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Irving Howe

The Second Front Issue in England

(June 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 26, 29 June 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the past week a number of celebrations in honor of the first anniversary of Russia’s participation in the war were held in England. Important, let it be noted, not for the gallons of rhetoric spilled at these meetings about the glories of Stalin and his regime, but rather for their bearing on the domestic political situation within England.

For some time now, the Churchill cabinet has been in difficult straits. Representing a coalition of the various sections of the capitalist class together with the representatives of the reformist Labor Party, this cabinet has had great difficulty in working out a consistent policy with regard to both internal affairs and the war. It has been drawn in all directions at once by the different factions within the cabinet. In addition, it has suffered a series of staggering military defeats in recent months, the most important being at Singapore and Tobruk. It has succeeded in one department only: its official liar to the public (sometimes known as the Minister of Information) has invariably issued the most optimistic statements about those very fronts on which Britain was soon to meet a stunning defeat.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Churchill government has maintained power primarily because of the, support which Roosevelt has given to it. Roosevelt’s reasons for propping up Churchill are readily apparent: he finds in Churchill a pliant puppet who offers little resistance to the continually increasing domination which American imperialism exerts over its British partner. And Churchill, for his part, feels that the difficulties of the British military situation make such a course unavoidable.

The Tinderbox Situation in England

When this portrait of the British cabinet is placed against the background of the British political and economic crisis (described in detail in Henry Judd’s England’s Political Crisis, in the June issue of The New International) it is readily seen that there, is a tinder-box situation in England which can explode at any moment. The masses, “while supporting the war, feel an increasing sense of futility and desperation. They make every conceivable sacrifice while the disproportion between rich and poor remains and grows ever greater, the much-vaunted equalization of social classes existing only in the minds of American reporters.

And at the same time they feel a growing disgust with the British military situation. They resent the incompetence, the complacence, the red tape, the conservatism and the rank stupidity of the military apparatus. They look with great suspicion at the optimistic statements of the cabinet members, knowing full well that this is merely a sugar-coating for the facts.

It is in this inflammable situation that the coalition, which has been formed between Lord Beaverbrook and his friends of the extreme right and the Stalinist Communist Party, now enters. Beaverbrook is one of the most notorious of British reactionaries and has long been known as the British Hearst. For reasons that were never made quite clear he left the Churchill cabinet some time ago and has since been conducting a campaign in collaboration with the Stalinists and a semi-Stalinist wing of the Labor Party, led by Aneurin Bevin, MP, around the issue of a second front.

The Motives of Beaverbrook’s Campaign

In conducting this campaign, Beaverbrook has several motives. There is, of course, the desire for power, for the substitution of his clique for the Churchill cabinet. But there is a lot more than that, too.

Beaverbrook represents a group within the British capitalist class which desires the creation of a total war economy, together with the war dictatorship which such an economy requires. That is what they mean when they campaign for more “efficiency.” Such a regime would require the ousting of those elements which desire to “muddle along” (that classic description of Churchillian policy offered by Churchill himself) with a more or less democratic bourgeois rule, which means first and foremost, the representatives of the Labor Party. Beaverbrook speaks also for those in the British capitalist class who are becoming a bit worried about the fact that while British imperialism fights to prevent its annihilation by Hitler, .it finds itself being picked apart piecemeal by its American partner. They would very much like to cut down the influence of Washington in British affairs and may be counting on the support of the third section of the United Nations trinity – Stalinist Russia – as a counterweight against Washington. And the price of such a counterweight would be, of course, the second front.

Beaverbrook is also confident that Stalinist Russia represents no threat at all to the capitalism for which he speaks; in that, at least, he is quite right. That is why it is possible for him to say, as he did at a recent second front meeting: “We believe in Stalin’s leadership and this is the day to proclaim our faith.”

It is difficult to estimate the exact response Which this second front campaign has elicited, but there is no doubt that it has gotten considerable support among the English workers. This is due in the main to a feeling of desperation, a desire to have an end with the “muddling through” policy. The dangers which are, however, inherent for the British workers to support this reactionary Beaverbrook-Stalinist coalition are obvious and it is at present the task of the socialist forces in England to patiently explain these dangers and point out the need for a workers’ government as the solution to the problems of the English people.

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