Politicians use the Second World War to justify imperialist interventions.
For David Cameron, the British and Allied governments fought a “battle against tyranny”, “just as our armed forces have served together in Afghanistan.”
It’s the only war that they can plausibly use in this way, because most people see it as an anti?fascist, not imperialist, war.
But it was an imperialist conflict between two power blocs. The Western Allies controlled half the globe and the Axis—Germany, Italy and Japan—wanted to replace their dominance.
As their troops overran countries often the old ruling classes fled or capitulated. The struggle against fascist occupation led to a “people’s war from below”.
My first book on the period, A People’s History of the Second World War, looked at when imperialist and people’s wars clashed.
Now, Fighting on All Fronts brings together ten writers to take up the story of popular resistance. The chapters range from Algeria to Slovakia and Australia to the Philippines.
In Europe resistance developed and in Asia liberation movements stepped up their fight.
These parallel wars clashed as the imperialists tried to assert their dominance when the tide turned against the fascists.
It blows apart the myth that the US only became a nasty imperialist power after the Second World War.
For example, Algeria in North Africa was a colony ruled by the French “Vichy” regime, which was collaborating with the Nazis.
Many Algerians had high hopes for independence. The US and Britain said they would “respect the rights of all peoples to choose their form of government” and “wish to see self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of it.”
But the war didn’t end in liberation—it ended in a brutal massacre of Algerians by French troops. Why did this happen?
The US invaded Algeria in 1942. Algerian resistance organisations fighting for national liberation helped the Allies by neutralising the colonial administration.
But, following a relatively bloodless conquest, the US restored the Vichy colonial administration and let it crack down on the resistance.
The US wanted a liberated France to be placed under a planned “Allied Military Government for the Occupied Territories”. It didn’t want to hand it to General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Army, let alone the Communist?led resistance movement.
The aim was to permanently anchor US power in Europe and stop the rise of left wing movements or governments.
This directly clashed with de Gaulle’s aims. So the US established relations with the Vichy regime, hoping it would switch sides so they could ditch de Gaulle.
These battles weren’t about fighting fascism but who would be in control of France.
Algerians demonstrated for independence, putting the official rhetoric of a “battle against tyranny” to the test. The French police moved in to crush their aspirations.
My book undercuts the idea that peace time processes stop when there’s a war—in fact they’re intensified.
The competition between capitalists is turned into bloody imperialist war. And the rulers’ struggle with the classes they exploit also continues.
Historian John Newsinger writes
All out for Palestine