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Words of a Rebel

Peter Kropotkin


THE spectacle offered by Europe at the present moment is very sad to see, but it is also very edifying. On the one side, there is a coming and going of diplomats and statesmen which increases visibly whenever the air of the old continent begins to smell of gunpowder. Alliances are made and dismantled; human beings are traded and sold like cattle to make sure of alliances. "So many millions of heads guaranteed by our house to yours; so many acres to feed them, so many ports to export their wool," and he who can best dupe the others in such trafficking comes out the winner. This is what in political jargon is called diplomacy.

On the other side there is no ending the flow of armaments. Every day brings us new inventions for the better extermination of our fellows, new expenditures, new borrowings, new taxes. Crying up patriotism, promoting chauvinism, fanning the hatreds between nations, become the most lucrative lines in politics and journalism alike. Childhood has not been spared; children are enrolled in battalions, and taught to hate the Prussians, the English, the Italians; they are trained in blind obedience to the governments of the moment, whether they be blue, white or black. And when the age of twenty-one had sounded for them, they will be loaded down like mules with ammunition, rations and tools, guns will be thrust into their hands, and they will be told to march to the sound of the trumpet, and to fight like savage beasts without ever asking why or for what purpose. Whether they face Germans or Italians who are starving to death-or their own brothers who have rebelled against need-the trumpet sounds, and men must be killed!

This is the conclusion of all the wisdom of our governments and our teachers! This is all they have been able to offer us as an ideal, in an age when the poor of all countries stretch out their hands to each other across the frontiers!

"Ah! you did not want socialism? Very well, you shall have war, war for thirty years, war for fifty years!" said Alexander Herzen(l4) after 1848. And you have it! If the cannon ceases to thunder for a while in the world, it is just to take breath, to start again somewhere else with renewed vigour, while the European war-the grand tournament of the peoples -has been a threat for the past ten years, without anyone knowing why we shall be fighting, or beside whom, or against whom, or in the name of what principles, or to safeguard what interests!

In the old days, if there was a war, at least one knew why people were killing each other. "Another king has insulted ours; let us overwhelm his subjects." "Some emperor wants to take away one of our provinces! Let us die to keep it for His Most Christian Majesty!" People fought to sustain the rivalries of kings. It was stupid, but at least in such cases the kings could enrol only a few thousand men. But these days whole peoples throw themselves upon each other, and why the Devil do they do it?

Kings no longer count in matters of war. Victoria does not take offense at the insults that are showered on her in France; the English would not stir to avenge her. But can you guarantee that within two years French and English soldiers will not be at each other's throats over supremacy in Egypt?(15) It is the same in the East. However autocratic and ill-natured a monarch he may be, Alexander-of-all-the Russias will swallow all the insolences of Andrassy and Salisbury without budging from his den in Gatchina,(l6) so long as the bankers of Petersburg and the industrialists of Moscow-who these days call themselves "patriots"-have not given him the order to set his armies in motion.

In Russia, as in England, in Germany as in France, men no longer fight for the good pleasure of kings; they fight for the integrity of revenueS and for the growing wealth of the Three Powerful Ones, Rothschild, Schneider, Anzin;(17) for the benefit of the barons of high finance and industry. The rivalries between kings have been superseded by the rivalries between bourgeois societies.

Indeed, people do still speak of "political preponderance," but try to translate that metaphysical entity into material facts; examine how the political preponderance of Germany, for example, makes itself manifest at this moment, and you will see that it is quite simply a matter of economic preponderance in international markets. What Germany, France, Russia, England, and Austria are all trying to win at this moment is not military preponderance; it is economic domination. It is the right to impose their goods and their customs tariffs on their neighbours; the right to exploit industrially backward peoples; the privilege of building railways in countries that do not have them and in this way becoming masters of the frontiers; the right, in the last resort, to appropriate from a neighbour either a port that will activate commerce, or a province where surplus merchandise can be unloaded.

When we fight today, it is to guarantee our great industrialists a profit of 30%, to assure the financial barons their domination at the Bourse, and to provide the shareholders of mines and railways with their incomes of tens of millions of dollars. This is so evident that if we were just a little more consistent, we would replace the birds of prey on our flags by golden calves and other ancient emblems by bags of gold, and change the names of our regiments, hitherto borrowed from the princes of the blood, to those of the princes of industry and finance; a Third Schneider regiment, a Tenth Anzin, a Twentieth Rothschild. We would know at least for whom we were doing the slaughtering.

Opening new markets, imposing one's own merchandise, whether good or bad, is the basis of all present-day politics-European and continental-and the true cause of nineteenth century wars.

In the last century England was the first to inaugurate the system of large industry for export. It piled its workers into the cities, yoked them to rationalised work patterns, multiplied production and began to accumulate mountains of products in its warehouses. But these goods were not intended for the ragged folk who made the cotton and woollen fabrics and were paid just enough to survive and multiply. The ships of England ploughed their way through the oceans, seeking buyers on the European continent, in Asia, in Oceania, in America, certain of not finding competitors. A black poverty reigned in the towns, but the manufacturer and the merchant grew visibly rich; the wealth drawn from abroad accumulated in the hands of a few, and the economists applauded and urged their compatriots to follow suit.

Already, at the end of the last century, France was beginning on the same evolution. By transferring power, by attracting the bare-footed peasants to the towns and by enriching the bourgeoisie, the revolution gave a new impulse to economic evolution. At this point the English bourgeoisie became alarmed, even more than they had been by the republican declarations and the blood spilt in Paris; supported by the aristocracy, they declared a war to the death on the French bourgeoisie who threatened to close the European markets to English products.

We know the outcome of that war. France was defeated, but it had won its place in the markets. The two bourgeoisies-English and French -even at one time made a touching alliance; they recognized each other as brothers.

But France, on her side, soon went beyond the limit. Through production for export, she tried to monopolize the markets, without taking into account the industrial progress that was moving slowly from the West into the East and dominating new countries. The French.bourgeoisie sought to broaden the circle of its profits. For eighteen years it placed itself under the heel of the Third Napoleon, always hoping that the usurper would impose economic rule over the whole of Europe; it only abandoned him when he showed himself incapable of this.

Now it was a new nation, Germany, that introduced into its territory the same economic regime. She also depopulated her fields and piled the hungry people into the towns, which doubled their population in a few years. She also began mass production. A formidable industry, armed with the latest equipment, supported by technical and scientific education lavishly provided, in its turn piled up products destined not for those who made them, but for export and the enrichment of the masters. Capital accumulates and seeks advantageous places of investment in Asia, Africa, Turkey, Russia; the stock exchange in Berlin rivals that in Paris and seeks to dominate it.

At this point a common cry burst out from the heart of the German bourgeoisie let us unify under no matter what flag, even that of Prussia, and profit from that power to impose our products and our tariffs on our neighbours, end lay hold of a good port on the Baltic and on the Adriatic as Soon as possible! They wished to break the military power of France which had been threatening for twenty years to lay down the economic law of Europe and to dictate its commercial treaties.

The war of 1870 was the consequence of these developments. France no longer dominates the markets; it is Germany that seeks to dominate them, and she also, through the thirst for gain, seeks always to extend her exploitation, without regard for the crises and crashes, the insecurity and poverty that eat away at her economic structure. The coasts of Africa, the paddies of Korea, the plains of Poland, the steppes of Russia, the pusztas of Hungary, the Bulgarian valleys filled with roses-all excite the greed of German speculators. And every time such a speculator travels over these sparsely cultivated plains, and through their towns which have so little industry, and beside their quiet rivers, his heart bleeds at the spectacle. His imagination tells him how he might extract whole sacks of gold from these untouched riches, how he would bend these uncultivated people under the yoke of his capital. He swears that one day he will carry "civilization," which is what he calls exploitation, into the East. While he waits for this, he will try to impose his merchandise and his railways on Italy, on Austria and on Russia.

- But these countries in their turn are freeing themselves from the economic tutelage of their neighbours. They also are slowly entering the orbit of the "industrial" countries, and their newly born bourgeoisies ask nothing better than to enrich themselves through export. In only a few years Russia and Italy have made a prodigious leap forward in the extension of their industries, and since the peasants, reduced to the blackest of poverty, can buy nothing, it is for export that the Russian, Italian and Austrian industrialists are striving. They need markets now, and as those of Europe are already taken up, it is on Asia and Africa that they are forced to concentrate their efforts, condemned inevitably to come to blows because they have failed to agree on sharing out the spoil.

What alliances could stand firm in such a situation, created by the very character given to industry by those who direct it? The alliance of Germany and Russia is a matter of pure formality; Alexander and William may embrace as much as they choose, but the bourgeoisie emerging in Russia cordially detests the German bourgeoisie, which repays it in the same coin. We remember the general outcry raised in the German press when the Russian government augmented the tariffs by a third. "A war against Russia-say the German bourgeoisie and the workers who follow them-would be even more popular than the war of 1870."

So what? Is not the famous alliance between Germany and Austria also written in sand, and are these two powers-which means their respective bourgeoisies-very far off a serious dispute over tariffs? And those twin siblings, Austria and Hungary, are they not also on the point of declaring a tariff war-their interests being diametrically opposed on the matter of exploiting the southern Slavs? And even France, is it not itself divided on matters of tariffs?

Indeed, you did not want socialism, and you shall have war! You are in for thirty years of war, if the revolution does not put an end to this situation which is as absurd as it is ignoble. But this you must also know. Arbitration, equilibrium, the suppression of permanent armies, disarmament, all are beautiful dreams with no practical meaning. Only the revolution, having put instruments and machines, raw materials and the whole wealth of society in the hands of the worker and reorganized the whole of production so as to satisfy the needs of those who produce everything, can put an end to wars over markets.

Each working for all, and all for each-that is the only condition which can lead to peace among nations, who demand it loudly but are frustrated by those who hold the monopoly of social wealth.

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