Anarchists and the War

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Jean Grave

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(To the Editor of Freedom.)

Dear Comrade,—The German War Office, which has prepared this war during the last forty years, has prepared for it in every imaginable way, neglecting no detail likely to serve its ends, and it has devoted special attention to an extensive Germanophile propaganda on all sides. While exalting at home the spirit of Jingoism and exciting the national self-conceit, it has striven to influence public opinion in the neutral countries and to conciliate them. And if it has not succeeded, it is only because its acts have been too flagrantly in contra diction with its affirmations, while its pretensions to universal domination were too manifest for its apologies to deceive any one. If the Governments of the Allies were not so encrusted in governmental and diplomatic routine, there was open to them a similar campaign, which ought to have been made not only in the neutral countries but also in Germany itself.

It is impossible that out of the four millions of Social Democrat electors in Germany there should not be found a certain number to whom the idea of Internationalism means more than "a scrap of paper." Despite the inconsistencies of their leaders, there must be among the mass of Social Democrats many individuals perfectly sincere. On the other hand, it is impossible that in the population of Germany there might not be found many who realise that the triumph of Prussian militarism would mean not only the bondage of Europe but also that of the German themselves. It is impossible that the German manufacturers and merchants—save the small minority interested in the manufacture of war material—should not understand that war is the ruin of their industries and their commerce. If they have not understood this hitherto, they are now, at any rate, learning it by bitter experience. There was work to be done with these men; there is now work to be done in making clear to them that their real enemies are they who are ruining them whilst plunging Europe into this frightful conflict.

But all Governments are everywhere the same. This campaign could have only had one end in view—a revolution in Germany; and revolution, even in other countries than their own, is hardly less feared by Governments than invasion. Ideas of emancipation spread fast. It is dangerous to awaken the free initiative of the people, since that is the negation of authority. Doubtless a revolution in Germany would put an end to the war, thereby saving much suffering, much loss, and many lives; but for Governments human lives are less precious than the prestige of authority. Individuals are sacrificed for the sake of a principle.

I am not sufficiently optimistic to think that such a propaganda would effect as much as two or three crushing defeats, but both methods of argument being employed, one would help the other to pierce the atmosphere of lies which at present shuts out the light from the German people. This propaganda, which the Allied Governments are incapable of carrying on, may be prosecuted by all those who believe that war is an evil which ought to disappear from the world, giving place to an international entente, to the solidarity of all peoples that on earth do dwell.

Ought not those Anarchists who refuse to have anything to do with the war on principle, to undertake this task of enlightening the belligerents, making them understand that the victor should not crush the vanquished, but, respecting his independence and his dignity, should treat him humanely, so as to leave no place for hatred, no desire of revenge, so that the end of the war should be the signal for a general disarmament?

Alone, the Anarchists cannot make themselves heard; their propaganda reaches too small a number of individuals. Just as they have been powerless to prevent the war, so, if they remain isolated, they will be powerless to prevent the intrigues of politicians and diplomatists when the hour comes to treat of peace. But everywhere may be found people who, though not Anarchists, have come to understand that militarism is a leprosy, that war means ruin and the decadence of the human race, and that ideas of conquest and extermination are as harmful to those who entertain them as to their intended victims.

There are many who think that international disputes should be settled amicably, by arbitration; that the people have all to gain and nothing to lose in agreeing to live in peace together. The Anarchist should not stand aside, a mere onlooker; he should join his efforts to those of all who desire that peace should reign among the nations, even if some of those who work for peace do not share his views on other questions. There is work to be done in opposing the interests involved in the manufacture of armaments, in closing the mouths of the apostles of destruction and murder; and Anarchists should abandon for a time their discussions of abstract ideas, which are perfectly useless at this moment, and turn to the consideration of facts. They should mingle with the people, deal with the actual events of the day, and strive to find a solution that will adapt itself to things as they are, not as they ought to be. Already the war has sufficed to show us disconcerted, isolated, out of touch with our German comrades, disunited among ourselves. The Socialists, with their greater numbers and important organisation and administration, are not much better off than ourselves.

Shall we consent to stand aside powerless, while the fate of Europe and the destinies of humanity are decided over our - heads by diplomats and politicians, in a fashion fatal to all our hopes, all our aspiration?—Yours fraternally, J. Grave.

  • Jean Grave, “Anarchists and the War,” Freedom 29, no. 308 (February 1915): 15.