I suppose it was inevitable that, in a broadcast on the theme of ‘reconciliation’, the Queen would celebrate the informal truce that spontaneously broke out in the trenches between British and German soldiers in the First World War at Christmas-time 1914; and we have had the Sainsbury’s television advert over the last month or so to give some vivid visual imagery to this evocation (with football thrown in too, which the Queen did not mention). It’s good that there was such a truce, of course; at least it stopped the industrial-scale carnage for a few hours.
But if only it had gone much further. In his 1914 pamphlet ‘Common Sense about the War’, George Bernard Shaw recommended that the troops on both sides should shoot their own officers and go home and get the harvest in. Lenin knew that you had to go one stage further still and shoot your political leaders too. For him, you should take the weapons the ruling class gave you and turn them, not against each other, but against those ruling classes themselves, turning international wars into civil wars. So never mind cheery Christmas football, it would have taken uprisings on this scale by ordinary troops to bring down the capitalist elites whose competing imperialisms caused the unprecedented mass-slaughter.
As I've noted previously in this blog, my grandfather Henry Smith Pinkney fought with the Royal Artillery in France in the Great War, and though he didn’t actually turn his guns on officers or rulers, he did later join the Communist Party of Great Britain, which I take it was his way of saying that you had to hate and fight the entire economic system that had sent working men out to die in their millions to protect its imperialist super-profits. If you do not name, hate and fight that system, if you only mourn the deaths of so many individuals – the ‘fallen’ or the ‘warriors’ who ‘made the ultimate sacrifice', in that repulsive late-Victorian rhetoric - then you can have an enjoyably poignant emotional wallow, as did all those who admired the great flood of poppies at the Tower of London, but you show no real respect at all to those who have died in capitalism’s wars, then or since. I guess we are going to have to repeat these points frequently over the next three or four years!