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Umsebenzi Online


Volume 11, No. 38, 18 October 2012

In this Issue:

 

Red Reader Corner

The First World War: The real lessons of this savage imperial bloodbath

This article appeared in The Guardian on Tuesday 16 October 2012

By Seumas Milne

In the midst of deepening austerity, David Cameron is desperate to play the national card. Any one will do. He`s worked the Queen`s jubilee and the Olympics for all they`re worth. Now the prime minister wants a "truly national commemoration" of the First World War in the run up to 2014 that will "capture our national spirit... like the diamond jubilee".

So £50m has been found to fund a four-year programme of events, visits to the trenches from every school and an ambitious redevelopment of the Imperial War Museum. Ministers have promised there will be no "jingoism", but Cameron says he wants to remember those who "gave their lives for our freedom" and ensure that "the lessons learned live with us for ever".

In case there were any doubt about what those lessons might be, the Times has declared that despite the war`s unhappy reputation, Britain`s cause was "essentially just", a necessary response to aggression by a "xenophobic and anti-democratic" expansionist power (Germany) and that those who fought and died did so to uphold the "principle of the defence of small nations".

It surely must be right to commemorate what was by any reckoning a human catastrophe: 16 million died, including almost a million Britons. It touched every family in the country (and many other countries besides), my own included. Both my grandmothers lost brothers in the four-year bloodletting: one in Passchendaele, the other in Gaza.

Seventy years after the event, one of them would still cry at the memory of the postman bringing the death notice in a brown War Office envelope to her home in Edinburgh. My grandfather was a field surgeon on the western front, who would break down as he showed us pictures he had taken of lost friends amid the devastation of Ypres and Loos, and remembered covering up for soldiers who had shot themselves in the legs, to save them from the firing squad.

But it does no service to the memory of the victims to prettify the horrific reality. The war was a vast depraved undertaking of unprecedented savagery, in which the ruling classes of Europe dispatched their people to a senseless slaughter in the struggle for imperial supremacy. As Lenin summed it up to the Romanian poet Valeriu Marcu in early 1917: "One slave owner, Germany, is fighting another slave owner, England, for a fairer distribution of the slaves".

This wasn`t a war of self-defense, let alone liberation from tyranny. As the late Eric Hobsbawm sets out in his Age of Empire, it was the cataclysmic product of an escalating struggle for colonial possessions, markets, resources and industrial power between the dominant European empires, Britain and France, and the rising imperial power of Germany seeking its "place in the sun". In that clash of empires, Europe devoured its children – and many of its captive peoples with them.

Set against that all-destroying machine of 20th century industrial warfare, the preposterous pretext of the rights of small nations and the violated neutrality of "plucky little Belgium" cannot seriously be regarded as the real driver of the war (as it was not by British and other politicians of the time).

All the main warring states were responsible for the brutal suppression of nations, large and small, throughout the racist despotisms that were their colonial empires. In the years leading up to the first world war an estimated 10 million Congolese died as a result of forced labour and mass murder under plucky Belgian rule; German colonialists carried out systematic genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples in today`s Namibia; and tens of millions died in enforced or avoidable famines in British-ruled India, while Britain`s colonial forces ran concentration camps in South Africa and meted out continual violent repression across the empire.

The idea that the war was some kind of crusade for democracy when most of Britain`s populations –including many men – were still denied the vote, and democracy and dissent were savagely crushed among most of those Britain ruled, is laughable. And when the US president, Woodrow Wilson, championed the right to self-determination to win the peace that would of course apply only to Europeans – not the colonial peoples their governments lorded it over.

As the bloodbath exhausted itself, it unleashed mutinies, workers` revolts and revolutions, and the breakup of defeated empires, giving a powerful impetus to anti-colonial movements in the process. But the outcome also laid the ground for the rise of Nazism and the even bloodier Second World War, and led to a new imperial carve-up of the Middle East, whose consequences we are still living with today, including the Palestinian tragedy.

Unlike in 1940, Britain wasn`t threatened with invasion or occupation in 1914, and Europe`s people were menaced by the machinations of their masters, rather than an atavistic tyranny. Those who died didn`t give their lives "for freedom"; they were the victims of an empire that was a stain on humanity, the cynicism of politicians and the despicable folly of the generals. As Harry Patch, last British survivor of the trenches who died three years ago, put it, the First World War was "nothing better than legalised mass murder".

Since the 1990s, direct conflict between great powers that reached its cataclysmic nadir in the world wars has been replaced by a modern version of the colonial wars that preceded and punctuated them: in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Unable to win public support for such campaigns, the government has tried to appropriate the sympathy for the troops who fight them as a substitute: demanding, for example, that poppies be worn as a "display of national pride" (or as Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, the now ex-British Legion president, described Remembrance Day, a "tremendous networking opportunity" for arms dealers).

If Cameron and his ministers try the same trick with the commemoration of the 1914-1918 carnage, it will be a repulsive travesty. Among the war`s real lessons are that empire, in all its forms, always leads to bloodshed; that state violence is by far its most destructive form; that corporate carve-ups fuel conflict; and that militarism and national chauvinism are the road to perdition. Celebrate instead the internationalists, socialists and poets who called it right, and remember the suffering of the soldiers – rather than the cowards who sent them to die. Attempts to hijack the commemorations must be contested every step of the way.

Seumas Milne`s book, The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century was published last week

 

Mangaung presents an opportunity to all revolutionaries to swell the ranks and defend our national liberation movement against the wishes of our adversaries

By Phatse Justice Piitso

Karl Marx would always say `the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, the class which is the ruling material force is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant relationships grasped as ideas`.

This profound exposition by our world-renowned philosopher and the founder of our world communist movement is constantly becoming more relevant at all material times than ever before. The exposition continues to correspond with the conjectural realities of our analysis of the world-class balance of forces those correctly so positions the struggles of the working class to be at the matrix of a complex volatile world environment.

It is therefore as a consequences of this dominant material relationship by the world accumulation regime, that the working class finds itself having to take forward the struggles for the construction of a new world social order, under difficult conditions juxtaposed by the hostile world class contradictions. Our analysis therefore of the unfolding world events should precipitate from a terrain that interrogate the massive influence these dominant ideas of the imperialist forces have on our contemporary post war transitional period.

The immediate task of our struggles within these hostile post war material conditions is to confront the aggressive posture the military industrial complex has assumed within the world body politics. It is from this context that we comprehend the poisonous theatre posed by the fragile world milieu and the impact it has on the outlook of the progressive struggles waged by the people of the world, including our own national democratic revolution.

It therefore becomes the urgent task of all revolutionaries within our national liberation movement and more particularly, without fear of any contradictions, members of our communist party, to play a more central role in influencing the positions our country resort to from time to time at the multilateral level. We have the revolutionary task of ensuring that our democratic government always acts in consistence with the common principles of working solidarity and internationalism, in her endeavor to create better living conditions for the poor people of the world.

The world and its entire people are faced by the inevitable outcomes of the hostile contradictions imposed by the unipolar world. The collapse of the soviet block and communist states in the Eastern Europe have changed the world class balance of forces to be in favour of the international monopoly capital. The unipolar world has afforded imperialism with the monopoly of dominance of all-important pockets of power necessary to bring effective transformation of our world for the better.

The bulk of the world institutions at the level of governance such as the Security Council, The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and many more are unable the resolve the crisis of the capitalist relations ravaging the future of humanity apart. The deep phenomenal financial crisis that has thrown the economies of the world into turmoil, the unprecedented challenges of climate change and escalating levels of class inequalities and underdevelopment, poverty, disease and unemployment are the features that define the characteristics of the present world accumulation regime.

These unimaginable panorama of events, if not understood from a correct perspective have an enormous propensity to plunge the future of humanity and at the same time prohibit the capacity of the progressive movement to explore common grounds in resolving the daunting challenges facing us. Revolutionaries and all genuine members of our party therefore have the task to empower the rest of humanity with the necessary tools of analysis to enable it grabble with the unfolding complex world realities. Without revolutionary theory the working class will be unable to unleash its struggles to change the concrete material world for the noble cause of its own freedom.

The class contradictions between the working class and the authoritative regimes particularly within the Arab world confirm the hostile complexities presented by the neo liberal world. The world superpowers are blowing a trumpet in support of what they refer as the victory of the people of the Arab world against the tyrant regime that for so many decades violated their fundamental human rights and became their main impediment against their struggles for freedom and democracy.

However the archives of the history of the working class confirm the indisputable truth that over the years imperialism and colonialism have been manipulating these authoritative regimes for their selfish interests at the expense of the gross violation of the dignity and human rights of their oppressed people. Under the auspices of the US led imperialism and transnational capital, these regimes flourish as buffer zones to circumvent the expanding communist influence in the world.

Therefore the cardinal feature and characteristic of all these authoritative regimes has been to advance the interest of imperialism at the expense of its own people through out the world. It becomes ridiculous for the superpowers therefore, to assume a posture that they are the liberators of the people of the Arab world. The pertinent question we have to ask is to find out as to where were these superpowers during the prolonged periods of insurmountable hardships suffered by the people of the Arab world over the years.

The underpinning reality is that it was not imperialism but the self-conscience of the people that propelled them to forge the struggles forward for their self-emancipation. As we stated above the ruling class is dispensing its influence through its massive propaganda machinery to determine the outlook and the direction of the world affairs. It is from this context that we understand that it is not our consciousness that determines our being but our being that determines our consciousness. It is in the character of the working class to be able to separate the truth from falsehood.

Marx would define such turning points in history as moments in which `morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development, but men developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, doing with their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking`. As a precondition for the advancement of our revolutionary struggles for the noble cause of humanity, we are duty bound to underpin our analysis of the unfolding world socio economic and political circumstances from this point of view.

It will therefore be in the best interest of our national democratic revolution and also a practice in consistence with the true values, culture and traditions of our glorious movement to appreciate the unfolding world events and the extent to which they impact on the posture of our own struggles to construct a national democratic society. In this instance members of our party should without any apology be able to locate the role of the enemy in the mist of the unfolding struggles for the consolidation of our national democratic revolution led by our national liberation movement.

It has become more evident that counter revolutionary insurgents from both within and outside the ranks of our national liberation movement, and in collaboration with international monopoly capital are determined to erode the tremendous achievements we have gained in the past hundred years of rich history of our struggles led by our national liberation movement. Their primary focus in the past few years since Polokwane conference has been to undermine the collective leadership of our movement from within.

This is part of the bigger picture by imperialism and neo colonialism in the world to undermine the unity and cohesion of progressive movements and their people. In our country the immediate thread of this counterrevolution has been the unity and cohesion of the revolutionary alliance led by our movement and our people. The antagonistic class forces within our ranks want to donate the soul of the ANC to the international monopoly capital.

It will therefore be in the best interest of the future of our movement and our people that all revolutionaries occupy the forefront trenches by defending the collective leadership of our movement, led by Cde Jacob Zuma. Our support to current leadership of our movement is based on our fundamental principles of democratic centralism and organizational unity.

We are making a clarion call to all members of our party and the membership of our movement in general to lead by example as we commence with the process for the nomination of candidates to serve in the national executive committee of the ANC. The forthcoming historic conference to be held in Mangaung at the end of this year, presents a noble opportunity to all revolutionaries to swell the ranks of our national liberation movement against the wishes of our adversaries.

Phatse Justice Piitso is the former Ambassador to Cuba and provincial secretary of the SACP in Limpopo writing this article in his personal capacity.

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