The London Remembering the Real World War 1 group has now had two meetings, and has begun planning our response to the official commemorations of World War 1, which look like celebrating the war as a just cause, a triumph of British nationalism, and ignoring as much as possible the huge resistance to the war, and the origins of the war in routine capitalist competition.
Below is a summary of some of the decisions and ideas so far.
One suggestion for principles which we all liked was
• We honour all the dead.
• The war arose from normal capitalist social relations.
• Working class resistance stopped the war.
(These may need to be expanded on –but responses to this from folk not at the meeting would be useful).
General introductory leaflet
We agreed the need for a short introductory leaflet to announce our existence and position… The first draft is being worked on.
We agreed to set up a WordPress blog, which one person will administrate for now, but will allow us to have multiple administrators later, which we thought desirable. (Blog is being worked on)
Wordpress is also easy to use, and we have contacts who have good experience with use of it if we need help.
We will probably need several admin people, uploading stuff, so that is doesn’t get too much for one person; dealing with emails that arise from the blog is likely to be a big job too.
The home page could also be translated into other languages.
It was thought some kind of national planning meeting, gathering together radical history groups and others, interested in planning oppositional histories and events around WW1 anniversaries. May 2014 was thought to be a good month; we should start contacting others to see if people are
interested… Contacts like Bristol Radical History Group, Peace News and the Peace Pledge Union would be good for a start.
One person present from Manchester at the first meeting, said she would talk to others there about setting up a group there.
Beyond that, a wide educational conference might be good, more of an open event, with speakers etc…
Benefit: The band that we are in touch with are happy to play a benefit in late February… Other acts that might be interested would be good (we can probably get in touch with Robb Johnson, who has written songs about WW1, and Leon Rosselson, maybe.
Some designs for stickers and posters were looked over… The Gerd Arntz Soldatentum anti-WW1 art is very striking, easy to reproduce, but too detailed for good reproduction as stickers, so we will work on doing them as posters. We could also maybe use Gee Vaucher’s Crass image – the dead hand on
barbed wire, with the caption “your Country needs you.”
A design for a sticker we liked the idea of was a black poppy with a red centre.
But this should be an ongoing search – if anyone comes across/knows of good and usable designs for anti-WW1 publicity, or is/has contact with artists who could produce such, get in touch with us…
Slogans discussed for stickers/posters:
• ‘No War but the Class War’
• ‘Workers stopped WW1’
• ‘We Stopped the War’
• ‘Resistance Stopped WW1’.
• ‘1914-2014 – 100 years of resistance to war.’
• ‘Class War – the War to End all Wars.’
More ideas that evoke the spirit of desertion – one your typist came up with later was something like:
‘Mutiny, Desertion, Refusal: The real WW1 Spirit!’
We could also subvert official WW1 posters from the time, or those that the govt sponsor now…
Mainstream events and our response to them
The ‘big’ events that the official national commemorations will focus around, will be
• the outbreak of war
• the battle of the Somme (beginning 1916)
• the 1918 armistice
So it would be good to organize some subversive response to them… But hundreds of local events will also be put on, many of which would also be worth some counter-blasts. For instance, Imperial War Museum North is planning a ‘Closer Look at the Xmas 1914 truce’.
But we should also make a list of events they will IGNORE, and that we should raise.
Actions and activities
• A timeline of events planned for the ‘official’ commemorations; from that we could work out some concrete plans for what we could do.
There was some discussion around this; some other ideas for a web space included a weekly counter of casualties for the corresponding week of WW1… Like a ticking counter … (is this a bit sick?) Obviously updating this is a lot of work!
Some practical suggestion of activities we could do:
• actions at or counter to official events, to raise awareness, say we’re still here, still opposing war.
• specific actions or demos to commemorate specific events: one that has already been suggested was the big anti-war demo in 1914, just before war was declared; another idea we came up with at the meeting was a demo at the reopening of the Imperial War Museum’s WW1 exhibits (all closed at moment)… whenever that may be.
One of the biggest events next year will be on Remembrance Day – would be good to do something – without dissing the dead? Got a year to think about it.
Events, struggles and questions we Want to Commemorate –
• The run-up to war, the peace movement…
• The outbreak of War
• Jingoism and xenophobia: attacks on foreigners in the UK
• Conscription, and resistance to it
• The Russian Revolution 1917
• The first International Women’s Day
• The mutinies, all of them, but especially the ones that helped to end
the war in 1918.
• Strikes and bread and butter struggles during WW1
• the 1918 police strike
• The demob riots 1919
It would be especially good to celebrate the events that transcend the ‘national’, chauvinistic focus the authorities are emphasizing, that elaborate on more than just life on the western front; and to also make
contact with younger people, who the govt will be making an effort to spread shite among. An important link is between resistance to WW1 and current opposition to war, and to the ongoing attempt to integrate armed
forces into all walks of life – seriously, TV especially has increasing programs normalizing army, etc, but also all the supporting our boys campaigns, press etc. There’s definitely an ideological drive to ‘recapture’ what they look back and nostalge for, this ‘covenant’ of armed forces and ‘the nation’. Part of what we should be doing is pointing out that this past is much more ambiguous than they would like people to think, especially in the first world war period. In terms of getting in touch with younger folk, an info pack for schools, and talking to history teachers, were ideas that came up.
• media stunts – included an idea for an Xmas football match in France, with international comrades, Xmas 1914… David Cameron has already announced a Xmas match apparently though! So we need ways of turning that around (someone agreed to chase up a text about the use of football as a recuiting tool for the army…)
A left-field suggestion was to campaign for a Xmas match in Afghanistan, army & Taliban…?!
• Setting up our own counterfeit war memorials, plaques etc.
One mainstream plan already announced has been to set up a paving stone every place someone lived who won the Victoria Cross medal in WW1 – we discussed the idea of having a counter-memorial and ceremony, for someone in the same town/area who resisted the war.
• making some black poppies for next November, to commemorate deserters, draft-dodgers, mutineers, those who resisted at home through strikes, supporting and sheltering those on the run, anti-conscription activists, strikers, rent strikers… etc…
• Publications: a short pamphlet summing up anti-war resistance in London was thought to be useful. Past Tense are happy to collate information for this, and can put it together/print it.
• There are already plans afoot to reprint Dave Lamb’s excellent old pamphlet, Mutinies 1917-20
• We should also be monitoring stuff released under the 100-year rule to National Archives… on the case on that.
• to keep an eye on PHD students working on WW1… also they could all be probably persuaded to talk…!
• a reading list of books, pamphlets, papers, etc, on WW1.. (This has already been started)
Some other things…
We have access to Pathe film footage of ex-servicemen rioting for jobs in Downing St in 1920… and other films… a list is available.
General discussion: events and aspects of WW1 worth doing something around:
• the networks of resistance, around the UK (and wider), supporting people refusing conscription…
• how the government acted when war came: the moments it started, the took over all the railways, stopped police leave, requisitioned all horses, introduced legislation to crack down on opposition; also changed licensing laws to try to increase production… interned ‘suspect foreigners’. Later introduced conscription, after initial euphoric flood of volunteers dried up in 1915; 1915 Munitions Act – government took over all factories for arms production.
On one hand this illustrates the nature of war under the modern capitalist state; on the other, its unlikely the centenary commemorations will flag these repressive measures – not like they’re going to say “hey, look, we
introduced conscription!” etc. We will have to bang on about all that.
• some discussion on the myth that “World War 1 liberated women”… is there any writings on this? Maybe something in Sylvia Pankhurst’s book, “The Home Front” (long out of print though)… anyone else know?
• theories of the origins of the war: eg, there’s a theory that WW1 was in effect started to control rebellious working class around Europe. There’s a book called “the People as Enemy”, which (although it is about WW2) shows evidence of overt discussion of this among ruling classes. John Zerzan also wrote an article on the social pressures behind the war.
• on complete lists of COs etc – we have access to full lists of all soldiers shot; is there a fuller list of all those sentenced – as many sentences were commuted. Cyril Pearce in Huddersfield is putting together a list of all Conscientious Objectors in the British Isles…
• Big business: who profited from the war? New technology, armaments…
• Shared myths of war; WW2 as shared national sacrifice obviously very big. But WW1 myth needs examining…
We had a discussion on celebrities – some folk suggested some names of famous people who might be sympathetic to what we are proposing to do… Ian Hislop, Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Adie were mentioned. Some of these have either written books or poems etc which touch on WW1… Another author
mentioned was Gerard Oram, who wrote a book on squaddies sentenced to death in WW1. General feeling seemed to be that we should not tailor what we are doing to recruiting them, but do what we do and make them aware of it, and let them come if they are interested. One way of this might be critical reviews of their books on blog etc.
Tours of WW1 sites of executions, mutinies etc
Some people are interested in setting up some tours to visit sites, eg Etaples, Ypres, Calais, Wilhelmshaven… we do eed to start thinking about this. Would be good points to meet up with international comrades…
Future Meetings of this group
We agreed to meet regularly, on the third Thursday of each month, so
Thurs 16th January
Thurs 20th February
Thurs 20th march
And so on… at 7.30, at 88 Fleet St, London EC4Y 1DH
(The entrance is in St Bride’s Avenue – press any buzzer).
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