Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Archduke’s Assassination re-enacted…

[from Remembering the Real World War 1 London group]

A hundred years later, millions of war dead later - on Saturday, June 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg, were "assassinated" for a second time, on Whitehall. 

A century (and five hours) after the original assassination in Sarajevo triggered the
catastrophe of World War 1, the ghost of Gavrilo Princip repeated his act. The opening shots that set the defining course of the twentieth century – towards total capitalist war. But also towards its opposition: the spirit of resistance to class society, to national hatreds, to the power and profit of elites at the expense of huge majorities. The spirit of refusal to fight, of desertion, mutiny, revolution. 

Before the ‘assassination’, a small group from the Remembering the Real World War 1 London group (costumed as Archduke, Archduchess, Princip, feminist-communist war resister Sylvia Pankhurst, and several unknown soldiers of WW1) visited various statues of politicians and generals around Parliament Square, Whitehall and Horseguards Parade – bloodstained memorials to the guiding spirits of the British franchise of the 1914-1918 abattoir. Some of the war crimes of Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Haig and co. were discussed; we also remembered some of the army mutineers, draft-dodgers, the networks that opposed and resisted the war effort. Unlike the official historians of the Great War we celebrated the strikes, mutinies, revolutions that the conflict produced.

We visited the cenotaph, to remember that the elites who sent millions to die were forced into commemorating their victims by popular pressure. In Horseguards we spoke up for the striking squaddies who demanded demobilization in January 1919, besieging the War office, refusing to be drafted into Britain’s intended invasion of Soviet Russia refusing to continue to die and kill in the name of imperial rivalry. 

There were only a few of us… Like the lonely voices that spoke out against the tide of patriotism and coercion in 1914. The heavy rain may have played a part… But also such ‘ancient history’, especially that which challenges the official themes, maybe seems unimportant to most folk at this time. There are more urgent struggles, like survival, in the face of massive pressures… Most of our rantings were likely only amusement for tourists. Still we did engage with some people, positively and negatively. 

We did run into the Gay Pride procession, in time to wave some placards at the lesbian & gay soldiers contingent – probably futilely, but you have to try. (Still, the Austro-Hungarian fetish gear went down well with some of the festive marchers…) Some of us remember when Gay Pride had a more subversive social meaning than celebrating the equality to sign up for the armed forces, equal rights in the repressive rigmarole. Living in the past again?  

The past? A drive towards austerity, open class war against those with the least, vicious hatred and blame leveled at ‘foreigners’, towards a militarized, rightwing society? Sound familiar?

Arms traders, warmongering politicians and unrelenting, jingoistic propaganda today, go hand in hand with a blind reverence for the ‘dead’ of World War 1, a ‘respect’ that deliberately obscures the lies and profitable balance sheets that millions died for. Capitalism gave birth to the Great War – the War that never really ended.  

With the world at war again in the Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, we intended to conduct our theatrical reconstruction of these events outside BAE systems, a small reminder of how little has changed today. In the end we didn’t make it as the downpour drove us into the pub… 

… But we carry on.  

Join us for our next action, outside the Imperial War Museum on July 19th,  as it re-opens its World War 1 exhibitions. 

The IWM was set up in 1917 by the very same generals and politicians who helped start the global conflagration. But it wasn’t victorious generals and politicians that ended the conflict, it was striking workers and mutinying soldiers. 

By autumn 1918, many German soldiers became so disillusioned with the war that they refused to fight. Earlier, there had been similar rebellions in the Russian and French armies. And, by 1919, there were even mutinies in the British Army. 

Hopefully the IWM exhibition will cover these inspiring events in detail. But, in case they need some help, we will be commemorating the real history of the war from
10am to 2pm, Saturday 19 July, near the museum entrance
(The IWM is on Lambeth Rd. SE1 6HZ, near Waterloo and Lambeth North stations.)

For more information about the ‘Remembering the Real WW1’ project see:

For useful critiques of the Imperial War Museum approach to the history of war (and relations with the current military-industrial complex), see: 

Next Remembering the real WW1 London organising meeting:

Thursday July 10th, 7.30 pm at 88 Fleet St. London EC1 1DH

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