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Issue #1756      November 9, 2016

Hail Red October!

The centenary in 2015 of the futile but costly ANZAC landing was made the occasion for an outpouring of almost continuous glorification of war. WW1 was transmuted by the propaganda mills of capitalism into some sort of noble struggle for truth and justice, for the defence of small countries against wicked invaders. Much the way the same propagandists do with the wars imperialism is fighting today, really, whether in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine or elsewhere.

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 Australia – and to 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.

The invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula by Britain and France in 1915 with the use of troops from Australia and New Zealand was intended to capture the Dardanelles and give the British navy unfettered access to the Black Sea, thus giving the Allies (but primarily Britain) control of the massive deposits of iron and coal in Russia’s Donbas region.

The British lost two battleships during the invasion (and three more later), while attempts in April and May to attain the invaders’ objective, the capture of the stronghold of Krithia, were repulsed with overwhelming loss. A fresh attempt in August was equally disastrous and by the end of the year the surviving Allied troops had had to evacuate.

Meanwhile, the Western Front had ground to a stalemate that consumed a continuous stream of men and materiel and left a swathe of ruin and destruction across France and Belgium. At the same time, the ill-equipped and shockingly-led Tsarist Russian army was suffering huge losses on the Eastern Front.

The Bolsheviks campaigned against the imperialist war with the slogan “Peace to the villages, war on the palaces!” With the Russian aristocracy ardently supporting the war, the Russian peasants and labourers – who were expected to do the fighting and dying for them – rapidly lost any illusions they may have had left about the Russian nobility, many of whom were strongly pro-German.

On November 7, 1917 (October 26 in the old calendar still in use in Tsarist Russia), Red revolution overthrew the pro-war government of Kerensky and took Russia out of the War. Lenin and the new Bolshevik regime in Russia 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. In Petrograd, British secret agent Captain Sidney Reilly believed 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.

“Peace, peace on any terms – and then a united front against the true enemies of mankind!” (quoted in 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 Labor Councils and even the ALP Federal Conference demanded an end to intervention and the cessation of hostilities against the world’s first successful socialist revolution.

With the help of the organised workers and their allies in numerous countries, the revolutionary Russian workers and peasants were able to defeat the Intervention and the counter-revolution. They went on to turn their war-devastated, dreadfully backward country into a beacon of hope for all mankind. So much so that imperialism sought to destroy it at the hands of the Nazi war machine. However, the people of the USSR, conscious of what they were fighting for, at the cost of 26 million Soviet lives, crushed Hitler’s armed forces and saved us all.

The USA, on the other hand, grew rich from WW2 while suffering no damage itself. Glorying in its post-war nuclear monopoly, the USA led Britain and France in attempts to “roll back Communism” in various countries around the world. The post-war USSR had to rebuild its shattered cities and industries, and overcome the loss of millions of its people. At the same time, nevertheless, it supported socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe and Asia and national liberation movements around the world.

It broke America’s nuclear monopoly and replaced the threat of imminent atomic war with an uneasy peace that has held for over half a century despite imperialism’s best efforts to subvert it with a renewed arms race.

Even the overthrow of socialism in the USSR has not been able to restore capitalism to unipolar world domination as it would like. The ideas and desires unleashed by the October Revolution have proved impossible to put back in the box.

The human race put its foot on the road to the future in 1917, and although the road has proved unexpectedly bumpy and sometimes decidedly uphill, still humanity is following that road and heading towards that future, a future free of war and oppression, free of all exploitation, in which everyone can flourish and reach their full potential. A future called Socialism.

So we say with pride: Hail, Red October!

Next article – Dingo

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