It was Labour’s brutal peace

Milan Rai’s article (PN 2645–2646) corrects the myth that Britain brought peace to the world in 1945 but risks reinforcing another enduring illusion.

Milan exposes Churchill and Roosevelt’s agreement on the atomic bombing of Japan and their worthless guarantee of every nation’s post-war right to self-determination but there’s no mention that Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945 and Churchill was out of office before Hiroshima was bombed.

Curiously, Milan details that ‘Henry Wilson, gave Britain’s official consent to the bombings in Washington DC on 4 July 1945’ but fails to mention that the following day’s general election ushered in that iconic 1945–1951 Labour government revered as a model of ‘parliamentary socialism’.

Never identifying the guilty party, Milan details how this ‘model government’ backed all manner of repressive, reactionary regimes in Malaya, Indonesia and Vietnam in its determination to re-impose colonial rule.

In not identifying the perpetrators, Milan leaves unchallenged the mythical status of a government that Labour activists remain committed to resurrect.

Yet, Clement Attlee, the leader of that government, agreed with the atomic bombing of Japan and three weeks after Hiroshima assured his cabinet that, ‘The answer to an atomic bomb on London is an atomic bomb on another great city.’ His foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin was equally determined not to let the US be the only country with an atom bomb: ‘We’ve got to have this thing over here whatever it costs....

We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack flying on top of it’!

Far from promoting internationalism and determined to ‘Make Britain Great Again’, Attlee’s government allied with the US in creating a Cold War by use of the Marshall Plan (1947) and NATO (1949).

When Churchill returned to power in October 1951, he expressed his thanks to Attlee, and ‘warmly congratulated all those concerned in the production of the first British atomic bomb’, directing particular ‘compliments to the leader of the opposition [Attlee] and the party opposite for initiating it’!

Whatever manifesto they wave about, all governments and states are root-and-branch institutions of hierarchy, power and domination.
It’s no role of peace activists to pick leaders to wield power, for power itself is the problem.

Lasting peace can only be achieved by replacing hierarchies of power with horizontal, co-operative relationships.

Although this philosophy permeates PN, there remains a lingering thread of belief in a governmental fairy godmother, a plaintive hope that perhaps the next Labour government will abandon warfare and usher in peace.

This fantasy only serves to lure activists away from patient long-term, low-key, local activism and into electoral campaigning.

Immediately before the last election, PN included a full-page review where ‘Two Labour left-wingers draw on post-1945 European history to prepare radical movements to make a Corbyn government a radical success’ although post-1945 history should convince peace activists that ‘government’ and ‘radical success’ are inimical notions.

Although the article, like the bulk of PN, recognised the value of extra-parliamentary action, the authors concluded: ‘Radical governments cannot succeed without a strong mass base of support’ (my emphasis). But it’s not our role to provide a base supporting any government.

It is no accident that states and governments claim monopoly use of violence for, as Ralph Bourne observed, ‘War is the health of the State’.

Neither was it an accident that, as Milan detailed, Labour’s ‘best-ever’ government, in the words of a contemporary observer, ‘adopted old-fashioned Tory Imperialism’ for all states and governments are institutionalised violence and peace activists have better things to do than getting them elected.

Editor's response:

Thanks, Christopher. As well as ‘believing in a fairy godmother’ or ‘abstaining from party politics’, we can also use our votes like any other tool (lobbying, property damage, community organising) without believing all that is promised. Right now, in the US, voting for anyone except Joe Biden, or refusing to vote, amounts to helping to elect Donald Trump, who is a serious and immediate threat to our survival, both in terms of climate change and nuclear war. Biden is significantly less dangerous, and much more open to grassroots pressure. – ed