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In September 1943 the 13th Waffen SS Battalion billeted in Villefranche-de-Rouergue mutinied. The battalion was made up of Bosnian Muslim and Croat recruits, under German SS officers, and had been talking to the Communist resistance. One hundred and fifty of the mutineers were killed, before the remainder were sent back to fight in the Balkans.83 On 20 July 1944 Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg of the Wehrmacht High Command planted a bomb that injured, but did not kill Hitler. Henning von Tresckow and other military leaders joined the plot, but the dictator’s survival scared them into aborting the planned coup. Afterwards the July bomb plot was important to German nationalists who wanted to talk up respectable opposition to Hitler. In truth, von Stauffenberg was no democrat, but a militarist and an imperialist. Still 5000 were arrested in the clear up operation that followed, and some 200 executed (though not all those were involved).84 Two groups of the German army fought against the SS during the battle for Berlin, around Sophie Charlotte Platz and Kaiserdamm.85 In September 1944, two hundred and sixty five Japanese soldiers were so outraged that their officers had seized all food supplies for themselves that they surrendered as a group on the Island of Numfoor off the coast of West New Guinea.86
How the Communists saved the Allied War Effort
In the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact many Communists in Europe and America felt that they were out on a limb opposing the war when patriotism and anti-Fascism seemed to be coming together.
With the German invasion of the USSR the communist parties adopted a new position that the war was one between two camps, the fascist and the popular democratic. For those communists in occupied Europe the new policy was great release, meaning that they could at last relate to the opposition to occupation – and communists made a much-celebrated contribution to the partisan movement. Official communists were rewarded for their support for the war effort by the British government, too. The ban on the Daily Worker was lifted, as were bans on the Canadian and Indian parties (the latter rewarded for being more pro-British than Congress). In America and Britain, communists embraced the goal of increasing the output of armaments as their contribution to the war effort, on the Joint Production Committees in Britain. The communists proved their loyalty with some vicious attacks on those radicals who still held out against the war effort. Elsewhere in the British Empire, intelligence officers tried to get communists to work for the war effort, as they did in Iran and Malaya.
Though the communists had been won over to the war effort, there was still radical opposition to the war effort from the left, among Socialists, pacifists, Trotskyists, anarchists and others. These groups were mostly very small, since the militant workers they hoped to recruit were usually already in the official communist parties, or in the Socialist parties.
Where the communists tended to have more supporters than principles, with the far left it was the other way around. Still, with the upsurge in working class protest against the war effort, there was an opening for the more radical, unofficial left and anti-war movement to get a wider hearing.
As we have seen, the anarchist publishers and distributors of War Commentary risked imprisonment, and sometimes were imprisoned for their agitation against the war. The British Cabinet debated the problem of Trotskyism in 1944, with a memorandum drawn up
by the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison:
The Trotskyists while hostile to “fascism,” regard the war as a struggle between rival Imperialisms, as struggled which is being used by the capitalist class as an excuse more effectively to exploit and oppress the workers.
The Cabinet worried that the Trotskyists Roy Tearse, Heaton Lee and others were behind strikes among the Tyneside Apprentices, at the Rolls Royce aircraft works in Glasgow and at the Barnbow Ordinance Works. ‘They have a closely knit core of energetic leaders and a membership which makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in numbers.’ The Cabinet report saw the Trotskyists success in the context of the suspension of normal political and trade union activity in the war: ‘They are helped by the absence of competition’ and ‘the lack of normal political and trade union activity, and the sense of frustration...
produced by the absence of marked progress towards victory in the field or reconstruction at home.’ 87 On 5 April 1944 Special Branch raided the homes of the Trotskyists Heaton Lee and Ann Keen in Tyneside, and Roy Tearse in Glasgow. Along with Jock Haston, who gave himself up, they were charged with conspiring to further an illegal dispute for the help they gave to the Tyneside Apprentices Guild and tried in secret. In Parliament Nye Bevan charged that they had been denied their rights, and there were calls of ‘Gestapo’. After the four were jailed for sentences up to 12 months, protests by trade unionists up and down the country followed and on appeal the convictions were quashed.88 The problem for the left wing opponents of the war was that they were isolated by the strong left wing case for the war that was being made by the Socialists and Communists. For the most part these radical opponents of the war were internationalist in outlook, but were in no position to join up with others in other countries.
The greatest divide between those movements struggling against the war drive was the very one that was dividing the world. Opponents of the Allied War effort would find it pretty much impossible to explain their goals to the opponents of the Axis war effort. Such was the urgency of standing up to the Fascist domination of peoples and nations that few who dedicated themselves to that task would understand or sympathise with any who undermined the Allied campaign against Hitler. The European resistance would prove to be a great moral resource for the Allies, the ‘People’s War’ transformed from words into a people’s war. For all that, the popular resistance in Europe would prove to be the greatest challenge to the Allies’ plans for the continent.
Chapter Twenty One The European Resistance German demands on West Europe, first in cash plundered, and then later in men and women taken to Germany on the orders of Nazi plenipotentiary-general for labour mobilization Fritz Saukel weighed heavily (manpower was the overwhelming problem of the German war economy from 1942, due to military losses in the east).1 ‘Like a gigantic pump, the German Reich sucked in Europe’s resources and working population’.2 Occupation Costs paid to Germany, in billions of Reichsmarks, 1940-443
In the east, the exactions were even more onerous. Resistance grew. A revolution was building in Europe against the Nazi occupation that was not in the hands of the Allied Chiefs of Staff.
The British Special Operations Executive had been set up by Churchill on 16 July 1940 with orders to ‘set Europe ablaze!’ Goebbels protested that the English ‘intended from the very beginning to have other countries and peoples do their fighting for them’.4 But the SOE had a problem controlling not only the resistance, but its own officers, who were wont to ‘go native’ – to identify more closely with the resistance fighters they worked with than with Whitehall. SOE wrote a booklet Principles of Training for Special Purposes which set out rules for recruitment and training. ‘Psychological testing was considered the first step, followed by loyalty checks on prospective volunteers’ and ‘elimination of egos and delusions of heroism were critical’. They wanted ‘men who were apolitical, yet conscious of their role in establishing good Allied relations with potential future political leaders’.5 As it turned out, SOE’s fears had some basis. Officers James Klugmann and Basil Davidson clearly did identify with the insurgents to a point that enraged their superiors – though Klugmann, who rose to the rank of Major, had been recruited because his left-wing views made him a useful contact with Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia.6 After the war, the SOE’s official historians would downplay the role of the resistance in defeating Fascism. It was of course true, as they claimed, that only a small minority of the peoples of the occupied territories took up arms. The European Resistance had many more supporters as the Axis cause began to falter, yet more when it collapsed. For those European states that were founded in the wake of the Allied invasion, the Resistance was a potent and necessary myth, that let them pretend they did not owe their independence to the Allies. Still, the Resistance was decisive in the defeat of the Axis. That they were a small minority is not so important: revolutionary change always begins with a minority, and gathers support through its leadership and courage. The post-war states did owe their existence to the Allies, but less for the defeat of the Axis forces, more for the taming of the popular resistance at the war’s end.
France According to the resistance historian Henri Michel ‘from summer 1940 to autumn 1942 all resistance in Europe drew its support from Great Britain’, ‘gradually, however, clandestine resistance developed on a major scale and it was not prepared to accept orders so easily’.
Furthermore, ‘Churchill was himself somewhat alarmed by the growth of a force which he might not be able to control’.7 The Special Operations Executive (SOE) and De Gaulle struggled to control the Resistance, sending former prefect Jean Moulin to keep order. ‘Centralisation and coordination will take place in London’, read De Gaulle’s instructions: ‘All these operations will take place on the personal order of General De Gaulle’. De Gaulle thought the Resistance would be an intelligence gathering force, assisting the SOE, but already many different groups were at work and reluctant to be reined in. SOE recruited those leaders it could, like the Liberation-Nord group’s Christian Pineau, as agents.8 To De Gaulle, the key was controlling the communists, for which he needed Moulin, who had been on the political left: ‘It was Moulin more than any other who made it possible to bring the communists on board, as part of the Free French organisation, and thus to control them’. The machinery for controlling the communists was the Conseil National de la Resistance (CNR) that Moulin put in place, with representatives of all the main groups including the communist-led ‘Francs Tireurs et Partisans’, and it was agreed that ‘in military terms the coordinating committee is under the orders of General de Gaulle within the framework of the Allied strategic plan’. ‘Without the CNR, there would not have been a resistance but several resistances’ de Gaulle explained: ‘At the Liberation there would not have been a united people, but a divided country’ and more alarming still ‘we would not have stopped the communists from holding parts of the territory’.9 Though de Gaulle’s fears of the Resistance escaping his control focussed on the threat posed by the communists, the Parti Communist Français (PCF) turned out to be his most loyal ally. Early on the leadership in France, influenced by Moscow decided on de Gaulle as the ideal leader for a ‘United Front’ of all the ‘patriotic classes’. The party’s paper Humanité wanted not only to rid France of the occupier, but also identified with ‘the patriotic struggle which will restore France to its sovereignty and grandeur’ – using de Gaulle’s own code words for the restoration of the French Empire. British money was channelled from the SOE in London to de Gaulle and from de Gaulle to the PCF – no less than three million francs a month (or 100 times the amount given to the next largest resistance group Combat), and on top of this the Party got a further 2 million francs from de Gaulle’s right-wing ally, the film producer Gilbert Renault’s own funds. De Gaulle tacked to the left to flatter his new shock troops, saying ‘national liberation cannot be separated from national insurrection’ and even threatening to relocate the Free French operation to Moscow during one row with Whitehall.