Socialist Worker

Crushing the tide of left wing resistance

In the final column of our series Chris Bambery looks at how the ruling class imposed "order"

Issue No. 2062

Fighters in the Greek Elas resistance movement

Fighters in the Greek Elas resistance movement


All the contending powers feared the Second World War would end in revolution as the 1914-18 conflict had.

In much of occupied Europe the ruling class and big business had co-operated with the Nazis.

In 1943, 1944 and 1945 resistance movements began to mushroom in Europe. The Communist parties played a key role in these movements – having switched from opposing war with Germany when it was Russia’s ally, to urging resistance at all costs after Hitler’s invasion of Russia.

The ruling classes of Britain, the US and Russia treated the resistance movements with suspicion.

They wanted to ensure law and order was maintained and that governments would be formed which would act in their interests.

In Greece, British troops arrived after the Communist-led resistance had taken control. Virtually all Greeks wanted to see the back of the pro-fascist king. British prime minister Winston Churchill had other ideas.

He rearmed pro-fascist forces, sent in British troops and took on the resistance. The resistance would have won but Russian dictator Joseph Stalin told the Communists he had agreed Greece was to be in the Western camp and instructed them to submit.

In Vietnam, liberation forces fought the Japanese and took control in 1945. The British arrived, determined to restore French colonial rule, and rearmed Japanese forces to fight the resistance.

This paved the way for three decades of war before Vietnam was free.

In the Philippines, the US had urged the resistance to fight the Japanese but after victory allied with the rulers who had worked with the occupiers, sparking civil war.

In the Indian sub-continent, Britain relied on Indian troops to stop the Japanese advancing from Burma but used its own troops against the independence movement.

British imperial policy helped create a catastrophic famine in 1943. All of this made British colonial rule untenable.

The victorious powers relied on the Communist parties to block revolution and to help police a division of the world agreed between Churchill, US president Franklin D Roosevelt and Stalin in 1945.

In Italy, armed workers controlled Milan, Turin and Genoa with liberation committees running the cities. The Communists ordered control and weapons to be handed over when Allied forces eventually arrived.

They insisted revolution was not possible and the best that could be achieved was a liberal democracy in which the Communists would cooperate with the Christian Democrats. The latter ran Italy for over 40 years – becoming a byword for corruption – but loyal to the US.

The left wing tide swept Britain too. But there was no force that could carry the tide beyond parliamentary limits.

In 1940 Labour had backed Churchill. The Communists were anti-war until June 1941, following Stalin’s line. After Hitler’s invasion of Russia they opposed strikes, urging maximum production for the war effort.

In the absence of any effective lead from the left, people’s attitude was generally that “Hitler was a bastard and we needed a bastard to fight him – Churchill”. But once the war was won people voted Churchill out.

In the summer of 1945 Britain voted Labour in, with high hopes. Despite the creation of the NHS and free education those hopes were to remain largely disappointed.

Prior to his assassination in 1940, the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky argued that the war was an imperialist war. But he also said that popular anti-fascism could not be ignored.

In Britain in 1940 that meant arguing for resistance based on the arming of the population under democratic control, and complete suspicion of the ruling class and army officers.

It also required opposition to British colonialism and aid to the anti-fascist forces in Europe. In other words, developing the potential civil war against the old order that had appeased and aided Hitler.

But revolutionary forces were few. A revolutionary wave rose in 1944 and 1945 but it receded as the Communists and others insisted on compromise with the old order.

A division of the world was enforced with the US taking the lion’s share. In August 1945 it dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite knowing Japan was suing for peace.

Mass destruction was delivered as a warning to the US’s supposed ally, Russia. Thus the “American century” was born. We still live with its realities today.


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