Anarchism and War

While many anarchists reject violence and proclaim pacifism, the anarchist movement is not pacifist (in the sense of opposed all forms of violence at all times). Rather, it is anti-militarist, being against the organised violence of the state but recognising that there are important differences between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed.

This explains why the anarchist movement has always placed a lot of time and energy in opposing the military machine and capitalist wars while, at the same time, supporting and organising resistance against oppression (for example, the Makhnovist army during the Russian Revolution which resisted both Red and White dictators and the militias the anarchists organised to resist the fascists during the Spanish Revolution).

All anarchists would agree with the Dutch pacifist anarcho-syndicalist Bart de Ligt when he talks of "the absurdity of bourgeois pacifism." Violence is inherent in the capitalist system and any attempt to make capitalism pacifistic is doomed to failure. This is because, on the one hand, war is often just economic competition carried out by other means. Nations often go to war when they face an economic crisis, what they cannot gain in economic struggle they attempt to get by conflict. On the other hand, "violence is indispensable in modern society. . . without it the ruling class would be completely unable to maintain its privileged position with regard to the exploited masses in each country. The army is used first and foremost to hold down the workers. . . when they become discontented." (to quote de Ligt).

Thus Emma Goldman:

"Nor is it enough to join the bourgeois pacifists, who proclaim peace among the nations, while helping to perpetuate the war among the classes, a war which in reality is at the bottom of all other wars.

"It is this war of classes that we must concentrate upon, and in that connection the war against false values, against evil institutions, against all social atrocities. Those who appreciate the urgent need of co-operating in great struggles . . . must organise the preparedness of the masses for the overthrow of both capitalism and the state. Industrial and economic preparedness is what the workers need. That alone leads to revolution at the bottom . . . That alone will give the people the means to take their children out of the slums, out of the sweat shops and the cotton mills . . . That alone leads to economic and social freedom, and does away with all wars, all crimes, and all injustice."

So all anarchists are anti-militarists and oppose both the military machine (and so the "defence" industry) as well as statist/capitalist wars (although a few anarchists, like Rudolf Rocker and Sam Dolgoff, supported the anti-fascist capitalist side during the second world war as the lesser evil). We have long been involved in the peace movement as well as contributing to the resistance to conscription where it still exists and actively opposing capitalist wars.

In this struggle against war many anarchists raise the slogan "No war but the class war" as it nicely sums up the anarchist opposition to war -- namely an evil consequence of any class system, in which the oppressed classes of different countries kill each other for the power and profits of their rulers. Rather than take part in this organised slaughter, anarchists urge working people to fight for their own interests, not those of their masters:

"More than ever we must avoid compromise; deepen the chasm between capitalists and wage slaves, between rulers and ruled; preach expropriation of private property and the destruction of states such as the only means of guaranteeing fraternity between peoples and Justice and Liberty for all; and we must prepare to accomplish these things." (to quote Malatesta)

This applies to the latest wave of imperialist wars justified as "humanitarian" by the powers that be. As Noam Chomsky put it, "states are not moral agents; they are vehicles of power, which operate in the interests of the particular internal power structures of their societies. So anybody who intervenes in another country . . . is going to be intervening for their own purposes -- that's always true in history."

Rather than take part in the slaughter we raise the ideal of international working class solidarity and resist war by direct action. So we do not add our voices to those who claim that 'leaders' will get us out of the wars. War, as with the other problems created by capitalism, can only be ended by direct action -- blockades, strikes, occupations, protest marches, whatever can throw a spanner into the war machine.

This implies a complete transformation in present attitudes. It means understanding a few fundamental truths. Such as that the working class and capitalists do not have common interests -- the former do the killing and dying for the wealth and power of the latter. That capitalism, imperialist by nature, is the prime cause of war and that cause must be eradicated in order to have real peace. That governments, Tory and Labour, are always instruments of oppression, and that we must learn to do without them. That war, like capitalism, can only be resisted by direct action and the refusal to be slaves of the state -- no state could wage war if its population actively opposed its plans. In other words, that to achieve real change we must act for ourselves.

Ultimately to end war we must end capitalism and its defender, the state. To do this we must create a mass movement rooted in our workplaces and communities, which creates a new world while resisting the evils of the current one. It is not only constructive but is also the only way out.


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