Anton Pannekoek

War Against War

(1913)


From International Socialist Review, Vol. 13 No. 8, February 1913, pp. 589–593 & No. 9, March 1913, pp. 663–665.
Translated by William E. Bohn.
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Republished here under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


DURING the closing months of the year 1912 the war against war has dominated the thought and action of European Socialism. Geographical and historical conditions give to war an extremely important role in the social evolution of Europe. In America there exists one great political unit in which immigrants from all lands amalgamate into a single mass; therefore America offers the best conditions for a gigantic development of capitalism and the class struggle.

But old Europe, with its hundreds of millions crowded into a small area, is divided into small nations; on account of the traditions of past centuries, when everything was still on a small scale, these nations stand to one another in the relation of foreigners, different in traditions, speech, customs, and political life. Each of them has developed into a capitalist state, with a government organized in the interest of its own bourgeoisie. This capitalistic development necessitated struggles against the survivals of feudalism and absolutistic monarchal power, but also struggles of each nation against the others; for in the restricted area available each found itself opposed by the others. In all of these conflicts there persisted an element of ancient barbarism and traditional dynastic interests. Thus it has come about that to the evil of division into small political units has been added the greater evil of militarism, which, through compulsory military service and heavy taxes, squanders much of the productive power of the nations and increases the strength of the governments as against the people.

The recent development of capitalism has increased these differences. While bourgeois idealists have been dreaming of the United States of Europe the facts of actual development have gone in the opposite direction. The imperialist policy has made each of the important European nations the center of a world empire. The cause of this state of affairs is the export of capital. The accumulation of capital outgrows the possibilities of the home-land; it seeks new fields of investment, where it becomes the foundation of new industries, which, in turn, bring about an increase in the demand for home products.

This phase of evolution requires the political domination of the new industrial region or, at least, an adequate influence over its government. Every government attempts, therefore, to take possession of the largest possible areas of foreign territory or to increase to the utmost its influence over foreign governments. To this end power and respect are necessary, and these are attainable only through military and naval equipment. Governments have thus become the representatives of big business. They find their support, however in the whole body of the bourgeois class, most of the members of which, without having any direct interest in the results of imperialism, feel a concern in whatever promises higher profits for capitalism as a whole.

Thus the various nations of Europe stand opposed to each other like gigantic camps of contending armies. They have divided themselves into two groups about the mightiest of the rivals, England and Germany. On the one side stands the Triple Alliance, made up of Germany, Austria and Italy, three nations poor in colonies. On the other stands Triple Entente of the three nations which control the largest colonial regions, England, France, and Russia. As a result of the present division of colonial possessions the members of the former group are naturally the instigators of any struggle looking toward a redistribution, and the members of the latter are the defenders of the status quo.

Especially in Germany, which has developed into a great industrial power in the same class as England and the United States, there is a tremendous impulse in the direction of territorial expansion. The German government has been arming itself for fifteen years; it has now a mighty fleet which compels England to add constantly more vessels to its navy. Austria and Italy are beginning to imitate Germany. At the same time armies are increased and placed on a war footing. Throughout the world German capital and German political influence attempt to gain entrance. In China the Shantung railway is built and Kiastchou is held as a military station; in Asia Minor the railway from Constantinople to Bagdad is built; in Central Africa an attempt is made to enlarge German colonial possessions. Everywhere, however, England stands guard, jealous and suspicious of every German advance. This is the explanation for the enmity which the German bourgeoisie feels toward England.

The conflict between England and Germany is most acute in Asiatic Turkey. England has long had an eye on Mesopotamia, the ancient Babylonia, the cradle of human civilization, the biblical Garden of Eden, which now lies barren and waste but can be transformed into a fruitful land. But German capital, supported by the Turkish government, pushes on toward this territory along the line of the Bagdad railway. If this line is finally completed to the Persian Gulf, the shortest route to India will lie in the hands of Germany and her friends, and the English dream of uniting India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, southern Persia in a great English empire will have gone up in smoke. On this account England sought to prevent the construction of the Bagdad line and to undermine the Turkish government.

The break-down of Turkish power will involve a readjustment of all the interests involved, including those of the United States and other countries. Herein lies a constant danger of war between various European nations.

But it is to the west of the Bosporus that the danger of a great international conflict has first become imminent. The agrarian nations of the Balkan region, which had hitherto been regarded by Austria as the national sphere for her expansion, began to develop their own capitalist systems; the familiar class lines appeared and a strong national feeling developed. Hence there arose the necessity of nationalities large enough to permit of commercial development and the desire for the possession of seaports. This, in brief, is the cause of the present war, in which Turkey has been nearly forced out of Europe.

Austria, disappointed in the prospect of territories to the east scents new dangers in the results of the conflict. She fears especially the effect of a strong, independent Servian government on the Serbs at present under Austrian rule. Therefore a great war fever has swept over Austria and the Austrian government has made the most strenuous opposition to Servia’s efforts to secure a port on the Adriatic. This situation contained the threat of a conflict of the great powers. Russia and Austria began immediately to mobilize their troops. This was the time for the proletariat of Europe to arise and assert its influence.
 

II.

The international policy of Socialism has not always been opposed to war. Marx and Engels repeatedly (in 1843 and 1853) urged the nations of western Europe to declare war against Russia in opposition to the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie. In this Marx and Engels represented the interests of the working-class and of democracy. Throughout the nineteenth century Russia was the protector of the reactionary governments against the revolutionary peoples. So long as Russia maintained its position it could restore the absolutism which had been conquered by the German revolutionists in 1848; in order to secure the results of the revolution, Marx, called upon the German bourgeoisie to take up arms against Russia. But the bourgeoisie did not answer this call to arms; it feared Russia less than the political power of the German people. Even later the influence of Russia remained an element in the situation of the rising working-class of western Europe. It was on this account that Bebel declared himself ready to shoulder a musket in a war against Russia.

But since this time conditions have changed. The liberation and increasing poverty of the Russian peasants, together with the development of capitalist industry, led, after the Russo-Japanese war, to a revolution which broke the military power of Russia for a long time to come. Russia can no longer play the part of guardian over the governments of Europe. It has become, like the others, a capitalist state which must reckon with capitalist interests and proletarian opposition. No fear of Russia need turn the working-class from a policy of international peace.

But in the meantime the society of western Europe has undergone a transformation. As capitalism developed, the necessity of being prepared to meet other nations in battle took hold of the imaginations of all classes. Even the working-class came instinctively to believe in the purposes to be attained through warfare. This was the case in Germany in 1870, and history has repeated itself in the Balkans during the past year. Such wars as these are called national; they are supposed to be waged in the interest of the national good. The Socialists, who see deeper and farther than this, were in both instances a negligible element in the situation. But at the present time Socialism has behind it in western Europe great masses of the working-class; in Germany a third of the entire population. In all countries these masses are in opposition to the government and they know that wars between modern governments are not national, but imperialistic. This means that they are conducted in the interest of big business, for the purpose of increasing profits. This conception destroys any enthusiasm which the proletariat might develop for a foreign war.

On the other hand, the workers have every reason for striving to maintain a state of peace. A war in modern Europe would be far more devastating than any which has ever occurred. The armies which stand opposed count their soldiers by the million. And the weapons which they carry are far more murderous than any which have been employed in the past; especially the rifles of modern infantry are calculated to destroy life with a rapidity which has hitherto been unexampled. War in the future will be far more bloody than in the past; a far larger proportion of the forces will be killed or wounded. For those who remain at home, moreover, war will be far more terrible. Formerly the greater part of the population lived by agriculture, which could be temporarily carried on by women, boys and men too old for military service. Only within the region of actual military operations did the population know the real hardships of war. But through the development of capitalism our social organism has become more complicated and sensitive. Every disturbance which upsets credit or otherwise interferes with production may bring about a crisis. Every war which removes great masses of workers from the field of production, hinders transportation or blockades the harbors; means a crisis, a terrible industrial catastrophe which reaches the smallest village and brings bankruptcy, unemployment, poverty, and starvation in its train. A great European war at the present time would destroy civilization, force the world back to a low plane of industry and in general bring about a condition approaching that of primitive barbarism.

Such a possibility concerns especially the working-class, which is exerting its energies to raise civilization to a higher plane. The proletariat bases its activities on the new order of society; it is bringing into being strong organizations in which the egoism of the bourgeois world is to be replaced by the communistic virtue of solidarity. It is through the cultivation of this virtue that it is gaining the power to conquer capitalism and throw off its domination.

And this organization of the working class is international. Across all national boundaries and all distinctions of race and language the workers join hands; they regard one another as brothers, as comrades, and see in the bourgeois and the government of their own land only enemies. There can be for them nothing more disgusting than the notion of massacring their brothers at the command of their enemies. They do not wish to see their international brotherhood, the growing unity of mankind, destroyed by the capitalistic quarrels of their governments. Therefore they make war against war with all their might. For these reasons the international policy of Socialism must be a policy of active devotion to the cause of peace. “War against war!” is the cry of the proletarians of all lands.

This was clearly expressed by the Congress of Stuttgart in 1907. In the resolution there adopted, after explaining the capitalistic nature of war and the determined opposition of the proletariat to militarism, the representatives of international Socialism declared:

“In case there is danger of war, the working-classes of the countries involved and their parliamentary representatives are in duty bound to oppose the resort to arms by the employment of the means which seem to them most effective, the character of which means will naturally be adapted to the degree of acuteness which has been developed in the class struggle and to the general political situation.”

Since this resolution was adopted have the workers more than once been forced to oppose the war policies of their governments. When, finally, the Balkan war broke out the Socialists recognized immediately the danger to European peace. Our journals resolutely opposed the imperialist statesmen and professional chauvinists. In the countries immediately involved there were immediately held great anti-war demonstrations. In Berlin there occurred on November 17 a meeting participated in by 300,000 persons. In Russia a strike demonstration was made. The International Bureau met in Brussels and called a special congress of the international Socialist movement.

This congress met in Basel, where the fine old minster, the chief church building of the place, was placed at its disposal. What an extraordinary spectacle, the red revolutionary hosts of Socialism gathering there in the old church to the swelling tones of the great organ! This would have been impossible in any other land than Switzerland, for everywhere else the bourgeois is committed to the policy of violence and detests the activities of the workers; it was possible here only because the Swiss bourgeoisie consists for the most part of bond-holders in state enterprises, which could only be injured by an international war. This incident was tantamount to an acknowledgement by the only peace-loving section of the bourgeoisie that the Socialist proletariat is at present the only group which has the power to prevent an international conflict.

The proletariat stood before all the world as the standard bearer of civilization. And for the working-class of the world the Congress of Basel was the visible demonstration of their international unity. Previous international congresses had made possible the exchange of ideas and the attainment of mutual understanding; they left the practical struggles of the proletariat to be carried on by the national organizations within the national boundary lines. Here the international policy became for the first time the most vital problem of the working class. Therefore the Congress of Basel was more important than any similar gathering which preceded it. Formerly internationalism was but a feeling which dominated the heart; now it became an important political fact.

The work of the congress consisted of the resolution accepted without opposition and the speeches which were made in connection with it. The resolution reaffirms the statement made at Stuttgart that the workers will attempt to prevent war with all the effective weapons at their disposal. And the addresses delivered by the representatives of the various nations left no doubt as to the determination of the working class.

“Not only in words,” said Jaurès, “but in the deepest passion of our natures, we declare: We are prepared to make the utmost sacrifice.”

And Victor Adler, speaking in the name of the working class of Austria, which now bears the brunt of the struggle against war, said:

“All the power of the proletariat, all the means of each individual worker, must be concentrated in this struggle.”

“In the use of the means determined by our conditions, by our political and industrial organizations,” declared Haase in the name of the German Social Democracy. “We will devote our utmost power to the securing of that which we all desire to have secured, the world peace and our common future.”

With regard to the declaration of policy contained in the resolution there can be little difference of opinion. Oppose one another as we may as to the wisdom of the separate demands which are made, in devotion to the general principle we are all united; everywhere peace and friendship shall be maintained between peoples; all oppression of nation by nation shall be opposed; and for every people the fullest measure of self-government shall be demanded. In making these demands, expressive as they are of the desire of the workers for peace on earth as against the oppression and violence characteristic of the ruling class, the Congress of Basel set up for the masses of the people everywhere a great torch which shall illumine for them the path to the new world.
 

III. The Congress of Basel

The Congress of Basel was a demonstration of the proletarian opposition to war, but such a demonstration cannot prevent war. As was said by Vaillant, the veteran of the Commune, “The international congress has finished its work; but the real struggle has just begun.” What will be the plan of campaign of this battle? What weapons will be used? In what manner can the workers of the world prevent a war? These questions were not answered at Basel. As at Stuttgart, it was definitely declared that in each country the means employed are to be adapted to the conditions. In order to avoid even the appearance of a lack of unity, discussion of methods was avoided. The Congress contented itself with drawing the attention of governments and peoples to what has hitherto been achieved, our international unity and our unanimous opposition to war; it did not suggest any definite line of action. It showed to all the world the goal toward which we are bound, but failed to mark out the way which is to lead to it. The finding of the way has been left to the workers themselves.

Fortunately, our future line of march is not entirely unknown. In the actual practice of the labor movement, it has already been discovered. Both theoretically and practically the working-class has concerned itself with the methods to be employed in this phase of its struggle.

There are Socialists for whom political struggle and parliamentary struggle are identical. For them the entire political struggle of the working-class consists of political campaigns and speeches in parliamentary assemblies. The narrowness of this view has been demonstrated again and again. Wherever the right of franchise is a limited one, the representation of the proletariat necessarily remains in the minority; the task of the workers is, then, the conquest of a democratic electoral law. This is possible only by means of political activity of the masses outside of the halls of parliament, what we have to come to call mass action. The same is true of the struggle against war. This is a political conflict of the greatest importance, but it cannot be carried on inside the parliamentary halls. There the representatives of the workers can voice their protest, but they are in the minority against the bourgeois majority which supports the government. And the diplomatic negotiations upon which depend the great issues of war and peace are not carried on in the open before the representatives of the people; these matters, so vital to the nations’ life, are debated behind closed doors by a small coterie of ministers. In order to prevent war the proletariat must bring to bear a sufficient weight of public opinion to compel the government to keep the peace. This can be done only through mass action.

The mere existence of a Socialist proletariat constitutes a strong influence for peace. In view of the great influence exerted over the masses of people by a revolutionary party any government conceives at last a secret dread of war. For an unsuccessful conflict with a foreign power may always bring in its train revolutionary uprisings and the danger of complete downfall of the existing government. This fear of the proletariat has done much toward maintaining peace in Europe during the past forty years. But this gives the workers no excuse for deceiving themselves with a sense of security. The forces of international competition which make for war grow constantly stronger. And because the bourgeoisie, as the ruling class, is accustomed to command and have the working-class obey, and because it knows that it has under its control a strong governmental machine, it feels certain of its ability to drive the masses of the people into a conflict with a foreign power which it points out as the enemy. On this account the workers must bestir themselves, must take the initiative. No one will take account of the desires of those who simply hold their peace. But if the masses of the workers make energetic protest and declare with all possible emphasis that they will not have war, then the government will be forced to proceed with caution. No government would dare at the present time to undertake a war against the energetically proclaimed desire of the great masses of the people.

This the workers have instinctively felt as they have been carrying on mass meetings and street demonstrations. These activities do more, however, than express the will of the participants. As a method of propaganda and agitation their effect is wide-spread. They attract the attention of those who have hitherto remained indifferent and waken hope and confidence in those who have remained aloof from the struggle. They draw increasing numbers into the struggle and so heighten the courage and enthusiasm of the entire proletariat. And the very fact that the government recognizes the effect of these demonstrations is reason enough for its fear of them and its tendency to give way before them.

But it is evident that in case bourgeoisie and government had definitely decided upon a war, such demonstrations as these would not suffice to compel them to relinquish their purpose. Such means as these could not force the will of the proletariat upon the government; they are effective only in case the forces making for war are not great. In the presence of them, governments will not declare war to satisfy a mere whim or to gain an unimportant advantage. They know how much is involved and whenever possible attempt to get on without war. If they do decide to declare war, it is because very important capitalistic interests are to be served. But the development of big business in the direction of new fields of investment is so persistent, so peremptory that they sometimes compel governments to go to war and plunge the entire bourgeoisie into a war fever. When this happens the influence for peace proceeding from mass-meetings and street demonstrations remains ineffective. Against the peace agitation of the proletariat a wave of fanatic nationalism is set in motion. Street demonstrations may be forbidden. Patriotism serves as an excuse for the suppression of any opposition, and the mobilizing of troops places the most active elements of the proletariat under military law. Under these circumstances, what is to be done?

It is at this point that the conflict really becomes serious. Then the workers must resort to more effective means than the ordinary ones. Concerning the exact form of the struggle, however, it is impossible to go beyond conjectures. At Copenhagen Keir Hardie and Vaillant proposed as the ultimate weapons to be used against war a strike of those employed on railways and in arsenals and ammunition factories. This form of tactics is adapted to the French and English conditions. In England the great mass of the working-class is indifferent to war, for to the English war means a naval conflict or a land campaign carried on by professional, hired troops. On the other hand, military operations would be dependent upon the groups of workers employed in the arming of troops and the carrying on of transportation. In France the situation is substantially the same, for small capitalists and farmers make up the bulk of the population. On this account the proposition of Hardie and Vaillant is a perfectly natural one for them to make. But the fallacy involved in it lies in the fact that it places upon a comparatively small group the burden which belongs to an entire class. Any such group might be easily overcome by the superior forces of the government; popular opinion would approve of any violent means utilized against it. Not by means of such rather mechanical devices can a war be prevented, but only through action of the entire working-class. The struggle against war is a political struggle of class against class; it can be carried on successfully only when the entire proletariat exerts its whole strength against that of the government and the bourgeoisie.

The strongest weapon of the working class is the strike; the political mass strike is the great weapon of the revolution, the one most adapted to the conditions of the workers. Its tremendous power has been repeatedly demonstrated, especially in Belgium in 1893 and in Russia in 1905. Concerning the question as to whether it can be employed against war, and how it can best be used, there is great difference of opinion. In the countries of Western Europe where great meetings and street demonstrations are commonplaces, Socialists have discovered that a protest strike for a limited time is the least exhibition of power that will make an impression. On the other hand, the leaders of German Socialism have little patience with the proposal to use the mass-strike as a means of preventing war. In part their opposition is due to the fear of precipitating unnecessary conflicts which might lead the government to such ruthless suppression of the labor movement as would set it back and postpone for many years the victory which it confidently expects. But another important element in the situation is the fact that the German labor movement leads the world in organization and power of numbers. Whereas a weak movement feels obliged to use immediately its strongest weapon, a strong movement may achieve the same result by the simple pressure of its mass. In addition, it must be remembered that street demonstrations, the right to make which has only recently been wrung from the police power, have in Germany a much greater influence than in other countries.

This does not mean that a political strike against war is impossible in Germany. It is not the desire of the leaders which gives the ultimate decision, but rather the force of circumstances, the masses may be compelled to act in a manner quite unforeseen, and in that case the leaders will be carried along despite their predilections and prejudices. In case the danger of war becomes really imminent, this will unquestionably take place. Such a socialistically trained working-class as that of Germany will not allow itself to be dragged into a war at the command of the ruling class. The greater the danger, the more the working-class will be roused, the more energetically will it defend itself with any and all weapons.

Hitherto this has never been necessary; in every case the danger of war has passed away after a period of greater or less excitement. Germany has been the greatest trouble-maker in Europe, yet the fact that the workers have not been prevented from making their demonstrations shows that the government has not seriously and definitely planned for war. But the danger constantly recurs, and constantly in more threatening form. So, what is now but theory must eventually become practice. Then the conflict concerning war will become one of the most important features of the class-struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat. In this conflict for peace the workers will be compelled to use their sharpest weapons and to perfect their fighting power for employment against the whole strength of the ruling class. Thus the development of imperialism is calling into being the revolutionary force which will put an end to capitalism.

A new epoch in world history is beginning. Hitherto wars have been a necessary element in the development of the race; under capitalism they have been inevitable. The ruling classes simply had the masses at their disposal and without opposition were able to lead them into war in the interests of capital. Now, for the first time, a new power has appeared as a force in world history, the power of the self-conscious workers. Thus far the working-class has not been strong enough to overcome the bourgeoisie. But against the militarism of the competing capitalistic governments they now heroically declare their determination to have peace. And this war against war means the beginning of the process of revolution which is to lead from capitalism to Socialism.


Last updated on 10 November 2016