The Red Plough
Vol. 3-No 10
1/Why I won't be wearing a Poppy on Remembrance
2/ Acts of War?
The eleventh day of November is a day of remembrance for me, a date of coincidence as well as personal memories, a lot more than could be fitted into that 'minute of silence'.
Even though some of those who are the subjects of my thoughts are not directly connected to the day of remembrance as it was originally intended, I have not lost sight of that intention.
The poppy was first used as a memorial symbol in America and then France, when paper poppies were made and sold to raise funds to help children orphaned by the war.
The British connection only began in 1921 when the newly founded British Legion started the 'Poppy Day Appeal' to collect for poor and disabled veterans.
That the organisation's main founder had been the Commander-in-Chief of the British armed forces in Europe, the man ultimately responsible for sending hundreds of thousands 'over the top' to certain, inescapable death is ironic, to say the least.
Field Marshal Douglas Haig
WW1 was a battle for territory lost in previous wars between many colonial powers who shared all manner of treaties and alliances, some of the participating countries using war as a convenient way to counter social upheavals in their own jurisdictions. The millions of ordinary working class people of all nationalities who died had nothing whatever to gain by fighting in this war, so while I believe it is right to remember them, the language of the organised memorial denies this truth and glorifies war.
A poet whose words described the horror of WW1 more vividly than any picture, was to be one of its last victims.
The young Wilfred Owen wrote;
"Dulce et Decorum Est"
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."
My paternal Grandfather was taken in by that lie, so keen was he to fight for his country that he couldn't wait until adulthood. Adding a year to his age on the application, the young Willie Craig went to France in 1915 where he soon learned that war was more about brutality than glory. Like most of those involved in the battles of WW1 Willie didn't talk much about his experiences but here's one of the few that he did pass on:
One warm summer night Willie was on watch in the trench illuminated by the full Moon. As he crouched, his back against the wall with his rifle resting upright by his side, bayonet pointing towards the cloudless sky he heard a scraping sound coming from 'no man's land', above and behind him. Without getting up or moving the rifle, he reached over and placed his finger on the trigger. Just then a shadow appeared on the opposite wall of the trench, someone was coming over the top above him. When the shadow grew bigger Willie called out, 'who goes there?', but when he got no reply he pulled the trigger, the rifle shot rang out followed by the thud of a body hitting the floor of the trench. When the dust cleared, Willie was amazed to find that he had not shot and killed an enemy soldier but a giant rat, which had been feeding on the rotting corpses in ' no Man's land'.
A few weeks after this incident Willie was caught in a gas attack, he was captured and spent the rest of the war in Germany as slave labour in a coal mine. Returning to Belfast at the end of the war, my grandfather with damaged lungs from the gassing and the mine, joined the ranks of the unemployed digging the streets for relief payments, suffering state brutality in the strike of 1932. By WW2 he had gained employment as a sorter in the Royal mail, where he remained until his retirement in the 1960's.
|"an act of national pride"-|
If the wearing the poppy was about remembrance of people like my Grandfather, I would be happy to wear one, but unfortunately the war to end all wars did not, and the settlement agreed in its aftermath led to WW2.
It could be argued that WW2 was necessary because it was the only way to stop World domination by fascism, but there were many opportunities to prevent the fascists from taking power in the first place, but no will to do so.
Since WW2 British forces have been involved in 60 wars, most of these were imperialist, none can be justified. David Cameron gave the game away in a debate with the football association this week when he said, “wearing the poppy is an act of national pride”.
Jingoist Cameron and Irish nationalists share the mistaken view that the poppy is an exclusively British symbol of remembrance
As an Irish Socialist Republican I am not anti-British but I certainly am anti-imperialist and anti-war.
Acts of War?
Sadly that is not true. No one with any sense of humanity in them can take pleasure in the deliberate killing of a fellow human being. As we approach the anniversary of the ending of the First World War, celebrated with chauvinistic glee by the British ruling classes, we should never forget the horrors of war, the savage slaughter of millions and the glorification of the "nation" and the demonisation of the enemy.
"all warfare is inhuman, all warfare is barbaric; the first blast of the bugles of war ever sounds for the time being the funeral knell of human progress…"
But despite the experiences of the horrors of war there are sadly those who still wallow in the glorification of war and the use of violence against their perceived enemies. A quick search of the web will produce discussion sites where juvenile comments are made about enemies, comments that reveal a lack of understanding of the consequences of war, of the dehumanising effects of hatred and a glorification in killing.
|Some current political hostages|
The mainstream media have speculated that the killing of the prison warder arose directly from the consequences of the current prison protest. There is a dirty protest taking place from protesting republican prisoners. They are protesting against strip searching and claim that the prison authorities reneged on a agreement reached 18 months ago.
Carl von Clausewitz
But then questions have to be asked- will the killing of the warden advance the cause of the prisoners, will it bring an end to the protest-will it force the prison authorities and the Stormont Administration to concede to the prisoners demands?
A famous military strategist once wrote
"War is the continuation of Politik by other means"
So what are or were the politics behind the killing?
|Clare Daly ULA|
Two days after that event there was a march in Dublin calling for the release of Marian Price organised by the Free Marian Price Campaign. While there was a ban on party banners the march was in itself political. It was exposing the vindictive nature of the British Government, exposing the selective internment of those who reject the pacification programmes of the Government, explicit in the outpourings of the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement. But there were only about 450 people on the march and one of the speakers, Clare Daly formerly of the Socialist Party and still in the moribund United Left Alliance felt that she had to mention the killing of the Prison Warden and condemn it. She was she said a supporter of human rights and that included the human rights of Marian and David Black.
Her attendance at the march and her decision to speak was, particularly given her long background in the Socialist Party,-(for long perceived as having an anti-republican and a pro-loyalist agenda) a politically significant step. We, in the Red Plough have long argued that the failure of the "left" to engage with republicanism was and still is, a mistake. So here was a minor break through. Sadly many who would have been on the march probably stayed away because of the killing.
So we would argue that the killing far from advancing a mass struggle outside the jail in support of political prisoners has on the contrary set back any serious efforts to garner support from a wide cross section of people.
The struggle in the prison has been ongoing for a long time. There have been efforts to resolve that situation also for a long time. Talks in the background had been taking place to reach a settlement.
In the light of the killing does anyone seriously think that the situation will be resolved sooner or later? Will the killing of one prison warder, or the killing of ten make any difference to British policy? On the contrary it will only harden their resolve. Indeed one would think that perhaps that was the intent behind the armed action.
Perhaps there are people out there who think a movement can be built on the backs of the prisoners struggles and sacrifices? If so they are sadly deluded. The history of prison protests shows that only on very few occasions did the people on the outside give mass support to the prisoners and go on to build a mass movement. Those were in the aftermath of the 1916 uprising and the 1981 hunger strikes. Within 10 years following 1916 a mass movement was destroyed, Ireland was partitioned, thousands of republicans were jailed and the republican movement all but destroyed. And British Imperialism still ruled Ireland.
10 republican prisoners died on hunger strike in 1981. Their deaths propelled Provisional Sinn Fein into electoral prominence. They, PSF, then went on to negotiate away the political concession wrung from the Brits, in exchange for power sharing and the baubles of office. Despite having the most effective guerrilla army in Europe the Provo armed struggle failed miserably. The Republican armed struggle was defeated. The Republican political struggle only ended up with an even more entrenched sectarian state than before. Yes, Republicans are serving in a British run administration but that won't make a basic bit of differences to the lives of the working classes whether catholic or protestant. And British imperialism still rules in Ireland.
So it is hard to see the politics behind the current armed actions of republican groups. That is other than a mere longing for a United Ireland. There is little united actions among republicans to bring masses onto the streets. There are few signs of reaching out tot he working classes. Instead what comes across is an elitist arrogance that only they, and they alone, know what is good for the people of ireland. In that they are no different from the leaderships of both administrations on the isle of Ireland.
"We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means."
Where is the political intercourse? We see little or no evidence of it. It seems that the end is armed struggle as if that in itself is enough. Or is there a thought that a torch can be passed onto future generations so that they can rise from the flames and initial an armed struggle that can achieve republican goals?
Was it for this that Wolfe Tone wrote,
|"To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils and to assert the independence of my country- these were my objectives. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter - these were my means."-|
Where is "means"today in armed actions.
Will it unite "the whole people of Ireland"?
Will it "abolish the memory of all past dissensions,"?
Furthermore there is little evidence of objectives such as
"subvert the tyranny of our execrable government,"
"break the connection with England"
"assert the independence of my country"
Sadly the road some republicans are walking down is a road to death, jail and political oblivion. It is not the road to either a United Ireland or a Socialist Republic? When in the light of past failures down a particular road, one keeps going down that road then surely it is time to pack it in.
There is however another road. However it is not a road for elitists, not a road for self appointed "leaderships" nor a road for those who "tax" drug dealers (thereby legitimising and licensing drug dealing) nor a road for those who are
"known as a ‘physical force party’ – a party, that is to say, whose members are united upon no one point, and agree upon no single principle, except upon the use of physical force as the sole means of settling the dispute between the people of this country and the governing power of Great Britain.
Other countries and other peoples have, from time to time, appealed to what the first French Revolutionists picturesquely described as the “sacred right of insurrection,” but in so appealing they acted under the inspiration of, and combated for, some great governing principle of political or social life upon which they, to a man, were in absolute agreement.
The latter-day high falutin’ ‘hillside’ man, on the other hand, exalts into a principle that which the revolutionsists of other countries have looked upon as a weapon, and in his gatherings prohibits all discussion of those principles which formed the main "strength of his prototypes elsewhere and made the successful use of that weapon possible.
That other road is one that requires patience, persistence and political struggle. It is the road of class struggle. It is the road to socialism and it is a road that neither elevates any method of struggle as a principle nor dismisses any method of struggle. The building of an alternative to what now exists in both parts of Ireland has no short cuts. The existing leaderships of the current radical socialist and republican groupings face a huge responsibility of leadership in these times. Are they capable of leading or are they just content to follow the course of least resistance?
This is a work in progresss and RNU welcome constructive comradely criticism.