Resistance Movement

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Resistance Movement


the antifascist national liberation movement during World War II (1939–45) against the German, Italian, and Japanese occupation forces and the local reactionary elements who collaborated with them. Among those who fought in the resistance movement were workers and peasants, the patriotic strata of the urban petite bourgeoisie, part of the middle bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and part of the clergy. In Asia several groups of landlords participated to varying degrees in the struggle against the Japanese colonialists.

In almost all the countries occupied by the fascists there were two basic currents in the resistance movement: the democratic current, which was led by the working class headed by the Communist parties and which advocated not only national but also social liberation, and the right-wing conservative current, which was led by bourgeois elements and restricted its aims to restoring the power of the national bourgeoisie and the pre-occupation social system. The Communists cooperated with those right-wing elements of the resistance movement who were willing to fight actively against the occupation forces. In a number of countries, including France, Italy. Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway, the democratic and right-wing elements of the resistance movement cooperated against their common enemy.

Supported by the ruling circles of Great Britain and the USA, the bourgeois governments-in-exile of several countries, including Yugoslavia, Albania, Poland, and Greece, established separate organizations on the fascist-occupied territories of their countries. Ostensibly fighting for liberation from the fascist German occupation, these organizations in fact spent most of their time fighting the Communist parties and other democratic organizations of the resistance movement.

Despite its deeply national character, the resistance movement was an international movement, inasmuch as all the peoples fighting the fascist aggressors shared the same aims—the defeat of fascism and the liberation of the occupied countries from the invaders. Moreover, the national resistance movements cooperated and helped each other, and each national resistance movement was joined by large numbers of antifascists from foreign countries. Soviet citizens who had escaped from fascist concentration camps fought in the resistance movements of many European countries, and many Soviet patriots led antifascist groups and commanded partisan detachments.

The resistance movement’s struggle against fascism and for national liberation was, as a rule, closely intertwined with the struggle for democratic reforms and the social demands of the toiling people. In colonial and dependent countries the movement was further interwoven with the struggle against imperialist colonial oppression. In several countries the resistance movement turned into people’s democratic revolutions. The people’s revolutions that began in some countries in the period of the resistance movement were victorious after the end of World War II.

The resistance movement produced various forms of struggle against the occupiers. The most frequent types were antifascist propaganda and agitation, publication and dissemination of underground literature, strikes, diversionary tactics and sabotage at enterprises that produced for the occupation forces and in transportation, armed attacks aimed at killing traitors and representatives of the occupation administration, the collection of intelligence for the armies of the antifascist coalition, and partisan warfare. The highest forms of the resistance movement were armed uprisings led by the working class.

In some countries (Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium, Italy, Greece. Albania. Vietnam. Malaya, and the Philippines) the resistance movement developed into a national liberation war against the fascist aggressors. The national liberation war against the occupation forces in Yugoslavia and Albania merged with the civil war against domestic reactionary forces, who opposed the people’s liberation struggle. In the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway the chief weapons of the resistance movement were strikes and antifascist demonstrations. In Germany underground antifascist groups conducted highly conspiratorial work, enlisting workers in the struggle against fascism, disseminating agitational materials among the population and in the army, and offering help to foreign workers and prisoners of war who had been driven into Germany.

1939-June 1941. From the beginning of World War II to June 1941, the resistance movement gathered strength and prepared for a mass struggle through organization and propaganda. Illegal antifascist organizations were established and consolidated under the leadership of the Communist parties.

In Poland between September and October 1939 small partisan detachments, which had been organized by soldiers who had escaped from captivity and by the local population, fought against the fascist German occupation troops. Workers formed the nucleus of the first partisan groups, and the Communists, who conducted revolutionary activity despite the dissolution of the Communist Party of Poland in 1938, were the vanguard of the workers. From early autumn 1939 to late summer 1940 the resistance movement spread through a large part of Silesia. From 1940 sabotage was carried out spontaneously at enterprises and on the railroads. The Polish peasants sabotaged food deliveries and refused to pay numerous taxes, and the progressive Polish intelligentsia was drawn into the struggle.

In Czechoslovakia in the initial period of the fascist German occupation the chief weapons of the struggle were political demonstrations, boycott of the fascist press, and strikes. (In 1939 there were 25 strikes at 31 plants.) Responding to the appeal of the underground Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Czech and Slovak patriots organized groups that began to carry out sabotage and diversionary acts at plants and at transport facilities in the autumn of 1939.

In Yugoslavia the first partisan detachments were formed primarily on the initiative of the Communists immediately after the occupation of the country in April 1941. They consisted of small groups of patriotic soldiers and officers who did not lay down their arms but went to the mountains to continue the struggle.

In France the first resistance fighters were workers in the region of Paris and in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments and other industrial centers. One of the first major actions organized by the Communists against the occupation forces was a demonstration of thousands of students and young workers, which was staged in Paris on Nov. 11, 1940. the anniversary of the end of World War I (1914–18). In May 1941 more than 100,000 miners in the Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments joined a powerful strike. Responding to the call of the French Communist Party, thousands of members of the French intellegentsia joined the working class in the struggle for the liberation of France. In May 1941 the French Communist Party took the initiative in establishing a mass patriotic association, the National Front, which rallied French patriots of different social strata and political views. In late 1940 the Communists set up the Special Organization, which was the embryo of a military organization. In 1941 the Special Organization became part of the Francs-Tireurs and Partisans.

The peoples of other European states also became involved in the struggle against the aggressors. There were resistance movements in Albania (occupied by the Italian army in April 1939), Belgium and the Netherlands (occupied by the fascist German armies in May 1940), and Greece (occupied between April and early June 1941).

The liberation struggle of the Chinese people against the Japanese imperialists, which had begun before World War II, assumed a greater scope at the beginning of World War II. The Communist-led Eighth Army, New Fourth Army, and partisan detachments operating behind Japanese lines gathered strength during the struggle. From Aug. 20 to Dec. 5, 1940, units of the Eighth Army conducted an offensive in northern China against Japanese positions. Democratic reforms were carried out in the liberated areas and democratic governing bodies led by Communists were elected.

June 1941-November 1942. The resistance movement in Europe and Asia became stronger with the onset of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (1941–15). Under the influence of the courageous struggle and first victories of the Red Army over the fascist German troops, especially in the historic battle of Moscow, the resistance movements in almost all the European countries began to be nationwide struggles. Mass patriotic organizations took over the leadership of the people’s liberation struggle: the National Front in Poland and France, the Antifascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia, the National Liberation front in Greece and Albania, the Independence Front in Belgium, and the Fatherland Front in Bulgaria.

In Yugoslavia on June 27, 1941, the Communist Party established the Chief Staff of the People’s Liberation Partisan Detachments, which was renamed the Supreme Staff of the People’s Liberation Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia in September 1941. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, an armed uprising broke out in Serbia on July 7, 1941, and in Montenegro on July 13, and an armed struggle began in Slovenia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina in late July. In late 1941 the Yugoslav resistance movement included 44 partisan detachments, 14 separate battalions, and one proletarian brigade, with a total strength of up to 80,000 men. By late 1942 the patriots had liberated one-fifth of Yugoslavia. The Antifascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia was founded on Sept. 26–27, 1942. The assembly elected an executive committee that included representatives of all the antifascist groups, in addition to Communists.

The Polish Workers’ Party, which was founded in January 1942, played an important role in the further development of the liberation struggle. The party organized and led partisan detachments that eventually became part of the Gwardia Ludowa. Following the example of the Gwardia Ludowa, many detachments of the Peasants’ Battalion and the Home Army opened an armed struggle, although these two organizations had been established by the Polish government-in-exile not to fight against the occupation forces but to obstruct the struggle and seize power in the country at the time of liberation.

The first partisan groups in Czechoslovakia were formed in the summer of 1942. In Bulgaria the underground Fatherland Front was established in 1942 on the initiative of the Communist Party. Led by Communists, the front united all antifascist forces and opened a massive antifascist partisan war. The armed struggle against fascism was led by the newly created Central Military Commission, which was reorganized as the Chief Staff of the People’s Liberation Partisan Army in the spring of 1943. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of Albania, which was founded in November 1941, the Albanian people’s partisan struggle became broader in scope. In Greece the liberation struggle was led by the National Liberation Front, which was organized in September 1941 on the initiative of the Communist Party of Greece. Workers and peasants were the nucleus of the National Liberation Front in Greece. Partisan detachments organized in early 1941 were united in December 1941 in the National Popular Liberation Army. The Communist Party of Greece played the role of leadership in the National Liberation Front and the National Popular Liberation Army.

The struggle against the fascist German occupation forces in France, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands also gained strength. In the second half of 1941 the antifascist and antiwar actions of the Italian working people began to be conducted on a larger scale. The Italian Communist Party took the initiative in founding the Committee of Action on the Unification of the Italian People (October 1941) and the Committee of the National Front in Turin (November 1942), which was composed of representatives of the antifascist parties. Similar committees were set up in other Italian cities. In Germany, despite the terror of the Gestapo, much greater quantities of underground printed antiwar and antifascist materials were distributed between late 1941 and early 1942 than in the early days of the war. Underground Communist groups organized the antifascist struggle.

The resistance movement became stronger in the countries of east and southeast Asia which were occupied by the Japanese, especially China. In 1941 and 1942 the Japanese Army opened a “general offensive” against the liberated areas but was able to reconquer only some of them in northern China, suffering heavy losses. The extent of liberated territory increased in central and southern China between 1941 and 1942.

The Vietnamese Independence League (the Vietminh) was founded in May 1941 on the initiative of the Indochinese Communist Party. Partisan detachments were formed and opened a struggle in the Vietnamese provinces. The resistance movement also developed in the other regions of Indochina—Laos and Cambodia.

In Malaya an anti-Japanese army of the peoples of Malaya was formed in late 1942 on the basis of the first partisan detachments organized by the Communists. An anti-Japanese league was organized among the civilian population.

The liberation struggle of the Indonesian people broke out in the spring of 1942, immediately after the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. Sabotage and diversionary acts were carried out at industrial enterprises and transportation facilities, and peasant uprisings were organized. The occupation forces cruelly suppressed all anti-Japanese actions. The struggle against the Japanese occupation troops in Burma began in 1942, particularly in the western and central regions, where Communists operating in the underground organized partisan detachments and groups. The anti-Japanese struggle had a broad base in the Philippines, where a united anti-Japanese front of patriotic forces was formed. In addition to the anti-Japanese organizations led by representatives of the national bourgeoisie, there was a people’s army—Hukbalahap, which was organized by the Communist Party in March 1942.

November 1942-late 1943. The historic victories of the Red Army in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk brought about a radical turning point in the war. The resistance movement gained considerable strength in all the occupied countries, even in some countries of the fascist bloc, including Germany itself. The national unification of the patriotic forces was essentially completed in this period, and united nationwide fronts became stronger.

People’s liberation armies were formed in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria on the basis of partisan detachments. Despite vigorous opposition from its reactionary leaders, the Home Army followed the example set by the activities of the Gwardia Ludowa in Poland. An uprising broke out in the Warsaw Ghetto on Apr. 19, 1943, but after several weeks of heroic struggle, it was cruelly suppressed. New partisan detachments were organized in Czechoslovakia, and the Rumanian Patriotic Anti-Hitlerite Front was founded in June 1943. The liberation struggle in France, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands grew stronger. In Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia, and northern Italy the patriots liberated entire regions from the occupation forces and established agencies of popular power. The actions of Soviet partisans set an inspiring example of struggle against fascism for the peoples of the world.

In China the people’s revolutionary army, partisan detachments, and people’s militia detachments reconquered the liberated areas that had been lost to the Japanese between 1941 and 1942 and extended the area of liberated territory. In Korea the number of strikes and acts of sabotage increased significantly in 1943. Numerous Vietnamese partisan detachments had driven the Japanese occupation troops out of many regions in the northern part of the country by late 1943. In these regions of Vietnam the resistance fighters established committees that were the embryos of a new democratic system. In Burma the central organization of the patriotic forces was the Antifascist People’s Freedom League, which was founded in 1944 and included the Communist Party, trade unions, and other Burmese patriotic organizations. Patriots in Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines intensified their struggle against the Japanese occupation.

Late 1943 through May-September 1945. The Red Army dealt crushing blows against the fascist aggressors, drove them out of the Soviet Union, liberated the peoples of eastern and southeastern Europe and, with the allied armed forces, completed the defeat of Hitlerite Germany. On May 8, 1945, representatives of the German command signed the act of surrender. On August 9, the Red Army opened military actions against Japan, playing a decisive role in the victory over Japanese militarism.

As the offensive of the Soviet troops continued successfully, the nationwide antifascist struggles in several occupied countries became armed uprisings, which were important landmarks in the struggle of the democratic forces. The people’s democratic revolutions led to the establishment of people’s democratic systems (the People’s Armed Uprising of Aug. 23, 1944, in Rumania, the September 1944 People’s Armed Uprising in Bulgaria, the Slovak National Uprising of 1944, and the Popular Uprising of 1945 in the Czech Lands). The liberation struggle grew stronger in Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Albania. In these countries, as well as in other countries of eastern and southeastern Europe, patriotic forces led by the working class established agencies of revolutionary power that began to realize the goals of the people’s democratic revolutions. In December 1943, when the victories of the Red Army made Poland’s liberation imminent, the Krajowa Rada Narodowa (National Home Council) was founded in Poland on the initiative of the Polish Workers’ Party. Local national councils were subsequently established. In July 1944 the Polish Committee of National Liberation was organized, which assumed the functions of a provisional government. The attempt of reactionary forces to use the heroic Warsaw Uprising of 1944 to seize political power failed, and the people’s democratic power became stronger in Poland.

As Soviet troops began to liberate Hungary, the Hungarian National Independence Front was formed on Dec. 2, 1944, on the initiative of the Communist Party. Meeting in Debrecen, the Hungarian National Assembly formed the Provisional National Government on Dec. 22, 1944.

In Yugoslavia the National Liberation Committee of Yugoslavia, which functioned as a provisional revolutionary government, was established on Nov. 29, 1943. A democratic government was formed in Yugoslavia on Mar. 7, 1945, after the Soviet and Yugoslav armed forces had liberated the country. In Albania the newly created legislative organ, the Antifascist National Liberation Council of Albania, formed the Antifascist National Liberation Committee, investing it with the functions of a provisional government.

Taking advantage of the favorable conditions created by the rapid advance of the Red Army in the Balkans, Greek patriots liberated all of mainland Greece from the fascist German invaders by late October 1944. However, Greek reactionary forces, supported by British troops that landed in Greece in October 1944, were strong enough to restore the reactionary monarchist regime in Greece.

In France the resistance movement made great gains. In May 1943 the Council of National Resistance was formed, and on Mar. 15, 1944, it outlined the urgent tasks in the struggle for the liberation of France and discussed the long-range prospects for the country’s economic and democratic development after liberation. In the spring of 1944 the combat organizations of the resistance united to form a single army, the French Forces of the Interior, consisting of up to 500,000 men led by the Communists. Under the impact of the victories of the Red Army and the landing of allied troops in Normandy on June 6, 1944, the struggle against the occupation troops became a national uprising that culminated in the’ victorious Paris Uprising of 1944. With their own forces French patriots liberated a great part of French territory, including Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, and several other major cities.

In the summer of 1944 patriots of the Corps of Freedom Volunteers in Italy formed a united partisan army of more than 100,000 soldiers. The partisan army liberated large areas of northern Italy from the occupation troops. Patriotic action groups were founded in cities and villages and mass strikes occurred in several industrial cities of northern Italy in the winter of 1944–45. In April 1945 northern Italy was gripped by a general strike that grew into a nationwide uprising that resulted in the liberation of northern and central Italy from the occupation troops even before the arrival of British and American troops.

As many as 50,000 partisans were active in Belgium by the summer of 1944. Because of the efforts of the Communists, the armed struggle of the partisans and the patriotic militia culminated in a nationwide uprising that engulfed the whole country in September 1944.

In Germany, despite the cruel mass terror and executions that affected the majority of the fighters and leaders of antifascist groups, Communist groups that had managed to survive carried on the struggle against the fascist regime. Resistance groups were organized among the inmates of Nazi concentration camps. In July 1943 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany took the initiative in founding in the USSR the National Committee of Free Germany, which became the national directing center of the antifascist struggle and included representatives of different political opinions and convictions. In November 1943 the Committee of Free Germany for the West was established in France to direct the antifascist work of German Communists among the occupation troops in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands with the help of local Communists.

The resistance movement won important victories in Asia. In 1944 the Hukbalahap, the people’s army in the Philippines, cleared several regions of the island of Luzon of the Japanese invaders, with the active participation of the population, and democratic reforms were enacted in this region. However, the progressive forces of the Philippine people failed to consolidate their gains. In May 1945 armed liberation forces in Indochina joined to form the United Liberation Army of Vietnam (the Vietnamese People’s Army).

The resistance movement in Asia became still more powerful immediately after the USSR joined the war against Japan. Soviet troops defeated the Kwantung Army in August 1945 and liberated northeastern China and Korea. The victories of Soviet troops enabled the Eighth and New Fourth national liberation armies to clear almost all of northern China and part of central China of Japanese occupation troops. The liberation struggle of the Chinese people provided a powerful stimulus to the people’s revolution in China.

A popular uprising broke out in Vietnam in August 1945, leading to the establishment of the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam. On Aug. 17, 1945, a republic was proclaimed in Indonesia, where different social strata had been drawn into the resistance movement. The anti-Japanese people’s army in Malaya liberated several regions of the country between 1944 and 1945. In August 1945 this army disarmed the Japanese troops even before British armed forces landed in Malaya. A nationwide uprising broke out in Burma in March 1945, culminating in Burma’s liberation from Japanese occupation troops.

The resistance movement was a very important factor in the victory of the anti-Hitlerite coalition. Many peoples draw on the glorious traditions of the resistance movement in their struggle against imperialist reaction and for world peace.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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