Letter to the Editor
Britain did not need to be saved from Fascism by Churchill (Madawc Williams, Labour Affairs, July). It had suspended party-politics to deal with the economic collapse ten years earlier. What made the rise of Fascism possible—one might even say necessary—in Europe was to overcome the destructive effect that Capitalist v. Socialist party politics was having on public affairs when neither was capable of dominating. Churchill in debate with Robert Blatchford in 1920 wrote that the Parliamentary system could not function if the parties were Socialist in earnest versus Capitalist in earnest.
The flooding of Liberals into the Labour Party from the Liberal Party (which had wrecked itself by launching the First World War) helped to ensure that the Labour Party would not be Socialist in earnest. The danger that, nevertheless, the severity of the economic crisis would lead to the rise of class politics was warded off by the formation of a National Government by the Labour leadership, with national politics (i.e. all-party politics) to go with it.
National Government lasted until 1945. Neville Chamberlain played his part in it. He was not a social reactionary like Churchill, or an out-and-out Imperialist. He was the son of the social-reform Liberal who projected the establishment of a capitalist welfare state in Britain in the 1880s, who left the Liberal Party, which was laissez-faire capitalist, and joined the Tories, who were the party that imposed the first restraints on Capitalism. He shared his father’s social outlook.
Churchill could not have installed Fascism if he had wanted. The class antagonism had been adequately blunted by National Government. His refusal to negotiate a settlement of the War, which Britain had declared on Germany and had lost in France, had to do with his determination to maintain the full pretensions of the British Empire. Negotiation would not have destroyed the Empire. It would only have led to some loss of face. Hitler was not the only one who spoke of an Empire lasting a thousand years.
Churchill’s plan was that in the main, the continued war should be fought by others. The only others were the USA and the USSR. The USA was deaf to his appeals.
Hitler made war on Russia in order to deprive Britain of its other hope. If Russia was defeated, Britain would settle. But since the Russian Front did not break at the first encounter, as the Anglo-French Front did, the War became Russia’s war rather than Britain’s.
In the hope of bringing the USA in as a counter, Churchill backed an American Ultimatum to neutral Japan, which was tantamount to a surrender demand. Japan chose to fight, and, since Britain had aligned itself with the US, it made war on Britain too. And so it was Churchill who lost the Empire. But his status remained high because, as a literary man, he spun the mythology in which the British state has lived officially ever since.
He left it to Ernest Bevin—an Imperialist but also a Socialist engaged with working class power—to run domestic affairs during the War. Thus the foundations were laid for the welfare state that was established at the end of the War.
Letter To The Editor
Madawc Williams’ comments in the July-August issue on Churchill and WWII seem baffling:
“But if there were ever a popular vote on it, I’d let Churchill keep his statues. He could have created a much more formidable British Fascism in the 1930s than Oswald Mosley managed. He helped save democratic politics. As Prime Minister, he stopped the Tory majority in the House of Commons from making peace with Hitler after the Fall of France. Or do so if you find the notion of a 1940 peace with Hitler unacceptable, as most Britons do. That depends on what you think would have happened next. The mass killing of Jews only happened later – but massive deportation or death for Poles of any religion was planned, to clear the region for German settlement. The invasion of the Soviet Union was partly to grab resources which Germany could no longer get from overseas with the British blockade. But given a 1940 peace, he might have invaded the Soviet Union a few years later and from a stronger position. He wanted Ukraine for further German settlement, Much is uncertain. So let him still be honoured.”
Churchill was indeed an admirer of Fascism and had a mutual admiration relationship with Mussolini. If circumstances required it, he made clear that he saw Hitler as a model for Britain and no doubt he himself the prime candidate for the post and he would indeed have been a more effective Fascist leader than Mosley and I am sure Madawc would agree. It is curious therefore that with these views and in alliance with the Soviet Union, Madawc says “he helped save democratic politics” as we understand them today. I doubt that Europe could be considered more democratic after the WWII than before. The only central European states that survived the war intact were fascist Spain and Portugal. The others were destroyed so their democratic credentials were now aspirational rather than real after that war.
Admiration for Fascism and an alliance with Communism against it was quite acceptable to Churchill. The end of the British Empire itself was also acceptable and the destruction of Europe as a meaningful political entity. And also acceptable was a war that cost up to 50 Million lives. And all launched, apparently, to preserve the absurd situation of Danzig!
Madawc ridicules the idea of a peace plan in 1940 to avoid all this and suggests that most Britons opposed this but then says that it was rejected against the wishes of the Tory majority in the House of Commons. This indicates that ‘most Britons’ actually thought it was a good idea at the time. He speculates on what Hitler might have done later in the absence of a war. That is hypothetical but we have the reality of what did happen, outlined above, as a result of Britain’s declaration of war over Danzig. Could the absence of a war have been a worse outcome?
But there is a great consistency and logic in Churchill’s seeming inconsistencies which he dismissed anyway as ‘the hobgoblin of tiny minds’ and he once explained succinctly that “The Hun is always either at your throat or your feet.” That was his guiding light, the essence of him as regards Germany and therefore towards WWI, WWII, Danzig, Jews, Communists, Fascists, democracy, the Empire, Moslems, Americans etc. – they were all either grist to that mill or not.
And of course when the Hun was at your feet you do all you can to get him up again to have the merry-go-round go on – but it did not happen on this occasion – Churchill and Britain had overplayed their hand and the baton of world politics passed to the US and the USSR who kept the world peace for over 50 years.