Mass Murder – For Profit – Dressed in Democratic Rags
You can’t have missed it. Plans are afoot for commemorations of the 100th anniversary of World War One. We are already being carefully prepared for a splurge of the usual nostalgic nonsense, spiced with patriotic flag-waving and rose-tinted spectaculars, and the occasional poignant music accompanying shots of fields of poppies. Detailed and harrowing accounts of life in the trenches, of course; denunciations of ‘Prussian militarism’. A celebration of sacrifice, idealizing of the armed forces, romanticisation or the alleged harmony of class relation and social co-existence pre-1914; a hymn to the national unity forged in struggle (a myth better illustrated in World War 2, but, hey, one step at a time!) The British experience will be paramount, we’ll be bombarded with the idea of the war as a ‘just cause’; the experiences of any other nationality, or discussion of ‘alternative views’ of the causes if the war, will be sidelined.
At its fringes there’ll be lots of money for artists willing to engage in collaborative projects with schoolkids; less than that available as subsidies for private defence companies to sell missiles to Saudi Arabia so it can threaten Bahrain; but more than the aid budget for victims of landmines.
Officially the commemoration of World War One will emphasise the idea of the war as a just cause, a war for freedom and democracy against despotic German militarism. From the first, this has always been a huge lie. The First World War was sparked by international disputes; these had their origins in imperial rivalries, commercial competition, the struggle for colonial empires. Normal capitalist social relations, in other words.
What they are unlikely to celebrate is the resistance to the First World War – the movements who opposed the war from the start. The soldiers of all armies, all sides, who mutinied, deserted, refused to fight, who shirked and dodged and avoided fighting. The strikers who defied calls for sacrifice to fight for better wages and conditions (despite mass repression); or the thousands who refused to pay rent, rioted at high food prices, demonstrated against the privations the war was causing. They are probably not about to recall how the war ended in revolution in Russia, in Germany, and elsewhere; in mass strikes and mutinies all over the world…
They will celebrate the mass enlistment, the huge enthusiasm and volunteering that marked the early months of the war; a triumph for capitalism, really, since the previous few years had seen massive class struggle, an upsurge of rebelliousness, that was threatening to seriously de-stabilise the rule of the privileged classes. That the mass movements that on the surface claimed to be working for a classless, internationalist, peaceful society could so easily fall into line with chauvinistic, imperialist war, with millions of ‘socialists’ rushing off to kill those they’d been calling their ‘brothers’, is a stark lesson, that shouldn’t be forgotten. The contradictions that shot through the pre=war socialist and trade union movements need to be looked at, ands learned from.
But the government commemorations are unlikely to spotlight the falling off of enlistment, that together with the huge death toll, which led the British government to introduce conscription. They’re not about to highlight the raft of repressive measures brought in to control the population and keep people in line. Or that they attempted to continue the war after Armistice Day, planning to send millions of troops to intervene in revolutionary Russia. (A plan scuppered by soldiers’ mutinies, strikes and revolts).
We totally oppose THEIR plans for a “we’re all in it together” evocation of a harmonious past – that never existed – and a glorious national unity – that was broken by class, and many other, antagonisms from the start. We plan to organise events to challenge the orthodox view of World War 1, and by the way, of the past generally, the present, and the future… We’re not all in it together NOW – or ever have been… How a conjuring up of the glorious past could contribute to the urgent need for sacrifice and ‘national unity’, to clothe the current onslaught on our living conditions, Jubilee-style. You can’t separate the plans to glorify WW1 from the government’s current attempts to hype up support for the armed forces, for anti-immigrant hysteria, for ‘national self-sacrifice’ ie, us accepting lower standards of living to pay for theirs, and blaming it all on ‘foreigners’.
Groups and individuals in various cities around the UK are already planning to oppose the official events, with commemorations, actions, talks, lectures, and counter-commemorations. This includes a number of Remembering the Real World War 1 groups, people from the peace movement, radical historians, anti-war activists…
We hope this blog can be a resource, for local, national, international opposition to the whitewashing of history planned for the next five years. We WILL celebrate deserters, conscientious objectors, mutineers, rebels, strikers, food rioters, the networks of resistance that spoke out against the war, who sheltered draft-dodgers on the run. We WILL celebrate the revolutions and mutinies that crippled the war effort. We WILL also discuss the reasons for the collapse of the left, the socialist parties, the trade unions into jingoism and xenophobia – difficult questions shouldn’t be avoided. We WILL also call the capitalists to account for the deaths of millions, for their profit, their commercial rivalries, the imperial jostling for advantage.
Remembering the Real WW1’s aim, to counter the ‘old lie’, is bound up with our continuing commitment to oppose capitalist social relations, and the wars they inevitably produce. The world is our country.