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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Underground Europe Calling

A book of this title was written by Oscar Paul (pseudonum for Oscar Pollak, born 1893), former editor of the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung (workers newspaper), a socialist paper, published early in 1942 by Victor Gollancz. Clearly he was an editor in exile. This is an optimistic book, certain that the rule of fascism would be ended by a workers revolution. In a sense, the task of defeating Nazism was a massive one, given the Nazi machinery that had been established. The story emerges of how the little people, the working and middle classes, would pull together to put right the ravages of war after the war was over. The author was deliberately vague about whether capitalism would be overturned - that would be the decision of the revolution itself.

It is a tragedy that ordinary decent people in Germany and Austria did not rise up in protest about what they clearly knew - as some did in Poland, Denmark and Norway. To rise up was to commit suicide and endanger one's family. Acts of resistance had to be small and unnoticeable, or at least untraceable. Unfortunately one had to be brave even to consider it, and the result was no opposition to a murderous ruling class. Paul ended his vision by looking after the war to how ordinary people would come together in international rebuilding. The former enemy would be clothed, housed and fed as fellow workers worthy of solidarity. We think of German and Japanese reconstruction, of the Berlin air lift. The sense of healing and reconsiliation during the early decades after the war was remarkable. The grossly guilty, Mengele, Eichmann, Goering and the others, were pursued but many others were re-educated and returned to a productive life. This book suggests that a new labour movement will emerge after the war, that there is no return to the status quo before Fascism. This movement should grow beyond national borders so it will operate in a pan-European and global theatre.

In the post-war period, in Britain, austerity still continued, food and manufactured goods were in short supply, and land-girls were still needed up to 1951. People may have wanted to forget the war as quickly as possible, but the effects of war affected everyone's lives. David Kynaston's A World to Build: Austerity Britain 1945-48 is a good next place to go.

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