Talking about the war
In post-war Germany it is the idea that every German was guilty that ensures that the individuals who were personally responsible for the Nazis crimes remain faceless. The doctrine of collective guilt imposed by the allies was taken up eagerly by the post-war German elite, the better to ensure that nobody could point the finger at them individually. Even in the face of savage repression German workers did on occasions react against Nazi policies. Between February 1936 and July 1937 the government recorded 197 strikes. Ordinary Germans protested vehemently at the euthansia programme against the mentally ill and disabled, and succeeded in stopping the policy. When their Jewish husbands were imprisoned, German women massed in Berlin in protests over three days, and won the release of 6000 men. Daniel Goldhagen rejects the explanation for German acquiescence to the holocaust, the argument that they were uniquely obedient to the state, pointing out that these 'were the same people, Germans, who had battled in the streets of Weimar in defiance of existing state authority' . But the obedience was the result of the conflicts of the twenties: the Left had been crushed, and the Nazis were now the state authority (and even that required an internal massacre of Nazi militants of the SA in the 'night of the long knives'). The effect of the 'collective guilt' idea was that it diluted the actual guilt of the Nazis and their supporters, while heaping blame on the German working class whose political defeat had been the overriding purpose of the Fascist regime. When German workers pressed their claims, they were chided to remember that they, like all Germans, were guilty. Franz Neumann wrote in 1944 that 'so vast a crime as the extermination of the Eastern Jews' was an attempt to make the masses 'perpetrators and accessories in that crime and make it therefore impossible for them to leave the Nazi boat'. This was Goebbels view as well, recorded in his diary a year earlier: 'On the Jewish question we have taken a position from which there is no escape...Experience shows that a movement and a people that has burned their bridges fight with much greater determination than those who can still retreat', he added. Between 1945 and 1949 six million Germans went through the 'denazification' process, after every adult had been required to complete a questionnaire outlining their past activities and allegiances. Of these one million were classified as followers, 25 000 offenders and just 2000 major offenders. Historian Mark Mazower judged that 'these purges left intact the same structures of power through which the Germans ruled Europe: local civil servants, police, business organizations and the press'. The Allies could not get Germany working without using former Nazi Party members and supporters
The Second World War was a fully industrialised war. Destructive as it was, the war laid the basis for new industry. Plants created in Detroit and Dagenham, the Urals and Silesia during the war would lay the basis for the post-war boom. Hitler's expansion of production heightened the need to conquer markets for exports, and secure territory for supplies. Eastern expansion was essential for securing oil and wheat. On 4 March, 1940, James D. Mooney, a vice president of General Motors, was sent by president Roosevelt to plead for peace in Western Europe and added 'that Americans had understanding for Germany's need with respect to the question of living space'. But Germany also needed to knock out its European rivals to secure economic expansion. Defending the supply routes to the Empire was where Britain's interests as a trading nation lay. Roosevelt was hostile to the recreation of French imperialism after the war. The American president had no need for a strong France after the war. 'France's role as a great power is finished for good', US leader Wendell Willkie told Ilya Ehrenburg, 'it's not in our interests to restore her to her former position'
The Nazi Government made the 1 May a national holiday in 1933, and trade union leaders marched alongside national socialists. The following day their offices were occupied, and on 12 May 1933, all their property attached to the public prosecutors office in Berlin, with Nazi labour leader Robert Ley as trustee . The German Labour Front substituted itself for the unions, but as an organisation that promoted Nazi ideals to workers rather than one that represented their interests. Compulsory Labour Service (Arbeitsdienst) and Compulsory Agricultural Service (Landhilfe, the 'most feared') were introduced, and war industries were working 70 hours a week by 1936, when workers were pledged to secrecy under threat of the death penalty in the event of 'treason' . Without independent organisations, and with their leaders in concentration camps, the German working classes were prey to extreme exploitation. Though Alan Milward argues that consumption levels under fascism remained high, wages in 1937 were lower than they had been in 1929, despite full employment. At the same time hours rose dramatically so that the profits of large companies quadrupled between 1932 and 1936. In 1932, 60 per cent of the national income fell to labour, 19 per cent to capital; after four years of Nazi rule, labour's share had fallen to 52 per cent, while capital's had risen to 28 per cent. Mark Mazower's assessment is that 'in industrial relations, fascist relations clearly lent towards the bosses' and that 'Fascism remained a low-wage economy'. But disciplining labour was not coincidental; it was the role that fascism played, and the reason that big business and the establishment supported the Nazi party.
In Italy, under the Vidoni Palace agreement of 1925 the General Federation of Industry granted sole negotiating rights to the fascist unions, effectively outlawing independent trade unions. The militarisation of labour was not restricted to the Fascist dictatorships, though. In France decree laws increased hours in the armament industries to 60 a week - output increases that would later feed the German military. In the US four million unemployed were organised in the Civil Works Administration in 1934, a further three million in the Works Progress Administration the following year, and 2 500 000 men aged 19-25 in the Civil Conservation Corps. The Civilian Conservation Corps (1935) took a quarter of a million Americans off the unemployment register and put them to work clearing forests and building dams. Where Britain, France and America differed from Italy and Germany was that instead of dismantling the trade unions, they had succeeded in recruiting their leaders as quasi-official supervisors. In the US, for example, the American Federation of Labour, which had reduced from four to 2.5 million members between 1920 and 1932, was boosted by official recognition as the house union of the National Relief Association.
In Britain production was boosted by the Labour Party and the unions' embrace of the war effort. On the initiative of the left, Joint Production Committees were formed in the engineering industry in 1942, where unions and managers collaborated in increasing output. Left-wingers denounced absentees for 'sabotaging' the war effort, and demanded they be prosecuted. It is true that there were considerable changes brought about by the war. Many of these tended over time to improve the material conditions of the mass of people, like the National Health Service in the UK, or the GI Bills extending education and home loans in the US. But for the most part, these reforms were necessary for continuing the process of capitalist development. And what is more, they were paid for by the phenomenal increase in output wrung from the working class through the wartime restructuring of industry. The war changed the balance between labour and capital. Most think that it shifted the balance in labour's favour. The real lesson of the Second World War was that it crushed the independent organisations of the working class.
It was by and large the ruling classes who collaborated, and the working classes who resisted. De Gaulle's flight to London to found the 'Free French' was the only sign of dissent amongst the French elite. In the Netherlands and Belgium, ('the Belgian resistance, that was after the war', mocked the artist Marcel Marien), the collapse before superior forces led to elite collaboration. Communist parties were banned, and anti-Semitic laws imposed. While the elites collaborated, like Petain, or fled, like Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, ordinary people took great risks to challenge the occupying powers. Dutch opposition to anti-Jewish laws boiled over in protests in University towns in the winter of 1940-41, before a general strike was started by Communists beginning in the Amsterdam shipyards on 17 February 1941. 'Protest against the horrible persecutions of the Jews!', read a Communist Party poster, which urged families to take in Jewish children to save them from Nazi atrocities. The strikes shocked the German authorities and effectively sidelined the Dutch Nazi movement for the rest of the war. Sporadic demonstrations throughout France in 1941 were organised from 1942, when De Gaulle appealed for May day demonstrations, a call taken up in Toulouse, Avignon, Nice and Marseilles, where 30 000 came out. Russia's entry into the war gave the allies a much needed opportunity to re-brand their war as a 'People's War' against Fascism. On 5 March 1943, workers at the Rasetti Factory in Turin struck for higher wages, starting a general strike of 100 000 workers throughout the northern cities - and won. Workers in Milan and Genoa demonstrated for an end to the war.
The partisans' contribution was swept aside by the invading allies, who saw them as dangerous to the restoration of good order, especially as they were often Communist-led. Gradually stories emerged of the grotesque lengths to which the allies went in order to disarm them. On 8 May, as Paris celebrated its liberation, crowds came out in Algiers adding banners for their own independence. French troops opened fire on the crowd, inaugurating five days of skirmishes that left 40,000 Algerians dead.
In the summer of 1944 partisans, by then 100 000 strong, succeeded in liberating at least 15 'partisan republics', like Carnia, Montefiorini, and Ossola, emboldened by the allied advance, and established Committees of National Liberation. British General Alexander, the Allied Commander, told the Times that the partisans were holding down up to six of the 25 German divisions Roberto Battaglia's Story of the Italian Resistance (1953), explained how the partisans had been encouraged to take on the German army and liberate the northern cities by the Allied invasion from the South. On 10 November 1944, however, General Alexander announced over the radio that there would be no advance until the spring. 'Having received the assurance that they would not be subjected to a major attack by the allies during the winter, they decided to make the most of the respite and deal the partisans a crushing blow.' British historian David Ellwood's Italy, 1943-45 (1979) and former intelligence officer Basil Davidson's memoir Special Operations Europe (1981) confirm the view that the Allies left the partisans to the Wehrmacht's mercy because they did not want to face an indigenous challenge to their authority. With the agreement of Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti, who returned from Moscow in March 1944, The Italian Badoglio's government was recognised by the Committees of National Liberation, who were thereby sidelined. Togliatti counselled his supporters to restrict their wider ambitions in favour of 'continuity of the state' . British representative Harold Macmillan was relieved: 'it would suit us much better not to be stimulators of a revolution, which we shall only have to suppress later' Unable to get a reasonable price, Italain farmers in the south withheld their grain and the cities starved. To restore order, the allies recreated Mussolini's police state. On 19 October 1943, a demonstration against wage and price levels was fired on, leaving 14 dead. The 'collective contracts' between workers and employers that had been introduced by Mussolini were continued by Lt. Colonel Charles Poletti for AMGOT.
The Greek partisans had, if anything, a worse tale to tell. In April 1944 the Greek Army stationed in Cairo mutinied. They were accused by Churchill of harbouring 'an unworthy fear of being sent to the front', but in fact they were demanding to be sent into battle to help free their country. British hostility to the army's demands were made clear by Sir Reginald Leeper, British Ambassador to the Greek government in exile, who telegraphed the foreign office that 'what is happening here among the Greeks is nothing less than a revolution' . Churchill had the 20,000 men rounded up and held in concentration camps in Libya and Eritrea - 'let hunger play its part', he cabled Leeper. Their mass partisan army, ELAS, also dominated by Communists, had succeeded in liberating much of the mountainous north of the country.11 But in exchange for recognising Soviet authority in Eastern Europe, Churchill had Stalin's agreement that Greece would be in the Western zone of influence - a deal he imposed with military force, telling General Scobie 'do not hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress' Astonishingly, the Allies had already sent an intelligence officer, Captain Don Stott to negotiate with the Gestapo chief in Greece, Hermann Neubacher, the transfer of fascist militias to allied command to defeat ELAS. 'This war should end in a common struggle by the allies and the German forces against Bolshevism', Stott told him. After the war, ELAS was isolated by the allies, and then gradually annihilated by a Greek Army made up of former fascist militias.
In Holland, a German Military Decree of 29 April 1943 that former Dutch soldiers would be sent to the Reich as labourers provoked a wave of strikes centred on the industrial town of Hengelo, and rapidly spreading to the mining district of Limburg and the Philips works in Eindhoven. It took ten days, and summary executions, as happened at Philips, to restore order. Pointedly, the London-exiled Dutch Prime Minister Gerbrandy broadcast from the BBC on 19 May warning 'against revolt at too early a stage', and encouraging passive resistance. In 1944, the allies again proved less than enthusiastic about strikes planned by Central Dutch Resistance Council - this time to coincide with the invasion. In retrospect, British commander at Arnhem R.E. Urquhart admitted that an unwillingness to cooperate with the Resistance contributed to major setbacks in the winter of 1944-5. From the perspective of the British military historian Foot, the resistance largely existed to serve the needs of the Allies: information gathering, aiding escaping officers, and, insofar as it engaged in the economic sphere, this was just 'sabotage', not insurrection
'The depression was finally ended not by a new prosperity but through World War II, that is, thorough the colossal destruction of capital on a worldwide scale and a restructuring of the world economy that assured the profitable expansion of capital for another period.' Paul Mattick.
'The higher level of the rate of exploitation which had been brought about by force was maintained for ten years after the period of fascism', wrote Elmar Altvater, 'the "West German economic miracle" was pre-programmed in the course of the "thousand year Reich". Mazower agrees: 'a nazi public utility like Volkswagen, or private utility like Daimler-Benz, laid down plant and equipment in the 1930s (and early 1940s) that would form the basis for post-war growth' . But these changes were not just restricted to Germany. In all of Western Europe, post-war reconstruction was boosted by the redirection of resources from consumption to investment initially made under the discipline of war. Though they fought Germany over territory and markets, the Allies gained from the Nazi disciplining of the working class in Europe. Furthermore they redirected working class opposition to Fascism in Germany and Italy into support for the adoption of an enhanced industrial discipline at home. The ideology of the People's War proved even more effective a means winning authority over the working class than Nazi repression. Having been persuaded to sacrifice all in the struggle against Fascism, the masses were recruited to the stabilisation of capitalist production in Europe. The Allies gained by the German war against the partisans, too. Nazi defeats of national resistance movements made the second (Allied) occupation of Europe a great deal easier. In December 1943, the British Middle East HQ sent Captain Don Stott (pictured right) to negotiate with Hitler's envoy in Greece, Hermann Neubacher of the Gestapo on the best way to defeat the partisans. 'This war should end in a common struggle by the allies and the German forces against Bolshevism,' Stott told them
In the decade from 1935 to 1945 the warring nations turned their factories into engines of destruction. Between 1933 and 1936 US armaments spending rose from $628 million to $1.161 billion, by 1942 government awarded $100 billion to US business in military contracts. The growth in output was phenomenal. Aircraft production was more than twenty times greater in 1944 than in 1935. To get this much out of industry, factories had to be placed under military discipline – not just in the Fascist countries, but in the democracies too. For the workers, wartime regimentation was hard graft on low wages. Business, though, made a fortune out of the war. During the four war years, 1942-1945, the 2,230 largest American firms reported earnings of $14.4 billion after taxes, up by 41 percent on the previous four. In Germany, too 'the higher level of the rate of exploitation which had been brought about by force was maintained for ten years after the period of fascism', wrote Elmar Altvater, 'the "West German economic miracle" was pre-programmed in the course of the "thousand year Reich".' Dragooning the workforce made more money for business.
In 1935 the Nazi regime began a compulsory system of workbooks. One copy was held by the employer another by the labour exchange. Workers were barred from leaving named key sectors, like aircraft and metal production. In 1938, Goering's decree for Securing Labour for Tasks of Special State Importance effectively conscripted labour. Within a year 1.9 million workers had been subject to compulsory work orders. Japan passed a General Mobilisation Law in 1938. Japanese civilians were barred from leaving work without the say-so of the local office of the National Employment Agency, under the Employee Turnover Prevention Ordinance (1940), and given work books from March 1941. In January 1940 the British Cabinet agreed to Ernest Bevin's proposals for a Register of Protected Establishments, and in March for a Register of Employment Order. Men up to the age of 46 had to be registered by 1941. Most agreed to reassignment after a talking to at the Labour Exchange, but one million directions had been issued by 1945, 80,000 to women. Under the Essential Work Order, workers were forbidden from leaving their jobs without permission – thirty thousand orders were made, covering six million workers. In 1943, 12,500 people were found guilty of breaking a Control of Employment Order. In this way Bevin boosted the armaments industry so that it ate up 37 percent of the workforce – up from 30 percent in a year. These were the people who sweated to make Vickers-Armstrong, ICI and Hawker-Siddeley into world class businesses. nder New Zealand's National Service Emergency Act of 1942 it was an offence to leave or be 'absent from work without a reasonable excuse' in 'essential industries'. Australia's government wanted to direct labour but did not dare to overturn the rights of its states. In America, the War Manpower Commission's Chief Paul McNutt drew up a Worker Draft Bill that would have let him send labour to the North American Aviation Plant in Texas, and other war industries. In the event, America's business lobby won the government over to the idea that they could recruit labour. In fact they signed up 17 million new workers between 1940 and 1944. But as in Australia, the American authorities still kept butting in to regiment the factories – still they kept employers sweet with war contracts worth billions. n 1941, Roosevelt helped war profiteers by banning strikes and taking away labour legislation protections in the armaments industry. In 1935 he had made a dispute procedure, the National Labour Relations Board, which barred wildcat strikes. In Britain, Order 1305 banned strikes.15 In Nazi Germany a law on the National Organisation of Labour imposed the Führer-principle on the ‘shop community', with workers cast as ‘followers', while a Court of Honour heard labour disputes. By 1944 some 87,000 Germans had been jailed for breaking workplace rules, and in 1943, 5,336 of them were put to death. The model was Mussolini's Italy, where workers and bosses were put in the same corporations, and 'strikes, protest demonstrations and even verbal criticism of the government were illegal'. The battle between labour and capital that had raged between the wars was settled when governments all over came down firmly on the side of industry.
Under the discipline of war, hours spent working for the boss were ratcheted up. Roosevelt twisted arms to get rid of American workers' overtime payments. In France the average working week went up from 35 hours in 1940 to 46.2 hours in March 1944 and decree laws increased hours in the armament industries to 60 a week.21 In New Zealand workers lost overtime and holiday entitlements, and hours were put up to 48 on the farms and 54 in defence factories. In Germany, defence workers were put on a seventy-hour week, and a ceiling was put on wages in 1938. British men worked 47.7 hours a week in 1938, rising to 52.9 in 1943, but in a Factory Inspectorate survey of war plants, the sixty-hour week was the norm for men and women.24 Japanese authorities extended the working day to 11 or 12 hours in heavy industry.
The Allies used forced labour, too. Forty-eight thousand men aged 18 to 25 were sent down Britain's mines between 1943 and 1948. 21,000 seventeen year-olds were forced to dig. They were called the 'Bevin Boys' after Labour Minister Ernest Bevin. One in every ten that were called up for National Service in the Army were sent to the mines. In Brazil 55 000 people were drafted as 'Rubber Soldiers' to work in the Amazon under a deal between US President Roosevelt and the dictator, Getúlio Vargas to fill America's rubber shortage – hundreds died of malaria.
Business recruited a whole new labour force during the war. The people working the lathes, hammering the rivets, directing the traffic, ploughing the farms were not the same people they had been. Apart from skilled workers in protected trades, the male core of the working class was sent to war. Others – women, minorities, young people, migrant labour – were recruited to fill the gaps. These new workers were easier to handle at first and worked harder to prove themselves.
Roosevelt put ten million men into the American Army, and six million more women into the workforce. In 1940, one quarter of all workers were women, by 1945, more than a third were women (a share not repeated until 1960). Two fifths of workers in the airframe industry were women, and the United Auto Workers had 250,000 women members, the United Electrical Workers 300,000.
Between 1942 and 1945, the number of black Americans in work tripled. The number working in industry grew one and a half times to 1.250 million (300,000 of them women). The number of black people working as civil servants grew from 60,000 to 200,000. The great migration of black Americans from the rural South to Northern cities changed America. One million six hundred thousand black and white moved North – but then people were moving everywhere. Between 1940 and 1947 more than a fifth of the country, 25 million people, moved county, and four and a half million moved from the farm to the city for good.
Britain was the first country ever to introduce conscription for women, and they were given the choice of war work instead. Those who refused could be fined up to five pounds a day, or imprisoned. Two million more women were put to work in the war, a growth of 40 percent. In 1941 the Ministry of Labour worked out that four fifths of all single women aged 14 to 49 were at work or in the services. Among wives and widows, two fifths were working, but only 13 percent of those with children under 14 did. Over 300,000 worked in the explosive and chemical industry, more than half their workforce, a million and a half in engineering and metal industries, 100,000 on the railways, thousands more on farms as part of the Women's' Land Army.
In Germany and Italy, the fascist governments drove wages down early on – by more than a quarter in Germany between 1933 and 1935, and by half in Italy, between 1927 and 1932. In the first year of Nazi rule, Krupp A.G.'s wage bill fell by two million RM while the workforce grew by 7,762, I.G. Farben's got a third more workers with just a 1.5 percent bigger wage bill. After that, wages rose in Germany until the outbreak of the war, when living standards were cut again. Even then, though weekly earnings rose by a quarter between 1932 and 1938, hourly rates were marginally down over the same period. So it was in Britain between 1938 and 1943, where people had more cash in their pockets 'not because their rates were relatively better, but because they were putting in more hours'. Americans, too, were earning their extra wages by working more – by 1945 their hours were up by a quarter on 1938. Japanese industrial pay was cut by a fifth under the Wage Control Ordinances of 1939 and 1940. Italians' wages came to a standstill under the Fascists, so that by 1941 they were just 113 percent of what they had been in 1913.50 By the end of the war, under the Allies, consumption was only three quarters of what it had been in 1938, and the number of calories Italians had a day had fallen to 1,747.51 In Vichy and Occupied France real wages went down as wage controls proved much more effective than price controls.
In America, a bigger wage bill was not matched by more goods in the shops, so business just put up prices to claw the money back. Around munitions plants housing was in short supply, transport was overcrowded and shop windows empty. The Department of Labor worked out that the 80 percent rise in cash wages between 1941 and 1945 was only a twenty percent rise when inflation and shortages were taken into account. Fortune reported from Pittsburgh 'to the workers it's a Tantalus situation: the luscious fruits of prosperity above their heads – receding as they try to pick them'. Though they ate well enough, their clothes and household goods were shabbier as real incomes stagnated. In Britain, too, more cash wages chased fewer goods to push prices up by half as much again between 1939 and 1941. In Germany, living costs were pushed up by a law allowing cartels to fix prices in 1935, and by 1941 household spending was down by a fifth from its already low point in 1938.
Governments grabbed workers' unspent cash for the war effort – handing it straight back to industry as payment on war contracts. In 1942 Americans were strong-armed to putting one tenth of their wages into war bonds, and in 1943 were taxed at source for the first time, a five percent victory tax. Britons, too, felt the moral squeeze to put their money into National Savings at War Weapons Week (1941) Warship Weeks (1941 and 1942) Wings for Victory Weeks (two in 1943) and Salute the Soldier Week (1944). And like their American comrades, seven million manual workers had their first taste of Income Tax, when Pay As You Earn deductions were begun. In Germany, where a War Bond issue had fallen flat in 1938, government raided the Sparkassen savings banks where people kept their spare cash for eight billion Reichsmarks in 1940 and 12.8 billion in 1941.
The greatest cut in working class income came through rationing. Food and clothing was rationed in Germany in the first two weeks of the war. In Britain meat, eggs, milk, butter and sugar were rationed from January 1940, canned meat, fish and vegetables from November 1941, followed by dried fruit and grains in January 1942, canned fruit and vegetables the following month, condensed milk and breakfast cereal in April, syrup in July, biscuits in August and Oatflakes and rolled oats by the end of 1942. German rations were a healthy 2,570 calories for German civilians in 1939, but a cut in 1942 was found by scientists to lead to a loss of body fat in factory workers. It was under the Allies that German workers fared worst: their rations were cut to 1,100 calories in the American and British Zones. Italians' food was rationed from 1941. In Japan the rice ration of 0.736 pints was slowly adulterated with husks, and the standard calorie allowance cut from 2,400 in 1941 to 1,800 in 1945. Food for workers was kept down so that more could be spent on building up industry.
When in March 1933, after the Dutch council communist Marinus van der Lubbe burned down the parliament building, 100,000 Communists, Social Democrats and trade unionists were put in new concentration camps, and 600 killed. On May Day 1933, the leaders of the Trade Unions marched behind the Swastika, hoping to curry favour with the Nazis. On the 2nd of May union offices were occupied by brown shirts, the premises and assets seized by emergency decree. The working class were made to kneel before the Fuhrer or get sent to the camps, and their own unions were broken up.
Nazi Robert Ley led a substitute Labour Front that, being based on workplace subscriptions like the unions it replaced, was much bigger than the Nazis' old union faction the NSBO. Indeed the Labour Front quickly became one of the weightiest bodies in the Nazi state, with a lot of room to manoeuvre. The Nazis thought that they were different from the other right-wing parties because they were carrying the German worker with them, not just taking a whip to him. The masses did support the war, most of all in the early years of victory, and they joined in the big rallies.
Takn from here