Kropotkin (and Malatesta and Lenin) on war

Well, the UK has – narrowly – voted to leave the EU. It was, in many ways, two-fingers to a system (neo-liberalism) which has failed so many across the UK – yet this failure was home-grown, in Thatcherism rather than the EU. Even areas which received large investment from the EU (such as parts of Wales and Cornwall) voted to leave – if the Westminster elite actually cared about these areas then the EU would not have needed to invest money there. So we can fully expect – once the Tory leadership campaign and its populist rhetoric has ended – that the money that will not be given to the EU will be spent by the Tories to cut taxes for the top 5%...

Unsurprisingly, the “blame immigrations for all woes” rhetoric of the leave has resulted in a large increase in abuse towards anyone looking or sounding “foreign”. It is also clear that the “Leave” campaign had no plans – perhaps unsurprising, as it was always about a far-right coup in the Tory party and the push to fully consolidate neo-liberalism and Tory hegemony in England. I was not too surprised that Boris Johnson did not stand for leader – he clearly did not expect to win and saw that he would have had a lot of work to do (and his time as London Mayor showed he is basically lazy – which is just as well, given the projects he did take an interest in were all terrible). As noted in my last blog, I expect the Tories to negotiate a Norway-like arrangement – bosses want access to the Single-Market and Tory funders from the Finance sector will demand it. So “we” will still pay into the EU and still have the same freedom of movement, but the UK government will have no say – but it can rip up worker and environmental regulations…

So while I can understand why many working class people voted to leave, it does feel like cutting your nose off to spite your face. Particularly as “taking back control” means – in practice – giving more power to the Tories and the very agenda which has so harmed working class people in the first place. Still, the struggle continues regardless.

Anyway, as mentioned I am working with AK Press on getting the 1913 French edition of Kropotkin’s Modern Science and Anarchism published in all its glory.  There is about 15% of the French edition that has never been translated and I am now aware that much of what has been needs revision – sometimes substantially so. I’ve checked a few chapters of the 1912 English-translation of Modern Science and Anarchism and it is abridged (or the French edition expanded!). I should note what the French edition is made up of:

  • Modern Science and Anarchy
  • Communism and Anarchy
  • The State: Its Historic Role
  • The Modern State
  • Appendix – Explicatory Notes
  • Appendix – Herbert Spencer: His Philosophy

Only The State: Its Historic Role has been fully translated, while “Herbert Spencer” is pretty much there as the translation which appeared in Freedom was excellent. The others are abridged to some degree or the translations are quite different in parts. So as well as some translation of new material, quite a lot of revision needs done.

Talking of which, below is the revised chapters in “War”. The translation was okay but it did need work. Some paragraphs needed quite a bit of work. The original (which is on-line) was published in Freedom in 1913 before being issued as a pamphlet in 1914. Re-reading and revising it makes me wonder even more why Kropotkin took the position he did in 1914, that is supporting the Allies in the First World War. It comes as no surprise, though, to read Mother Earth (Vol. IX, No. 9) proclaim that “[n]o better answer can be made to Kropotkin’s changed attitude than his own argument against war written in 1913”.

Reading Kropotkin’s analysis of war shows how alien to anarchism his position was. It comes as no surprise, then, that he was in a small minority as regards his position. The vast bulk of anarchists stood by their internationalist principles and opposed both sides in the imperialist slaughter. Kropotkin quickly became isolated from the movement he had contributed so much to.

Not, of course, that you would know that reading Marxist accounts of the time. In those works, the false picture of most Marxists (i.e., social democrats) and most anarchists supporting the war is painted. Indeed, the historical revisionism of Marxists really knows no limits – it even allows them to write an article which refutes its own inventions.

Take, for example, Anarchism and imperialist war (part 1): Anarchists faced with the First World War by a grouplet of Marxist ultra-leftists. It states:

“For the proletariat, faced with imperialist war, the only attitude that corresponds to its interests is the rejection of any participation in one or the other camps involved and the denunciation of all the bourgeois forces that appeal to the proletariat, under some pretext or the other, to give their lives for one of these capitalist camps.”

Anarchists would agree – however, we would extend that to war as such. Why the qualifier “imperialist”? Simply because Marx and Engels happily sided with whichever “bourgeois forces” they considered as “progressive” and urged the proletariat “to give their [which says it all, surely it should be “our”?] lives for one of these capitalist camps.” This went into the 1890s with Engels proclaiming that he – and social democracy – would defend the fatherland against any – particularly Russian – aggression. As he put it in one letter written in October 1892:

“If the French socialists are not expressly discussing the case of a defensive war in which they would be willing to repel an attack by the Emperor William, this is because it is well brown, recognised and accepted that there is no need to talk about it There is not a single socialist in Germany who doubts that in such a case the French socialists would only be doing their duty in defending their national independence; there is not one who would hold it against them, on the contrary, they would applaud them, That is precisely the point of view in my articles. If I were not proceeding from the -view that, should there be a foreign attack, the French socialists would take up arms to defend their homes, the whole of my article would be absurd. What I am requesting is the benefit of the same principle for the German socialists in the case of a Russian attack, even if it is supported by official France. The same holds true for Bebel’s speeches.” (Marx-Engels Collected Works 50: 15-6)

In terms of what Engels thought German socialists should do faced with a war against France and Russia (as happened in 1914), he was equally as clear in the article he referred to in the letter quoted above:

“In the interest of the European revolution, they are obliged to defend all the positions that have been won, not to capitulate to the enemy from without any more than to the enemy within; and they cannot accomplish that except by fighting Russia and its allies, whoever they may be, to the bitter end. If the French republic placed itself at the service of His Majesty the Tsar, Autocrat of all the Russias, the German socialists would fight it with regret, but they would fight it all the same.”

Then there is a letter from Marx written in July 1870 (the Franco-Prussian war being a class of empires which resulted in the annexation of territory by the victor:

“The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralisation of the state power will be useful for the centralisation of the German working class. German predominance would also transfer the centre of gravity of the workers' movement in Western Europe from France to Germany, and one has only to compare the movement in the two countries from 1866 till now to see that the German working class is superior to the French both theoretically and organisationally. Their predominance over the French on the world stage would also mean the predominance of our theory over Proudhon's, etc.”

Needless to say, in 1914 the leaders of Social Democracy quoted these words and others like them by Marx and Engels to show how orthodox their position was. This gave Lenin a problem – for the Holy Texts said one thing and that was to support one side of the conflict. How to solve this problem? Simple – invoke a new “era” (the “imperialist” one) which meant that Marx and Engels were both right and wrong. They were right to side with one capitalist camp because this was before “imperialism” (and so Lenin also was right to take sides in the Russo-Japanese conflict in 1904). The social democrats were wrong to quote the Holy Texts because of this new era.

And when did this new era begin? Well, Lenin only became aware of it when the German Social Democrats supported the war effort (before then, he was sure how revolutionary they were – unlike the anarchists, who could see how reformist they had become!). So it definitely existed by 1914. Yet Engels, right up to his death, invoked defence of the fatherland, so it had to be sometime after 1895… Lenin also, unlike Kropotkin, took sides (i.e., supported Japan) in the obviously imperialist conflict between Russia and Japan in 1904-5, so it would appear the era of “imperialism” occurred sometime between 1904 and 1914. Except, of course, most of the world’s empires pre-date that by many decades.

Hardly convincing but it does raise an interesting point. Lenin embraces Kropotkin’s position on war while Kropotkin embraces that of Engels. This, apparently, shows the superiority of Marxism over anarchism!

Our Marxist ignores all this and proclaims:

“But generally, for anarchism, internationalism is more tied up with its abstract ‘principles' such as anti-authoritarianism, liberty, the rejection of any power, anti-statism, etc., than to a clear conception that this internationalism constitutes a class frontier that distinguishes the camp of capital from the camp of the proletariat.”

Note the qualifier: “generally”. Why so? If anarchism is infatuated with abstractions then, surely, all anarchists would be affected? So the many – oh so many! – anarchists who are consistent internationalists show the necessity for this qualifier. As does, ironically, our Marxist’s inventive essay.

And, needless to say, the First International was co-founded by (mutualist) anarchists and modern, revolutionary, anarchism was born within it. And a basic principle of anarchism was, and is, international organisation of the class struggle. Yet our author ignores this like he ignores that while within the International (and before and after!) Marx and Engels sided with one side of “the camp of capital” and urged workers to back one side or another in inter-state conflicts. This is well known – at least outside Marxist circles…

Now we get to the big lie:

“In this series of articles, we will try to understand why, at each major imperialist moment - such as the two world wars - the majority of the anarchist milieu, on the one hand, was unable to defend the interests of our class and allowed itself to be gripped by bourgeois nationalism, whereas, on the other hand, a small minority succeeded in defending proletarian internationalism.”

Outside of Marxist circles, it is well known that during the First World War the vast majority of anarchists took a consistent internationalist position (I mention this in section H of An Anarchist FAQ because the myth that Kropotkin was supported by most anarchists is repeated so much by Marxists). Unlike the Marxist movement where the vast majority “allowed itself to be gripped by bourgeois nationalism” and only “a small minority” defended proletarian internationalism – or as he puts it:

“The outbreak of the First World War witnessed the shameful collapse of the Socialist International. The great majority of its parties submitted to capital, declared a union with each respective national bourgeoisie and led the mobilisation of the proletariat for imperialist war.”

And, in the process, quoted Marx and Engels to justify all that.

What of the anarchist movement? Well, it is proclaimed that “the main components of the anarchist movement spoke of going to war for the profit of the bourgeois state.” He names Kropotkin, Tcherkesoff and Grave and quotes from Manifesto of Sixteen. Showing his love of research, he proclaims that the latter was named after “the number of signatories” – wrong, only 15 people signed it (the sixteenth “name” was the place one of the fifteen lived!).

And that is it – those 15 were about it in terms of the anarchists who forgot their anarchism. The vast majority remained true to their internationalist principles. As Malatesta noted in his 1914 reply to Kropotkin, when he denounced those who had betrayed socialist principles including anarchists – “not numerous, it is true, but having amongst them comrades whom we love and respect most?” Indeed, he notes and refutes our Marxist’s own premise:

“It is said that the present situation shows the bankruptcy of ‘our formulas’—i.e., of our principles—and that it will be necessary to revise them.”

He then goes on show how wrong this was and how a few anarchists rejecting their own arguments does not mean that anarchism was flawed. As he put it in 1916:

“Anarchists, almost all of whom have remained faithful to their convictions, owe it to themselves to protest against this attempt to implicate Anarchism in the continuance of a ferocious slaughter that has never held promise of any benefit to the cause of Justice and Liberty, and which now shows itself to be absolutely barren and resultless even from the standpoint of the rulers on either side.”

This is easy enough to do by looking at Kropotkin’s own works written before 1914. In 1882 he wrote War and that repeats the same basic arguments as those from Modern Science and Anarchy in 1913 (see below). As Emma Goldman also noted, when faced with both war in 1914 and Kropotkin’s position, “[o]ur first step was the publication in Mother Earth of Peter Kropotkin’s pamphlet on Capitalism and War, embodying a logical and convincing refutation of his new position.” (Living My Life)

Our Marxist ignores all this. He also points to “the anarcho-syndicalist CGT” in France which “threw into the bin its own resolutions that called on it organise the general strike in case of war, transforming itself into a hysterical purveyor of cannon fodder for imperialist butchery” while in Italy “some anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist groups” also sided with their states.

First, the CGT was not “anarcho-syndicalist” but rather revolutionary syndicalist. Indeed, it was the only syndicalist union associated with the Second International and was distinctly unhappy with other syndicalist unions and groups trying to forge an International immediately before the First World War. And it was the only syndicalist union which betrayed its principles. The handful pro-war Italian syndicalists (who were Marxists anyway) were kicked out of the USI in 1915 (in the process, the anarchists became the main influence within it) and the vast majority of anarchists opposed the war in Italy as elsewhere – as our author himself admits (“some anarchist… groups”).

This does not stop him proclaiming a “convergence of the majority of Social Democracy and anarchism in favour of supporting imperialist war” before arguing that while the former “constituted a betrayal of Marxism” the “rallying to imperialist war and the bourgeoisie in 1914 by the majority of anarchists internationally was, on the contrary, not a false move but the logical conclusion of their anarchism, conforming to their essential political positions.”

Let me just repeat the point – the vast majority of anarchists remained internationalists and opposed the war. Apparently, the vast majority of anarchists did not understand “their essential political positions”!

The position the vast majority of anarchists did not take was due to “anti-authoritarianism” and belief in “self-determination” which “merely reflected the divisions that capitalism imposed on the proletariat.” Yes, that is right, capitalism invented differences between peoples! And different languages, cultures, etc. as well:

“This chauvinist position has its roots in the federalism that is found at the very basis of all anarchist conceptions. In arguing that the nation is a natural phenomenon, in defending the right of all nations to existence and to their free development, anarchism judges the sole danger in the existence of nations to be their propensity to give way to the ‘nationalism' instilled by the dominant class in order to separate the people one from the other. It is naturally led, in any imperialist war, to operate a distinction between aggressors/aggressed, oppressors/oppressed, etc, and thus to opt for the defence of the weakest, of rights that have been flouted, etc. This attempt to base the refusal to go to war on something other than the class positions of the proletariat leaves all sorts of latitude to justify support for one or the other belligerent parties. Concretely, that's to say, to choose one imperialist camp against another.”

Do Marxists actually bother to think about what they write? Don’t they read it over to see if it makes any sense? Obviously no more than they do research to discover whether their claims have any basis in reality. For, if this nonsense is taken seriously, before the rise of capitalism everyone spoke the same language, had the same culture, etc. As if.

Marx and Engels, as noted, often took sides in imperialist conflicts – favouring some nations over others. They had a low opinion of Slavs (and others, like Mexicans) and argued that the Germans had the right, the duty, to impose their culture on Slavs by any and all means (up to ethnic cleansing). This should better known. Personally, I think most sensible people would conclude that those two – like our ultra-leftist is but in a different way – were wrong. Opposition to imperial conquest does not equate to supporting imperialist wars – particularly if that opposition is built upon a class analysis of society as anarchism is (see section D.6 and section D.7 of An Anarchist FAQ)

Besides, this is all irrelevant – because the vast majority of anarchists opposed the imperialist war in 1914! Why? Because both sides were imperialists fighting over markets (as, ironically, Kropotkin argued before 1914!).

It gets better as our author lets reality creeps in by noting some anarchists succeeded in affirming a really internationalist position. A minority of 35 militants (including A. Berkman, E. Goldman, E. Malatesta, D. Neiuwenhuis) published a manifesto against war”. This was 20 more than signed the pro-war statement, that is a majority of those signing things! And, I must stress, they represented the position of the vast majority of anarchists across the world because it reflected the position of revolutionary anarchism. And, ironically, Kropotkin’s own position before 1914 as can be seen from compared it to the two chapters below:

“war is permanently fostered by the present social system. Armed conflict, restricted or widespread, colonial or European, is the natural consequence and the inevitable and fatal outcome of a society that is founded on the exploitation of the workers, rests on the savage struggle of the classes, and compels Labour to submit to the domination of a minority of parasites who hold both political and economic power.” (International Anarchist Manifesto Against War)

Indeed,  Kropotkin was so isolated that Freedom refused to publish his works any more.

It gets worse for our ultra-leftist when he notes, forgetting what he wrote earlier, that the “capacity to maintain class positions was clearer among mass proletarian organisations which, in reaction to the progressive abandonment of any revolutionary perspective by Social Democracy before the war, were part of the revolutionary syndicalist current.” He points to the CNT and the old Bakuninist Lorenzo before proclaiming that the “reaction was weakest among the anarcho-syndicalists most heavily handicapped by the weight of anarchist ideology”!  Remember, the CGT was the only syndicalist union which was pro-war!

He then contradicts his own case by noting that in “Hungary after 1914, it was militant anarchists who headed the movement against imperialist war” while in Spain “the struggle against war was the central activity of the CNT”!


The notion that anarchists “only saw the ‘peoples'” rather than a class system is a joke – and given this muppet had quoted Guerin’s Anarchism, he knows the facts of the matter. Malatest, Goldman, Rocker, etc. did not need to open up “to the positions developed by the communists (through the internationalist conferences against the war)” in order to “strengthen their combat against capitalism”. As can be seen from Malatesta’s critique of Kropotkin… written in 1914! Here is his second letter from 1914 in Freedom (December 1914) which, as far as I can tell, has never been put on-line before:

Dear Comrade

Allow me to say a few words on Kropotkin’s article on Anti-militarism published in your last issue. In my opinion, anti-militarism is the doctrine which affirms that military service is an abominable and murderous trade, and that a man ought never to consent to take up arms at the command of the masters, and never fight except for the Social Revolution.

Is this to misunderstand anti-militarism?

Kropotkin seems to have forgotten the antagonism of the classes, the necessity of economic emancipation, and all the Anarchist teachings; and says that an anti-militarist ought always to be ready, in case a war breaks out, to take arms in support of ‘the country that will be invaded’; which con­sidering the impossibility, at least for the ordinary workman, of verifying in time who is the real aggressor, practically means that Kropotkin’s ‘anti-militarist’ ought always to obey the orders of his government. What remains after that of anti-militarism, and, indeed, of Anarchism too?

As a matter of fact, Kropotkin renounces anti-militarism because he thinks that the national questions must be solved before the social question. For us, national rivalries and hatreds are among the best means the masters have for perpetuating the slavery of the workers, and we must oppose them with all our strength. And so to the right of the small nationalities to preserve, if you like, their language and their customs, that is simply a question of liberty, and will have a real and final solution only when, the States being destroyed, every human group, nay, every individual, will have the right to associate with, and separate from, every other group.

It is very painful for me to oppose a beloved friend like Kropotkin, who has done so much for the cause of Anarchism. But for the very reason that Kropotkin is so much esteemed and loved by us all, it is necessary to make known that we do not follow him in his utterances on the war.

I know that this attitude of Kropotkin is not quite new, and that for more than ten years he has been preaching against the ‘German danger’; and I confess that we were in the wrong in not giving importance to his Franco-Russian patriot­ism, and in not foreseeing where his anti-German prejudices would land him. It was because we understood that he meant to invite the French workers to answer a possible German invasion by making a Social Revolution – that is, by taking possession of the French soil, and trying to induce the German workers to fraternise with them in the struggle against French and German oppressors. Certainly we should never have dreamt that Kropotkin could invite the workers to make com­mon cause with governments and masters.

I hope he will see his error, and be again on the side of the workers against all the Governments and all the bourgeois: German, English, French, Russian, Belgian, etc.

Yours fraternally,


Note, this was in 1914 and so long before the minority of anti-war Marxists could, to use our author’s words, open up to their positions!

So, in reality, it was a minority of Marxists who eventually came round to the anarchist position!

So this comment is just wrong:

“The nebulous anarchist milieu was split between anarcho-patriots and internationalists. After 1915, the recovery of struggle by the proletariat and the repercussions of the slogan for transforming the imperialist war into civil war, launched by the socialist conferences opposed to the war at Zimmerwald and Kienthal”

It should read:

“The anarchist movement remained true to its internationalist positions bar a handful who decided to side with their governments. After 1915, some Marxists came to anarchist conclusions about transforming imperialist war into class war and launched two socialist conferences”

The notion of transforming imperialist wars into civil wars can be found in Bakunin, not Marx, and it was this position Malatesta was referring to in his December 1914 letter to Freedom and expounded in Bakunin’s Letters to a Frenchman (Letters I-V and VI).

So if the CNT “was fully open to the positions of Zimmerwald and Kienthal, which were welcomed with enthusiasm”, it was because these positions reflected long-standing anarchist ones. And so while the CNT was opposed to the war, the Marxists were less so for as our author himself notes it “discussed and collaborated with socialist minority groups in Spain that opposed the war”

Needless to say, our author notes that “within the CNT, the reception of Lenin's book State and Revolution aroused a very attentive study” but fails to mention that it looked beyond the manifesto to look at the reality of Bolshevik Russia and found it… wanting. It quickly left the Communist International to join the syndicalist International Workers Association. As in 1914 when most syndicalist unions (like most anarchists) opposed the war, most syndicalist unions (again, like most anarchists) opposed Bolshevism once they became better acquainted by what it was like in practice.

But, then, reality is something which ultra-leftists seem to have a problem with. As can be seen by this article which starts with a flawed premise, ignores the facts and draws the wrong conclusions.

So what have we learned? That the vast majority of anarchists remained true to their internationalist-socialist principles and urged a class war to end imperialist wars. That Kropotkin in 1914 failed to maintain his previous – correct! – position and that Lenin belatedly came to hold that position as well (the same can be said of most of Lenin’s “discoveries” such as smashing the bourgeois state or extending the revolution to expropriation in 1917).

This can be seen from Kropotkin’s writings on war (as now revised for publication in book form) from 1913. And, after reading this, you will ponder why Kropotkin ignored all this basic anarchism in favour of a position which saw him become a, in Malatesta’s cutting phrase, “Pro-Government anarchist”… Suffice to say, I will address this in my introduction to Modern Science and Anarchy just as I did in Direct Struggle Against Capital (see “Kropotkin: The Anarchist Formerly Known as Prince” for an earlier version). In short, and somewhat ironically, Kropotkin's position in 1914 was actually quite "Marxist" in the sense that he agreed with Marx's analysis of a German victory in 1870 as well as Engels' position on French Socialists doing their "duty" to repulse invaders (see letters above). What it was definitely not was anarchist -- as shown by these two chapters and the position taken by the bulk of the movement in 1914. Not that you would know that from certain Marxists, of course.

The Modern State – Chapter VIII: War

Industrial Rivalries

In 1883, when England, Germany, Austria, and Romania, taking advantage of the isolation of France, leagued themselves against Russia, and a terrible European war was about to blaze forth, we pointed out in Le Révolté what were the real motives for rivalry among States and the wars resulting therefrom.

The reason for modern war is always competition for markets and the right to exploit nations backward in industry. In Europe we no longer fight for the honour of kings. Armies are pitted against each other so that the revenues of Your Most Powerful Rothschild or Schneider, the Most Worshipful Company of Anzin, or the most Holy Catholic Bank of Rome may remain unimpaired. Kings are no longer of any account.

In fact, all wars in Europe during the last hundred and fifty years were wars for commercial interests, rights of exploitation.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the great industries and world commerce of France, backed by her navy and her colonies in America (Canada) and Asia (in India), began to develop. Thereupon England, who had already crushed her competitors in Spain and Holland, anxious to keep her herself alone the monopoly of maritime commerce, of sea-power, and of a Colonial Empire, took advantage of the Revolution in France to begin a whole series of wars against her. From that moment England understood what riches a monopolised outlet for her growing industry would bring in.

Finding herself rich enough to pay for the armies of Prussia, Austria, and Russia, she waged during a quarter of a century a succession of terrible and disastrous wars against France. That country was compelled to drain herself in order to withstand these wars, and only at this price was she able to uphold her right to remain a “Great Power.” That is to say, she retained her right of refusing to submit to all the conditions that English monopolists endeavoured to impose upon her to the advantage of their own commerce. She upheld her right to a navy and to military ports. Frustrated in her plans for expansion in North America, where she lost Canada, and in India, where she was compelled to abandon her colonies, she received in return permission to create a Colonial Empire in Africa – on condition that she did not touch Egypt – and to enrich her monopolists by pillaging the Arabs of Algeria.

Later on, in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was Germany’s turn. When serfdom was abolished as a consequence of the uprisings in 1848, and the abolition of communal property forced young peasants in mass to leave the country for the town, where they offered their “idle hands” at starvation wages to the entrepreneurs of industry, industry on a large scale began to flourish in several German States. German manufacturers soon got to understand that if the working classes were given a good technical education they would quickly catch up with great industrial countries like France and England – on condition, be it well understood, of obtaining for Germany advantageous outlets beyond her frontiers. They knew what Proudhon had so well demonstrated: that a trader can only succeed in substantially enriching himself if a large portion of his produce is exported to other countries, where it can be sold at a price not obtainable in the country where it was manufactured.

Since that time, in all the social strata of Germany – exploited as well as exploiters – there was a passionate desire to unify Germany at all costs: to build up a powerful Empire capable of supporting an immense army and a strong navy, which would be able to conquer ports in the North Sea, the Adriatic, and – someday – ports in Africa and the East: an Empire which would be the dictator of economic law in Europe.

For this plan to succeed, it was evidently necessary to break the strength of France, which would have resisted, and which at that time had, or seemed to have, the power of preventing its execution.

Hence the terrible war of 1870, with all its sad consequences as regards universal progress, which we suffer from even today.

By this war and this victory over France, a Germanic Empire – the dream of Radicals, State Socialists, and partly of German Conservatives since 1848 – was at last constituted. And soon it made itself felt and its political power recognised, as well as its right to dictate the law in Europe.

Germany, on entering a striking period of youthful activity, quickly succeeded in doubling and trebling her industrial productivity, and soon increasing it tenfold; and now the German bourgeoisie covet new sources of enrichment in the plains of Poland, in the steppes of Hungary, on the plateaus of Africa, and especially around the railway line to Bagdad – in the rich valleys of Asia Minor which can provide German capitalists with a hardworking population to exploit, under one of the most beautiful skies in the world; perhaps, one day, also Egypt.

Therefore, it is ports for export, and especially military ports in the Mediterranean Adriatic and in the Adriatic of the Indian Ocean – the Persian Gulf – as well as on the African coast in Beira, and also in the Pacific, that these German colonial tycoons wish to conquer and their faithful servant, the German Empire, with its armies and battleships, is at their service.

But at every step these new conquerors face a formidable rival – England bars the way.

Jealous of keeping her supremacy on the sea, jealous above all of keeping her colonies for exploitation by her own monopolists, scared by the success of Germany’s colonial policy and the rapid development of her navy, England is redoubling her efforts in order to have a fleet capable of infallibly crushing her German rival. England looks everywhere for allies to weaken the military power of Germany on land. And when the English press sow alarm and terror, pretending to fear a German invasion, they well know that danger does not lie in that quarter. What England needs is the power to despatch her regular army to where Germany, in accord with Turkey, might attack a colony of the British Empire (Egypt, for instance). And for this purpose she must be in a position to retain at home a strong Territorial army read to drown in blood, if necessary, any workers’ revolt. For this reason, principally, military science is taught to young bourgeois, grouped in squads of “scouts.”

The English bourgeoisie of today wants to act towards Germany as it twice acted towards Russia in order to arrest, for fifty years or more, the development of that country’s sea-power: once in 1855, with the help of Turkey, France, and Piedmont; and again in 1904, when she hurled Japan against the Russian fleet and against Russia’s military port in the Pacific.

That is why for the past two years we have been living on the alert, expecting a colossal European war to break out at any time.

Besides, we must not forget that the industrial wave, in rolling from West to East, has also invaded Italy, Austria, and Russia. These States are in their turn asserting their “right” – the right of their monopolists to loot Africa and Asia.

Russian brigandage in Persia, Italian brigandage against the desert Arabs around Tripoli, and French brigandage in Morocco are the consequences.

The Consortium of brigands, acting in the service of the monopolists who govern Europe, has “allowed” France to seize Morocco, as it has “allowed” England to seize Egypt; it has “allowed” Italy to lay hold of a part of the Ottoman Empire, in order to prevent its being seized by Germany and it has “allowed” Russia to take Northern Persia, in order that England might secure a substantial strip of land on the shores of the Persian Gulf before the German railway can reach it.

And for this Italians disgracefully massacre inoffensive Arabs, French massacre Moors, and the hired assassins of the Tsar hang Persian patriots who endeavour to regenerate their country by a little political liberty.

Zola had a good reason for saying: “What scoundrels respectable people are!”

High Finance

All States, we said, as soon as great industries and huge trading concerns develop among their people, are obliged to seek war. They are driven to them by their own manufacturers, and even by their own workers, in order to conquer new markets – that is, new sources of easily obtained riches.

Moreover, in every State there exists nowadays a class – a clique, rather – infinitely more powerful even than industrial entrepreneurs and which also incites to war. It is the great financiers and big bankers, who intervene in international relations, and who foment wars.

It happens nowadays in a very simple way.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages most of the major city-republics of Italy ended by running up huge debts. When the period of decay of these cities had begun, owing to their continued endeavours to conquer rich markets in the East, and the conquest of such markets had caused endless wars between the city-republics themselves, they began to incur immense debts to their own big Merchant Guilds.

The same phenomenon occurs today for states, with bankers’ syndicates very willing to lend against a mortgage on their borrowers’ future income.

Of course, it is principally the small States which are preyed upon. Bankers lend them money at 7, 8, 10 per cent., knowing that they can “realise” the loan at 70 or 80 per cent. So that, after deducting commissions to banks and middlemen, the State very often does not receive even as much as three-quarters of the amount inscribed in its ledger.

On these amounts, swollen in this way, the indebted State must now pay both for interest and depreciation. And when it does not do so at the appointed term, the bankers are quite willing to add the arrears of interest and depreciation to the principal of the loan. The worse the finances of the debtor state grow, the more reckless the expenditure of its leaders, the more willingly are new loans offered to it. Whereupon the bankers, after setting themselves up as a “consortium,” combine to lay hands on certain taxes, certain duties, certain railway lines.

In this way the big financiers ruined Egypt, and later on caused it to be annexed by England. The more foolish the expenditure of the Khedive, the more he was encouraged. It was annexation by small doses.

In the same way Turkey was ruined, in order to take her provinces little by little. The same means, we are told, were employed towards Greece, when a group of financiers pushed it towards war with Turkey in order to seize part of the revenues when it was defeated.

And in the same way Japan was exploited by high finance in England and the United States before and during her wars with China and Russia.

As to China, for several years she has been partitioned by a syndicate representing the great banks of England, France, Germany, and the United States. And since the Revolution in China, Russia and Japan demand to be allowed to join this syndicate. They want to profit by it in order to extend not only their spheres of exploitation, but also their territories. The partitioning of China, prepared by bankers, is thus on the order of the day.

In short, there is in the lending States a complete organisation, in which rulers, bankers, promoters of companies, tycoons, and all the shady gentlemen Zola has so well described in L’Argent joined hands in order to exploit whole States.

Thus, where the naïve believe they have discovered deep political reasons, or national hatreds, there are only plots hatched by the buccaneers of finance. They exploit everything: political and economic rivalries, national enmities, diplomatic traditions, and religious conflicts.

In all the wars of the last quarter of a century we can trace the work of high finance. The conquest of Egypt and the Transvaal, the annexation of Tripoli, the occupation of Morocco, the partition of Persia, the massacres in Manchuria, the massacres and international looting in China during the Boxer riots, the wars of Japan – everywhere we find great banks at work. Everywhere financiers have had the casting vote. And if up till now a great European war has not yet broken out, it is because the great financiers hesitate. They do not quite know to which side the millions involved will cause the scales to turn; they do not know which horse to back with their millions.

As to the hundreds of thousands of lives which the war would cost – what have the financiers to do with them? The mind of a financier works with columns of figures which balance each other. The rest is not within his province; he does not even possess the necessary imagination to bring human lives into his calculations.

What an abominable world would be unveiled if only somebody took the trouble to study high finance behind the scenes! We can guess it sufficiently, if only from the wee corner of the veil lifted by “Lysis” in his articles in La Revue (published in 1908 in a volume entitled Contre l’Oligarchie Financière en France. [Against the Financial Oligarchy in France]).

From this work we can, in fact, see how four or five big banks – Crédit Lyonnais, Société Générale, Comptoir National d’Escompte, and Crédit Industriel et Commercial – have a monopoly of large financial operations in France.

The bulk – eight-tenths – of French savings, amounting every year to nearly two thousand millions [of Francs], is poured into these great banks; and when foreign States, both great and small, railway companies, towns, or industrial companies from the five continents of the globe present themselves in Paris to secure a loan, they turn to these four or five great banking companies. These banks have a monopoly on foreign loans and have at their disposal the necessary machinery to boost them.

Needless to say that it was not the skill of the directors of these companies that created their lucrative position. It was the State, the French Government, in the first place, that protected and favoured these banks, and raised them to a privileged position which soon became a monopoly. Whereupon the other States – the borrowing States – strengthened this monopoly. Thus, the Crédit Lyonnais, that monopolises the Russian loans, owes its privileged position to the financial agents of the Russian Government, and to the Tsar’s Ministers of Finance.

The amount of business transacted every year by these four or five financial societies represents thousands of millions. Thus, in two years, 1906 and 1907, they distributed in loans seven and a half thousand million – 7,500 million of which 5,500 million were in foreign loans (“Lysis,” page 101). And when we learn that the “commission” of these companies for organising a foreign loan is usually 5 per cent. for the “syndicate of middle-men [apporteurs]” (those who “arrange” new loans), 5 per cent. for the underwriting syndicate,” and from 7 to 10 per cent. for the syndicate, or rather trust, of the four or five banks we have just named, we see what immense sums go to these monopolists.

Thus, a single middle-man who “arranged” the loan of 1,250 million contracted by the Russian Government in 1906 to crush the Revolution, actually received – so “Lysis” tells us – a commission of 12 million.

We can understand the secret influence on international politics exercised by the powerful directors of these financial companies, with their mysterious accounting and with the plenary powers that certain directors exact and obtain from their shareholders – because they must be discreet when paying twelve million to Monsieur So-and-so, 250,000 Francs to a certain Minister, and so many millions, as well as medals and other honours, to the Press! There is not, says “Lysis,” one single large newspaper in France that is not paid by the banks. This is clear. One can easily guess how much money was distributed in this way among the Press during the years 1906 and 1907, when a series of Russian loans (State, railway, land bank loans) were being prepared. How many pen-pushers waxed fat on the loans is clear from “Lysis’s” book. What a windfall, in fact! The Government of a great State at bay! A revolution to be crushed! Such luck is not found every day!

No doubt everybody is more or less aware of that. There is not a single politician who does not know the workings of all this jiggery-pokery, and who does not hear mentioned the names of the women and men who have received large sums after each loan, great or small, Russian or Brazilian.

And everyone, if they have the slightest knowledge of business, also knows how this whole organisation of high finance is a product of the State – an essential attribute of the State.

And it would be such a State – the State which is so careful not to diminish its powers or reduce its functions – which in the mind of statist reformers is expected to become the instrument for the emancipation of the masses?! What nonsense!

Whether it is stupidity, ignorance, or deceit which makes them assert this, it is equally unpardonable in people who believe themselves called to direct the fate of nations.

The Modern State – Chapter IX: War and Industry

Let us now see how States create a class of men in modern industry interested in turning nations into military camps, ever ready to hurl themselves at one another.

There are now, as we know, immense industries employing millions of men, and existing for the sole purpose of producing war material and so the owners of these factories and those who invest in them have an interest to prepare for war and to fan the fear that war is about to break out.

We need not concern ourselves with the small fry – with the makers of worthless firearms, shoddy swords, and revolvers that always misfire, such as found in Birmingham, Liège, etc. These are not of much account, although the trade in these weapons, carried on by exporters who speculate in “Colonial” wars, has already attained some importance. We know, for example, that English merchants supplied firearms to the Matabele when they were about to rise against the English, who were forcing them into serfdom. Later on, there were French manufacturers, and even well-known English ones, who made their fortunes by supplying firearms, cannons, and ammunition to the Boers. And even now we hear of quantities of firearms imported by English merchants into Arabia, which someday will cause risings among the Arabian tribes, bring about the plundering of a few British merchants, and consequently British intervention to “restore order,” followed by a new “annexation.”

However, such facts need not be multiplied. We know well what bourgeois “patriotism” is like and far more serious cases have been witnessed recently. Thus, during the last war between Russia and Japan, English gold was supplied to the Japanese, so they might destroy Russia’s nascent sea-power in the Pacific which England had taken umbrage to. But at the very same time the English colliery companies sold 300,000 tons of coal at a very high price to Russia, to enable it to send Rojdestvensky’s fleet to the East. Two birds were killed with one stone: the owners of the Welsh collieries made a good business out of it; the shareholders and the directors of the Welsh colliery companies increased their fortunes and the financiers of Lombard Street (the centre of financial operations in London) placed their money at 9 or 10 per cent. in the Japanese loan, and mortgaged a substantial part of the income of their “dear allies”!

These are but a few facts among thousands of others of the same kind. We would know more of this beautiful world of our rulers if the bourgeois did not know how to keep their secrets! Let us, then, pass on to the next category of facts.

We know that all great States have favoured, besides their own arsenals, the establishment of huge private factories, where cannons, armour-plate [for battleships], warships of smaller size, shells, gunpowder, cartridges, etc., are manufactured. Immense amounts are spent by all States in the construction of these auxiliary factories, where the most skilled workers and engineers are concentrated.

Now, it is obvious that the direct advantage of those capitalists who have invested their capital in such concerns lies in keeping up rumours of war in order to persuade us that armaments are necessary, and even spreading panic if need be. In fact, they do so.

If the chances of a European war sometimes grow less, if the gentlemen of the government – though themselves interested as shareholders in great factories of this kind (Anzin, Krupp, Armstrong, etc.), and in great railway companies, coal mines, etc. – require coaxing in order to make them sound the war-trumpet, they are compelled to do so by Jingo opinion fabricated by means of newspapers, and even by preparations made for insurrections.

In fact, does not that prostitute – the big press – prepare our minds for new wars, hasten those that are most likely to break out or, at least, force Governments to double, to treble their armaments? Did we not see in England, during the ten years preceding the Boer War, the big press, and especially its assistants in the illustrated papers, skilfully prepare minds for the necessity of a war “to arouse patriotism”? To this end no stone was left unturned. With much noise they published novels about the next war, in which we were told how the English, beaten at first, made a supreme effort, and ended by destroying the German fleet and establishing themselves in Rotterdam. A nobleman spent large sums of money so that a patriotic play be staged across England. The play was too stupid to breakeven but was necessary for those gentlemen who intrigued with Rhodes in Africa that to seize the Transvaal gold mines and force the black natives to work in them.

Forgetting the past, they even went as far as reviving the cult – yes, cult – of England’s sworn enemy, Napoleon 1st. And since then work in this direction has never ceased. In 1905 they almost succeeded in driving France, governed at that time by Clemenceau and Delcassé, into a war against Germany – the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Conservative Government, Lord Lansdowne, promised to support the French armies by sending an English army corps [of 50,000 troops] to the Continent. Delcassé, attaching undue importance to this ridiculous proposal, very nearly launched France into a disastrous war.

In general, the more we advance with our statist bourgeois civilisation, the more the Press, ceasing to be the expression of what is called public opinion, applies itself to manufacturing that opinion by the most infamous means. The Press, in all great States, is controlled by two or three syndicates of financial tycoons, which manufacture the [public] opinion needed in the interests of their businesses. The major newspapers are owned by them and the rest are of no account.

But this is not all: the gangrene goes even deeper.

Modern wars no longer consist of a mere massacre of hundreds of thousands of men in every battle – a massacre which those who have not followed the details of the great battles during the war in Manchuria and the horrific details of the siege and defence of Port Arthur have absolutely no idea. And yet the three great historical battles – Gravelotte, Potomac, Borodino (Moscow) – each of which lasted three days and in which ninety to hundred and ten thousand were killed and wounded on both sides, these were child’s play in comparison to modern warfare!

Great battles are now fought on a front of fifty, sixty kilometres; they no longer last three days, but seven days (Lao-Yang) and ten days (Mukden); and the losses are one hundred, one hundred and fifty thousand men on each side.

The devastation caused by shells fired with accuracy from a distance of five, six, seven kilometres by batteries placed in a position which cannot be found [by the enemy] as they use smokeless powder, are unimaginable. It is no longer a matter of chance. The key positions occupied by the enemy is divided on a map into squares and the fire from all the batteries is concentrated on each square successively, in order to destroy everything to be found there.

When the fire from several hundred cannons are concentrated on a square kilometre, there is no area of ten square metres that has not been struck by a shell, not a bush that has not been cut down by the howling monsters sent from nobody knows where. Seven or eight days of this terrible fire drives the soldiers to madness; and when the attacking columns – after having been repelled eight to ten times in succession, nevertheless gain ground by a few metres every time – finally reach the enemy’s trenches, a hand-to-hand struggle begins. After throwing hand-grenades and pieces of pyroxyline at each other (two pieces of pyroxyline tied together with a string were used by the Japanese as a sling), Russian and Japanese soldiers rolled in the trenches of Port Arthur like wild beasts, striking each other with their rifle-butts and knives, tearing each other’s flesh with their teeth.

The workers of the West know nothing of this terrible return to the most atrocious savagery that is modern warfare; and the bourgeois who do know are careful not to tell them.

However, modern war is not only a bloodbath, the madness of massacre, the return to savagery. It is also the destruction of human labour on a colossal scale; we continually feel the effect of this destruction in time of peace by increasing the misery of the poor, running parallel with the enrichment of the wealthy.

Every war destroys a formidable amount of all sorts of goods, including not only the war material itself, but also things most necessary to everyday life and to society as a whole: bread, meat, vegetables, foodstuffs of all kind, draught animals, leather, coal, metal, clothing. All this represents the useful work of millions of men over decades; and all this is wasted, burnt, gutted in a few months. But that is already wasted today [in time of peace] in anticipation of war.

As this war material, these metals, and these provisions must be prepared beforehand, the mere possibility of a new war brings about in all our industries shocks and crises that affect us all. You, me, all of us, we feel their effects in every detail of our life. The bread we eat, the coal we burn, the railway ticket we buy, the price of each article depends on rumours relating to the likelihood of war soon, rumours spread by speculators.

Industrial crises due to anticipation of war

The necessity for preparing, long beforehand, formidable quantities of war material and accumulations of provisions of every description, brings about in all industries shocks and crises from which every one, and especially the worker, suffers to a terrible extent. This was observed quite recently in the United States.

Every one, no doubt, remembers the industrial crisis that devastated the United States during the past three or four years. In part, it is still continuing. Well, the origin of this crisis – whatever may have been said about it by “learned” economists who know the writings of their predecessors but ignore real life – the true origin of this crisis lay in the excessive production of the chief industries of the States, carried on during several years in anticipation of a great European war and of a war between Japan and the United States. Those who spread the idea of these wars knew well the effect these predictions would have on American industries. For two or three years, in fact, a feverish energy reigned in metal production, coal mining and the manufacturing of railway equipment, material for clothing, preserved foodstuffs.

The extraction of iron ore and production of steel in the United States reached quite unexpected proportions during those years. Steel is the principal article of consumption in modern warfare, and the United States manufactured it in a fantastical way, as well as those metals, such as nickel and manganese, which are required in the manufacture of various kinds of steel used for war materials. At the same time, there was speculation in the supplies of iron, copper, lead, and nickel.

The same thing happened with supplies of wheat, preserved meat, fish, and vegetables. Cottons, cloth, and leather followed closely. And as each great industry gives rise to a number of smaller ones around it, a small amount of the fever for production far in excess of the demand spread more and more. The money-lenders (or rather [providers of] credit) who supplied the manufacturers with capital, profited of course by this fever, even more so that the captains of industry.

Then, at a blow, production suddenly stopped, without it being possible to ascribe the fact to any one of the causes to which preceding crises had been attributed. The truth is, that from the day when European high finance was sure that Japan, ruined by the war in Manchuria, would not dare to attack the United States, and that no European nation felt itself sufficiently sure of victory to draw the sword, European capitalists refused to give credit either to those American bankers who fuelled over-production, or to the Japanese “Nationalists.”

“No more war in the short term” – and steel mills, cooper mines, blast furnaces, shipyards, tanneries, speculators on commodities, all suddenly reduced their operations, their orders, their purchases.

It was worse than a crisis, it was a disaster. Millions of working men and women were thrown onto the street and left in the most abject misery. Great and small factories closed down. The contagion spread as during an epidemic, sowing terror all around.

No one can describe the sufferings of millions of men, women, and children, of the broken lives, during the crisis, while immense fortunes were being made in anticipation of mangled flesh and piles of human corpses about to be heaped up in the great battles!

This is war; this is how the State enriches the wealthy, keeps the poor in misery, and year by year makes them more enslaved to the rich.

Now, a crisis resulting from the same causes as the one in the United States will in all likelihood be produced in Europe, and especially in England.

Towards the middle of 1911 the world was astonished at the sudden and quite unforeseen increase in English exports. Nothing in the world of economics led us to expect it. No reason for it has been given – precisely because the only possible explanation is that the orders came from the Continent in anticipation of a war between England and Germany. This war failed to break out in July, 1911; but if it had broken out, France, Russia, Austria, and Italy would have been forced to participate [in the conflict].

It is evident that great financiers, who supply credit to speculators in metals, foodstuffs, cloth, leather, etc., had been warned of the threatening turn relations were taking between the two sea Powers. They knew that both Governments were pressing forward their preparations for war, so they hastened to give their orders, which increased English exports in 1911 beyond measure.

[Footnote: Some figures will make these economic shocks more apparent. Between 1900 and 1904 English exports were normal. They were, for products of English origin, between seven and seven-and-a-half thousand million Francs.  In 1904 there was a rumour of a great war; the United States quickened her production, and English exports rose in four years from 7,525 to 10,650 million. That lasted two years. But the war, so longed for, was not forthcoming, and there was a sudden halt; the crisis we mentioned broke out in the United States, and exports of English produce fell to 9,495 million. In 1910, however, the anticipation of a great European war was about to be realised, and in 1911 English exports rose to an absolutely unforeseen height which they had never approached before. Yet nobody could explain the fact. They were 11,350 million! Coal, steel, good fast ships, armour, cartridges, cloth, linen, foot-gear – everything was in demand and was exported in huge quantities. Fortunes were visibly amassed. We will [soon] slaughter each other – what luck!]

To the same cause is also due the recent extraordinary rise in prices of all foodstuffs without exception, at a time when neither the yield of last year’s harvest nor the accumulation of all kinds of goods in warehouses justified the rise. The fact is also that the rise did not affect provisions only; all goods were influenced by it. Orders continued to pour in when no reason whatever, save the anticipation of war, could explain this excessive demand.

And now it would be sufficient that the great Colonial speculators of England and Germany agree about their share in the partition of Eastern Africa, and to agree on “spheres of influence” in Asia and in Africa – that is to say, over the next conquests – for a sudden stoppage of industry to take place in Europe similar to the crisis from which the United States has recently suffered.

Basically, this reduction began to be felt at the beginning of 1912. That is why the Coal Companies and “the Cotton Lords” of England proved so intransigent towards their workers and drove them to strike. They expected a reduction of orders when they had already too great a stock of goods and too much coal piled up around their mines.

When we closely analyse the facts arising from the activity of modern States, we understand how the whole life of our civilised societies depends, not on the facts of economic developments in nations, but on the manner in which various circles of privileged people, more or less favoured by the State, react on these facts.

Thus it is evident that the entry into the arena of economics of such a powerful producer as modern Germany, with its schools, its technical education widespread amongst its people, its youthful high spirits, and its capacity for organisation, changed the relations between nations. A readjustment of forces was unavoidable. But, owing to the specific organisation of modern States, the adjustment of economic forces is hindered by another factor of political origin: the privileges and the monopolies built up and maintained by the State.

In reality, modern States are specially constituted in order to establish privileges in favour of the rich at the expense of the poor – it is always high finance which lays down the law in all political matters. “What will Baron Rothschild say?” “What will the syndicate of great bankers in Paris, in Vienna, in London say?” Such questions have become the dominant element in political affairs and in relations between nations. It is the approval or disapproval of financiers that makes and unmakes Ministries everywhere in Europe (true, that in England there is also the approval of the official Church and of the brewers to consider; but the Church and the brewers are always in agreement with the great financiers, who take care never to touch with their income). After all, as a Minister is but a man who holds fast to his office, its power, and to the possibilities of enrichment they offer him – it follows that the question of international relations is nowadays finally reduced to knowing whether the favoured monopolists of a particular State will take such or such an attitude towards the favourites of the same calibre in another State.

Thus, the state of forces involved is given by the technical development of various nations at a certain point in their history; but the use that will be made of these forces depends entirely on the degree of enslavement to their Government and the statist form of organisation to which people have let themselves be reduced to. The [economic] forces which could produce harmony, well-being, and a new flowering of a libertarian civilisation – these forces, being implemented within the framework of the State, that is to say, by an organisation specially developed to enrich the wealthy and to absorb all advances for the benefit of the privileged classes – these same forces become an instrument of oppression, of misery, of privileges, and endless wars; they accelerate the enrichment of the privileged, they increase the misery and enslavement of the poor.

This is why those economists who continue to consider economic forces alone, without analysing the statist framework within which they operate today, without taking into account statist ideology, nor the forces that each State necessarily places at the service of the rich, to enrich them at the expense of the poor – this is why such economists remain completely outside the realities of the economic and social world.


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