Bernadette Wang reminds us what Remembrance Sunday should actually be about, this article was first featured in the most recent edition of Challenge.
Come this Remembrance Sunday on 9th November, David Cameron, his government and indeed the entire British Establishment will seek to whip up sentiments of jingoism and false patriotism.
This is of course to be the historic centenary “celebration” of World War One. A reported £55 million will be spent on commemorations across the country.
They claim to be remembering and celebrating Britain’s fallen service men and women. In reality the money is being utilised to present their particular account, the view of the ruling class, as to what the conflict was and was about.
Instead of acknowledging the popular understanding, the reality, of what WWI was about — senseless slaughter on an industrial scale — they argued it was some sort of regrettable yet ultimately necessary sacrifice to defeat German militarism.
The YCL recognises that in this they are only hijacking the legacy of Britain’s war dead for their own interests. This is not only in terms of the battle of ideas in our society — revolutionary and socialist consciousness vs support for imperialism — but also in perpetuating support for further imperialist war.
The legacy of heroism and sacrifice remain a great recruiting tool for the British armed forces and many of the same arguments are employed to justify imperialist adventures today.
In this they tarnish and desecrate the entire legacy and ideal of remembrance for the war that was supposed to end all wars.
The First World War is celebrated with particular zeal in Britain. We look to the bravery and sacrifice of British soldiers in that conflict and cannot help but be humbled. However what will Mr Cameron tell the country those men and women died for? For democracy in Europe? The vast majority of British people could not vote until 1918, and even then women were not given the franchise to the same extent as men until a decade later.
Cameron and other apologists for the British Empire have even cynically sought to argue the Empire was a civilising force, spreading tolerance and good governance across the globe. Niall Ferguson (being the most infamous bourgeois ideologue) for instance claimed that “the British Empire acted as an agency for relatively incorrupt government. Prima facie, there there-fore seems a plausible case that empire enhanced global welfare — in other words, was a Good Thing.”
The reality of the Empire of course, was very different. Our colonial administration was far from civil and was the very antithesis of democracy. It was ruled, garrisoned and policed with ruthless efficiency. The slightest hint of dissent was crushed mercilessly.
Although Ferguson’s views are by no means accepted by most historians, and indeed are made as an attempt to challenge historical orthodoxy, his media popularity does demonstrate the extent to which these views exist and pervade our society. The fact that they can be publicly expressed by a “respected” academic is indicative of the danger should we fail to challenge them.
It is surely the duty of the communist youth to present a class analysis of WWI. And it is Lenin who lived in that tumultuous period who describes the real nature of the war in Europe:
“The war of 1914-18 was imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies and spheres of influence of finance capital.”
The motivations of the British ruling class to enter the war were exactly same as that of the French, German, Austrian or Russian ruling classes, he explained in a 1920 edition of Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.
“The so-called Great Powers have long been exploiting and enslaving a whole number of small and weak nations. And the imperialist war is a war for the division and re-division of this kind of booty.”
WWI was a struggle between the “Great Powers” to redivide the world. Although Britain’s global power had already started its slow decline, the immediate outcome of the war was the expansion of its vast empire, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. Indeed, the seeds of the current problems in the Middle East can be traced back to that conflict.
The so-called Islamic State (Isis) claims it has abolished the borders left by the secret Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916, which — in the middle of WWI — carved up the crumbling Ottoman Empire between Britain and France. Lines were drawn on the map which disregarded tribal identity and ignored deep ethnic differences between Kurds and Arabs and Shia and Sunni.
Then, as now, careless and arrogant military intervention in pursuit of empire was to have huge and unforeseen impacts on millions of people in the Middle East for generations to come.
History demonstrates time and time again that imperialism will utilise ethnic and religious divisions to further its own ends as in Syria and Ukraine today. It also clearly shows we can never have peace under capitalism.
The YCL calls on the British youth to engage with Remembrance Day in a different way. We must take it as a poignant reminder of the horror of war.
We can never forget that millions of working people all over Europe were betrayed into slaughtering each other in the interests of their respective ruling classes, their exploiters.
The promised ‘land of heroes’ to which many soldiers returned was one of chronic unemployment, hardship and poverty. It is equally important to remember the victims of British imperialism all over the world from past to present day.
Our aim of a socialist society offers the only true solution for forever ending the scourge of war on this planet, which in the age of nuclear weapons threatens mankind’s very existence. Lenin explained: “We say: our aim is to achieve a socialist system of society, which, by eliminating the division of mankind into classes, by eliminating all exploitation of man by man and nation by nation, will inevitably eliminate the very possibility of war.”
This Remembrance Sunday, when the heirs of those who sent millions to their graves try to exploit their memories remember the words of last British tommy, veteran Harry Patch: “War is organised murder and nothing else…. politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”