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John Passant

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April 2010



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The myth of Anzac Day

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 – 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 our defeat at Gallipoli 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 many 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 Australia. 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 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.

The 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 and in Australia the Communist Party wrapped itself in the flag of patriotism to fight the fascists. In fact World War II was a repeat of World War I – the clash of two blocs of imperialism.

Australia has always had an imperialist “protector”. This used to be Britain and is now the US. As part of our ruling class’s desire to be the major imperialist power in the region, we have attached ourselves to a powerful ally which will enable us to carry out that role.

To do that we must pay our dues. That is why we have a long history of following our ally into imperialist adventures around the world.

From Sudan in 1885 to 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.

So even though Kevin Rudd pulled out of Iraq he is continuing our role in Afghanistan to show to the US his commitment to the alliance and to allow our own role in the region – East Timor, the Solomon islands, PNG for example – to continue.

Gallipoli itself is an example of our 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 is in Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or East Timor. Or the Solomon Islands.

Right now there is war going on around the world. It’s the war of the bosses against workers. The dead are many.

According to the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union around the world ‘work is more deadly than war, causing up to 2.3 million fatalities a year through related injuries and disease.’

International Workers’ Memorial Day is this Wednesday 28 April.

This article first appeared in Online Opinion. Readers might also like to look at Kyla Cassells’ review of  the book ‘What’s wong with Anzac? The militarisation of Australian history’ in an article called Anzac day is a celebration of war in Socialist Alternative.



Pingback from Tweets that mention En Passant » The myth of Anzac Day —
Time April 24, 2010 at 9:58 am

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Comment from marianK
Time April 24, 2010 at 11:27 am

Great summary.

It’s a tragedy that Australian schoolchildren do not receive this basic history lesson and, instead, are given a massive dose of Anzac courage/sacrifice/mateship PR around this time every year. It’s no coincidence that the Anzac resurgence – particulary in the media and school curriculums – has paralleled Australia’s increasingly proactive imperial role in SE Asia and South Pacific.

Comment from Sid
Time April 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm

“We were part of a force that invaded a country…”

Thank you John. I’ve spent years trying to explain to others that we invaded Turkey. It was only natural for that country to fight back as it did. We’d do the same as we did with the Japanese attempting to invade Australia.

The other point that I make is about the “racist” notion that Brtain used us. Military generals always use foot soldiers as fodder, regardless of nationality and it was Australian Generals (the elitist class) that agreed to it.

Comment from marianK
Time April 24, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Further to Sid’s comment, it’s also a little known fact that, in the same year that the Allies were invaded Turkey, the Turks were massacring between 1.5 and 2 million Armenians – which they still will not acknowledge as a genocide. One major reason given by historians for the Armenian genocide is that the Ottoman Turks feared the invasion by the Allies in the west and the Russians in the north would trigger a full scale revolt of Armenian nationalism, which had the potential to destroy Turkey.

So, in a way, the allied invasion of Turkey was a catalyst for the Armenian genocide. Also, it’s interesting to note that Australia is one of the nations that refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide – no doubt because we need to hang on to our unfettered diplomatic access to Lone Pine and Gallipoli for our annual Anzac commemoration.

Comment from EC
Time April 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Hi. This is a really interesting article and I’d like to find out more about it – can you recommend some sources/reading?

Comment from John
Time April 24, 2010 at 4:24 pm


Have a look at What’s Wrong With Anzac? The militarisation of Australian history, edited by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds. It takes a critical look at the resurgence of Anzac Day over the last few decades. I actually think it doesn’t go far enough but it’s a start…

Kyla Cassells reviews it in an article in Socialist Alternative called Anzac day is a celebration of war.

Christopher Bantick has an article in today’s Australian called What lies behind a national myth, arguing Anzac Day was a construct of British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and echoed by Australian Charles Bean. (

Pingback from Ray Martin ignites Anzac Day flag furore | Host Rage
Time April 25, 2010 at 2:18 am

[…] En Passant » T&#1211&#1077 myth &#959f Anzac Day […]

Comment from Marco
Time April 25, 2010 at 11:28 am

John and all,

War is a racket, my friend: yet another way for capital to make profits at our expenses. Only this time, the expression “they turn our blood into money” gains a whole new meaning.

The “War is a Racket” above is the title of a book written by the most unlikely author: Major General (US Marines) Smedley D. Butler (a.k.a. the “Fighting Quaker”). In that book he describes (with figures, referring to WWI!) one of the ways the always “patriotic” bourgeoisie makes money out of war: by selling useless crap at outrageous mark-ups.

Although he did not go much into the main wartime business of Big Business (namely, to create wars in order to loot other peoples), he did write that:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

And just as the Wobblies, he had to be silenced. The capitalist’s chance to shut him up came when, after contacting him to head a coup against the “communist” F.D. Roosevelt, Butler not only refused, but went to Congress to dob them in.

Although the McCormack-Dickstein Congressional committee, formed at the time to study Butler’s allegations, found they were credible, no police investigation (let alone prosecution) was ever made. The press made it sure Butler was thoroughly discredited.

Smedley Butler

Business Plot

Comment from Scott Kohlhaas
Time April 28, 2010 at 5:13 am

Interesting post! Please visit for more info on conscription.

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