What We Have Been, We Still Remain
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WHAT WE HAVE BEEN, WE STILL REMAIN
By E. Armand
IT is not from a vague humanitarian sensibility, nor from a hazy and mystic pity that we are proclaiming our horror of war. We know very well that life is a continual selection, in which only the most able and gifted triumph.
What causes our hatred for war, i. e., for the state of war and all that follows in its train, is that while it reigns self-assertion and individual determinism are more than ordinarily restrained, constrained, repressed, not to say reduced to naught. It substitutes in place of the individual struggle for existence and happiness a collective struggle profitable to a small number of the governing and the large exploiters of all countries. It places the individual in a humiliating position of subordination and dependence in face of the administrative and military authorities.
The non-combatant is deprived of the ability to express and expand his thoughts, if not also of free movement. His product is at the mercy of the first requisition. On the field of carnage, a prey of the atmosphere of brutishness and savagery, he is but an inanimate object, like a piece of baggage, at the disposal of others, who in their turn obey orders that they dare not discuss.
This was our standpoint before the actual events; such it still remains. We did not have to renounce our opinions, for they are confirmed. The most convincing proof that we had not erred is seen in the attitudes of the Collectivists, Syndicalists, Communists called Anarchists and others who suddenly turned into ardent defenders of civilizations and politics based upon maintaining mankind in subjection and ignorance; we have observed "adjustments of aim" which the tragic circumstances alone prevent us from qualifying as buffooneries. This sort of socialist recognized the necessity of temporarily abandoning the "class-struggle" to participate in the "national defense." This ilk of Anarchist proposes to change neutral diplomats to terminate the gigantic struggle. The strangest medley of names are to be found in conjunction, the highest dignitaries of the church, the most accredited representatives of the conservative bourgeoisie, the flamboyant "fifteen thousand" Socialists and the Syndicalist divinities!
If they could not or would not oppose or halt the massacre it behooved Socialists of all persuasions, with the feeling of elementary shame, to hold their peace. The interval of silence would have furnished an occasion to meditate on the frailty of dogmas. The attitude of the "intellectuals" is no less disgusting. Anti-nationalists and pacificists, religionists and free-thinkers, atheists and monists, all, or nearly all, have kept pace with the government. Such a downfall!
If, comrades, we break the silence imposed by circumstances beyond our control it is not merely to deliver into space hollow recriminations. It is above all and essentially to put you on guard against incitations emanating from persons boasting of conceptions of the old International, urging to insurrection or revolution after the war those of you who shall have survived the butchery.
Note, in the first place, that these doctrinaires write safely esconced in neutral countries where at this moment it is the interest of the governments to see a flourishing pacificist and anti-militarist propaganda. In the second place, what passes under our eyes obliges us to inquire what would have been the attitude of these theoreticians if the States in which they reside had been engulfed in the conflagration?
In reality, as before the war, we remain the resolute adversaries of revolutionary or insurrectionary attempts.
One must be blind not to perceive that a movement of this kind has no chance of success; it would result in a repression probably worse than that following the Commune of 1871; it would give the authorities an occasion to silence permanently those rare spirits who have known how to resist the general disorder. It is this handful of men that will be attacked by the mass escaped from bullets and shrapnel, urged on by the masters, exploiters and servile press, avenging their long absence from their firesides. Moreover, only one gesture can interest us— that which recoils directly and personally upon the guilty ones.
Doubtless, the war, no matter who triumphs, will produce numerous causes of discontent. They are already fermenting. These germs of dissatisfaction our propaganda ought to utilize.
But before passing this question it would be well to glance at the past. We must recognize that but too often we neglected to erase preconceived notions from the minds of those whom we wished to accept "future societies" or economic systems to come. Too often we had wanted to reconstruct ideas in brains before the complete demolition of the old. We have not criticized vehemently enough the enrollment in leagues, unions, syndicates and other bodies where individual autonomy and initiative are sacrificed to the common weal. Some of us have listened complacently to hypocritical justifications of "social constraints" or "solidarities" which are not disputed because their end is alleged to be the general or collective interest! The awakening was rude.
Even without decided advantage on either side, the simultaneous exhaustion of military and financial resources of the belligerents, the intervention of large capitalists, existing pressure upon the head of some neutral State, the inquietude of politicians fearing the electoral effect upon their parties, will hasten the end of the conflict.
The war concluded, it will be necessary for us to resume with vim and zeal the education of the individual. More than formerly and with all means at our disposal it devolves upon us to awaken the desire and will to annihilate all notions that enthral men to the State, Society, institutions or men representing them.
In other words, according to the temperaments of those we encounter, making appeal to sentiment or reason, to interest or sensibility we must:
Denounce relentlessly the peril of what places the individual, voluntarily or forcibly, in solidarity with the social ensemble;
Demonstrate irrefutably the negation of super-personal ideals, belief in the invisible, abstract aspirations, happiness not subject to the senses;
Destroy radically belief in chiefs and leaders, parliaments and public unions, newspapers and workers' federations, exploiters and exploited;
See to it, in a word, without relaxation, that those to whom our propaganda is addressed are turned into irreconcilable enemies, theoretical and practical, of all domination and exploitation of man by man or by his environment.
Comrades, we are not calling you to insurrection or revolution on the "morrow of the war." We know that no society is superior to the sum of those composing it, and if, by chance, a popular movement were successful, it would only effect a change of rulers. It is for a more profound task that you are to prepare henceforth, to sap and undermine all vestiges of respect for Society, State, rules, and rulers. We are so few in number that we can- not afford to have even a single one misled by the dialectics of the fossils of the International. Let us recollect that distrust and suspicion is on the increase for all those who wish to govern, direct, lead or conduct; that people are more and more inclined to think for themselves, to identify themselves with their own interest only, to lend a deaf ear to all except what is conducive of their own development. Moreover, they are opposed to the social usurpation of the individual.
Thus we can realize, for ourselves, the opportunity to live our own lives.
- E. Armand, “What We Have Been, We Still Remain,” Mother Earth 10, no. 7 (September 1915): 229-232.