Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2

VI: Disaffection in the Army
in the Second World War

The first piece in this section is an article by David Renton on Trotskyists in Egypt during and immediately after the Second World War. The article is particularly concerned with relationships between the British Trotskyists and the Egyptian Trotskyist organisation Bread and Freedom. The article draws on David Renton’s wider researches into Egyptian Trotskyism, and comes replete with many footnotes pointing out guides for further reading, as well as to the whereabouts of source materials. Bread and Freedom is an under-researched organisation. A few articles did appear in the contemporary left press, including J. Damien, Social and Political Conditions In Egypt Today, Fourth International, Volume 7, no. 7, July 1946; Egypte: Un Manifeste Programmatique Des Trotskystes Égyptiens, Quatrième Internationale, July–August 1947; and Egypt, Fourth International, Volume 8, no. 7, July–August 1947.

David Renton has recently tried to correct this omission, publishing a full-length history of the Egyptian group: Soldats britanniques et trotskysme égyptien: Pain et Liberté, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 68, 2000, pp. 95–120. He has also published an article on the web, Egypt: A People’s History, Voice of the Turtle (at http://voiceoftheturtle.org/), July 2001. In addition he is co-author (with Anne Alexander) of a chapter in a book that will appear this year, Imperialism and Resistance in Egypt 1890–1990 in L. Zeilig, Marxism and Africa, New Clarion Press, Bristol 2002.

For our second piece, we are grateful to Julian Putkowski for permission to publish his interview with Dave Wallis, a Young Communist League activist, who carried on the class struggle while serving with the British army in Egypt. The interview reveals details of the methods of political organisation and covert activities in the British army in Egypt during the Second World War. This piece is supplemented by Ian Birchall’s interview with Duncan Hallas, concentrating on dissent amongst the British forces in Egypt in 1946.

Disaffection amongst the ranks of the British army in the Second World War is dealt with in two publications by Raymond Challinor, The Struggle for Hearts and Minds: Essays on the Second World War, Bewick Press, Whitely Bay 1995, pp. 79–86; Military Discipline and Working Class Resistance in World War II, What Next?, no. 17, 2000, pp. 34–7.

Also of interest are Class War on the Home Front, Wildcat, 1986, which contains Socialists and the Army, reprinted from Solidarity, August/September 1942, reviewed by Martin Durham, Anti-Parliamentary Communism, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, Volume 54, part 1, Spring 1989. Peter Ward Fay, The Forgotten Army: India’s Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942–1945, Michigan 1994, deals partly with the mutinies in the Indian army, reviewed by Tariq Ali, The Third Man, Guardian, 24 May 1994; David Duncan, Mutiny in the RAF: The Air Force Strikes of 1946, with a Foreword by John Saville, Socialist History Society Occasional Papers Series, no. 8. Noel Crusz, The Cocos Islands Mutiny, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, WA 2001, describes the mutiny of gunners in the Ceylon Garrison Artillery on 8–9 May 1942, which resulted in three Ceylonese mutineers being executed.

For further information on the Cairo Forces’ Parliament, see Murray Armstrong, The Cairo Commons, Guardian, 27 May 1989; Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, War and the International, London 1986, pp. 88–9 (the forces’ parliaments in Cairo and Cyrenaica where Workers International League member Arthur Ledbetter was Prime Minister and Home Secretary); Tony Aitman, The War Within the War, Militant, 15 September 1989; The Eighth Army Defends Workers’ Right to Strike (an excerpt from Labor Action quoting the Eighth Army News), Workers Liberty, no. 22, June 1995, p. 11; Harry Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, Socialist Platform, London 1994, pp. 49ff. Gerry R. Rubin’s Durban 1942: A British Troopship Revolt (Hambledon Press, London 1992) investigates, especially from a legal perspective, events on 13 January 1942 when hundreds of army and air force servicemen refused to board an eastwards-bound British troopship, the City of Canterbury. Albert Meltzer’s I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels (AK Press, Edinburgh 1996) has a section in Chapter 5 on the strikes for demobilisation in Egypt and the Cairo Parliament. Vote for Them, a television play about the Cairo Forces Parliament, was screened on BBC2 on 2 June 1989. Of related interest is Evangelos Spyropoulos, The Greek Military (1909-–1941) and the Greek Mutinies in the Middle East (1941–1944), Eastern European Monographs, Boulder, CO 1993.

David Renton, Bread and Freedom

Julian Putkowski interviews Dave Wallis:
Backwards from Wivenhoe to Cairo

Swimming Against the Tide:
Duncan Hallas on his Experiences in Egypt

Updated by ETOL: 16.10.2011