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Issue #1681      April 22, 2015

Culture & Life

“No to War!” and “Hands Off Russia!”

The centenary of the futile but costly ANZAC landing is almost upon us, and the propaganda mills of capitalism are working at full bore. “War, glorious war”, they shout, oblivious to the death, destruction and misery that accompanies it.

Cartoon, Prelude to Power, “The Common Enemy”.

In their usual way, they are busy recasting the First World War as some sort of noble struggle for truth and justice, for the defence of small countries against wicked invaders. Much the way they do with the wars imperialism is fighting today, really, whether in Syria, Yemen or already (covertly) in Venezuela.

But now, as then, imperialism’s expressed war aims are a travesty of the facts. The First World War was sold to the public in Britain and France, and their various allies, as a war to defend the peace of the world from barbarous German and Turkish invaders. It was far from the truth, of course.

The Great War was in fact a war between two groups of empires (British, French and Russian on one side, German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish on the other) for nothing more noble than control of trade and colonies.

In November 1917, Red revolution in Russia overthrew the pro-war government of Kerensky and took Russia out of the War. Lenin and the Bolsheviks called for all the combatants in the Great War to stop waging war. It was a popular call.

Revolution broke out in Germany and Hungary; there were mutinies among French and British troops on the Western front. While the leaders of British, French and US imperialism schemed to eliminate the Bolshevik menace before it could grow any stronger, they soon realised that continuing the War was not feasible.

By late 1918, with empires collapsing around them, they had to bring the War to an abrupt close. “The fact that England was still at war with Germany was a mistake. There must be an immediate cessation of hostilities on the Western Front and a coalition against Bolshevism.

“Cried [British secret agent] Captain Sidney George Reilly: ‘Peace, peace on any terms – and then a united front against the true enemies of mankind!’” (Sayers and Kahn: The Great Conspiracy.

The anti-Soviet character of the Armistice between the Allies and the Central Powers in November 1918 is revealed in a little-known clause that stipulated that German troops should remain for as long as the Allies considered it expedient in whatever Russian territory they then occupied.

However, months before the Armistice, British, French, US and Japanese troops had been landed in Russia, to deal with the Bolshevik problem. The Japanese High Command provided the thousands of Japanese troops in Siberia with little Russian dictionaries in which the word “Bolshevik” was defined as “wild beast” and followed by the notation: “To be exterminated”.

By mid 1919, the territory of Russia had been invaded by the armed forces of no less than 14 states, namely Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, USA, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, China, Finland, Greece, Poland, Romania, and Turkey. None of them declared war on Russia. After four years of the World War, going to war with revolutionary Russia would not have been a popular move. So they pretended they were not at war with Russia.

Winston Churchill supervised the allied campaign against the Bolshevik menace, but wrote ironically of the Intervention in his book The World Crisis: the Aftermath: “Were they [the Allies] at war with Russia? Certainly not; but they shot Soviet Russians at sight.

“They stood as invaders on Russian soil. They armed the enemies of the Soviet Government. They blockaded the ports and sank its battleships. They earnestly desired and schemed its downfall.

“But war – shocking! Interference – shame! It was, they repeated, a matter of indifference to them how Russians settled their own affairs. They were impartial – bang!”

Australian Communist leader Edgar Ross wrote in his excellent 1972 publication The Russian Revolution – Its Impact on Australia: “Australians learned [in late 1918 and early 1919] with a sense of great shame and rising anger that their own government was actively taking part in these measures.

“News penetrated through the [war] censorship that not only were Australian officers attached to the forces fighting the Bolsheviks but the Australian warship Swan had been sent with a French vessel to the Sea of Azov.” The Swan was there to support the counter-revolutionary forces armed and supplied by France and Britain.

All over the world, people were demanding to know why their menfolk were fighting in Russia when the War was supposed to be over? The US Expeditionary Force, in Siberia, was seething with discontent, appalled by the barbarity of the White Guard armies they had been ordered to support.

As discontent and mutinous behaviour spread among the Intervention troops, British and US military leaders resorted to anti-Semitism to explain their actions in Russia.

“A proclamation from British General Headquarters in Northern Russia, which was read to British and American troops, [explained]: ‘We are up against Bolshevism, which means anarchy pure and simple.

“Look at Russia at the present moment. The power is in the hands of a few men, mostly Jews …”

The Russian Revolution represented the hope of workers everywhere. In Britain and Australia and many other countries, the union movement rallied around the slogan “Hands Off Russia!”

Manifestoes and Resolutions from Labour Councils and even the ALP Federal Conference demanded an end to intervention and the cessation of hostilities, proclaiming the right of the Russian people to work out their own destiny.

Our heroes were not the misled youngsters sent to fight in a war on the Gallipoli peninsular in an attempt to gain control over Russia’s oil and coal and steel, or those that were subsequently sent to fight and die in the hell of the Western Front.

Nor was it those who, when the War was supposedly over, were sent to fight against Revolutionary Russian workers and peasants. No, our heroes were the men and women who demonstrated and defied the police to oppose all conscription for imperialist wars and when the Conscription referenda were defeated and the War reputedly over, came out again to demand the withdrawal of all Intervention troops from Russia, and to defend the world’s first successful socialist revolution.

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