While we might reject the view that World War One was a 'just war', it is also true that other interpretations are just as politically convenient.
IN THE New Zealand Herald former Green MP Keith Locke writes that ' over the next four years we will learn much about World War I and the suffering that went with it'.
Maybe, but will we be any the wiser?
So far, the mainstream narrative of the 100 year anniversary of the 'Great War' has been sorely inadequate. The coverage that I've seen on television has invited us to believe this was a 'just war', that 20 million people, both soldiers and civilians, lost their lives in defence of something called 'freedom'.
But, as Keith Locke rightly comments, '... we can do that without glorifying the war, or defining it as a just war.'
But I'm not entirely convinced that we will confront the stark reality of WW1 because it is politically convenient not to. While Locke rejects the fantasy that WW1 was a 'just war', he is also guilty of being selective with his facts.
Although I appreciate there's only so much you can say in a short opinion piece, I don't think that excuses Locke from failing to acknowledge the dismal role that the European social democratic parties, backed by the trade union bureaucracy, played in the rush to the bloodbath.
In the months leading up to war the social democratic parties all agreed that there would be no defence of capitalism, even if it came in the patriotic colours of the flag, disguised as a defence of 'nationhood' and 'the people'. When war was declared, however, all the reformist parties rallied behind 'their' ruling class.
In Germany the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), voted unanimously to finance the German war effort, a blatant betrayal of socialist principle. Despite the importance of this historic betrayal, Locke does not mention it. Being an ex-socialist and familiar with socialist history, I thought he would have.
This omission makes his observation that 'The German Government is not sponsoring big commemorations or visits to war graves' one without context and fails to acknowledge the struggle that the great socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg and her socialist comrades waged against the war.
The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was, at the time, the largest working class party in the world. The problem was that it was becoming an increasingly bureaucratised and top down organisation with the reformist leadership intent of protecting their own privileged positions. That's something we're not unfamiliar with today.
Rosa Luxemburg had long campaigned against the bureaucratic and reformist nature of the SPD but even she didn't anticipate its leadership voting to fund the German war effort.
Luxemburg was imprisoned for her opposition to the war. In The Junius Pamphlet (1915), written in her cell, Luxemburg castigates the leadership of the SPD:
The most precipitous fall, the most violent collapse. Nowhere has the organization of the proletariat been yoked so completely to the service of imperialism. Nowhere is the state of siege borne so docilely. Nowhere is the press so hobbled, public opinion so stifled, the economic and political class struggle of the working class so totally surrendered as in Germany.
Having comprehensively failed to infuse any class perspective on WW1 it is not surprising that Locke limply calls for the hundred year anniversary be used 'to promote reconciliation and make progress on European integration.'
Reconciliation between who exactly? And what on earth does 'integration' mean in the context of a neoliberal Europe?
I think we can do much better than this.
In September 1915 a left conference was held in Zimmerwald, Switzerland. The conference highlighted the need for a clean break with pro-war socialists and a struggle to overthrow capitalism.
The Zimmerwald Manifesto, written largely by Leon Trotsky, circulated illegally in the war torn European countries and became a focal point of the revolutionary socialist movement. The manifesto declares:
Beyond all borders, beyond the reeking battlefields, beyond the devastated cities and villages: Proletarians of all countries, unite.
A century after the war to end all wars, the message of the Zimmerwald Manifesto still rings true today.