Yesterday’s socialism in the face of today’s war
It is at the moment when militarism is unleashed on the best part of the world that the values of anti‑militarist propaganda undergo violent attempts to demolish them by precisely those who were its most determined advocates. Does such a clear condemnation of the hitherto accepted socialist conception and tactics emerge from the unfolding events? Are the theoretical “frameworks” of our way of thinking about the social becoming and the process of history broken in such a way that our practical action must precipitously fall back into other directions? Not a few comrades show that they believe this and throw away as useless doctrinal baggage what was yesterday the content of their thinking and the guide to their action. Of course, they believe that they are no less socialist than before and that they have only made – with such admirable solicitude! – to their convictions the correction imposed by the eloquent lesson of facts. Thus we see, in the name of revolutionary socialism, syndicalism, and anarchism, praising the war as a phase and episode in the historical process from which the new society will spring, and which may, according to the victory of the ones or the others, accelerate the pace or inflict on it a delay of unforeseeable duration. There is, however, a lack of agreement when it comes to assessing the direction of this colossal historical crisis, with some placing the health of democracy, of the International and I don't know what else in the victory of the Triple Entente, others in that of the Germans, and with one or the other, from every corner of Europe that has been burnt or is about to burn, mocking the fossilisation of the few who dare to remain on the old platform of anti‑militarist socialism and think and act accordingly. Sudekum and Hervé suffice as examples.
Well then, at the risk of being branded gallows fans, we ask for the floor in defence of “old‑fashioned” anti‑militarism. It is understood that we do not set out personal cases of conscience, nor do we discuss those of others. We are only analysing, in a necessarily summary manner, the events; and we take the liberty of showing why they neither surprised nor upset our socialist thinking. Blind obstinacy! But obstinacy that has to put forward, modestly, arguments.
Apparently we all made a big anti‑militarist propaganda precisely because... we were sure that there would be no more wars between the great powers of Europe. When war broke out, the basis of this typical anti‑militarism would logically have been destroyed, and every socialist would have had the right to say: there is a war, all that remains is to choose the lesser evil and to side with these or those. Reasoning that from socialists in States committed from the beginning extended to those in neutral States. But when and how had socialism prophesied that there would be no more wars? And if so, what reason remained to work on anti‑militarist propaganda with the press, in rallies, with the “Soldo al Soldato” (Soldier's Money), and with the organisation of young socialists?
In truth, the thesis of the impossibility of war had its greatest formulation in the famous book by Normann Angeli – a bourgeois – in the monstrous bourgeois conception of armed peace, and in the specifically anti‑socialist concept that civilisation was proceeding in an evolutionary and educational manner by opening the eyes of the governed and rulers to the enormous error and obvious folly of a European conflagration, given the “modern means of destruction”.
Since the bourgeoisie of the various States could not fail to be aware of the enormous damage that the war would do to them, with no exceptions of victors, it was thought that the ruling classes and the governments that are their expression would at all costs avoid the immense clash. It was also foreseen, in the great mechanism of modern economics, the complication of the vast interweaving of international trade and relations, which had reached a development that history had never recorded and was made up of very delicate threads that war would break, causing the economic ruin of all social classes. It was thus believed that the various bourgeoisies would not run to suicide. But the key to the socialist concept is instead that the ruling class in the capitalist regime cannot govern and reign over the forces emanating from the current relations of the forms of production, and in turn falls victim to certain unavoidable contradictions in the economic regime, which does not respond to the needs of the vast majority of men. The great Marxist picture of capitalist production highlights these contradictions and the impotence of the bourgeoisie to dominate them. Because the instruments of production and exchange are not yet socialised, there is no rational use of them, there is no right relationship between needs and production, which is based solely on the interests of the capitalist; and from all this follows the colossal and extremely damaging economic crises that disrupt the markets, the absurd overproduction whereby abundance gives rise to unemployment of the wage‑earners and misery; and as a final consequence the ruin of some of the capitalists themselves, in whose interests the monstrous machine of the present economy is assembled. From this it follows – let us recapitulate – that modern life is not the continuous evolution towards a greater civilisation, but is the path of the fatal parabola which, through an exacerbation of class struggles and an increase of malaise among workers, will result in the final collapse of the bourgeois regime.
WWell, parallel to this process, for which the ruling class is preparing its historical suicide without being able to avoid it, we witness another absurdity. The development of the means of production in the economic field, the spread of culture in the intellectual one, the democratisation of States in the political one, instead of preparing the cessation of wars and the disarmament of fratricidal armies, lead to an intensification of military preparations. Is this a survival from other times – from the feudal era, for example – is it a return to the centuries of barbarism, or is it not rather an essential feature of the modern, bourgeois, democratic social regime? Let us note, in the meantime, that those State bourgeoisies that cannot in peacetime control production, and avert financial catastrophes, are thus, even if they wanted to, powerless to prevent the outbreak of wars, which present themselves as the unique and fatal way out of economic-political situations in which States find themselves trapped.
Is, on the other hand, the damage that the bourgeoisies suffer from war so immense? This is certainly a destruction of capital, but the bourgeoisie as a class, more than the material possession of capital, is interested in the preservation of the legal relations that allow it to live on the labour of the great majority. These relations, internal to the nations, consist of the right to monopolise the instruments of labour, which in turn are the fruit of other labour of the proletarian class. Provided, to be clearer, that the right of private ownership over land, houses, mines remains intact, after the devastation of the war the proletariat will rebuild machines, factories, etc. and hand them back to its exploiters, suffering all the consequences of the lack of consumer goods, but reconstituting the capital necessary for the life of all to be monopolised again by a few. Of course, not a few bourgeois, as individuals, will be overwhelmed, but others will replace them. It is observed that in the war the complex organism of financial and banking relations, of the circulation of money, is crashed; but the bourgeois governments partly make up for this with special suspensions of ordinary economic life, and partly make up for it with the indemnity due to the victor. In conclusion, war, disastrous in every respect for the proletariat, is unfortunately possible today; and the bourgeoisie sees its material wealth eroded, but its potential relations for reconstituting it preserved and perhaps strengthened, as the class struggle slumbers and dies down in national exaltation. There are unforeseeable complications from a wave of revolt over so much suffering; a revolt that would, however, have little chance of success, led by a people exhausted, drained and obscured by bloody hatreds towards proletariats on the other side of the border.
DuDue to the advances in technology, the cannons, explosives and ships being built today are without comparison more powerful than the ancient means of offence. The development of bourgeois economy, and the enormous importance assumed by State bodies, centralising so many vital functions, allow them to invest in war preparations financial resources ignored by the ancient monarchs and leaders of all ages. Moreover, the bonds with which modern States bind individuals under the varnish of democratic civilisation are becoming so tight that the State can dispose of enormous masses of armed men, sucking every last good man from the populations. The military State has large numbers of soldiers trained in arms and veterans thanks to compulsory conscription, systematically introduced after the French revolution (it was deliberated by the very Convention in France). The immense network of railways, which is within the reach of modern States, makes it possible to deploy and mobilise huge masses of men in a few hours, who are recruited, armed and brought to the border with impressive speed in the millions. Dwell in thought on this spectacle of modern mobilisation! What greater insult to individual freedom than this, made possible by the very latest resources of so‑called civilisation and the constitution of States under bourgeois rule and on democratic guidelines?
Ancient wars had nothing like this. Armies were far fewer in number, they were largely formed out of the technical necessity of veterans, all volunteers or mercenaries, and forced recruitment was limited, episodic and much more difficult than today. Most workers were left to the fields and their trades; being a soldier was a profession or a free decision – one ignored today's huge masses and the carnage of battles fought with modern weapons. The barbarian invasions themselves were migrations of peoples who moved, with their families, their herds and the tools of their labour, to prey on nice and fertile lands for the greater well‑being of all – albeit ensured by brute force – while the modern soldier, even if he survives the victorious war, returns to his usual life of exploitation and misery, probably aggravated, after leaving at home the family that the State supports... with a few pennies.
The wars of the feudal era were also different. The barons personally wore iron and put their lives at risk, followed by a few thousand men‑at‑arms, so war was a trade with the risks inherent in any trade. The war we are witnessing is therefore not a return to the barbaric or feudal era, but is a historical phenomenon of our time that occurs not in spite of our current civilisation, but precisely because of the capitalist regime that conceals under the guise of civilisation a profound barbarism. The possibility and fatality of war are inherent in the constitution of modern States, which under a regime of political democracy maintain economic slavery and extend their overwhelming power, ostensibly based on the consent of all, to the point where a handful of ministers, exponents of the ruling class, can, in 24 hours, bring to the line of fire and death millions of men who do not know where and why and against whom they will be sent: an impressive fact that reaches the height of the tyrannical arbitrariness that has oppressed multitudes of humans over the centuries.
ThThe only force seriously opposed to the militarism of all the great European States were the socialist tendencies of the proletariat. The outbreak of war would therefore, according to some, constitute the theoretical and practical bankruptcy of socialism.
Now, never has this taken on the task of radically improving the present world, remaining within the framework of bourgeois institutions; we are instead for that of transforming it in its foundations, considering this transformation to be the only end to the suffering of the exploited class (it is understood that we are dealing with the whole question from the point of view of revolutionary socialism). Only in the socialist regime, with communism of the means of production and exchange, will humanity be able to dominate the forces of production, eliminating social oppression and misery (Marx), and only in the classless society will wars be impossible. We repudiate the reformist anti‑militarism that dreams of the armed nation and fails to realise that the evolution of bourgeois States, especially the most democratic ones, takes place in precisely the opposite direction.
The war will be ended by the social revolution. Without entirely accepting Mussolini's well‑known dilemma about the general strike in the event of mobilisation, we note that a revolutionary attempt would always have a greater chance of success in peacetime than on the eve of war.
The proletariat has already made some communist revolutionary attempts, and they have failed; others, certainly, will fail again, without the condemnation of socialism arising from this. What has collapsed in current events is the dream of a bourgeois, democratic and pacifist Europe.
But an unquestionable failure of socialism has occurred in the sense that, in addition to the lack of any serious attempt at opposition, there has almost universally been the adherence of national socialist parties to the war. This is certainly very serious. But we Italian socialists, in the position – comfortable if you like – of spectators, can discuss the causes, perhaps even seek the remedies, and perhaps attempt to apply the remedies to our current situation, by turning theory into practice. The socialist conviction, the ideal flag of proletarian interests, is the result of the economic conditions of environment on the great working masses; and in the case of intellectuals it is the effect of a special psychological and mental process, which is more difficult to investigate. How, under the pressure of the militarist and patriotic currents, did the directives of the various socialist parties falter?
It is not difficult to explain.
Militarism is the most fearsome adversary of our propaganda precisely because it does not make use of persuasion, but is based on the constitution of a forced and artificial environment, in which living relations are completely different from those of the ordinary environment.
The worker, made a soldier, taken away from the closeness of friends, relatives, acquaintances, taken away from the life of the workshop, sees his right to discuss suppressed, his individuality cut off, his freedom cancelled, and he is fatally transformed into an automaton, into a plaything in the hands of discipline.
The called‑up man who wears the uniform automatically returns under the influence of the military environment. The smallest gesture of rebellion is paid for with death. Desertion is practically impossible. Collective revolt would require an unattainable concert and understanding.
On the other hand, in the space of a few hours, the soldier is transported elsewhere, to countries he does not know, among comrades whom he is seeing for the first time, he lacks any information other than from his superiors: there is only one alternative for salvation left to him: to obey blindly and fight against the enemy in the hope of victory... In any case, his mentality is so violently forced and altered that it is no wonder he ends up betraying his socialist convictions, which in most cases boil down to having voted for a socialist candidate. For the leaders, the party leaders, it is a different matter. But they too are victims of a suggestion of environment. Their greater culture very often makes them imperfect socialists. They have too many intellectual links with bourgeois ideologies. Few of them have repudiated all patriotic sentimentality and almost all of them feel more like representatives of the Nation than exponents of the proletarian class.
ThTheir programme as wreckers leaves too much room for the responsibilities of those involved in the protection of a State. Therefore, when bourgeois governments, whatever their pre‑war work, ensure that they are dragged into it despite themselves, for the defence of the supreme national interests, and demand the unanimous trust of the country, the first coefficient of success..., then the socialist deputy hesitates and allows himself to be swept along by the current of enthusiasm. At this critical moment in history, parliaments, the pride of democracy, have done nothing but ratify without debate the bestial and murderous policies of governments. When a category of wars is admitted in the name of socialism, it will always be very easy for the ruling class, which alone has the elements of the situation, to put forward its war as falling into that category and wrest for it the socialist allegiance, perhaps even calling its leaders to participate in the ministry of national defence. This is how the French, Austrian, German, etc. socialists were duped. Does this need to be proven?
Socialism will have to draw vital lessons from these grave defeats: put anti‑militarist action back on a firmer footing, revise in a more revolutionary direction its parliamentary action, so rich so far in bitter disappointments. Rather than – we will return to this later – adapting to a national socialism, the proletariat will have to be more openly anti‑militarist tomorrow and define its attitude in the face of patriotism, the old trap of its worst enemies. We Italian socialists – drawing a first conclusion in passing – will also have to deny the State our solidarity in national defence, without which we would be victims of another colossal deception equal to that of the Tripoli enterprise.
Against the anti‑war precondition, it is assumed by not a few socialists:
1)1) that socialists must take part in any war of national defence against foreign aggression; 2) that socialists cannot disregard wars of nationalities, since it would be a necessary precondition of the advent of socialism to settle all nationalities within their natural boundaries; 3) that socialists should, in a war of nations regimented with more democratic order against others less socially evolved, side with the former against the latter. The warmongering thesis, in the last two cases, would range from simple sympathy to personal intervention and up to pressure on one's own State to intervene militarily in the conflict in the desired sense.
Well, these three open windows into anti‑militarism are based on sentimental degenerations that are socialism's absolute negation. Firstly, they clearly contradict each other. If France had attacked Germany in order to retake Alsace-Lorraine (we are in the realm of examples), German socialists would have had to defend the fatherland or march against it in the name of the principle of nationality and democracy? And in colonial wars, that are wars of aggression and oppression, but also of extension of democratic civilisation, what are socialists to do? These sophistries stem from a fundamental error, from wanting to settle wrong from right in contests that are resolved not with elements of justice, but with brute violence. Moreover, these are distinctions that could only be made by those who have a decisive and definitive force in resolving conflicts, not those who with their intervention could only shift the probability of the results of war, in the meantime surely increasing the consequences of hatred and revanche.
WeWe will not recall extensively the notion that the proletariat has no interest to defend with the fatherland and the national frontiers. We will only say that in all wars, aggression and defence are reciprocal and often simultaneous. Aggression is an elastic word. Does it mean the violation of borders? But – militarily – it might be imprudent to wait for such a fact; it is necessary to prevent it by breaking off enemy attempts with a counter-invasion. Does aggression mean the breaking of diplomatic relations? But, according to books of various colours, no government lacks arguments to shift the responsibility for this onto the other. Is aggression understood as preparing for war? Then all modern States are aggressors, for they ceaselessly build ships and cannons and continually increase the numbers of their armies. Without going any further, it follows that adherence to the eventual national defence is a blank bill of exchange signed by socialists in the hands of bourgeois governments, who can make use of it as they see fit. To justify going to Libya it was said that the Turks had disgraced an Italian girl. It is the very old case of the wolf and the lamb.
Let us come to the problem of nationalities.
Is it true that, before talking about international socialist action, we must resolve all irredentism and give all peoples political accommodation according to nationalities?
ThThis needs to be looked at a little deeper. When the feudal regime gave way to the modern bourgeoisie, the latter wrote the postulate of national claims in large letters in its idealistic revolutionary class programme. The bourgeois revolution appeared to be made in the interests of the people, rather than in the interests of a new oligarchy, precisely because it emphasised its political rather than economic character. It was believed by bourgeois philosophers that all slavery would disappear with the elimination of the domination of one people over another and with the political equality of citizens before the law. Socialism has since shown that there is another, more substantial and deeper reason for the malaise of the masses, and that is class oppression, even within national groups. But without detracting from the great historical importance of the problem of nationalities, let us note that a partial, but fairly extensive, solution has already been found, and was found by means of war‑revolutions, in the heroic epoch of the bourgeoisie; when militarism was not as developed as it is today and with a few thousand huddled men, the bastions were knocked down as nations were liberated. That historical epoch was resolved in the formation and settlement of the great modern States, within which the bourgeoisie, less idealistic than then, largely exploits the proletariat and does conservation work.
Today, wars are waged by States and not by “nations”. They are resolved by the dominance of one or the other power, which, with little concern for romantic prejudices, extends its economic and political influence over peoples of all races and colours. Without going any further, the adjustment of nationalities has become unattainable. The motives for wars are quite different. Their results depend on economic-military coefficients, and since wealth and armed force are in the hands of the most solidly constituted States, the solutions to war problems are State, not national. The famous principle of nationality is then something elusive. Apart from a few classic cases, questions of national independence are controversial. Historical, geographical, ethnographic reasons authorise the most contradictory solutions. Even assuming the concord and goodwill of all European States, not even the famous arrangement that would then allow us to strive to overthrow the bourgeoisie would be possible. And such a difficult problem to solve peacefully would be entrusted to the randomness of war, to the ancipital fate of arms! But every war will create or resurrect at least as many problems of irredentism as it will destroy. And rivalries, alliances will become ever more absurd and complicated. Should the socialist proletariat join this bloody game, instead of devoting itself as of now and without prejudice of any kind to prepare the revolutionary effort?
After the classic Balkan national war against Turkey, the redeemed nationalities slaughtered each other. Japan is now an ally of Russia. The Boers fight under the British flag. All the wars of recent years fit badly into the old cliché of nationalities. And the nationalist who also poses the problem of the redemption, triumph, and hegemony of a nationality is more logical than the pseudo-socialist who wants to redeem and reconcile them all, but through a series of bloody wars which, in order to be led to that end, would have to be individually concocted.
There remains the other alleged reason for socialist participation in the war: the need to favour the triumph of the more civilised, more evolved, more democratic nations over those backward in the historical and social process. The usual need to accelerate the completion of bourgeois evolution, which is the main argument for all kinds of transgressions, is therefore invoked; this would lead to the approval of colonial wars as wars of civilisation, against the concurring opinion of all socialists and against the other principle of wars of aggression, which we all agree with. In the Italo-Turkish war, we Italian socialists should not have been opponents, because the more or less democratic Italy was facing the less than feudal Turkey.
BuBut the fundamentally erroneous notion is that socio-political tendencies of various States prevail over each other in wars and spread across the universe according to the fate of arms. Those tendencies depend on internal economic and social conditions and the relations of the social classes within each State, they change according to the unfolding of class and party struggles and their decisive moments are revolutions and civil wars.
In external wars, States do not take the luxury of fighting to make a more or less academic or pro‑sophisticated principle of democracy or absolutism prevail over the world... In their international relations, States live in a totally amoral environment and are inspired by the utmost selfishness. States that require their subjects to conform to certain rules in order to make social coexistence possible do not recognise any law in international relations, and even in times of peace they use the weapons of deception, cunning, corruption, and espionage against other States; to resort in times of war to the last resort of lawless violence. So‑called international law is in force as long as it is not convenient for a nation to violate it; applied to large modern States, it is utopian, for there is no law without an authority with superior powers to enforce it. Every government sees and can only see the cynical interests of its own State (it is with good reason that we always say “State” and not “nation”) and tends to preserve and defend them against internal and external enemies. Whatever party or philosophical school he belongs to, the government man always acts as a fierce conservative. The freedom he grants his subjects is in relation to the need to preserve the internal balance between the economic and political forces of classes and parties.
There are different schools of government, but they are different methods of ensuring maximum power to the State, and ultimately to the economic oligarchy that it impersonates. Hence, governments do not tend to make a principle triumph within a nation – let alone spread it abroad with arms – but only to strengthen the State and look after its interests in the most suitable way. One understands that this tendency is concealed under the fine phrases of civilisation, democracy, progress or perhaps order, religion, monarchical loyalism etc. The aim, however, is unique. The crusades, the Napoleonic wars, the wars of the Restoration, all the Holy Alliances, were inspired by other motives than mystical and philosophical reasons of universal propaganda...
Modern nations, governed by democracy, oppress and tyrannise in their colonies because of the lesser strength of their subjects. England, Germany, France, Italy, all have a shameful colonial history. And therefore the spread of certain modern principles cannot be expected from the military triumph of the countries in which they are already widespread, especially in the present age which is no longer a heroic age like the one in which the bourgeoisie was formed and could still have certain generosity.
On the other hand, is the triumph of a democratic regime always a step towards socialism? If we refuse to help bourgeois democracy either in its internal conflicts with the feudal classes and clerical parties or in the logical field of its further development – on the basis of the reasons for our intransigence – why should we then favour its military successes, which are such a questionable way of making propaganda of principle, and very little likely to provide coefficients of progress?
Firstly, then, “democracy” does not spread around the world with bayonets; secondly, it has long since ceased to deserve either our sympathy or our support.
The phenomenon – so much cited these days as an unquestioned truth – occurs perhaps in precisely the opposite sense. Military victories are a coefficient of political returns. After the Napoleonic epic, France suffered a restoration. After Sedan, we have the republic and a socialist attempt: the Commune. Every war, bringing about the famous national unanimity of parties and classes, raising the prestige of institutions and the army, whatever its cause and outcome, is not a step backwards in our revolutionary aspirations, whose natural means is the class struggle?
ThThe previous considerations are of a very general nature, it will be said, and events would have affected them. Let us see how and why. Those socialists who are for Italy's intervention in favour of the Triple Entente say that it represents democracy against absolutism and militarism (?) and that its victory will ensure the resolution of the famous national problems. Faced with such a decisive moment in history, the Italian Socialist Party should leave abstract dissertations behind and advocate armed intervention by the Italian State.
The case of the defensive war is therefore not there, since it is proposed to intervene, i.e. to attack. The other two motivations remain: war of nationality and war of democracy.
AcAccording to this current assessment, Germany, still a semi‑feudal State, dominated by militarist cliques and an emperor who dreams of world hegemony, would have attacked France and Russia with a long‑prepared plan, dragging Austria along with it and finding the pretext in the Serajevo bombing to spark off the Slav‑German quarrel. England is said to have intervened, moved by the violation of Belgian neutrality, and the current aim of the Triple Entente powers is said to be to weaken Germanic arrogance in order to solve nationality problems, ensure the triumph of democracy over militarism, and – according to a certain subversive committee in Rome – even to provide the peoples with an advance on socialism in the form of a system of labour and social justice (?!). Now this exposition of the present moment, which should make us advocates of war, and would like to be the ultimate expression of the most enlightened objectivity, is as partial as ever; it is the derivation of an infinity of prejudices and sentimentalisms, it strains reality within a conventional framework, while pretending to mock the position of those socialists who do not waver under the flood of rhetoric, accusing them of wanting to close the immense rhythm of history in a few preconceived formulas...
One should at least, before passing judgement, hear the other bell. According to the Germans, and according to the common opinion of the neutrals who sympathise with them, this is purely reversed. Modern, industrial Germany, rich in the forces of commercial expansion second to none in the fields of science and culture, reacts against the danger of Russian absolutism, which wants to suffocate it under the pressure of the Slavic masses, incited under hand by England, which sees a new rival growing on the seas. Germany defends itself and makes a barrier against the spread of tsarism... Heresies? Yes, heresies one as much as the other, as each State is totally uninterested in democracy spreading and socialism hastening... But every State has an interest and needs, in order to ward off internal turmoil, to deceive the people by presenting war as the only way to save the fatherland from danger, and by claiming to be drawn into it.
On the causes of the war we shall not discuss at length. Everyone had been preparing for it for decades. Emperor Wilhelm's ravings were matched by the monstrous Franco-Russian alliance, the warmongering toasts of Mr Poincaré, and the struggle of the French bourgeoisie to obtain the three‑year truce.
England's philanthropic policy was accused of hypocrisy by Keir Hardie in the middle of the House of Commons after the outbreak of war. Russian socialists abandoned the Duma in protest against the Tsar's warmongering declarations. The Germans, Austrians and French were unanimous for war. Everyone is convinced that they are fighting for a cause of justice. All are victims of national colour-blindness.
To say that today's Germany is feudal is a huge exaggeration. If certain political forms have not evolved, this does not entitle one to discredit the astonishing social-economic development of Germany in the last generation.
There is, around the emperor, an agrarian aristocracy. There are courtly forms, remnants of other times. There is the high prestige of the army. But then, pray tell, what of the English agrarian aristocracy that surrounds its king, making the Middle Ages survive in the whirlwind of modern English life? What about French fanaticism for the armée?
And how to erase from the rose‑tinted picture the great black stain of Russian despotism?
In Prussia there is restricted suffrage: but the multiple vote in Belgium does not detract from the fact that today it is ranked at the pinnacle of democracy just because it has been invaded. But, by silly convention, if one speaks of Germany, one alludes to the Germany of the Kaiser; if of France, one says “The France of '89 and the Commune”; if of Russia, “Revolutionary Russia of 1905”. Eh off, that's a bit much! Do they not, by any chance, remember the Germany of reform and Marxism, autocratic and libertarian Russia, plutocratic England and France whose coffers dripped with human blood...?
But apart from this labyrinth of observations and reminiscences accessible to every grammar school pupil, the undeniable fact remains, from the socialist point of view, that there is no antithesis between militarism and democracy, and that Germany's military preparedness is in relation to its modern industrial development and not to traditions of other times. Militarism is international.
OnOn the other hand, only the naive can believe that the Triple Entente States fight for the... “United States of Europe” and to re‑establish nationalities within their borders. Already the upper classes of France and England dream of the partition of Germany – let alone Austria! – and, just as the Kaiser yearned for the march on Paris, so the Tsar is eager to pour his exterminated army into Berlin. There is no place but for violence and no desire other than the annihilation of the enemy. The peoples are the instrument of this like the powder or lead of bullets. Cabinets and staffs study the offence without sparing human material. But fleet units are spared, which cost millions and would not be rebuilt until years and years later... In the margin of the monstrous tragedy, the Sudekums and the Hervés reconcile the bestial State egoism of monarchies and republics with the supreme principles of democracy and the International. They are merely prisoners of situations stronger than themselves. Speech is to the cannon and authority is to the sword; the law of the people appears in the pages of the Social War or the Arbeiterzeitung, more or less bad faith accomplices of proletarian deception, but on the battlefields the law without canons, the law of the strongest, holds sway; there is no holds barred.
Is it, as some say, the old race rivalry that survives and returns to force us to rectify the plans and ways of the International? Does history demolish the old Marxian Manifesto? No. Those pages dictated in 1848, when ethnic and national claims were raging, are even truer today. Where are the races and nationalities? In many armies they always fight under the same final unity of State militarisms. Few socialists have refused to fight. True. But how many men belonging to oppressed races and nationalities have refused the rifle that was supposed to defend the oppressor? What irredeemed land rose up?
Every conscience and every sense of freedom and human pride have had to bend under the yoke of this most modern tyranny. There is nothing left but soldiers. Soldiers do not know why they fight: they must fight. They will know, later, the infamous futility of sacrifice. The conditions of the immense conflict are little changed today. But no advantage can compensate for the enormous waste of human life and wealth. We ourselves, convinced revolutionaries, could not wish for a proletarian redemption that would cost the lives of half of the oppressed insurgents in arms. Life is the supreme good. And yet, many revolutionaries who are today for war arm themselves with pacifism!
And many are today for the war, reformists and democrats, who denied to the holy cause of socialism the lives of a few proletarians who fell in the field of class struggle and would today like to sacrifice thousands in an action that, even if it would lead us to greater freedom, would always be the most strangely indirect way to achieve it.
FrFrom war, however, we only await the exaltation of militarism. After such an example, democrats, republicans, reformists will cross the Rubicon and be the allies of the war preparations of nations. The great military State units will hardly be broken up and we will have to reactivate the most difficult – but perhaps most bitter and decisive – class struggle.
BuBut let us come to the socialist proponents of Italian intervention. Their thesis of the need to ensure the victory of the Triple Entente has nothing to do with socialism. The possible lesser evil that would result from such a solution to the conflict is no match with the socialist advantage of standing up to the warmongering tide, at least in a large State, and even if profiting from special circumstances. And, granted this incurable Francephily, granted their strange conception of war (just asking these socialists which war they will oppose if they are in favour of an Italian intervention without necessity and without provocation) let us look a little at the extent of their insane warmongering propaganda. That volunteers are leaving we understand; as well as people who are still convinced that the destinies of the world are decided by slaughtering workers under the uniform of the ulan.
But, after all, they put their skins at stake. And they must be respected despite the clearly established practical futility of their gesture. However, we observe how difficult it is to obtain for direct socialist action a sacrifice even far less than that of one's own life, and we wonder if instead of cases of conscious heroism we do not witness the intoxicating hypnotism of blood. However, we have no words against the criminal advocates of State intervention. To wish that those who will or will not be dragged to the frontier and exposed to machine‑gun fire, that the Austrophobic or Austrophile youth, and perhaps indifferent because they are too busy with the daily torment of their homeland's misery, should go to the slaughter without question, that is insane, anti‑socialist and inhuman. To unleash the vile values of State militarism, to renounce party or class autonomy in order to entrust every directive to that military authority that we have always dreamed of flattening and destroying, from free pioneers of the Revolution to become His Majesty's praetorians, ah no, even if just and holy were the cause for which Italy would go to war; which it is not.
Pacifism? No. We are advocates of violence. We are admirers of the conscious violence of those who rise up against the oppression of the strongest, or the anonymous violence of the masses who revolt for freedom. We want the effort that breaks the chains. But the legal, official, disciplined violence at the whim of an authority, the unreasonable collective murder that the ranks of soldiers carry out automatically at the echo of a brief command, when from the opposite side no less automatically come the other masses of victims and murderers dressed in another tunic, this violence that wolves and hyenas do not have, disgusts and repulses us. The application of this military violence to the masses of millions of men removed from the remotest corners of the States, in the tremendous alternatives of this war, can have no other effect than to bruise and suffocate that spirit of sacrifice and heroism to which we may tomorrow call the champions of proletarian insurrection – and which is quite different from the bestial tendency to destroy, to kill as long as possible, with eyes veiled in smoke and blood.
We pacifists? We know that in times of peace the victims of the current unjust regime do not cease to fall. We know that workers' children are mowed down by death for lack of bread and light, that work has its share of violent deaths like battle, and that misery makes, like war, its massacres.
And in the face of this, it is not the supine Christian resignation that we propose, but the response with open violence to that hypocritical and concealed violence that is the foundation of today's society. But the sacred violence of rebellion, if it is not to be a guilty sacrifice, must strike just and hit the real target. Well dead were the thousands of communards who fell under the lead of the Versaillaises. But to send a million men to the slaughter in the name of revolution, handing them over to today's rulers to be engaged in an enterprise of uncertain success, which finds its reasons in a questionable and bolshy unconscious and contradictory rhetoric, is not justified by claiming to be immune to pacifist tenderness, no, by golly, it is the insane work of mad butchers.
And against it we stand our ground, for socialism, anti‑militarists tomorrow as yesterday and as today, because we wish for the sacrifice of our lives, when necessary, a very different DIRECTION.