The generations who feel the loss of parents and grandparents in the struggle to defeat fascism on our continent will mark today with mixed feelings. It is a day of celebration and of deeply felt loss.
For those who rule us, and for the well-paid tribes of scribblers who serve them, it is an opportunity to wallow in an ecstasy of hypocrisy festooned with the Union flag.
By this date in 1945, the British people were united in celebrating the end of fascist rule in Europe and Hitler’s nazi regime. But this war commenced with the British people disunited, with very many suspicious that the ruling class — who had both secretly and openly sympathised with Mussolini’s fascists and Hitler’s nazis — were keen to find an accommodation with these regimes.
These suspicions were not without solid foundations. Before the war, our present monarch’s uncle and one-time king was an intimate of Hitler. On her post-war wedding day, two of her groom’s sisters were deemed unsuitable wedding guests on account of their marriages to officers in the nazi secret police and intelligence organisations.
The anti-working class instincts of the upper class – shot through with anti-semitism and anti-communism – were reflected in the foreign policy of the government which had long demonstrated its tolerance of fascists.
When the Soviet Union offered a million troops to join with Britain and France in defending Czechoslovakia’s territory against Hitler’s demands, the offer went unanswered and the far-right government of Poland refused transit across its territory.
Czechoslovakia was dismembered and the inevitable war began in September 1939.
An eight-month-long “Phoney War” with little military action added to the suspicion that powerful elements still hoped for an accommodation with Hitler against the Soviet Union.
On this day in May 1940, the Commons debated the faltering conduct of the war. Winston Churchill, who had opposed the appeasement policies of the Tory government, became prime minister, thus signalling a change of approach.
When, in 1941, this arch imperialist, ardent capitalist class warrior and inveterate racist welcomed the Soviet Union as an ally to imperial Britain in the war against fascism, the conditions were created for a measure of class compromise.
The battle for production to win the war against fascism created a new sense of collective endeavour that did not survive the hostilities and every attempt since to obscure the reality of the constantly renewed contradiction between the mass of working people and our ruling class have foundered on reality.
Today the haze of hypocrisy that overlays this reality is demonstrated by the erasure of the May Bank Holiday as a celebration of workers’ unity and the underhand substitution of today’s events.
VE Day is not usually marked with such fanfare in Britain. In continental Europe, where the memory of occupation and resistance — and the collaboration of their ruling classes with the occupiers — are deeply embedded, it is marked with gravity.
Victory in Europe Day belongs not to the ruling classes of Europe which, when they could, collaborated actively with fascism, but to the mass of working people of all lands who bore the burdens of war and emerged triumphantly.
It is Churchill who memorably said that it was the Soviets “who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army.”
In memory of our half-million dead fly the Union flag if you wish, but remember that on May 8 1945 it flew alongside the hammer and sickle, the French tricolour, the stars and stripes and the flag of China in honour of our common international triumph over fascist barbarism.
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