November 11, 1918, wasn't "War, never again" - it was an armistice to save capitalism and prepare for new wars

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November 11, 2018: exactly one hundred years after the Great War was ended. The "celebrations" planned and organised by the ruling class have been many and spread widely by the media. At a ceremony in Paris, Trump, Putin and Erdogan, amongst others, paraded themselves in the limelight; kings, queens, generals, bishops and politicians from right to left were all wheeled out to do their bit; ceremonies took place in cities, towns, villages and hamlets supported by various businesses, charities and supermarkets; youth events were organised, including "peace concerts" aiming to indoctrinate the young; marches, events and "silences" were organised way in advance across Europe, particularly Britain, France and Belgium with further commemoration events in Australia, New Zealand, India and Northern Ireland.

This was a deliberate, massive, organised and oppressive campaign, the primary function of which is to take one of the biggest atrocities of capitalism and turn this crime against the main victims of its imperialist wars, the working class, while trying to instil false conclusions from it. Not only does the working class have to suffer the atrocities of capitalist war, it is then forced, shamed, into "celebrating" its anniversaries with such hypocrisies about "sacrifices for freedom, justice and peace" and "the war to end all wars", and "never again". But there is no justice, peace and freedom for the working class: the war to end all wars was just the beginning of a worsening spiral downwards and rather than "never again", imperialist war has not stopped for a hundred years to the point that its ever-developing production of the means of destruction now threatens the very existence of humanity. The whole armistice celebrations have nothing to do with respecting the war dead but on the contrary insults them with lies and crocodile tears about "worthy sacrifice". With fake news we have fake history where words are turned into their opposite: massacres become sacrifice, ruin becomes civilisation and war becomes peace. In short, the whole armistice "remembrance" anniversary is nothing but a generalised attack on the consciousness of the working class, aimed at hiding the necessity for its revolutionary struggle for a peace and freedom that capitalism will fight tooth and nail against.

1. The armistice: a pause in order to prepare for new wars

In November 1918, Europe was plunged into enormous chaos; millions of people had been driven out of their houses and regions and were looking for somewhere to continue and rebuild their lives. Thus millions of Belgium's were refugees in Holland and more than 100,000 returned after the armistice: 300,000 Belgian refugees lived in France and returned in 1918. Further, there were hundreds of thousands of wounded, mutilated and invalided soldiers roaming across Europe looking for their town or village. Because of the chaos of the world war, the massive migrations that accompanied it and the exhaustion of the population, Spanish Flu made terrible ravages and in the final account caused more deaths than the world war itself. The thinkers of the bourgeoisie are in agreement on the fact that the conditions imposed by the Allies through the Treaty of Versailles posed the germs of a new war twenty years later. The "Peace Treaty" aroused the development of sentiments of revenge and retaliation which spread through wide layers of the German population during the 1920’s. The commentator for the Social-Democratic (SDAP) daily paper in Holland 1919 gives a taste of it: "This peace for all is viewed with bitter disillusion; a deception felt as a catastrophe (...) The Peace Treaty sets the status for a Europe in decline, of its retreat to an inferior level of civilisation. Most people on the continent are enchained and condemned to forced labour (...) humiliation and bitterness. Rancour here, sufficiency there, the thirst for power, fear: these are the new ‘civilised traits’ generated by the peace treaty" (Het Volk, 21.06.1919).

The bourgeoisies of various countries was fully aware that this peace was condemned to failure. It wasn't only the policy towards Germany that aggravated the anger but also, "the creation of new states like Poland, Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia led to incessant conflict over the new frontiers of these countries. That particularly concerned Hungary which lost two-thirds of the territory it had before the war (...) In a word, the peace was a failure" (Jay Winter, interview with Le Monde, 12.11.2014).

The November 11 1918 armistice was based on a peace that put an end to any form of peace. The First World War marked the entry of capitalism into its decadence and the era opening up led to a semi-permanent state of war. Some examples of the two decades following the signing of the armistice demonstrate this:

-  After the end of the war, Greece was awarded a zone of occupation within Turkey. During the summer of 1920, the Greeks wanted to enlarge this zone but they came up against strong resistance by the Turks. This was the beginning of the Greek-Turkish war which lasted up to 1922. The war led to atrocities on both sides as, for example, the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Armenians by the Turks. In 1920, the northern Moroccan tribes of the Riff unified and unleashed a war against Spanish domination and during summer, 1921, around 19,000 Spanish soldiers perished. This war against Spain, later supported by France, lasted into 1926 and during it both Spanish and French used asphyxiating gases which caused thousands of deaths. 

-  In 1929, the Chinese occupied the Manchurian railway which led to a conflict with the Soviet Union. When Russian troops crossed the Chinese frontier on November 15, ferocious fighting broke out, causing the deaths of more than 2000 soldiers with ten thousand wounded. The "Moukden incident" (Manchuria), where the railway line was bombed, probably staged by the Japanese, was used as an excuse for the latter to invade and occupy parts of north-eastern China. In 1937, the war spread through an attack on the whole Chinese subcontinent, the greater part of which was occupied by Japan. During this war hundreds of thousands of Chinese, mostly civilians, were killed with Japanese troops responsible for numerous massacres.

-  October 3 1935: Italy unleashed a war against Ethiopia. After seven months of intense fighting it succeeded in conquering the country. In their attacks against the civilian population the Italians used mustard gas on a grand scale. More than 25,000 military personnel were killed in the fighting and the conflict cost the lives of a quarter-of-a-million civilians. In 1936, a number of generals began a war against the Spanish Republic, with the support of Italy, Germany and Portugal. On its side the Republic was supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico. This war, which lasted three years and which ended with a victory for the generals, resulted in more than half-a-million dead. March 12 1938 the Germans returned to Austria and by March 15 they occupied part of Czechoslovakia, while Hungary occupied the other part. These military conquests constituted the first actions which led to the outbreak of the Second World War.

2. The armistice: an attack against the proletarian revolution in reaction to the war

The armistice allowed the bourgeoisie to declare war on the proletariat: (a) by dividing the workers into countries of victors and vanquished and: (b) by turning the armies against the revolution. In Russia the counter-revolution developed with force (cf. "The world bourgeoisie against the October Revolution", International Review no. 160). In Germany as well the bourgeoisie were ready to unleash its counter-revolutionary terror. Eaten up with a fierce hatred of the working class, it prepared to wipe it out with force and exterminate the hotbeds of revolutionary communism.

Divide the working class

The bourgeoisie were conscious of the danger: "all Europe is petrified by the spirit of revolution. There's not only a profound feeling of discontent, but also anger and revolt among the workers (...). All of the existing order, in its political, social and economic aspects, is being called into question by the popular masses from one end of Europe to the other" (Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, in a secret memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister of France, Georges Clemenceau, March 1919). Through the signing of the armistice, the working class in Europe was divided into two parts: on one side the workers who found themselves in the camp of the defeated nations and on the other side those that lived in the victorious capitalist states, who were then submerged by a wave of national chauvinism (above all in France, Britain, Belgium and the USA). In this way the bourgeoisie succeeded in limiting the revolutionary movement of the first group of states (plus Italy).

The situation of Belgium some days after November 11 perfectly illustrates the consequences of this division: German soldiers who were barracked in Brussels and strengthened by detachments of sailors of the Kriegsmarine coming from Ostend, revolted and elected a revolutionary soldier's council. They demonstrated in the streets of Brussels with German, Belgium and red flags and called for the solidarity of the Belgium workers and their organisations. Faced with some fraternisation with members of the Young Socialists, the union organisations rapidly called on workers not to join in, and, under the influence of chauvinist propaganda, the workers in Brussels remained passive and compliantly waited for the triumphal entry of the victorious Belgian army some days later.

The armies aimed against the revolution

"The different national bourgeoisie's tried first of all to grab territories off each other on the battlefields of the imperialist war at a cost of 20 million dead, along with an incalculable number of wounded. But, confronted with a class which fought on its own class ground, they straightaway closed ranks. It confirms, once again, that the dominant class, divided by its own nature, can unite faced with a revolutionary situation in order to confront the working class" ("1918-1919: Seventy years ago - the German revolution", International Review no. 56).

When the soviets took power in October 1917, the reaction of the imperialist forces was immediate. A bourgeoisie, united at the international level, confronted the young soviet republic with armies coming from 21 countries. The counter-revolutionary attack began in 1917 and lasted up to 1922, during which the White Armies unleashed a terrible civil war. The armies of the capitalist states of Europe, the United States and Japan caused an unknown number of casualties in their attacks against the working class in Russia. Among the victims of the civil war there were about one million soldiers of the Red Army killed, and several million people died because of the indirect consequences of the war, such as famine and epidemics. The number of deaths caused by the terror of the White Armies is estimated to be between 300,000 and one million people[1] .

The unfolding of the revolution in Central Europe, Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc., meant that the German army wasn't completely disarmed: "The idea was shared that the German army had to be sufficiently strong in order to maintain domestic order and for preventing a seizure of power by the Bolsheviks" (Lloyd George at war, George H. Hassar). Thus the German High Command, which was demanding 30,000 armed soldiers, was allowed to keep 5,000 machine-gunners.

In Germany the insurrection broke out at the end of 1918. November 10 1918, General Groener, the successor of Ludendorf in charge of the headquarters of the German army, proposed a pact over the telephone to the head of government, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert. The general proposed loyal collaboration to quickly put an end to "Bolshevism" and to ensure the restitution of "law and order". "It was a pact against the revolution. 'Ebert accepted my proposition of an alliance' wrote Groener. 'From this moment, we discussed every evening through the means of a secret connection between the Chancellery and the High Command the necessary measures to take. The alliance functioned well'"[2].

Because of the influence of the revolution the bourgeoisie could no longer trust large parts of the land army and sailors. In the perspective of the class war, the Social Democrat Gustav Noske, who re-joined the Ebert government in December 1918, got the job of setting-up the Freikorps. These units brought together loyal professional soldiers, conservatives and ultra-nationalists who wanted to defend their country against Bolshevism and who had found themselves on the margins of society at the end of the war. Thus by January 1919, the German state could once again deploy loyal military units of some hundreds of thousands of soldiers, among which were 38 Freikorps units. In the fight against the revolution, the SPD shamelessly used these most reactionary armed forces against the revolution. By affirming that "someone must play the bloodhound" and denouncing the workers and soldiers in revolt as "the hyenas of the revolution", Noske sent his Freikorps against them: the war against the working class had begun. From mid-January the military attack against the insurgents and revolutionary organisations (parties, groups, press, etc.) began. Entire workers' areas of the large towns were attacked one after the other and terrible massacres were perpetrated everywhere (read the articles on the German revolution on this site).

The war against the working class wasn't only undertaken in Germany but also in other countries. One of these was Hungary where the workers' revolt had also brought to power a revolutionary leadership. Here also the revolt was bloodily wiped out after some months by a military invasion of capitalist forces. On August 1 1919, Romania invaded Hungary and overthrew the revolutionary government. Supported by France, Britain and the White Army, Romanian troops entered Budapest and set up a trade unionist government which liquidated the workers' councils. When the unions had finished their dirty work, they transferred power to one Admiral Horty (later a Nazi collaborator) who instituted a regime of terror against the workers, resulting in 8,000 executions and 100,000 deportations, with Jews particularly targeted.

3. Peace cannot exist within capitalism

Capitalism is violence and peace within capitalism is a complete illusion. The history of the twentieth century demonstrates that an "armistice" is only reached in order to start new wars. While the guns were never silent between World Wars One and Two, the tendency to permanent war became even more evident after the Second World War. Thus the Cold War period wasn't, as is often suggested, one of a "simple" armed peace, but one of dozens of intense armed confrontations (Korea, Vietnam, Africa, the Middle East, etc...) taking place over the whole of the planet and resulting in millions of deaths.

Wishful thinking about peace doesn't prevent war even when supported by massive demonstrations. July 25 1914, the SPD called for a mass demonstration against war. The call was heeded by large numbers: on July 29 and 30, 750,000 people participated in protests throughout Germany. That didn't prevent the bourgeoisie from continuing its course towards war[3]. Quite the contrary, this same social democratic SPD decided some days later to betray the working class and support the bourgeoisie in its war fervour.

A mass mobilisation can be a moment in the resistance against war but it must take place within the framework of a generalised workers' revolt and aimed against the bourgeois state, as in 1917 in Russia. And even in Germany 1918, the revolt's only aim in the first instance was the end of the war. And the war was effectively stopped because a real threat of the workers taking power existed. In fact, only a revolutionary overthrow and the seizure of power by a revolutionary class can eventually put an end to all forms of war.

"Either the bourgeois government makes peace, as it makes war, and then imperialism will continue, as after each war, to dominate and war will be followed by a new rearmament, destruction, reaction and barbarism. Or, you must gather your forces for a revolutionary insurrection, fight in order to take political power which will allow you to impose peace both inside and outside the country" ("Spartacus Letters" no. 4, April 1917, Rosa Luxemburg).

Dennis, 10.11.2018


[3]  A more recent example was in February 2003 where estimates of the numbers protesting in London against the impending Gulf War run into a million-and-a-half. There were hundreds of thousands more in protest elsewhere in the country and millions more world-wide. Unperturbed, the ruling class continued with its preparations for and execution of the war.