Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 14:33:47 -0600 (CST)
From: Workers World <>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Honoring WWI heroes: mutineers!
Article: 47997
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Honoring WWI heroes: mutineers!

Workers World, editorial, 19 November 1998

For the capitalist ruling class, the celebration of the end of one war is just an excuse to prepare for the next one.

The 80th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I—now called Veterans' Day here—-has given rise to huge ceremonies, especially in France. It has even sparked a controversy among the French ruling parties as to whether mutineer soldiers of 1917 should be pardoned for refusing to join that bloody, imperialist slaughter.

Since the lessons of that war are still relevant today, and since the capitalist historians are sure to distort its real meaning, it's important to lay out in clear, Marxist terms what the war was really about.

As WWI opened in 1914, on one side the major powers were imperialist Britain and France, allied with backward Czarist Russia. Britain and France ruled by military force and economic stranglehold colonies throughout Africa and much of Asia. Poorer Czarist Russia was nonetheless a prison house of nations from Poland to Central Asia.

On the other side were Imperial Germany and Austria- Hungary. These imperialist powers' industrial might was outstripping their rivals. Their colonial empire, however, was relatively small. They wanted and needed more markets and resources for their expanding industry.

At that time U.S. imperialism had a relatively small military, but it had already taken the continent from the Native peoples and seized colonies from Puerto Rico to the Philippines. It entered the war in 1917 on the side of its biggest debtors and wound up the biggest winner, on the way to becoming the dominant imperialist power.

So any claims by the French, British or U.S. politicians that the war was defending democracy or from the German politicians that it was for culture or civilization were so much bull. World War I was a battle among thieves over which imperialist ruling class of bankers and business magnates would rule colonial peoples around the world.

Each of these countries was ruled by its richest capitalists. Only these super-rich people gained from the war. But they put French coal miners and Russian peasants on the front to battle German machinists and farmers. They even drafted colonial people from India and Africa into the slaughter.

These workers and farmers died by the millions in trench warfare, mowed down by machine-gun fire and poison gas as their generals ordered them to move to the next trench 50 yards ahead. The first day of one battle at Somme in France in 1916, British troops took 60,000 casualties, including 20,000 killed, to advance a few hundred yards.

The following year, French troops, facing a similar slaughter, refused to march to a certain death to gain a few yards of mud. The courts martial sentenced hundreds to be executed for mutiny. It's these mutinous troops that French Premier Lionel Jospin offered pardons 80 years too late, and which French President Jacques Chirac wanted to keep punished.

The ones who really deserved execution were the bankers, industrialists, generals and capitalist politicians of all the belligerents—including those who called themselves socialist but who supported the war.

By the end of the great slaughter troops in most armies rebelled or mutinied. German troop rebellions helped end the war and overthrow the Kaiser, but left the capitalist class in power.

In Russia, this troop mutiny was so widespread that—combined with a workers uprising in February 1917—it overthrew the Czar. Led by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party— which had always opposed the war—they turned their guns on their officers and masters and later that year carried out the first successful workers' revolution. That was the best step toward ending the war. [See The Bolsheviks and War, by Sam Marcy]

Then the new Soviet government published Czarist Russia's secret treaties with France and Germany that revealed deals to seize warm-water ports for Russia. That is, it exposed the war's aims as imperialist robbery.

Today these same imperialist powers, with the U.S. in the lead, are again battling with nations of the former colonial world like Iraq and Iran or Yugoslavia. And they still fight proxy battles—the U.S. and France in Africa, the U.S., Germany, France, Britain and Italy in the Balkans—for control of the world's population and resources.

And the bankers, generals and politicians still lie about their reasons for these battles, calling them peacekeeping or demonizing some regional leader. But they are predators looking for booty.

So if the working class holds a ceremony to remember a great war, it should be only to celebrate those moments of history when working-class troops deserted, refused to fight, mutinied, or in the best cases, turned their guns around on their rulers.