The First World War, which started 100 years ago in 1914, was very popular at the start. Tory minister Michael Gove is trying to revive that mood.
By the end of the sordid carve-ups which followed the war’s end, many had come round to the view advocated by only a small revolutionary socialist minority at the start: that governments had sent millions to be killed or maimed in pursuit of imperialist rivalries.
This article from the US Trotskyist weekly Socialist Appeal on the 20th anniversary of the end of the war (11 November 1938) explains why.
The patriots are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Armistice Day this week the signing of the agreement on November 11, 1918 which brought the hostilities of the ﬁrst World War to an end.
The workers, too, have a right to commemorate Armistice Day in their own way. So let them:
Remember that 14,000,000 workers and peasants were killed or reported missing, and 20,000,000 wounded and maimed in order to determine whether German and Austro-Hungarian imperialism or French, British, Tsarist and American imperialism would dominate the world, and reap profits from the millions of white, black, brown and yellow slaves throughout the world.
Remember that in the midst of all the misery and devastation inflicted on the masses, the proﬁts of the capitalist class swelled beyond the highest limits it had yet attained. At the beginning of the war, in the year 1914, the investment return of the United States Steel Corporation was 2.8 per cent, whereas towards the end of the war, in the year 1917, the return was 24.9 per cent, amounting to $478,204,000.
Remember that the war was fought under the slogan of a “war to end all wars,” and that there has not been a year since the end of the World War in which wars, large or small, were not being fought, that we are today closer to a new and more dreadful world war than at any other time since the Armistice was signed.
Remember that the war was fought under the slogan of a “war for democracy”, and that there is less democracy, that the masses today enjoy less democratic rights in every capitalist country in the world than they did at any other time in the last ﬁfty years.
Remember that the masses were mobilised and driven to the charnel house of war with the cry that “We’ll hang the Kaiser to a sour apple tree!” The Kaiser remains free and alive while millions rot in war graves, the Kaiser remains one of the wealthiest men in the world today. His place has been taken not by a “democracy” but by the Fascist regime of Hitler which makes the Junker regime of the pre-war Hohenzollerns look like child’s play.
Remember that the masses throughout the world went wild with enthusiasm on receiving the news of the Armistice and the promises of the war-lords of the belligerent countries that they would henceforward live in peace. Today every country — Germany as well as France; England as well as Italy; the United States as well as Japan — is engaged in a frenzied armaments race the like of which the world has never before seen.
Remember the abominable lies which the rulers of every land told their people for the purpose of drugging their minds with the poison of chauvinism and nationalism. The same lies, the same poison, are being disseminated at this very moment by the same rulers, who pursue the same aim preparing docile cannon fodder for a new imperialist war.
Remember that the “peace” which was established at Versailles after the Armistice was a monstrous lie — a brazen attempt to reduce the peoples of the defeated nations to the positions of slaves. It was this “peace” that contributed so mightily to the rise and triumph of Hitlerism in Germany and Austria.
Remember also that even from the standpoint of the war-patriots, the millions did die in vain, for the defeated powers of yesterday once more threaten the preferential imperialist position of the victorious powers — the twenty years that have elapsed have only brought the imperialist rivalries and conﬂicts to the point at which they stood on the eve of the last World War.
Remember that the infamous Versailles Treaty signed after the Armistice — which brought neither peace nor democracy — was supported by the Social Democratic parties and their International, the Second International, which supported the capitalist class in its war and which took upon itself the responsibility for the indefensible crime of the spurious “peace” and all its consequences.
Remember that the Russian masses brought the war to an end, at least for themselves, a year before the imperialists signed their Armistice, and that they did it in the only effective way, by the revolutionary overthrow of the war-mongers and their social system), capitalism, which breeds war.
Remember that the German ruling class decided to sue for peace only after the millions of German workers and peasants in soldier’s uniform resolved to stop murdering their French and English brothers, and to turn their guns instead upon their Junker officers and their own ruling class.
And as the new world war threatens — the new war which would be inﬁnitely more horrible and destructive than any in history.
Remember the Armistice.
Remember the lies of capitalism which drove the masses into the war that led to the Armistice.
Remember the frightful “peace” which came after the Armistice.
Remember that only the independent action of the working class, that only the war of the masses upon the war-mongering rulers, can put an end, really and once for all, to wars in general.
In the great class war between the exploited and exploiter, the oppressed and the oppressor, there is neither armistice nor peace.
It is only by our victory, only by smashing capitalism and its ugly offspring, war, that the socialist society can be ushered in, and along with it abundance for all men, freedom from all social iniquity, and a true and lasting peace.
In 2012, University of London Union vice-president Daniel Cooper refused to join an official Remembrance Day ceremony.
• His statement on the ensuing row
• Report of the public meeting in London where he defended his stance
• How the old socialist movement collapsed under the pressure of war fever in 1914