CPGB-ML and Red Youth comrades, as well as members of the Stalin Society, laid wreaths at the Soviet War memorial in South London today, to mark Victory Day.
Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, in August 1941, after enduring great privation and destruction at the hands of the invaders, the Soviet people checked the German advance, with the heroic battles of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad, following which, the German Fascist armies were put to flight.
Today – 9 May 2015 – marks the 70th Anniversary of the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi German Fascism; when the red flag was raised over the Reichstag by the victorious Red Army, while Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin.
These are achievements of Socialism that we can and should all celebrate. Achievements that still show us that workers can vanquish the darkest armies of imperialism and build a bright socialist future based upon cooperation, and ending forever the exploitation of man by man and nation by nation.
WHEN their hair was chopped off—as it had to be when they joined one of the Soviet Union’s three women-only air-force regiments—some of the women looked just like boys. Add in the bulky flight jackets, the too-big trousers and the size 42 boots, all made for men, and they could have passed for male pilots, just about. Not Nadia Popova. Somehow she managed, with a cinched waist here and a few darts there, to look like a Hollywood star. Between sorties she would fluff her hair, pressed flat by her leather flying helmet, in her tortoiseshell mirror (as at the centre of the picture above). Before each flight she would pin to her uniform a beetle brooch, which also served as a lucky charm. Beside her wooden cot in whatever shed they were sleeping in—once a cowshed—she kept a white silk blouse and a long blue silk scarf, in case she had to make a really feminine impression.
This was also the young woman—she was 19 or 20 then—who could turn her aircraft over and dive full-throttle through raking German searchlights, swerving and dancing, acting as a decoy for a second plane that would glide in silently behind her to drop its payload of bombs. That done, the second plane would act as decoy while she glided in to drop bombs herself. She made 852 such sorties in the second world war as a pilot in the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, later named the 46th Guards in honour of its courage. Once, over Poland in 1944, she made 18 sorties in a single night. The aircraft were old two-seater biplanes, PO-2s, originally training planes, made of canvas and plywood with open cockpits. When it rained, water ran over the instruments; when the planes were shot at, shrapnel tore the wings to shreds. There was no radio and, to save weight, she never wore a parachute. If you were hit, that was it.
She was a wild spirit, easily bored; she loved to tango, foxtrot, sing along to jazz. It made her feel free, which was also why at 15 she had joined a flying club without telling her parents. A pilot had landed his aircraft one day outside their town, Donetsk in Ukraine, astonishing as a god fallen to earth, in his leather jacket. From that moment she too wanted to soar like a bird. Walking towards a plane, every time, she would get a knot in her stomach; every time she took off, she was thrilled all over again.
Often she flew in pitch dark and freezing air. In an aircraft so frail, the wind could toss her over. Its swishing glide sounded, to the sleepless Germans, like a witch’s broomstick passing: so to them she was one of the Nachthexen, or Night Witches. To the Russian marines trapped on the beach at Malaya Zemlya, to whom she dropped food and medicine late in 1942, she sounded more like an angel. She had to fly so low that she heard their cheers. Later, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane.
Loving life as she did—running barefoot in the grass, exulting in the cherry trees that flowered outside her bedroom window—it was odd that she had suddenly wanted “the freedom to die”. It took no time, though. The moment the German invasion was announced, in June 1941, she abandoned the dance-dress she was ironing and ran to the airfield. She was one of the first to enlist in her regiment, demanding to be a fighter pilot. Soon enough, too, she had personal reasons to hate Germans. They killed her brother Leonid in the first month of the war. In August 1942, having crash-landed her plane in the North Caucasus, she saw Stukas bombing the desperate columns of refugees on the road. Her family home was commandeered by the Gestapo, the windows smashed and the cherry trees cut down.
The worst, though, was to lose friends. Eight died in a single sortie once when she was lead pilot, as hulking Messerschmitts attacked them in the dazzle of the searchlights. To right and left each tiny PO-2 went down like a falling torch. She never cried as much as when she returned to base and saw the girls’ bunks, still strewn with letters they had never finished writing. She was tough (“No time for fear”) and surprised at her increasing toughness as the war went on. But she was a woman, too.
The military men never let them forget it, mocking “the skirt regiment” even when its members had become heroines in the press. The women expected it, and did just fine without them. It was fun, though, to organise dances with the men; many of them fell in love; and so did Nadia Popova, with a blue-eyed heavily bandaged pilot she spotted under a tree, another god fallen to earth. He warned her not to make him laugh, as she clearly wanted to, because his wounds hurt. She read him poetry instead, and when she found her Semyon again for good it was at the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945, where they wrote their names in victorious pencil on the walls.
Instead of her beetle brooch she eventually wore on her smart dark suit the medal of a Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Friendship, the Order of Lenin and three Orders of the Patriotic War. With enormous pride she sported them, a beaming blonde among the men. She admitted she stood gazing at the night sky sometimes, wondering how she had ever managed to perform such feats up there. Well, came her down-to-earth answer, because you had to; and so you did.
Henry Friedrich Carl Metelmann, was born on 25 December 1922, the son of a socialist railway worker in Hamburg, Germany. As a lively and active boy, he joined the scouts, and later his group was merged with the Hitler youth. With Hitler’s rise he was seduced by the fascist movement, and the experiences and privileges it bestowed
He fought with Von Paulus’ Nazi 6th army at Stalingrad. Through experience he came to reject fascism and capitalist imperialism. He settled in Britain, becoming a communist, a railway worker, groundsman, writer and peace activist. He died on 24 July 2011.
Henry Metelmann was keen to talk about his experiences, especially to the young, and equated the invasion of the Soviet Union by an oil-hungry Nazi Germany with the Anglo-American assault on oil-rich Iraq in 2003. He remained a member of the Communist party of Great Britain until its break-up in 1991.
He delivered a powerful lecture to the Stalin Society in London, in 2004, which sadly was not filmed, but shortly afterwards Harpal Brar, now chairman of the CPGB-ML, conducted this interview with Henry at his home in Godalming.
This interview remains as moving, compelling and relevant as the day it was conducted. For it helps us to understand German (Nazi) Imperialism. Not merely as something exceptional, uniquely evil, incomprehensible and never to be repeated; but as the standard behaviour of imperialism. That is of expansionist monopoly capitalism.
What conclusions does he draw from his long, full active and historically rich life? He tells us that there can be no peace, while capitalism still exists. We must overthrow it, or perish.
Cde Harpal Brar, Chairman of the CPGB-ML delivered this keynote speech at the party’s recent celebration of the Great Socialist October Revolution of 1917.
He explains the historical significance of the October Revolution, the achievements of Soviet Socialism, and its ongoing relevance to workers in Britain.
He gives a detailed explanation of modern imperialism, its wars and its global capitalist economic overproduction crisis. The analysis given by Marx and Lenin not only explains these, the major problems that humanity – and in particular the working and toiling masses – are facing, but shows us the way forward to their solution. Capitalism cannot be reformed, regulated, moderated or otherwise made to serve the interests of working people. It must be overthrown!
We must discard all those parties who pretend otherwise, particularly the social democratic Labour Party, and its revisionist and trotskite hangers-on who act as agents of imperialism (misguided or malicious) in the working class movement. In this as in so many regards, October shows us the way!
Our job, Harpal emphasizes, is to make this Marxist-Leninist analysis truly popular, well known and understood, and to inject the spontaneous protest and resistance movements with clear scientific analysis that can sustain them and help them to direct their blows.
The October revolution has shown that working people, when united and organized around a correct understanding and a disciplined party, guided by such an analysis, are really able to achieve unity of action, to become an army of millions and tens of millions, which no capitalist power can resist.