Seventy years ago this week, the ‘phoney war’ well and truly ended and the mass bombing of London and other keys
cities by the Nazi Luftwaffe begun. The Blitz, as it was to become
known, cost the lives of thousands of workers as the nightly bombing
raids from Germany laid waste to both houses and industry.
These unremiting raids would continue for over a year until the need to divert resouces on the part of the German High Command to deal with the war in Russia led to a reduction in the levels of bombing on UK targets , although later on in the war, the introduction of unmanned rockets – the V1 (the so-called Dooddlebug) and the larger and more silent V2 - would again cost many lives on the Home Front.
Since the Luftwaffe targeted cities – not only to destroy industry, docks etc., but also to try and demoralise the working class population – it was workers who took the brunt of the attacks and suffered the greatest losses. Beforehand, little effort had been put into trying to defend working class areas from the likely effects of the nightly raids. The best the government could come up with was guidelines as to how to hide under tables and in cupboards – decades later, with ‘Protect and Suivive’ the authorities would issue the same useless advice to prepare us for a possible nucleur attack – and the option to buy one of the so-called Anderson Shelters to stick in your garden. But these were not free and only the very poorest could get assistance in paying for one of these shelters, since profit making continued – war or no war! However, these shelters were derided by many since they were nothing more than little sheds, which would become their main use after the war. The only benefit of being in one was that if a bomb hit nearby then you could be dug out easily. As for suiviving a direct hit… forget it. A campaign was launched to open up the Underground tunnels and stations in London at night to provide a version of the otherwise non-existant deep shelters which could have provided some reasonable protection from the bombs. The authorities initially resisted this demand as being too much trouble but were later forced into implementing it to pacify growing discontent amongst the masses as to why they were not getting better protection.
The only reason that the effects of the Blitz were not more profound was that the Luftwaffe failed in the main – with the obvious exception of the mass raid on Coventry – to carry out an attack that was concentrated enough, in both physical area bombed and the time scale of the raid, to completely overwhelm the fire and medical services and create the conditions for a total collapse of moral on the part of those affected. This option was noted by the British armed forces, who feared such a concentrated attack above all else, and used later in the planning of the RAF bombing raids on Germany – hence the decimation of Dresden and later on Berlin.
One very interesting point is raised the 1940 dated article reproduced below, where Ted Grant refers to the need to arm the workers to create a mass force – a workers militia – to defend the towns and cities against possible Nazi attack. The response of the government would be to establish what would become known as the Home Guard. Mainly known today through the endless reruns on TV of Dad’s Army, the Home Guard was never to be properly armed or prepared – which would have involved training in the sort of Guerilla techniques employed by the French Resistance, something the military chiefs were wary of least workers used them against the bosses later on – and would have provided little resistance should a full invasion by the German forces taken place.
If you cut through all the stuff about the wartime spirit etc. which come up each time we hit an anniversary relating to WW11, then we can see that, despite all the proganda, class society continued unabated throughout the duration of the war. The rich got richer, profits were made and enjoyed by the few, and workers continued to be treated like mud. Then, as now, the only real future for the masses is through the struggle for socialism and the removal of all the ruling classes who have caused such misery to so many.
Below we reproduce an article by Ted Grant, published at the time (1940) and now available in Ted Grant Writings Volume One, which deals with the issues raised by the war from a workers perspective:
Workers Must Be Armed Against Capitalism
The last few years have marked the end of an epoch in human
history. The staggering and annihilating defeat of the armies of France
by the Nazi war machine has left the continent of Europe under the
bloody tyranny of German imperialism.
The empty boasts of
Reynaud have been followed by the shameful surrender of Petain and
Weygand. The puffed up reputation which was built up around the
military valour of these ‘heroes’ stood the test while it was only
concerned with the shooting down of the rebellious colonial masses of
Algeria and Morocco, but was pitifully inadequate when faced with the
monstrous military regime of Germany.
The ruling class of
France, which had helped in the building up of reaction in Germany,
showed itself completely incapable of offering any effective resistance
to the Nazi legions. The capitalists paralysed the struggle against
Hitler by their suppression of the French masses. Hitler could have
been held up in North France, and again at the gates of Paris, if the
whole population had been mobilised for resistance.
Why Paris Was Not Defended
But for the ruling classes to have armed the workers would have meant
that they were running the risk of these arms being used not only
against Hitler, but also against the ruling classes themselves.
Especially did they fear the revolutionary workers of Paris.
Once before, when the Prussians were at the gates of Paris in 1870, and
the workers had been armed, they seized control in the first successful
workers’ uprising in history. The Daily Telegraph
Correspondent in France writes on June 17th: "Danger of a Communist
uprising and civil war compelled the French Government to sue for
peace." They handed Paris intact to the Germans.
France was betrayed.
The real Fifth Column was the capitulation government of financiers,
manufacturers, millionaires and generals. It was they who sold the
French people into the hands of Hitler. Rather than lose all
their profits by a victory of the French masses, these ‘patriots’
preferred to assure themselves of a few scraps from the tables of the
How Will Britain Be Defended?
the insatiable German imperialists are preparing for the destruction of
Britain. The British Government has announced that it is doing
everything to counter this coming attack. But the ruling class of
Britain is as rotten as that of France. The only real preparations they
are making are those for use against their ‘main enemy’ at home.
In France 20,000 police were left in Paris to ‘maintain order’ and to
hand over control to Himmler. A special civil guard was formed to keep
order in the rear of the armies. Is there any guarantee that the
British ruling class will not capitulate in the same manner as the
The Workers Must Be Armed
only one guarantee of a successful resistance to any attempt at
invasion by Nazis: the arming of the working-class in every street and
every factory, and the control of this workers’ militia by workers’
This would render Britain completely
impregnable. Parachute invaders and sea-borne troops alike would
receive short shrift at the hands of the masses.
ruling-class cannot take this road for the same reason that the French
rulers could not take it: it would present an even greater menace to
their profit-making and domination than even a victory of the Nazis.
Chamberlain, the Tory party, big business and the bankers of the City
of London backed Hitler for years as a bulwark against Socialism, and
only fought him reluctantly when German imperialism threatened their
Empire and their profits. The contradictions between the two
imperialisms gave them no alternative. But they are responsible for the
disastrous position in which the British and European workers find
themselves today. They have acted as Hitler’s real fifth column for
years. Their record, their very nature, and their position in society,
renders them completely impotent to defend the workers against fascism.
They must be swept aside, and the workers themselves must guide their
Only Socialism Can Defeat Hitler
For years the Labour leaders have allegedly been conducting a campaign
against the pro-fascist policy of Chamberlain and the National
Government. But they now sit in that same government and assist it in a
policy that is disastrous for the working-class.
file militants in the trade unions, Labour party, and Leagues of Youth
must demand that the Labour leaders must wage a struggle for full power
immediately. Labour must take control on a programme which can mobilise
all the toilers of Britain. And first on that programme must come the
arming of the workers against their capitalist enemy at home and
against the imperialist invader.
The resources of Britain
cannot be utilised unless a great plan is undertaken which eliminates
the waste and bureaucratic inefficiency of capitalism. The capitalist
Fifth Column must be rendered completely impotent by the taking over of
the banks, mines, land, railways and all big industries, without
compensation and under control of the workers.
programme of Socialism at home the masses of Britain could be mobilised
for the death struggle against Nazism. But we must face the enemy with
an unstained banner. British imperialism oppresses the masses in the
colonies as viciously as Hitler does the people who are under his heel
on the continent. Labour must immediately issue a declaration giving
full self-determination to the peoples of the Empire.
Then we could face the bombing planes and tanks of Hitler without fear
of defeat. An appeal could be made to all the peoples of Europe, and
especially those of Germany, to rally to our side. Hitler’s support
would crumble beneath his feet, and a mighty movement for liberation
would spring up among the German soldiers and workers.
Only the slogans of genuine social and national liberation can find an
echo among the oppressed masses of Europe. On this road alone can there
be salvation for the working-class.
The prospect of a
British army advancing to the re-conquest of Europe under the rule of
the imperialists after months and years of preparation opens up an
endless vista of slaughter and destruction.
before the working-class is clear. The road of Blum and Jouhaux led to
the degradation and humiliation of the French masses, and their
subjection to the Nazi exploiter. Attlee and Citrine are leading the
British Labour movement to the same disaster. Only a programme of
Socialism can save the workers of Britain and Europe.
the sands of time are running out; action must be taken quickly. If the
Labour leaders refuse to carry out this programme of socialism then
they will be exposed to the masses as the traitors they are and it will
be made clear that only the revolutionary socialists can lead the way
forward to peace and socialism.
Disarm the capitalists and arm the workers for the struggle against Nazism and the capitalist Fifth column at home.
Take over the mines, banks, railways and big industry without compensation.
Give freedom and self-determination to India and the colonies.
Repeal all anti-working-class legislation.
Appeal to the German, French and European workers to support the socialist struggle against Hitler.
(Source: Youth For Socialism, Vol. 2 No. 10, July 1940)