Authors: Donny Gluckstein
FIGHTING ON ALL FRONTS
Popular Resistance in the Second World War
Edited by Donny Gluckstein
is a lecturer in sociology in University College Dublin. His books include
Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism
The Politics of James Connolly
is a senior lecturer in industrial relations at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia. She has published on women, insecure work and unions in Japan and Korea.
has been an active socialist campaigner and writer in the USA and Britain, and a researcher on nationalism, labour and the left in South Asia. He is currently working on a PhD in Migration Studies at the University of Sussex.
is a lecturer in history at Edinburgh College and a member of the Socialist Workers Party. His previous publications include
The Nazis, Capitalism and the Working Class
A People’s History of the Second World War: Resistance Versus Empire
, the predecessor to
Fighting on All Fronts
is an editor of
, a socialist newspaper in Australia.
is deputy editor of the Dutch monthly paper
, and the grandson of a communist partisan, Peter van Sloten, who was executed on 7 March 1945 in Haarlem. He is preparing a people’s history of the Dutch empire in the Second World War.
has been active as a Marxist since 1966 in Germany, the USA and Australia. He is the author and/or editor of eight books including
Australia’s Pacific War
The Neighbour from Hell: Two Centuries of Australian Imperialism
contributes regularly to
, a socialist magazine in Germany. He has worked and lived in North Africa. His books include
Frankreich im Schatten des Algerienkrieges
has written and presented on resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War in Germany, Poland and by Jews. Her mother, who migrated to Australia from Poland in 1938, lost a large part of her family in the Holocaust. As an anti-Zionist Jew, Janey has written about Jewish resistance to anti-Semitism and about the radical Jewish tradition.
is a journalist on
and a socialist activist in east London.
Popular Resistance in the
Second World War
Edited by Donny Gluckstein
Fighting On All Fronts: Popular Resistance in the Second World War
Edited by Donny Gluckstein
Published 2015 by Bookmarks Publications
c/o 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE
© Bookmarks Publications
Designed and typeset by Peter Robinson
Printed by the Russell Press
Cover picture: Jewish partisans near Vilna, just after the liberation
print edition: 978 1 909026 92 6
kindle: 978 1 909026 93 3
ePub: 978 1 909026 94 0
PDF: 978 1 909026 95 7
Seventy years separate the end of the Second World War from 2015 and yet the issues it raised remain fundamental to our understanding of the world today.
It was supposed to be the moment when the dark days of the Depression were set aside and the forces of fascism and dictatorship that fed on them were definitively overcome. But the 1929 Wall Street Crash that sparked the Depression has its counterpart in the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the persistent economic crisis since 2008. In the 1930s the establishment diverted attention from the crisis-ridden nature of capitalism by targeting ethnic minorities, and the Nazis and other racists reaped the benefits. Nowadays the European extreme right—from the populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to the outright fascist Front National in France or Jobbik in Hungary—is again gaining in confidence. International tensions, always present when there is a system of competing capitalist states, reached a new intensity in the 1930s, culminating in world war. Today imperialist rivalries that were supposed to have been banished by the fall of the so-called communist regimes of Eastern Europe in 1989 and “The End of History”
At the same time the Second World War showed that there could be a different trajectory. It ushered in huge mass movements that tore down the colonial empires that dominated the globe, defied and destroyed fascist dictatorships and authoritarian rule and drove forward the development of welfare states. These too have their parallels today, whether it be in the challenge to the established political parties witnessed in places like Spain and Greece, the Arab revolutions or mass struggles against austerity, privatisation, oppression and exploitation.
The impact of the Second World War was so profound and so widespread that for a long time it was difficult to achieve the sense of distance and perspective needed for an effective analysis. On the whole only the
surface phenomena—the military campaigns, the biographies of individual leaders and suchlike—have received attention. This book is an attempt to go beyond that. Understanding the complex political and social processes of the Second World War is important not only so that we can establish the truth about a major past event but also to furnish lessons for today.
This book covers a wide range of countries and situations from major protagonists, such as Japan and Russia, to colonies like the Philippines and Burma, to the sub-imperialism of Australia. It also looks at European resistance, the Jews, and even a neutral country, Ireland. However, the global reach of the Second World War means that even these numerous examples cannot provide a full picture. To achieve a broader overview the rest of this chapter provides a point of comparison for the various situations discussed in the book by considering the pattern of events in centres of resistance not otherwise covered here. It then offers a theoretical framework within which the conflict can be set.
Contrary to later claims of anti-fascist intentions on the part of Allied governments, the Second World War began as a naked conflict between the haves and have-nots of imperialism. Britain and France had appeased Hitler when he seized Austria and Czechoslovak territory because they wished to enjoy the fruits of their empires in peace. This desire to maintain class domination (and consequent fear of communism) led Britain’s ambassador to Berlin to publicly applaud Hitler for “gigantic progress in the military, industrial and moral reorganisation of Germany”. Furthermore, the ambassador warned against war with Nazism because “Moscow’s chief aim was to embroil Germany and the Western Powers in a common ruin”.
As a backbench MP Churchill criticised appeasement because he saw German expansion as the greater threat to Britain’s empire. But he had no principled objection to fascism, telling Mussolini in 1927: “if I had been an Italian, I am sure I should have been with you from start to finish in your triumphant struggle…against Leninism”.
When Hitler invaded France in May 1940 its commander-in-chief feared armed resistance might unleash “anarchy and revolution”. He was ready to capitulate once he could be “sure the Germans would leave me the forces necessary for maintaining order”.
For its part Russia signed up to the Hitler-Stalin pact in August 1939, cynically agreeing to secret clauses that would partition Poland with Germany and give it the Baltic states.
The minor Allied states adopted a similarly unprincipled point of view. Poland’s authoritarian regime signed a pact with Hitler in 1934, its leader having stated: “I would like [Hitler] to remain in power as long as possible”.
This ran alongside a pre-existing pact with Stalin. The Yugoslav government also negotiated between Axis and Allies. As one British official put it: “Rumour has it that several Yugoslav generals have built themselves villas with money supplied by the Germans. Perhaps we could help them to add wings?”
Greece’s fascist dictator was perplexed that his country became an Axis target, complaining: “if Hitler and Mussolini were really fighting for the ideology they preach, they should be supporting Greece with all their forces”.
In the 1930s Albania was dominated by Italy but when still greater control was demanded King Zog replied to Mussolini: “The King is devoted. The people are grateful. Why do you want anything more?”
To general disgust, he abandoned his countrymen when the invasion began.
The step-by-step descent into all-out conflict showed how one government after another only opposed the Axis when there was no alternative to opposing the new contenders for imperialist dominance. Britain was compelled to declare war when Germany left it no choice by invading Poland in September 1939. Even then what ensued was a “phoney war” (Britain),
“drôle de guerre”
(joke war, France), or
(sitting war, Germany). London’s bombing raids consisted mainly of dropping propaganda leaflets. By contrast, the British and French governments showed much greater enthusiasm for aiding Finland, a future Axis satellite, against Russia’s offensive. This “winter war” ended before help could be provided. Russia’s war began after Hitler reneged on a non-aggression pact in the summer of 1941 and attacked. The US entered the fray after Japan’s raid on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Ordinary people found the outbreak of war equally unwelcome but for very different reasons. In Paris “the mood, despite the rhetoric with which the newspapers were filled, was sombre, resigned, serious; there were too many memories of the enthusiasms of July 1914 and the terrible rolls of the dead”.
In Britain at the outbreak of war one of the team of Mass Observers gauging popular moods remarked: “There is no gushing, sweeping-away dynamo of ‘patriotism’”.
Another noticed how many were “equating the employer with the friend of Fascism”.
If there was to be war it must “put right first…the things that went wrong last time… Chief among these is certainty of a job, and then certainty of a decent house to live in”.