June 1944: Capitalist massacre and manipulation

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June 1944: Capitalist massacre and manipulation

The capitalist class spares no expense when it comes to putting on a show to make the oppressed and exploited accept their fate. In ancient Rome, the Emperors knew that bread and circuses (“panem et circenses”) were necessary to reconcile the plebs to their situation. And when bread ran short, they added to the circus. In the Christian epoch, the ceremonial of the mass played essentially the same role. And, as with the Roman circus, the purpose was not only to divert the oppressed to make them forget the misery of their daily lives, but also to praise the strength and generosity of the ruling power of the day.

From this point of view, the bourgeoisie has invented nothing new. It has only developed vastly more sophisticated shows, adding its own mastery of capitalism's science and technology to all the experience of the ruling classes that preceded it.

Every day, and thanks above all to television, the “people” is treated to every imaginable kind of “reality show”, sporting event, and other celebrations of the luxury of modern society (even including royal weddings, centuries after the overthrow of the aristocracy's political power!). And on appropriate occasions, the bourgeoisie also uses important historical events not only to “amuse the people”, but to brainwash the population with lies and false lessons drawn from the events.

The 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings (6th June 1944) was a new example, and a particularly significant one.

All the journalists who covered the events noted that the ceremonies for the 60th anniversary far outdid those for the 50th in expense, media coverage, the participation of famous “personalities”, and “popular enthusiasm”. The same journalists have offered varied and sometimes surprising explanations for the paradox: the ceremonies were supposed to seal the new-found friendship between France and the USA after the disputes over the invasion of Iraq; or they were the last opportunity to express gratitude to the survivors and to treat those old men covered in medals, whether Appalachian miner, Oklahoma farmer or London truck driver, as VIPs for once in their lives.

Communists do not celebrate the D-Day Landings, as they might the Paris Commune or the revolution of October 1917. It is nonetheless their duty to explain what really happened in 1944, and what it meant, and to raise a small dam against the incoming tide of bourgeois lies, in the service of that tiny minority who are ready, today, to listen.

The biggest military operation in history

The history of humanity is rich in wars, yet never before 6th June 1944 had the world seen a military operation on the scale of the Normandy Landings.

On the night of 5th- 6th June, 6,939 ships crossed the English Channel: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing barges, 736 supply ships and 864 merchant ships. Above their heads, the sky was criss-crossed with the vapour trails of 11,590 aircraft: 5,050 fighters, 5,110 bombers, 2,310 transport aircraft, 2,600 gliders and 700 reconnaissance craft. In terms of manpower, 132,715 men went ashore on D-Day, to join the 15,000 American and 7,000 British paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines the night before by 2,395 aircraft.

The figures are enormous, but they are far from revealing the full extent of the operation. Even before the landings, minesweepers had cleared five huge sea-lanes to allow the Armada through. The landings themselves only aimed at establishing a bridgehead, which would make it possible to unload far greater numbers of troops and quantities of equipment. In less than a month, 1.5 million Allied troops disembarked with their equipment, including tens of thousands of armoured vehicles (the Americans built 150,000 Sherman tanks alone). This meant mobilising gigantic material and human resources. For the ships to unload men and cargo, the Allies needed a deep-water harbour such as Cherbourg or Le Havre. But since these towns could not be taken immediately, two artificial ports had to be built offshore from the villages of Arromanches and Saint-Laurent by towing hundreds of huge concrete caissons across the Channel, then sinking them to create piers and jetties.[1] For several weeks, Arromanches became the world's largest port by tonnage, until the Allies took Cherbourg a month after D-Day, shipping double the tonnage of New York harbour in 1939. By the 12th August, the Allies were able to begin using PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), a submarine pipeline for fuel running from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg.

These colossal human and material resources are in themselves symbolic of what the capitalist system has become, swallowing vast quantities of technical prowess and human labour in the service of destruction. But over and above the enormous scale of “Operation Neptune” (as the Normandy Landings were code-named), we should remember that it was merely a preparation for some of the worst carnage in history: “Operation Overlord”, the whole military operation throughout the European theatre in mid-1944. All along the Normandy coast, one can still see the unending lines of white crosses that bear witness to the terrible price paid by a whole generation of young Americans, British, Germans, Canadians, etc., some of them barely 16 years old. The military cemeteries give no account of the civilian dead, the old, women, and children, who were killed during the fighting, sometimes in even greater numbers than the soldiers. The battle of Normandy, during which the Germans tried to prevent the Allies from gaining a foothold and then advancing into France, cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

The truth that the bourgeoisie would like to hide

The bourgeois media hides none of this. One sometimes even gets the impression that they are laying it on a bit thick when they describe the terrible massacre of that summer of 1944. The lie is in the interpretation of events.

The soldiers who disembarked on the 6th June 1944 and the days that followed are presented as the soldiers of “liberty” and “civilisation”. That is what they were told before the Landings, to persuade them to sacrifice their lives and it is what the numerous politicians, Bush, Blair, Chirac, Putin, Schröder, & Co, who visited the Normandy beaches on 6th June 2004 repeated. And all the commentators add: “where would we be today had these soldiers not made that terrible sacrifice? We would still be under the Nazi jackboot!”. What more need be said? However awful the slaughter may have been, it was a “necessary evil” to save “democracy and civilisation”.

These lies are repeated by all the enemies of yesteryear (the German chancellor was invited to the ceremony), and by practically the whole political spectrum, from the most reactionary right to the Trotskyists. Against these lies, it is necessary to repeat a few elementary truths.

The first truth that needs to be remembered is that World War II was not a struggle between a “democratic camp” and a “totalitarian camp” - unless one continues to consider Stalin as a great champion of democracy. This indeed is what the “communist” parties of the day pretended, and the others made little effort to give them the lie. The real communists, for their part, had long since denounced the Stalinist regime as the gravedigger of the October revolution and the spearhead of the world wide counter-revolution. In reality, in World War II just as in World War I, two imperialist camps fought over markets, raw material supplies and spheres of influence. And if Germany appeared as the aggressor, the “warmonger”, then this is simply because it had come out worst from the imperialist share-out that followed the Versailles treaty at the end of World War I, aggravating still further the unfavourable situation of Germany prior to 1914 that resulted from its late arrival on the imperial scene (small countries like Belgium and Holland had larger empires than Germany).

The second truth is this: despite all the talk about the “defence of civilisation”, it was hardly a preoccupation for the Allied leaders who demonstrated, on occasions, a capacity for barbarism wholly comparable to that of the Axis countries. Nor are we talking only of the Stalinist gulags, which were fully equal in horror to the Nazi concentration camps. The “democratic” countries have also demonstrated their talents in this domain. We will not review here all the crimes and acts of barbarity committed by the valiant “defenders of civilisation” (see, in particular, our article “Crimes and massacres of the great democracies” in International Review n°66). It is enough to remember that before World War II, and long before the Nazis came to power, these countries had “exported” their “civilisation” not only by the gospel, but also and above all by the sword, the gunship, and the machine gun, not to mention poison gas and torture. As for World War II, let us recall some of the Allies' indubitable demonstrations of “civilisation”. The first to spring to mind are of course the bombardment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6th and 9th August 1945, when atomic bombs were used for the first and only time in history, killing more than 100,000 civilians in a matter of seconds and leaving more than 100,000 others to die of radiation sickness after months or years of suffering.

The terrible toll exacted by Allied bombardments was not limited to the effects of nuclear weapons. The slaughter of the civilian population by the defenders of “civilisation” was also conducted using perfectly classical methods:

·       the bombardment of Hamburg during July 1943: 50,000 dead;

·       the bombardment of Tokyo in March 1945: 80,000 dead;

·       the bombardment of Dresden on the 13th and 14th February 1945: 250,000 dead.

The last of these bombardments is particularly significant. Dresden contained no troop concentrations, no economic or industrial objective. It was crowded with refugees from the bombing of other cities. The Allies had already virtually won the war. But they intended to sow terror in the population, and above all among the workers, to discourage any return to the ideas of the end of World War I: that capitalism could be overthrown by revolutionary struggle.

The Nazi “war criminals” were judged in the Nuremberg trials that followed the war. They owed their condemnation not to the extent of their crimes, but to the fact that they belonged to the defeated camp. Otherwise, Churchill and Roosevelt, responsible for the decision to carry out the slaughter we have just mentioned, should have shared a place with their German counterparts in the dock.

Finally, there is another truth that needs to be established against the argument that if the Allies had not liberated Europe, then the suffering would have been still worse.

It is generally pointless to try to rewrite history with “ifs”; it is far more fruitful to understand why history took one course rather than another. This argument (“supposing the Allies had lost the war?”) is generally used by those whose intention is to justify the existing order on the grounds that it is the “lesser evil” (as Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others”).

In reality, the victory of “democracy” and “civilisation” in World War II did not put an end to the barbarity of the capitalist world. Since 1945, wars have taken as many victims as both world wars combined. The continued survival of the capitalist mode of production, whose obsolescence is demonstrated by the two world wars, the economic crisis of the 1930s that came between them, and the crisis of today, has subjected humanity to an unending series of deadly disasters (famine, epidemics, all the “natural” disasters whose worst effects could easily be avoided, etc.). Not to mention the fact that the continued survival of capitalism is mortgaging the survival of the human species through the irreversible destruction of the environment, thus preparing new natural – especially climatic – disasters, with all their terrifying consequences. And if the capitalist system has been able to survive for 50 years since World War II, it is because the “victory of democracy” was a terrible defeat for the working class: an ideological defeat which completed the counter-revolution that followed the defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23.

It is precisely because the bourgeoisie, with the help of all the so-called “workers' parties” (from socialists to Trotskyists, via the “communists”), succeeded in making the workers of the world's major capitalist nations – especially in the great industrial concentrations of Europe – believe that the victory of democracy was “their victory”, that they did not undertake a revolutionary struggle during and after the war, as they had done during World War I. In other words, the “victory of democracy” in general, and the D-Day landings that have been so lauded this June, offered a reprieve to decadent capitalism, allowing it to continue its bloody and catastrophic course for another half century.

Needless to say, none of the media mention this truth. On the contrary, the special zeal with which the powerful and their lackeys have celebrated this “great moment of Liberty” is a measure of the renewed unease with which the ruling class is beginning to envisage the perspective of a reawakening of the class struggle, as every day the crisis of capitalism demonstrates the system's historical bankruptcy and the necessity of overthrowing it.

Indeed, if there is one other lesson that the working class should learn from operations “Neptune” and “Overlord”, it is the bourgeoisie's remarkable capacity for deception.

A bodyguard of lies

At the Tehran conference of Allied leaders in December 1943, Churchill remarked to Stalin, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”. The idea is not a new one. In the 6th century BC, the Chinese strategist Sun Zi described the main rule in the art of war thus: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near”.[2] In order to ensure the success of the greatest military operation in history, it was necessary to undertake one of the most gigantic enterprises of deception ever imagined. This was the operation codenamed “Fortitude”, designed to deceive the German High Command when the landings took place. It was developed by the London Control Section (LCS) set up by Churchill, which brought together the main British and American intelligence chiefs.

We will not describe in detail here all the means used to deceive the Germans, and will limit ourselves to some of the most important.

During the first half of 1944, the German leaders realised that the Allies intended to open a second front in Europe, in other words that a landing was planned. Thus far, the Allies knew that it was impossible to deceive the enemy. However, the question remained of exactly when and where the landings were planned, and the objective of “Special means” (to use the British term) was to make believe that they would take place at a date and location other than the Normandy beaches on 6th June 1944. In theory, the landings could take place anywhere between the Bay of Biscay and the north of Norway, a coastline several thousand miles long. However, inasmuch as the Allies had established the vast majority of their military bases in Britain, it seemed logical to expect a landing somewhere between Brittany and Holland. Hitler himself was convinced that it would take place in the Pas de Calais, where the Channel is narrowest: in particular, this would allow British fighter aircraft to take part in the operation despite their limited range.

Allied espionage had already reported this belief of the German High Command, and the aim of “Operation Fortitude” was to make sure that they continued to believe it for as long as possible, even after the Normandy landings, which were presented as no more than a diversion to prepare the “real” landing in the Pas de Calais. Indeed, Hitler still expected this “real” landing several weeks after the Allies had established the Normandy beachhead, and consequently refused to send the men and equipment massed in Northern France and Belgium to counter-attack in Normandy. When he understood what was happening, it was too late: the Allies had already landed enough troops and equipment to take Normandy and to advance on Paris and then into Germany.

The Allies spared no expense to deceive their enemy. Some of the means employed verged on the comical: take the example of Meyrick Edward Clifton James, a provincial actor in civilian life, who in May 1944 played the most important role of his career, when he impersonated General Montgomery, Britain's leading field general and the man in charge of the operational side of the Normandy landings. An almost perfect double for the general, dressed and made-up by specialists, James arrived in Gibraltar on 26th May on his way to Algiers, with the aim of making the Germans believe that the landings planned in the south of France (which followed D-Day by more than two months, on 15th August in Provence) were in fact to precede those in Normandy.[3]

There existed a whole series of other episodes of the same kind, but the most decisive measure designed to convince the German leadership that the landings were to come in the Pas de Calais, was the formation of the First US Army Group (FUSAG) under the command of General Patton, one of America's best-known generals. FUSAG was encamped in South-East England, and so opposite the Pas de Calais, and comprised no less than one million men with all their equipment. However, FUSAG's main particularity was, that it was completely fictitious. The tanks that the German reconnaissance aircraft photographed were inflatable dummies, the aircraft were wooden models, the military camps were of cardboard, etc. The radio traffic generated by FUSAG was imitated by American and Canadian actors.[4]

Some of the methods used to strengthen the German conviction that an attack on Northern France was imminent are indicative of the degree of cynicism of which the ruling class is capable. “Free French” agents working for the British were sent on a mission to sabotage the canons protecting that part of the coast. What they did not know, was that British double agents (whom the Germans thought were working for them) had betrayed them to the Gestapo, knowing that under torture they were bound to reveal their supposedly “sensitive” information.[5]

What is striking, when we consider the “Special means” used by both camps during World War II, but especially by the Allies, is the incredible degree of Machiavellianism deployed to deceive the enemy. Indeed, for a long time after the war the US government tried to keep them hidden (in a memorandum of 28th August 1945, Truman banned any publication of information on the subject). The leading spheres of the ruling class have no interest in letting it be known how Machiavellian they are capable of being, especially not in a period when war has become permanent. After all, if a stratagem has not been revealed, it can be used again. As an example, we can point to the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, deliberately engineered by the British and American leadership with a view to bouncing a recalcitrant American population, as well as the isolationist sections of the American bourgeoisie, into World War II. This has always been denied by the American authorities (who have surrounded the events with a “bodyguard of lies”). If, as seems highly likely, the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001 was intended to happen by an American secret service which left Al Qaeda free to operate, in order to prepare the way for the war in Iraq, then we can understand their interest in keeping the reality of Pearl Harbor a secret today.[6]

Finally, the working class should never forget that if the bourgeoisie is capable of incredible Machiavellianism in its imperialist wars, it is that much more so in the class war. One could even say that it is against the proletariat that the bourgeoisie deploys its greatest sophistication in the art of deception, for what is at stake then is not merely a matter of imperialist supremacy, but a question of life or death. In other words, even more than in wars between nations, it is in the class war that the bourgeoisie will “protect the truth with a bodyguard of lies”.

The fanfares that celebrated the Normandy landings are silent today, but the working class must never forget the real lessons of this event:

·       that decadent capitalism can never put an end to war, it can only heap ruin upon ruin and wage war on an ever more terrible scale;

·       that the ruling class is capable of every infamy, every lie, to preserve its domination over society;

·       and that the proletariat must never underestimate the intelligence of the exploiting class, nor its ability to use the most sophisticated machinations to protect its power and privileges.


[1] These were the famous “Mulberry Harbours”. The most spectacular feature of the Mulberry project was without doubt the construction of the huge, hollow blocks of concrete, or Phoenix caissons, to form the roadstead. Before being flooded, they each weighed between 1,600 and 6,000 tonnes, while the largest ones measured sixty metres by seventeen, and were the height of a five-storey building. A total of 40,000 workers were involved in this gigantic project, which required the opening of special building sites across England.

[2] From the English text reproduced at https://www.chinapage.com/sunzi-e.html

[3] In the same vein, it is also worth mentioning “Operation Mincemeat”, aimed at deceiving the German High Command into the belief that the Allied landings in Sicily were only the prelude to much larger landings in Greece and Sardinia. A British submarine left drifting on the Spanish coast the corpse of a man identified by his papers as a Major William Martin – who had never in fact existed – with chained to his wrist an attaché case containing false documents intended to lend credibility to this story. The Spanish authorities (Spain was at this time under Franco's fascist regime, but had not joined Germany in the war) handed the documents back to the British embassy, but not before they had been photographed by the German secret service. Combined with other manoeuvres of the same kind, “Operation Mincemeat” proved a brilliant success, since it caused Hitler to send one of his most brilliant officers, Rommel, to Athens, in order to prepare for a landing in Greece that never happened.

[4] FUSAG was supported by the equally fictitious British 4th Army of 350,000 men, based in Scotland supposedly in readiness for the invasion of Norway. The fact that the 4th Army did not exist did not prevent it, once the Normandy landings began, from moving south to join FUSAG in preparation for an attack on Calais...

[5] This inglorious exploit of “Special means” is recounted in novel form by the American journalist Larry Collins (co-author of Is Paris burning) in his book Fortitude. Needless to say, this episode is not the only illustration of Allied cynicism. It is worth remembering the Dieppe landings of 19th August 1942. This operation involved 5,000 Canadian and 2,000 British troops, and had no intention of taking position in France. The Allied leadership knew from the outset that they were sending these young men into a bloodbath. The operation's sole objective was to conduct a “live test” of the German defence, and to gather information on the problems that would have to be solved for the Normandy landings to succeed.

[6] See our article “Pearl Harbor 1941, the Twin Towers 2001, and the Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie” in International Review n°108. Those who criticise our articles that highlight the Machiavellianism of the ruling class, on the grounds that it is incapable of undertaking the activity that we describe, should read The spy who came in from the cold, by ex-British agent John Le Carré, which is an excellent remedy for the naivety that afflicts our critics.



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75th anniversary of D-Day: A propaganda barrage against the proletariat