No 386 Posted by fw, January 11, 2012
“For the most part, governments attempted to ridicule the anti-war movement of World War 1. As resistance movements began to exert their Counterpower, the government fought back with physical power too. But fighting a movement does not simply mean repressing it.” —Tim Gee
For those who may not have read previous posts in this series, they are all based on Tim Gee’s Counterpower: Making Change Happen. Each successive post features a selection of highlights from a section of the book. The purpose is to help today’s activists understand and overcome the tactics used by government and corporate power elites to thwart Counterpower movements.
The previous post, Part 7, How governments thwart action on climate change, featured selected excerpts from Gee’s Chapter 3, How governments respond to Counterpower. It sampled the kinds of tactics that governments and power elites have used to restrict the scope of decision making related to climate change.
This post, Part 8, drawing again on selected excerpts from Chapter 3, highlights how governments of The Great War era were able to crush the anti-war movement.
How Governments Crushed the Anti-war Movement of The Great War
As Gee noted in Part 6, “. . . there is no inevitability about the eventual victory ahead. Government and other sources of elite power have a whole raft of tactics available to them.” As activists were to discover, during wartime governments were not about to tolerate any protests that might negatively impact the troop recruitment or military morale. The noted US historian, Herbert Zinn, put it this way — the courts and jails were used “to reinforce the idea that certain ideas, certain kinds of resistance, could not be tolerated.”
Thus, the early anti-war opposition to The Great War faced a daunting challenge – the full power of governments determined not to allow anything to compromise military victory on the battlefield or recruiting success on the homefront.
Here’s a small sample of governments’ tactical arsenal which was deployed against anti-war activists —
Keir Hardie: The man who gave his life for a cause that, in the end, broke him
Some more than others paid a high price for their opposition to the war. Keir Hardie was one such man. Hardie, a pacifist, was appalled by the First World War. In the early days of the war, he, along with socialists in other countries made a valiant effort to organise an international general strike to stop the war. Tragically, his stance was not popular, even within his own Labour Party.
Gee pays this tribute to Hardie:
“The call was not taken up and many within the very party he had helped to found came to regard him as a traitor. He died a short while later. In her memoirs Sylvia Pankhurst recalls that ‘the great slaughter, the rending of the bonds of international fraternity, on which he had built his hopes, had broken him.’”
In wrapping up this section of Chapter 3 on how governments crushed the anti-war movement, Gee concludes:
“ . . . the anti-war campaigners played a part in the birth of a movement promoting concepts of peace and justice in opposition to the dominant ideas of imperialism and nationalism.”