The First World War and the Christmas Truce

In capitalist society, human needs are not decided on before commodities are made. Profits are the driving force behind production and needs are manufactured by what has already been produced then being shoved down our throats through advertising. Christmas is just one of several occasions throughout the year where people are encouraged to blow money at an increased rate. It is the most wasteful time of year and it is said that Australia and the UK produce up to 50% more waste than usual. Millions of unwanted presents, and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Christmas trees, plastic packaging, plastic cups and straws, wrapping paper, decorations, and food end up in landfill each year. Due to alienated social norms, we tend to believe that it is rude not to buy gifts, to ask what people want, or to express anything other than appreciation for what others were conned into buying for us. 

The reason that Christmas is so joyous for some is not because of some mystical spirit that we are incapable of at any other time. For those who actually get some time off of school and work, it is typically the only time they get to truly relax and unwind all year. It is a time of fraternisation for many, a time of increased loneliness for others.  

During the First World War, workers sent off to fight their class brothers were told that they would home in time for Christmas. The ruling powers, however, forgot to mention which Christmas they actually had in mind exactly. Despite the mass slaughter orchestrated by these powers, rank-and-file soldiers often attempted to resist the war, refusing to fight, based on an unofficial “live and let live” policy, where troops on each side agreed not to launch offensive action. 

On Christmas Eve, German troops began singing Christmas carols in German, French and English. They decorated the trenches, lit candles and hung multilingual banners wishing opposing armies “Merry Christmas”. British troops joined in the carol singing and both sides began to shout Christmas greetings at one another. On Christmas Day, soldiers began to climb out of the trenches to fraternise with the other side and exchange gifts like tobacco, alcohol, ham, and biscuits. Although some fighting continued, the unofficial truce covered about 100,000 men almost entirely on the Western front. But there was also a small truce along part of the Eastern front between Austrian and Russian troops. In some areas the break in hostilities lasted until Boxing Day but remained for longer in others. 

In March 1915, Lenin wrote on how German and British army orders banned any fraternisation with the “enemy” in the trenches, with any disregard being punishable as high treason. These laws were a confirmation of the truce and attempts to enter into friendly relations with the “enemy” that had taken place. The fact that German and British military authorities showed such concern over the matter was evident of them attaching considerable importance to it.  

Kautsky’s belief was that “There is only one practical issue—victory or defeat for one’s country.” Lenin’s response to this being “Indeed, if one were to forget socialism and the class struggle, that would be the truth. However, if one does not lose sight of socialism, that is untrue. Then there is another practical issue: should we perish as blind and helpless slaves, in a war between slave-holders, or should we fall in “attempts at fraternisation” between the slaves, with the aim of casting off slavery? Such, in reality, is the “practical” issue.” 

Although there were no further Christmas cease-fires after the implementation of the previously mentioned laws, the 1914 truce was just a small taste of what was to come. From 1917 onwards, Russian troops played their part in turning the imperialist war into a civil war, they mutinied and turned on the Tsarist government, French, British, and Australian soldiers began to mutiny en masse, and German soldiers and sailors stopped fighting, joined the general strike and overthrew the monarchy, as a result it was the working class that brought WW1 to an end.  

We cannot say for sure what holidays or traditions will, or will not, exist in a post-capitalist society nor what they would look like if they do. But we can be sure that the world we aim to create will not rely on so-called special occasions for people to be able to relax and spend time with those they love and care about. There will be no commodities, no destructive waste, no money or unwanted presents to buy, and no wars, prisons or borders to keep people apart. In a world where production is based on human and environmental needs we will be able to better handle any outbreaks of disease and the impact of natural disasters. 

Over this summer/winter, we extend our solidarity to all other workers around the world and urge for them to take any measures that they can to keep themselves and others safe. We encourage checking in on friends, family, and co-workers, both now and whenever possible throughout the following year. Many of us are struggling financially, mentally and medically on a level we never have before and this weight is even heavier when we try to face it alone. It is through building ties with other workers and recognising our common, but varied, struggle that we can not only help better combat any daily feelings of alienation, helplessness, and loneliness, but can also work towards the revolutionary overthrow of our present society. 

Internationalist Communists Oceania

Friday, 25 December 2020

Information was sourced from the following articles: 

The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated by V.I Lenin

The Christmas truce, 1914 by Steven Johns

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