The Rightwing Origins of the ‘British Legion’

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Socialism Supports Peace

The formation of the ‘British Legion’ in 1921 was a middle and upper-class reaction to the 1917 Socialist Revolution in Russia, and was designed to divert hundreds of thousands of British working class men away from ‘Socialist’ Veteran Associations, and to prevent any ‘Internationalist’ aspirations between the British Veterans of WWI (1914-1918), and their Russian counterparts. The British working class lived in abject poverty before WWI, continued to live in abject poverty during WWI (where millions saw service, were killed and wounded), and continued to live in abject poverty after WWI. The conservative British Establishment, whilst demanding that these men fight and die in untold numbers, saw no reason to change British society, or to allow any attempts of developing social equality between the classes. This reactionary attitude received a boost in 1922, when the fascist leader Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy, whose regime of totalitarian ‘divine light’ (i.e. ‘Fascisti’) was immediately supported by Pope Pius XI and the Roman Catholic Church. Mussolini rewarded this loyalty by recognising Vatican City as a ‘Nation State’ in 1929. In the meantime, fascism became very popular throughout the middle and upper classes through the UK, despite Italy opposing Great Britain during WWI.

The British Legion arose from a rightwing fear of the working class during the last years of WWI, with WWI being simply a pointless war between two competing empires – that of Britain and of Germany. It was a highly destructive (mechanised) war that involved two ruling houses competing for dominance and the control of resources in the world and using the lives of the International Working Class to achieve these ends. The International Working Class, betrayed as it was by the ideologues of the Second International, was separated into bourgeois ‘National’ camps, forced into different uniforms and made to kill one another for the entertainment of their respective middle and upper-class Establishments. WWI was not an anti-fascist war, but a mass murder orchestrated for the entertainment of the ruling elite. Indeed, the destruction wrought by this war has been described elsewhere as a ‘Working Class Holocaust’, and although we are taught to loathe the ‘Germans’, the fact remains that whilst British and German working class men continued to kill one another for ‘duty’ in France and Belgium, at the same time during 1918, the military forces of Britain and Germany (aided and abetted by 12 other nations), united together and staged an ‘invasion’ of Revolutionary Russia (during the Russian Civil War 1917-1922). To be clear on this point, whilst the British Legion demands that we ‘buy’ poppies every year to sentimentalise WWI (as if it were a good thing), implying that this imperialist war of slaughter was somehow ‘different’ to all the other imperialist wars, German and British troops were ordered to ‘fight together’ against Revolutionary Socialism in Russia! This adds the inconvenient fact that during the last year of WWI (i.e. 1918), the British and Germans were simultaneously enemies in France, whilst friends in Russia!

Whereas Scientific Socialism prefers peace and condemns war – even those self-defensive wars that need to be fought (such as WWII and the United Front against International Fascism) – the British Legion eulogises and sentimentalises all wars (without exception), adhering to the rightwing admonition that it is every working class man’s ‘duty’ to volunteer and serve in the British Armed Forces and never ‘question’ why. This is the same British Legion that accepts donations from far-right political groups and remains ‘silent’ when the British Government cuts Benefits, NHS care and Social Services to Veterans. Today, British Military Veterans return from conflict zones often with psychological and physical injuries that require specialised and expert care and find themselves on run-down NHS Wards with no resources (not even adequate pain-relief), or worse still, living on the streets because there is no longer any military housing left! Although we all pay for the recruitment, training, deployment and after-care of our British Military Veterans, successive British Governments have started pointless ‘imperialist’ wars around the globe, and at the same time withdrawn all the care and support once afforded to our British Military Veterans during training (with stories of recruits having to ‘buy’ their own boots from civilian shops), and deployment (with sub-standard equipment and Intelligence), etc. I have heard stories of British Military Veterans being placed on NHS Wards whilst in terrible pain – but given no pain-killing drugs because the hospital does not possess the supplies! This situation has allowed far-rightwing groups to take-over fundraising and to campaign on the street – supporting all imperialist wars. Although many British Military Veterans ‘refuse’ this money – others are so desperate they have no choice.

The ‘Royal’ British Legion was founded in 1921 with the deliberate integration of 1) Comrades of the Great War, 2) the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers, and 3) the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers (linking this ‘new’ organisation with the fundraising Department of the Officers’ Association). This ‘Stage 1’ was designed to ‘align’ the main Veterans Associations of WWI with a British Establishment that had refused to take any political action to make life better for the returning British Military Veterans after 1918. Stage 2 consisted in misleading the working-class men into thinking they were joining ‘Socialist’ groups (as many men could not read or write) and taking a firm control of the Veterans. This move was to prevent these hundreds and thousands of working class men taking-up arms against the British Establishment, and through their military training and experience, initiating a Socialist Revolution. Stage 3 involved the eradication of ALL leftwing presence from within the various Veteran groupings. Quite often, as the British Establishment provided no provision for returning British Military Veterans, it was local ‘Socialist’ organisations that raised funds and provided food, shelter and care. All this had to stop, and it was the function of the ‘Royal’ British Legion to accomplish this ‘de-Socialisation’ of the Veteran groups. In reality this meant ousting any and all union representation, and firmly distancing the ‘Royal’ British Legion from the then Socialist Labour Party.

The ‘Royal’ British Legion is an inherently ‘rightwing’ war-mongering institution that serves the British Establishment and not the working-class men and women who become servicemen and servicewomen within the British Armed Forces. It does not oppose imperialist war but fully supports all notions of war (because this is what the British State demands). I have met a number of British Military Veterans in recent years who refuse to accept help from the ‘Royal’ British Legion due to its default-set (rightwing) and warmongering stance. This is why we (and thousands of others) show our respect at the Soviet War Memorial in London – a place the ‘Royal’ British Legion refuses to frequent due to its overt association with the Soviet Union and Socialism. The Soviet War Memorial is important because the ‘Royal’ British Legions does not allow any British Military Veterans at the Cenotaph in London who fought with or for our ally – the Soviet Union during WWII! Over the decades the many branches of my family have provided soldiers, airmen and sailors for the British Armed Forces. We have performed our ‘duty’ as demanded of us by the British Establishment, but it just so happens that our opinion is ‘working class’ and not that of the British Establishment which wastes our lives in pursuance of its own destructive class poltics.

 

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