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The Second World War

A second World War finally broke out in September 1939 when Britain and France declared war on Germany after Germany had invaded Poland—as part of a carve-up deal with state-capitalist Russia—so threatening British and French markets in the rest of eastern Europe. In a very real sense this was a continuation of the first World War whose outcome had not resolved German capitalism’s problem as a leading industrial country without access either to protected markets or to secure sources of raw material.

The Socialist Party had no hesitation in taking up the same internationalist, anti-war stand as it had 25 years earlier. Not democracy, but the defence of the Brirish empire and markets in eastern Europe was why Britain had declared war, an issue which, once again, did not justify the shedding of a single drop of working class blood. At the start, Britain and France did not even bother to claim that the war was one of democracy versus fascism but openly admitted that their aim was to dismantle the autarkic trading arrangements Germany had installed as well as protecting their empires.

Later, as the war dragged on, the British government decided to present it as a “people’s war”, a propaganda campaign in which the Communist Party enthusiastically joined—but only after the German invasion of Russia in June 1941. Promises were made of a better future for all after the war had been won. Thus, Sir William Beveridge’s 1943 Report promised a whole range of social reforms from family allowances to national insurance against unemployment, sickness and old age. There was talk of a national health service. The Socialist Party was not impressed. Beveridge’s plan was analysed as an attempt to “re-organise poverty” by redistributing total working class income more rationally from a capitalist point of view, taking from the unmarried and the childless to give to those married with children or from the employed to maintain the unemployed till the next boom came.

The war ended with the worst famine in history in Bengal and with the testing of the atomic bomb on real, live populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russia conquered half of Europe and installed dictatorial regimes in the countries that fell under its domination. The Western Powers set about restoring multilateral trade via new institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Colonial wars broke out in Africa and South East Asia.

The various Allies had achieved their respective war aims. Then they fell out, and began rearming for the next war.