The Rewriting of History over VE Day

Last week, William Hague, the Leader of the House of Commons, announced that the weekend of 8-10 May, 2015, has been officially designated to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day, which is marked on May 8 in Britain.

What is noteworthy about the planned celebrations and the statement made by Hague is the fact that the government seems less concerned about commemorating the 70th anniversaries of VE Day, and of VJ Day in August, than it is about the centenary of the First World War which has been marked by four years of planned commemorative events. What is also evident is that the government is intent on marking the end of the Second World War in Europe by obscuring the nature of that war and the important fact that it was concluded by a decisive victory over fascism. The re-writing and falsification of history that followed this victory have also necessarily obscured the vital role of the Soviet Union, which led the defeat of fascism in Europe in the course of which over 20 million of its population gave their lives.

Greek resistance fighters, 1940s
It is perhaps for this reason that there are attempts to present the wartime Conservative Prime Minister as the embodiment of Britain’s part in this victory and make much of the speech that he delivered on VE Day in 1945. However, as history records, less than two months later, 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.

Churchill’s government had already indicated its predatory and anti-people nature several months before VE Day with military intervention in Greece in December 1944. That intervention, planned for some time, had the aim not of ridding Greece of the Nazi occupiers but of eliminating the heroic Communist-led resistance movement, the National Liberation Front (EAM), that had led the struggle against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in Greece, and which had received arms from Britain during the war. The British government intervened in order to prevent the empowerment of the Greek people following the evacuation of the occupiers and to restore a reactionary government and monarch who were considered best suited to safeguard the route to Britain’s wider imperial interests. The British army created the conditions for a massacre of unarmed patriotic demonstrators including children in Athens and conducted other military actions against the resistance, having been instructed by Churchill not to “hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress”.

Lt Gen Ronald Scobie (centre) who, on 5 December
1944, imposed martial law and ordered the aerial
bombing of the working-class Metz quarter of Athens
The military intervention in Greece and attacks on anti-fascists during the Second World War was widely condemned in Britain, even most major newspapers including The Times joining this condemnation. It was however supported by the leaders of the Labour Party and the TUC, both before the 1945 General Election and after when Atlee’s Labour government took office. The TUC first sent a delegation to Greece at the request of Churchill’s government shortly after military intervention. Several others followed, all with the intention of splitting the Greek trade union movement, preventing “free and fair elections” and imposing leaders who would serve the interests of the British government. Atlee’s Labour government both supported the reactionary Greek governments, which attacked the rights of working people in Greece, and simultaneously attacked the workers’ and patriotic movements that had led the struggle against fascism during the Second World War.

Intervention in Greece by the British government and trade union leaders created the conditions for the growing political crisis in Greece, and paved the way for US intervention, not just in Greece but elsewhere, justified under the openly anti-Communist “Truman Doctrine” and supported by the so-called Marshall Plan. It culminated in what is referred to as a civil war between the reactionary Greek government, supported by Anglo-American imperialism, and the patriot forces led by the Greek Communist Party. This was a military conflict which the led to the deaths, imprisonment and exile of many thousands who had fought to defeat fascism during the Second World War and that left Greece politically unstable and dependent on the US for many decades.

Left: Bodies of unarmed protesters shot by the police and the British army in Athens on 3 December 1944
Right: Women protest against the shootings, which led to more than a month of street fighting in Athens

History shows that the Second World War led to a victory over fascism and created the conditions 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. However, history also shows that these advances were not welcomed by all. They were opposed by those that had nurtured, appeased and financed fascism before the war, in the hope that it would destroy the Soviet Union and the aspirations of the workers of all countries. Once the victory over fascism seemed assured and VE Day beckoned, the struggle against communism and to prevent the peoples empowering themselves recommenced.

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