Dunkirk, Orwell and socialism

May 28, 2010 at 10:43 pm (anti-fascism, Champagne Charlie, history, literature, socialism, war)

All of us at Shiraz would like to honour those who took part in the incredibly moving  Dunkirk  70th anniversary yesterday – especially the surviving veteran servicemen and “little ship” sailors.

It is also worth remembering that Dunkirk – and the very real possibility of Nazi invasion that it signified – changed the nature of what had until then been an inter- imperialist war. Orwell got it right:

“The English revolution started several years ago, and it began to gather momentum when the troops came back from Dunkirk. Like all else in England, it happens in a sleepy, unwilling way, but it is happening. The war has speeded it up, but it has also increased, and desperately, the necessity for speed.


“Progress and reaction are ceasing to have anything to do with party labels. If one wishes to name a particular moment, one can say that the old distinction between Right and Left broke down when Picture Post was first published. What are the politics of Picture Post? Or of Cavalcade, or Priestley’s broadcasts, or the leading articles in the Evening Standard? None of the old classifications will fit them. They merely point to the existence of multitudes of unlabelled people who have grasped within the last year or two that something is wrong. But since a classless, ownerless society is generally spoken of as ‘Socialism’, we can give that name to the society towards which we are now moving. The war and the revolution are inseparable. We cannot establish anything that a western nation would regard as Socialism without defeating Hitler; on the hand we cannot defeat Hitler while we remain economically and socially in the nineteenth century. The past is fighting the future and we have two years, a year, possibly only a few months, to see to it that the future wins.”


  1. Matt said,

    “changed the nature of what had until then been an inter- imperialist war”.

    Really? So Britain stopped being an imperialist power did it? What’s missing from your and Orwell’s picture is the tens of millions of colonial subjects who certainly did not see it like that, including the Indian Trotskyists who raised the slogan “Down with imperialism! Down with the war!”

    Also missing from the picture are the rank-and-file soldiers of the Wehrmacht who are subsumed under the adjective ‘Nazi’ despite their revolutionary potential as demonstrated by the heroic work done by French Trotskyists fraternising with them in Brest, some of whom paid for it with a Gestapo bullet. Seventy years on, German troops who lost over forty thousand of their comrades in the Battle of France seem equally absent from the commemoration events.

    “Progress and reaction are ceasing to have anything to do with party labels” is a particuarly ridiculous comment from Orwell, presumably meaning that as a pro-war Tory Churchill is now a ‘progressive’ rather than the racist defender of the British Empire he had been before the war and would contine to be after it.

  2. Will said,

    the german nazi scum and all of the filth who fraternised with said filth (ie Wehrmacht scum) got off lightly and aS FOR ‘Indian Trotskyists’ thgat bunch of utter stupid scum can also fuck thge fuck off.

  3. Will said,

    ps. third werLdist trotskyites are even worse than fuckking ‘first werlD trots’.

    Lenin was right. NuKE them all.

  4. Extrapolating from Dunkirk « Shiraz Socialist said,

    […] 30, 2010 at 11:52 am (Rosie B, history, war) Further to Jim’s post on Orwell and Dunkirk, here are a couple of entries from Orwell’s diary of the time:- 29th May […]

  5. Kilbachova said,

    It was the failure/defeat of the German revolution and victory of bourgeois reactionary forces which led to WWII. So a couple of paper-sellers managed to flog a copy of Lutte Ouvrière to a German soldier. Big woop. The ‘revolutionary potential’ of the Wehrmacht was amply demonstrated by its wholesale participation in the mass murder of 15 million Soviet civilians, and complicity with (and in some places participation in) the Shoah and Porajmos.

    What next for Matt? Adminration for Hitler’s ‘anti-imperialism’ standing up to Churchill and Roosevelt? Praise for Hitler’s exemplary ‘anti-Zionist’ credentials?

  6. Matt said,

    Kilbachova, the Wehrmacht was a conscript army. It included both hardened Nazis and revolutionary socialists. The US Trotskyist paper ‘The Militant’ in 1941 published a letter from one of the latter in which he describes being posted to Warsaw and managing to collect 500 marks from amongst his comrades which he risked his life to deliver to the Trotskyists and Bundists in the Ghetto there. 80,000 other German soldiers were not so lucky, being shot for refusing to obey orders over the course of the war.

    That is of course not to deny the crimes carried out by the German ruling-class you describe but neither should you ignore ones carried out by the Allies: the British area bombing of German cities and letting a million and a half people to starve to death in Bengal in the summer of 1943 were two particularly ruthless ones.

  7. Truth is concrete said,

    If all the Trotskyists in the German Army, France and Warsaw had flown to the moon to create socialism on one planet, nobody on Planet Earth would have noticed a damned thing. Military-revolutionary policy … revolutionary defeatism … flogging papers to German soldiers? Utterly, utterly irrelevant to the war and the struggle against fascism. Get a sense of proportion, my Trotskyist friends, and stop trying to big up something that counted for nothing.

  8. Orwellian, Marxian, etc « Poumista said,

    […] Orwell Champagne Charlie on why Orwell got it right about Dunkirk, and Rosie Bell reading Orwell’s diary from that […]

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