World War One and the Working Class Holocaust

WW1-Pic-01

If an outbreak of war appears imminent, the workers and their parliamentary representatives in the countries concerned must do everything in their power to prevent war breaking out, using suitable measures which will naturally differ and increase according to the intensifying of the class struggle and the general political situation. If war should still break out, they must take all steps to bring it to a speedy conclusion and make every possible effort to exploit the economic and political crisis brought about by the war to rouse the people and thereby accelerate the downfall of the rule of the capitalist class.

(Statement Issued by the International Socialist Congress: Stuttgart – 1907 – with input from Lenin, Luxemburg, and Martow)

Total casualties – including military and civilian – are estimated to be around 17 million for the European conflict referred to in bourgeois historical narratives as World War One (WWI). This was essentially a Western European War between two competing empires – the British and the German – which saw many other countries dragged into the conflict through treaty obligation. The British side – known as the Entente, or Allied Powers – consisted of Great Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, East Africa, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, the Empire of Japan, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, Russian Empire, Serbia, and the United States of America. The British military authorities also recruited thousands of Chinese men to work (unarmed) in labour battalions serving on the front during WWI. The German side – also known as the Central Powers – consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungry, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. The theatres of conflict for WWI comprised of the Western Front (France and Belgium), the Eastern Front (the border area between Germany and Russia), Gallipoli (South Turkey), the War at Sea (in and around the Atlantic Ocean) and the War in the Air (including the infamous barrage balloons). Although military air forces were developed (on both sides) during WWI, the participation by these rudimentary and lightweight machines was limited to reconnaissance gathering, the dropping of a limited number of small bombs on enemy positions, and the occasional skirmish (or ‘dog-fight’) between opposing groups of biplanes.

World War One was a thoroughly bourgeois conflict that witnessed the ruling class of Britain confront the ruling class of Germany in a highly industrialised contest of destruction that saw the international working class massacred in its millions. The casualty figures were so appallingly high for WWI because the bourgeois military authorities, despite being the beneficiaries of extensive technological developments and innovations, failed to update and progress their thinking and planning for the use of these new weapons, and weapons systems. The modern use of massed infantry developed out of the old feudal habit of men bunching together on the battlefield for the maintaining of mutual defence on the battlefield, and projection of collective power toward the enemy. In these earlier times, infantry projectiles were limited to arrows and spears, and artillery to large rocks propelled through the air by various designs of catapult. When muzzle-loading, smoothbore muskets began to appear on the battlefields of Europe from the 16th century onward, and particularly in the 18th century with the developing of the ‘rifled’ barrel (which saw the addition of a spiralling formation within the barrel itself), the tactical and strategic use of massed infantry was developed to reflect these changes. Musketry by its nature, was relatively inaccurate in its function of inflicting death and destruction on the enemy. Furthermore, the reloading procedure was time consuming and problematic under combat conditions. As a consequence, large numbers of infantry men were required to train together in military marching drills (still retained in some regiments of the modern British Army for ceremonial purposes), that saw each man handle the use of the musket in an identical manner, whilst moving toward, away, or around the enemy whilst retaining good marching order in a mass military formation. For the musket to be effective, large numbers of men had to march up to a close distance from the enemy, fire (or discharge) their muskets simultaneously, and then reload as quickly as possible. The time it took to reload a musket after discharge, (a good soldier could perhaps fire and reload his weapon around three times a minute under combat conditions), was partially waylaid by the use of multiple lines of infantry – one drawn up behind the other – which allowed for one line to kneel-down whilst reloading, so that a line behind could fire from a standing position, etc. This procedure, and variants of it, allowed for a steady rate of fire to be produced by the massed infantry formation. The affixing of a short sword-like weapon (i.e. a ‘Bayonet’) to the end of the muzzle end of the musket provided the infantryman with a spear-like device for defending himself at close-quarters.

The bourgeois, if nothing else, is a class of conservatism, and this can be seen during their handling of the American Civil War (1861-1865), which saw the combined loses of the Union and the Confederacy reaching a staggering 750,000! Modern rifles, which were easier to reload and more accurate in their fire-power, were used by men who were trained to stand in the massed infantry formations more suitable to the use of the inaccurate early musketry around two hundred years previously. It is obvious that no lessons were learnt from this disastrous war, as just 49 years later – in 1914 – men were yet again being armed with much more deadlier weaponry and being trained by their bourgeois overlords to fight in an outdated and redundant fashion, that simply led to the unnecessary death of millions of people. It is a curious irony that although the bourgeois applied the scientific method to industry, developing ever more deadly weapon designs, they did not, as a rule, apply the same scientific thinking to the use of that new technology on the battlefield. This fact demonstrates the backward looking nature of the bourgeoisie as a whole, despite its revolutionary and progressive nature as a class which swept away feudalism, and prepared the ground for the development of Socialism. After all, in the modern era, it has been the bourgeoisie that has manoeuvred the societies under its control into the abyss of continuous and pointless wars – usually between competing heads of states (such as kings and queens), or more recently between secularised Christian countries, socio-economically undeveloped Muslim countries, etc. Tomorrow, the reasons for the bourgeois wars will change, but the wars themselves will continue. This is because by and large the true bourgeois barely get involved in the wars they start, but instead marshal the masses of the working class to fight and die in droves for causes that have no direct meaning or relevance to their lives.

This pattern of exploitation and oppression repeats itself over and over again throughout history and is made possible by the historical control the bourgeoisie possess and maintain over the institutions of society. The conditions surrounding WWI, however, were a little different, as the Second ‘Socialist’ International was in full function leading up to the conflict, after being established in 1889 – just six years after the death of Karl Marx. This International, (like the others based upon Marxist thinking), premised its existence upon the recognition of the international hegemony of the working class. This is to say that when viewed through the eyes of Marxist theory, national boundaries are viewed as delusionary bourgeois constructs, along with notions of race, nationalism, and other theories of social elitism and cultural exclusion. Every individual toiler, no matter where he or she lived, or was born, or had moved to, and no matter the colour of the skin, religion, or linguistic background, the key overarching attribute that united all these apparently disparate people was the fact that they were all, without exception, members of the historical movement known as the international working class, and that it was this working class which had each individual’s best interests at heart, whilst continuously agitating for the over-throw of the bourgeois state and the establishment of Socialism.  In the decades following the death of Marx, a working class consciousness had continued to develop and spread throughout bourgeois controlled Europe, and in particular in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of WWI in 1914, saw impressive electoral success – despite the presence of such hindrances as the Anti-Socialist Laws which had been passed in Germany. This arousal of working class consciousness unfolded hand in hand with the intensification of bourgeois angst and resistance, which threatened to boil over into an all-out war between the competing bourgeois countries. This situation was reflected by the fact that the various congresses of the Second International dedicated much thinking time to the solving of the problem of what policy should be adopted by the international working class within their respective countries, should war breakout between those countries. In other words, should the developing working class regress into the old pattern of simply following the lead of the bourgeoisie in time of war, and kill one another in the name of ‘nationalism’ for their respective countries? In the 1907 Stuttgart congress, the Second International – with the help of Lenin – issued what was thought of at the time, to be a definitive statement upon the matter (see opening quote). In essence, the Second International in 1907 called upon its constituent members to use every available means to prevent a war from happening, or to shorten a war by the same means should hostilities have already broken out.

This proletariat philosophy of ‘internationalism’ was placed in direct opposition to the bourgeois notion of ‘nationalism’, and its outdated notions of ‘deference’, ‘knowing one’s place’, ‘duty toward hierarchy’, and ‘unquestioning loyalty’ to the oppressive status quo. This was the situation as the world was heading toward war in the years leading up to 1914, at a time when the British Empire was engaged in a naval arms race with imperial Germany. The Second International prior to this time had gone from strength to strength, and had even managed to ideologically consolidate its rhetoric with the expulsion of the Anarchists from its ranks during the Zurich congress of 1893 – a decision that was fully ratified at the following congress held in London in 1896. The Anarchists were expelled from the Socialist movement for refusing to accept the need for some kind of state apparatus in the transition from a capitalist to a Socialist state, in preparation for the evolving of human society into a Communist system, etc. The strength of Socialist commitment, even at what might be called the eleventh hour at the time, can be clearly discerned by an anti-war speech delivered at the German Reichstag on the 2nd of December, 1912, by Eduard David – the Social Democrat deputy – which stated:

‘The masses used to let themselves be whipped up against each other and unresistingly herded into mass murder by those with a vested interest in war. But not any more. The masses will no longer submit to being the pliant tools and accomplices of any war interests.’

 Even as late as the 25th of July, 1914, the Social Democratic paper Vorwarts declared:

‘Not a single drop of the blood of a single German soldier must be sacrificed for the benefit of the war-hungry Austrian despots or for imperialist commercial interests. Comrades, we call upon you to express in immediate mass demonstrations the unshakeable will for peace of the class-conscious proletariat! Everywhere the cry must ring in the ears of despots – “We want no war! Down with war! Long live international solidarity”’

The First World War – which cost the lives of around 17 million people – began just four days later, on the 28th of July, 1914 with Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia. This led to a cascade effect of bourgeois countries rushing to honour their treaty obligations, and initiating what can only be described as a four year holocaust of a generation of the working class. Despite its Internationalist agenda, many constituent members of the Second International returned to their respective countries and actively supported the national war efforts of the bourgeoisie. This action divided the working class yet again, and thousands upon thousands voluntarily joined the armed forces of their bourgeois overlords. This was the effective end of the Second International (which was formerly dissolved in 1916 – having failed in one of its key objectives). This failure abandoned the field to the bourgeoisie who rewarded the ‘loyalty’ of the working class by having them ‘walk’ or ‘run’ across the ‘no man’s land’ separating the trenches, into relentless artillery, machine gun, and rifle fire, as well as gas attack. This situation was compounded by horrendous living conditions in the trenches for the common soldier; poor food, lack of sleep, lack of hygiene, lack of medical care, and a sense of disinterest in their general well-being. The only alternative to running into concentrated machine gun fire, was to be subjected to a general court martial, and risk the likelihood of being shot at dawn for cowardice. This is how the bourgeois treat their own working class. If the working men survived this treatment, then they were often mowed-down by enemy gun fire, or blown to pieces by artillery shells. Of course, the bourgeois lie is that WWI was the ‘war to end all wars’, when in fact it was just another massacre of the working class in the name of bourgeois values. For the bourgeois system, warfare is a cultural habit and national pastime that uses the working class as fuel. In WWI, new weapons and obsolete military tactics combined to destroy the working class of all countries, as they were ordered to throw themselves into the attack for no reason beneficial to themselves. Today, the bourgeois system continues to eulogise war, and encourage its respect as an institution by sentimentalising all those killed in its pursuance, whilst those who survive the slaughter are risen to the status of ‘heroes’ in the adoring eyes of the public. Bourgeois war solves nothing other than the perpetuation of the bourgeois class with all its privileges and contradictions. As the 100th anniversary of the start of World One approaches in 2014, the millions who died should be remembered as a working class sacrifice during a brutal period of an intensification of bourgeois oppression, and not as the consequence of a willingness to die for a non-existent god, or a monarch who possesses no power. Although men often joined the bourgeois armies because they had no choice, the point is to change this so that the working class can take power away from the bourgeoisie – this is the only way that the routine massacre of the working class will cease.

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