THE BATTLE of Passchendaele saw 275,000 British soldiers, workers in uniform, killed or wounded alongside 220,000 German workers in uniform.
This was a great imperialist slaughter directed by Anglo-French and German imperialism to re-divide the world between themselves. The general staffs and the governments involved fought resolutely and determinedly down to the last worker in uniform in the struggle in which shell-shocked workers were executed for desertion or cowardice.
It was not a question of ‘lions led by donkeys’ but the ruling classes of the planet determined to safeguard and expand their empires no matter how many workers’ lives this cost. The Second ‘socialist’ International collapsed at the start of the war and supported their own governments, displaying ultra-patriotism and an extreme willingness to sacrifice workers lives for the benefit of their particular empire.
There were exceptions however. In Britain, John Maclean, James Maxton and the Clydeside Workers Committee opposed the war. James Connolly did the same in Ireland. In Germany, the anti-imperialist war struggle was led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxenbourg, with Liebknecht voting against war credits in the German parliament on December 2nd 1914.
He told the parliament: ‘I am voting against the War Credits Bill today for the following reasons. None of the peoples involved in this war wanted it, and it did not break out to promote their welfare – not in Germany or anywhere else. It is an imperialist war, a war to dominate the capitalist world market and secure for industrial and financial capital the possession of important territories for settlement.’
In the Russian socialist movement, the Mensheviks supported the imperialist war and it was opposed as such by the Bolsheviks and Leon Trotsky. Lenin denounced the Second International and put forward the slogans ‘The enemy is at home’ and ‘Turn the imperialist war into a civil war.’ He advocated that workers in the imperialist armies should fraternise, stick their bayonets into the ground, and band together to overthrow their respective ruling classes.
Lenin saw the Great War as the prelude to the socialist revolution of the working class. He would not support the war of the Czarist autocracy and saw the war as a great opportunity for overthrowing Czarism, breaking up the Czarist Russian empire which he termed ‘the prison house of the nations’.
And he championed the freedom of Poland, Finland and the Baltic states. In fact it was the Russian working class that was the first to answer Lenin’s call with the Great February revolution, which overthrew the Russian empire and then went on to establish soviet power in October 1917, ending Russia as the ‘prison house of the nations’ and printing the secret treaties that the imperialists had made for the re-division of the world, along with the call for revolution to end the war.
In November 1918, the mutiny of the German navy at Kiel saw the red flag raised over the fleet and in fact ended the First World War. On November 3rd, the sailors in Kiel, joined by workers from the nearby city, detained their officers and took control of their ships. They also formed Elective Councils, their own ‘workers soviets’ that drafted the Kiel Mutineers list of demands, the first six points being;
1. The release of all inmates and political prisoners.
2. Complete freedom of speech and the press.
3. The abolition of mail censorship.
4. Appropriate treatment of crews by superiors.
5. No punishment for comrades returning to ships and barracks.
6. No launching of the fleet under any circumstances.
This revolutionary history is vitally important for today when workers everywhere are rising up against capitalism and the imperialist powers are readying themselves for another imperialist slaughter.
Workers will take the Leninist road in the days ahead to prevent another imperialist slaughter of the World War I or II types, by building the Fourth International and completing the world socialist revolution that the Russian working class led by Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party began in 1917.