July 2013

Menin Gate, Ieper (Ypres)

Menin Gate, Ieper (Ypres)

Here was the world’s worst wound. And here with pride
‘Their name liveth for evermore’ the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
As these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.

Siegfried Sassoon on the Menin Gate

I’ve just spent a couple of days wandering through the memorials and cemeteries that the litter the landscape around Ieper (Ypres) in Flanders.

I walked under the Menin Gate. Fifty thousand names arranged by range and by unit list those “whom the fortunes of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death”. Watch movie online The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Their names tower before me.

Hundreds gather underneath, cameras snapping, as the Last Post is played.

Two school children lay a wreath, the pipes are played, and then we wander away as the words “PRO PATRIA” and “PRO REGE” stare down from above.

* * *

At Tyne Cot eleven thousand nine hundred and fifty four marble headstones stand in a careful rows.

You enter from a gate below, the endless white headstones reach up the hillside before you.

At the centre, the original “Cross of Sacrifice” looks down, and above this, and sweeping across the top of the cemetery, stands the “Memorial to the Missing”.

Tyne Cot

Tyne Cot

Graves littered this landscape after the various Battles of Ypres.

At aid posts and dressing stations they resembled cemeteries, but across the battle field crosses stood and remains were buried in ones and twos.

These small burials were collected, exhumed, and consolidated to form the endless white crosses of cemeteries like Tyne Cot.

But it is at Langemark that you will understand the meaning of Menin and Tyne Cot.

At the centre of the German cemetery in Langemark is a small garden. Perhaps ten metres by ten metres.

Langbrook German Cemetery

Langemark German Cemetery

The exhumed remains of twenty four thousand German soldiers were dumped in this mass grave.

* * *

The way in which the dead are remembered is not neutral, natural or apolitical.

Unadorned, the piles of the dead are an indictment.

You cannot look upon the mass grave at Langemark and not despise those responsible for the commission of so monstrous a crime.

Menin Gate and Tyne Cot are no mere memorials, they serve a clear and reactionary political purpose in the context of the immediate post war period. These monuments serve to recast the nature of the crime they record.

On the walls of the Menin Gate, the dead are not working class conscripts, callously butchered in the name of a lie. No, they are heroic figures, who have nobly sacrificed for the cause. This monument sanctifies them in the name of King and Country.

With a sweeping layout and grand architecture, death is made glorious. Sad, yes, sacrifice for empire entails sadness, but it’s noble, pure, and glorious to “sacrifice”, “pro rege, pro patria”.

With this slight of hand, the ruling class butchers absolve themselves of guilt. The dead have been conscripted a second time.

And the dead can be wielded against all criticism. Criticize the war, the state, the ruling class, that bastard the King? How dare you spit on the memory of our pure noble sacrificing sons.

In prior wars the dead were seldom remembered. After a battle bodies were quickly dumped in a mass grave, or cremated to avoid the possibility of disease. A dead general or admiral might warrant a statue, but that mass of dead peasants? Who cares?

But in World War I the scale of destruction undermined the legitimacy of the system that caused it, in the eyes of anyone who could comprehend it. As tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands died, as the French army mutinied and as Russia revolted, the memory of the individual dead suddenly became a state matter rather than an individual matter.

Twenty four thousand German graves could be disinterred and the remains dumped in a pit, but the British ruling class required their dead a second time.

Headstone of Arthur Conway Young, “sacrificed to the fallacy that war can end war”, inscriptions on headstones were chosen by the family.

Update – Further Reading: Were many people upset when they announced they weren’t bringing back the bodies England’s war dead back at the end of WW1?

Full Text

Rally 19 October 2013, QEII Square, Ablury

Rally 19 October 2013, QEII Square, Ablury

Those of you who’ve had the misfortune to hear me rant on about marriage might find it odd that I promote events like this upcoming Equal Love Rally in Albury. I’m no fan of marriage. I don’t think the state has any business telling us how we will live our lives. I happen to think that life long monogamy is just a lie we tell each other.

And I heartily campaign for marriage equality.

But marriage be damned.

In Australia, same sex marriage is explicitly banned. This ban is not about marriage, it’s about marking out queers as less than equal.

Young queers grow up being told that marriage “is the cornerstone of our society”, and that they can’t get married. The conclusions should be pretty fucking obvious to even the most dense. Young queers are being told they are not normal, they are wrong, they are threatening, they are being told they are less than human.

A ban on same sex marriage gives very real comfort to homophobes and religious freaks, it tells them that their beliefs are supported by the state. It serves the interests of conservative religious institutions, reinforcing their power; the ruling class it seems still has some need for their role as moral police.

But first and foremost its about dividing people, it’s about dividing the working class. Dividing the working class into marginalised and privileged groups is key to maintaining the power of the ruling class. Your jobs are threatened by foreigners! Your marriages are threatened by queers! Your property is threatened by the blacks! NOW GET INTO LINE.

This is no greatly hidden process. Divide and rule works, and is consciously practised. The Howard government’s explicit ban on same sex marriage occurred in the lead up to the 2004 election. “Illegals” no terrified like they did in 2001, and Mark Latham looked like offering the Howard government a bit of a challenge. We now know this ban was adopted at the same time as the Howard government conspired to enact a massive attack on the conditions of the working class in the form of Work Choices.

Anarchist and Socialists who I consider friends critique this position, on the grounds that the campaign for same sex marriage is vulnerable to co-option by the ruling class.

Of course it is! Every campaign is! Today’s radicalism is tomorrows product, re-branded, packaged and sold back to us. Anyone for a Cherry Guevara icecream, or your very own Guy Fawkes mask?

If we reject every campaign that risks co-option by the ruling class, if we demand nothing short of total revolution now, we will find ourselves in an isolated self serving political ghetto of the most pure, the most self righteous, the most ineffective and the most irrelevant, for all time. Sound familiar?

You can’t will a revolution out of thin air, and you cannot some how expect that the mass of people will come around to your point of view as if by magic.

"Stonewall was a riot not a brand..."

“Stonewall was a riot not a brand name”

Yes, Stonewall was a riot, and yes, the radical history of the liberation struggle MUST be defended. But we’re not at Stonewall and it’s not 1969.

The sad fact is that we don’t get to pick the political terrain. Radical ideas will only be advanced when radicals meet people where they are at now.

And an increasingly large cross section of the working class is at events like Equal Love Albury Wodonga, or at Reclaim the Night, or at demonstrations against 457 visas.

I want to make it clear I don’t endorse any of these campaigns uncritically (especially NOT the 457 campaign). But the skill and task of the radical is to be able to engage critically with what exists, and advance an alternative and more systematic explanation of the vectors of oppression that at least some people have decided to confront.

Full Text