Consider no war but class war – Freedom News
The war in Ukraine has raised a sometimes heated discussion about one of the most powerful slogans of socialism: No war but class war. The general political idea (deserters and mutineers having always existed) is that the working class must not fight and die for the plans of the rich and the foaming illusions of nationalism. It appears in World War II, in the Falklands, Iraq. It is shouted at rallies and printed on placards. It’s graffiti’d, fliers, and posted online.
NWBTCW, as its acronym is enticing, had perhaps its finest moment at the turn of the 20th century. Used to refute the ridiculousness of the Imperial conflict, early iterations of the idea, while somewhat crude, can be found throughout Freedom Essays on the Boer War. These British workers castigated British workers for jumping on the patriotism bandwagon, for failing to protect other average Joes and Janes from the naked aggression of the ruling class as British troops penetrated and burned the ground , established concentration camps and annexed gold-rich lands.
This view was so unpopular at the time that anarchists were attacked in the streets by supposedly patriotic citizens, but it was correct to identify the British elite as a rapacious oppressor and the workers as fools so as not to focus on their real enemy at home.
It is raised again at the start of World War I, albeit with an unfortunate dissenting voice in Peter Kropotkin’s insistence that his beloved France must be protected from the Germans. The vast majority of anarchists, however, recognized two things. First, that once again the ruling classes were unleashing a war in which the workers would die. And second, that after decades of propaganda, in the midst of dramatic social change, the working classes were able to say no.
Campaigns against war arose in all nations. Cynically, the ruling classes sent troublemakers to the front lines to die – but in Russia as in Germany it was no use.
In the first, the mass revolt led to the overthrow of the Winter Palace monsters. In the latter, the January strike and mutinies of 1918 led to the collapse of the German army and the end of the conflict as the ambitions of Wilhelm II dissolved into nothingness.
In Britain, such campaigns ended less spectacularly, but the Freedom Group once again embarked on a struggle against capitalist wars. He argued loud and clear against the sending of British workers to France and against the spirit of jingoism which had crushed the promise of the Great Troubles – a growing series of working class rejection which, despite the intervention of the war, n never really died out and would find their peak in the 1926 Gen. Strike. Anarchists took a leading role alongside the Quakers in adopting a pacifist approach, refusing conscription despite the consequences.
The World War II era was an altogether muddier affair. Following the destruction of much of Western Europe’s organized anarchist and socialist movements by fascism in the 1920s, anarchists first faced the Spanish Civil War, in which foreign interventions pushed General Franco to victory.
Many anarchists went to fight for this uncomfortable political compromise represented by the Republic in what was seen as an existential conflict, and figures such as Camillo Berneri actively called for interventions by the populations of other great powers to help the struggle. of the Republic. An example of such writing by Berneri, reproduced here, has parallels with articles on Ukraine today.
During World War II itself, however, British anarchists were much less optimistic about such an approach, and returned again to the one that had served so well in decades past. This is largely summarized by a Manifesto printed in the December 1943 issue of war commentarywhere the Anarchist Federation writes of the movement only in:
“…adhering unswervingly to the path of working class struggle, it did not support any of the belligerent imperialisms. German and Italian fascism had its apologists; British and French imperialisms had their apologists; Russian totalitarianism has its apologists. All of this is a manifestation of class rule. Their policies are the policies of their ruling class, fighting as always to maintain their privileges and power over working people. The anarchists refused to take sides with any of them.
The problem, of course, was that, as we know now, and at least partially knew then, the attitudes involved were not equal. The racist instrumentalism that led Winston Churchill to create the Bengal famine in the name of war was brutal, but it was not an ideologically motivated Holocaust. As the words of the Anarchist Federation were loaded into the press, the Jews were being exterminated with horrific focus and determination. The eventual heroes of World War II were therefore not those who called for class war in a situation where little class power existed, but those who acted to liberate Paris from the Nazis, the Spanish anarchist fighters known as name of La Nueve.
In our modern conflicts, as Berneri often noted in his writings on everything from electoral abstentionism to our engagement with those of religious leanings, there is a debate to be had about the principle and the practical struggle to save lives. It’s not an easy conversation, but somewhere between the twin poles of rebuilding lost class power and survival, a path must be found.
- State or Revolution: Selected Writings of Camillo Berneri will be published later this year by Freedom Press.
Madrid: the sublime
Of class warDecember 2, 1936
Pilate is just as infamous as Judas. Who is Pilate today? It is not even the assembly of Genevan foxes, it is not even the ostriches of social-democratic ministerialism. Pilate, it is you, the European proletariat!
Can you, O tender proletarian mother, put your little child in his bed without seeing mutilated children lying abandoned on the roads like carrion. Can you play lovingly with your child, O proletarian, without thinking of children lying in pain in hospitals, undergoing the tortures of their wounded flesh and the pangs of fear.
And yet you read left-wing newspapers and you know that there is a great city that is dripping with blood, torn and burned to ashes by shell explosions; they tell of children being overtaken by death as they cried to heaven the songs of their carelessness, as their mothers wander in search of the fruit of their wombs and carry their bloodied bodies in search of unlikely rescue or late. The stench of death rises from the dispatches and correspondence from Madrid. The skies of Madrid are red with fires that should set the world ablaze. And yet, everything collapses, everything burns, an entire population dies – without the masses being affected.
In the agony of Madrid there is all the horror of a rape in the market square on a market day.
Death may continue to strike, sudden as hail in summer and inevitable as lightning. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse had on their side, with the security of high altitudes, the moral vacuum of the time. Let them shake it, let them tear it, let them burn it slowly, this martyred city; millions of proletarians don’t care at all. Are Madrid resisting? Many wonder how long it can last. It’s a European bullfight. It is a disgrace of peoples and not only of governments and classes. It is the blockade of antifascist indifference which is added to the criminal fascist siege. The meetings will not prevent the plane from flying through the skies of Madrid and sowing death and ruin. The cold sweats that weigh on the foreheads of mothers, the eyes of children widened by fear, the bodies hammered and shaken by convulsions, are only a future vision of what you are going to undergo, you who are entrenched in the no intervention! Today, the war is in the sky of Madrid, tomorrow it will be in the sky of Barcelona, the day after tomorrow in the sky of Paris. The European war has started again. It exists, even if it has not been declared. It was the planes and pilots of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany that massacred and ruined Madrid.
Horror no longer reaches people’s consciences? Well, the bombs will wake them up. And it will be historical justice.
Madrid, the joyous Vienna of the Iberian Peninsula brings to life the exploits of Sagunto. It went from waltz to “Eroica” [Symphony]. Epic witness to the acts of heroism of the masses and the militias, compared to which those of the Paris Commune pale in comparison; it disappoints the bestial hopes of the generals, foils their minute calculations, refutes their bluster. He resists and will resist. If the compassion of the masses is deaf, if Europe is incapable of anger, well, the whole world will be marked by the energy of this city. Madrid will not be taken. He can be completely destroyed, but he won’t be taken alive. Death, exodus and flames will make it a Pompeii.
If it is not the wings of victory, it will be those of Nemesis that will spread above her. The reputation of the fascist generals is assured, but it will be the reputation of Genghis Khan. It will be another municipality. but it will not be a last glimmer; it will be the conflagration of a fire which will drive all the “spectators” out of their lairs, at least as long as it does not burn them there in their Blumist beds.
Madrid, where here thousands of men are fighting with an ardor nourished and maintained by that of thousands of women and children, is in the process of pillorying its torturers and the blind and deaf masses are lighting a light for all that allows you still hope in man.
Madrid, the martyr city, already deserves the title of sublime.
This article first appeared in the summer-fall edition of Freedom newspaper, available on our online store for a postage fee.
Pic: The Boer War of 1899-1902 saw Dutch settlers in South Africa fighting off a brutal assault that was aimed at increasing the holdings of the British Empire. The Boers, whose acts of self-defense Freedom described as a “heroic struggle” were no saints, and Freedom’s analysis of the situation was in many ways poor (racism abounds). There are, however, striking similarities with today in some aspects of the debate, with Freedom arguing that ultimately it was the working class of the aggressive nation that should unilaterally lay down their arms to end the slaughter.