Every year I re-post this, suitably updated for current issues. War porn week will soon be over.
Ruling classes around the world have their national myths. These attempt to tie working people to the capitalist class through the false idea of nationhood, itself a recent historical development.
The Australian version of this national myth is ANZAC Day. It is supposedly the day Australia became a nation. It celebrates the day on which began the defeat of Australia’s and other countries’ invading troops at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915.
It is important to understand the historical context around the establishment of this day. The first ANZAC Day was held in 1916. The war to end all wars was bogged down in bloody slaughter. In Australia support for the imperialist adventure was split.
Many workers remembered the bitter class battles of the 1890s and the depression that drove large numbers into poverty.
Workers had ignored Federation, despite the cheer squads of Australian capitalism attempting to use that event to glue workers to the system and the exploitation that arises from it. For many workers class was the most important determinant of loyalty.
The war further exacerbated class divisions.
Many rejected outright participation in the battle between two competing imperialisms. Others, influenced by the Labor Party, supported it but opposed conscription.
The class still had a memory of internationalism, and the impending outbreak of revolutions across Europe (including the German revolution, which ended Germany’s war) would only further reinforce this sense of class solidarity across borders and against the common enemy – capital.
Here in Australia the divisions were highlighted by the rapid growth of the Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary group committed to a democratic society without bosses. Indeed the “Wobblies” were such a threat that the police and security forces framed leading members for arson, and the state made being a member illegal, closed down their press and finally outlawed the organisation itself.
Conscription was the issue that saw class divisions come out most starkly in Australia. Working people and their parties opposed conscription, and defeated both referendums on the issue. The ALP split, with the forces around Billy Hughes going over to join the Conservatives and form a Government.
In 1917 there was a general strike in New South Wales. Overseas the Tsar’s regime in Russia collapsed after a five-day strike begun by women workers on International Working Women’s Day.
The first ANZAC Day in 1916 was an attempt to divert anger away from the capitalist class to those who were “disloyal”. It was also an important part of the pro-conscription propaganda.
An immediate concern the ruling class had was that disaffected soldiers – and there were many, having witnessed the reality of war – would link up with the radical sections of society. ANZAC Day deliberately offered them an alternative, an alternative that celebrated their role and remembered those who died rather than questioning why war occurred and why workers died for profits.
In fact, class polarisation (which reached its apogee in 1917 in Russia with the working class taking power on 7 November) continued in Australia and elsewhere for a number of years after 1916 and 1917. This saw ANZAC Day almost disappear in the early 1920s.
It revived after that as the revolutionary tide ebbed (exemplified by the rise of Stalin in Russia and Stalinism elsewhere). The forerunner of the RSL rebuilt itself by setting up clubs and pubs and helping returned servicemen and women (especially during the Depression).
World War II saw the idea of Australia, as a nation, “arrive” (and also boosted the popularity of ANZAC Day).
The sense of class and internationalism lost its way under Stalinism. In Australia the Communist Party wrapped itself in the flag of patriotism to fight the fascists. In fact World War II was among other things a repeat of World War I – the clash of two blocs of imperialism.
The Australian ruling class has always had an imperialist “protector”. This used to be Britain and is now the US. As part of the ruling class’s desire to be the major imperialist power in the region, they have attached themselves and us to a powerful ally which will enable them to carry out that role and to ‘protect’ the Australian ruling class from invaders who don’t.
To do that the ruling class here must pay its dues, its insurance policy. That is why Australia have a long history of following ‘our’ ally into imperialist adventures around the world.
From Sudan in 1885 to Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 we have participated in a large number of foreign wars to help keep the UK and the US on side with our own expansionist project.
Iraq and Afghanistan were about showing to the US the Australian ruling class’s commitment to the alliance and to allow its own role in the region – East Timor, the Solomon islands, PNG for example – to continue.
The disguised defeat that is Afghanistan sees all the troops except a few advisers on the way out of the country. For what? What did the 39 dead Australians die for?
Gallipoli itself is an example of Australia’s ongoing imperialist view of the world. We were part of a force that invaded a country that we had no quarrel with and which did not threaten us.
ANZAC Day also performs another function.
War is an integral part of capitalism and imperialism. Most people’s initial reaction is to recoil from war and all the horror it brings. ANZAC Day downplays that horror and makes war acceptable.
It is propaganda to allow the ruling class to call on the next generation of workers to join the war effort if needed.
And it may divert people’s attention away from immediate economic concerns – I may be losing my house or job but at least we diggers are good fighters and I am so proud my son or daughter was in Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or East Timor. Or the Solomon Islands.
As Tony Abbott prepares to spend $12 billion on useless fighter jets and up to $30 billion on submarines while at the same time he attacks Medicare, Universities, jobs, wages, unions, pensions, disability pensions, legal aid, Aboriginal communities, scientific research, and spending on social services, remember this. We are not all in this together. ANZAC Day is cover for these attacks on the poor and workers. It celebrates an imperialist war to divert attention away from the one sided class war the rich have waged against us for the last 32 years and to prepare us for future wars and justify our ruling class’s imperialist expansion in the region.
The less bread we get the more circuses they put on.
As Tandberg so eloquently put it: