Winston Churchill: A reactionary bigot
Thatcher has been compared to Winston Churchill, and quite rightly - both were virulently anti-working class. Eddie Ford looks at Churchill's toxic legacy
Margaret Thatcher is now an official saint of the right wing of the bourgeoisie. That was made abundantly clear by the Tory media’s revoltingly sycophantic coverage of her funeral, which was a state funeral in all but name. Her elevated status is illustrated by the frequent comparisons to Winston Churchill - the latter proclaimed as the country’s greatest ever wartime leader and the former designated the greatest ever ‘peacetime’ prime minister (leaving aside Northern Ireland and the Falklands for now). She saved the country from disaster in the same way that Churchill rescued us from the Nazi menace.
Now we are to get Winston Churchill’s image on every £5 banknote, along with his “blood, toil, tears and sweat” quote to a backdrop of parliament (he previously appeared on a 1965 crown coin). He will be replacing Elizabeth Fry, the progressively-minded social reformer and Quaker known as the “angel of prisons”, who has been on the note since 2001. Mervyn King, the departing Bank of England governor, even suggested that the new notes might become known as “Winstons” - perhaps destined to become the most popular ever manufactured.
Explaining his decision, King said Churchill “holds a special place in the affections of our nation”, for his indefatigable “energy, courage, eloquence, wit and public service are an inspiration to us all”. Above all, King claimed, he “remains a hero of the entire free world” - helping to ensure the “survival of those freedoms” that we “continue to enjoy today”. He was the ultimate democrat, it seems. A saviour.
Depressingly, though predictably enough, there has not been a squeak of protest against Mervyn King’s decision - regarded as entirely unproblematic. A stark contrast to Thatcher’s funeral, which divided the country. At least half the population hated the woman, not just the ‘usual suspects’ on the far left. Churchill, on the other hand, is presented - and overwhelmingly accepted - as some sort of unifying figure.
But if the working class had a collective memory, which sadly it does not at the moment, not having its own party, it would be strongly objecting to his appearance on the note. Why should we have to look at his damned face every day? He was without doubt the most virulently anti-working class representative of the British high establishment in the 20th century bar none. Like Margaret Thatcher he was a class-war warrior to his marrow, never afraid to take on the ‘enemy within’ - the labour movement and the organised working class. Therefore, in that sense, both Thatcher and Churchill fully deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
Say what you will about Winston Churchill, but one thing cannot be denied: he was consistent - that is, consistently anti-working class and reactionary. Whether at home or abroad. As home secretary in 1910, he sent in the troops against the miners at Tonypandy (the so-called Tonypandy or Rhondda riots). Though no shots were fired and the police were far more despised - one historian describing them as an “army of occupation” - the presence of the troops prevented the strike action from ending early in the miners’ favour. The troops also helped ensure that strikers and miner leaders would be successfully prosecuted the following year.
Churchill is still hated to this day in many parts of south Wales due to Tonypandy. In 2010 a Welsh local council in the Vale of Glamorgan opposed the renaming of a military base after him because he sent the troops into the Rhondda. Jackie Griffin, clerk of Llanmaes council, stated he was unable to support such an “inappropriate name change” due to the fact that there is “still a strong feeling of animosity” towards Winston Churchill in the community.1
When it came to the 1926 general strike, now as chancellor of the exchequer, he wanted to do the same thing - send the troops in. As the enthusiastic editor of the British Gazette, which ran for eight editions during the strike, he openly advocated using physical force. Machine guns should be used on the striking miners if required. His reasoning was quite simple and not without logic, For him, the general strike as a quasi-revolutionary venture and he therefore had no interest in a negotiated settlement - it had to be crushed by any means necessary. “Either the country will break the general strike”, he declared, “or the general strike will break the country”; he did not agree that the TUC “have as much right as the government to publish their side of the case and to exhort their followers to continue action”. They had no right to resist the government of the day. It is also worth noting that Churchill also wanted to turn the BBC into a government propaganda department - to hell with all pretence of ‘impartiality’.
Showing exactly what he would do to defend the interests of the British ruling class, Churchill helped create the Black and Tans - which terrorised the Irish people between 1920 and 1922. No-one disputes that the Tans killed and terrorised on a large scale, resorting to ferocious reprisals and ‘collective punishment’. When a Tan was killed in Cork, they burnt down more than 300 buildings in the city centre and afterwards proudly pinned pieces of burnt cork to their caps. They were also involved in the notorious 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre, an atrocity which occurred following the spectacular assassinations of over a dozen members of the Cairo Gang, a team of British undercover agents operating from Dublin. In retaliation, the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Tans opened fire indiscriminately on the crowd at a Gaelic football match in Croke Park, killing 14 supporters.
The Tans’ brutality disgusted even members of the British army. General Frank Crozier resigned in 1921 in protest against them being allowed to “murder, rob, loot and burn up the innocent because they could not catch the few guilty on the run”. The late Lord Longford wrote of the Tans torturing captured republicans - “cutting out the tongue of one, the nose of another, the heart of another and battering in the skull of a fourth”.
Then, of course, there were Churchill’s odious social views - notably his support for a particularly foul brand of eugenics. The “improvement of the British breed is my aim in life”, he wrote to his cousin, Ivor Guest, on January 19 1899. As a young politician entering parliament in 1901, Churchill saw the mentally disabled as a threat to the vigour and virility of British society. The stock must not be diluted. Thus as home secretary he was in favour of the confinement, segregation and sterilisation of the “feeble-minded” and others - including “idiots”, “imbeciles” and “moral defectives”. He proposed in 1910 that 100,000 “degenerate” Britons should be “forcibly sterilised and others put in labour camps to halt the decline of the British race”.
As for “tramps and wastrels”, he said a year later, there “ought to be proper labour colonies where they could be sent for considerable periods and made to realise their duty to the state”. Very liberal. Unsurprisingly, Churchill eagerly endorsed Dr HC Sharp’s charming booklet, The sterilisation of degenerates.2 Sharp was a member of the US Indiana Reformatory and issued an apocalyptic warning that “the degenerate class” was reproducing more quickly than the general population and thus threatening the “purity of the race”. In 1907 Indiana passed a eugenics law making sterilisation mandatory for those individuals in state custody deemed to be “mentally unfit” - other states followed suit and in the end more than 65,000 individuals were forcibly sterilised (nor were they allowed to marry). Naturally, Churchill was impressed, writing to home office officials asking them to investigate the possibility of introducing the “Indiana law” to Britain. He remained frustrated on this point. The 1913 Mental Deficiency Act rejected compulsory sterilisation in favour of confinement in special institutions. Bloody do-gooders.
With regards to international politics, Churchill was a fanatical anti-Bolshevik. Nothing else mattered except the need to prevent the spread of communism and ruthlessly “strangle the Bolshevik baby in its cradle” - whether that meant direct imperialist invasion or the sponsoring of terrorism. Anything goes. Though the Soviet regime survived the imperialist assault, Churchill ultimately succeeded in his mission by forcing civil war on the Bolsheviks - traumatising society as a whole and by necessity turning the Bolsheviks/Communist Party into a party-state war machine.
In other words, the Bolsheviks became transmuted - going from a situation where they led a revolution based on the working class to one where the working class had become utterly declassed: the fate of the revolution was dependent, as Lenin ruefully said, on the decision of a few thousand communists. By the time JV Stalin amended his Foundations of Leninism in 1924 to espouse the idea of socialism in one country - abandoning proletarian internationalism for national socialism - the revolution was indeed being ‘strangled’.
Just about the greatest myth peddled about Winston Churchill is that he led a great anti-fascist crusade against the Axis power during World War II - his finest hour. What utter baloney. The man welcomed the coming to power of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler - viewing them as valuable bulwarks against communism. Churchill only became ‘anti-fascist’ when he felt that the British empire was threatened by the expanding ambitions of these rivals. Defending British imperial interests, not fighting a democratic crusade against fascism, was his aim during World War II.
Previously, Churchill had praised Mussolini to the skies - the man could do no wrong. Il Duce had “rendered a service to the whole world” by showing the “way to combat subversive forces”. In fact, Churchill thought, Mussolini was the “Roman genius” - the “greatest lawgiver among men”. Speaking in Rome in 1927, he told Italy’s Fascist Party: “If I had been an Italian, I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”
He heaped similar praise upon Hitler too. After the Nazis came to power, Churchill proclaimed in a 1935 article that if Britain was defeated like Germany had been in 1918, he hoped “we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations”. While all manner of “formidable transformations” were occurring in Europe, Churchill continued, corporal Hitler was “fighting his long, wearing battle for the German heart” - the story of that struggle “cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate or overcome all the authorities or resistances which barred his path”. If only things had been different, Britain could have done a deal with fascist Italy and Germany against the common enemy - ie, ‘international Bolshevism’.
An associated myth is that Churchill fought the war to save the Jews from Nazi genocide. Total ahistorical nonsense, which is purely an ideological product of the post-World War II bourgeoisie - reinvented as a ‘democratic’ and ‘anti-fascist’ class with a deep hatred of racism in any form. Rather, Churchill was an anti-Semite - a prejudice he shared with most members of his class at the time. Yes, he may not have bought into Hitler’s mad pseudo-science (although his penchant for eugenics took him in that direction), but he certainly distrusted Jews - viewing them as both exploiters and resisters to exploitation: parasitical finance capitalists and Bolsheviks/communists.
This irrational bigotry shines through in his notorious February 1920 article for the Illustrated Sunday Herald - ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism: a struggle for the soul of the Jewish people’.3 In it, he writes that “we owe to the Jews in the Christian revelation a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind”. But at the same time, he cautions, it “may well be that this same astounding race may at the present time be in the actual process of producing another system of morals and philosophy, as malevolent as Christianity was benevolent” - it “almost seems as if the gospel of Christ and the gospel of Antichrist were destined to originate among the same people”.
Whilst lauding “national Jews” - the good Jews “loyal to the land of their adoption” - he denounced the violent schemes of the “international Jews”. For Churchill, there was no need to “exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews”. With the “notable exception” of Lenin, he fulminated, the “majority of the leading figures” in the communist movement are Jews. Moreover, even more importantly, the “principal inspiration and driving power comes from the Jewish leaders”. Karl Marx, Trotsky, Bela Kun, Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, etc - all part of “this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence and impossible equality”. A hideous disease.
He recommended Zionism as a partial antidote to Bolshevism - observing that “nothing could be more significant than the fury with which Trotsky has attacked the Zionists”. The “cruel penetration of his mind”, believed Churchill, “leaves [Trotsky] in no doubt that his schemes of a worldwide communist state under Jewish domination are directly thwarted and hindered by this new ideal, which directs the energies and the hopes of Jews in every land towards a simpler, a truer and a far more attainable goal” - a home for Jews in Palestine under the “protection”, and watchful eye, of the British crown.
The fact that we have forgotten the real Winston Churchill signals the failure of the left. Criminally, the bourgeoisie has almost total freedom to write and rewrite history as it sees fit. It would be dangerously complacent to think that the same thing could not happen to Margaret Thatcher, maybe sooner rather than later. For instance, The Guardian conducted a snap poll on who should be on banknotes to come. The favourite was Isambard Kingdom Brunel (20%), followed by Emily Pankhurst (19%) - with Thatcher coming a worrying third on 14% (David Beckham and Tony Blair came joint last on 1%).4
Frighteningly, it could happen - your grandchildren may come home one day excitedly waving a Thatcher banknote, telling you teacher said she saved the country from disaster. Organise now, and fight for left unity, to make sure this never happens.
4. The Guardian April 26.