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D-Day and the Anti-Fascist Revolution

As Europe’s right-wing politicians exploit the 80th anniversary of D-Day for their reactionary ends, Tribune remembers its significance for the progressive and anti-fascist revolutions which followed.

Troops wading ashore during the Normandy landings

‘There’s a great and a bloody fight ’round this whole world tonight

And the battle, the bombs and shrapnel reign

Hitler told the world around he would tear our union down

But our union’s gonna break them slavery chains

Our union’s gonna break them slavery chains


So, I thank the Soviets and the mighty Chinese vets

The Allies the whole wide world around

To the battling British, thanks, you can have ten million Yanks

If it takes ’em to tear the fascists down, down, down

If it takes ’em to tear the fascists down.’

— Woody Guthrie, ‘Tear the Fascists Down’ (1944)

Today, the sixth of June 2024, marks the eightieth anniversary of the Normandy Landings — D-Day — when hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, including over 60,000 Brits, stormed and penetrated the armour-plated western flank of the Nazi behemoth, opening up at last the decisive Second Front in the European war against Hitler and fascism. 

Following the Red Army’s miracle envelopment and destruction of the Wehrmacht forces at Stalingrad in February 1943, and the immense Battle of Kursk, the grinding machine of the war in the East had seen the Third Reich’s genocidal advance driven progressively backward. But by June 1944 Soviet forces still faced hundreds of miles of machine-gun fire, death camps, and fanatical Nazi resistance on their path to Berlin. The Western Allied forces’ victory on D-Day and tenacious intransigence throughout 1944 against Hitler’s efforts to throw them back into the sea helped give those fighting in the name of Lenin and freedom in Eastern Europe the breathing space to inflict their spectacular subsequent military defeats on the German juggernaut, and speed the progress of the hammer and sickle to the roof of the Reichstag. D-Day was the historic moment Woody Guthrie’s international union against fascist slavery finally manifested.

A centrepiece to the founding iconography of the postwar order we still inhabit, D-Day has received a thousand depictions in popular art and media — its most striking on-screen realisation of course being the cacophonic opening sequence of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), twenty-four appropriately harrowing minutes of bloodied saltwater and screaming. But while the military-strategic and cultural-experiential importance of the Normandy Landings are still popularly appreciated today, the political significance of that day’s events for the massive ensuing social upheavals on the European continent has seemingly been lost. 

British socialists at the time, however, understood this significance all too well. Twenty-year-old Ralph Miliband, originally a Belgian-born Jewish refugee to Britain from the Nazi conquest of the Low Countries, and later celebrated New Left author of Parliamentary Socialism: A Study in the Politics of Labour (1960) and The State in Capitalist Society (1969), stationed in June 1944 aboard a naval destroyer supporting the beach-bound landing craft, described the mobilisation in his diary as ‘the biggest operation in history’, which he ‘would not miss […] for anything’.

Tribune, founded in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War as a platform for the anti-fascist Unity Campaign, and defined under its wartime editors Aneurin Bevan and Jon Kimche as the paper which believed that ‘the fight for Socialism must go on alongside — indeed as part of — the fight against Hitler’, recognised the political momentousness of D-Day’s military manoeuvres also. 

In two editorials published throughout June 1944, the first (‘The Politics of Invasion’, 9 June) authored while the fires of the Allies’ coastal onslaught were still burning, and the second (‘War and Revolution’, 16 June) the week following, Tribune articulated its contemporary understanding of the fundamental significance of the Normandy Landings for the future of the war — and for the ‘European revolution’ against Nazism and for socialist emancipation which it perceived stirring in the streets, fields, and mountains of an oppressed continent.

To mark the eightieth anniversary of the Normandy Landings, we reproduce these two historic Tribune articles today.


At the time of writing the German reply to our landing has not been made. Nor is it easy to conjecture what form it will take. The military possibilities are examined in detail on pages six and seven. It appears, as the Prime Minister said in the House, that we managed to achieve a tactical surprise; no mean accomplishment in itself when you come to consider the magnitude of the undertaking, the inevitably open character of the preparations, and the means available to the enemy for finding out our intentions. A setback just now would be extremely serious in implications wider than the material consequences alone, important though these are bound to be.

There has been nothing quite like this in the history of warfare, and it will be some time before our imaginations are able to catch up with all that is involved. There is one aspect of these events, however, which we can all appreciate and that is the painful anxiety of the relatives engaged in the actual operations. The sum of human suffering now mounts to hitherto untouched peaks of agony. There is scarcely a part of the world which has not got its own personal investment in the battles now raging or in those about to begin. At any time now we may expect Russia to strike, and the grand assault on Germany will be in full spate. If we are able to obtain a lodgement on the Continent sufficiently spacious to allow of unimpeded reinforcement of men and supplies it is difficult to see how Germany can long resist the double blow. Just because of this we must expect the German High Command to make a supreme effort to throw us out of the Continent and thus bring about a stalemate which is all they can hope to achieve.

In these circumstances the disposition of the French people is of the utmost importance. Their active cooperation at this juncture would shorten the war and their and our sufferings. In the past few months we have done much to estrange the French people and little to induce them to trust us wholeheartedly. The prolonged bombing of their industries and transport services has cost thousands of French lives and the destruction of much valuable property. It would have been easier for the French people to have borne this if it has been accompanied by an enlightened policy towards French leadership in Washington and London.

The failure to recognise the French Committee at Algiers as the effective Government of France may yet cost us many lives even if it does not also endanger the whole undertaking. It is unreasonable to expect the French people to show any enthusiasm for the policy which makes General Eisenhower the sole arbiter of the political fate of France.

It has been clear for some time why it is that the burden of decision in these matters has been placed on the shoulders of a man like General Eisehower, who must, surely, be only too anxious to be relieved of it. The reason is that Washington and London have in mind a policy for France and the rest of Europe which the political heads of the two Governments dare not openly avow. They seek to shelter their designs behind the mask of military necessity, and the simple way of doing it, of course, is to leave it to the ‘man on the spot.’ By this means criticism is stifled and the smoke of battle used to conceal the unfolding of a political pattern which is fundamentally at variance with the wishes of the British and American people.

In all this there will be a strong temptation for the French Resistance to withhold some of what they might be able to do to cooperate with the Allied Forces. We hope they will not yield to the temptation. The destruction of the Nazis is the first duty and a precondition for a revival of Socialism on the Continent. It will be easier to deal with the old-fashioned reactionaries of Britain and America when the Nazis have been beaten. Once the disciplines of war have been relaxed by the defeat of Germany it is reasonable to hope that the Socialist Movement of Britain and its counterpart in America will be able to do more than they seem to be able to do now to prevent British and American reactionaries from thwarting the wishes of the common people of Europe. But just now the paramount need is for the French people to assist the Allies by all the means in their power to secure their lodgement in France, and thereafter to hamper the German military resistance.

In the meantime there is a great deal we can do in this country to create the political conditions for military success. We must not repeat the mistake we made in Italy. The Trade Union and Socialist Movement of Britain failed to establish contact early enough with Italian Socialists. If we had insisted on the right to send an influential delegation from here we might have prevented the worse defects of Amgot and affected the subsequent course of Italian politics.

As soon as a substantial portion of French territory is within our control the Labour Movement should demand facilities for establishing and keeping in contact with the French trade unions and Socialist Parties. Serious friction is almost certain to arise in many instances between the Civil Affairs Division — successor to Amgot — and local French authorities. It would be tragic if friction gave rise to hostility. There are all the elements of collision in the situation if what we hear of some of the personnel, both Anglo-American and French, of the Civil Affairs Division is true.

The Labour Movement here should not be satisfied with working only through Government agencies. Those are effectively under the control of anti-labour elements and it is a betrayal of Socialist principles to leave our friends in France entirely in their hands. 

We can expect fierce objection to be raised in Government quarters against any attempt at unofficial contacts between here and in France. For a long time reaction has been able to work its will in an atmosphere created for it by distance, lack of facilities for travel and a tedious censorship. Now that really crucial decisions are to be made involving the whole development of the future life of Europe, reaction here and in America will fight bitterly to preserve our insularity and its freedom to plot in the wake of the advancing armies.

The urgency of the need for Labour to take a more independent line in international affairs was underlined by the fulsome praise Mr. Churchill gave Franco the other day in the House of Commons. Throughout the country people are amazed that Labour Ministers allowed him to give expressions to ideas which are an affront to Socialists everywhere. All the more need therefore to revive the Socialist International and for Socialists to begin once more to place before the world those conceptions of human society which are the basic ideals millions have come to cherish.

‘WAR AND REVOLUTION’ (16 June 1944)

‘Two momentous events occured in the first days of June: The descent of the Allied armies on the Norman coast of France and the downfall of the Badoglio Government in Italy. Seemingly, these two events belong to two different worlds; and putting them on the same plane may appear to sin against historical perspective. It is not so.

The landings in France have marked the decisive turning point in the war. The political crisis in Rome has marked a decisive turn in the fortunes of the Italian revolution, the forerunner of the European revolution. In our age war and revolution are intimately linked; and in the wake of each major war there comes a major social or political upheaval. This is almost a truism hardly necessary to repeat. What is urgently needed, however, is a clear view of the complex and many-sided interconnections between the two.

The war of 1914-18 ended in a series of revolutions, in the overthrow of several monarchies and in the triumph of the Soviet system in Russia. The processes of war and revolution were then more or less clearly divided in time. War ended and revolution began. True, even during the war there were mass movements — strikes, demonstrations and mutinies — in most belligerent countries. They foreshadowed and prepared the social convulsions that were to follow. But the revolutions were distinct from the war. In Russia the overthrow of the Kerensky regime and the establishment of the Soviet system marked Russia’s withdrawal from the world war. Not only were the two processes separated in time; they were also politically opposed to one another. The revolutions were, in Liebknecht’s memorable words, wars against the war.

The Chance for Labour in Europe

This time the revolutionary process in Europe is inextricably mixed up with the war in more than one sense. The war itself has for all the subjugated peoples of Europe acquired the revolutionary character of a struggle for liberation, a struggle for which the only remote analogy is the European war of liberation against Napoleon’s domination. The objectives of that struggle are often limited by purely national aspirations. Socialists admit this progressive role so long as these aspirations are negative and not positive, or so long as they are turned against a foreign imperialist conquest and are not directed towards reactionary utopias of absolute national sovereignty, or, what would be still worse, towards the substitution of foreign by native oppression.

The guerillas in the mountains of Greece and Yugoslavia, in the hills of Savoy and the swamps of Eastern Poland wage war that is a revolutionary act. This feature of the present picture was completely absent from the political pattern of the first World War. In this war, as in the last, the defeat of an oppressive political regime lets loose the popular forces of the defeated countries. War helps the revolution.

It is history’s irony that the nails in the coffin of Italian Fascism were manufactured by British and American capitalism; for who would deny that Mussolini would still have been master of Italy if the Allied forces had not occupied the whole of his African Empire and struck at the Italian mainland? Who can pretend that, unaided by the war, the Italian underground movements would have found strength enough to overthrow the rule of the Black Shirts within the next five to ten years? And similarly, who can say that German National Socialism could possibly be crushed by the underground opposition in Germany alone within any foreseeable future?

It is enough to put these questions to realise that they all point to the weakness of the labour movement in both countries, a weakness which we must regret, but which we cannot afford to overlook. The weakness of European labour has, so to say, transferred to the armed forces of the three great Allied Powers, two of which are led by capitalist politicians, the task of inflicting a preliminary defeat on National Socialism and Fascism. The military victory of the Allies offers to European Labour the great and unique opportunity to overcome its own impasse and to remerge as the decisive factor in the social life of the Continent.

Needless to say that, just as the war helps the revolution in Europe, so the revolution helps the Allies to win the war. This is only another expression for one of the chief paradoxes inherent in the present situation. The capitalist classes of the Allied countries are anxious to benefit from the advantages which the struggle of the European peoples offer to them, but they are equally anxious to lay the spectre of the revolution before it assumes flesh and blood, and becomes the reality of European social life.

This is going to be a great and dramatic issue, in which the most vital class interests and the deepest class fears on both sides are at stake. The capitalist classes will mobilise all their resources in material power, moral influence and political cunning to master, tame and ultimately defeat ‘the Frankenstein of the revolution’ which they have helped to set in motion. The revolution in Europe must organise all its resources in physical strength, moral courage and political knowledge in order to attain full independence and to avoid being the Frankenstein without a will of its own, which its temporary and dubious capitalist allies would like it to be.

The Case of Italy

The fall of Mussolini was the prologue to the Italian and also the European revolution. Almost on the morrow of this event the manoeuvres were started that aimed at turning the prologue into an epilogue. All that might of Allied official policy and diplomacy were thrown in to save the throne of the House of Savoy from the political earthquake that was to shake the peninsula. Badoglio was brought into power, on the very modest understanding that he should leave off wearing his black shirts.

From all sides the most powerful pressure was brought to bear on the democratic parties in Italy to accept the Prince of Addis Ababa as their national leader. For a while it seemed that the manoeuvre was succeeding. The Badoglio era was inaugurated. And finally, when a determined change of direction was inaugurated by the Italian Communists, the Prince of Addis Ababa was embraced by Ercoli, the trumpets of triumph were blown in London and Washington. The ‘Frankenstein of the revolution’ — so it was thought — had agreed to take the medicine of national unity, a medicine which is dangerous to Labour at all times, but which inevitably results in paralysis when it is taken in a revolutionary situation. National unity in the Italy of 1943 and 1944 meant nothing but the reconciliation of the Democratic and Socialist parties with the Fascist past, and consequently the prospect of their eventual defeat.

That triumph — this is now clear — has been premature. The great Badoglio era could last only so long as its background was the backward agricultural south of Italy, and as long as even the South remained a battlefield. Between September, 1943, up to June, 1944, the revolution, like the muses, was silent, while the guns were firing. It was enough for General Alexander’s soldiers to enter Rome for the picture to change and for Badoglio to give place to Bonomi.

This change of Government is more than a temporary shift of scenery. Bonomi belongs to that old pre-Fascist and even pre-1914 generation of mild reformists, whose hesitations and opportunism paved the way for Fascism. At present Bonomi describes himself as an independent and disclaims any connection with Socialism. His Government is clearly an advance on the Government of his predecessor. But to believe that it has any serious chance of stabilisation would be naive. Just as it would be naive to expect from the septuagenarians who form its Inner Council that they would be able to give to the Italian people that inspired an indomitable lead the absence of which spells the doom to a people in the process of revolution.

The industrial and radical North of Italy has not yet had its say. When the Labour movements of Milan and Turin and Genoa are able to speak their mind freely, the scene will undoubtedly shift again, and this time it will undoubtedly shift to the left. Even so, the lesson on Rome can hardly be misread: the strength of the popular pressure in Italy is such that it is able to sweep away the elaborate barriers erected in order to stem the spread of the revolution.

Confusion of the Masses

We have said that the upheaval in Italy has been the prelude to an upheaval on a European scale. This is not to say that too optimistic a view about the present state of the political consciousness of the working masses of Europe can be taken. Nor does this mean that it may be taken for granted that the self-confidence of the mass movements everywhere in Europe will necessarily prove to be as strong as it has proved in Italy.

First there is the great unknown — Germany; and not before Nazism is really defeated and crushed shall we be able to see what are the immediate prospects of a renaissance of the German Labour movement. But, even apart from Germany, in other countries, too, the confusion that now prevails in the mind of the masses cannot be denied. It has sprung precisely from this mixing up of the processes of war and revolution. It also sprung from the different pattern of the political life in different countries.

France and Italy provide the most striking contrasts.

In Italy all the remedies of Fascism have been tried out and discredited. The Party system is re-asserting itself; and within its framework the initiative is passing to the Left.

In France the Party system has not yet recovered from the shell-shock it suffered in 1940. The self-confidence of the great mass movements, including the Labour movement, has been shaken. True, the Socialist Party of France has recently decided to preserve its independent existence and not dissolve in that amorphous flood of Gaullism that threatens to submerge all political organisations. This decision is welcome; but the mere need for it reflects the degree to which the mystique of Gaullism has overwhelmed the political life of France.

What the French Labour Movement now needs is not merely to guard the independent existence of its organisations but also to worm out its independent policy true to the Socialist origins and principles of the Movement. The illusion that General de Gaulle can be regarded as a reliable ally of the workers in their fight for their own aims may have dangerous and disastrous consequences. This is not to say that in its struggle for liberation the French Labour Movement ought not to travel part of the way together with de Gaulle, but it is essential that in doing so the French Socialists should not forget the old principle — ‘march separately, but strike together.’

Independence of the Left

One cannot help feeling that the first half of the principle — ‘to march separately’ — has only too often been forgotten by the leaders of French Labour, who have tended to confuse war with revolution and to take it for granted that the alliance with Gaullism can be carried from the field of war into the field of post-war politics. The relationship between the French Labour Movement and Gaullism is reminiscent of the relationship between the Chinese Communists and General Chiang Kai Shek in the early period of the Chinese Wars of Liberation (1925-27). General Chiang Kai Shek then meant to the Chinese what General de Gaulle means to the French now. He was the symbol of their national aspirations that were shared by all sections of the Chinese people. But soon the social aspirations of the Chinese peasants and workers brought about the clash between the Chinese Communists and the leader of the Kuomintang.

We have urged that the Allied Governments ought to recognise the Algiers Provisional Government of France, But for the future of France the attitude of the French Left, its self-confidence and independence, or the lack of all these, will play a much greater role in shaping the outlook of France after the war than the passing of any number of diplomatic measures. It will be the responsibility of French Labour to see that the grave social and political crisis of their country finds a Socialist and a democratic and not a Bonapartist solution, that the French people hammer out the new social order without entrusting even a fraction of this task to the uncontrollable ambitions of an authoritarian-minded general.

In one other important respect the revolutionary aftermath of this war will differ widely from the revolutionary aftermath of the last war.

In 1918 and 1919 European Labour was weakened and its capacity for action was paralysed by its reformist wing, which drew its strength from huge, inert and bureaucratic machines.

This time European Labour will rise from the deluge without this cumbrous ballast. In the years of Hitler’s conquest Labour has steeled itself in the fire of underground struggle. It will now have every chance to make a new start with renewed faith and with a courage that was characteristic of the pioneers of Socialism. Provided that it can overcome the ideological confusion that still prevails in its ranks, European Socialism has every chance of emerging from the war as the leading party of the European revolution.’