WWII, antiwar politics, and solidarity with Russia

Macdonald Stainsby wrote: I doubt that anyone who stood up in England during the blitz and said that world opinion is against us, we should quit would have lived beyond the day.

Who said this? 'Hitler repeated once again his claim that the war was thrust upon him by Britain. Against this historical fact there is no reply. Britain declared war, not Germany.'

It was the Daily Worker, the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, on 1 February 1940. I could find many other examples of the CPGB's opposing the Second World War on a pacifist and even, as the above quote shows, pro-German basis. As far as I know, nobody was killed officially or unofficially for saying something even as stupid as that. There was one jailing of a CP industrial militant, a few cases of physical abuse, and the Daily Worker was banned for a while. The British bourgeoisie didn't clamp down on anti-war elements particularly hard in Britain, and there was very little 'God, king and country' jingoism during that war.

There were genuine pacifists in Britain who opposed the war on the grounds of rejection of violence. There were also anarchists, Trotskyists and other revolutionaries who opposed the war as an imperialist conflict.

The Workers International League, the most successful Trotskyist group in Britain at the time, promoted the Proletarian Military Policy, calling for the arming of the workers in the factories, democratisation of the armed forces, workers' control of industry, etc -- in other words, a series of transitional demands to key into the workers' anti-fascist feelings and turn them in an anti-capitalist direction. That seems the best thing to have done in the bourgeois-democratic countries during that war.

Paul Flewers


Books on the CPGB that take up its positions during the war are:

Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party, London, 1975 -- a standard bourgeois account.

Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, Two Steps Back, Ilford, 1982 -- a brief but solid account by two Trotskyist historians.

Robert Black, Stalinism in Britain, London, 1970 -- a Healyite account, lots of quotes but not too hot.

Noreen Branson, History of the CPGB, 1927-1939, London, 1985 -- official CPGB account.

J Attfield and S Williams, 1939: The Communist Party and the War, London, 1984 -- articles on the CPGB and interviews with surviving veterans.

Paul Flewers, 'Cornering the Chameleons', Revolutionary History, Volume 6, no 2, 1996 -- Trotskyism and Stalinism in Britain, 1939-41.

If you like, I can e-mail you this article, and/or my college dissertation on which it was based.

Paul Flewers


I think that there are several factors that must be taken into consideration when discussing the Second World War.

Firstly, it was silly to think that the same tactics could be used in this war as in the First World War, as expounded by Lenin and others. The fact that in Britain there was very little 'God, king and country' jingoism and much basic anti-fascist sentiments amongst the workers meant that, with the knowledge of Nazism's murderous capabilities, some way of promoting the defence of the working class against it whilst not endorsing the imperialist war aims of the ruling class had to be found. Trotsky's concept of the Proletarian Military Policy was a way of cutting through the dilemma. The old slogan of 'revolutionary defeatism' would have been seen by workers in the bourgeois democracies as daft. The PMP attempted to draw anti-fascist sentiments into an anti-capitalist direction by calling for workers' control of industry, democratisation of the armed forces, arming of the working class, the development of a proletarian officer corps -- basically, the development of a revolutionary organisation and consciousness under the watchword of defending the working class against repression of either a domestic or invading sort.

Secondly, the 'Big Three' -- Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin -- all were determined to prevent a rerun of 1917-18 in 1945, the massive working-class unrest, revolutions, etc. The 'unconditional surrender' of Germany and Japan was demanded to ensure that the inevitable domestic reaction to the German and Japanese rulers if they surrendered whilst Allied forces had not invaded did not occur. Had they surrendered, they would have been faced by an angry populace (in fact, there were shoot-outs between SS troops and ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers in Berlin in 1945), and there would have been a power vacuum of which the left could have taken advantage, and the Big Three didn't want that. The terror bombing of Germany and Japan hit primarily the working class -- and it must be remembered that Hitler never had the allegiance of the German workers. Similarly, the French and Italian communist parties disarmed the resistance militias and helped to rebuild the French and Italian bourgeois states.

Thirdly, the official communist movement after June 1941 saw the interests of the Allied working classes and bourgeoisies as synonymous. The British party opposed strikes and called leftists who fought against the Churchill government 'agents of Hitler'; took a chauvinist stand against Germans, seeing them as all being responsible for Hitler (as did some Labour Party and trade union leaders); and called for a coalition government including the Churchill wing of the Tories right up to the 1945 general election. The independent interests of the working class were ignored.

Paul Flewers


I remember my father talking about his time done in WWII and the boost it gave to Australian troops when they heard that 'The Russians' had entered the war. This actually afforded a foundation to the Australian labour left and the existing communist party ( which at that time was wholeheartedly Stalinist). He still has the occasional beer (with a Vodka chaser) with a Titoist partisan who had migrated to Australia.
The *genuine* left in Australia, and its' working class roots still draw on that tradition. There are a lot of old Diggers out there who support a socialist program, even though there exists a confusion over Trotskyism, Stalinism, and the old Labour Left.

I think we should recognise those who have historically supported the struggle (and 'La Lucha Sigue!' ['the struggle continues']), draw on the experience of those who have struggled before us without repeating their mistakes.

For those Australians who are participating in this list - should we be recognising the role of Doc Evatt in writing the socialist history of our nation?

Warwick Fry