THIS weekend marks 100 years since the guns fell silent and the first world war came to an end.
Millions gave their lives in four years of carnage sparked by the imperialist rivalry of Europe’s major powers. Young men of working-class and peasant backgrounds from across the continent joined others dragooned from Britain and France’s vast colonial empires to fight and die in the interests of ruling-class profit.
Now, as then, war apologists claim the cause was noble, the defence of freedom against German aggression, though Russia’s Bolshevik government’s publication on November 22 1917 of secret treaties concluded between Britain, France and tsarist Russia exposed the real motive — imperialist plunder.
Years of stalemate and staggering casualty lists did not convince elites to call a halt to the slaughter. Peace came when working-class people rose in revolt: in Russia, which withdrew from the conflict following the socialist October Revolution, and in Germany, where sailors’ refusal to follow orders for a massive assault on Britain’s Royal Navy in November 1918 snowballed into revolution, the overthrow of the kaiser and the armistice with Britain and France that we mark this Sunday.
The “war to end all wars” did not do so. We live today in an age of imperialist aggression that has spread death and destruction across the Middle East and caused a global refugee crisis. The US and British governments have started wars in open defiance of international law and the United Nations.
Washington is withdrawing from arms limitation treaties and surrounds China with military bases. It threatens Russia and trains neonazi paramilitaries in Ukraine. Its politicians talk casually of “military options” against left Latin American governments, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua.
We best honour the dead by building the better world so many of them dreamed of — one in which human lives are not sacrificed for corporate profit.
The Establishment uses Armistice Day to glorify war. That is perverse. It is a day to reflect on the horror of war, and renew our determination to fight for a peaceful world.
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