Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Merchants of death for peace?
In May 1921 the semi-official military veterans’ organisation British Legion was formed.  The Legion declared — as it had to — that it was non-political, politics being associated with nasty squabbling over sectional interests at the cost of humane rescue work. It is not surprising, though, that they saw no inconsistency in adopting distinctly political attitudes — their patriotism, their servile royalism (they have always been unable to refer to any aristocrat without stringing out the full title and when mentioning royalty they never miss a Royal Highness or a Majesty), their assumption that capitalism is basically a decent society with just one or two problems which any well-intentioned person can sort out.

In the General Strike the Legion advised its members " ... to come forward once more and offer their services in any way that may be needed by the authorities." This caused something of a row, since many of the strikers were ex-servicemen who had been driven into it by desperation at the conditions they had faced when they came back from the war.

"Non-political" attitudes were also evident when the Legion sent a delegation to Germany in 1935. They saw the concentration camp at Dachau, where the Nazis were holding their political prisoners, and then they had a "quiet family supper" with Gestapo chief Himmler who was, they thought, " unassuming man anxious to do his best for his country."

Those who buy a poppy are helping the workers to deaden their senses to the facts. War is not to be remembered with pride; it is to be feared and hated. Capitalism kills workers in their millions, then lays them out in regimented cemeteries, raises huge monuments to tell us they are dead. And all this to protect the position of the ruling class, to keep in being the very society which ensures the next bloodbath.

The white poppy was launched in 1926 by the Co-operative Womens Guild and the No More War Union, to commemorate all victims of all wars, as an alternative to the red poppy, issued by the British Legion to commemorate only British military personnel.

Is the white poppy, a pacifist symbol, really for socialists, though?  We are in favour of the right of the exploited to use violence if there is no other way, aren’t we?

Who told the writer "Socialists won't fight because they are cowards."

Not that we fear to die, for why should we,
Who face a living death from day to day.
Fear what we know "eternal rest" to be
A speedy end rather than slow decay?
No, what we fear is that we should be brought
To suffer wounds, disease and lingering pain
In aiding those of brute-like cunning wrought,
Who maim the body, crush and starve the brain.
Maybe the time is nearer than we know
When we the disinherited, the spurned,
Shall face our masters in the last great fight.
Shall wade through waste and desolating woe
Toward the splendour of a death well earned
If only life be won in death's despite.

F. J. Webb (1917)

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