The memorial bloodstain of the poppy is undoubtedly one of the most powerful single images of the C20th. Effortlessly evoking both the waste of war, and the irresistibility of life. The frail red bloom fluttering over the devastated battlefield sums up our innate hatred of war. A yellow or white poppy would not pull the same strings. It has to be the colour of blood to work. Red is the colour of sacrifice. The same colour as the flag of socialism, and chosen for much the same reason.
The needless slaughter of the trenches was just another sacrifice by the people. Alongside active working class resistance and industrial deaths it is part of a growing down-payment on a decent, fair, humane future. The balance in this transaction with history has long been paid, but we are still waiting for delivery while our investment gathers interest for others. And we continue to make the payments not realising that we are now well in credit, ignorant that change and progress are a birthright, earned by generations of injustice. There is no practical or ethical reason why we cannot be paid what we are owed in full. It is not a matter of granting or dispensing justice, it is ours already. It is for the people only to decide on the nature of the payment.
The poppy has recently been ruthlessly and cynically hijacked by the forces of war and nationalism. The shiny new front-men of military-chic, the glorifiers of military service who peddle pre-historic Hero Worship in the name of corporate profit. All guaranteed to nauseate every soldier who was in the trenches of Flanders or on the Normandy beaches.
But the abuse of the poppy does not change the reality, that the red flower should not merely represent the military casualties of war, but should acknowledge the economic reality of total war, and therefore war's contribution to the larger, genuinely heroic payment by the people towards a genuinely secure and peaceful future. And since this will by definition be a society which does not need wars, it will be some form of socialism or other. Whatever it will be, the general direction will be away from the gory bestiality of the past, and towards some kind of civilisation. The poppy is redder than it seems.