its vast area, small population, but almost limitless mineral and natural wealth.

In a sense, the Japanese ruling class sought to claim this as their hinterland in much the same way as the capitalist development of the United States was spurred by the expansionist policy of “Go West”. At the same time, Japan was locked in inter-imperialist rivalry with Tsarist Russia for hegemony over Korea and northeast China.

In 1904, Japan launched a war against Russia, winning a stunning victory the next year. This served notice to the whole world of the emergence of Japan as a major imperialist power, whilst the shock of Russia’s defeat was a major contributory factor to the Russian Revolution of 1905.

As a result of Russia’s defeat it lost Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands to Japan, regaining its sovereignty only in 1945. Further weakening Russia’s position, Japan consolidated its colonial rule over Korea and became the dominant power in northeast China.

Following the October Revolution, Japan joined all the imperialist powers in the war of intervention against the infant Soviet state. In 1918, Japan occupied Russia’s far eastern provinces, including the port of Vladivostok, and parts of Siberia. The Red Army forced their withdrawal in 1922.

The Soviet Union and Japan established diplomatic relations in 1925, but their relationship continued to be characterised by tension and suspicion. Such tensions and suspicions could only but increase after the Japanese aggression against China began in earnest in 1931.

Soviet Union threatened from east and west

It was with an eye to such growing threats to both his west and east that in 1931, Comrade Stalin said these prophetic words:

“We are 50-100 years behind the advanced countries. We have to close that gap in 10 years. Either we do it or we will be wiped out.”

Consequently, the Second Five-Year Plan, commenced in 1932, attached great importance to both economic construction and the boosting of military defences in the Soviet Far East. At the same time, in December 1931, the Soviet Union proposed to conclude a non-aggression pact with Japan, reflecting both the peace-loving nature of the Soviet Union and its need to buy as much time as possible, to secure that vital 10 years that Comrade Stalin had said was needed to make good the gap of up to a century.

When the Japanese side rejected the Soviet proposal, the Soviet Union attempted to sell its last remaining significant economic asset in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, the Chinese Eastern Railway. The negotiations on this were difficult and protracted and the purchase agreement was not signed until March 1935.

By this time, the most acute and direct tensions between the Soviet Union and Japan were starting to focus on the Mongolian People’s Republic, which at that time was the Soviet Union’s only true ally. The Mongolian People’s Party (later renamed the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party) had been founded in 1919 under the influence of the October Revolution and, with assistance from the Red Army, a democratic revolution was victorious in 1921, being further consolidated with the formal establishment of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924.

From January 1935, there were frequent clashes, numbering in the hundreds, on the border between Mongolia and Manchukuo, which was the name of the puppet state that the Japanese had set up in occupied north east China.

In November 1936, having spurned Soviet offers of a non-aggression treaty, Japan and Nazi Germany, later joined by Italy, signed the so-called “Anti-Comintern Pact”, which, in reality, could only be directed against the Soviet Union. In the same year, a mutual assistance pact was concluded between the Soviet Union and Mongolia.

Further major incidents occurred on the Mongolian border in 1937 and 1938, both of which brought the situation to the brink of war, which was somehow averted through diplomatic communications between Moscow and Tokyo before a slide into all-out conflict.

Nevertheless, it was clearly a matter of when not if a major confrontation would take place between Soviet and Japanese forces in or adjacent to Mongolia. The stakes would be high. A decisive Soviet defeat would likely prompt a full-scale Japanese invasion of the Soviet Union, with the equal likelihood that this would prompt a further attack on the Soviet Union from the West, whereas a decisive Soviet victory would contain the Japanese threat for a considerable period and allow the Soviet Union relative freedom to devote its attentions to preparation to meet an attack from the West.

Soviet-Mongolian alliance

That major confrontation was to take place from May to September 1939.

As ever, in the build up to this confrontation, Comrade Stalin could not be accused of a lack of clear analysis and plain speaking for all who had ears to hear.

On 1 March 1936, he had granted an interview to the American newspaper publisher Roy Howard, who had posed the question:

“What will be the Soviet attitude should Japan launch the long predicted military drive against Outer Mongolia?”

To which Stalin had replied: “If Japan should venture to attack the Mongolian People’s Republic and encroach upon its independence, we will have to help the Mongolian People’s Republic. Stomonyakov, Litvinov’s assistant, recently informed the Japanese ambassador in Moscow of this, and pointed to the immutable friendly relations which the USSR has been maintaining with the Mongolian People’s Republic since 1921. We will help the Mongolian People’s Republic just as we helped it in 1921.”

In March 1939, practically on the eve of the conflict, in his report to the 18th Party Congress, Stalin echoed the same warning, stating:

“In March 1936 the Soviet Union concluded a treaty of mutual assistance with the Mongolian People’s Republic. In August 1937 the Soviet Union concluded a pact of non-aggression with the Chinese Republic… [Under which some 450 Soviet pilots and technicians and 225 Soviet warplanes had been sent to support the Kuomintang government of Chiang kai-Shek, in addition to the separate assistance being rendered to the Chinese communists.]

“The foreign policy of the Soviet Union is clear and explicit.

“1. We stand for peace and the strengthening of business relations with all countries. That is our position; and we shall adhere to this position as long as these countries maintain like relations with the Soviet Union, and as long as they make no attempt to trespass on the interests of our country.

“2. We stand for peaceful, close and friendly relations with all the neighbouring countries which have common frontiers with the USSR. That is our position; and we shall adhere to this position as long as these countries maintain like relations with the Soviet Union, and as long as they make no attempt to trespass, directly or indirectly, on the integrity and inviolability of the frontiers of the Soviet state.

“3. We stand for the support of nations which are the victims of aggression and are fighting for the independence of their country.

“4. We are not afraid of the threats of aggressors, and are ready to return two blows for every one delivered by warmongers who attempt to violate our Soviet frontiers.”

The escalating tensions in Mongolia resulted from the predominance of the “Strike North” faction in the Japanese High Command. They believed that if the lifeline of the Trans-Siberian Railway could be severed then the Japanese Empire could be expanded to include all of Mongolia, the Soviet Maritime Provinces and parts of Siberia. Moreover, their calculations went, deprived of outside support, Chinese resistance would collapse.

Decisive victory against Japanese at Khalkhin Gol

A minor dispute over border demarcation therefore became the pretext for a Japanese attack that triggered a fierce, if undeclared war over several months between Japan and the Soviet Union on the territory of Mongolia before war had even been declared in Europe. Known as the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, after the river of the same name, this little-known conflict actually deserves to be known as a key battle that shaped the entire subsequent course of the Second World War.

The incident began on 11 May 1939. A Mongolian cavalry unit of some 70-90 men had entered the disputed area in search of grazing for their horses. On that day, cavalry from the Manchukuo puppet forces attacked the Mongolians and drove them back across the river. On the 13th, the Mongolians returned in greater numbers and the pro-Japanese forces were unable to dislodge them.

On the 14th, two Japanese divisions advanced into the area and the Mongolians withdrew. However, the Mongolians returned, this time with Soviet backing. Now, when the Japanese moved to evict them, the outcome was different, as they were surrounded by the Soviet-Mongolian forces, who destroyed them. On 28 May, eight Japanese officers and 97 men were killed and one officer and 33 men were wounded, meaning that 63 per cent of the Japanese force suffered casualties that day.

On 27 June, the Japanese launched an air attack. The Soviet air base at Tamsak-Bulak in Mongolia was attacked, an engagement won by the Japanese side, who destroyed half as many again Soviet planes as they lost in the encounter, due to their having the element of surprise on their side. Although, once the Soviet pilots, who included many veterans of the Spanish War, could get airborne they gave an excellent account of themselves.

However, factional conflicts within the Japanese establishment led them to make a fatal mistake. The air strike had been ordered by the locally based Kwangtung Army without getting permission from the Imperial headquarters in Tokyo. Tokyo promptly ordered the air force not to make any more strikes on Soviet forces. But despite their decision to withdraw air cover, Tokyo had no qualms in authorising a land-based operation to “expel the invaders”, a combination that was to prove fatal for many Japanese foot soldiers.

June was also the month when a then little known Soviet Lieutenant General Georgi Zhukov arrived to take up command of Soviet forces in Mongolia.

Instructed to launch a land-based operation, the Japanese conceived a two-pronged assault that they thought would encircle and destroy the Soviet armies and bring them a glorious victory.

A northern task force launched their first assault on 1 July. After easily crossing the Khalkhin Gol River, Japanese soldiers drove the Soviet forces from Baintsagan Hill and began a quick advance southwards. The following day, the southern task force followed up with another massive assault.

However, the Japanese soldiers were ill prepared and not able to follow up on their initial success. Poor logistical planning meant that their supply line across the river consisted of just one pontoon bridge.

Seizing the opportunity, the Soviet forces under Zhukov quickly mobilised 450 tanks for a daring counter-attack. Although entirely without infantry support, they attacked the Japanese from three sides and very nearly encircled them.

By 5 July, the battered Japanese Northern Taskforce had been forced back across the river.

In the face of this defeat, the Japanese withdrew to contemplate their next move.

After a fortnight spent in preparation and restocking supplies, Japanese commander Komatsubara launched a further huge attack.

On 23 July, backed by a massive artillery bombardment, the Japanese threw two divisions of troops at the Soviet forces that had, by now, crossed the river and were defending the Kawatama bridge. Two days of fierce fighting saw some minor Japanese advances, but they were unable to break Soviet lines and reach the bridge. Despite heavy casualties on both sides, the battle was effectively a stalemate.

Rapidly running out of supplies and unable to progress further, the Japanese decided to beat a retreat and plan a third assault.

However, the Soviet forces had not the slightest intention of sitting idly by and waiting for another Japanese attack.

By 20 August, Zhukov had amassed a force of more than 50,000 men, 498 tanks and 250 planes. Ranged against them were a similarly sized, but not very well armoured Japanese force, moreover one that had no idea that a Soviet counter-attack was coming. Zhukov had employed many deceptive measures to disguise his preparations, for example, radios broadcast false information and transmitted soundtracks of construction noise, leading the Japanese to think that the Soviets were digging in for the winter. In fact, day and night, Soviet truck convoys were undertaking a gruelling journey of 900 miles across the Gobi Desert to build up their forces for the counter-attack.

That attack was a classic combined arms assault: thousands of Soviet infantry attacked the Japanese centre, Soviet armour encircled the Japanese flanks, and the Soviet air force and artillery pounded the Japanese from long-range.

By 31 August, the Japanese forces had been surrounded and decimated. A few units managed to break out from the encirclement, but those who remained followed Japanese martial traditions and refused to surrender. Zhukov wiped them out with air and artillery attacks.

Over the several months of conflict, official statistics claim the loss of 17,000 Japanese troops and 9,000 Soviets. Other estimates suggest that Japan may have lost 45,000 men as against 17,000 Soviets.

Just one day after Zhukov’s decisive victory in Mongolia, Hitler invaded Poland. Mindful of the rapidly developing situation in Europe, Zhukov received orders not to press home his advantage, but rather to dig in and hold their position at Khalkhin Gol – the border they had always claimed.

For their part, in the midst of the fighting, the Japanese leadership had been shocked to learn of the conclusion of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact on 23 August. Japanese feelings were bitterly summarised by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun as follows:

“The spirit of the Anti-Comintern Pact has been reduced to a scrap of paper and Germany has betrayed an ally.”

Air clashes between the two sides continued in September, but, smarting from the betrayal of their German ally and the resolute blows of the Red Army, the Japanese signed a ceasefire agreement with the Soviets on 16 September.

German and Japanese fascists prevented from linking up geographically through Russia

The scope and results of this conflict were not widely known at the time. The Japanese sought to conceal their disgrace whilst the Soviet Union too maintained discretion as it sought to consolidate defensive positions in the west.

But here is how a western military historian has described it in retrospect:

“Although this engagement is little-known in the West, it had profound implications on the conduct of World War II. It may be said to be the first decisive battle of World War II, because it determined that the two principal Axis powers, Germany and Japan, would never geographically link up their areas of control through Russia. The defeat convinced the Imperial General Staff in Tokyo that the policy of the North Strike group, favoured by the army, which wanted to seize Siberia as far as Lake Baikal for its resources, was untenable. Instead the South Strike group, favoured by the navy, which wanted to seize the resources of southeast Asia … gained the ascendancy, leading directly to the attack on Pearl Harbour two and a half years later in December 1941. The Japanese would never make an offensive movement towards Russia again.”

The battle earned Zhukov the first of his four Hero of the Soviet Union awards. Promoted to a full General, he was able to put his experience to good use in December 1941 at the Battle of Moscow, the first successful Soviet counter-offensive against the German invasion of that year. Many units of the Siberian and other trans-Ural armies were part of this counter-attack and the decision to transfer them was aided by the heroic and brilliant Soviet master spy in Tokyo, the German communist Richard Sorge, who was able to alert the Soviet government that the Japanese were looking south and were unlikely to launch a further attack in the immediate future.

However, even as he summoned 1,000 tanks and 1,200 warplanes from Soviet Far Eastern forces to join the desperate battles against the German invaders, Stalin ensured that 19 reserve divisions, 1,200 tanks and some 1,000 aircraft remained in Mongolia to confront the Japanese.

A year after hurling the Germans back from the outskirts of Moscow, Zhukov helped plan and execute the Red Army’s offensive at the Battle of Stalingrad, aptly described by Mao Zedong as “the turning point of World War II”, using a technique very similar to Khalkhin Gol, in which the Soviet forces held the enemy fixed in the centre, built up a massive force in the area undetected, and launched a pincer attack on the wings to trap and decimate the enemy army.

Soviet – Japanese pact

For their part, having felt betrayed by their German ally, in April 1941, two months before the planned German attack on the Soviet Union, Japan returned the compliment by concluding its own neutrality pact with the Soviet Union, when Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka chose to go home via Moscow following a visit to Germany!

Writing about this many years later in his memoirs, With the Century, the Korean revolutionary leader Comrade Kim Il Sung observed:

Seeing … that Japan was taking the initiative in proposing to maintain peaceful relations and respect each other’s territorial integrity, the Soviet Union, that had been guarding against a possible pincer attack from the east and west by Japan and Germany, felt that this was a lucky chance. In those days the Soviet Union was faced with an unprecedented threat of invasion by Nazi Germany. The large German forces massed on its western frontier might attack at any time. Japan’s professed neutrality in this situation, in spite of her covetous eye on Siberia, gave the Soviet Union the respite of a possible delay in having to fight a two-front war.

“When Matsuoka was leaving Moscow, Stalin was said to have seen him off at the railway station. This fact eloquently spoke of the mental state of the Soviet leadership on the eve of the Soviet-German war.

“So how ignorant it was to think that the Soviet Union had become a friend of Japan by signing the neutrality pact!

“The more tense the situation is, the soberer must be the estimate and judgement of it.”

Indeed, reviewing this complex history how can any fair-minded, rational person fail to be moved by the sheer genius of Comrade Stalin!

The Soviet-Japanese pact was to remain in force until nine months before its expiry date of April 1946.

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Stalin agreed with Churchill and Roosevelt that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan ninety days after the defeat of Germany. Stalin fulfilled his agreement to the letter, with the launch of Operation August Storm on 8 August 1945.

Alliance of armed forces of Soviet Union, China and Korea

However, even whilst professing neutrality with Japan, and despite the huge burden of the war with Germany, it would be quite wrong to assume that the Soviet Union was indifferent to the struggle against Japanese militarism in the intervening years. In fact, the Soviet Union was deeply involved in military struggle against Japan the whole time, taking the initiative to form, in the Soviet Union, the International Allied Forces (IAF), together with the Korean guerrillas led by Kim Il Sung and the revolutionaries in north east China, in July 1942.

As Kim Il Sung explains in his memoirs:

An important aspect of our struggle during this period is the fact that we organised the IAF in the Soviet Union with our Chinese and Soviet comrades-in-arms in the summer of 1942 and engaged in political and military preparations in every possible way in order ultimately to annihilate the Japanese imperialists.

“The fact that the KPRA [Korean People’s Revolutionary Army] formed the IAF with the armed forces of the Soviet Union and China and waged a joint struggle with them can be viewed as a new stage in the development of the Korean revolution…

“With the organisation of the IAF, a great change took place in our armed struggle. It can be said that, with the formation of the allied forces as a turning point, we switched from the stage of our joint struggle with the Chinese people to the stage of extensive joint struggle, which meant an alliance of the armed forces of Korea, China and the Soviet Union, the stage of a new common front joining the mainstream of the worldwide anti-imperialist, anti-fascist struggle…

“As a result of the organisation of the allied forces, the military and political situations in the Far East region changed in favour of the world revolution.

“First of all, the Soviet Union benefited greatly from this. The Soviet Union secured military and political forces capable of coping with the aggressive moves of Japan on its own initiative…

“The existence of the IAF also created favourable conditions and circumstances for the Korean and Chinese revolutions.

“Because it was to act in concert with the Soviet Far Eastern Forces, the KPRA was able to have, within the framework of regular armed forces, the ability as well as the equipment to carry out the most up-to-date operations needed for liberating the country…

“Even when the Soviet Union badly needed the strength of another single regiment or a single battalion because of the extremely difficult situation at the front, it never touched the allied forces, but helped them so that they could make full preparations for the showdown against the Japanese imperialists.

“Soviet military personnel frequently told us about how much Stalin valued the officers and men of the KPRA and the NAJAA [North East Anti-Japanese Allied Army – of Chinese and Korean revolutionaries]. They told that Stalin had said that all the soldiers of these armies were valuable people who would make a major contribution to liberating their own motherlands and building a new country, and that, therefore, they should take care of these soldiers lest there should be a single loss.”

Soviet victories liberate NE China and Korea

As mentioned, on 8 August 1945, precisely three months after the German surrender on 8 May, the Soviet Union launched Operation August Storm, with the massive mobilisation of more than 1.7 million men of the Soviet Red Army, many of them freshly deployed from the victorious western front. They played the decisive role in the rapid liberation of northeast China and the north of Korea. Had the United States not brought forward the Japanese surrender by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union had planned to invade the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido before the planned invasion by the USA and other allied powers of the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

The Soviet offensive into northeast China and rapidly thereafter into north Korea was carried out as a classic double pincer envelopment over an area the size of western Europe. In the western pincer, the Red Army advanced over the deserts and mountains of Mongolia, far away from their resupply railways. This confounded the Japanese military analysis of Soviet logistics and the Japanese were caught by surprise in unfortified positions. Indeed, the Japanese commander was missing for the first eighteen hours of conflict and communication was lost with forward units very early on. At the same time, airborne units were used to seize airfields and city centres in advance of the land forces. They were also used to ferry fuel to those units that had outrun their supply lines.

Within a week of the launch of this historic offensive, Emperor Hirohito, on 15 August, had gone on the radio to announce that Japan would surrender. In his book, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman and the Surrender of Japan, Japanese historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa concludes that it was not the atomic bombings that were the principal reason for Japan’s capitulation. Instead, he contends, it was the swift and devastating Soviet victories on the Asian mainland in the week following Stalin’s 8 August declaration of war that forced the Japanese surrender on 15 August.

US atomic bombings sought to reduce Soviet influence in the East

The US imperialists, for their part, knew fully well when they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima that the Soviet Union was about to imminently and decisively enter the war in Asia and that therefore the Japanese Empire was doomed. The purpose of the atomic bombings was therefore two-fold: To bring the war to a precipitate end so as to minimise Soviet gains and the consequent strengthening of the positions of communism and people’s democracy in Asia; and as the opening salvo of the Cold War, by means of a terrible warning to the Soviet Union. At Yalta, Roosevelt had apparently deliberately said very little to Stalin about the atomic developments, although Roosevelt’s reticence was of little if any consequence as Stalin was already very well informed thanks to the diligent work of Soviet intelligence officers. Indeed, he probably knew a lot more about the subject than Roosevelt! Therefore, as a result of the atom bombings, the Red Army and its Korean allies could not complete the liberation of the Korean peninsula and the US forces were able to land at Incheon in the south, thereby instigating the tragic partition of Korea that persists to this day. Most fundamentally, the Soviet Red Army was unable to enter Japan proper, although sovereignty over Sakhalin and the Kuriles was restored.

For their part, the Japanese ruling class was in almost indecent haste to surrender to the Americans before the Soviets could advance any further. They knew that in this way only a handful – and most certainly not all and not including the emperor – of the most notorious war criminals would have to pay for the crimes that were the collective responsibility of the entire Japanese ruling class. Above all, Japanese capitalism itself would be saved. Japanese, and therefore world, history would have been very different had the country been liberated by the Red Army, not least as the Japanese Communist Party was then not only very large, with deep roots in the working class and throughout society, but also very militant and revolutionary, with many of its leaders and cadres having had extensive political and military training in the Soviet Union as well as in the base areas of the Chinese Communist Party. With Soviet backing, a people’s democratic and then a socialist Japan would have had a bright prospect.

One of the Red Army soldiers who entered China in that week of August 1945 was 18-year-old Mihayel Zhukovsky from Belarus. Sixty years later he was among a delegation of Red Army veterans present in Beijing at the ceremony where Hu Jintao delivered the speech to which I referred earlier. At a Beijing press conference, he recalled:

Many Chinese people stepped out of their homes to welcome our troops. They smiled as if we had been good friends.”

He recalled that when the Soviet troops moved southward, the troops led by the Communist Party of China marched northward from Chengde in Hebei Province.

“We had good cooperation. We attacked the front Japanese positions while the Chinese CPC army attacked the flank.”

Yet despite the rapid Japanese collapse, there were some bloody battles. 32,000 Red Army soldiers died in the liberation of north east China, in the course of a week, more than 10,000 of them at the Battle of Mudanjiang, in which Zhukovsky participated:

“The forts of the Japanese were very firm and their firepower was strong. Many of my comrades-in-arms lost their lives in our gunnery position. But eventually we overcame the Japanese because we fought for peace. Many of my old companions were buried there. The Chinese people have preserved their tombs well. They gave their lives, but it was worthwhile. With their struggle and blood, China has become such a booming and prosperous country.”

Soviet war effort contributed to victory of Chinese and Korean revolutions

Indeed, with the Soviet liberation of north east China, this became the main base of operations for the Chinese Communist Party in the ensuing four years of revolutionary war that culminated in the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949.

The Soviet Red Army transferred to the Chinese communists huge quantities of captured Japanese arms and ammunitions as well as vast quantities of Soviet made weapons and ammunition. The Soviets also provided military training, including the pre-liberation training of a Chinese communist air force in Khabarovsk, and every conceivable form of support.

In a 1947 report, US General Wedemeyer wrote these prophetic words, albeit that events were to unfold much more rapidly and dramatically than his cautious formulations suggested:

Soviet actions … have strengthened the Chinese Communist position in Manchuria, with political, economic and military repercussions on the National Government’s position both in Manchuria and China proper, and have made more difficult peace and stability in China. The present trend points toward a gradual disintegration of the National Government’s control, with the ultimate possibility of a Communist-dominated China.

To very briefly sum up therefore:

·       Through decisive military action, the Red Army deterred the Japanese imperialists from launching a long planned military attack on the Soviet Union.

·       Through masterful diplomacy, the Soviet Union ensured that it never had to wage a major military conflict on two fronts simultaneously and could defeat its enemies one by one.

·       At all times, even whilst signing a neutrality pact with Japan, the Soviet Union rendered principled and effective support to the liberation struggles of the Korean and Chinese peoples who were on the frontline of the struggle against Japanese imperialism, remaining faithful to proletarian internationalism.

·       The massive Soviet military offensive in August 1945 played a decisive role in the defeat of Japan and also contributed decisively to the victory of the Chinese and Korean revolutions.

Truly, this decisive contribution by the Soviet Union to the defeat of Japanese militarism is further vivid testimony to the indisputably correct leadership of Joseph Stalin in the building and defence of socialism and to the liberation of oppressed people everywhere.