58. As the war came to an end, there was every reason to anticipate revolutionary upheavals like those that had erupted in the aftermath of the First World War. Europe lay in ruins. Its economy was devastated, and its ruling elites were either directly implicated in fascist barbarism or had capitulated before Hitler’s armies. The Red Army controlled large swathes of the continent, while in Italy and Greece there was civil war. The colonial system was shattered, and mass anti-imperialist movements swept India, China and Africa.
59. Though Britain was a victor, it emerged from the war battered and grievously wounded. The conflict had cleared the way for the consolidation of the US as the dominant capitalist power, at Britain’s expense. In addition to massive interest payments on loans it had taken from the US to finance the war, the British bourgeoisie faced revolt in its colonial possessions; at the same time, working people at home demanded it make good on its pledge to create a “land fit for heroes”. The radical temper of the working class was underscored by the result of the general election in June 1945. The votes of thousands of British servicemen helped ensure that Churchill was dumped from office in a landslide win for Attlee’s Labour Party.
60. However, any evaluation of the objective potential for revolution must factor in the critical question of working class leadership. The political genocide of the Marxist vanguard by Stalinism, the destruction of the workers’ movement by the fascist powers, and the sheer weight of human loss incurred in the war meant that the revolutionary cadre marshalled within the Fourth International numbered only in the hundreds. The physical destruction of the most conscious elements in the working class proved central to the ability of imperialism to survive this period of profound crisis.
61. The Stalinist bureaucracy was able to misuse the prestige acquired by the Soviet Union from its defeat of Nazi Germany to suppress any independent initiative by the working class. In France, Italy, Germany and Greece, the Kremlin instructed local Stalinist parties to support bourgeois governments and disarm resistance fighters. In Eastern Europe, where, for reasons of military defence, the Kremlin concluded that it could not tolerate the creation of bourgeois puppet regimes controlled by the US, the Soviet Union established a series of “buffer states” under its control. The establishment of nationalised property in these states, sometimes delayed for several years, was accompanied by the systematic disenfranchisement of the working class.
62. The role played by Stalinism provided American imperialism with the time it needed to marshal its vast economic resources for the restabilisation of world capitalism. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had agreed on the division of Europe into “spheres of influence” in talks at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. But left open was the question of how to deal with their wartime opponents, Germany and Japan. Consideration was given to laying waste to Germany, in order to prevent its industrial revival. In the end, however, both nations were loaned substantially more monies by the US, and on better terms, than were extended to its British ally. The Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944 fixed the value of all national currencies to the dollar, which was itself tied to gold. US-sponsored institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, along with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, regulated economic relations between the capitalist states in order to prevent a return to the protectionist policies that had shattered the world market in the 1930s.