Many blogs have already covered the story published in the Manawatu Standard that the First Labour Government and Hitler were rather friendly, based on research by two Massey University history “dons.”
Naturally, The Standard blog has taken offence; naturally, David Farrar has taken the opportunity for some fun at Labour’s expense; and quite unnaturally the Dim Post has avoided making fun of everybody and instead pointed out that “the article itself is a bit vague about the details” – which is quite true, but probably won’t be remedied until the research is published later this year in the British Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. (Note to journalists: remember to follow this up.)
That said, there are one or two crucial things we do know that can give some context. Look for example at this cartoon published by The Standard blog (originally published in Labour’s party newspaper 23 May 1940) which is intended to give the idea that socialism and Nazism were always and forever died-in-the-wool antagonists. But this is contradicted by a large number of things, not least the fact that the word "Nazi" was itself an abbreviation for "der Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiters Partei — in English translation: the National Socialist German Workers' Party — and what should one expect of a country ruled by a party with "socialist" in its name to be but socialist? And for other socialists to recognise a comrade – as they did, before the war,
Perhaps the most relevant two facts here in terms of the timing of any Labour “cosying up” with Hitler – since it’s the timing of Labour’s cosying and un-cosying that seems to be at issue here – is the ‘Molotov-Ribbentrop pact’ agreed between socialist hero Joseph Stalin and National Socialist leader Adolph Hitler, and the pre-war cooperation between the two totalitarian powers.
The Pact itself certainly confused socialists and communists all around the world when it was signed, since they were now faced with prima facie evidence that the two leaders of these putative opposing systems didn’t themselves see any barriers to cooperation – as they did even well before the Pact in tasks such as helping prepare the Nazi and Soviet war machines, helping with Nazi Germany’s covert re-arming (the Soviet–German air base at Lipetsk and the Soviet–German Tank School at Kazan are just two examples of this long-standing cooperation), and (just one month after the signing) in dismembering and dividing up Poland. It’s often forgotten now, but for the first year of the war and for much of the time before that, in every important respect the Nazis and the Soviets were military allies – and those died-in-the-wool communists who were taking instructions from Moscow were being so instructed.
Whittaker Chambers and other Soviet spies have since described the betrayal felt by all their colleagues when the Nazis finally did invade the Soviet Union, and the volte-face and about-face and utter confusion caused by the reversal of the alliance, but despite everyone’s collective amnesia since let no-one forget that they were so allied, and that – whatever the writers of The Standard blog might think now – and whatever the cartoonists of The Standard newspaper might have wanted us to think back then – it was not unusual at all for the world’s socialists to get in behind Hitler’s Germany.
In fact, for a time there, it was far more unusual if they didn’t.