Remembrance and the Democratic Struggle for Peace
By Gabriel Haythornthwaite
At this point, Remembrance Day is the most Orwellian holiday of the year in the Western world.
Here and elsewhere in the orbit of Pox Americana, elites and publics alike have virtually zero Remembrance of War Past—exemplified in the baffling ovation given by all Canadian Parliamentary parties to a Nazi war criminal who was welcomed into the country after WW2.
All in the zeal to boost current Imperial Wars, demonstrating that the elite forgetting of War History is driven by a willful denial of what produces War Today. All the better to project Endless War into the Future.
Right-wing propaganda of all sorts transmit this elite forget-and-denial to the public by hiding imperial war crimes and associated capital plunder behind hollow phrases of ‘freedom and democracy’.
In Greek tragedies, forgetting plays a key dramatic role. Orpheus forgets the command of Hades to not look back in the Underworld and so loses his dear Eurydice. Theseus forgets the request of his father, King Aegeus, to return from the winning of freedom from Crete with a white sail and so triggers the monarch’s suicide. Through this tragedy, Theseus gains wisdom and transitions his royal authority in Athens to the Greeks’ first stab at democracy.
The hubris of elite forget-and-denial has its own way of eventually generating popular democratic responses towards freedom and equality. The truly democratic solution to Imperial War includes genuine Remembrance of who and what produces and ends such wars. Such political understanding is a vital foundation for collective organizing against militarism.
In considering the Remembrance link between entwining past and pressing present, I think the month of November 1917—one year before the Armistice of November 11th, 1918—provides two highly relevant examples.
The first example is the British doctrine proclaimed in the Balfour Declaration by which the leading imperial power of the day promised land that was not Britain’s as a homeland to people of a religious faith—Judaism—99% of whom did not live in the territories in question.
The British had the temerity to say to their Arab allies at this time—recruited to fight the occupying Ottoman Empire in exchange for national freedom—to forget about Balfour; all was well with their quid pro quo deal.
November 1917 also saw the exemplary example of a new Soviet-backed government of "People's Commissars" promising national freedom to the peoples of the former Tsarist Russian Empire through the pledges of Peace, Land and Bread. Regardless of how one evaluates the experience of what would eventually become the USSR, Western ruling circles were absolutely scandalized by the sincerity with which the Soviets acted upon these promises at the very start of their rule.
Soviet Peace Pledges
No Soviet promise was more scandalous than the dastardly pledge of Peace. The triumph of Soviet power—driven significantly by soldier-sailor opposition to the Imperial War we today call WW1—is perhaps the most remarkable example of a Peace movement that not only started the process of ending an imperial mega-slaughter but also put in place a new form of government that set itself against all future imperial war ambitions.
Russian soldiers and sailors—often from peasant backgrounds—from the very beginning of the Tsar’s fall in March 1917 acted more and more determinedly to not die for capital profits. With the Soviet government in power, an immediate cease-fire (gasp!) was called by Russia. The soldiers at the front were encouraged to fraternize with German and Austrian soldiers in the opposing trenches and to incite these comrades across national borders to turn against their officers as the Russians had done to win their Revolution.
The other outrageous move towards Peace (and, by necessity, against Imperial War) was the Bolshevik policy of “open diplomacy” by which the secret war treaties between Russia and its great power allies in the Entente, Britain and France, were published for the world to see.
The Bolshevik People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Leon Trotsky, also announced the full repudiation of all imperial Russian expansion aims signified in these treaties, particularly Tsardom’s hunger for the Dardanelle Straits (in modern-day Turkiye, which are the only water access between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea) in the Ottoman Empire.
From Sykes-Picot to the Oslo Accords
One of the treaties revealed by the Soviets was the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement by which Britain and France schemed to seized the Ottoman lands of the Middle East to expand their own Empires. This Agreement, in addition to the publicly declared Balfour Declaration for a colonial Jewish homeland, demonstrated that the Arab peoples were being deceived by the British. The Entente brazenly lied that the published Sykes-Picot Agreement was a Bolshevik forgery and so kept the Arab leaders in line.
Emir Faisal of Mecca at Versailles 1919
What we are witnessing today in the genocidal onslaught on Palestine by America-sponsored Israel is the macabre outcome of imperial deceit and design that began more than a century ago with Balfour and Skyes-Picot. Israeli colonists formally established their imperial homeland in 1948 after expelling an estimated 750,000 Palestinians and seizing more than 400 villages and towns. In 1967, a Western-backed sneak-attack by Israel on Egypt, Syria and Jordan resulted in the conquest of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
The more recent cycle of imperial lies and trickery, which has culminated in the caging and crucifying of Gaza as well as ramped up pogroms and expulsions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, can be summed up in the diplomatic con game of the 1993 ‘Oslo Accords’.
On paper, the Oslo Accords were supposed to oversee the exchange of a massive Palestinian concession on land—the 78% of Palestine taken by Israel in 1947-48—for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in East Jerusalem. From the very start, Israel broke its signed agreements in Oslo through the massive expansion of colonial settlements, the strangulation of the Palestinian economy and social life as well as continuous military aggression against Palestinian communities.
This serial Israeli duplicity—as ever financed and diplomatically backed by the Americans—sparked a Palestinian rebellion in 1996, the second ‘Intifada’ mass uprising of 2000-2005 and numerous mass murdering aggressions against encircled Gaza since 2006 including the current Colonial War launched against the shocking prison breakout of October 7th.
Remembrance and Anti-Colonial National Freedom
The initial Soviet contributions to Peace against Imperial War—unconditional ceasefire and open diplomacy—have long since passed out of mass memory but the lessons are there to inform solidarity with anti-colonial national freedom struggles today. The Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples waging these struggles undoubtedly are learning and applying their own lessons to the cause of Peace.
Let us use our Remembrance to continue the scandalous democratic tradition of demanding Armistices on Armistice Day, denounce the Imperial Sponsorship of Colonial War (both public and secret), support anti-colonial self-defence and make our own contribution to the kind of governments that will end Imperial and Colonial Wars once and for all.
Gabriel Haythornthwaite is a PhD Candidate at Western University's Faculty of Education and a long-time political trouble-maker.