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Ch. 5 Second World War: Allies with different objectives

posted 6 Apr 2011, 12:34 by Admin uk

Dear Madam, Sir, Miss or Mr and Mrs Daneeka. Words cannot express the deep per­sonal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father or brother was killed, wounded or reported missing in action.

Joseph Heller: Catch-22, 1961

To most workers around the world thought the Second World War was a justifiable war. In contrast to attitudes before the First World War, many supported war on Hitler’s Germany. But the leadership of the work­ers parties’ lacked an independent program for working class action against Hitler’s armies. This lead to a dangerous delay in the fight back, and once the struggle begun workers had to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. The story is the same throughout the world.

What they wanted

After Hitler’s victory in Germany Nazi armies fanned out over Europe. The Second World War was a fact. And for once it looked as if the imperialists of Britain, France and the US had common interests with Stalin and the international Labour movement. But this was an illusion that proved ex­tremely costly to workers.

For the capitalists of Germany, Britain, Italy, the US, Japan and other coun­tries, the war was about the redistribution of global markets and defeating the Soviet Union. Just like World War I. In practice, they also engaged in a parallel war against the working class in a number of countries, in order to prevent any move towards socialism. Removing a dictatorial regime in one or another country was of secondary importance.

Right up to 1939 the US, Britain, France and Sweden continued to trade with Germany and have political dealings with the German regime. The leaders of the allied countries were not particularly negative to Hitler’s dictatorship. The former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (a Liberal) visited Germany in September 1936. He returned with glowing accounts of Nazi Germany and Hitler: “It is a happier Germany. I saw it everywhere and Englishmen I met during my trip and who knew Germany well were very impressed with the change. One man has accomplished this miracle. He is a born leader of men. A magnetic, dynamic personality with a single-minded purpose, a resolute will and a dauntless heart.”1 Germany was allowed to occupy Austria and Czechoslovakia. It was not until Ger­many began to seriously threaten the balance of power in Europe by invad­ing Poland that Britain and France declared war on Germany. 2 Even then, the US remained neutral.

For the Stalinist bureaucrats, who only became directly involved when Germa­ny invaded in 1941, the Second World War was a matter of defending their privileges and extending them further. They viewed the workers of the various countries as pawns that could be sacrificed when it suited them.

For workers the Second World War was not only a battle between opposing imperialist powers. For them the war against Hitler was also a fight to de­fend the organisations of the working class and the democratic rights they had won after decades of struggle. In countries that were occupied by the Nazis, all such advances were eradicated.

Moreover, the Soviet Union still enjoyed the sympathy of much of the in­ternational Labour Movement, despite Stalin’s dictatorship. This was clear from the rise in Communist Party membership in many countries. Many of those who had experienced the depression saw the Soviet Union, with its remarkable economic growth, as a viable alternative. They did not want to see it destroyed by Hitler.

The leadership of social democratic parties and Stalin were reluctant to fight Hitler

Hitler occupied large areas of Europe without encountering much resistance. Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium all surrendered within weeks of being attacked. The capitalists in these coun­tries did not object to cooperating with the German Nazis, as long as they let them get on with business as usual. In France, the government preferred to hand over Paris to the Nazis, after very little fighting. In 1939, the French Army had 900 000 regular soldiers. It had another 5 million men who had been trained and could be called-up in time of war. They were hardly used.3 Probably the memory of the Paris Commune, when workers who had been armed to fight Germany had taken power in Paris, stopped the French Government from a mass mobilisation of its forces. On 10 July 1940, the National Assembly met and decided by 570 votes to 80 (with 20 absten­tions) to hand over all power to Marshal Philippe Pétain. He established a Nazi puppet government, known as the Vichy regime. Many Socialist MPs were among those who voted against the move, but the great majority fol­lowed in the footsteps of the bourgeois parties and voted in favour.4

The European Communist parties did not resist Hitler either. This was due to the grotesque non-aggression pact that Hitler and Stalin signed in 1939. Stalin agreed to it because of his severe domestic problems. He saw threats to his position everywhere, and most of all he feared his own officers in the Red Army, who had defeated both domestic and foreign enemies, and were regarded by many as heroes. Also, it was Trotsky, Stalin’s principal rival, who had built up the Red Army. Stalin was foolishly convinced that he was go­ing to be the victim of a plot led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky and seven other military leaders. The evidence consisted of false documents supplied by Reinhardt Heydrich, head of the Gestapo and the Nazi secret police.

In 1937, therefore, Stalin executed Tukhachevsky and 35 000 other experi­enced officers of the Red Army, just when they were needed most.5 Among those eliminated in the purge were three of the army’s five marshals, eight admirals out of nine, 50 corps commanders out of 57, 154 divisional com­manders (generals) out of 186, and all eleven deputy ministers of defence.6 After his drastic purge of the Red Army, war was the last thing Stalin wanted. He seems to have believed that the pact with Hitler would protect his country, or at least delay any assault. To the very last, Stalin refused to credit the reports from his own intelligence service that an attack by Ger­many was imminent.7

Instead of following in the footsteps of the bourgeoisie and Stalin, the leaders of the Socialist Parties and Communist Parties should have openly prepared for an armed struggle. If the bourgeoisie had opposed the arming of the population, they would have had popular support for expropriating the bourgeoisie. Then, they would have had a solid base from which to ap­peal to the German soldiers to join them in the fight against Hitler. With a similar tactic the Bolsheviks managed to defeat the combined might of all invading armies after the Russian revolution.

This was not such a far fetched perspective considering that in 1936 Leon Blum of the Socialist Party became the first avowed Marxist to be elected Prime Minister of France. In Belgium, Social Democrats were in the Gov­ernment until 1937. In Denmark and Norway, the Social Democratic Par­ties were in power before Hitler invaded. However, none of the leaders were prepared to put forward such an alternative.

Soviet workers pay the highest price

In June 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. By that time, he had virtually all the resources of Europe at his disposal. Stalin was completely unpre pared. Not wishing to provoke Hitler, he had refused to mobilise. During the first few days of the attack Red Army units were even ordered not to return fire. Before anyone responded, 2 000 Soviet planes had been destroyed.8

With war thrust upon them, Stalin and his regime could no longer compro­mise. Unlike the bourgeoisie in occupied Western Europe, the regime could not co-exist with Nazism. At first, the Red Army could offer little resistance to the German army, but after a while the advantages of a planned economy over a market economy – bureaucratic distortions notwithstanding – be­came clear. The Soviet Union dismantled all the factories in the path of the advancing Germans and reassembled them in safety on the other side of the Ural Mountains. Between July and November 1941, no less than 1 523 facto­ries were shifted in this way, 1 360 of which were described as large-scale.9

At the same time, crops were burnt and the German army was restricted by extremely long supply lines. The entire Soviet population was mobilised against Hitler. The turning point came at Stalingrad, where fighting raged from August 1942 to February 1943. The defenders fought street by street, building by building. Some 100 000 German soldiers were killed before the Red Army launched one of the mightiest counter-attacks in history. In just three months, it pushed the Germans back more than 300 kilometres. The Battle of Kursk – the greatest tank battle in the history of modern warfare – broke the backbone of the German army.

During this decisive struggle, neither the US nor Britain were prepared to join the fighting in Europe to any great extent. They were content to rain bombs on German cities and towns. US Vice President Harry S. Truman outlined the American strategy: “If we see that Germany is winning the war, we should help Russia, but if Russia is winning, we should help Ger­many. Let them kill each other as much as they want. Although I don’t wish to see Hitler triumph under any circumstances.”10

Only in North Africa did the British army engage the Germans directly. They wanted their colonies for themselves. But a look at the places where Germany had positioned its military forces, shows that fighting was limited there compared to the Eastern front.

Where the German divisions were in June of each year

Countries 1941 1942 1943 1944
USSR 34 171 179 157
France & Benelux 38 27 42 56
Norway & Finland 13 16 16 16
Balkans 7 8 17 20
Italy 0 0 0 22
Denmark 1 1 2 3
North Africa 2 3 0 0


In a triumphant advance, the Red Army had by March 1944 recaptured all Soviet territory, and begun to move into Poland. The D-day landings in Normandy did not take place until after this, on 6 June 1944. Any further delay in opening a western front against Germany would have allowed the Soviet army to press on all the way to the English Channel.

Soviet losses were huge. Some 13.6 million Soviet soldiers and 7 million civilians died in the Second World War – more than ten per cent of the population. This can be compared with the loss of 326 000 British soldiers and 62 000 British civilians (less than one per cent of the population), and the loss of 500 000 US soldiers. Almost no American civilians died.

Many Soviet lives could have been spared. Many died because the Soviet Union was ruled by an incompetent dictatorship that beheaded the army before the war began. And the Soviet bureaucracy made no attempt to appeal to German soldiers; on the contrary they put forward propaganda dehumanizing the German population, thus driving them back into Hitler’s embrace. However, a large part of the responsibility for the casualties lies with the leaders of the Labour Movement in Western Europe that left the Soviet Union to fight almost alone against Hitler’s massive resources.

Italian workers fight for a socialist society

In Italy, despite being obstructed by their leadership and the allies, the work­ing class showed how a successful war could be waged against Hitler. They combined the struggle against Hitler with the struggle for a new society.

Like Germany, Italy had experienced a revolutionary period following the First World War. But the working class was much weaker than in Germany and after it was defeated, the Italian Fascists were able to seize power in 1922. Benito Mussolini became the new head of government. He was backed in Italy by the same social forces that later backed Hitler in Germa­ny. During Mussolini’s dictatorship, Italy built a powerful military machine. In the mid-1930s, the Berlin-Rome Axis pact was established, and when the Second World War broke out, Fascist Italy sided with Hitler. As the war progressed, the Italian working class began to offer resistance.

In March 1943, a spontaneous strike broke out at the Rasetti factory in Tu­rin, and spread later to the giant Fiat Mirafiori factory. The work stopped in protest over working conditions. Further strikes followed in Turin and northern Italy, until some 100 000 strikers were taking part. This was the first instance of collective organised resistance against fascism in Italy. In April, the employers and the government were forced to grant concessions.11

The strike represented the culmination of years of growing discontent. Lack of enthusiasm for the war was reflected in a series of military set­backs. These defeats, in which thousands of Italian soldiers surrendered without a fight, gave rise to the enduring myth of the ‘cowardly’ Italian soldier. But why should Italian soldiers fight in poor countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Libya and Albania for Mussolini and the Italian capital­ists’ dream of an empire?

Aided by a political movement with ties to the Sicilian Mafia, American and British troops landed easily in Sicily in July 1943.12 The Allies cooperated with the Mafia because it represented an alternative power centre in south­ern Italy, outside Mussolini’s control. At the end of July 1943, Mussolini was deposed following a coup organised by Field Marshal Badoglio and the Italian king, who had initially supported Mussolini’s bid for power. Badoglio had previously commanded the Italian forces that had sought to colonise Ethiopia, and had since then been known as the ‘Butcher of Ethiopia’.

When the leaders of the coup surrendered to the Allies, Germany imme­diately stepped in and occupied most of Italy. Badoglio and the king fled Rome, establishing their base further south as the Allies ‘Italian govern­ment’. From Sicily, the Allies fought their way up through the country and, after the local population had risen up and thrown out the German army, captured Naples in October 1943.

In March 1944, a new series of strikes broke out. In the Milan region alone, some 300 000 workers downed tools. These strikes were directed specifi­cally at the Nazis. The workers demanded immediate peace and an end to the manufacture of war supplies for Germany. The stoppages spread to the textile factories of Venice, Bologna and Florence, where mainly low-paid women worked. In June, when the Nazis tried to dismantle machinery for removal to Germany, the Fiat workers went on strike again and succeeded in thwarting the plan. Farm workers, meanwhile, refused to send grain to the German forces of occupation.

When the Allies entered Rome on 5 June 1944, they met little German resistance. The Germans did not defend Rome. Defeat at the hands of the workers of Rome was imminent. The Allies were worried at the prospect of a popular revolt, so they bombarded Rome with leaflets before ‘liberating’ it. The leaflets read: “Citizens of Rome, this is not the time for demonstra­tions. Obey these directions and continue your regular work. Rome is yours! Your job is to save the city, ours is to destroy the enemy.”13

The Communist Party played a leading role in the Italian resistance. In Florence, the Allies had arrived too late to stop an uprising. It had broken out at the beginning of August 1944, and thus the partisans were able to appoint their own governor of the region – a move that was not at all popular among the Allies. The events in Florence set alarm bells ringing in Allied circles, and during the bitter winter of 1944-45 the resistance movement was given almost no support. The partisans nevertheless fought on, and no Nazi troops dared enter working-class areas in the major cities in Northern Italy.

During the spring of 1945, the third and largest wave of strikes swept Northern Italy, involving over a million workers. In Turin, a general strike broke out in April. Factories were occupied. This was the starting signal for uprisings in Genoa and Milan. In Genoa, the workers took 9 000 German soldiers prisoner and forced them to surrender to the partisans – not to the Allies. By 1 May, the whole of Northern Italy had been liberated, not just from Nazi oppression, but also from the rule of the employers.14 The people had even managed to protect the Italian factories from being destroyed by the Nazis. Committees deeply rooted in the working class emerged through­out the region and took over the reins of local government. They assumed control both of the public sector and of industrial production. Fascists were ejected from the state administration and from many private companies.15

As a rule, the factory workers pursued their struggle unarmed. But hun­dreds of thousands of Italians (actively supported by at least as many more) took part in armed guerrilla actions against German and Italian fascists. Some 100 000 partisans and their civilian supporters died in the fighting.

The Allies’ contribution to the struggle in northern Italy consisted of the RAF (the British Royal Air Force) carrying out large-scale bombing raids on Milan, Turin, Bologna and other cities in the region. Working-class areas in particular were targeted. In other words, the Allies bombed those people who were at the forefront of the local anti-fascist struggle. While they did drop some supplies to the partisans, so as not to appear too one-sided, these consisted only of a few weapons – and chocolate. The supplies were mainly channelled to the smallest and non-communist part of the resist­ance movement.

Had they contributed weapons and other kinds of support to the popular uprising, the whole of Italy would have been liberated with the loss of far fewer lives. But in that case it might all have ended in a socialist revolution, and this was something neither the Allies nor the leadership of the Italian Communist Party wanted to see. They prevented such a development.

60% of the partisans were Garibaldini, i.e. Communist members of the un­derground. Towards the end of the war, the Communist Party also gained considerable support in the factories. Up to then, it had not been able to control the struggle. Palmiro Togliatti, head of the Italian party, returned from Moscow in March 1944 with strict instructions from Stalin not to carry out a socialist revolution in Italy. Accordingly, the Communist Party gave its backing to the reactionary Badoglio government and shelved its demand for the establishment of a republic. After the war, the party joined a coalition government with the Christian Democrats, but was eventually ejected, when they had tamed the revolutionary movement. For many years thereafter, Italy had to suffer a government of Mafia-backed Christian Democrats.

War on the Greek people

In Greece, the resistance against the Nazis was even more successful, but British troops, abetted by Stalin, stopped the movement violently.

Before the war Greece had been within the British sphere of influence. In early 1941, the British government had persuaded the Greek king to let British troops into the country. However, when the Nazi army invaded in April of that year, they defeated the combined British and Greek forces in a couple of months. The British soldiers were rapidly evacuated, and the fight against the occupying troops was left to the partisans.

The Greek people suffered tremendous hardship. The invaders confis­cated the summer harvest to feed the 300 000 occupying troops from Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. During the winter of 1941-42, more than 200 000 Greeks died of starvation, but the resistance movement grew. People in rural areas gave the guerrilla fighters shelter, despite barbarous acts of vengeance by the Nazis. In 1943, unarmed workers demonstrated in Athens against sending people to labour camps in Germany. At least ten Greeks were shot dead and some 100 badly wounded. But the dem­onstrators won the day – Germany thereafter refrained from recruiting forced labour in Greece.16

Churchill did not wish to provide support to a mass movement in which so­cialist ideas were prominent. In April 1943, he issued instructions that only royalist resistance groups were to be supplied with weapons and informa­tion by British agents.17 It was only due to the surrender of the Italian army in 1943 that the Greek Liberation Army (Ellinikos Laïkos Apeleftherotikos Stratos, ELAS) got access to large supplies of arms. Throughout the war, the British government provided massive funding in a bid to build up guerrilla groups that slandered and attacked ELAS.

Despite this, ELAS tried to cooperate with the Allies. They provided the bulk of the force that blew up the strategic Gorgopotamos railway bridge. This cut the German supply lines through Greece and caused problems for Hitler’s campaign in North Africa. During the months when the British and the Americans were planning their landing in southern Italy, ELAS also carried out a series of sabotage actions in order to distract the attention of the German and Italian forces.

ELAS was the armed wing of the National Liberation Front (Ethniko Ape­leftherotiko Metopo, EAM). This was a broad organisation, dominated by the Communist Party. In liberated areas, they opened schools and medical cen­tres, available to all. They even appointed a provisional government (Poli­tiki Epitropi Ethikis Apeleftherosis, PEEA) based in the mountains. The PEEA’s relief organisation provided food to the starving. People’s courts were set up to administer justice, and the administration was both efficient and relatively free from corruption.18

EAM refused to recognise the Greek king. The king had fled to Cairo with his right-wing government when the country was invaded. When news of the provisional government reached the Greek troops in Egypt in April 1944, they mutinied against the exile government and demanded that the PEEA be recognised. The mutiny was put down by the British.

By the autumn of 1944, up to two million Greeks out of a total popula­tion of seven million had joined the EAM.19 ELAS had more than 77 500 members in its standing army, plus 50 000 reservists and 6 000 members of a national militia.20 When they expelled the German army from Greece in October 1944, EAM/ELAS were in control of virtually the entire country except Athens and Salonika.21 In effect, the Greek people had taken power.

EAM/ELAS would doubtless have succeeded in throwing out the British, too, if it had not been for the actions of Stalin, and thereby of the Greek Communist Party. In October 1944, Churchill and Stalin met in Moscow to decide how Europe should be divided up. It was there that Greece’s fate was settled. In his memoirs, Churchill revealed how the conversation had developed. “So far as Britain and Russia are concerned,” he had told Stalin, “How would it do for you to have 90% predominance in Rumania, for us to have 90% of the say in Greece and go 50-50 about Yugoslavia?” He handed a half sheet of paper with these figures scribbled on it to Stalin, who ticked it and handed it back to Churchill. “It was all settled,” writes Churchill, “in no more time than it takes to set down.” The British leader was anxious that the exchange might be thought “rather cynical” and offered to burn the paper. “No, you keep it,” replied Stalin.22

The British government sent its troops back into Greece, this time to crush ELAS. The British forces released fascist prisoners from jail and armed them. Security forces and gangs who had been on the side of the Nazis right up to their withdrawal were offered new uniforms and given new tasks by British General Robert Scobie, commander of the Allied forces in Greece.

The leaders of the Communist Party became entangled in a series of agree­ments with the British, and tried to persuade the working class to accept them, probably on the orders of Stalin. The party began by joining a coali­tion under George Papandreou, a puppet of the British. But this regime did not last long. When Scobie demanded that the guerrilla fighters hand in their arms, while allowing Nazi collaborators and royalist companies the freedom to roam the streets and threaten people with their weapons, the government collapsed. The EAM and PEEA ministers resigned. A general strike and demonstrations were scheduled for the beginning December 1944 to pro­test at Scobie’s dictatorial actions. When the streets of Athens were filled with demonstrators shouting “Not another occupation!” and “Rule by the people!”, strategically positioned police gunmen opened fire.23

The following day, full-scale war broke out between the British military forces and EAM sympathisers in Athens. Churchill sent firm instructions to General Scobie: “Do not hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress …We have to hold and dominate Athens. It would be a great thing for you to succeed in this without bloodshed if possible, but also with bloodshed if necessary.” The fighting lasted for 33 days. The leaders of the Communist Party forbade ELAS fighters living in the mountains to go to Athens, whereas Churchill sent in strong reinforcements.24 The British used both machine guns and bombs to quell the revolution. In a speech in Parliament, Churchill made it clear that he understood what was at stake: “It was a struggle to prevent a hideous massacre in the centre of Athens, in which all forms of government would have been swept away and naked triumphant Trotskyism installed…I think ‘Trotskyists’ is a better definition of the Greek Communists and of certain other sects than the normal word, and it has the advantage of being equally hated in Russia (Laughter and cheers).”25

Over 11,000 people died and large areas of Athens were destroyed.26 Even Churchill was amazed that Stalin “adhered strictly and faithfully to our agreement of October, and during all the long weeks of fighting the Communists in the streets of Athens not one word of reproach came from Pravda or Izvestia.”27

The Greek Communist Party continued to collaborate with the occupying power, and in February 1945 its leaders signed the fateful Varkiza agreement under which the guerrilla movement was to be disarmed. The decision was taken against the wishes of the ELAS leadership. Photographs show the partisans weeping as they handed over their weapons, and they had good reason for doing so. The government (now led by an army general) had promised democracy, a purge of collaborators and a general amnesty, but what followed was a reign of terror. When those who had been active in EAM/ELAS could no longer defend themselves, fascist gangs systematical­ly sought them out to take revenge. The army and gendarmerie, too, which had been largely built up by right-wing activists and Nazi supporters, dealt mercilessly with left-wing sympathisers of all shades. Many guerrilla fight­ers were murdered, while others were forced to flee back to the mountains. By the summer of 1945, some 50 000 people from the Greek resistance were being held in prison camps that resembled concentration camps.

To the last, Captain Aris (Aris Velouchiotis), the founder and leader of ELAS, hoped that the Communist Party would change its mind. This never happened. Instead, the Communist Party publicly disowned Aris and re­voked his party membership. Not wishing to split the movement, Aris and his closest aide saw no alternative but to commit suicide.

In post-war Britain, the Labour Party was returned to power, but this did not help the Greek Left. During the war, the Labour Party leadership had collaborated with Churchill’s Conservatives, and the new government declared that it intended to pursue the same policy with regard to Greece as its predecessor.

Despite the disarmament drive, a full-scale guerrilla war broke out anew in 1946. The partisan movement rose again as the Democratic Army, but this time under much tougher conditions. With economic and military aid from Britain, the Greek government built up its own army. Nevertheless, by 1947 large areas of Greece were once again in the hands of the Communists. The British government now felt its support of the Greek regime was too costly. So it turned to the US for help.

The American president, Truman, immediately responded by proclaim­ing the ‘Truman Doctrine’, stating that the US would “fight Communism wherever it appears in the world”. This marked the beginning of the Cold War and, as a result, colossal sums of money were poured into Greek gov­ernment coffers during the civil war. A joint Greek-American command was set up, roads were built for military use, and tanks and fighter jets were purchased. New methods and weapons – including napalm – were tried out on the recalcitrant Greeks. The leaders of the Communist Party, mean­while, demanded that the Democratic Army switch from guerrilla tactics to conventional warfare. This caused disastrous losses.

The end of the Greek partisan resistance movement finally came with the conflict between Stalin and the Yugoslav leader, Tito. The Greek partisans had had a sanctuary in Yugoslavia from which they could make raids into Greece. But in 1949, Tito formally closed the border to Greece, as the Greek Communist Party leadership insisted on remaining loyal to Stalin.

In the years 1940 to 1950 Greece lost a tenth of its population through war and starvation.28 700 000 people out of a total of seven million. Another 700 000 fled the country.29

After the war, the Communist Party was outlawed. Widespread persecution, imprisonment and executions continued for years.

Slaughter of civilians in Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki

During the First World War, almost the only ones to die as a direct result of the hostilities were combatants. At the beginning of the Second World War, too, bombing targets were largely military – radar stations, aircraft factories and airports. But this approach was to change dramatically.

As anti-aircraft fire became effective, a large number of planes were lost. So in September 1940 the German Luftwaffe (air force) began carrying out large-scale bombing raids on British cities at night, although this meant less precision. The number of civilians killed in German raids grew rapidly. It was this air campaign against British urban centres that was known as the ‘blitz’. The British RAF eventually replied in kind.

In 1940, Charles Portal was put in charge of organising British bombing raids. Together with his successor, Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, he escalated the bombing to encompass whole cities. In March 1942, he ordered his planes to attack Lübeck. More than half of the city was destroyed. For the bombing of Cologne, at the end of May 1942, the RAF assembled all the planes at its disposal, numbering over a thousand.

The British bombing campaign against Germany culminated on the night of 13 February 1945 when the RAF attacked Dresden, a picturesque medi­eval city in Eastern Germany known as the Florence of Northern Europe.

This was followed by two nights of bombing by the US Air Force. There were no war industries in Dresden and the city was of no military sig­nificance. Also, it was undefended at the time as no anti-aircraft guns were stationed there. A few months earlier, in October 1944, a detailed report on Dresden as a potential bombing target had been produced. It concluded: “Compared to other towns of its size, Dresden is … an unattractive blitz tar­get”.30 The population, which in normal circumstances totalled around 600 000, had almost doubled in 1945 as a result of the influx of people fleeing from the advancing Red Army.

The British air force rained thousands of incendiary bombs on Dresden. The bombing was so intense that individual fires joined up and the city was engulfed by a firestorm. The temperature in the city centre has been esti­mated at 1 000 degrees Centigrade. Huge amounts of air were sucked into this inferno and created an artificial tornado. People were dragged into the firestorm by the wind. Those who hid in cellars were suffocated as the air was sucked out by the firestorm, or they died from the heat.

At least 35 000 people were killed in that raid. (Some sources put the death toll as high as 100 000).31 In Dresden, few battle-hardened soldiers lost their lives. Most of the dead were children, women and the elderly, and wounded soldiers. The railway station was left standing – the only target of any mili­tary value. The bombing of Dresden is sometimes depicted as an act of revenge for the bombing and destruction of Coventry by the Luftwaffe. But only 380 people died there.

The aim of the bombing raids was to demoralise the German people and punish them for the deeds of the Nazis. This is how Churchill described the bombing strategy in a speech on 22 June 1941: “We shall bomb Germany by day as well as night in ever increasing measure, casting upon them month by month a heavier discharge of bombs, and making the German people taste and gulp each month a sharper dose of the miseries they have show­ered upon mankind.”32 With that attitude Churchill, aided by his coalition partners from the Labour Party, undermined all possibilities of appealing to German workers to rise against Hitler.

British bombers killed an estimated 600 000 civilians and destroyed or se­verely damaged six million homes during the entire course of the war. The Luftwaffe killed just over 62 000 British civilians.

After Dresden, however, Churchill felt it was time to end this type of war­fare. Ordering an end to the attacks, he explained: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, should be reviewed”.33 Whatever one may think about Churchill, he at least called things by their proper name – something that Blair and Bush carefully avoid doing.

In the war against Japan, the US followed Britain’s example. In a recent in­terview, former US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara talked about his experiences in the Second World War: “I was at Guam in March 1945 when my unit killed 83 000 civilians in one night by firebombing them with our B-29s. We burnt them to death. This was the first of 67 firebombing raids. An awful lot of people died. General Curtis LeMay, who led the operation, said: ‘If we lose this war, we’re going to be put on trial as war criminals’.”34

Finally, atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Over 200 000 people died. Sixty years on, many people in Japan are still suffering from the damage that the bombs caused. In military terms, it was a totally meaningless act. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of US forces at the time, was opposed to the bombings: “Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”35

While Eisenhower was a skilled general, he did not fully understand the interests of capitalism. The atom bomb was needed to terrorise the coun­try’s inhabitants and pave the way for US dominance of Japan after the war. More important, it was a warning to Stalin and the Soviet Union. James Byrne, who was US Secretary of State when the decision to drop the atom bombs was taken, had told Truman that in his view, “the atom bomb could put us in a position where we could dictate the post-war terms ourselves”. He was referring specifically to US terms vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Nu­clear physicist Leo Szilard describes a meeting he had with Byrne: “Mr Byrne did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war. . . Mr. Byrne’s . . . view [was] that our pos­sessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe.”36

Britain and the USA: An alternative approach

Parts of the British and American Labour Movement advocated a policy that would have connected to the revolutionary resistance in Europe, and if implemented would have reduced the cost of fighting Hitler consider­ably. Right in the middle of the war, when all citizens were under heavy pressure to back the ‘war effort’, these Marxists urged the working class to fight Hitler on their own terms. They called attention to the strong anti-Nazi stance of the workers and showed how this might serve as a basis for democratic struggle. In November 1942, Ted Grant, leader of the Revolu­tionary Communist Party and later ideological leader of the International Marxist Tendency, described their policy in an article in the British journal Socialist Appeal:

“The British workers want to see a real end made to Hitlerism of all varie­ties and to the domination of one nation by another. They want to win the peoples of Europe to their side in a common struggle against these evils … They want a genuine international ‘united strategy’ that will enable these tasks to be performed and bring about a truly democratic and lasting peace. But while imperialism sits in the saddle there can be no such thing.

“These aims can only become a reality that is transferred from the realm of words to that of deeds, when the workers take effective measures against imperialism. Such measures would necessarily include the granting of immediate freedom to India and the colonies, the nationalisation under workers’ control of the banks and all heavy industry and the armaments industry; the election of officers by the soldiers and the merging of the armed forces into the armed people. Only when such measures have been taken would Britain’s war be transformed into one genuinely being fought for national liberation and in defence of the Soviet Union. Only a govern­ment of the workers can take such measures. Only a workers’ government can lay the basis for a genuine ‘united strategy’ of a global nature. For the only force that cuts across national frontiers and continental barriers is the common interest of the working masses against capitalism.”37

However, the leaders of the Labour Party were not interested. They sat in the war time coalition cabinet lead by Churchill. They denied help to the Italian and Greek resistance movements. They supported the violent crush­ing of the Greek revolution. And not least they supported terror bombings against the workers of Germany and Japan. Unlike during the First World War, Marxist policies were too weak to influence the course of the war. They had been ground down by Stalinism, fascism and reformism.

All attempts to appease or adapt to the policies of bourgeois parties or movements – however democratic they claim to be – proved disastrous. Different sources offer widely differing estimates of the number of people that died in the Second World War. The table below claims that 52 million people died. Whatever the exact amount, there can be no doubt that it was a war with an unprecedented amount of casualties. Nazism could have been overcome without the loss of so many lives if labour leaders had put for­ward an independent policy, basing themselves on an international working class struggle against Hitler and for socialism.

After the war, when there was a chance to express oneself openly, the working class showed what they felt the war had been about – against fas­cism and for a new society. A wave of revolutionary fervour swept Europe. Communist and Socialist parties came to power in places like France and Italy. In Britain, Churchill the ‘war hero’ was thrown out, and Labour came to power with the biggest majority and the most radical programme in its history. In the US, too, the workers were radicalised and the greatest wave of strikes the country had ever seen got under way. At the centre of the strikes were the car workers at General Motors.

American soldiers were also drawn into the massive wave of protests. Many of them had gone into the army to fight fascism. When the US administra­tion sought to use the soldiers in 1945 as occupying troops in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and the Philippines, it encountered tough resistance. The soldiers found the government’s plans unacceptable and launched a protest movement


based on the demand, ‘Bring Us Home!’38 Generals were jeered, members of Congress were flooded with protest letters (10 000 a day just from wives and girlfriends who wanted their men back), and the soldiers set up special committees that organised meetings, demonstrations and strikes. In January 1946, the soldiers’ committee in Manila represented 139 000 soldiers in the Philippines who demanded to be sent home. Their demands were officially supported by the big American labour organisations, the AFL and the CIO.

Due to the sabotage of labour leaders, the ideas that could provide the soundest base to resistance against Hitler, before he came to power and once he had come to power, were not used. In the concentration camps, socialist ideas were the only ideas that could inspire an effective resistance to Nazism.

1 http://www.history-of-the-holocaust.org/LIBARC/ARCHIVE/Chapters/Stabiliz/


2 Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany at the same time.

3 http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2wwfrenchA.htm

4 www3.uakron.edu/hfrance/reviews/caron.html

5 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUStukhachevsky.htm

6 Karl-Olof Andersson: Europa i 1900-talets spegel, 2003

7 Leopold Trepper: The Great Game, 1977

8 Lesley Thompson, Resistance and revolution in Europe in World War II

9 Ted Grant: Russia from revolution to counterrevolution, 1997

10 New York Times, 24 June 1941

11 Gareth Jenkins: The forgotten fighters, 1995

12 Dr. Toscano: Sicily and its struggle for independence, 2003

13 www.army.mil/cmh-pg/brochures/romar/72-20.htm

14 Gareth Jenkins: The forgotten fighters, 1995

15 Michael Kelly: The Italian Resistance in Historical Transition, 2003

16 Kostis Papakongos: Kapetan Aris, 1975

17 Timothy Boatswain, Colin Nicolson: Historisk guide till Grekland, 2000

18 ibid

19 www.greenleft.org.au/back/1995/198/198p25.htm. See also Konstantinos Tsoulalas:

The Greek Tragedy

20 Till vapen! Till vapen! Krönika över det nationella motståndet, Athens 1964. Cited as a source in

Kostis Papakongos: Kapetan Aris,1975

21 Encyclopeadia Britannica

22 Winston Churchill: Triumph and Tragedy, 1953

23 Timothy Boatswain, Colin Nicolson: Historisk guide till Grekland, 2000 and Kostis

Papakongos: Kapetan Aris, 1975

24 Timothy Boatswain, Colin Nicolson: Historisk guide till Grekland, 2000

25 Quoted in Ted Grant: British Labour betrayed Greek Workers, 1945

26 Historisk guide till Grekland, 2000,

27 Winston Churchill: Triumph and Tragedy, 1953

28 Encyclopaedia Britannica

29 IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies)

30 www.learningcurve.pro.gov.uk/heroesvillains/churchill/churchill_1.htm

31 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWdresden.htm

32 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWarea.htm

33 ibid

34 Dagens Nyheter, 25 januari, 2004

35 Dwight Eisenhower: Mandate For Change, 1963

36 Leo Szilard: A Personal History of the Atomic Bomb, 1949

37 Ted Grant: History of British Trotskyism, 2002

38 Art Preis: Labours Giant Step – 20 years of the CIO, 1964