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On November 11 wear a white poppy instead

Jesse McLaren

November 8, 2015

Justin Trudeau’s first large public event will be Remembrance Day, and the politics that dominate that day match well with Trudeau: paying lip service to ordinary people’s experiences while continuing the same ruling class policies.

While the day is marked by red poppies and the glorification of “sacrifice,” the real history of the armistice is that of war resisters and revolution. The white poppy campaign helps challenge ongoing militarism and its impact on soldiers and civilians, including refugees.

Remember war and revolution

In 1914 the colonial powers that had divided the world went to war against each other. It could not have been a “war for freedom and democracy” because none existed: in 1914 Canada was in the midst of running its concentration camps—the residential schools—as part of its genocide against First Nations. Homosexuality and abortion were illegal, women were not even considered “persons” under the law, and the vote was denied to indigenous people, immigrants of Asian origin, women, people with disabilities, and men without property. Any progress we’ve made has been a result of people fighting for their own liberation, against the Canadian state, not Canada joining an imperial war.

On Remembrance Day we should remember the war resisters and revolutions that ended war. This began just a few months into the war, in Christmas 1914, when soldiers from the British, French and German trenches put down their weapons and fraternized, only returning to combat on threat of court martial.

In 1917 French soldiers mutinied, and Russian soldiers joined the revolution that ended the war on the eastern front. In 1918 people in Quebec resisted conscription and there was a mutiny of soldiers in Victoria, while German soldiers joined the revolution that ended the war on the western front. November 11 was a product of war resisters and revolution.

Red poppies vs white poppies

WWI was supposed to be the “war to end all wars” but the century since then has been an endless series of wars, driven by capitalist states fighting on behalf of their corporations.

Armistice Day was turned from an anniversary of revolution into a state-sponsored glorification of war, and red poppies became the symbol of sacrifice that states still demand. It has erased the history of war resisters and been used to demand that more poor and working class people become cannon fodder for the rich.

In 1933 the white poppy campaign began in Britain, organized by the Cooperative Women’s Guild of mothers, sisters, widows and wives of soldiers killed in WWI. It sought to raise awareness of the economic and political factors behind war, and to campaign against war and the arms trade.

In 2011 Quebec’s anti-war coalition, Échec à la guerre, launched their own white poppy campaign, to challenge Harper’s militarism and bring awareness to the civilian victims of war, including refugees.

From Harper to Trudeau

The surge in opposition that drove Harper from office includes opposition to his militarism: his wars in Libya, Syria and Iraq; his arming of Saudi Arabia and unconditional support of Israel; his military spending alongside cuts to veteran services; his cruel and unusual treatment of refugees, and deportation of war resisters.

Trudeau is eager to portray himself as providing the “real change” to Harper that he campaigned on, included promises to end Canadian bombing in Iraq and Syria and to welcome Syrian refugees. He needs to be held to these promises and pushed on others: ending support for Israel and arms for Saudia Arabia, welcoming war resisters and redirecting military spending into social programs.

The Liberals portray themselves as the kinder corporate party, the party that didn’t send troops to the Iraq War of 2003. But that was a product of a mass anti-war movement that won over the NDP, divided the Liberals and stopped the government from going to war.

On February 15, 2003 there were anti-war protests in 80 cities across Canada and Quebec, as part of the largest protest in world history. There were 250,000 people marching in Montreal, and the same massive numbers mobilized a month later. In the context of a Quebec provincial election that would have punished the Quebec Liberals if their federal counterparts had joined a deeply unpopular war, Jean Chretien announced just days before the war that Canada would not take part.

On the first Remembrance Day of the new Liberal government, we should remember this anti-war history. The present day Parliamentary configuration is back to what it was in 2003, where the Liberals have a majority, the Tories are the “Opposition” and the NDP are in third place. But outside Parliament the anti-war movement has the potential of mobilizing and impacting Parliament.

On Remembrance Day wear a white poppy to remember the revolutions that ended WWI and the anti-war movement that kept Canada out of the 2003 Iraq war, and help build the ongoing movements to end war and the arms trade, support war resisters, refugees and veterans, and fight for a world beyond capitalism and war.

On November 9 join the event "Other voices from Vimy: a reading of David Fennario’s Bolsheviki," 7-9pm at the Imperial Pub, Toronto.

On November 14 join the event "98 years on: what can we possibly learn from the Russian Revolution," 6pm in Toronto-west. For details email or call 647-870-8204

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