Saturday, 7th November, 2015
Remembrance Sunday is held on the second Sunday in November, the Sunday nearest to 11th November, Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War at 11 a.m. in 1918. It is to "commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women".
Maybe this year, we should spare a thought for those men and women who fought to stop the First World War taking place. Some of them also lost their lives. In the years building up to the war a group of politicians, including Jean Jaurés and Edouard Vaillant in France, Karl Liebknecht, Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg in Germany, Eugene V. Debs and Victor Berger in the USA, Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald and George Lansbury, were active members of the Socialist International, an organization of socialist and labour parties.
At a conference held in Basel in November, 1912, it was agreed that "if a war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working classes and their parliamentary representatives in the countries involved supported by the coordinating activity of the International Socialist Bureau to exert every effort in order to prevent the outbreak of war by the means they consider most effective."
It was decided that the best way to deal with the situation if a war broke out was for members of the Socialist International to call a general strike in their own countries. At the end of the conference. members drafted a statement: "The Congress therefore appeals to you, proletarians and Socialists of all countries, to make your voices heard in this decisive hour! Proclaim your will in every form and in all places; raise your protest in the parliaments with all your force; unite in great mass demonstrations; use every means that the organization and the strength of the proletariat place at your disposal! See to it that the governments are constantly kept aware of the vigilance and passionate will for peace on the part of the proletariat! To the capitalist world of exploitation and mass murder, oppose in this way the proletarian world of peace and fraternity of peoples!"
The international crisis continued and further conferences took place. However, members of the Socialist International, completely underestimated the power of newspapers to create a desire to go to war. During the war fever that swept through Europe during the summer of 1914, members of the Socialist International continued to argue for peaceful negotiations between the European governments.
Germany declared war on France on 3rd August, 1914. The following day Britain declared war on Germany. The majority of men were willing to fight in a war because they were convinced they were going to win. Newspapers in all the participating countries told their readers it would be all over by Christmas. Soon after the outbreak of the war the editor of The Star newspaper made an attack on Lord Northcliffe, the owner of The Daily Mail: "Next to the Kaiser, Lord Northcliffe has done more than any living man to bring about the war."
Karl Liebknecht was the only member of the Reichstag who voted against Germany's participation in the First World War. He argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy."
Opposition to war was greater in Britain. Three members of the cabinet, Charles Trevelyan, John Burns, and John Morley, resigned in protest. All the main leaders of the Labour Party, including Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden, George Lansbury and Fred Jowett, spoke out against the war and with their Liberal colleagues went on to form the peace movement, the Union of Democratic Control.
Jean Jaurés, the leader of the French Socialist Party, continued to call for peace talks and urged men not to join the armed forces. However, on 31st July, 1914, Jaurés was assassinated by Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old French nationalist who wanted to go to war with Germany. Such was the patriotic feelings in France that when Villain appeared before a jury he was acquitted.
None of the British leaders of the peace movement were assassinated but they suffered a great deal for their beliefs. They came under tremendous pressure from a British press that had been urging war for some time. On 1st October 1914, The Times published a leading article entitled "Helping the Enemy", in which it wrote that "no paid agent of Germany had served her better" that Ramsay MacDonald had done.
The newspaper also included an article by Ignatius Valentine Chirol, who argued: "We may be rightly proud of the tolerance we display towards even the most extreme licence of speech in ordinary times... Mr. MacDonald' s case is a very different one. In time of actual war... Mr. MacDonald has sought to besmirch the reputation of his country by openly charging with disgraceful duplicity the Ministers who are its chosen representatives, and he has helped the enemy State ... Such action oversteps the bounds of even the most excessive toleration, and cannot be properly or safely disregarded by the British Government or the British people."
In December, 1914, Keir Hardie had a stroke. Sylvia Pankhurst later recalled: "I knew that Keir Hardie had been failing in health since the early days of the war. The great slaughter, the rending of the bonds of international fraternity, on which he had built his hopes, had broken him. Quite early he had a stroke in the House of Commons after some conflict with the jingoes. When he left London for the last time he had told me quietly that his active life was ended, and that this was forever farewell, for he would never return. In his careful way he arranged for the disposal of his books and furniture and gave up his rooms, foreseeing his end, and fronting it without flinching or regret." Hardie died on 25th September, 1915.
Horatio Bottomley, argued in the John Bull Magazine that Ramsay MacDonald was the leader of a "pro-German Campaign". On 19th June 1915 the magazine claimed that MacDonald was a traitor and that: "We demand his trial by Court Martial, his condemnation as an aider and abetter of the King's enemies, and that he be taken to the Tower and shot at dawn."
On 4th September, 1915, the magazine published an article which made an attack on his background. "We have remained silent with regard to certain facts which have been in our possession for a long time. First of all, we knew that this man was living under an adopted name - and that he was registered as James MacDonald Ramsay - and that, therefore, he had obtained admission to the House of Commons in false colours, and was probably liable to heavy penalties to have his election declared void. But to have disclosed this state of things would have imposed upon us a very painful and unsavoury duty. We should have been compelled to produce the man's birth certificate. And that would have revealed what today we are justified in revealing - for the reason we will state in a moment... it would have revealed him as the illegitimate son of a Scotch servant girl!"
Up unto this time MacDonald was unaware he was illegitimate. MacDonald received many letters of support, including this one: "For your villainy and treason you ought to be shot and I would gladly do my country service by shooting you. I hate you and your vile opinions - as much as Bottomley does. But the assault he made on you last week was the meanest, rottenest lowdown dog's dirty action that ever disgraced journalism."
The greatest struggle against the war took place in Germany. In February 1916, a group of left-wing socialists, including Karl Liebknecht, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring, Wilhelm Pieck, Julian Marchlewski, Hermann Duncker and Hugo Eberlein formed an underground political organization called Spartakusbund (Spartacus League). The Spartacus League publicized its views in its illegal newspaper, Spartacus Letters.
On 1st May, 1916, the Spartacus League decided to come out into the open and organized a demonstration against the First World War in Berlin. A young man, Helmut Herzfelde, was in the crowd that day and heard Liebknecht and Luxemburg call for everyone to resist Germany's involvement in the war. Several of its leaders, including Liebknecht and Luxemburg were arrested and imprisoned. Wieland Herzfelde, said that the speeches at the rally had a great influence on his brother. It was at this point he decided to dedicate his art to politics. Wieland later wrote: "We are the soldiers of peace. No nation and no race is our enemy." Herzfelde, changed his name to John Heartfield in 1917 in "protest against German nationalistic fervour".
German right-wing nationalists never forgave Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg for their peace campaigns and they were both murdered in January 1919. However, the leaders of the movement did much better in Britain. On 22nd January, 1924, Ramsay MacDonald became prime minister. MacDonald's appointments as ministers of the government included several members of the peace movement, Philip Snowden (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Charles Trevelyan (Education) and Fred Jowett (Commissioner of Works).
The People we should be remembering on Remembrance Sunday (7th November, 2015)
Why Suffragette is a reactionary movie (21st October, 2015)
Volkswagen and Nazi Germany (1st October, 2015)
David Cameron's Trade Union Act and fascism in Europe (23rd September, 2015)
The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary (17th September, 2015)
Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England (12th September, 2015)
Jeremy Corbyn, the new Harold Wilson? (5th September, 2015)
Anne Boleyn in the history classroom (29th August, 2015)
Women and Politics during the Reign of Henry VIII (14th July, 2015)
The Politics of Austerity (16th June, 2015)
Was Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, murdered? (31st May, 2015)
Was social mobility greater under Henry VIII than it is under David Cameron? (29th April, 2015)
Is Sir Thomas More one of the 10 worst Britons in History? (6th March, 2015)
Was Henry VIII as bad as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin? (12th February, 2015)
The History of Freedom of Speech (13th January, 2015)
The Christmas Truce Football Game in 1914 (24th December, 2014)
The Secret Files of James Jesus Angleton (12th November, 2014)
Ben Bradlee and the Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer (29th October, 2014)
Yuri Nosenko and the Warren Report (15th October, 2014)
The KGB and Martin Luther King (2nd October, 2014)
The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)
Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)
The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)
West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)
The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)
Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)
Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)
Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)
The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)
Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)
Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)
The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)
Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)
The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)
Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)
Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)
Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)
Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)
Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)
Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)
The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)
The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)
Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)
New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)
Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)
Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)
Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)
Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)
The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)
Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)
British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)
Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)
Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)
The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)
The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)
What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)
Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)