Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 10, 2009

Winston Churchill nostalgia?

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 6:21 pm

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In recent weeks, the high-profile Socialist Unity blog in Britain (ranked 420,070 by Alexa; by comparison Lenin’s Tomb is number 363,494 in traffic) has featured articles that attempt to salvage the reputation of Winston Churchill within the context of commemorating the WWII “people’s antifascist coalition”.

My first reaction to this effort has been disgust but on a deeper level I have to wonder what would explain this retrograde development. To an extent, it might be a kind of knee-jerk reaction against the Socialist Workers Party in Britain. Since Socialist Unity has a deep animus toward these comrades, one wonders if they are simply putting a plus where their chief bogeyman puts a minus. If Alex Callinicos vilifies Churchill, then why not find nice things to say about the British imperialist warlord?

It should be stressed that the valentines to WWII and Churchill have been written by Andy Newman, who is responsible for most of the original content on Socialist Unity—for better or for worse. I have been told that Newman was a member of the SWP for a brief time (along with possibly half of the people living in Britain) so maybe we are just dealing with the case of the embittered ex-member. I for one have trouble understanding this as a political-psychological reaction. As an ex-member of the dreadful American SWP and one of its harshest critics, I am less inclined to take a position 180 degrees opposed to their own as a matter of principle. For example, if the Militant newspaper denounces the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, you won’t find me supporting it. And so on.

Andy Newman

But I think the more likely explanation for this softness on Churchill has more to do with the peculiarities of the British culture and historical memory than anything else. Although I can only state this as a kind of speculation, it would seem that Britain never went through the “revisionist” debunking of WWII that the USA did.

With the rise of the New Left in the USA, American foreign policy was subjected to a penetrating review based on new sources of information such as State Department memorandums, etc.. Since Vietnam was being prosecuted by LBJ, a veteran New Dealer, there was a tendency for WWII to be scrutinized in a way that had not taken place since progressive historian Charles Beard’s day. Although he was a bit older than some of the other “revisionists”, Howard Zinn delivered what amounts to knockout blow to the “good war” pretensions of WWII in “People’s History of the USA”.

Zinn, who developed a hatred for the war while serving as a bombardier, would probably be disgusted by the advertisements for WWII t-shirts that can be found in the post titled “Popular Front Against Fascism” and which celebrate mass killing gangs as if they were soccer teams.  One t-shirt, a snappy looking gray model with an American air force emblem, is described this way: “The roundel on this shirt is from the Pacific and features the colours and markings of a US Navy Vought F4U-1D Corsair, 152 Squadron VF-84 aboard USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), February 1945.” This led one commenter to observe:

One of those shirts celebrates something quite specific: the US Navy’s F4U Courier. I tried to explain the history of this aircraft, and why I think it’s inappropriate to use such imagery on your shirt. It wasn’t a tool in the fight against fascism, it was a tool of US imperialism during the War in the Pacific. And later, in the war against the people of the Korean peninsula, where it was used to pioneer the use of napalm–later “perfected” in Vietnam.

I just think you should be a little bit sensitive about the imagery you use, especially if the proceeds from the shirts go to good movement causes. I really believe that celebrating the Corsair is one step away from putting the Enola Gay on a shirt. After all, wasn’t the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki part of the “People’s War Against Fascism”, too?

I could not help but think that the low profile kept by Britain during the Vietnam war might have reduced the irritant factor that led young American historians to examine past wars ruthlessly, as Karl Marx would have put it.

I also wondered if the continuing prestige of the British CP historian’s group might have also played a role. Except for Herbert Aptheker, there were no American historians who had the prestige and influence of an Eric Hobsbawm and company.  Although none of these historians were blind followers of the CP, they were unlikely to challenge nostrums about the “good war”. In some sense this was understandable because the USSR’s war with Nazi Germany was progressive. But trying to find anything good to say about Winston Churchill would seem a hopeless task, although Andy Newman does get an “e” for effort.

In a post titled Sir Winston Churchill and the Anti-Fascist War, Newman describes a virtual social democrat.

… Churchill played a perhaps indispensible role in the defeat of Hitler; and his coalition government oversaw a deep radicalisation of British society, that Churchill did nothing to arrest. As he himself explained his principle was that he would support any measure that was bone fide necessary to win the war: this included an unprecedented degree of government planning and regulation of the economy. The Tory Lord Woolton explained: “We arrived at a position in which, in time of war, the practices that would be normal under a socialist state seemed to be the only practical safeguards for the country”.

When I brought up the topic of 6 to 8 million Bengalis dying because of British wartime policies that caused a famine, I was treated like a skunk at a garden party by Newman and his supporters, including Paul Fauvet, a signer of the Euston Manifesto who wrote: “Louis Proyect’s tactic is to change the subject. He doesn’t want to talk about Churchill’s role in World War II, so he talks about the Bengal famine instead.” Meanwhile, Newman also chastised me for “prioritising the entirely secondary issue of India…”

It should be understood that Paul Fauvet’s intervention was in line with the general approach of the “decent left” which is to regard WWII as a kind of authorization in advance for imperialist war ever since 1945. That is why it has been so essential for every rotten imperialist war in the past 20 years or so to be recast as a new WWII against a new Hitler, at one point Slobodan Milosevic and at another point Saddam Hussein.

As one might expect, Christopher Hitchens has been one of the fiercest opponents of the “revisionists” on WWII, since their vindication would effectively rob him of the moral justification he needed to support the war in Iraq. In a Newsweek article titled “A War Worth Fighting“, Hitchens argues:

Is there any one shared principle or assumption on which our political consensus rests, any value judgment on which we are all essentially agreed? Apart from abstractions such as a general belief in democracy, one would probably get the widest measure of agreement for the proposition that the second world war was a “good war” and one well worth fighting. And if we possess one indelible image of political immorality and cowardice, it is surely the dismal tap-tap-tap of Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella as he turned from signing the Czechs away to Adolf Hitler at Munich. He hoped by this humiliation to avert war, but he was fated to bring his countrymen war on top of humiliation. To the conventional wisdom add the titanic figure of Winston Churchill as the emblem of oratorical defiance and the Horatius who, until American power could be mobilized and deployed, alone barred the bridge to the forces of unalloyed evil. When those forces lay finally defeated, their ghastly handiwork was uncovered to a world that mistakenly thought it had already “supped full of horrors.” The stark evidence of the Final Solution has ever since been enough to dispel most doubts about, say, the wisdom or morality of carpet-bombing German cities.

Oddly enough, this item could have appeared on either “Harry’s Place” or the Socialist Unity blog—a problem for the left in no uncertain terms.

While it is unfortunately behind a subscriber’s firewall, there was an article by Ernest Mandel in the May/June 1986 New Left Review titled “The Role of the Individual in History: The Case of World War Two” that is far more interested in the relationship of class forces than in Churchill’s personal or psychological dispositions. He writes:

The case of Churchill affords another sort of corroboration for Plekhanov’s view of the relationship between decisive personalities and the requirements of class rule. Traditional historiography, whether admiring or critical of Churchill’s previous historical roles, has been almost unanimous in lauding his move into 10 Downing Street, at the head of a coalition government including the Labour Party, as a major turning point in the war. Churchill undoubtedly embodied the unshaken resolve of the British ruling class and of the broad majority of the British people not to capitulate to Germany under any circumstance. But by romanticizing his personal attributes, rather than starting from an analysis of the activities of larger social forces, most bourgeois historians fail the test of comparative example. For the central question is not what accidents of biography made Churchill as an individual more decisive than Chamberlain (or, similarly, distinguished de Gaulle from Pétain), but why Churchill was able to rally a majority of his class and people around himself while de Gaulle remained an isolated figure in France in June 1940.

Of course the fact that the French armed forces had just suffered a humiliating defeat, while the British were able to evacuate most of their defeated army to their island fortress, made a difference. But then again in 1940 most knowledgeable observers—including the American ambassador, Jospeh Kennedy—considered Britain’s position as fundamentally hopeless. Meanwhile France, while broken in the Ardennes, still possessed an undefeated fleet (the second largest in Europe), a large army in North Africa—stronger than what the British had at their disposal—a significant air reserve, and an intact colonial empire. It was, thus, by no means clear that the British had the certain means to resist invasion, or, conversely, that the French were utterly defeated or without options for continued national resistance.

In fact the real difference between the British and French situations was less their military predicaments than the predispositions of their ruling classes. The French bourgeoisie had become increasingly defeatist for sound, materialist reasons. It had shown itself economically and militarily incompetent to guarantee the Versailles system in the face of Germany’s aggressive expansion and rearmament. Even more to the point, it was primarily obsessed with containing its own working class, which had become a higher political priority than the attempt to defeat German competition. The British bourgeoisie, on the other hand, was neither demoralized nor defeatist. It had already beaten its own labour movement, first economically in 1926, then politically in 1931–35. At the same time its world position (even if rapidly being overtaken by the United States) was still stronger than Germany’s, although Hitler’s hegemony over Europe clearly endangered the British Empire. Moreover, the British elite were convinced that eventual support from the United States, together with the raw material and manpower resources of the Empire, made continued war against Germany a realistic strategy.

The moment was dramatic and full of dangers, but the future seemed largely guaranteed, provided Britain could weather the immediate crisis. ‘If we hold out for three months, we shall be facing victory in three years,’ Churchill correctly prophesied in a secret speech to the House of Commons. And Churchill was the almost ideal choice to stiffen British resolve until the Americans entered the war. That is why, after having been considered for years a maverick and has-been figure, a voice crying in the wilderness, he could be suddenly resurrected as the deus ex machina of his class. By an abrupt turn of events, and of social needs, the wilderness had been filled with millions of people.

Perhaps my antipathy toward Winston Churchill has been ratcheted up a few degrees by recent readings in Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke”, a most controversial book written in the “revisionist” spirit of Howard Zinn. While Baker is a novelist by trade, this book is nonfiction assault on the bogus reputation of the “good war” with Winston Churchill and FDR getting the brunt of his well-researched darts. I want to particularly call attention to this vignette on Churchill:

Winston Churchill was readying his book Great Contemporaries for the press. It was August 1937. In it was his article on Hitler, written a few years earlier. “Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms,” he said, “have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, “we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age,” Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.

Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a “skin of malice,” washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill,

the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.

And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.” He called his article “Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein.”

UPDATE

Andy Newman apparently considered himself slandered by me. You can read his complaint here.

Since his commenting software refused to allow my entire reply to be posted (hmmm), I am posting here:

God, what a blizzard of words over a supposed “slander”. I don’t know anything about Newman’s past membership in the SWP except what Richard Seymour told me. I surmised that he was only in the group briefly because he seems to have retained nothing he learned there. A sieve would have absorbed more of the abc’s of Marxism.

With respect to the awful Eustonites, I don’t consider Paul Fauvet, who was a respectable radical journalist in a previous lifetime, to be a “supporter” of Socialist Unity politics in general. His cranky presence here should disabuse anybody of that notion. It should have been clear that he was a supporter of Newman’s position on WWII and that is all. I apologize for allowing such a confusion to take place.

Getting back to the real problem, there is still that regrettable blind spot about Empire. After angrily claiming that I quoted him out of context on India, he attempts to put his views into the real context:

Well yes, when discussing the course of the second world war, the Indian theatre was secondary. I have consulted several respected history books of the period, and the general histories rarely mention India at all. Angus Calder’s, “The People’s War” a standard history of the Home Front only mentions India once in the whole 750 pages.

Where the hell does Andy think the Bengali grain went? To throw at weddings? The god-damned grain went to British troops. The Bengali people were sacrificed in order to keep the soldiers fed. If this is “secondary” to the war, then Andy deserves an F in geopolitics.

Basically, the myth of a “people’s war against fascism” cannot be sustained when the “good guys” caused the death of more Indians in pursuit of war aims than the number of Jews killed by Hitler. Churchill and Hitler were both enemies of the working class. The British working class enjoyed a greater degree of democratic rights and welfare state provisions because its ruling class had a huge empire. The Second World War was a clash largely because of conflicting imperial goals. To bracket out the imperial question as “secondary” is Eurocentric.

Finally, Andy should stop squealing like professional wrestler who has been fouled by an opponent. When Andy accused me of colluding with Sinophobes who raise the “yellow peril”, a real slander, I handled it with aplomb since it was so obviously bullshit. I wonder if his long-winded squeal reflects an tacit understanding that my words hit their mark. Slanders tend to fall off the victim like spittle but the truth has a way of sticking to the bone.

UPDATE 2

Martin Wisse comments on the debate: http://cloggie.org/wissewords2/2009/09/12/dudefight-or-what-do-the-bengalis-matter/

74 Comments »

  1. I think you hit the nail right on the head. For the pro-imperialist “left,” ie, those who Richard Seymour rightly accused of liberally defending murder in his book, WWII provides a fig leaf to defend every other act of imperialist aggression by the system that they have now come to identify with. Since most of them now have it pretty damn good as opposed to the rest of us, that shouldn’t be too surprising. Only most of that crowd were once gung-ho sixties “radicals” who became demoralized during Reagan’s reign and made their peace with the system just as the burned “New York Intellectual” Shactmanites did after WWII when middle class Jews were finally allowed to become white in the eyes of America’s ruling class. In the case of many of the sixties burn-outs, they went from (what they themselves would now call) “knee-jerk” anti-imperialism to what I would call jerk-off pro-imperialism.

    Also, let’s not forget that the Pop Front Stalinist tradition still looks at WWII as being a “progressive” war, whether its “Win With Winnie” in the UK or “Get Behind the President” (FDR) in the US. After all, that period represented the height of their influence in the US, from the CIO to Hollywood. Their opposition to Truman and the anti-Soviet Cold War was based on a desire to return to the good old days of the US-USSR WWII alliance, not on class struggle anti-imperialism. And the famine in India was only the tip of the iceberg of “democratic” imperialist atrocities…all of which were endorsed by reformist Stalinism at the time. Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki certainly come to mind, along with the daily dirty doings of lynch law Jim Crow segregation that went on throughout the US at the time.

    As for Churchill, let’s not forget his role in invading Russia during the civil war, along with his butchering of the Irish, Indians and Arabs, when they rose up against the British empire. Indeed, his role in WWII was based on the same premises, ie, defense of British capitalism even if it meant allying with the hated USSR abroad and the Labor Party at home when he saw that his former friend Adolf was, what the Maoists used to say in the sixties, the “main enemy.” In other words, he was a better defender of the interests of British imperialism than Neville Chamberlain just as FDR was a better defender of American imperialism than Herbert Hoover was and just as Obama can now perform that role better than Bush or McCain.

    Comment by MN Roy — September 10, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  2. Louis, how would you go about defeating Hitler?

    Comment by Jenny — September 10, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  3. Louis, how would you go about defeating Hitler?
    You mean he’s still alive?

    Comment by Dante616 — September 10, 2009 @ 10:15 pm

  4. Nice post by the way, Mr Proyect.

    Comment by Dante616 — September 10, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

  5. Part of the problem with the “People’s War Against Fascism” line is that it’s essentially ahistorical. The supporters of that line want to take a snap-shot of history in the following way: “It’s 1940 and Hitler is about to invade Britain: what do you do? Think fast!” Then anyone who refuses to jump on the Churchill/FDR/national defense bandwagon is condemned as a hopeless dreamer, crypto-fascist, etc.

    Of course, the war against fascism didn’t begin in 1939. It actually began in 1917, with the struggle against Kornilov’s attempted coup in Russia, accelerated in Italy in the early 1920s, and so on. If we start back there, and ask how fascism might have been defeated, we get a very different answer. It doesn’t include a lash-up with Sir Winston.

    Anyway, thanks for quoting me in your article! Interestingly enough, several commenters followed up by saying they WOULD buy a shirt celebrating the Enola Gay. Just goes to show…

    Comment by James — September 10, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  6. No, FDR wasn’t perfect by any means, but I still think Word War II was necessary in the end. Unless you’re going the Pat Buchanhan route saying that it would’ve been best if Hitler was left to conquer Poland. Besides, even if Stalin’s army did do the heavy lifting, they were wiped out by the Germans quickly too.

    Comment by Jenny — September 10, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

  7. Jenny, the real issue is not whether WWII was “necessary”. It is whether it was “progressive” in the sense that WWI was not, which I think everybody can agree on. My argument is that wars between capitalist nations are *never* progressive. The only wars I support are those of national liberation and those of a postcapitalist society against a capitalist invader. WWII is confusing because it has both progressive and reactionary aspects. The problem with the CP line is that it does not see this contradictory aspect.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 10, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

  8. I enjoy the wide scope of Louis Proyect’s blog. His article brought new material to my attention.

    Twenty years ago, the Spartacists’ Prometheus Research Library published a paperback volume about Trotsky’s “Proletarian Military Policy” of the WWII era, nominally adopted by Trotskyist orgs in the UK and US. (IIRC the Sparts themselves later backed off, at least a little, from some of their retrospective criticisms of the PMP). Like all Prometheus Research publications, it’s a valuable source for serious students of history (and the role of history in shaping Trot arcana).

    Prometheus Research No. #2: Documents on the “Proletarian Military Policy”
    Includes materials from the Trotskyist movement in the U.S. and Europe during World War II. (February 1989)
    102 pages ISBN 0-9633828-4-5, US$9.00
    http://www.icl-fi.org/prl/index.html

    Comment by David Stevens — September 11, 2009 @ 12:00 am

  9. Ernest Mandel has written an excellent book on WWII (published in 1986 by Verso) in which he talks about the contradictory aspects of the war, combining both reactionary inter-imperialist rivalries with progressive national liberation struggles and the defense of the post capitalist USSR. Churchill (and FDR as well) certainly embodied the reactionary side of that contradiction, even within the framework of “beating Hitler.” They put off launching the “Second Front” In order to retake the British and French colonial empires in Africa, which also ensured that the bulk of the Axis forces were engaged in bleeding the Soviets on the Eastern Front. Up until the moment he realized that if he didn’t join Churchill in backing DeGaulle, the Communist-led resistance would be calling the shots in France, FDR was looking to cut a deal with the remnants of the Vichy regime there. In fact, the Ruskies bore the brunt of the fighting throughout the war, the decisive turning points were at Stalingrad and Kursk, and D-Day only came about when the Allied imperialists realized that if they didn’t invade Nazi-occupied Europe, the Soviet Army backed up by the CP-led partisan movements would probably sweep away Hitler and European capitalism with him before they could do anything to prevent it. Of course, if the Stalinists and the Social Democrats hadn’t helped scuttle revolutionary struggles in Europe after WWI and in the 1930s, there might not have even been any war to begin with and certainly no Hitler to start it.

    Comment by MN Roy — September 11, 2009 @ 1:04 am

  10. Louis, I saw your commments on the Socialist Unity website, which is advertising WWII t-shirts, and the reactions to it.

    You’ve focussed on a rather ugly side of the white Brit leftism – it’s inherent racism. Andy’s comments chastising you for mentioning murder of 6-8 million Indians during WWII (and causing death of many more since 1757 as a direct result of their deliberate destruction of Indian economic system and subsequent partition) are mere reflections from a room full of dark shadows besides it’s not fashionable in the genteel left circles to talk about these issues where the non-white working class is always being reminded to get rid of their cultural baggage and become part of the ‘main-stream’.

    That a left blog/forum can enterntain idea of defending Churchill, a bourgeois racist scum who after meeting with Nehru remarked that he had no idea that Indians could be so pleasant and civilized and was of view that Indians are “the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans” is an alarming symptom of deep infestation of eurocentrism in the white left.

    Comment by Anarcho-Polpotist — September 11, 2009 @ 3:21 am

  11. This destroys the myth of Churchill.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — September 11, 2009 @ 5:34 am

  12. Consider Churchill’s role in subduing Iraq.

    Comment by purple — September 11, 2009 @ 5:51 am

  13. […] Over the recent week or so there has been a very interesting debate on this web-site about the nature of the second world war; that has by and large been informative and relatively good humoured. However, the American Trotskyite Louis Proyect has now used this exchange as the basis of a highly ill-advised and personal attack on me. […]

    Pingback by SOCIALIST UNITY » PERSONAL SLANDER SHOULD HAVE NO PLACE IN DEBATE — September 11, 2009 @ 8:01 am

  14. I am sorry but I am a litte confused. Are you saying Britain etc should not have fought WWII? Were we meant to just sit their and watch? Now Churchill was evil bugger a fair bit but to suggest we should not have entered the war is to be frank a little confusing.

    Comment by ben — September 11, 2009 @ 8:22 am

  15. #14 Quite.

    #7 Should Britain have fought Germany? Yes or no?

    Comment by Jonny Mac — September 11, 2009 @ 9:49 am

  16. I think Andy has basically re-aligned himself with a Marxism Today-ish kind of politics, and with it, we get a return to a rather unalloyed popular frontism. I think his politics are genuinely held and not simply a reaction to the SWP. I can recall in arguments I had with him on-line long before the Respect split, that his politics were evolving along these lines.

    For what its worth this seems to me the best (and funniest) response to his piece on Churchill from the British left:

    http://liammacuaid.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/reassessing-the-prince-william-duke-of-cumberland-nation-builder/

    Comment by johng — September 11, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  17. I am asked if Britain should have fought Germany. Emphatically not. No capitalist power should ever fight another capitalist power since it will be the working class that is victimized. Here is how James P. Cannon answered the question in a 1941 trial when FDR conspired with Teamsters Union bureaucrats to silence the antiwar opposition in the USA:

    http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/cannon/works/1941/socialism/ch02.htm

    Comment by louisproyect — September 11, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

  18. Andy Newman’s position is not “Eurocentric”. It derives from his support for the wartime People’s Front. This policy had repercussions well beyond Europe.
    In fact, the original M.N. Roy supported the Western Allies against the Nazis, using the argument that their victory over fascism would lead to more favourable conditions for Indian Independence.
    Newman’s views on this question are not dissimilar to George Galloway’s, or to many CP-B fellow travellers. In June 1941, after the German attack on the Soviet Union, the CP’s Political Bureau immediately declared support for the war against Nazi Germany. But it continued to demand the replacement of the Churchill government by a ‘People’s Government’.
    This line was only changed, following pressure from the Comintern, to a call for unity around the Churchill government.

    Comment by prianikoff — September 11, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  19. I totally agree Louis. I don’t know anything about Andy Newman either – except the drivel he churns out on his site. For some reason he objects when people think that loving up Churchill and Stalin is weird for a socialist.
    And as for his defence of the Bengal famine, what will it be next? Damn Irish always complaining about a lack of food?

    Comment by bill j — September 11, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  20. #18

    “In fact, the original M.N. Roy supported the Western Allies against the Nazis, using the argument that their victory over fascism would lead to more favourable conditions for Indian Independence.”

    Well he was right. Full Independence in 1947.

    Comment by andy newman — September 11, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  21. #17

    “I am asked if Britain should have fought Germany. Emphatically not.”

    Unbefrickinlievable.

    Idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot.

    Comment by Jonny Mac — September 11, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  22. Andy Newman’s slander post on ‘his’ socialist unity(joke)blog is very far fetched and a childish response, can’t see it myself. I’m very pleased to have come across your excellent blog will put a link on my blog.

    Warm Comradely Regards From a Socialist in Canning Town, East London, England

    Comment by Jim Lawrie — September 11, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

  23. Didn’t the British workers show their gratitude to Churchill for “winning WWII” by voting the Tories out of office as soon as elections were held?

    As for the “full independence” of India, I believe that the Labor government that granted it had to be forced by the struggles of the Indian masses (i.e. the navy mutiny) to do so, as well as by the reality that as much they wanted to stay in control, the Brits simply couldn’t afford it. Just like in Greece, where they had to turn over control of the counter-revolution to Uncle Sam, or in Palestine, where they dropped the ball in the UN’s lap.

    As to why any self-styled “socialist” should be praising Churchill, FDR…or Obama, for that matter, maybe it’s because they’re just NOT socialists and the sooner we realize it the better.

    Comment by MN Roy — September 11, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  24. One other thing worth pointing out. Andy trashes Nicholson Baker’s “Human Smoke”, a book he has obviously never read and urges his readers to check the supposedly devastating review at http://www.anneapplebaum.com/2008/05/28/the-blog-of-war/. Doesn’t Andy know that Anne Applebaum is a notorious warhawk and cold warrior? In fact, he must have discovered the link to her review from a Harry’s Place denizen who posted it in reply to my citation of Baker’s book. As I mentioned in my post, the affinity between Harry’s Place and Andy Newman on this all-important question of imperialist war is most regrettable.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 11, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

  25. Hey Louis
    When Andy says, “I was an active member of the SWP from 1978 to 1981 and from 1986 to 2004”, what he means is that he had dropped out of the party by about 1996, but then came back of sorts when he saw a factional row brewing in – and about – the Socialist Alliance.

    His site has had a whole poisonous dose of SWP-phobia (and it does often feel like that’s his political compass) although in fairness to Andy it’s been better in the past 6 months…

    Comment by Harrods — September 11, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

  26. Louis wrote: “I am asked if Britain should have fought Germany. Emphatically not. No capitalist power should ever fight another capitalist power since it will be the working class that is victimized.”

    Indeed. British workers would have been no worse off under a Vichy-type government. And the Soviets should really have gone it alone against the Nazi’s – and the whole fucking imperialist camp if necessary – so as not to spoil the purity of their cause. And remember how the colonies attained independence after France was taken over by the Nazis? And how about the fact that all the popular anti-fascist struggles led to not to soviet power, but to the restoration of the parliamentary-imperialist system – does this not unmask their ultimately social-fascist nature?

    How could anyone in their right mind disagree with this sober Bolshevik-Leninist analysis?

    Until the self-described “revolutionary left” stop seeing every historical event as a rerun of WWI and October, it’ll remain a collection of sects on the margins of politics. If it became more”Marxist Today-ish” that would be a big improvement IMHO.

    Comment by Max — September 11, 2009 @ 9:48 pm

  27. But what about when Germany bombed Britain? How should they have responded?

    Comment by Jenny — September 11, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  28. When I first became a Left in Britain, nearly 30 years ago, there were three distinct categories – the Labour Left (now extinct), the Trot Left (both in and out of the Labour Party – e.g. the SWP and Militant – and which still includes me) and the ‘Official Communists’ (I think the term ‘Stalinist’ not the best here) in the CPGB and around Marxism Today.

    Then, of the three, you would have thought the latter would have died first. They were generally a lot older, the Labour Party was clearly a better place for many of their cadre – Left TU bureaucrats and the like – to be in and the ‘socialist’ countries (and the CPGB daily paper, the ‘Morning Star’) were hardly an inspiration to anyone.

    But reading Socialist Unity today, the spirit of Marxism Today, and Eurocommunism lives on – uncritical support for the Cuban regime and people like Chavez, castigation of ‘ultra-Leftists’ (sic) (and the use of that language, e.g. ‘Trotskyites’) and always seeing a hope in progressive member of the ruling class, clergy, even the armed forces – then it was trendy Church of England vicars, now it is Respect with its embrace of the different demands of the Islamic bourgeoisie.

    But I can’t think of anyone – even the most right wing types from the Eurocommunists who joined the prominent right split from Labour in the early 80s, the SDP – who would have given a moment of praise to strike-breaker, executioner and all round imperialist thug, Churchill.

    Newman is really on a journey from the socialism of the SWP to who knows where. I read today some stuff from Frank Furedi, whose 80s/90s party in Britain, the RCP, was the epitome of ultraleftism (‘the unions are dead’) but who then correctly supported the Irish national liberation struggle, Today he was claiming that an over observance of a health and safety culture was hampering the British war effort in Afghanistan. That’s quite a trek but I think Newman can make it too.

    Churchill is really a forgotten figure, even amongst the British right (Bush II had his bust in his office; no British Tory PM ever has done such). But then, as Newman recently spent time attacking complaints about the looming deportation of British hacker of US military files, Gary McKinnon (whilst making some good points about his clever PR and the anti-American basis of some of it), Newman is prone to seeing just how far right he can go – his support for the deportation puts him a minority of about one in the British Left.

    And on Indian Independence, one of the most fervent opponents of Indian independence was – Winston Churchill.

    That event didn’t first come dispensed by the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten in 1947. It had happened momentarily before a few times, such as a few years before, during WW2, in a small area, by the force of the Indian National Army under Bose who liberated a small part of India but who were then pushed back.

    Now this was an army under Japanese support, but who knows what could have been the possibilities of Indians, throughout the sub-continent taking liberation and then dealing with their anyone who wanted to occupy their country rather than being heft in two by the departing imperialists.

    Newman, like the CPI, supported the Allied war effort. I don’t see much difference between life under a possible Japanese yoke and the existing reality of death and deprivation under the British, such as in their Bengal famine that killed millions. Lefts don’t. Rights do.

    Comment by Southpawpunch — September 11, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

  29. Jenny: But what about when Germany bombed Britain? How should they have responded?

    This is a question that falls into the category of shutting the barn door after the horse has fled. By 1940, it was impossible to prevent war. One of the ridiculous aspects to all this crypto-Stalinist bashing of the Trotskyists is how besides the point it is, as if 200 or so people in Britain could have persuaded the working class to not fight against Hitler. The die was cast years earlier with the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, the suicidal policies followed by Stalin in the aftermath of the non-aggression pact with Hitler, the failure of the French Popular Front, and the general fecklessness of Communist Parties throughout Europe. Once all the genuine obstacles to war had been removed (ie., working class revolt), the path was clear for a blood-letting that would make WWI look like a picnic by comparison.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 11, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

  30. Re: No. 26, “If (the left) became more ”Marxist Today-ish” that would be a big improvement.” In the US it already has become more “Marxist Today-ish,” partially due to the legacy of Stalinist Pop-Front politics like “lesser-evilism.” The result is that there are no large-scale, or any size scale, for that matter, mobilizations against Obama’s wars, his bailing out the banks or even in favor of genuine national health care. The advocates of such “realistic” politics, like the CPUSA and its even more reformist clone, the COC, are just as much a “collection of sects on the margins of politics” as the straw men of the “ultraleft” that this Stalinist apologist tilts at.

    As for “ultraleft,” how much more ultraleft can you get than the Stalinist stupidity of the “Third Period,” when Uncle Joe’s use of “social-fascism” provided an excuse to avoid a united front with the SPD against the Nazis, ensuring that Hitler came to power in the first place. And let’s not forget how that brilliant statesman Stalin refused to listen to endless warnings from Soviet intelligence agents (and defecting German soldiers) about the impending Nazi invasion in 1941.

    Comment by MN Roy — September 11, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

  31. I should point out that Newman was gung-ho for Obama in February:

    http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=3551

    That’s the first time I had any inkling the guy was some kind of reformist.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 11, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

  32. Louis, you were the one who said that the British shouldn’t have gone after Germany, hence my question of what you think the ideal method was.

    Comment by Jenny — September 11, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

  33. RE #26,

    And I am a “Stalinist” because …? And what does my point about WW2 and the fetishization of the history surrounding 1917 have to do with supporting obama or the CPUSA? This is why so many on the active left cannot rationally discuss specifics, and instead end up hurling rehearsed invective and phraseology at each other.

    As for Marxism Today, though it ended badly, it did at least engage in Lenin’s “concrete analysis of the concrete situation”, which can’t be said for some of comments of WW2 here.

    Comment by Max — September 12, 2009 @ 12:10 am

  34. Louis, you were the one who said that the British shouldn’t have gone after Germany, hence my question of what you think the ideal method was.

    Let me try to make this as clear as possible. Given the insignificant size of Marxism in 1940, any opposition to WWII had to be propagandistic in nature. The Militant newspaper wrote articles opposing the war but was incapable of mobilizing mass actions against a war. The only group on the left capable of such a thing was the CP but it was totally for a war. Even though the Marxist critique of the war was hardly likely to have an effect on its outcome, the ruling class and the CP was determined to put a gag on the mouth of the Marxist opposition. Along with the SWP, there were small bands of pacifists and anarchists who opposed WWII and went to prison for their efforts. I consider these people the true heirs of Eugene V. Debs, not the disgusting social patriots of the CPUSA who backed putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps. One of these pacifists was Dave Dellinger who went on to become a prominent antiwar leader in the 60s. For my money, the leftists who opposed WWII should be commemorated today, not the blood-soaked imperialist Churchill.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2009 @ 12:32 am

  35. Okay,but Stalin and the allies(except for America and okay, fine, Churchill) were in favor of fighting Hitler because he intended(and did) to invade their countries. I’m sorry, but while Churchill was a hypocritical bastard, they didn’t have any other options. And you still didn’t answer my question on how you think Europe should’ve dealth with the holocaust and Hitler.

    Comment by Jenny — September 12, 2009 @ 1:48 am

  36. “…how you think Europe should’ve dealt with the holocaust and Hitler”

    There is no singular entity called “Europe” who’s actions can be debated over. For a marxist, the workers of “Europe” should have risen and overthrown the bosses of “Europe” thus preventing WW2 and the holocaust. Historical events and the issue of options etc have to be examined through the prism of class unless you want to enter the mindfield of “our bosses/ruling class are nicer than yours so we support them against yours, hope you don’t hold it against us… “etc. ad nauseam

    I know this is being expressed crudely but I hope you see the drift and understand why your question as framed can’t be answered to your satisfaction in your terms by marxists.

    Comment by belgish — September 12, 2009 @ 2:04 am

  37. Thank you Belgish. In retrospect, I personally don’t think the ideal situation would be entirely possible, but thanks for explaining it in a non condescending manner.

    Comment by Jenny — September 12, 2009 @ 4:02 am

  38. Now that I think of it, there were Jewish people and Germans who resisted the nazis too such as the Jewish partisans and German resitance (White Rose,etc). I’m not sure how far reaching they could go however.

    Comment by Jenny — September 12, 2009 @ 4:08 am

  39. Jenny I can also heartily recommend, as mentioned, above Ernest Mandel’s book “The Meaning of the Second World War”. His credentials to discuss the manyfold nature of the war and what the marxist response should be to the different wars going on, are particularly impressive to me: trotskyist, jew and partisan who fought against the nazi occupiers of Belgium and was captured by them and placed in a prison camp. He was able to escape his first capture by treating his guards as workers first and eliciting sympathy and comradeship from them to an extent ie. he thought and acted in class terms.

    Comment by belgish — September 12, 2009 @ 5:09 am

  40. “He was able to escape his first capture by treating his guards as workers first and eliciting sympathy and comradeship from them to an extent ie. he thought and acted in class terms”.No as Jam Willem Stutje’s recent biography shows, his family bribed some of the guards to let him escape during a transportation. During the occupation by the Nazis it was wrong to treat the German soldiers as workers who will unite with the local working class in a joint struggle against the bosses. Some trotskyites had that line here in Greece and the the resistance to be totally controlled by the stalinists.

    Comment by Jim — September 12, 2009 @ 8:14 am

  41. To go back to the original post … Louis, your speculation on Andy N’s motives in relation to SWP, British chauvinism, etc, is quite unnecessary. The class-collaborationist celebration of Britain’s “finest hour” etc is a standard part of “official communist” politics in Britain (Morning Star/ CPB). Andy has been moving in the direction of “official communism” and the Morning Star for some years now and it is apparent in many posts on the SU blog . A relatively early one is this 2007 piece of nostalgia for Stalinism: http://www.socialistunity.com/?s=shmakov.

    Comment by Mike Macnair — September 12, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  42. Jim is correct, I had mixed up Mandel’s experience from his second captivity. Here’s what he says about that from the biography cited (pg.40):

    “But through political behaviour… I could immediately establish good relations with some of the guards. I did not behave like most … prisoners who were very anti-German. I deliberately looked for politically sympathetic warders. That was the intelligent thing to do even from the point of view of self-preservation.”

    Comment by belgish — September 12, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  43. But I have a feeling that Jim was trying to say that Mandel was a liar. In fact, he was captured twice. The first time he was ransomed, the second time he relied on the assistance of jailers who were open to a class appeal. Those are the facts.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  44. “But I have a feeling that Jim was trying to say that Mandel was a liar”. No nothing like this, I have a lot of respect for the man. I was just pointing out that you could not treat German soldiers as fellow workers whom you could win to a common anticapitalist struggle instead of engaging in an armed resistance. Some trotskyites made that mistake in Greece during the occupation but the international disagreed with them and Mandel of course.

    Comment by Jim — September 12, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  45. Whatever. Just as long as we understand that the second incident did rely on assistance from class-conscious enemy soldiers.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  46. Louis’ comment number 29 was completely right.

    I also applaud his mention of the Bengali famine.

    Comment by Bhaskar — September 13, 2009 @ 3:27 am

  47. The first “revisionist” literature on the US role in WWII in the popular culture was actually Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch 22.”

    Heller, who like Zinn was also a WWII bomber pilot, was essentially the character Yossarian in the book and movie.

    When people wonder why it’s so hard to achieve unity on the left one of the the answers is because it’s impossible for the left to be truly progressive if it’s full of people who imagine that WWII was a “good war.”

    It’s hard to imagine that Hitchen’s actually came from the only organized socialist movement that correctly opposed WWII?

    Jenny in particular should appreciate what great lengths and patience Louis has excersized in explaining why WWII was NOT a good war and was not to be supported by progressives under any circumstance, either here or in Britain. It’s a pretty simple concept really. When the exploiters of workers fight a war how can it ever be in the interests of workers to fight for their exploiters? (One could say the same thing about a socialist voting for Obama but that’s another topic.)

    If not Mandel or Cannon then you really should try reading some of what Trotksy actually wrote about WWII. About how he predicted it; about approximately when it would start; about the terrible new weaponry & bloodletting it would unleash, and about how, short of revolution, the only outcome would be, and I paraphrase here, “the total domination of the World by Uncle Sam.” These predictions, written around 1937, are stunning from a sociological standpoint, particularly since the hallmark of science is predictive success. That way maybe some of your posts won’t sound like somebody who got their entire political education from Time magazine — which tends brings out the condescention of some repliers.

    Written a couple years before capitalist restoration in the USSR, in his 1989 book “Perestroika: A Marxist Crtique” Sam Marcy put not only WWII & Churchill’s perfidous role in it into proper perspective but also, in the same context, penetrated the class character of the USSR, an important subject which also hopelessly divides the left to this day and thus is worth revisiting:

    “The Gorbachev reforms rely so much on capitalist market mechanisms to stimulate the economy of the USSR that all this has inevitably raised once again the question of how to understand the social character of the Soviet Union. This is a subject that has preoccupied both friend and foe of the Russian Revolution, and has provoked commentary from the pedantic to the inane both inside and outside the USSR.”

    “There have been at least three schools of thought on this question. Take, for instance, one of the earliest stalwarts, Winston Churchill, the illustrious prime minister of the British empire. No ivory-tower think-tank analyst was he. Churchill’s claim to fame as a political analyst rested mainly on his career as a cunning practitioner of the art of imperialist diplomacy. His analyses are given far more weight in bourgeois circles than those of any professor precisely because he seemed to combine both theory and practice. During the Second World War in particular, every word he uttered in public seemed to the bourgeoisie like so many pearls of wisdom. Even before the war, when some imperialists looked askance at his advocacy of “collective security” among the great powers, that is, an anti-fascist coalition against Germany and Italy that included the Soviet Union, his views were generally considered profound.”

    “Bearing all this in mind, what are we to make of Churchill’s October 1939 speech in which he described the Soviet Union as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’? What was he trying to say about the USSR, and what was there in the given historical context that infused it with supreme importance?”

    “An enigma, a riddle, a mystery. Roget’s Thesaurus tells us that these three terms are used fairly synonymously. Any one would well serve the purpose. What was Churchill trying to do by putting all three together without further explanation? Were this said by anybody else, it would have been regarded as tautological rubbish, lacking any glimmer of a sociological appraisal of the USSR. Indeed, what we have here is a bourgeois statesman squirming and attempting to exude profundity, but offering no clue as to the social character of the USSR.”

    “At the time of his speech, Churchill had accumulated nearly 40 years of experience in imperialist diplomacy, 20 of them in venomous struggle against the Soviet Union. As British secretary of state for war and air (1919-1921), he had organized a coalition of 14 capitalist countries to invade the Soviet Union and try to overthrow the Bolshevik government.”

    “To understand Churchill’s statement, one has to remember its historical context. For several years Britain, France and the United States had promoted the concept of collective security with the USSR against the Axis powers. Indeed, the Soviet Union was the leading and original proponent of this strategy. It had so vigorously promoted the concept of collective security against fascism that it would seem the policy was carved in granite. It was beginning to be regarded as a permanent feature of Soviet diplomacy.”

    “Thus, when the Conservative Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain, and Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, a bourgeois Radical Socialist representing France, decided to make a pact with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich in late September 1938, it seemed that the USSR had no choice but to accept it. By this diplomatic maneuver, Chamberlain and Daladier hoped to direct the aggressive thrust of Nazi Germany to the East, that is, into an attack on the Soviet Union, thus gaining breathing time for themselves. But the Soviet Union needed the breathing space for itself, and was less solicitous of its erstwhile democratic allies than had been expected. And so on August 22, 1939, the Soviet Union turned around and itself signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in order to gain time–essentially what the imperialist allies had wanted themselves. Ten days later World War II began. All of this is vitally important in understanding Churchill’s tautological nonsense in the face of an enormous international development.”

    “But while Churchill’s analysis was faulty at best, his class attitude, his class loyalty, and that of all the imperialist politicians was unambiguous. It was mortal hatred of the Soviet Union and all the revolutionary movements, as well as of the working class at home and the hundreds of millions of oppressed who suffered the yoke of colonialism. He and his class unfailingly knew which side they were on. He showed it very clearly when as chancellor of the exchequer (1924-1929) he lowered the workers’ standard of living, and then, when the trade unions responded with the first and only great general strike in Britain in 1926, his rabid editorials in the British Gazette led the government assault that broke the strike.”

    “While it might have been difficult for Churchill to arrive at a sociological appraisal, that never prevented him from taking a class position on the Soviet Union, on the British general strike, and above all on British colonialism. The bourgeoisie always know where they stand when it comes to the practical, day-to-day struggle. Their class bias in relationship to the socialist countries is merely an extension in foreign affairs of their position in the domain of domestic politics.”

    “In the U.S., this can be seen without fail whenever there is a strike. There hasn’t been one instance where the capitalist class, as represented by its press, has ever taken the side of the workers against the bosses, or urged the bosses to agree to the demands of the workers. Literally not one. Occasionally they profess a treacherous neutrality, urging moderation on both sides, or they will criticize a particular company at a particular time, but never do they cross class lines, never do they go to the extent of actually supporting the workers against the bosses. The only strikes they have ever supported have been in Poland, and then they did it to weaken socialist construction, not to help the workers.”

    “There is a second school of thought on the character of the Soviet state that goes by various names, but is best known as “bureaucratic collectivism,” a term that originated among some adherents to the broad leftist opposition to Stalin, notably Bruno Rizzi and Ciliga, and was eventually taken up in the U.S. by Max Shachtman. According to this view, the political power of the government, Party and managerial bureaucracy completely pervaded all avenues of Soviet society, allowing no movement in the direction of socialist democracy. The bureaucracy as they saw it had become a new ruling class in relation to the means of production. The followers of this view saw in the victories of the Chinese Revolution and others that followed merely confirmation of the tendency for bureaucratic collectivism to ultimately cover the face of the globe.”

    “This political tendency began to disintegrate when the imperialist Allies adopted a posture of goodwill toward the USSR during World War II. However, once the Cold War began it was revived in the works of the Yugoslav ex-communist, Milovan Djilas, who wrote The New Class.”

    “The recent trends in the direction of democratization in the USSR, even though limited as yet and without the independent participation of the working class in the political struggle, certainly invalidate the bureaucratic collectivist view. The prospect for proceeding to genuine proletarian democracy seems far more probable than any backsliding toward what the proponents of bureaucratic collectivism envisioned.”

    “Bureaucratic collectivism saw as fundamental to the Soviet system those elements that in fact are part of the superstructure. Superstructural elements may in a given situation bolster or hamper the structure, as the case may be, but they are strictly derivative in character. Sometimes they serve as palliatives for reviving a decomposing social structure. At other times, they may be encrustations which paralyze a live and growing structure. In a broad and general way, history indicates that ultimately every new social structure which arises out of the needs of development of the productive forces will in time bring into correspondence its superstructure, or, failing that, will overthrow it.”

    “Finally there is the Orwellian school, which contemplated a future in which humanity would be swallowed up by a totalitarian machine from which there can be no exit. George Orwell’s first satirical novel on this subject, Animal Farm, was written in 1946, the year of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech and the beginning of the Cold War. His gloomy outlook projecting a universal totalitarian regime was taken further in 1984, written in 1948. It was taken up as the portrait of the future by writers, politicians and bourgeois publicists of all sorts, as well as economists and sociologists. Now, 40 years later, when all the capitalist media have been full of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings, followed by the Bush-Gorbachev meetings, and have been showering applause on the new hero of peaceful coexistence, one can clearly see that the Orwellian view was a product of the Cold War and had little to do with the evolution of the USSR or an appraisal of its internal dynamics.”

    “Today these views have generally been replaced by a new bourgeois theory that the USSR will inevitably yield to capitalist restoration. This outlook is a product of the present historical conjuncture just as much as the Orwellian view was a product of the Cold War period. Neither is an independent, dispassionate conclusion based upon a study of the internal dynamics of the Soviet Union as a new historical social formation. The current view of the USSR is being pushed by bourgeois economists and sociologists with a vigor and enthusiasm comparable to the critical acclaim accorded the Orwellian view during the period of the Cold War.”

    “By now there have been scores of bourgeois studies of the Soviet reforms. Some give them high praise. Some may profess to show their shortcomings, but all, without exception, start with the built-in bias that a centralized, planned economy is invalid, economically inefficient and unworkable. Therefore, a return to the capitalist market is not only desirable but inevitable. Without this sacred predisposition, no analysis of the Soviet reforms is acceptable to the capitalist class. There are no studies whatsoever from the bourgeois side to show that a planned socialist economy is ever possible or desirable. Such a viewpoint must first be excluded before beginning any kind of analysis. This is true for all the “Sovietologists”–the Gerry Houghs, the Marshall Goldmans, the Ed Hewetts and other analysts of their ilk in capitalist academia.”

    “The way the capitalist class explains the Gorbachev reforms, they are all but carved in stone. It would seem there’s no road open except to move further and faster until the full restoration of capitalism. This we believe to be wholly unfounded, both on the basis of historical evidence as well as on the inherent possibilities for a socialist regeneration which flow from the class structure of the Soviet Union.”

    “The problem with so many bourgeois analysts of the Soviet Union is their utter inability to really and truly come to grips with the social character of the USSR as a brand-new, dynamic social system. Invariably they view it mechanically, often statically, but not dialectically. Lenin explained “the essence of dialectics” as “the splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts.” What the bourgeois analysts fail to see in the USSR is precisely this contradiction, between the revolutionary social structure of the USSR and its superstructure, which is all too frequently at variance with its class basis. There is a continuing struggle between structure and superstructure, now open, now hidden, often violent….”

    “The Soviet Union is a contradictory social phenomenon. An attempt to unravel it would show that this phenomenon has a revolutionary class structure, in that it overthrew the landlords, bankers and industrialists, but has had a superstructure, for most of the time the USSR has existed, which is relatively at variance with its class structure. The still fragile class structure is vulnerable in the face of the global capitalist economy.”

    “In bourgeois society, the governing groups can change many times, from monarchists to fascists, from democrats to military dictators, but because the capitalist system is based upon the automatic forces of the capitalist market and private property, the system continues with its superprofits and with its poverty. The fact that one clique of administrators is ousted and another takes its place may somewhat retard capitalist development at one time or accelerate it at another, but the system continues under the domination of the same ruling class. For instance, when Donald Regan, a multi-millionaire from Wall Street, was forced to resign his post as Ronald Reagan’s White House chief of staff, he did not thereby cease to be a capitalist and owner of millions of dollars in cash, stocks and bonds. He did not lose his membership in the capitalist class, he merely lost his office in the governing group. Needless to say, the same was true of Nelson Rockefeller after his tenure as vice president.”

    “It is otherwise with the Soviet government. From the point of view of administration, the Soviet state is in the hands of a vast bureaucracy. But the ownership of the means of production, meaning the bulk of the wealth of the country including its natural resources, is legally and unambiguously in the hands of the people–the working class, who make up the overwhelming majority of the population. Those in the governing group are merely the administrators of the state and state property. If Politburo members Gorbachev, Ligachev or Yakovlev were to lose their posts, they would not take with them the departments or ministries they headed. They have pensions due and even may have accumulated personal funds, but they do not own a part of the state as such. The ownership of the means of production in the hands of the working class is truly the most significant sociological factor in the appraisal of the USSR as a workers’ state, or socialist state as it is called in deference to the aspirations of the people.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 13, 2009 @ 6:18 am

  48. Karl, what’s your point with Sam Marcy’s incredibly long quote.I looked into the Stalin/Hitler relationship more and turns out they shared more than the non-agression pact, they both supported the invasion of Poland. He doesn’t seem to touch on that as Louis does.

    Comment by Jenny — September 13, 2009 @ 8:41 am

  49. Karl that’s a very interesting summation of the various explanations of the USSR, placed neatly into their historical context. Ta.

    Jenny, I’ve looked into the Churchill\Hitler relationship and it turns out they share more than just hatred for Jews – it seems they both supported the invasion of the Soviet Union.

    Comment by Jocelin H — September 13, 2009 @ 11:58 am

  50. There was a TV programme about Churchill some years back. He was making a public speech for the 1945 general election, He was roundly booed by soldiers and workers. That’s what the working class thought of him. They also in their millions voted for a Labour government with the Tories suffering a huge defeat.
    The support for Churchill during the war by present day socialists owes more to Stalinist and social democratic histography, which infects the left in one way or another, particularly over war and Empire.
    For example, the recent mass protests outside the UK parliament over the attack on the Tamils was hardly mentioned either in the press or the labour movement. Why? Because in part the legacy of the Stalinism and its attitude towards empire.
    There is little of an independent Marxist history or theory in the UK. British empiricism means that such concerns are usually rubbished in favour of “doing things”. The UK is a country where a phrase such as “in theory it should work” actually means it won’t work because of the disdain for theory. Where the left did involve itself in theory or history it was often dominated by Stalinism such as the idea of the second world war as a people’s war and racist, anti-working class figures (he was the first minister to use troops on strikers) such as Churchill are elevated to popular heroes.

    Comment by keefer — September 13, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  51. Jenny. Although you apparently didn’t read it, the reason for that admittedly long quote was primarily for your benefit because it addresses, in layperson’s terms, many questions you’ve struggled with on this forum, namely, why Churchill was a terrible, racist prick, as well as both the class character of the USSR & WWII. Moreover, it does indeed “touch” on the Hitler/Stalin pact, and quite deftly at that:

    “Thus, when the Conservative Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain, and Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, a bourgeois Radical Socialist representing France, decided to make a pact with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich in late September 1938, it seemed that the USSR had no choice but to accept it. By this diplomatic maneuver, Chamberlain and Daladier hoped to direct the aggressive thrust of Nazi Germany to the East, that is, into an attack on the Soviet Union, thus gaining breathing time for themselves. But the Soviet Union needed the breathing space for itself, and was less solicitous of its erstwhile democratic allies than had been expected. And so on August 22, 1939, the Soviet Union turned around and itself signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in order to gain time–essentially what the imperialist allies had wanted themselves. Ten days later World War II began. All of this is vitally important in understanding Churchill’s tautological nonsense in the face of an enormous international development.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 13, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

  52. Jenny. My apologies insofar as after re-reading I realized your question was not so much about the Hitler/Stalin pact in general but specifically why the 2 leaders seemed to relish splitting up Poland. The short answer is that Stalin, in one of the greatest tactical blunders in modern warfare, completely underestimated the true aims of Hitler and imagined that appeasing Hitler in Poland would, as Marcy said, provide breathing space for the USSR. As Trotsky argued, the abject treachery & profound incompetence of Stalin during this period was enormous. In the end the Red Army defeated the Nazis not because of Stalin but despite him, owing primarily to its unique new social structure based on socialized rather than private property. When it came to invasions, however, nobody relished the invasion of the USSR more than Churchill & FDR, both of whom also relished the invasion of Poland as the precursor to operation Barbarossa, which the blundering Stalin didn’t anticipate.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 13, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

  53. Jenny—

    Even the Stalin-Hitler pact has to be put into some type of historical context. Yes it was the ultimate betrayal of the working class and communist values, but quite simply after the allies had caved to Hitler over and over again, Stalin was right to assume that if Hitler asked for one final piece of old Germany back– he would get it and it would be a direct threat to the Soviet Union. He preempted this by making the deal with Hitler himself and attempting to regain some of the land loss during the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

    He naively assumed that Hitler was just a run of the mill bourgeois nationalist.

    ****

    Yes once Hitler had country of Europe and was bombing England, invading the USSR, the Comintern’s policy made more sense than a defeatist one. But that doesn’t mean that the war should be glorified in the ways some of the center-left do and that doesn’t mean Churchill, FDR and Stalin won the battle against fascism, but it was bourgeois and Stalinist leadership that opened the door for fascism to take root.

    Comment by Bhaskar — September 13, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

  54. In 1945 Labor beat Churchill & the Tories in the General Election. He wasn’t as popular in GB then as some revisionist historians claim.

    Comment by m.c. — September 13, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  55. Harrow has a reputation among the top tier public schools as a backup for the thick kids of the rich to Eton. Eton taking the smartest/cleverist of the rich. Academically, Winchester the oldest Public School & Rugby are probably better and have taken a slightly more pluralistic socio-economic mix.

    Comment by m.c. — September 13, 2009 @ 8:30 pm

  56. Thanks Bhaskar.

    Comment by Jenny — September 13, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  57. I note above this comment:

    “When Andy says, “I was an active member of the SWP from 1978 to 1981 and from 1986 to 2004″, what he means is that he had dropped out of the party by about 1996, but then came back of sorts when he saw a factional row brewing in – and about – the Socialist Alliance.”

    I didn’t drop out of the SWP in 1996, I moved to swindon! and therefore had too adjust to the rather different political circumstances of a smal industrial town. We then made a sucess of the Socialist Allaince in our town, because that model of politics made sense, whereas the propgandist routine of the SWP didn’t. And I was invited by the SWP to go on the national executive as they saw me as both credible within the Socialist SAlaince – as someone who had done the work – and reliable as a long term member.

    So subsequent attempts to rewrite history and make out I am someone interested in or motivated by faction fights are just part of the whispering campaign of lies that the SWP deploys about it ex-members.

    Comment by andy newman — September 14, 2009 @ 12:06 am

  58. No problem, rereading my comment it’s hard to see how you managed to find my message in the middle of all those typos.

    Comment by Bhaskar — September 14, 2009 @ 3:36 am

  59. Great post and discussion. It puts all the recent anti-anti-fascist bleating on lenin’s blog (eg. if you’re an anti-fascist then you must also like WWII because that was an “anti-fascist war”) in context – ie. against Alex Newman/SU’s somewhat wrong-headed approach to WWII.

    I’m going to have to get that Human Smoke book too now.

    Comment by Chris T — September 14, 2009 @ 7:19 am

  60. I honestly can’t believe that Winston Churchill was ever a friend of the working class. Come on!

    Comment by Chris T — September 14, 2009 @ 7:20 am

  61. recent anti-anti-fascist bleating on lenin’s blog

    by the certain commenters, I should add.

    Comment by Chris T — September 14, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  62. Winston Churchill, winner of the BBC’s ‘Great Britons’ poll, is best remembered for the recordings of his wartime speeches – especially the ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ speech of 4 June 1940 and the ‘Their finest hour’ speech of 18 June 1940.

    But Churchill never made those recordings. Norman Shelley did – a radio actor who played Colonel Danby in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers and who died in 1980 (1). At the time the speeches were recorded, Churchill, a stammerer who spoke off the cuff and full of Dutch courage, could not reproduce his Commons performances in front of a microphone.

    In our inoffensive times, where politicians can lose their jobs by saying the ‘wrong thing’, what is it about Churchill that is considered so great? Maybe we should let Churchill speak for himself, without Colonel Danby’s help….

    On Bolshevism:
    For Churchill, the Soviet Union was a ‘tyrannic government of these Jew Commisars’, a ‘worldwide communistic state under Jewish domination’, ‘the international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew’, or just ‘these Semitic conspirators’. (2)

    On race:
    Churchill said ‘the Indians in East Africa are mainly of a very low class of coolies, and the idea that they should be put on an equality with the Europeans is revolting to every white man throughout British Africa’ (3).
    In February 1954, he told the cabinet ‘the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people’ (4). In 1950, he proposed the Conservative Party should adopt the slogan ‘rights for whites’.

    On force-feeding hunger-striking suffragettes:
    It was ‘not a medical question’, said Churchill. ‘It is a question of policy.’ (5)

    On Irish independence:
    According to Churchill, the struggle for Irish independence from Britain was part of ‘a worldwide conspiracy against our country’ by ‘the rascals and rapscallions of the world who are on the move against us’ (6). Organising Orangemen in June 1922, Churchill said: ‘When we begin to act we must act like a sledgehammer, so as to cause bewilderment and consternation among the people of southern Ireland.’ (7)

    On Hitler’s coming to power:
    ‘The story of that struggle, cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy conciliate or overcome, all the authority of resistances which barred his path’, said Churchill (8).
    Asked about Germany’s anti-Jewish laws in 1938, Churchill thought ‘it was a hindrance and an irritation, but probably not an obstacle to a working agreement’. (9) In 1937, Brigadier Packenham Walsh reported that ‘Winston says at heart he is for Franco’ (10).

    (1) Observer, 29 October 2000

    (2) Churchill, Clive Ponting, Sinclair Stevenson, 1994, p230

    (3) Ibid., p260

    (4) Ibid., p760

    (5) Ibid., p106

    (6) Ibid., p245

    (7) Ibid., p264

    (8) Ibid., p393

    (9) Ibid., p394

    (10) Ibid., p390

    Comment by James Heartfield — September 14, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

  63. Given the insignificant size of Marxism in 1940, any opposition to WWII had to be propagandistic in nature.”

    Exactly.
    By 1940 an “anti-war” position wouldn’t have received mass support.
    So it was no longer a viable position.

    In the USA, it risked blurring the positions of the Left with the Isolationists, another imperialist faction.
    In Britain it risked blurring them with the ruling-class defeatists – the future British Quislings and Petains.
    Even Pacifists were thinner on the ground than during the First World War.
    By 1941, organisations with an “anti-war” line had either changed their position, or lost influence.
    The question had become, in the interests of which class would the war end?

    The former ILP member Herbert Morrison, grandfather of current New Labour mandarin Peter Mandleson.
    was a conscientious objector in WW1.
    By WW2 he’d rejoined Labour and was coopted into Churchill’s wartime Coalition.
    First as Minister of Supply and later, as Home Secretary

    In the 1945 election, Labour defeated Churchill’s Tories with a big majority.
    Morrison brought in legislation that Nationalised a wide swathe of industries and created a free National Health Service.
    But by allying with Churchill, the Labour bureaucrats had also shown they could be entrusted with British Imperial interests.
    Morrison supported the 1953 overthrow of Mossadeq’s reformist government in Iran.
    Most of the reforms he achieved in Britain proved to be reversible.
    Ironically, his grandson was one of the main architects of “New Labour”

    The resemblance between them is getting rather spooky:


    Comment by prianikoff — September 14, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  64. Interestingly, it seems Andy Newham has taken down the comments I left on his post on Saturday, without either notice or explenation.

    Comment by Martin Wisse — September 14, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

  65. Interestingly, it seems Andy Newham has taken down the comments I left on his post on Saturday, without either notice or explenation.

    I can’t blame him. They were devastating:

    http://cloggie.org/wissewords2/2009/09/12/dudefight-or-what-do-the-bengalis-matter/

    Comment by louisproyect — September 14, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

  66. “Devastating… ”

    Then I guess we can’t blame Proyect either – for deleting my posts here documenting his organization’s support for U.S. imperialism against the USSR during the 1980s.

    Comment by Red Cloud — September 17, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  67. Red Cloud, I quit the SWP in 1979. I have no idea why you would connect me to the SWP in the 1980s. Furthermore, if you want to engage in a fight with the SWP, I suggest that you picket their offices wherever they are nowadays. I can lend you some crayons for your sign. Please do not eat them since they are not good for your health.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

  68. […] Winston Churchill Tags: My+Well+of+Wealth, Peter+Baptiste, Michelle+LaTouche, https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/winston-churchill-nostalgia/ Social Bookmarking Name : Mail : Website : Message : […]

    Pingback by “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” | My Well of Wealth Quotes — September 20, 2009 @ 11:31 pm

  69. “And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.””

    But put in context, the meaning changes completely:

    “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that. Hard fortune when you have deserted your family, repudiated your race, spat upon the religion of your father… to be balked of so great a prize [leadership of Soviet Russia] for so narrow-minded a reason.”

    It seems Churchill was chastising the Russian Communists for their anti-Jewish racism. Just an observation.

    Comment by WrathOfPiglet — October 23, 2009 @ 12:31 am

  70. “Repudiated your race”? That’s hardly an endorsement of Churchill’s wisdom.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 23, 2009 @ 12:34 am

  71. Regarding “just an observation” above. Of all the considerable amount I’ve read over the years about Trotsky’s role in the Russian Revolution and loss of power after it I’ve surprisingly never read he was resented as a Jew until this quote of Churchill’s. Maybe I’ve forgotten some examples in the “Trilogy”? I say “surprisingly” because I always anticipated that explanation given the historic anti-semitism of Russian Chauvinism and pogroms under Czarism, etc.

    Perhaps it’s not been a thoroughly vetted subject (Lou’d know more) insofar as historically there’s been an exceptinally large proportion of Jewish workers and intellectuals attracted to Marxist movements, so just perhaps the subject was avoided? As an an interesting aside I’d wager if you were to poll them, Jews are also historically the most atheistic of all the races — my guess is because serial pogroms tend to lead peoples’ collective wisdom toward secular conclusions.

    The point is as a sociologist I’d also wager that anti-semitism was probably a “factor” in the fate of old Trotsky but hardly a decisive one. While class & race are, I’ll concede, inextricably intertwined, in the last analysis class forces trump all.

    As far as Lou’s last comment on Churchills wisdom or lack thereof, I wish Louis would elaborate more on that point. I get it but am confused at the same time and wish that terse reply were expanded.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 23, 2009 @ 1:22 am

  72. Indeed, Louis, and you have described Churchill’s other prejudices – I had merely noticed the full quote on another website and realised the one posted here is a little misleading.

    I watched Nick Griffin of the BNP on “Question Time” last night arguing that Churchill would be a BNP member were he around today. People were outraged, pointing to his war against racist Nazism, but Griffin might actually have a point. Churchill’s views sit uncomfortably with any mainstream British parties.

    To me it shows how quickly values change in a culture. In just one or two generations society can shift radically; Churchill’s casual bigotry today seems jarring and out of date. Interesting!

    Comment by WrathOfPiglet — October 23, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  73. Actually, Churchill was not that much different from his “progressive” ally FDR:

    Roosevelt had few contacts with African Americans beyond the odd jobs done for an elderly widow while a student at Groton. The servants at the Hyde Park estate where he grew up were all English and Irish. When serving in the New York State Senate he scribbled a note in the margin of a speech to remind himself about a “story of a nigger.” Telling jokes about how some “darky” contracted venereal disease was a habit never outgrown. He used the word “nigger” casually in private conversation and correspondence, writing Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt of his trip to Jamaica and how “a drink of coconut water, procured by a naked nigger boy from the top of the tallest tree, did much to make us forget the dust.”

    full: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/fdr-and-african-americans/

    Comment by louisproyect — October 23, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

  74. […] https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/winston-churchill-nostalgia/ Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Leave a Comment […]

    Pingback by Banned from Socialist Unity « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 1, 2012 @ 1:38 pm


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