Issue 67 of INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL Published Summer 1995 Copyright © International Socialism
For the overwhelming majority of those who fought in the Second World War, it was a war for democracy. Whatever their own experiences, the newsreel footage they saw in 1945 as the concentration camps were liberated meant that until the end of their lives they believed that Britain's war with Nazi Germany was a 'just war'. That contrasted with the experiences of those who had taken part in the First World War. Few, at least by the war's end, would have argued that that war was 'just'.
Fifty years after the end of the Second World War most people still see this war as different. So in his recent history of this century Eric Hobsbawm argues that the Second World War in the West can be:
...best understood, not through the contest of states, but as an international ideological civil war... And, as it turned out, the crucial lines in this civil war were not drawn between capitalism and communist social revolution, but between ideological families... between what the 19th century would have called 'progress' and 'reaction'--only that these terms were no longer quite apposite.1
This was the theme taken up by the London Evening Standard in that memorable summer of 1940 as Britain faced threatened invasion. This paper was owned by Lord Beaverbrook and it was, as it still is, pro-Tory. In 1940 it stood behind Churchill against that section of the British ruling class who wanted to deal with Hitler. In order to mobilise popular support for Churchill it moved leftwards. On 15 June 1940 the paper responded to Italy's attack on France by declaring, 'It is a war not of nations at all. It is a mammoth civil war. Goethe and Garibaldi, a great German and a great Italian, are on our side.' Three days later it reacted to Marshal Pétain's surrender of France by proclaiming, 'Every rebel is our ally. We do not only fight a war. We must conduct a Continental revolution'.2
What separates the Second World War from the First World War is the ideological factor.3 This is something the ruling class had to take into account. And despite the flood of films in the 1950s and the tone of the official celebrations of the anniversary of D Day in 1984 and 1994 and now of the 50th anniversary of the war's end, this is something that cannot quite be concealed.4
From the start it was clear to millions of people that this was not simply a war against Nazism but a war in which their own ruling class was divided. Nowhere was this more true than in France. The election of a Popular Front government under the Socialist Leon Blum with Communist support in May 1936 and the subsequent strike wave with its factory occupations terrified the French bourgeoisie. Increasingly they approached the war with an attitude of 'revolutionary defeatism'. The fall of France in May and June 1940 can only be understood against this background:
'It would be difficult to exaggerate', stressed the French historian, Marc Bloch, 'the sense of shock felt by the comfortable classes, even by men who had a reputation for liberal-mindedness, at the coming of the Popular Front in 1936'... Dangerously, the French conservatives, in their alarm, persisted in regarding the enemy within as infinitely more menacing than the menace without. 'Rather Hitler than Blum' became their motto.5
Julian Jackson argues, 'The Vichy regime was largely a reaction against the revolution that the Popular Front had represented in the eyes of much of the French bourgeoisie'.6
In contrast to 1914 the French ruling class was deeply divided.7 A former right wing foreign minister, Yvan Delbos, reacted to a suggestion by Blum for a government of national union following the Anschluss (Hitler's takeover of Austria) by telling deputies, 'The Communists, frightened by their defeat in Spain, and the Jews, hunted down everywhere, are searching for salvation in a world war'.8
The French officer corps were highly politicised. Leon Blum believed that '...important military leaders--including Marshal Petain and General Weygand--were more than doubtful... a great number of officers were suspect'.9 Two secret right wing organisations existed in the French army in the late 1930s, the Corvignolles cells and the Cagoule, which had widespread support even from senior army officers.10 Marc Bloch recalled that so reactionary were the newspapers around his own officers' mess in 1939 that the highly conservative Le Temps might have been taken to represent the political views of the extreme left.11
These ruling class fears contributed to the Munich Agreement of September 1938. German attempts to seize the Sudetenland threatened war, while fighting in Spain still continued. Whatever the interests of France and Britain, this would have been a highly politicised conflict which they were anxious to avoid. One French diplomat remarked in March 1937, 'Who knows if around Brno, a new Catalonia will not spring up?' referring to the revolutionary centre of the Spanish Civil War.12
The British ruling class had not suffered such a scare as its French counterpart but it too entered the war divided. One of the most successful pamphlets in British history was called Guilty Men. It was a polemic against the appeasers who would have preferred not to fight Hitler. Though full of praise for Churchill, this pamphlet was boycotted by many booksellers and sold in bundles on the streets--'like a pornographic classic', one of its authors, Michael Foot, modestly observed.13 As Angus Calder wrote:
A Gallup poll at this time suggested that three quarters of the public now wanted Chamberlain removed from office. There were strong feelings against the lesser 'Guilty Men', Halifax, Wood and Margesson. Churchill could not remove them; partly because they were able ('If one were dependent on people who had been right in the last few years,' he remarked at the time, 'what a tiny handful one would have to depend on'), and still more because the Tory benches might turn on him.14
Within the normally closed political lives of the British ruling class the pamphlet represented an unprecedented glasnost in which a minority section of the Tory Party round Churchill relied on their media friends and the Labour Party to oust their opponents.15 Angus Calder writes, 'The "old gang", the old system, the "Old World" (as men came to call it) had failed... Hatred focused on Chamberlain, Hoare, Simon, and beyond them the Conservative Party, and beyond them the businessmen whom they represented in parliament'.16
The vicious nature of that split is caught in these words of Lord Dunglass (later the Tory prime minister Sir Alex Douglas Home) recorded by a dinner guest on the day of Churchill's 'Finest Hour' speech in June 1940:
Alec said in the last fortnight, and indeed since W [Winston Churchill] came in, the H of C [House of Commons] had stunk in the nostrils of decent people. The kind of people surrounding W are the scum...17
The Labour Minister for Economic Warfare, Hugh Dalton, noted that after Churchill's speech:
It is noticeable how he is much more loudly cheered by the Labour Party than by the general body of Tory supporters. The relative silence of these latter is regarded by some as 'sinister'.18
This opposition to Churchill continued into 1941. Andrew Roberts writes of the Chamberlain wing as 'the Respectable Tendency' who 'spent 14 months putting party before country, and love of intrigue before both'.19
Their figurehead was Chamberlain's foreign secretary, Lord Halifax. Halifax was of course equally as responsible as Chamberlain for the surrender to Hitler at Munich. In July 1939 Hitler's adjutant reported Halifax as saying that he 'would like to see as the culmination of his work the Führer entering London at the side of the English King amid the acclamation of the English people'.20 Halifax did not deny this statement when it was made public after the war.
In early February 1940 Lord Halifax passed a peace proposal to Hitler's deputy Goering through a Danish contact of the pro-Nazi historian Sir Arthur Bryant.21 One of Halifax's closest friends was Lord Londonderry, a former leader of the Northern Ireland Senate and aircraft minister in the MacDonald coalition government. After being sacked from that job, Londonderry toured Germany in early 1936 striking up a friendship with Goering. Back home the Nazi ambassador, Ribbentrop (who would become Hitler's foreign minister), was a regular house guest. In 1938 Londonderry published Ourselves and Germany, a defence of appeasement and the Nazi regime, and in January of that year he signed a message of support published in the Berliner Tageblatt on the anniversary of the Nazi 'revolution'.22
Opposition to Churchill's appointment extended to the royal family. George VI told Chamberlain when he accepted his resignation:
How grossly unfair I thought he had been treated and that I was terribly sorry that all this controversy had happened. We then had an informal talk over his successor. I, of course, suggested Halifax.23
The permanent secretary at the Foreign Office recorded in his diary for September 1939: 'Buck House to see King, called in about 6.10 and stayed till 6.50. He was depressed--and a little defeatiste...' As Andrew Roberts comments, 'Putting the word into French makes it no less extraordinary that within a week of the outbreak of war, the senior official at the Foreign Office could find the King-Emperor to be defeatist about Britain's war prospects'.24
The present Queen Mother wrote to Chamberlain just as the Germans were invading the Low Countries, concluding, 'You did all in your power to stave off such agony and you were right. With again my heartfelt thanks for all you have done for this dear country of ours, I am, yours very sincerely, Elizabeth R'.25
The Duke of Windsor and his wife were openly pro-Nazi. Robert Bruce Lockhart, a journalist and spy, described a conversation he had with the Duke in 1933, when the Duke was still the Prince of Wales. The Duke,who 'was quite pro-Hitler, said it was no business of ours to interfere in Germany's internal affairs, either re Jews or re anything else, and added that Dictators were very popular these days and we might want one in England before long'.26 After his abdication he toured Germany giving Nazi salutes. After Paris fell to the German army in 1940 he quit his home there, at first for the Riviera and then for Franco's Spain. There a plot was hatched by his old friend the German foreign minister, Ribbentrop, with Hitler and Franco's knowledge, to lure him to Berlin. It took much manoeuvring to get the Windsors back to Britain from where they were carefully sent by Churchill to preside over the Bahamas.27
The general attitude to Churchill was that 'he was seen as essentially a war leader, and his rejection by the electorate in 1945 was the result of this long standing image of him, not any sudden access of ingratitude'.28 Yet in many working class households Churchill was seen as a 'bastard', who had sent troops to shoot the miners of Tonypandy in 1911. But he was seen as a bastard necessary to oversee victory.
Yet, despite Churchill being a blue blooded High Tory, the rhetoric of Guilty Men and the propaganda the BBC and the newsreels helped spur a growing radicalisation. The author J B Priestley gave a series of radio broadcasts in the summer of 1940 which won a mass audience and worried Churchill with their radical tone. In one in July 1940 Priestley attacked the idea of property as being 'old fashioned' and suggested it should be replaced by 'community'. Pointing to a house with a large garden near his own home, which lay empty after the owner had fled from the blitz to America, he said:
Now, according to the property view, this is all right, and we, who haven't gone to America, must fight to protect this absentee owner's property. But on the community view, this is all wrong. There are hundreds of working men not far from here who urgently need more ground for allotments so that they can produce a bit more food. Also, we may soon need more houses for billeting. Therefore, I say, that house and garden ought to be used whether the owner, who's gone to America, likes it or not.29
Tom Wintringham, an ex-Communist and commander of the British contingent of the International Brigades, coined the term 'a People's War' that summer. The socialist novelist George Orwell took things further:
The defeat in Flanders will turn out to have been one of the great turning points in English [sic] history. In that spectacular disaster the working class, the middle class and even a section of the business community could see the utter rottenness of private capitalism.30
Mass Observation, which closely surveyed British public opinion, reported in November 1940: 'In the last few months it has been hard to find, even among women[!], many who do not unconsciously regard this war as in some way revolutionary or radical'.31
The dominant message around the 50th anniversary of the war's end--a message propagated by historians and politicians on the right and left--is that this was a war against fascism and for democracy. But fighting fascism was never the main concern of Allied rulers. Britain's wartime leader, Winston Churchill, was opposed to Germany from the mid-1930s onwards because he recognised it threatened Britain's position in Europe and the world. He had no problem with the Italian fascist dictator, Mussolini. In 1927, following a visit to Il Duce in Rome, Churchill told the fascist press, 'If I had been an Italian, I am sure I should have been wholeheartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism'.32
Churchill's Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, said in August 1941, after the Atlantic Charter signed by Roosevelt and Churchill promised that each nation could decide its own form of government, that, 'If Italy prefers, after we have got rid of Mussolini, to retain their corporative and functional basis of government, there is no reason why she should not do so, and Point Three [of the Charter] has already given comfort to Salazar in Portugal and friendly dictators elsewhere'.33 Commenting on the fall of Mussolini, Churchill wrote:
He was, as I had addressed him at the time of the fall of France, 'the Italian lawgiver'. The alternative to his rule might well have been a Communist Italy, which would have brought perils and misfortunes of a different character both upon the Italian people and Europe... Even when the issue of the war became certain, Mussolini would have been welcomed by the Allies.34
When Mussolini fell, the government--which the allies recognised--was headed by the fascist Marshal Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel who had appointed Mussolini as Italy's prime minister. They brutally suppressed the massive demonstrations which followed the fall of Mussolini:
In Bari 23 people were killed and 70 injured when the army opened fire on the crowd in Piazza Roma. Outside the Alpha Romeo factory in Milan machine guns were trained on the exits to prevent workers leaving the factory to join their colleagues on the streets. In mid-August ... the authorities agreed to release political prisoners but also responded with more bloodshed and a massive wave of arrests.35
After the Allied advance the old order still remained: '...in countless communes the ex-Fascists or their collaborators stayed in office... In essence those that had loyally served Fascism for decades, including many who had joined the Party, still dominated the post-Mussolini civil, military, and police systems'.36 Of Churchill's attitude to this it has been written, 'He was not interested in eradicating Fascism from the Italian state apparatus, and was content, as Pavone has written, "to offer immunity in return for obedience".'37
The end of the war brought the chance of popular vengeance against the Fascists, but the Communists played a key role in enforcing restraint. This missed opportunity meant that in Portugal and Spain fascist dictatorships would survive until 1974 and 1975. In 1942, at the time of the Allied landings in North Africa, President Roosevelt wrote to the Spanish dictator, Franco, describing himself as 'your sincere friend' and 'assured him that he had nothing to fear from the United States'.38 On 24 May 1944 Churchill told the Commons that 'the internal affairs of Spain were a matter for Spaniards alone'.39 The former leader of the Spanish Communist Party, Fernando Claudin, points out that this position was accepted by Stalin: 'The maintenance in power of the Fascist dictatorship in Spain after the Second World War is one of the clearest results of Stalin's policy of sharing out "areas of influence".'40
In December 1940 Sir Alexander Cadogan, permanent under secretary of state at the British Foreign Office, had warned Lord Halifax of the need to be cautious about war aims:
The difficulty that I see is that to proclaim 'democracy' and 'liberty' enables the enemy to say that we stand for the 'Front Populaire' and the 'Red' government in Spain. And millions of people in Europe (I would not exclude myself) think that these things are awful.41
Even in Germany the British argued in the first weeks of their occupation for a 'soft peace' which meant maintaining the old apparatus: 'The first few weeks of the occupation of defeated Germany reflected this British conception in the bluntest fashion possible: the deliberate continuation of the Nazi government under Doenitz and his aides at Flensberg, a government Hitler himself designated'.42
In France the épuration, the purge of Vichyite collaborators, saw 10,000 people killed by local resistance fighters. In contrast: 'Nearly 7,000 people were legally sentenced to death, but only 770 were actually executed, and over 38,000 of the roughly four times that number who were tried for collaboration were sent to prison or forced labour for some term'.43
The Communist Parties offered no alternative. Stalin of course had been perfectly prepared to sign a pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and as a demonstration of goodwill had handed over some German Communists to the tender mercies of the Gestapo. On his return to France the Communist Party leader, Maurice Thorez, backed De Gaulle in demanding an end to the épuration and demanded the dissolution of all extra-parliamentary institutions.
De Gaulle himself was far from being a pure democrat. Prior to the war, in 1934, he had advocated the formation of a shock army of six mechanised divisions. The priority of this proposed force was to prevent 'a situation of anarchy, perhaps of civil war'. Attacking the police's ability to cope in this situation he also said the army could not cope because 'its units are now all formed of voters or natives'.44 After the war his Rassemblement du Peuple Français employed 'shock troops' against the Communists in a series of bitter street clashes.45
In Britain Jewish refugees had found it hard to enter the country before the outbreak of the war. After Dunkirk, refugees from Germany and Austria were interned and shipped off to Canada and Australia. One Jewish refugee from Germany recalled, 'Churchill had the right kind of instincts "we've got to do something" and, like in Germany, you immediately turn on the Jews'.46 In June 1940 his father (who had been held in Buchenwald), his brother and he were taken by detectives from their home in London to a detention camp in a Liverpool stadium. He and his brothers were shipped off to Australia--despite the fact the Australian government had refused to accept such refugees!
The leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley, was released from (very free and easy47) detention in November 1943 after his relations lobbied establishment figures. By the following year Nazi groups had began to operate again as Mosley prepared to relaunch the BUF in the form of the Union Movement. There was no official attempt to block any of this. One anti-fascist Jew wrote of 'going from a cinema showing newsreels of piles of Jewish men, women and children being bulldozed into limepits in the concentration camps, and then passing an outdoor fascist meeting or seeing swastikas whitewashed on Jewish homes and synagogues...'48
So the Second World War was not, in the minds of those who ruled the Allied powers, a war against fascism. Neither was it a war for democracy. After all, Britain and France refused to fight in defence of a democratically elected government in Czechoslovakia but did go to war in defence of Poland, a country ruled by a military clique with pronounced anti-semitic policies. One of Britain's allies was Greek dictator Metaxas whose regime had many fascist traits. Britain's major concern when its forces entered Greece (after the Germans had withdrawn) was not to enforce democracy but to crush the Communist led resistance army, ELAS, and its civilian wing, EAM, in order to restore the old order:
In October 1944, when the Germans were evacuating Greece, the Papandreou government entered Athens with a British naval and military force. Churchill had instructed the British commander, General Scobie, that 'the clear objective is the defeat of the EAM'.49
When Scobie called on ELAS to disarm in December 1944 these security forces opened fire on a mass peaceful demonstration in Athens' Constitution Square, killing 28. Fighting flared across the city and the British were on the point of defeat when the Russian military delegation insisted ELAS/EAM accepted Royalist rule in line with accords reached between Stalin and Churchill. The new regime began rounding up ELAS members. Those who had carried firearms during the German occupation were now guilty of a punishable offence.50
In terms of the colonial world, talk of a war for democracy must have seemed like a joke. When Chamberlain declared war on Germany he also committed India to the conflict without any Indian having the slightest say in the matter. Two million Indians would fight for the 'King-Emperor'.51 The nationalist Congress Party had swept into control of most of India's provinces in the elections of 1937 (central control remained in British hands). After the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, had declared India to be at war, bargaining began because the Congress demanded independence but Britain needed the Congress to rule India.52
Churchill, a violent opponent of Indian independence, was forced to reopen negotiations, pressured from Washington. As the Japanese pushed to India's borders, the Leader of the House of Commons, Labour's Sir Stafford Cripps, was sent to India to reopen negotiations. Churchill and Linlithgow, vetoed the agreement which Cripps brokered. The effect in India was dramatic. One Congress leader recruited tens of thousands of captured Indian soldiers into the Indian National Army which would assist the Japanese in the forthcoming conquest of India.
Gandhi and Nehru launched the Quit India movement. Gandhi told his followers to 'Do or Die'. The day the movement was launched the Viceroy had him and other Congress leaders jailed. The Quit India movement,
...amounted to the biggest threat to British control of India since the mutiny. The railway line between Delhi and Calcutta--the main artery of government--was blown up in Bihar, where, for more than two weeks, the British completely lost control and so could not organise repair teams. Supplies could not be sent to the Burmese front, where a Japanese invasion was feared. In many parts of the country police stations were burnt, policemen killed, British people on the roads were stopped by gangs and beaten up, telegraph wires cut... The Government did all it could to suppress news of what was happening in order to preserve morale in both India and Britain. For a week or more it was unclear whether the British would be able to reassert control.53
Control was reasserted by using a carrot and stick methods combined with traditional British policy of divide and rule. In order to suppress popular unrest huge numbers of troops were used and the RAF bombed villages. Congress was banned. In order to appease the upper classes 11 Indians were brought onto the Viceroy's 14 strong Executive Council. It was at this point that Britain promoted Mohammed Ali Jinnah's Muslim League which was invited to form regional governments in Sind, Assam, Bengal and the North West Frontier Province. The stage was set for the tragedy of partition.
The situation in British-run Egypt was critical as German troops neared Alexandria in 1941. King Farouk appointed a prime minister who sympathised with the large pro-German element in Cairo.54 The British demanded Farouk appoint the pro-British Nahas Pasha as prime minister. Farouk refused. The British then issued him with an ultimatum, to appoint Nahas Pasha prime minister by 6pm or face the consequences:
At 6.15 the King delivered his reply. The ultimatum was an infringement of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty and of the rights of Egypt: the King could not assent to it. Lampson [the British ambassador] sent a message to say that he would be calling on the King at 9pm. By the time he did so, British tanks and armoured vehicles had surrounded the Abdin palace. The King prudently ordered his royal guard not to resist.55
Farouk gave way after being threatened with forced abdication. A young Egyptian officer serving in the Sudan wrote of these events of 4 February 1942, 'What is to be done now that this has happened and we accepted it with surrender and servility? ...I believe that colonialism, if it felt that some Egyptians intended to sacrifice their lives and face force with force, would retreat like a prostitute'.56 Lieutenant Gamal Abdul Nasser spoke for a generation of young Egyptians.
The British ruling class's real agenda was summed up by Leo Amery at the India Office, who stated in December 1942, 'After all, smashing Hitler is only a means to the essential end of preserving the British Empire and all it stands for in the world'.57
The United States was prepared to openly attack British colonialism (though hiding its own version of colonialism in places like the Philippines) in order to supplant its allied rival. But democracy was also absent from one area of America itself. In the US the Southern states operated a Jim Crow policy of racial segregation. In one incident, 'A German prisoner of war on the run from a POW camp in the Southern states gave himself away by his behaviour on a long distance bus; not only did he seat himself in the "Coloured People Only" section at the back, but he then gave up his place to an elderly black who was having to stand'.58 To the north in Detroit 34 people died in February 1943 in a race riot which swept the city. Racial segregation was even enforced in the US armed forces.
New forces had been unleashed by the war, however. On VE Day in Setif in Algeria 8,000 Algerians demonstrated under the slogan, 'For the Liberation of the People, Long Live Free and Independent Algeria'. 'They were also flourishing, for the first time, the green and white flag that had once been the standard of that legendary hero of resistance against the French, Abdul-el-Kader, and was later to become that of the FLN liberation movement'.59 The French sub-prefect of Satif, Butterlin, ordered his chief of police, Valere,
to intervene and seize the banners. Valere warned that that might mean a fight (une bagarre). 'All right', replied Butterlin, 'then there'll be a fight'.60
The police opened fire but were overcome by the crowds. Arms were seized and demonstrators fanned out across the area attacking colonists, killing 103 of them. The French repression that followed was fierce: 'The casualties inflicted by the armed forces were set officially (by the Tubert Commission) at 500 to 600, but the numbers of Muslim villagers killed by the more indiscriminate naval and aerial bombardments may have amounted to more'.61
The Algerian Communist Party, loyal to Moscow's line that it should maintain unity with the Paris government, denounced the uprising as 'Hitlerian'. The party's journal Liberté proclaimed that, 'The organisers of these troubles must be swiftly and pitilessly punished, the instigators of the revolt put in front of the firing squad'.62
What had changed in Algeria? Alistair Home explains, albeit in rather patronising terms: 'The Second World War came and with it France's crushing defeat in 1940. To Muslim minds, particularly sensitive to prestige and baraka [good fortune], the humiliation made a deep impression'.63 Events at Setif helped spark the eight year liberation war which would drive France out of Algeria.
The world had been turned upside down. The defeats inflicted on Britain in Singapore and elsewhere had sent out the same message. Yet on VE Day in 1995 who will remember those killed in Setif and in its aftermath?
No one can deny the horrors of Nazism. But the Nazis were not some parasitical growth on capitalism. They were brought to power in the world's second industrial state by the German ruling class. However much that ruling class might dislike political power being exercised by a former house painter, they shared with Hitler common war aims. German capitalism stood by the Führer until his suicide in the burning ruins of Berlin.64
The Second World War was a war dictated by the logic of imperialism. This conflict was fuelled by the 1929-1932 crisis, the gravest the world capitalist system had yet experienced. In order to escape from this crisis Germany, the US, Japan and Britain, together with the lesser powers, France and Italy, adopted a similar strategy. To various degrees they looked towards creating their own protected trade areas together with state direction of the economy.
Just two days after the outbreak of war the exiled Russian revolutionary Trotsky argued, 'The struggle is going on between the imperialist slaveholders of different camps for a new division of the world... the present war is a direct prolongation of the previous war...'65 He summed up the situation thus:
The initiative for the new redivision of the world this time, as in 1914, belonged naturally to German imperialism. Caught off guard, the British government first attempted to buy its way out by concessions at the expense of others (Austria, Czechoslovakia). But this policy was short lived.66
The British historian A J P Taylor has argued against the idea that Hitler was responsible for the Second World War, claiming that he was simply an opportunist who was trying to redress the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.67 In this sense Hitler,
...was the creation of German history and of the German present. He would have counted for nothing without the support and co-operation of the German people... Hitler was a sounding board for the German people. Thousands, many hundred thousands, of Germans carried out his evil orders without qualm or question... In international affairs there was nothing wrong with Hitler except that he was a German.68
Taylor argued that Hitler's foreign policy was that of his predecessors 'and indeed virtually all Germans'.69 He also argued that in 1940 Hitler could have contained the war within Europe. Hitler's mistake was to invade Russia and to globalise the conflict. Taylor claims Hitler was acting 'without design'.70 In terms of long term plans it was 'doubtful whether he had any'.71
In reality Hitler's New Order could not have been created without war with Britain, France and, inevitably, Russia. The creation of a single European power also posed a threat to the United States. And if Germany had succeeded in its long term aims it would also have posed a threat to Japan.
Hitler was clear about this:
The struggle for hegemony in the world will be decided for Europe by possession of the Russian space. Any idea of world politics is ridiculous (for Germany) as long as it does not dominate the continent... If we are masters of Europe, then we shall have the dominant position in the world.72
In the winter of 1940 Hitler explained to his generals:
Britain's hopes lie in Russia and the United States. If Russia drops out of the picture, America, too, is lost for Britain, because the elimination of Russia would greatly increase Japan's power in the Far East. Decision: Russia's destruction must be made a part of this struggle--the sooner Russia is crushed the better.73
But Taylor is right to argue that in this regard German imperialism was no different from its rivals. This is not to ignore the horrific nature of the Nazi regime, merely to point out that at the core of Hitler's war drive were the same factors which drove on his enemies and allies.
The background to all this was the Wall Street Crash. By January 1933, when Hitler took power, there were 6 million unemployed in Germany. Hitler's initial economic programme was similar to Roosevelt's New Deal package in America. Public spending on the autobahns and railways (both of military importance) increased, subsidies were given to housing, firms were forced into cartels, industry was offered cheap loans and tax exemption while wages were pegged at the level they were at the bottom of the slump. Industrial production rose from 53.8 percent of the 1929 figure to 79.8 percent in 1934.74 Yet unemployment remained at three times the 1929 figure and inflation began to mount. The Nazis increased their state capitalist measures. From 1935:
The major capitalist groups remained intact. But from now on they were subordinated--as in 1914-1918--to the needs of an arms drive which they themselves wholeheartedly supported. The mild reflationary measures of 1933 gave way to the 'preparedness economy'--the arms economy--of 1935 onwards.75
By 1936 Germany's economic output equalled the 1929 figure. Three years later it had grown by a further 30 percent. Such expansion was at the expense of Germany's middle and working classes.76 And in 1938-1939 the German economy fell into a grave economic crisis. A huge budgetary deficit existed--public expenditure was 55 million Reichmarks in 1938-1939 but tax and custom receipts were only 18 million Reichmarks.77
Much of Germany's economic policy was based on 'autarky'--economic self sufficiency. Export possibilities were limited in a recession wracked world and in order to curb earlier trade deficits the Nazis limited exports.
But there was a limit as to how far they could go down that road. Rearmament fuelled the need to import raw materials. But the only way Germany could find the necessary raw materials in a world dominated by protectionism was to physically expand the borders of the Third Reich: 'The only "solution" open to this regime of structural tensions and crises produced by dictatorship and rearmament was more dictatorship and more rearmament, then expansion, then war and terror, then plunder and enslavement'.78
Similar pressures were affecting Britain, the United States and Japan. All were locked into a system of trade protection where the only solution to their economic problems was a repartition of the world. Russia was a partial exception given its vast territory and raw materials. But even Stalin could not separate the autarkic Russian economy from the competition between states.
The Second World War was a conflict between rival imperialisms. A conflict as much between the victorious Allies as between them and the Axis. Trotsky understood this when in 1934 he wrote:
US capitalism is up against the same problems that pushed Germany in 1914 on the path of war. The world is divided? It must be redivided. For Germany it was a question of 'organising Europe'. The United States must 'organise' the world. History is bringing humanity face to face with the volcanic eruption of American imperialism.79
The conflict would see America finally eclipse Britain as the major imperialism and it would lay the basis for the economic and political arrangements which dominated the following half century. Cordell Hull, Roosevelt's Secretary of State, explained in a public address in July 1942 that:
Leadership toward a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve very largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume this leadership, and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure national self interest.80
At 2.41 am on 7 May 1945 Generals Friedeberg and Jodl signed the surrender of Germany on behalf of Adolf Hitler's designated successor, Admiral Doenitz, at General Eisenhower's headquarters at Reims in Northern France. No senior British officer or minister was present. Field Marshal Montgomery had to stage his own separate surrender ceremony for the cameras. A relatively junior Russian officer was flown into Reims at the last minute. The Americans drew up the surrender document with no reference to either of their allies. Meanwhile far to the east the Russians were in control of the German capital, Berlin.
Three months later on 14 August in Tokyo Bay both the British and the Russians were excluded when General Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender of the Japanese. Both countries were also excluded from any say in the American occupation of the country. In the Pacific there was little pretence that the Allies were on an equal footing: 'For such heroes of America's Pacific struggle as Admiral Nimitz and (especially) General Douglas MacArthur, the Grand Alliance was, in the main, a ritual rather than a practical bond'.81 This was the American policy on which the army and navy were unanimous.
Already by the time Churchill and Roosevelt, travelled to meet Stalin at Yalta in the Crimea in February 1945 the Anglo-American alliance was little more than a facade: 'By Yalta the vital unity between the two nations depended largely on their mutual enemies and the common Anglo-American fear of Russia and the threat of the left'.82
The Yalta summit saw a cynical division of Europe between the three victorious powers. Britain was excluded from discussions over Japan. Stalin was able to gain his essential goal--the creation of a buffer zone to the west of Russia's European frontier. He could do so because in the words of the British foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, 'at Yalta the military situation was still conspicuously in his favour'.83 This was because Russia was carrying the bulk of the war against Germany.84
In December 1944 the Germans had launched their assault in the Ardennes aimed at driving a wedge between the Allied forces in northern France and Belgium. In near panic Roosevelt and Churchill had pleaded with the Russians to bring forward a planned offensive to relieve the pressure on the Western Front.85 By the time of Yalta that offensive had brought the Russians to within 100 miles of Berlin. Similarly in the Far East the Americans, unsure of the effectiveness of the atomic bomb, were relying on a Russian attack on Manchuria to drive the Japanese out of China.
Hitler did order the removal of troops from the Western Front to face the Russian assault on Germany but the Anglo-American forces had no intention of launching an assault on Berlin--despite much post-war bombast from figures like Britain's Field Marshal Montgomery.
Firstly, all three Allies had already agreed on the division of Germany into zones, including Berlin, so as Eisenhower explained: 'It was futile... to expend military resources in striving to capture and hold a region which we were obligated, by prior decision of a higher authority, to evacuate once the fighting was over'.86 The 'military resources' that the Russians expended on the German capital were 305,000 men killed, wounded or missing.
Secondly, Eisenhower was concerned that the Russian advance might extend to the Atlantic coast. Therefore, he ordered Montgomery to advance to the Baltic port of Lubeck at the eastern foot of the Danish peninsula. 'Head off our Soviet friends', was Churchill's instruction.87 The British reached the town just six hours ahead of the Russians. Meanwhile the Americans advanced into Austria to prevent the Russians similarly extending their advance.
The need for Russian aid in the war against Japan still influenced American strategy at the Potsdam summit in July 1945. On 23 July Truman met with Churchill and the Combined Chiefs of Staff 'and reiterated the policy to, "Encourage Russian entry into the war against Japan".'88
It is this which explains America's decision to use its newly developed atomic weapons on Japan. Truman still needed Russian help in Manchuria but the successful detonation of the atomic bomb was intended as a marker laying down America's post-war position in the world.
Truman's decision to bomb first Hiroshima in August 1945 and then Nagasaki concluded a long series of negotiations with the Russians over the final conquest of Japan. Kolko writes that in May 1945:
...the Allies had effectively defeated Japan and reduced its industrial capacity and manpower to nearly a last-stand posture... The Americans now tried to weigh the atomic bomb both from the viewpoint of its use against Japan and its implications to future relations with the Soviet Union... One must remember that at no time did the Americans see the bomb as a weapon for defeating the formidable Japanese army in China, and at no time did they consider it desirable that the Soviets invade the Japanese mainland. The bomb did not reduce the importance of Soviet entry into Manchuria and north China.89
The desperate Japanese resistance and the resulting American casualties in the fighting at Okinawa, as the Americans neared the Japanese island chain, determined Truman's position at the Potsdam summit in July 1945. Truman wrote, 'There were many reasons for my going to Potsdam, but the most urgent to my mind, was to get from Stalin a personal reaffirmation of Russia's entry into the war against Japan, a matter which our military chiefs were most anxious to clinch'.90
On 9 August the Russians attacked the Japanese positions in Manchuria and liberated much of northern China. The Americans now pressed for a quick Japanese surrender, accepting the continuance of the emperor as part of the price. It was within this context that both Russia and Britain were excluded from the surrender ceremony in Tokyo harbour and from any role in the occupation of Japan.
To understand the war it is necessary to look at each of the four major players. The starting point is Britain, simply because Britain had the most to lose and the least to gain in any new world war. In April 1939 the British Treasury warned: 'If we were under the impression that we were as well able as in 1914 to conduct a long war we were burying our heads in the sands.' By February 1940 they believed Britain's resources might just last for two or three years with care.91
Britain was being squeezed out of its position as the number one world power by its rival across the Atlantic. Since the 1890s Whitehall had ruled out war with the US because of its economic strength and the vulnerability of Britain's imperial possessions in the western hemisphere. In 1918 the British cabinet had to accept that America had overtaken the Royal Navy and that the days when Britannia ruled the waves were over.
Britain could no longer plan on fighting a war both in Europe and the Far East nor in these circumstances could it guarantee to protect its imperial colonies and dominions in the Far East. In 1925 Winston Churchill assured the Cabinet, 'I do not believe Japan has any idea of attacking the British Empire, or that there is any danger of her doing so for at least a generation to come'.92 But six years later Japan seized Manchuria and began its expansion into China.
In 1942 after the fall of Singapore and with the Japanese at the gates of India Churchill told the House of Commons, 'There has never been a moment, there never could have been a moment, when Great Britain or the British Empire, singlehanded, could fight Germany and Italy, could wage the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of the Middle East--and at the same time stand thoroughly prepared in Burma, the Malay Peninsula, and generally in the Far East.'93
Yet at no point had Whitehall told Australia and New Zealand this. Labouring under the belief that the Royal Navy would defend them Anzac troops were sent to the Middle East in 1940.
One thing which united both the Chamberlain and Churchill wings of the Tory party by 1939 was a consensus that the crucial issue was the maintenance of Britain's position in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This position remained unchanged throughout the war. After the fall of France Britain's priorities were seizing French territory in the Middle East, liquidating Italy's African colonies and taking control of the Iranian oilfields. After America entered the war Churchill desperately tried to avoid a land invasion of northern Europe until shortly before D Day in favour of further operations in Italy, the Balkans and even the Greek islands.
By the 1930s Britain's share of world manufacturing was well below Germany's and a third of America's. Britain was attempting to control a quarter of the world with just 10 percent of global manufacturing. During the First World War it was only Britain's ability to import steel and shell from the United States which staved off disaster. By the late 1930s British steel production was half that of Germany's and Britain was increasingly dependent on American imports. Rearmament from 1935 onwards saw imports rise by 400 percent. Britain had already defaulted on loan repayments to America dating from the First World War. This meant it had to pay up front for its American orders. Its financial reserves simply could not meet the costs of a lengthy war. In July 1939 the Treasury argued, 'Unless, when the time comes, the United States are prepared to either to lend or to give us money as required, the prospects for a long war are exceedingly grim'.94
Yet such American largesse was not forthcoming. The United States objected strongly to the creation by Britain of a sterling bloc and imperial trade preference scheme. Britain used the political legacy of empire to create a trading zone from which its rivals were excluded. This contained British colonies and dominions, much of the Middle East and countries like Argentina. Prior to the war the Sterling Area and North America accounted for half of total world trade. Any settlement between the US and Britain would shape the new world order following the war.
The destruction of this set up was America's key aim in its dealings with Britain throughout the war, as the British ruling class were well aware. They were trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea--in the shape of Hitler and Roosevelt. Rab Butler, junior foreign minister, a pillar of the Tory party and a leading appeaser, wrote a month before war broke out, 'In my political life I have always been convinced that we can no more count on America than Brazil'.95
This awareness goes some way to explaining the depths of appeasement towards Hitler in the Tory party of the late 1930s. Neville Chamberlain noted of his predecessor as prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, that, 'SB says he loathes the Americans so much he hates meeting them'.96 Chamberlain nursed a deep dislike of the US and of President Roosevelt in particular.
So Britain entered the war in a dire position. It could not defend its territories which stretched across the globe. It faced two powers but only had the economic and industrial resources to confront one of them. Rearmament had strained its economy to the limits but Britain's military readiness was no deterrent to Germany or Japan.
The Baldwin and Chamberlain governments knew all this. If war broke out victory was only possible if America and possibly the USSR entered the war. The price of this would be to further reduce Britain's position as a world power. The British ruling class chose a twin track approach of offering concessions to Germany, Italy and Japan while trying to create an effective military deterrent.
Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia, in the autumn of 1938, brought matters to a head. Chamberlain accepted Hitler's claim that this was simply reuniting ethnic Germans in the region with their homeland, telling journalists invited to meet him at Lady Astor's home, 'Hitler wants all the Germans he can lay his hands on, but positively no foreigners'.97
More crucially it was hoped German expansionism could be directed eastwards towards Russia. A German diplomat reported that he had been told by Chamberlain's close adviser, Sir Horace Wilson:
Britain and Germany were in fact the two countries in which the greatest order reigned and which were the best governed... It would be the height of folly if these two leading white races were to exterminate each other in war. Bolshevism would be the only gainer... A constructive solution of the Czech problem by peaceful means would pave the way for Germany to exercise large scale policy in the South East.98
But in the aftermath of the Munich agreement of September 1938, which surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler, any further concessions would seriously erode Britain's position as a great power. Chamberlain reacted to Hitler's gobbling up of the remainder of Czechoslovakia by issuing guarantees of protection to both Poland and Romania.99
Even so, when Chamberlain entered the Commons two days after the invasion of Poland he intended not to deliver an ultimatum to Germany but to float the possibility of Britain being 'associated' with possible talks to end the 'present hostilities'.100 Just days before, on 29 August, a friend of Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, noted in her diary, 'Edward thinks if we can keep Hitler talking for two more days the corner will be turned'.101
What precluded this was the emergence of an alliance between the Labour Party and a growing section of the Tory party who realised that any retreat would mark the end of Britain as a great power.
This meant that the British ruling class were deeply divided. After the announcement of war Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, asked his permanent secretary what Britain's war aims were:
I told him I saw awful difficulties. We can no longer say 'evacuate' Poland without going to war with Russia, which we don't want to do! I suppose the cry is 'abolish Hitlerism'. What if Hitler hands over to Goering! Meanwhile what of the course of operations? What if Germany now sits tight? What do we do? Build up our armaments feverishly? What for?... Must try to think this out.102
Field Marshal Montgomery wrote in his memoirs that in September 1939 he believed the British army 'was totally unfit to fight a first class war on the continent'. Britain's leaders believed any loss of life on the scale of the previous war would be unacceptable domestically. Accordingly Britain placed a heavy emphasis on sea power and, in particular, heavy air bombing. Rearmament was weighted towards the Royal Navy and the RAF.
Under Chamberlain Britain's war 'strategy' was to hope that while the French army kept the Wehrmacht in check, a naval blockade of Germany would lead to its economic collapse and the war would fizzle out. This illusion was blown apart with the fall of France in the spring of 1940.
Churchill was not the choice of the Tory party, Chamberlain or even King George VI. He was a ruling class maverick. Chamberlain wanted to pass the mantle of office to Lord Halifax, but Halifax turned it down. This was appreciated in Germany:
'Churchill', Dr Goebbels noted in his diary after a discussion with Hitler early in 1942, 'has never been a friend of the Tories, He was always an outsider, and before the war was regarded as half crazy. Nobody took him seriously. The Führer recalled that all Englishmen whom he received before the outbreak of the war were in agreement that Churchill was a fool. Even Chamberlain said so to the Führer.103
Churchill's determination to fight on after Hitler conquered France, Belgium and Holland was not matched by the reality of the situation. In its evacuation from Dunkirk the British army lost nearly all of its equipment. As the military chiefs told the cabinet in May 1940, 'Should the enemy succeed in establishing a force, with its vehicles firmly ashore, the army in the United Kingdom, which is very short of equipment, has not got the offensive power to drive it out'.104
A section of Churchill's government entered into peace negotiations in that summer of 1940. Rab Butler called the Swedish ambassador to the foreign office to ask the neutral Swedes to open negotiations with Hitler. During the conversation Butler complained of 'diehards' in the cabinet who should not be 'allowed to stand in the way'. Butler described the prime minister as 'a half breed American' and his war speeches as 'beyond words vulgar'.105
Tory ministers in favour of peace with the Nazis included the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, and 'Chips' Channon (father of one of Margaret Thatcher's ministers). The former prime minister in the First World War, Lloyd George, talked of 'this damn crazy war'. A Churchill supporter, Harold Nicolson, noted on 22 July that 'Lothian [Lord Lothian, British Ambassador in Washington] claims that he knows the German peace terms and that they are most satisfactory'.106
Churchill vetoed the peace deal but, as Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke admitted, up until December 1941 Britain had no strategy for victory independent of the Americans. Churchill summed this up in June 1940 when he wrote, 'I think I can see my way through it... I shall drag in the United States'.107
He was lucky in that until the spring of 1941 the British were not fighting any part of the German army, just the far weaker Italians. Even then until the end of 1942 the British army never fought at one time more than four German divisions out of a total of more than 200. As Churchill admitted to Roosevelt at the close of 1940, Britain was unable to match 'the immense armies of Germany in any theatre where their main powers can be brought to bear'.108
Another problem was the weakness of Britain's generals and its officer corps. Matters came to a head in 1942 with the loss of Tobruk, Burma and Singapore. The head of the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander Cadogan, wrote in his diary, 'Our generals are no use. Our army is the mockery of the world'. Field Marshal Rommel wrote of the British army's 'immobility and rigidity', of 'the ultra-conservative structure of their army' and of 'the machinery of command--a terribly cumbersome structure in Britain'.109
In this respect Britain remained trapped in the legacy of the First World War with a senior officer corps who were still upper class, had little military knowledge and were remote from their men. Britain's most successful general, Montgomery, always relied on building up massive technical and numerical superiority before any offensive, but failed to capitalise on his success.110
Britain's industry was hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the demands of modern warfare. It relied on America for steel. By late 1942 production of ammunition was falling. By mid-1943 so was production of military vehicles and by the year's end production of artillery and small arms was also declining. By D Day two thirds of the British Army's tanks and trucks were American.
Great claims were made for the bombing offensive against Germany but very early on officials were noting the realities of the air assault. An official British history of the air offensive concluded, 'Area attacks against German cities could not have been responsible for more than a very small part of the fall which had occurred in German production by the spring of 1945, and... in terms of bombing effort, they were also a very costly way of achieving the results they did achieve'.111
Britain constantly manoeuvred to oppose a landing in France, putting forward all sorts of alternative schemes--including an invasion of neutral Portugal. Even after the US insisted on the Overlord operation, the invasion of Normandy, going ahead--Churchill could ask in February 1944, 'Why are we trying to do this?'112 On D Day the British provided half the troops (including Canadians and Poles). This was the maximum force it could mobilise. From then until the end of the war British troop levels declined while America's mushroomed until they had five times as many troops fighting the Germans.
Churchill described the United States and the United Kingdom as 'a noble brotherhood of arms'. The truth was somewhat different. After America's entry into the war Churchill knew Britain could not hope to dominate a land war in northern Europe. Gabriel Kolko writes, 'The British objective was to employ their very limited resources carefully in a global struggle at precisely those points where they might have the maximum political effect'.113 All Britain could hope to do was to reclaim its dominance in the Mediterranean.
As early as 1926 a Foreign Office memorandum had stated, 'We have no territorial ambitions nor desires for aggrandisement. We have got all that we want--perhaps more'.114 That summed up Britain's whole approach--simply hanging on to as much as it possessed.
Matters came to a head over Middle Eastern oil with the Americans determined to exclude the British from the Saudi Arabian oilfields. The outcome was: 'The United States had defeated British imperialism in the Near East'.115 As the wrangle continued Churchill wrote to Roosevelt:
Thank you very much for your assurances about no sheep eyes at our oilfields in Iran and Iraq. Let me reciprocate by giving you fullest assurances that we have no thought of trying to horn in upon your interests or property in Saudi Arabia. My position in this as in all things is that Great Britain seeks no advantage, territorial or otherwise, as a result of the war. On the other hand she will not be deprived of anything which rightly belongs to her...116
But deprived Britain was--and in the main by its brother in arms, the United States.
Until the autumn of 1941 Hitler planned 'short wars with long stretches of quiet in between', as his war production minister, Albert Speer recorded. Hitler hoped to be allowed to get away with a policy of foreign expansion (as had happened in the Saar, the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia) whilst avoiding the economic and political strains which had brought revolution to Germany in 1918.117 In Speer's words, 'He always wanted everything at once'. Speer pointed out that Hitler was concerned,
To keep the morale of the people in the best possible state by concessions. Hitler and the majority of his political followers belonged to the generation who as soldiers had witnessed the Revolution of November 1918 and had never forgotten it. In private Hitler indicated that after the experience of 1918 one could not be cautious enough.118
When he unfolded the plans for the invasion of France, Hitler told his generals, 'I shall stand or fall in this struggle. I shall not survive the defeat of my people. No surrender abroad! No revolution at home!'119 Hitler did not trust the German masses. The working class had never transferred their support to him even in the elections following his taking of power in 1933. Accordingly he determined they should be spared the deprivations visited on them in 1916-1918. Nazi labour policy was dominated by this political consideration.
Doubts about popular support for war were crucial in delaying the switching of the economy to a total war footing until after the tide turned in 1942:
...the ambivalent attitude of National Socialism towards the workers (terror directed against all expressions of political opposition; and attempts at social integration, even at the expense of rearmament) was determined first and foremost by its ideological assimilation of the lessons of the revolution of November 1918. The future struggle for hegemony in Europe was not to be hampered by disorder on the home front and the threat of revolutionary upheaval. Nazi labour policy, therefore, can be seen as the precautionary pacification of the home front. And for this, carrots were needed as well as sticks.120
The hesitation produced by such fears more than anything else, and far more than the Allied bombing offensive, hampered Germany's war effort.
By 1938-1939 Hitler's regime was caught between the economic consequences of rearmament and their fear of political unrest. Hitler was committed to both a war of expansion and creating a cohesive Germany, immune to a repeat of 1918-1919.
British Marxist Tim Mason has produced strong arguments explaining why Hitler committed himself to war in the summer of 1939. In January the head of the Reichsbank, Schact, resigned. The cost of rearmament had meant that the national debt had tripled since the Nazis had come to power, public spending took up some 50 percent of national income and in a hot-house economy inflation was mounting. Yet because of fears of internal unrest Hitler refused to sanction tax increases or other unpopular measures. Despite a policy of economic autarky the German economy was not immune from outside pressures. Mason points out:
It was only a significant and completely unexpected improvement in world trade in 1937, which increased German imports by 30 percent and exports by 25 percent, that created the basis for accelerated rearmament foreseen by the Four Year Plan. This respite came to an abrupt end with the American recession late in 1937...121
The seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia could meet at most a third of Germany's import requirements. Mason also points out that in 1938 the clothing needs of the German population accounted for a third of industrial imports while 'quasi-luxuries' like tobacco, coffee and cocoa were above the 1929 figure which contrasted sharply with acute shortages in the raw materials needed for rearmament. These shortages provided justification for 'a war of plunder'.122
Such a war could also solve the labour shortages plaguing the German economy. For, as the military prepared to attack Poland, the regime was planning to conscript German school children to bring in the harvest. This was avoided by using Polish prisoners of war and several army divisions freed from the front by the speed of the campaign.
Mason details massive labour shortages, such as a shortfall of 30,000 miners in the Ruhr which halted coal exports.123 The regime was not prepared to encourage women to work both for ideological reasons--their stress on women's role in the family--and because to maintain morale in the army the government paid higher separation allowances, 85 percent of the husband's previous earnings, than any other country in the Second World War.
The irrationality of the Holocaust--in 1942 among the first victims of the death camps were skilled Polish Jewish armaments workers--flowed not just from the regime's ideology (though this was crucial) but from Hitler's refusal to rationalise the German economy. He ruled out such measures on the grounds of time but also because such rationalisation would have upset the alliances on which the Third Reich was based and would have required unpopular measures aimed at the working class. Such fears were real. Mason writes:
As we can deduce from Hitler's ever rarer public appearances, the regime was beginning to admit to itself that its hopes of maintaining mass enthusiasm for its project of racial imperialism had not been entirely fulfilled. After the summer of 1938 it was more a case of holding the population down and stemming the rising wave of discontent, opposition and demoralisation. State backed police terror, so effective against political opposition, proved quite inadequate to the changed circumstances. Exemplary punishment of randomly selected 'layabouts', contract breakers or 'saboteurs' had little success.124
Mason's conclusion is that Germany was propelled into war by internal crisis and the need for resources to fuel rearmament. The defeat of France in May-June 1940 was achieved, despite the French and British having numerical superiority, by German audacity and the incompetence of her opponents.
The attack on France was not preceded by any noticeable shift in the German economy towards a war footing. The economics minister, Funk, had to explain this to the generals saying, 'To live through this mess one has to be either mad or drunk: I prefer the latter'.125 In 1940 German consumer expenditure was actually greater than its military spending. The German standard of living remained higher than Britain's until 1944. Military output was actually reduced after the fall of France so that tank production stood at just 40 a month (compared to 2,000 a month reached in 1944).
The result was a remarkably ramshackle and ill equipped force which attacked Russia in June 1941. Only 46 out of 150 divisions were fully equipped with German arms. The rest depended on captured Czech and French material. Far from Germany facing economic collapse, as Britain had hoped, its economy was working under capacity for the bulk of the war.
But neither Hitler nor his generals believed that a lengthy European war was on the agenda. Hitler's calculation in 1939 was that once Britain and France had entered the war following the attack on Poland he had to deliver a knockout blow before both countries' rearmament programme would decisively shift the balance. Hitler believed Britain would either surrender after the fall of France or concede to German demands. One of Hitler's generals, Halder, recorded in his diary after a discussion in July 1940 that the German dictator was reluctant to defeat Britain and dismantle the empire:
Reason: if we smash England militarily, the British Empire will collapse. Germany will not benefit from this. With German blood we would obtain something whose beneficiaries would only be Japan, America and others.126
In late 1940 Hitler decided he could conquer the USSR by the end of 1941 (the timescale for operation Barbarossa was five months), integrate its economy with that of the Reich and return to the attempt to defeat Britain. The primary objective was to win the vast territory and resources of the east, but it would also remove any immediate source of help to Britain and force it to the peace table. Such calculations were mistaken and left Germany fighting a war on two fronts, the long term dread of its rulers. The crucible of the Second World War was the eastern front.
Hitler sent 3 million men into Russia equipped for one decisive offensive. He planned for the war to be over by winter and to leave a garrison of not more than 275,000. German armour reached Leningrad but then had to wait for its infantry to catch up. Then German armoured vehicles halted because spare parts could not be supplied in time to sustain the advance. Half the Ostheer (the Eastern army) relied on horse drawn supplies from railheads. The German army took into service more horses in the Second World War than it did in the First--2.75 million to 1.4 million (the Russians mobilised 3.5 million horses).127 The technical ability of the supposedly racially inferior Russians to replace their tremendous losses came as a shock to the Germans. One soldier wrote:
Today three months ago the campaign against Russia began. Everybody supposed at the time that the Bolsheviks would be ripe for capitulation within no more than eight to ten weeks... That assumption, however, was based on a widespread ignorance of the Russian war material... We are spoilt by the preceding Blitzkrieg.
Omar Bartov argues that:
...between 1941 and 1942 the Wehrmacht's combat units underwent a radical process of de-modernisation... Although the Reich actually produced a growing number of war machines, the vast majority of German troops lived and fought in conditions of the utmost primitiveness.128
When in early 1942 Albert Speer was given limited authority over the war economy he discovered only 37.5 percent of Germany's crude steel production was going into the war effort--9 percent less than during the First World War. Food consumption never collapsed as in the First World War. Even in 1944 adult male rations were 83 percent of normal and in European terms were only comparable to Britain's.129 This was achieved at terrible cost to occupied Europe (360,000 Greeks, for instance, died of starvation). It is estimated that the conquered territories paid for 40 percent of Germany's war effort in 1942-1943 while by September 1944 foreign workers made up 21 percent of the German labour force (of 5.5 million foreign workers, 1.8 million were prisoners of war).130 German industry became dependent on such labour: 'All told, foreign workers made up about one third of the workforce of the armaments industries, and in some instances, such as Krupp's tank manufacturing plant in Essen, about 50 percent...'131
But as A D Harvey points out, the productivity of foreign workers was low: 'Various figures have been given; one set for 1944 gives the Italians as having only 70 percent of the productivity of German workers and the Danes and Dutch even less'.132 Reliance on forced labour meant that in 1944 the average working week for German workers was still three hours less than in Britain. Yet this cushioning of the impact of the war on Germany's population was accompanied by harsh repression aimed at any dissent on the shopfloor. By July 1944 at least 87,000 workers had been imprisoned for violating work norms. Anyone uttering anything smacking of defeatism could be punished, including by execution, and many were, especially after 1943. Executions increased sixfold between 1940 and 1943, reaching 5,336. This repression was aimed at the German working class.133
In the year November 1942 to October 1943 the Eastern army had lost 1,686,000 men who were either dead, wounded or missing and had received only 1,260,000 replacements. Between January and December 1943 Germany's stock of tanks declined absolutely from 5,700 to 5,200. Stalingrad was a terrible blow. Hitler complained in the spring of 1944 to an army doctor that his nights were filled with nightmares: 'I can sketch exactly where every division was at Stalingrad. Hour after hour it goes on'.134
But terrible as Germany's defeat at Stalingrad was, it cost Hitler 20 divisions (two armoured), just a tenth of the Ostheer's strength and a fifteenth of the Wehrmacht's whole strength. This was dwarfed by the losses inflicted in June 1944 in Byelorussia. This little known battle resulted in German losses of 300,000 with 28 divisions simply written off. This is the greatest defeat ever inflicted in warfare. It dwarfed the battle for Normandy which followed D Day. Yet despite this the Wehrmacht kept fighting until the bitter end. Why?
One answer which has gained widespread acceptance centres on the discipline and camaraderie of the German army.135 There is no doubt that German soldiers received longer basic training than their British or American counterparts right up to the end of the war. Also German officers mixed with their men far more than their Allied counterparts while even the most junior NCO was expected to take command in an emergency. In addition units were recruited from the same area. Yet these 'primary groups' of officers and men were largely destroyed in the first two years of the war in the east.
Omar Bartov argues that the prime motivation in the Wehrmacht's continued resistance was 'ideological'. Yet this overlooks, as Gabriel Kolko points out, 'that many men still came from the working class and the peasantry, where socialism, religion, and a very great deal else were still highly regarded' and further that, 'to argue ideology could have overcome constant experience is to claim that Germans were more stupid than soldiers have ever been anywhere'.136
Bartov centres his argument on the brutality of Germany's racial war in the east. During the Russian campaign 5.7 million Russian soldiers were captured and 3.3 million died (57 percent). By early 1942, 2 million were already dead. The German commander in Byelorussia claimed to have shot 10,431 out of 10,940 prisoners in October 1941 alone.137
Bartov demonstrates that the Wehrmacht was involved in the Nazi racial extermination programme at every level. He goes on to argue that this murderous brutality was mirrored inevitably in the army's own organisation. During the First World War the Kaiserheer executed just 48 of its own soldiers (less than the French or British). In the Second World War Bartov estimates the Wehrmacht killed 13,000 to 15,000 of its own soldiers and that between January 1940 and March 1942 (when Germany seemed sure of victory): 'four fifths of the death sentences were based on ideological-political grounds.'138
The mass murder committed by the Wehrmacht in Poland, Yugoslavia and above all Russia had a brutalising effect. It also meant that most German soldiers believed that the Russians would exact revenge from the Reich. The Nazi propaganda chief, Goebbels, wrote in his diary in November 1943 that Germany's war effort was sustained 'partly owing to our good propaganda, but partly also to the severe measures which we have taken against defeatists'.139 This was accompanied by strenuous efforts to maintain civilian morale by maintaining living standards at the highest level possible.
But there was another crucial factor. Neither the Americans, British or Russians wanted to inherit a Germany wracked by the same political chaos as that following the First World War. All were determined to maintain as much as possible of the existing social structure. This meant there was to be no attempt by the Allies to develop internal unrest. All three powers agreed on a simple militaristic solution which would impose an unconditional surrender on Germany. The mass firebombing of German cities had the effect of rallying civilians behind the regime, as did the violence inflicted on the population by the rear echelons of the Red Army.
In March 1943 Britain's Anthony Eden arrived in Washington for talks with Roosevelt's close adviser, Harry Hopkins. Hopkins stated,
It will, obviously, be a much simpler matter if the British and American armies are heavily in France or Germany at the time of the collapse or one of two things would happen... either Germany would go Communist or an out and out anarchic state would set in.140
Stalin shared the same concerns as Eden reported to Churchill in March 1943, 'If Germany collapsed, he [Stalin] had no desire to take full responsibility for what would happen in Germany or the rest of Europe, and he believed it was a fixed matter of Russian foreign policy to have both British and United States troops heavily in Europe when the collapse came'.141
Why did the German ruling class remain wedded to the Third Reich--including its unleashing of the Holocaust--until the bitter end? Tim Mason has described the Third Reich as being characterised by 'the primacy of politics'.142 Mason argues:
... it was apparently the case that both the domestic and the foreign policy of the National Socialist government became, from 1936 onwards, increasingly independent of the influence of the economic ruling class, and even in some essential aspects ran contrary to their interests. This relationship is, however, unique in the history of modern bourgeois society and its governments; it is precisely this that must be explained.143
The weakness of the German ruling class meant that in the Depression of the 1920s they were 'incapable of solving the great problems of domestic, economic and foreign policy and of thereby giving bourgeois society a new structure and a new direction in which to develop'.144 The National Socialists appeared to be an organisation which could solve the ruling class's problems.145 Big business might not like giving power to Hitler, it might believe it could ease him out, but the fears that brought it to support Hitler were never removed.
The new regime, the military and big business all accepted that rearmament was their goal. Individual capitalists were prepared to sacrifice their immediate interests to further that goal. The most obvious example was the expropriation of one of the heads of Germany's key concerns, Thyssen, despite his crucial support in raising Hitler to power. This was a policy of state capitalism. This created a German replica of the situation in Washington where managers seconded from big business ran the war economy in tandem with the military.146 This did not mean a lessening of cut throat competition between the rival capitals bound together in a war economy:
To increase his profits every contractor tried to obtain these orders and to fulfil them as punctually as possible, so that he would be taken into consideration when contracts were next distributed. This, in conjunction with the shortage of labour and raw materials brought about by the rearmament drive, led to ruthless competition between firms, not for markets, which were well-nigh unlimited for the industries concerned, but for the basic factors of production.147
Where the 'pure politics' came to play a crucial role was in the prosecution of the war in the east and the pursuit of the Holocaust which followed Hitler's conquests there. Capitalists and the military could accept the use of vital rail links being used to transport Jews to their murder instead of being used to provision German forces, or the refusal to consider the Slavic populations as being any more than slaves, because this represented the culmination of methods employed by capitalism elsewhere in carving out its vast economic empires. Hence the involvement of German capital in the death camps and in the murderous exploitation of forced labour. Yet as the French socialist, Daniel Guerin, argued in 1945 in his Fascism And Big Business: 'The bourgeoisie remained an autonomous force, pursuing its own ends in the totalitarian state'.148
Immediately after Pearl Harbour and America's entry into the war Alfred C Wedermeyer of the War Plans Department formulated a plan which would largely determine how and where America's army would fight the Second World War. It was presented to President Roosevelt in December 1941 and it was entitled 'Victory Programme'. This policy became known as 'Europe First'.
The policy was based on seizing a foothold in Western Europe by landing a vastly superior force on the shoreline of Western Europe at the earliest possible date after the Atlantic was cleared of German U boats. Wedermeyer calculated US troops would have to outnumber the Wehrmacht by three to one. His conclusions were at odds with Britain's plans:
We must prepare to fight Germany by actually coming to grips with and defeating her ground forces and definitely breaking her will to combat... Air and sea forces will make important contributions, but effective and adequate ground forces must be available to close with and destroy the enemy inside his citadel.149
America, although having twice the population of Germany, could not build the necessary military force (reckoned to be 8.8 million strong) and fight a major war against the Japanese. Japan had to be engaged but it was 'Europe First'. The man put in charge of this 'Victory Programme' was Eisenhower. He was one of the few senior officers in any of the armies who was experienced in industrial mobilisation.
There was widespread isolationist feeling in the US between the wars but this had largely been overcome by the realities of the US's economy at the close of the 1930s. In 1932 Roosevelt won the presidency, promising a 'New Deal', but his timid state capitalist measures could not prevent the economy re-entering recession. Unemployment rose to 18 million. As Gabriel and Joyce Kolko point out, a turn to the world market became vital. The war in Europe would begin a massive American export drive which together with rearmament pulled the economy right out of recession: 'From the 1932 low of $1.6 billion, US exports rose to $12.8 billion in 1943 and $14 billion in 1944. The figure of $14 billion in post-war exports--well over four times the 1939 level--therefore became the target of most wartime planners, and their calculated precondition of continued American prosperity'.150
The American ruling class determined that the world economy would be reorganised to secure that goal. Isolationism was dead as a realistic option by the 1940 presidential election. Roosevelt was convinced that, 'If Britain fell, a disastrous war for the United States would be inevitable, Germany would attack the western hemisphere, probably at first in Latin America, as soon as she assembled a sufficient naval force and transport and cargo fleet (not too long a process with all the shipbuilding facilities of Europe at Germany's disposal) and Japan would go on the rampage in the Pacific'.151
South of the US's border with Mexico, Trotsky echoed that argument in May 1940 as the battle for France raged:
The potential victory of Germany over the Allies hangs like a nightmare over Washington. With the European continent and the resources of its colonies as her base, with all the European munition factories and shipyards at her disposal, Germany--especially in combination with Japan in the Orient--would constitute a mortal danger for American imperialism.152
Across the Atlantic Hitler's Directive Number 18 of November 1940 mentions the need to capture the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, the Azores and West Africa because of their strategic importance in relation to the US.153 These exact positions plus Iceland were seen as the US's front line of defence and the first step to the invasion of Europe.
American aid to Britain was always based on self interest. Prior to 1941 aid was given to Britain and France so that German ambitions were limited to Europe. This also won the US time to rearm.
In the summer of 1940 when Britain faced Germany alone, Roosevelt demanded assurances that if Britain sought peace the Royal Navy would be sent to Canada to avoid it falling into German hands and threatening American control of the Atlantic. Churchill refused, arguing, as Vichy France had argued to him weeks earlier, that the navy would be a crucial pawn in any peace negotiations.
Yet American aid was only granted in return for the surrender of British bases in the western hemisphere, on the sale, at reduced prices, of British owned companies and investments in the US, Canada and Latin America, the virtual seizure of South Africa's gold production by American warships, restrictions on British exports and finally the removal of the UK's currency and trade controls which could have been used to rebuild its pre-war international trade zone.
Britain was saved from having to sue for peace with Hitler by American intervention. This was given because it was in America's national interest. The longer Britain fought on, the longer the US had to make its own preparations. British war orders in 1940, when the American economy had not yet emerged from recession, played a role in converting it to war production. The Lend Lease Bill of March 1941 was open in admitting it was 'an Act to promote the defence of the United States'.
Those interests were clear to all in Washington: 'The United States could not afford, however, to compromise on the essential principle of breaking down the sterling bloc, for that was the key to the reconstruction of the world economy after the defeat of the Axis'.154
This would entail negotiations from the very first meetings between the two allies through to the Yalta and Potsdam summits and would result in the Bretton Woods agreement which established the primacy of the dollar, the GATT agreement which created a free trade zone for America and the International Monetary Fund as the world's financial policeman.
The impact of the war on America's domestic economy was to create a major restructuring of US capital which involved close collaboration between the state and big business. Much of America's wartime industrial expansion was state funded. In 1939 the entire US manufacturing plant had cost $40 billion to construct. By June 1945, $26 billion in new plant had been added to it. Two thirds of this cost came from federal funds. Just 25 corporations used up half of these government funds, General Motors being the biggest receiver. Over three quarters of this new plant was usable after the war and, deemed 'war surplus', was sold at reduced prices. This was a major transfer of state capital to private capital. Two hundred and fifty corporations acquired 70 percent of it, representing in total more than their pre-war share of US plant capacity.155
The war effected a giant concentration of capital into the hands of a relatively small number of firms like General Motors and Boeing which became central to America's post-war arms drive and closely intertwined with the US state.
Japan had entered the world capitalist economy as a state monopoly capitalism at the time of the Meiji Restoration, following the state's decision to build modern industry in the face of American military threat. As such its industry and banks had always worked closely with the state bureaucracy. The onset of the world crisis reduced industrial production by 10 percent and the price of silk products collapsed. This was followed by an increase in US tariffs on Japanese goods in 1930 and a year later by America overtaking Japan as the leading exporter to China.
From 1932 Japan's ruling class, its army and navy shared a consensus that it should establish hegemony in East Asia in opposition to both the US and Russia. To achieve that Japan required control of China, naval dominance in the western Pacific and the ability to defeat the Red Army if necessary. There were deep and even bloody splits over how this might be achieved but this was an officially accepted state aim.
The occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and increased militarisation of the economy ended the recession. By 1938 industrial production was 73 percent above its 1929 figure.156 Yet of the four major players in the Second World War Japan was still the weakest economically: 'Essentially Japan was still in the throes of industrialisation in the 1940s...' Forty four percent of the workforce was in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector.157 This meant Japanese industry could not compete with the Americans.158
Their industrial and technological weakness was exacerbated by rivalries between the navy and the army. This meant each service demanded separate aircraft designs, placing impossible demands on Japan's aircraft industry. Because the navy refused to co-operate in provisioning overseas garrisons, the army ended the war with its own specially built aircraft carrier and a cargo carrying submarine fleet under construction! The army also refused to exempt skilled workers from conscription, adding to production problems.
These divisions were reflected in Japan's government, which produced little centralisation of the war effort. Writing of Hidecki Tojo's government A D Harvey says:
He could resign with his whole government, but he was unable to dismiss any of his colleagues individually. He was unable to subordinate the armed forces to his control--he was not even told of the disastrous defeat at Midway for a month. He was unable to silence criticism of the government in the army, in the press, or even at public meetings.
Tojo complained that he was denied a 'dictatorial government' like, and this was his list, those of Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt and Churchill.159
A clash at the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing in July 1937 triggered a full scale invasion of China as the first step towards creating an 'East Asian bloc'. Japan expected an easy victory. The army minister predicted the invasion 'could be ended within the month'.160 The Chinese Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek traded territory for time. Within a year Japan had one million troops bogged down in China.
The invasion of China challenged the US's 'open door' policy whereby it hoped that China would be opened up to American exports. So after the invasion of China, Roosevelt stepped up aid to Chiang Kai Shek and operated an informal trade embargo against Japan. When Japan occupied French Indochina (with the co-operation of Vichy France) America imposed an oil blockade. Japan imported 66 percent of its oil from the US.161 Japan would initiate a war with America in December 1941 with just four months reserves of iron ore and a nine month supply of bauxite. A year before the navy had estimated its oil reserves as enabling it to fight for a year.
The mood in the country's ruling circles was summed up by its foreign minister, Teijiro Toyoda, in secret messages to his ambassadors in Berlin and Washington on 31 July 1941: 'Commercial and economic relations between Japan and third countries, led by England and the United States, are gradually becoming so horribly strained that we cannot endure it much longer. Consequently, our Empire, to save its very life, must take measures to secure the raw materials of the South Seas'.162
The decision to declare war was made on 5 November. The key targets were the oilfields and other raw materials of Indonesia and Malaya in south east Asia. But Japan faced an enemy, the United States, whose economy was ten times greater than its own. Japan's leading naval strategist, Admiral Yamamoto, warned: 'We can run wild for six months to a year--after that what would determine the outcome was the oil wells of Texas and the factories of Detroit'.163
The Japanese high command initially gambled that the attack on Pearl Harbour could cripple US naval power in the Pacific. The attack came off better than was expected by many of those involved, but it failed to destroy the American aircraft carriers which were at sea and there was no follow up attack on the repair facilities and the oil supplies. Admiral Nimitz later wrote:
We had about four and a half million barrels of oil out there and all of it was vulnerable to .50 calibre bullets. Had the Japanese destroyed the oil it would have prolonged the war another two years.164
After Pearl Harbour Japan's one chance of victory lay not in seizing vast areas and inflicting major damage on the enemy (this was achieved) but also in the Americans opting for a quick showdown before their rearmament programme was in full swing. A decisive victory would give Japan time to consolidate its new empire. That crunch came at Midway in June 1942 and Japan lost its gamble.
Between 1941 and 1944 the US launched 21 aircraft carriers to Japan's five. The US fleet was supported by supply vessels which meant it could stay at sea for weeks. Their submarines had sunk half of Japan's merchant fleet and two thirds of its tankers by the end of 1944.
This loss of naval control (and air cover with the destruction of its aircraft carriers) meant that the Japanese land forces in the Pacific were largely cut off from their homeland. The raw materials Japan had gone to war for could no longer be transported back to Japan's industries. The Japanese military refused to withdraw from their far flung conquests in order to create a defensible front line.
America could afford to leave strongpoints like Singapore by 'island hopping' its way towards Japan itself. The key to the Pacific was naval power and what had been the world's biggest navy, Japan's Imperial navy, was by December 1941 ground down by the ability of American industry to carry the costs of such a war.
The fall of the Tojo government in July 1944 saw the emergence of the navy and heavy industry as the dominant faction in the Japanese ruling class. They recognised that the war was lost and began to cautiously edge towards a peace settlement.165 The familiar fear of working class insurgency stalked the corridors of power in Tokyo as defeat loomed. By 1944 there were growing food shortages and fears of the resulting radicalisation. The former premier, Prince Konoye, told the emperor in February 1945, 'What we have to fear is not so much a defeat as a Communist revolution'.166
This was not idle talk. Across Asia there were signs that the Japanese armies were being infected by the growing discontent around them. A revolutionary wave was rising and it would affect the Japanese working class in the immediate post-war years.
This crisis was overcome with the aid of the Americans but the foundations of Japan's post-war economic success had already been laid. The war increased the development of Japan's giant zaibastu firms through state sponsored mergers, extensive use of government firms and other such state capitalist measures. This followed from the long standing policy of the Japanese state to use its capital to promote economic development and to exclude foreign interests.
By the end of the war the four largest zaibatsu's industrial assets were ten times greater than their 1935 holdings. These years also saw a fundamental shift from textiles, foodstuffs and other light industries to heavy engineering and other more sophisticated activities. Heavy engineering and manufacturing grew from 38 percent of output in 1930 to 73 percent by 1942. Mergers absorbed 1,354 industrial firms in 1941-1943 alone. The Second World War and state intervention helped create the post-war Japanese economic success.
Hitler and his generals planned for a short campaign in the east. 'You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down,' Hitler told Field Marshal von Runstedt.167 Stalin almost played into their hands.
In 1938 Tuchachevski, who had been one of the leaders of the Red Army under Trotsky, was shot as a German spy when Stalin's terror was extended to the army. Despite being a supposed German spy his plan for the defence of Russia was maintained until the Hitler-Stalin pact extended Russia's boundaries westwards. The damage caused by Stalin's military purges cannot be overestimated: at the time of Barbarossa only 7 percent of army officers had any higher military education and 37 percent had not completed intermediate training.168
The purges affected others too: 'Between 1934 and 1941, 450 aircraft designers and aircraft engineers were arrested, of whom 50 were executed and 100 died in prison or labour camps: the survivors, including A N Tupolev, former head of the Experimental Design section and chief engineer of the Chief Directorate of the Aircraft Industry, were obliged to work in NKVD workshops'.169
The purges continued right up until June 1941. Many officers were released from the Gulag to take frontline positions, among them the future Marshal Rokossovskii (he survived two mock executions and emerged to take command of a mechanised corps with nine missing teeth and three broken ribs).170
As Russo-German relations worsened, a new plan for Russia's defence was drawn up by Marshal Zhukov. This plan was then overruled by Stalin who ordered his forces to be drawn up along the new frontier where the Wehrmacht overran them.171 General Pavlov reported from the Spanish Civil War that, 'The tank can play no independent role on the battlefield'.172 Pavlov would be shot in the first weeks of the German invasion for incompetence.
The winter war with Finland in 1940 saw huge Russian losses as 1 Million men took on just 200,000 Finnish troops. Huge concentrations of infantry were sent forward without proper support to be surrounded by mobile Finnish units or butchered from well prepared defence lines.
The debacle in Finland, whose forces were only defeated by using Russia's massive firepower to crack open defensive positions, further convinced the Germans that victory in Russia would be quick.173
Yet Stalin was already being forced to to rebuild confidence among the officers following the Finnish war. He reintroduced the old Tsarist ranks of general and admiral in May 1940 and two months later introduced a severe disciplinary code modelled on that of the old Imperial Army.
Until 21 June 1941 Stalin refused to accept that Hitler was about to launch an invasion, despite having very precise information detailing attack plans from what was the best informed intelligence service in the world.174 Just weeks before the German attack Zaporozhetos, head of the Political Propaganda Administration, reported:
The fortified districts located on our western frontiers are for the most part not operationally ready... The fortified districts are not manned by the requisite number of specially trained troops.175
Until just minutes before the attack, with the sound of Panzer engines audible across the frontier, Russian raw materials continued to feed Hitler's war efforts in line with the 1939 pact.
The attack fell on Russian troops and border guards who had been refused permission to prepare their defences in case it provoked the Germans! The armoured columns raced through the Russians' linear defences. Tanks and aircraft were either destroyed by the Luftwaffe where they stood or simply thrown away in attacks which were ill conceived and unsupported. Infantry were detailed simply to march into the advancing Germans in a body with no artillery or armoured support.
Erickson details the state of the Russian army in June 1941: 'No reserves of spare parts or concentration of repair facilities... tractors, lorries and motorcycles were in grievously short supply', while artillery units 'faced a critical shortage of ammunition'.176
By October Russia had lost 62.5 percent of its coal production, 68 percent of steel output, 60 percent of aluminium production, 47 percent of its grain crops and 303 ammunition plants. In the first days of the war Stalin sent radio messages to Berlin requesting peace and approached the Japanese to act as peacebrokers. When he emerged to give his first address to the population the official rhetoric had undergone a transformation: 'Of the Party, Stalin said little; this was a "patriotic war", and his words were addressed to the Russians'.177
In order to survive Stalin was forced to limit the Terror and to play the nationalist card. In addition he placated his officer corps. The restoration badges of rank and epaulettes based on the old imperial designs was, Erickson comments, 'no mere ornament, for it marked, physically and visibly, a major transition in the Red Army'.171 Communist Party control over army units was also loosened in response to long standing complaints from officers.
But the decisive factor in stiffening the resistance of the Russians and other nationalities classed as sub-human by the Nazis was the extermination programme and mass slavery programme which came with German occupation.
As the Ostheer advanced deep into Russia, the Nazi rulers gathered on 16 July to discuss how the newly occupied territories would be administered. Alfred Rosenberg suggested dividing Russia into small nations, 'so as to free the German Reich of the Eastern nightmare for centuries to come'. Hitler answered that:
Small sovereign states no longer have a right to exist... the road to self government leads to independence. One cannot keep by democratic institutions what one has required by force.
While German goals and methods must be concealed from the world at large, all the necessary measures--shootings, exiling etc--we shall take and can take anyway. The order of the day is:
Hitler had already ordered that the Geneva Convention would not apply to prisoners in the east, that any commissars (which meant any Communist Party member, intellectual or Jew) should be shot on the spot, and had threatened that Leningrad would be levelled if captured.
Alan Clark writes of the German army in Russia, 'Mass murder, deportations, deliberate starvation of prisoners in cages, the burning alive of school children, "target practice" on civilian hospitals--atrocities were so common that no man coming fresh to the scene could stay sane without acquiring a protective veneer of brutalisation'.180
This flowed from the Nazis' pseudo-racial theories. The Jews had to be exterminated. But the Slavs were Untermensch, sub-humans, who could be killed at will. This brutality affected the whole conduct of the war. There is no doubt that this and the official nationalist propaganda (as the Russians advanced into Germany it was described as 'the lair of the Fascist beast') was crucial to sustaining the Russian war effort. These words of Alan Clark carry extra weight given the author's politics:
Yet, barbarous and horrific though it was, the first impact of the Soviet armies on Germany will not stand comparison with the Nazi conduct in Poland in 1939, or in White Russia and the Baltic provinces in 1941. The atrocities of the 'Death's Head' (Totenkopf) units of the SS which systematically murdered school children and poured gasoline over hospital inmates, were the expression of a deliberate policy of terror, 'justified' by half baked racial notions, but implemented with a perverse and sadistic relish.181
The eventual goals of Operation Barbarossa were imprecise. By the close of 1941 German forces concentrated on capturing Moscow. They failed and their defeat brought forth a new plan from Hitler: 'He intended to smash the Russians once and for all by breaking the power of their army in the south, capturing the seat of their economy, and taking the option of either wheeling up behind Moscow or down to the oil fields of Baku'.182
In the event the German advance became concentrated on the River Volga at Stalingrad. The Russians led by Marshal Zhukov built up their forces and eventually launched an offensive which smashed through the German lines. A quarter of a million German troops plus Romanians, Croats and other allied formations were encircled in the ruins of Stalingrad. 'The turning point in the Second World War had arrived'.183 The biggest tank battle the world will probably see was still to come at Kursk in the summer of 1943 and there were to be enormous losses, but the Russians had began an advance which would carry them to Berlin.
As the German threat lifted, Stalin could turn his attention to those whose loyalty he believed had wavered during the crucial months of 1941-1942. The Chechens had been brutally deported by the NKVD and their republic abolished in 1944. The Crimean Tartars suffered the same fate. Having relaxed party control over the army, Stalin now began to reimpose it in preparation for the 'purge of the heroes' which struck Zhukov and the other wartime generals.
Russia survived to virtually defeat Germany singlehanded, but it was a close run thing. The Russian ruling class were able to use their state control of industry to simplify production so that until the war's end Russian factories concentrated on basic tank designs which made repairs and replacements easier. But this concentration on arms production was only made possible by Allied, particularly American, aid.184
Russia would emerge from the war as the key military power in Europe: 'At the time of the Yalta conference the American generals knew that in event of a conflict with the USSR the Soviet armies would reach the shores of the Atlantic'.185 This was also recognised by President Truman who admitted in May 1945: 'It would be open to the Russians in a very short time to advance if they chose to the waters of the North Sea and the Atlantic'.186
The fundamentally imperialist nature of Russia under Stalin comes out clearly in any account of the great power summit at Yalta. At a dinner hosted by Roosevelt the American official Charles Bohlen stressed America's support for the rights of small nations (this was in reference to keeping Poland out of the Russian bloc). Stalin responded '...in prim but powerful style, making absolute assertion of the rights of the "Big Three" against all the bleating of the small powers that their rights were at risk... the small must be ruled by the great, the delinquents brought to book'.187 Later he raised the issue of Greece: 'He had no criticism of British policy in Greece, he simply wanted news of the situation... the hint was broad and crude: if the British did not break the rules, the situation in Greece would continue...'.188
Yet this military superpower had suffered immense damage and was economically way behind its new American rival. The strains of this military and economic competition would eventually, decades later, destroy the Stalinist system.
'I guess the whole world is on a leftward march,' exclaimed US Senator Vanderberg in 1945.189 And nowhere was this more true than of Italy. Yet in Italy and elsewhere, there was a puzzle to be solved. Writing of Italy in 1945 Gabriel Kolko asks:
With red banners and power in hand 150,000 armed men disappeared overnight, and the almost morbid fears of the English and Americans proved entirely chimerical. Why?190
The answer lies in the policies of the Communist Party which in three crucial countries--Italy, France and Greece--dominated the Resistance. They had immense credibility because of their role in fighting fascism. In contrast the Socialists had not been able to survive the post-war repression in Italy and Greece. In France they were tarnished by the Socialist Party's involvement in the Vichy regime.191 As Hobsbawm points out: 'Faced with a fascist takeover or German occupation, social democratic parties tended to go into hibernation...'
In May 1943 Stalin approved the dissolution of the Communist International. The spectre of 1917-1919 had hovered over all the war leaders during the Second World War. After the First World War working class unrest had erupted into revolution. That memory influenced how Hitler ran Germany's war effort. It meant that in Britain Churchill was prepared to surrender large amounts of domestic decision arrangements to Labour and the pro-Keynesian sections of his own party. It meant too that the French ruling class in 1940, remembering recent experiences of the 1936 factory occupations, were prepared to give way to Hitler rather than risk another revolution. Within Russia Stalin had to lift many of the excesses of the Terror of the late 1930s--though the extermination programme of the Nazis provided enough incentive for Russian soldiers and partisans to fight.
Yet within Europe the collaboration of the ruling class with the Nazis, or at best their willingness to simply wait for the Allies, meant that resistance increasingly developed its own revolutionary dynamic. In Asia resistance in Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines inevitably combined opposition to colonialism, of either the direct kind in the case of Britain, France and the Netherlands, or the indirect sort as in the case of the US in the Philippines.
Much of this resistance was initially spontaneous though it increasingly became identified with the Communist Parties. Yet in Italy, France and Greece those parties were not fully under the control of their leaderships who were in Moscow and those leaderships had to confront massively swollen parties which might not just jump to Stalin's orders. The Communist Parties themselves had to be brought under tighter control as leaders like Thorez of France, Togliatti of Italy and Zachariadis of Greece returned from Russia.
Faced with growing resistance to Nazi occupation as the Allies approached, all three Western powers acted in the same way. Stalin was prepared to let 166,000 Poles die in the Warsaw uprising of 1944 but Britain's Field Marshal Alexander was acting in a similar way in 1944 when he broadcast across Italy that the Allies would not advance beyond the Arno that winter, giving the Germans a green light to deal with the partisans in the north.
Resistance began early on in occupied Europe. In February 1941, for example, groups of Jews and Communists fought back and organised strikes against the Nazis' treatment of Jews. The ranks of resistance began to swell across Europe after Stalingrad when Germany's defeat seemed closer. This was even true in Germany as the war ended. Working class organisations re-emerged, their ranks swollen by new activists. As Kolko notes of Germany in 1945:
Everywhere the Allied troops entered they found local Left committees... running factories and municipalities which the owners and masters had deserted, via spontaneously created shop committees and councils. Some were old Socialists and Communists, many were new converts, but everywhere they moved to liberate concentration camp prisoners, organise food supplies and eradicate the Old Order. For the most part they scoffed at regular party doctrine and talked vaguely of new forms based on a united Left, unlike that which had helped open the door to Hitler.192
In Italy the origins of the Resistance were largely a spontaneous reaction to the fall of Mussolini and the occupation of the north and centre of the country by the Germans in the summer of 1943. In Naples the population rose up against the food shortages imposed by the Germans in September 1943 and using the material left behind by the Italian army drove the Wehrmacht from their city.193
By the end of 1943 there were at most 10,000 partisans in various formations. Most were simply keeping out of the way of German attempts to conscript them as forced labour. Gabriel Kolko writes that '...partisan formations were recruited largely from the working class and the poorer peasantry--the origins of over half of its members in the Piedmont, where artisans added over a tenth and students somewhat less... on the whole it was clear that precisely those classes whom the Fascists had muzzled after 1921 were in command of the biggest part of the armed resistance and that the basic tensions in Italian society that had existed before Mussolini were likely to re-emerge.'
As resistance grew, so did industrial unrest. In March 1943 in Turin 21,000 workers struck, mainly in FIAT, and the end of the year saw further strikes in the city and in Genoa. On 25 April 1945 in Milan 60,000 workers struck and set up workers' councils to run the factories.
Similar events were unfolding in France. In the Nord and Pas de Calais 39,000 miners struck in October 1943 and won increased wages despite the usual arrests and deportations. Miners made up 47 percent of those arrested in the area during the occupation, with other manual workers making up 29 percent and the unemployed 12 percent.194 Four fifths of manual workers and almost one half of all resistors were in Communist led groups.
The introduction of conscription for work in Germany swelled the numbers of young men seeking refuge in the organisation of the countryside, the Maquisard. Most were not interested in resistance but they were affected by the general radicalisation affecting France. By October 1943 the Communist FTP, the key Resistance grouping, could rely on 12,000 people across France. Beyond this there were thousands more involved in distributing Resistance material. In the Cantal there were ten active sympathisers for each fighter. Arms were few, however, despite Allied promises.
All told, the Allies believed some 3 million people might aid their invasion effort in some way. This included 800,000 workers in Communist led unions who could disrupt transport and other services.
The Allied invasion unleashed uprisings in Paris (which was liberated by the Resistance) and various industrial towns and cities. A nationwide rail strike in August 1944 paralysed the country. Liberation committees took over the running of much of the country with the one in Marseilles carrying out a series of regional nationalisations.
'One state, one police force, one army', was the slogan offered by Maurice Thorez, general secretary of the French Communist Party, on his return to France in August 1944. General de Gaulle had allowed his return knowing he would enforce Moscow's line on the French Communist Party.
In Greece the Communist Party grew from 17,500 in 1935 to four times that figure by 1945, comprising 1 percent of the population and becoming the largest party in Greece. The Communist led people's liberation army, ELAS, grew from 12,500 in mid-1943 to about 50,000 by 1944 following the Nazis introduction of compulsory labour.195 By late 1944 ELAS claimed control of three quarters of the country. Altogether 1.5 million Greeks were involved in various aspects of the Resistance movement. In July 1944 a Russian mission arrived at ELAS headquarters: 'The role of the Soviet mission to ELAS proved to be policing the unpalatable decisions already made in Moscow, deferring all and any plans for a Communist coup in Greece'.196
The new carve up of the world began to take shape in August 1943 when the United States and Britain vetoed Stalin's proposal for a commission of the three powers which would administer not just Italy following Mussolini's fall but Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Americans and British were determined to exclude the Russians from Italy. But as Kolko writes:
By blocking the possibility of a Soviet veto in Italy, the Anglo-Americans gave themselves a free political hand in that country but also revealed to Stalin the decisive political constraints the Americans and British were prepared to impose where their political and strategic interests were involved. Much more important, it confirmed the reality that military conquest rather than negotiations would define the political outcome of the war in Europe.197
Stalin now applied this principle vigorously. In Italy and Greece the British and Americans were given free hand--at whatever cost to the Communists. The Russians actively helped the British in the war with ELAS which began in December 1944.198 On the verge of an ELAS victory the Russians and the Communist Party would insist on a ceasefire. The agreement that the Communists would be allowed to operate openly and that there would be free elections was never acted upon. Instead former ELAS fighters suffered growing persecution and assassinations which forced them back to the mountains sparking a new civil war which the Communists lost, largely because of the party's inept leadership.
Churchill would argue that the British intervention against the Greek Resistance forces was needed to deter 'radical uprisings' that 'may spread to Italy' and indeed beyond.199
When in August 1944 Romania signed an armistice with the invading Russian army, Stalin announced he would apply the same arrangements there as the Anglo-Americans had applied in Italy. Both Western powers were excluded from any say over the running of Romania and by extension Bulgaria and Hungary which lay on the Russians' line of advance.
In Romania the Communist Party emerged from hiding to join a government which included the remnants of the old pro-fascist dictatorship under King Michael. The Communist's ranks were 'swelled with a horde of place-seekers, collaborationists and men on the run from their Iron Guard [the Romanian fascists] past... it was one bloated with elements which only weeks earlier had manned or supported the Antonescu dictatorship--the same thugs, secret policemen and soldiers swelled with the riff-raff signed up by the Communist leadership'.200
In the colonial world Stalin was not in a position to directly control events. The Chinese Communist Party was already operating independently of Moscow. In China the conditions were being created which gave control to Mao Zedong's peasant armies. The nationalist leader Chiang Kai Shek had been installed as one of the 'Big Four' alongside Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin not because of any military strength but simply as an American pawn. America continued to throw aid at Chiang despite being aware that he was little more than a gangster and of the lack of any military resistance to the Japanese by his forces.
In conversation Chiang Kai Shek was quite open about his big priorities:
For me the big problem is not Japan but the unification of my country. I am sure that you Americans are going to beat the Japanese some day, with or without the help of the troops I am holding back for use against the Communists in the North West. On the other hand, if I let Mao Zedong push his propaganda across all of Free China, we run the risk--and so do you Americans--of winning for nothing.201
Chiang's officers were paid by the number of troops they supposedly commanded and received food and equipment (provided by the Americans) accordingly. Most commanders were no more than warlords commanding private armies. The impact of conscription, the realities of military life plus the impact of ragged, starving bands on the countryside produced a widespread radicalisation in areas far from Mao Zedong's forces. In addition the influx of US dollars unleashed terrible inflation. The effects were to draw the whole of China into the growing civil war and to undermine Chiang Kai Shek, despite the support given to him by Truman and Stalin.
The Japanese occupation had a devastating impact on much of south east Asia. In Vietnam they built up vast rice stocks creating famine at the close of the war. After the Japanese did away with the Vichy French colonial administration in March 1945 a political vacuum opened up. This allowed the Communist led Viet Minh to gain popular support for the first time when they launched mass raids on the rice depots. When news of the Japanese surrender came through, the Viet Minh were able to take control, beginning in the North, with just 5,000 fighters. This was 'essentially an agrarian, peasant based event'.202 The decisive organising slogan was 'Break Open the Rice Stores to Avert Famine': 'When the Viet Minh declared a general insurrection on 12 August, days after the Japanese offer to surrender, the millions of euphoric people who filled the streets of Hanoi, Saigon and dozens of other cities also led to Viet Minh takeovers of villages and towns everywhere and transformed a numbed population into a virtually unarmed insurrectionary force'. The Viet Minh were joined by hundreds of unarmed peasants.203
To the south in Saigon the Trotskyists were at the forefront of a genuine working class rebellion which took control of the city. Viet Minh units arriving in the city then allowed British units to take control of the city. These rearmed Japanese prisoners who then disarmed the population and then allowed the French army to enter the city and reimpose colonial rule. In the meantime the Viet Minh had eradicated the Trotskyists. Viet Minh compliance with the British and the French was the line from Moscow. This repression opened the way for the return of French imperialism.204 The Vietnamese Trotskyist, Ngo Van, writes that in December 1946 the Viet Minh gave up the cities and returned to the countryside to launch the guerrilla war, first against the French, then the Americans, which only ended in 1975.
In the Philippines the Japanese had ruled through the same elite who had run the islands under the Americans. This meant that a massive guerrilla army, the Hukbalahap (the People's Anti-Japanese Army) arose following spontaneous rural uprisings which were denounced by the Communist Party as 'extreme leftist actions'.205 By the war's end the Huks had 100,000 fighters. The story of the Philippines after the Americans returned parallels events in Greece. The Communists succeeded in disarming the Huk units and winning their acceptance of a government dominated by the old elite, but repression triggered a rebellion which launched a civil war. Throughout this conflict the Communists were on the moderate wing of the left, urging compromise. Internal divisions on the left allowed the Americans to restore order.
Across the colonial world new movements were stirring. In India popular opposition to British rule continued throughout the war despite the British military presence (which was more concerned with suppressing the independence movement than with confronting the Japanese). In Algeria the war's end was greeted with the first major demonstrations in favour of independence which would trigger the war against France.
The Communist Party leaders in France and Italy pointed to the Allied presence in Western Europe as the reason why revolution was not possible in 1944 and 1945. Later Thorez argued, 'With the Americans in France the revolution would have been annihilated'.206 Paul Ginsborg in his A History of Contemporary Italy strongly criticises the Communists but argues that revolution was 'an impossibility'. But by 1944 the British armed forces were already shrinking in size as existing units were dissolved to make good losses in others. The Canadians had used up their pool of volunteers for overseas duties and while France was not short of men it had not the finances or means to equip them. The Americans might be less affected but war weariness was sweeping through the ranks of its forces. A New York newspaper reported from Germany at the beginning of 1946, 'The fact is that the GI's have strike fever. Almost every soldier you talk to is full of resentment, humiliation and anger'.207 Across the Atlantic the close of the war witnessed the biggest strike wave yet seen in US history.
Demobilisation was rapid. In 1946 the British Army of the Rhine numbered just two divisions and, for a while, the Americans just one. Any Allied intervention against, for example, partisan controlled Northern Italy in support of the former fascists, collaborators and monarchists in 1945 would have been difficult to sustain, just as, following the October Revolution of 1917 domestic opposition to Western intervention in the Soviet Union had helped allow the revolution to win.
Writing of the French Communist Party in 1944, André Fontaine says that 'power was in its reach in various parts of the country'.208 When De Gaulle requested Eisenhower to release two French divisions from the front to impose control over the vast Tolouse-Limousin area, the latter could not spare them. De Gaulle was forced to rely on Moscow and Thorez.209
Similarly in Greece British troops were only able to win control of Athens after Moscow and the Communist Party leaders forced ELAS to accept a ceasefire. The British and their right wing allies had nothing like the resources available if ELAS had decided to retain its control of the countryside (including the second city Salonika) by force of arms. Some evidence about the possibility of revolution comes from Yugoslavia where the Communist led partisans defied the Yalta conventions and took power. This was not a socialist revolution led by the working class. Rather the new Tito regime replicated Russian state capitalism for its own nationalist ends. But Britain and America were powerless to intervene in 1945 just as Stalin felt restrained from invading when Yugoslavia broke free of Moscow's control.
Looking back on the close of the war the former leader of the Spanish Communist Party, Fernando Claudin, writes:
The possibility of revolutionary development in France and Italy was seriously threatened [by the line of the Communist Parties]; the position was as it would have been in Russia in the course of 1917 if Lenin's April Theses had been rejected by the Bolshevik Party. The bourgeois revolution would have consolidated itself, one way or another, but the proletarian revolution would not have taken place.210
In practice, national unity in the fight for liberation became for the Communists an objective to be placed not just above, but to the exclusion of all others. The policy of liberation first, 'progressive democracy' second, was fatally misconceived. It meant that at the very moment when the partisan and workers' movement was at it height, when the 'wind from the North' was blowing most strongly, the Communists accepted the postponement of all questions of a social and political nature until the end of the war... While the Communists postponed, in the honourable name of national unity, their opponents acted, decided, manoeuvred and, not surprisingly, triumphed.211
The post-war radicalisation was largely spontaneous. Working people believed that this had been a war against fascism. They wanted to root out fascism and the old order that had collaborated with it. This feeling was mixed in with a determination that there would be no return to the horrors of the 1930s. For all their prestige in the Resistance it was not automatic that the Communists could control this movement. Paul Ginsborg argues:
Even among the highly politicised industrial proletariat of the northern cities it is difficult to identify a generalised revolutionary consciousness. No spontaneous attempts to create alternative organs of political power, such as soviets or workers' councils, are to be found in this period. While many workers looked forward to a new era of socialism (one old militant from La Spezia recalled that 'in the evenings, when we went to meetings, we talked of how to construct the socialist society, of communism and of nothing else').
Ginsborg conludes, 'It is perhaps possible to suggest that there were two dominant elements in working class consciousness at this time: a desire to reconstruct after the terrible damages of the war years and a widespread expectation of social and economic reform'.212
The picture painted seems right--though the liberation committees corresponded to soviet style organisations. Yet how do workers link this deep desire for revolutionary change with a concrete strategy whereby they can throw off the muck of ages to see they can take power and run society? The missing link is revolutionary organisation. What helped determine the outcome in 1945 was the strength of Stalinism and the weakness of the revolutionary left.
The Trotskyists entered the Second World War already weakened. In both France and the United States the Trotskyists suffered damaging splits. Added to this was Trotsky's own assassination and then the repression suffered by his followers during the war. More generally, the left felt the impact of the collapse of the French Popular Front government, the defeat of the Spanish Revolution and the harmful impact of the Hitler-Stalin pact.
Among the Trotskyists killed in the war were: Abraham Leon who was arrested in Belgium in 1944 and was murdered in Auschwitz; the French Trotskyist leader, Marcel Hic who died in the Dora concentration camp; the Austrian Franz Kascha who was executed in October 1943 for high treason and for encouraging disaffection in the armed forces; the Belgian Leon Lesoil who had led the 1932 Charleroi miners' strike and who was killed in the Neungramme concentration camp in 1942; Henri Molinier, a leading French Trotskyist who was killed in the liberation of Paris in August 1944; the Greek Pantelis Pouliopoulous who made a revolutionary speech to Italian soldiers while facing the firing squad; Henri Sneevliet, founder of the Indonesian Communist Party, and trade union leader in Holland, shot in 1942; Paul Widelin, a German Trotskyist who, in occupied France, edited the paper Arbeiter and Soldat aimed at German soldiers; the Italian Perre Tresso (Blasco), who was liberated from a French prison by the Resistance and then murdered by the Communists.
The tiny Trotskyist movement was a weak vessel cast adrift in stormy seas. Faced with war Trotsky was clear that it was an imperialist war but one in which ideology played a crucial role. In particular the working class's hatred of fascism meant revolutionaries had to adopt a somewhat different approach to that of 1914. Then Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had proclaimed it was an imperialist war in which there was nothing to choose between the powers. In that situation 'the main enemy was at home'. As early as 1934 Trotsky had outlined his position on a new world war:
A modern war between the great powers does not signify a conflict between democracy and fascism, but a struggle of two imperialisms for the redivision of the world. Morever, the war must inevitably assume an international character and in both camps will be found fascist (semi fascist, Bonapartist, etc) as well as 'democratic' states.213
Flowing from this Trotsky looked back to the experience of the First World War:
Lenin's formula, 'defeat is the lesser evil', means not defeat of one's own country is the lesser evil as compared with the defeat of the enemy country but that a military defeat resulting from the growth of the revolutionary movement is infinitely more beneficial to the proletariat and to the whole people than military victory assured by 'civil peace'... The transformation of imperialist war into civil war is the general task to which the whole work of a proletarian party during war should be subordinated.214
He returned to the argument in March 1939:
The idea of defeatism signifies in reality the following: conduct an irreconcilable revolutionary struggle against one's own bourgeoisie as the main enemy, without being deterred by the fact that this struggle may result in the defeat of one's own government; given a revolutionary movement the defeat of one's own government is a lesser evil.215
What is crucial here is that for revolutionaries the aim must be a repeat of the October 1917 or November 1918 revolutions which took Russia and Germany out of the First World War. But if the Second World War continued from the First World War in that both were imperialist wars, there was also a break between the two. Anti-fascist ideology played a key role in September 1939, quite unlike August 1914, and the mood of the working class which resulted had to be taken into account. So in discussions with American Trotskyists in June 1940, just as France surrendered to Hitler, Trotsky explained:
Militarisation now goes on a tremendous scale. We cannot oppose it with pacifist phrases. This militarisation has wide support among the workers. They bear a sentimental hatred against Hitler mixed with confused class sentiments. They have a hatred against the victorious brigands. The bureaucracy [the American trade union leaders] utilises this to say help the defeated gangster [Britain]. Our conclusions are completely different.216
He returned to this at the beginning of August:
...the feeling of the masses is that it is necessary to defend themselves. We must say: 'Roosevelt (or Wilkie) says it is necessary to defend the country; good it must be our country, not that of the Sixty Families and their Wall Street. The army must be under our own command; we must have our own officers, who will be "loyal to us".' In this way we can find an approach to the masses that will not push them away from us, and thus prepare for the second step--a more revolutionary one.
We must use the example of France to the very end. We must say, 'I warn you, workers, that they (the bourgeoisie) will betray you! Look at Pétain, who is a friend of Hitler. Shall we have the same thing happen in this country? We must create our own machine, under workers' control'.217
Just over a week before his murder Trotsky returned to the same theme again:
It is important, of course, to explain to the advanced workers that the genuine fight against fascism is the socialist revolution. But it is more urgent, more imperative, to explain to the millions of American workers that the defence of their 'democracy' cannot be delivered to an American Marshal Pétain--and there are many candidates for such a role.218
And in the summer of 1940 there were even more candidates for such a role in Britain. Many working people in Britain believed that if Hitler did invade then a section of the ruling class would speedily come to a deal. And despite the rhetoric of Churchill and King George VI about resisting the Germans in the ruins of London, they would have fled. Charles de Gaulle recorded in his War Memoirs: 'Certainly the King and Government would have left for Canada in time'.219
In the dark days of 1940 when Hitler seemed set to win, Trotsky argued with those who believed that all that remained was to support Britain and its semi-ally the US and who said revolution could only return to the agenda after Hitler's defeat.
In March 1939 Trotsky wrote in reply to those who argued defeatism was no response in a war against fascism:
'Could the proletariat of Czechoslovakia have struggled against its government and the latter's capitulatory policy by slogans of peace and defeatism?' A very concrete question is posed here in a very abstract form. There was no room for 'defeatism' because there was no war (and it is not accidental no war ensued). In the critical 24 hours of universal confusion and indignation, the Czechoslovak proletariat had the full opportunity of overthrowing the 'capitulatory' government and seizing power. For this only a revolutionary leadership was required. Naturally after seizing power, the proletariat would have offered desperate resistance to Hitler and would have indubitably evoked a mighty reaction in the working masses of France and other countries...the Czech working class did not have the slightest right to entrust the leadership of a war 'against fascism' to Messrs Capitalists who, within a few days, so safely changed their coloration and became themselves fascists and quasi fascists. Transformations and recolorations of this kind on the part of the ruling classes will be on the order of the day in wartime in all 'democracies'. That is why the proletariat would ruin itself if it were to determine its main line of policy by the formal and unstable labels of 'for fascism' and 'against fascism'.220
Beyond that Trotsky was confident that in occupied Europe Hitler's problems had only begun:
It is impossible to attach a soldier with a rifle to each Polish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Belgium, French worker or peasant. National Socialism is without any prescription for transforming defeated peoples from foes into friends...
Hitler boastfully promises to establish the domination of the German people at the expense of all Europe and even of the whole world 'for one thousand years'. But in all likelihood this splendour will not endure for even ten years...
Consequently the task of the revolutionary proletariat does not consist of helping the imperialist armies create a 'revolutionary situation' but of preparing, fusing and tempering its international ranks for revolutionary situations of which there will be no lack.221
With this perspective in mind he argued:
In order to create a revolutionary situation, say the sophists of social patriotism, it is necessary to deal Hitler a blow. To gain a victory over Hitler, it is necessary to support the imperialist democracies. But if for the sake of saving the 'democracies' the proletariat renounces independent revolutionary politics, just who would utilise a revolutionary situation arising from Hitler's defeat?222
In looking at the Second World War Trotsky started from the need to maintain independent working class organisation. He proposed building a bridge to those workers who wanted to see fascism defeated but were uneasy with their own rulers' war aims. But all of this meant little as the Trotskyists were too weak to carry them through. There were other problems too but they were largely a reflection of their weakness. Yet it was these tiny, often persecuted, bands of revolutionaries who maintained from day one of the war until its close that the Second World War was an imperialist war and that fascism could only be defeated by the means of working class struggle.
Unlike them the ruling classes of Europe had rushed to appease the Nazis until the final denouement. Unlike them the Social Democrats could, as in France, vote in the Pétain dictatorship. Unlike them the Communist Party could enter September 1939 demanding war with Germany, end the month opposing an imperialist war (though in ways which were pro-German, reflecting Stalin's alliance with Hitler) and then switch again in June 1941 when Russia was attacked. In January 1943 the writer Arthur Koestler, a former fellow traveller of the Communist Party, wrote:
...The nearer victory comes in sight, the clearer the character of the war reveals itself as what the Tories always said that it was--a war for national survival, a war in defence of certain conservative 19th century ideals, and not what I and my friends of the left had said that it was--a revolutionary civil war in Europe on the Spanish pattern.223
As the war ended that revolutionary civil war would emerge briefly as Trotsky had predicted. But his warnings of what would happen if Koestler's 'friends of the left' ensured it was safely bottled up again were vindicated. Fifty years on capitalism still produces wars, fascism--and the hope of revolutionary change.