“Ernie, when we have done this job for you, are we going back on the dole?”
An unknown British soldier embarking for D-Day, shouting after the then Minister of Labour, Ernest Bevin
The official celebration of the 60th anniversary of the British/US invasion of Hitler-controlled Europe was on Sunday 6 June.
As the number of Second World War veterans declines, the scale of the “celebrations” has increased. The 60th anniversary commemorations and next year’s VE Day (the end of the Second World War in Europe) “celebrations” will probably mark the last time a major celebration of the Allied victories in the Second World War will be celebrated with the veterans of the conflict present.
The majority of the old soldiers interviewed last weekend were patriots through and through. The media pushed the line you’d expect them to: everyone went to Normandy to fight for King and Country (and Empire). The feelings of the soldiers on D-Day were, of course, more complicated than that.
The war the British ruling class fought against Hitler was a war of empire, a war rooted in British capitalist rivalry with capitalist Germany. It was a war to defend and advance their interests.
But that was not the war the vast mass of the British people fought. Subjectively, they fought against Hitler and everything Hitler represented.
The Tories and prime minister Winston Churchill dressed up the interests of British capitalism in anti-fascist rhetoric; but millions of workers believed in fighting fascism, and trusted the Tories not much further than they would have trusted Hitler or his British spawn Oswald Mosley.
Harry Ratner, a wartime British Trotskyist and D-Day veteran, writing later in his memoirs, Reluctant Revolutionary, described how his comrades saw and felt about the war. Many remembered the bitter and hard times of the 1930s, were “hostile and distrustful of the Tory ruling class” but “accepted the fight for a better Britain would have to wait till after the war was won”.
The British working class fought for a new world when they fought Hitler, a world without the British capitalist savagery they had been living under when war broke out. The soldiers of the British army, those who landed on the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944 and those in Alexandria and Cairo who set up soldiers’ parliaments to discuss the post-war world they wanted to shape, left no doubt where they stood.
For millions of British workers, D-Day, 6 June 1944, was a step towards the day of reckoning for the Tories in 1945.
At the first chance they got, in the 1945 general election, British workers kicked the Tories out and put Labour in with a landslide victory. That was a vote for a revolutionary transformation in Britain.
The Labour government created the Welfare State and liberated India. But Labour had been in coalition with the Tories. It preserved capitalism. What it did was less, and less lasting, than the working-class voters wanted.
This newspaper belongs to the tradition of those who denounced the Second World War as an imperialist war on both sides. Our comrades fell victim to Nazi repression in Europe and, a few of them, to the qualitatively milder repression inflicted in British and US jails, for the stand they took on the war.
In Britain, our comrades told the working class that they could not rely on the Tory-led coalition government to uproot Hitlerism and all it stood for. They told the working class everywhere that unless capitalism was uprooted, fascism would rise again. They advocated a thoroughgoing social revolution. They continued to fight for that against the Labour government after 1945.
Victory for them would have been the best outcome of the Second World War for the working class and for all humanity. It did not happen. Capitalism survived. That being so, it is good that the crazy savagery of Nazism was put down, even by those who could not, because of their own capitalist nature, dig out the roots of fascism and racism.
We are proud of what our comrades on both sides did in that war, and we advocate now what they advocated then. End capitalism to end war!