By Alan CroweNick Howard
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Do the honours; Train of thought

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Issue 389

Do the honours

Should we commemorate the centenary of the First World War? For the left it was a major disaster, and life-shattering for the millions of workers on all sides who enlisted in it. Expectations that it would lead to a better life were totally destroyed.

Yet even after the casualty lists ran into hundreds of thousands, the frightened rulers of the states who started it turned to force to prolong it. Only when those who did the actual fighting and dying decided enough was enough did it come to an end – in Russia and Germany, by revolution.

For socialists it was a war that should never have happened. For the Tories it was a war that had to be fought and now has to be commemorated.

The commemorations are already taking place, mostly in the media, with particular emphasis by the BBC. Its message is simple. The First World War marked a victory for the British way of life over the brutal militarism of the Germans and the Big Brother states that were to come.

To the cost of producing elaborate TV versions of this story must be added the 50 million pounds found from the government’s austerity budget to encourage schools and communities to take part in the commemorations across the country. Around 35 million pounds of this fund comes from the fine imposed on the banking industry for fiddling the interest rates.

The government has a practical motive in all this as was revealed at a recent council meeting by the Labour leader of Sheffield City Council. Responding to a question about local plans for the centenary she replied that the council would draw on a fund “to coordinate and finance organisations and individuals” working to promote the Community Covenant.

This aims “to encourage local communities to support the armed forces community in their area and to encourage activities which help to integrate the armed forces community into local life”.

The object of the First World War commemorations could not be clearer.

At a time when the British army is at its lowest level in a hundred years, it must be given support to maintain its standing among the public in readiness for when next it is required to make sacrifices in the interests of the ruling class, in pursuit of its imperialist and commercial ventures.

In response we can remember the war resisters; the brave conscientious objectors, the strikers, the deserters and the mutineers.

We can remember great figures such as James Connolly, women like Sylvia Pankhurst and Alice Wheeldon, who was jailed for sheltering deserters. We can remember Rosa Luxemburg, who spent much of the war in prison for her resistance, and Karl Liebknecht, both revolutionaries who struggled and died for a world without organised mass slaughter.

These are the ways we should remember the Great War. We should intervene in these commemorations and prevent them from becoming a relaunch for militarism – one of the very factors that led to the appalling and unnecessary slaughter of the First World War.

Nick Howard, Sheffield

Train of thought

I’d like to thank Richard Donnelly for the invitation to read Lessons of October (Why Read, Socialist Review, January 2014).

Having read it, I was reminded of the importance of leadership within the revolutionary party as well as what a great writer Trotsky was.

The greatest testament to the Bolsheviks were those in the Vyborg district of Petrograd, to which Lenin turned when he needed to reverse the position of the Central Committee. However it does beg two questions.

The first is what did the Bolsheviks of Vyborg make of their Central Committee’s position prior to Lenin’s arrival? One would presume not much. However, they were disciplined and organised enough to not go off and do their own thing rashly – something their German comrades in later years would fail to do.

Second, what if there had been leaves on the track and Lenin’s train never arrived? I’d guess that the same struggle would have happened, but maybe the Vyborg Bolsheviks would have had to break with their Central Committee (not the Bolsheviks though) – with Trotsky’s lead perhaps? But what barometer would have been used in such circumstances to avoid being premature or too late?

My guess is that the revolution would have been derailed.

The ultimate message from Lessons of October is that the revolutionary party has to be big enough, combative enough, rooted enough and – from its national leadership to its rank and file cadre – politically ready enough before a revolution breaks out, in order to lead our class to victory.

Alan Crowe, South London

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