On January 30 commemorative events were organised throughout the country to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, who is most often lauded as Britain’s prime minister during the period of the Second World War. There was extensive media coverage of these commemorative events that included services in Westminster Abbey and Parliament, while the Royal Mint issued a new £20 coin. Several leading politicians made speeches on the occasion, including David Cameron, who remarked that what was important about Churchill was that he “knew Britain was not just a place on the map but a force in the world”. Cameron made it clear that he thought that Churchill’s “courage and resolve” was also required now and that in this century too what he referred to as “freedom and democracy” would “win out over barbarism and tyranny in the end”.
The commemorative events were undoubtedly designed to extol the times when Britain “was not just a place on the map but a force in the world”, since many associate Churchill’s death with the death of imperial British, which today the Westminster consensus is determined to resurrect in a new form. But what is of particular note is that although there is official concern to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of the wartime prime minister, there seems to be so little concern for marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe which falls on May 8, the date of the unconditional surrender by the Nazi regime in Germany. This is all in rather stark contrast to the government’s approach to commemorating the centenary First World War, with events planned until 2018.
The differences between the two world wars are significant. The 1914-1918 war was a predatory imperialist war, waged to re-divide the world between Britain and the other big powers. It was a war fought over colonies, resources and spheres of influence and opposed by the most enlightened individuals and organisations. Following that war the big powers carried out their re-division, created all the conditions for a further global conflict and also for many of the problems which exist in the world today, especially in Palestine and what is referred to as the “Middle East”. The most significant consequence of the First World War were the revolutionary events that occurred in several countries, most significantly in Tsarist Russia, where the working people empowered themselves and for the first time in history, led by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, created a new political and economic system in which it was the working class, not the monarchists, imperialists and exploiting classes, who wielded state power.
The Second World War, which was occasioned by the nurturing of fascism by Britain and its allies, with the hope that it would destroy the new Soviet Union, necessarily assumed the character of an anti-fascist war in which the peoples of many countries, led by those of the Soviet Union, fought not just to rid the world of fascism but for a new world in which war, colonialism, racism and the exploitation of the many by the few would be consigned to history. It was a war in which Churchill, who in 1919 had been the main advocate of Britain’s attempts to “strangle the Bolshevik baby in its cradle”, was compelled to find common cause with the Soviet Union and all those countries that eventually referred to themselves as the United Nations, that is those who united in action to rid the world of fascism and to create new international machinery to maintain peace. When the United Nations Organisation was created at the termination of the war it enshrined in its Charter the aspirations of many to build a world in which the rights of men and women of all nations were recognised as equal, where freedom and social progress were promoted and machinery was put in place to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. As is well known, the unity of the war-time allies did not last long and only a few months after the surrender of Nazi Germany Churchill was to make reference to an “iron curtain” and Britain, alongside the US and others, adopted a hostile approach to the Soviet Union which soon culminated in the so-called Cold War.
It is clear that from that time onwards there have been attempts to rewrite the history of the Second World War, to create confusion about its causes and to obscure the important lessons that humanity must draw from such a global conflict, which led to the loss of over 50 million lives, and its aftermath. The Second World War was a tragedy but one in which the peoples of the world fought to prevent an even greater tragedy. In the course of the war and directly following it the conditions were created for the liberation of many nations in Africa and Asia and for the working people to advance their cause for progress and social emancipation. The few years after the victory over Nazi fascism were a time of great momentum, profound changes and the creation of the socialist camp.
It should also not be forgotten that less than two months after VE (Victory in Europe) Day, the working class and people of Britain, with their aspirations for a new society, one that was built on opposition to all that imperialism, fascism and Nazism stood for, threw Churchill out of power in the July 1945 general election.
Today the problem is not just that representatives of the Polish and Ukrainian governments are being economical with the truth about the nature, causes and events of the Second World War. Such disinformation and the falsification of history is also a characteristic of official pronouncements in Britain. What is more, there appears to be official attempts to prevent the widespread discussion of the lessons of the Second World War on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of its termination in Europe.
Far from defending “freedom and democracy”, as David Cameron alleges, the present government has followed its predecessors on a warmongering and interventionist path. It is the task of all peace loving people to learn the lessons of history and create the conditions for an anti-war government.