No Vietcong Ever Called me N****
by John Gullick
5th November, Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night, has rightly become a subversive, global holiday – an Autumnal complement to May Day – in which we support not the thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot but the revolutionary spirit behind it. For activists the “holiday season” really begins somewhere between the Pagan festival of Halloween, and Guy Fawkes' Night.
Before capitalism's consumer festivities get going towards Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is one more important date: 11th November, Armistice Day. At 11 o'clock, on 11/11 many places and people observe a minute's silence for all those who died in the “Great War”, or the better name for it “World War I”. This is the "better" name, because it reminds us that it was only the first major conflict of a whole string which continues right up to today.
In the initial confusion of World War I few saw it for what it was: a war of imperial aggression, a competition to see how the world, especially Africa, would be carved up by European imperial powers. As suppressed archives have become available, and hindsight has given us a better view, we do now know that anti-imperial feeling was much more widespread amongst the soldiers than we used to think. These soldiers were the working people of Europe, Europe's colonies, and eventually America too. They were quite literally lined up against each other in a huge imperial game of chess, played using machine guns.
If 20,000 people were killed, today, in a muddy field in northern France we would rightly call it a genocide - even if both sides were doing it to one another . But at the time it was called simply “war”.
In 1917, while people were being mown down by mechanised killing machines and poison gas in the “West”, in the “East”, in Russia, people were making a revolution to overthrow the Tsar, and the imperial way of doing things.
The people making this revolution were some of the few outspoken enough to say the “Great War” was an imperial war, that ordinary people had nothing to gain from it, and everything to loose. Winning the “Great War” would be a victory only for a few elites.
In the end most ordinary people across Europe and much of the world did loose – mass unemployment, slums, the Great Depression and fascism all followed hot on the heels of the “boom-time" recovery from World War I.
Two years before his death Britain's last surviving veteran of World War I, Harry Patch, echoed exactly the Russian revolutionary analysis in a message which we need to heed today, more than ever: the "politicians who took us to war... should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”
Sadly, the tragic, legalised mass murders of empire are strikingly common. These imperial wars, stretch across space and time. They have taken place all over the world, and have a historical lineage going from European empires of the dawn of capital, through the British Empire, via World War I, the Cold War, and up to Iraq and Afghanistan today. “Peace” is made a nonsense by empire even though it is the mainstay of justification for war. The reason of making peace is draped onto these wars by officials as a fig-leaf to cover up the reality that war is good business and good geopolitics for capital.
But there can be such a thing as a people's war – the liberation of the world's former colonies show us this; Russia, the anti-apartheid war in South Africa, and other revolutions show us too. In contrast to empire, people's wars are undertaken grudgingly, when non-violence fails; they are what has to be done and they are truly aimed at peace.
For people's wars, and in revolutions, "peace" has meaning, unlike for imperial wars. Peace has meaning because people's wars and revolutions come about in the face of the reality of a constant, cold civil war. This is what capital, state and empire do: oscillate between waging cold and hot wars on their populations. The mass of people on earth have been, and are, quietly besieged by the state and by business; we are exploited, chained by debt, jailed and surveilled. We know no peace, and will know no peace, until we make peace happen - this is what 5th of November is about, overthrowing, and getting beyond, a system of endemic warfare, systemic injustice and structural exploitation.
So remember, remember the 11th November, Armistice Day and the tragedy of empires at war – they are lessons in why we need to end this terroristic system of capital and state; they are yet more reminders of why we need to make good on our Guy Fawkes' Night promises.