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The war to end all wars

One hundred years ago today, Germany declared war on Belgium and Britain declared
war on Germany. Starting with the assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo on 28 June,
an escalating series of mobilisations and declarations over five weeks ended up being the
first truly World War.

The belligerent powers denounced the crimes of their opponents and declared that the
aim of this war was to end all wars, but they were lying. They were committing crimes as
great as the ones they denounced. They wanted to re-draw the worlds borders so as to
steal territories, markets and colonies from each other. Australia invaded German New
Guinea in September 1914, not to liberate it, but to seize it for Australian capitalism.
Other German colonies around the world were likewise seized, either during the War or
afterwards, to augment empires.

Neither was the war fought to defend freedom and democracy. The people of the Great
Powers colonies had little freedom and less democracy and neither alliance had good
credentials on the home front on that issue. The semi-monarchical governments of
Germany and Austria-Hungary and the rotting feudalism of the Ottoman Empire were
obviously inferior to the internal regimes of Britain and France. Britain and France,
though, were allied with Russia that great bastion of Czarist reaction that for centuries
had been Europes worst enemy of social and political progress. Any victory for the Czar
was a defeat for liberty and equality.

A disaster waiting to happen

Nothing noble about it, World War I was a disaster waiting to happen. Over the course of
the previous twenty or thirty years, two great imperial alliances had taken shape in
Europe and they were contending for dominance. Britain and France were at the zenith of
their power and Germany was rising strongly. The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian
Empires were deep in decline, while Russia was a powder-keg a late developer,
growing rapidly but with a social structure completely unsuited to a modern economy.
As the rival alliances developed, they came ever more into conflict with each other. An
arms race, centring chiefly on naval power, emerged in the mid-1890s, while each
international issue brought the powers closer to war. The Balkan War of 1912 almost
started World War I, but diplomacy narrowly managed to confine it to local actors. If the
assassination in Sarajevo had not triggered the war, it would have been some other
incident in the year or two after that. The war was not a matter of if, but when.

Betrayal by workers organisations

In the years before the outbreak of war, unions and parties in the labour movement vowed
to fight against war and to hold a general strike in the event that one was attempted.
Many fine resolutions were passed, not least by the Second International, an organisation
which housed most parties claiming to follow in Marxs footsteps.

When the war actually started, however, it was a different matter. Almost every section
of the Second International betrayed the working class and lined up behind their own
national capitalist class. The Russian Bolshevik Party was one of the few to hold the line.
Amongst the Anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists, things were better, but even they
were not solid. The Australian IWW fought against the war from the very first, but the
French CGT split and the majority joined the sacred union with their own capitalists.
Peter Kropotkin, the great theorist and single most famous Anarchist of his day, was pro-
War, but most other prominent Anarchists were against it. Freedom, the London
Anarchist newspaper which had been Kropotkins major publishing base, split with him
over the issue.

Four years of slaughter

The two imperial alliances in the War were of comparable strength and the military
technology of the time gave a strong advantage to the defenders. A few dozen soldiers,
assisted by trenches, sandbags and barbed wire, could hold the line against hundreds or
sometimes thousands of attacking enemy troops. Artillery could only partially offset this
and besides, two could play at that game. As a result, military offensives regularly
turned into bloodbaths and battlefields into slaughterhouses. Governments and generals
on either side responded only by redoubling the effort.

While the continuing carnage merely solidified the commitment of the belligerent
governments and the capitalists they served, the working class gradually changed its
position. As the primary victims of the war, and with no victory in sight, they started to
listen to the radicals denouncing the War. And naturally, the ones who had denounced it
earliest had the greatest credibility.

Revolution ended the War

Later in the War, military technology changed, with the use of aeroplanes and tanks, and
the Triple Entente was boosted by the arrival of the United States, but by then dissent had
developed too far to be stopped. Mutinies started breaking out in the trenches of most of
the belligerents and the first power to break was the one with the greatest social tension

Russia had immense social problems, but none of them could be addressed while war
raged. As discontent increased and the economy began to crack, the workers and the
peasants turned against the War. On International Womens Day 1917, a womens
demonstration for bread sparked a growing series of strikes in Petrograd. A few days
later, when things were becoming desperate, the Czars Cossacks were ordered to fire on
demonstrations containing large numbers of women. When the Cossacks refused, it was
the end of the line for the Czar. He abdicated shortly after and was replaced by the
Provisional Government.

The Provisional Government, however, performed no better. No problems could be
solved while the War continued, and all factions in the Provisional Government
supported the War. As a result, society polarised and revolutionaries gained greater
support. The Bolsheviks, the Left Social Revolutionaries and the Anarchists grew
strongly though the Anarchists would have been in a better position if they hadnt been
split in half by Kropotkins pro-War stance. By October, the Provisional Government was
gone and the Soviets had taken power. Under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, the
Soviets accepted the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It contained savage concessions, including
the occupation of Ukraine, and the Anarchists had advocated a different strategy
(abandoning the front), but at least Russia was out of the War.

Mutinies spread to other armies. French troops staged a massive mutiny in 1917 (while
the Germans on the Western Front were thrown at British lines in order to prevent their
contamination by subversive ideas). In 1918, the Central Powers started to break down
and military setbacks compounded, increasing discontent. In October, the sailors of the
fleet mutinied at Kiel and by 9 November, the Kaiser was gone. With its allies already
having defected, the German Government signed the Armistice two days later.

The war to end all wars

Governments around the world, especially in the victorious countries, are celebrating the
hundredth anniversary of the greatest slaughter that the world had seen. They want us to
be patriotic and to swallow their lies about World War I, so as to make their current lies
about current wars more credible. In reality, the working class has no country and no
reward from participating in any of the capitalists wars.

There is only one war which is worth the fight of the working class the class war.
Capital wages a ceaseless war against workers in every country. Conflicts between
national capitalist classes give rise to periodic wars between them, fought with the blood
of the working class. It is only by winning the class war that the working class can end all
wars. When we make a revolution and abolish capitalism worldwide, we will abolish war
forever. We will have a society of peace and solidarity, of liberty and equality, a
federated world community of peoples. We will have a new world.

Join us.
Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group