Paddy: Winston Churchill, widely regarded as one of the greatest and most powerful patriarchs of the 20th century, is also drawn upon to symbolise the noble underdog – the outgunned warrior defending his patch against the hoard.
But for a great many others the British Bulldog conjures up a less settling image: a racist reactionary responsible for unforgivable crimes, not least among them helping initiate a series of events which nearly destroyed our planet.
Churchill’s projection looms large long after his death and, although the cult which still surrounds him is loath to admit it, casts a dark shadow.
Pole: Another member of the 20th century triumvirate, Joseph Stalin. A man, who in his person represented the iron will of the Soviet Union and who led the Russian people through the turmoil of World War 2, until the final fall of Nazi Germany, to which he contributed greatly.
Unlike Churchill, he is mostly known for his reign of terror, fuelled by paranoia and a quest for absolute power. Surely it cannot be denied that Stalin was the worst human being of the previous century. And that’s saying a lot. After all we are talking about the period of history which included people like Hitler, Chairman Mao and a plethora of other ruthless dictators.
Paddy: Ever since Churchill grew out of that stage of human development where everyone looks like a miniature Winston, he was attempting with all of his might to be the biggest bigot in the vicinity. In Tory England that took quite a bit of doing.
He violently despised every one not of his class and colour. To him, the Irish, brazen enough to demand independence, were barbarians; the indolent Indians, unfortunately sharing the same defect of the paddies, deserved the very worst English grenadiers could lob at them; anyone suspected of being to the left of Mussolini (that great wartime ally of his, Franklin D. Roosevelt, included) were suspect and should, if at all possible, be covertly undermined or overtly thrown to the wolves. The miners who asked for better work conditions and received volleys of rifle fire in return, knew this better than most.
Striking miners in Tonypandy, 1910
No doubt more crimes of this saggy aristocratic alcoholic will come to light as we continue but, for now, it’s important I clarify what I wrote before: Churchill, ever giddy on dispensing of blood and tears of others, did more than any other person to bring about the Cold War.
At Fulton, having just reluctantly handed over the reins of Empire to our American cousins, implanted in their leaders’ minds the idea of a War To End All Wars – but for real this time. What later became misleadingly called the Cold War, at several points, almost caused a nuclear holocaust (something Stalin took steps to avert, whatever else one may say of him – see his plan of a unified Germany).
The ladies of High Society in Britain couldn’t excite this old curmudgeon but the thought of thousands of charred corpses (preferably brown) did. The most one could say of this douchebag, as one could not say of most notorious mass murderers, is he did it with some panache.
Pole: You forgot to mention all of the gulags, forced famines, show trials, political purges, executions carried out by secret police and arrests in the middle of the night Churchill was responsible for. Oh, wait, that wasn’t Churchill at all, it was Stalin. As bad as Churchill might’ve been, he can’t really be compared to Mr. Awesome Moustache.
Did Churchill eliminate his political rivals by having them executed by the NKVD or assassinated from the other side of the globe? Did he name streets, plazas and entire cities after himself and commission massive statues of his chubby self in order to create a cult in his honour? Did he do horrific things to maintain an absolute, despotic power? Did he have a special room where people could clean themselves after meeting with him? No. Again, that was Stalin.
Saying that Churchill was worse than Stalin is like saying that getting kicked in the balls is worse than passing a kidney stone.
Paddy: Urine tracts aside, I am not surprised that Churchill didn’t employ the services of the NKVD considering they were operating on the other side of his Iron Curtain. And besides he had MI5 to do his dirty work. Under Churchill’s watchful eye, MI5 perfected the Five Techniques torture regime, sought by brutal governments everywhere. During WWII, a system a “Gestapo-like” torture was carried out on POWs (I refer you to Ian Cobain’s Cruel Britannia). Innocent the Bulldog was not.
This should be unsurprising to anyone who knows their history, the English conceived most of the instruments of repression employed by totalitarian Germany and Russia, the concentration camp included.
And that’s what Churchill personified in spades – Western Imperialism at its very worst.
The Right Honourable Sir Winston Churchill KG OM CH TD DL et al.
It is important in this discussion to not simply talk of individuals, we must look at what they represent. Absolutely, on a personal level, Churchill would have provided better companionship than the Great Bear (if you were white). If only because a degree of civility had been established among Britain’s elite that was yet to emerge in the Soviet leadership.
In India and Africa and East Asia, Churchill and his fellow ideologues behaved like Nazis. George Orwell’s hatred for fascism and racism developed during his service in the down-trodden British possession of Burma, where hangings and sadistic abuse of the locals was frequent. Yet again, the Brits were the originals.
Look, as with many atheists say in relation to god, I would like to believe in Churchill. It’s those facts that just keep getting in the way. He was a bridge between two disgraceful worlds – that of European colonialism and that of American global hegemony. To use a capitalist analogy he would no doubt resent, Stalin(ism) is Mickey Mouse in comparison.
Pole: For how many deaths has Churchill been responsible for? I don’t think anyone can claim more than papa Joseph (except Mao, although that’s mostly due to bad economic decisions not deliberate actions). There is still some debate about the exact number, but most seem to agree it was approx. 20 million. The lucky ones were shot in the back of the head and then buried in a ditch. Others either starved, froze or were worked to death.
MI5 may have conducted torture, like every other intelligence agency in the history of mankind, but they did so to extract actual information, sometimes crucial to the war effort. The NKVD did so to force people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, so they then could be sentenced during show trials. I don’t remember any time when a MI5 agent stripped a woman, covered her private parts in honey and tied her to a tree or a post near an anthill. You can imagine what happened to her. All because she was a prisoner in a gulag and refused to have sex with the NKVD officers in charge.
Concentration camps and mass shootings of protesting miners are horrific, but where is the British equivalent of Katyn? Did Churchill order the murder of about 22 thousand POWs, priests and members of the intelligentsia, who were then buried in a mass grave, some of them still alive? As much as death toll is concerned, I don’t think Churchill comes even close to Stalin.
Paddy: I see you have ignored my suggestion to also consider the related ideologies of both men. If you insist on a score chart of death tolls, however distasteful, I will surely have to submit.
The MI5 – which, I see, you’re only too happy to act as apologist on behalf of – wasn’t the only group of sadists Churchill had to hand. The Black and Tans, brainchild of the infamous drunk, certainly give Stalin’s goons a run for their money. Ex-soldiers, ex-convicts and psychopaths – lesser breeds without the law if ever there was – were unleashed on the Irish citizenry during his time as Minister of War. Rape, murder and robbery were all-too-common in an effort to pacify the natives. I could recite individual cases for maximum emotional impact, but it seems cheap.
There was also plenty of politically-motivated espionage, with those Brits who were suspiciously too anti-Nazi (because, for the Tories, fascism was always preferable to democracy abroad – appeasement would better be called acceptance) finding themselves subject to all sorts of monitoring and intimidation. Victims included the intellectual greats Claud Cockburn, EP Thompson and John Steinbeck.
Everyone in the West knows of Mao and Stalin’s famines, but the one Churchill presided over in the Crown Jewel of the Empire? There were three million deaths all told, and to the very end Churchill was ordering “fakir” produced food onto ships, to become exports. (As was done in Eire when spuds caught the plague.) Worse still, he denied relief from the “responsible white men” of Canada and the States. All this was done despite protests from the Indian Secretary of State, who regarded the PM’s policies as “Hitler-like”. If the famine were so bad, Winston asked, why hadn’t Gandhi starved?
Ukraine isn’t the only victim of Machiavellian agriculture policies. Nor genocide,
I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.
(Again, remind you of anyone?)
Perhaps we ought to be thankful the British Empire declined when it did because, given the track record and rhetoric, if they had the power Stalin had amassed, Churchill and his cabal would have had no qualms about enacting genocide on all those coolies, niggers and Arab barbarians getting dangerous ideas of liberty post-1945.
Pole: You claim that if Churchill had the sort of power Stalin had he would be more than happy to cause some genocide. But he fucking didn’t! Using the “if” argument is nonsensical.
You want to bring famine into that? In this case it’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. While it is true that Churchill didn’t do fuck-all about it, and in fact made it worse, Stalin’s policies caused famine in Ukraine. He exported most of grain in the foreign markets to pay for his massive industrialization scheme which itself caused deaths and had devastating effects to the environment. The famine wasn’t a result of bad governance, rather it was a conscious plan to stamp down any talk of Ukrainian independence. Starving people don’t make good freedom fighters. There may have been about 3 million deaths in India but there were 7 million deaths in Ukraine… numbers don’t lie.
Churchill was in favour of white male supremacy, Stalin was into Russian supremacy. The latter implemented the policy of russification: Russian language and customs were forced upon non-Russian inhabitants of the Soviet Union, often at the price of sacrificing their own culture. Lenin and his Bolsheviks took land from the aristocracy and gave it to the peasants who had been working their fields for generations, ending the medieval feudalism in Russia. Stalin’s collectivisation has reversed that, effectively turning those peasants back into serfs. Factory workers didn’t have it any better either. Poor and dangerous work conditions were present everywhere. Anyone who even thought of complaining was sent to a gulag. Those policies have spread to the other socialist republics like Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia – not to the same extent as in the Soviet Union, but still.
Churchill was a racist, anti-Semitic bigot, fair enough. That’s horrible. The only reason why you can’t say that about Stalin is because he didn’t single out any particular ethnic or religious group as targets of his murderous tendencies. He was just as likely to kill a member of the Communist Party (including the Supreme Commander of the Red Army) as a peasant living in the middle of nowhere.
If you really want to talk about ideologies, let’s talk about ideologies. Churchill’s European colonialism involved the white man’s dominance, exploitation and to some extent extermination of indigenous people. Stalinism involved the expansion of Soviet rule over the world, using terror to maintain order and power, russification of local populace, and spreading the cult of Stalin.
Under Churchill’s imperialist rule, the British people could enjoy such things as the freedom of speech and religion while not having to fear having a bag pulled over their head and being dragged away, never to be seen again. Trials of the so called “enemies of the state” in Soviet republics were closer to those carried out by the Inquisition than those in any modern justice system.
Stalin wasn’t such a good and inspirational speaker as Churchill so finding extensive quotes is difficult. I’d like to use just one however: “Death solves all problems, no man – no problem”, said by a man for whom any anonymous accusation or an imaginary threat caused by paranoia was enough to send people to unmarked graves, lost forever.
Paddy: I suppose I should be heartened that you did not conflate Stalinism with the proud tradition of socialism, as so many do. You are right to draw attention to the strongly nationalist strain running through his ideological system. So you can see this as something of a concession if you like: yes, when it comes to brutal dictatorship few can come close to Stalin’s standard.
But there are many ways to act rotten and in that department the British Establishment possessed – and still maintain with considerable vigour, as we learn to our dismay with every new child abuse scandal – a special prowess. For every Soviet crime you throw my way I can lob back a dozen more which Churchill either advocated or initiated. And, in some notable cases, his decisions carried greater weight and the potential for greater destruction.
It is no exaggeration to say that if, contrary to Churchill’s wishes, Britain and France intervened to aid the fledgling Spanish Republic in 1936 the world might have been spared the worst excesses of Nazism. The world war might have been adverted. On the Iberian Peninsula Hitler, Mussolini and Franco perfected *their* reigns of terror – bombing of civilians, mass internment, indoctrination.
Churchill was in a position to do something to stop Hitler when the task would’ve been far easier than it later turned out to be, but he didn’t, because deep down in every Tory sits the same masochistic sickness that also drove the goose-steppers of the Third Reich. He was certainly no great lover of the democratic system it’s wrongly assumed he saved.
And I know I’m playing another “if only things were different” game but my point stands – Churchill’s intentions were just as savage, and if not worst at times, than Stalin’s. Besides, it’s unfair to deny a leftist his “what if” scenarios, it’s about the only thing that keeps us sane (considering that history stubbornly keeps choosing the wrong path).
We could play tit-for-tat all day (I haven’t even got to Churchill’s fantasies of gassing Kurds, or his entirely unnecessary mass-bombing of German cities) but that will get us no-where. I am still more interested in what the men personified.
Churchill was the moral author of the nuclear stand-off which, by sheer luck and a Russian called Stanislav Petrov, hasn’t turned us all to cinder. Although Churchill had a soft spot for ol’ Joe, he utterly despised the Communism he was supposed to stand for. Before WWII had even come to a close he had Operation Unthinkable drawn up, a plan to sneak-attack the USSR.
Nothing rattled Churchill’s cage more than the thought of socialised health and – one dreads to think – equality. Old habits die hard and aristocracy even harder. To maintain the shell of the old landed gentry system Churchill was prepared to see the world burn.
Unable to hold on to his sun and blood-soaked empire following the war, Churchill came to embrace at least one former group of colonial possessions: the Yanks. These “responsible white men” could carry the torch for Blighty (reimagined romantically as the wise old Greeks in this new special relationship). Eventually they learnt to do it with gusto, gaining some of the greatest prizes on Earth: the Middle East, East Asia and a monopoly over the Western Hemisphere, all with minimal effort.
The Vietnamese, Cambodians, Congolese, South Africans, Cubans, Chileans, Indonesians, Iranians, Angolans, Nicaraguans, Bolivians, Haitians, Deigo Garcians, Iraqis and Palestinians never quite recovered from the shockwaves this transition of imperial rule brought, nurtured by the Bulldog himself.
So there you have it, Churchill’s legacy. A New Rome and impending doom.
The first time the White House burned
Pole: If the US is the New Rome, than the USSR is the Vandalic or Hunnic horde, coming from the East to take new lands and establish new order, while looting and pillaging everything in its path. The new order wouldn’t be the sweet, sweet socialism you are so fond of. It would be a mutated, perverse version of it, born in a mind ravaged by paranoia and a hunger for absolute power.
Vandals sacking Rome
Churchill’s plan to attack the Soviet Union didn’t come from his hatred towards communism, not entirely at least. He didn’t trust Stalin, with good reason. After all, he has broken the word he’s given at Yalta. After liberating the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, Stalin promised only to help them re-establish their own governments. They were supposed to be in the Soviet zone of influence with new borders, but remain pretty much independent. Instead, NKVD followed the Red Army, installing communist regimes, wherever it passed. Countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary became little more than puppet states of Mother Russia. If Stalin was allowed to progress further West, George VI and his entire family would have likely been executed, United Kingdom would’ve been transformed into People’s Republic of Great Britain, and secret police officers would drag people out of their beds in the middle of the night.
Stalin also had his own plan of invading the West. Former soviet intelligence officer, Vladimir Rezun under a pen name Viktor Suvorov, wrote in a few books about his theory about Stalin’s plans. The only difference is, Stalin planned to do that a lot earlier, but Hitler’s invasion in 1941 has stopped him. I have no doubt that if “Operation Barbarossa” didn’t happen, the Red Army would have invaded German occupied territories and continued westward, until it reached the Atlantic.
It is easy to criticise people for making decisions with unforeseeable and unintentional consequences. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. In 1936, France and Britain, probably just wanted to avoid another global war. I’m sure if they knew that Nazis will be building death camps, they would have intervened a lot sooner and Dunkirk disaster would have been avoided.
Captain Hindsight to the rescue!
Yet again, you use the “what if” argument, and yet again I am forced to point out its lack of sense.
Let us finish this discussion here. Otherwise we could go for far longer than I care to keep repeating: 20 million deaths.
Paddy: It seems a wall still exists between East and West, however immaterial. Although to see the ideological trading its ghostly state has brought about is entertaining. So, if you truly believe humanitarian concerns were ever a driving force in British and French foreign policy considerations in the 1930-40s or otherwise, we’re going to need a bigger ladder.