World War Two Part 1: The Gentlemen’s War

“Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world… If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely from the beginning of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passion of Leninism.”

~Winston Churchill in a letter to Benito Mussolini

The Second World War consisted of a series of wars, ranging from conflicts between rival imperialist powers striving for world supremacy to the heroic struggle of oppressed peoples seeking their liberation. In Western Europe and in Africa, German and Italian imperialisms sought to displace their British, American, and French rivals and become the dominate powers. This war between two sets of robber barons, one fascist and one bourgeois democratic, neither of which evidencing even the slightest concern for the oppressed peoples of the world and both willing to resort to the most brutal methods to achieve their aims, is perhaps the least significant yet the most studied (in the ‘west’ that is) war within World War Two and so it is where we begin.

The ruling circles in Britain, France, and the United States had largely welcomed Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy, been at best indifferent and at worst supportive of Hitler’s gaining power in Germany, and had been content to allow Franco’s fascist armies to triumph in the Spanish civil war. This is because all three of the fascist states had crushed influential left-wing movements that would have had global repercussions. Further, the ‘western democracies’ initially adopted a conciliatory attitude towards Hitler’s military ambitions and sought to direct his attentions eastwards towards the Soviet Union. The Soviet-Nazi pact and the subsequent invasion of Poland destroyed this political line and forced France and Britain to declare war against the Axis powers. Thus began the period of the “phony war” where the Nazis consolidated their rule in Poland and prepared for an offensive while British and French high command dithered over the fact that Europe was once again at war. The Nazi’s blitzkrieg into Western Europe and swift victory over France- made possible by French high command’s preference for surrender to the Nazis over arming the workers of Paris- brought this period to an end and established the Axis powers as the masters of continental Western Europe, a position they would maintain until 1944. British power in Europe was reduced to control of the UK itself and was sustained only by drawing on the resources of the empire and establishing trade relations with the United States.

Fortunately for the British, the Nazis would soon turn on their erstwhile Stalinist allies and imperialist rivalries in the Pacific would draw the United States directly into the war. The imperialist powers would then wage a ‘gentlemen’s war’ for control of Africa until such time Soviet victories in Eastern Europe left the Allied powers with no choice but to open a second front in Europe.

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