“The Anarchist International and the War.”
(The London Manifesto of February 1915)
Europe in flames, a dozen million of men at loggerheads in the most frightful butchery in recorded history, millions of women and children in tears, the economic, intellectual and moral life of seven great peoples brutally suspended, the threat of further military complications every day more serious – such is, since seven months, the dismal, harrowing, odious spectacle offered by the civilized world.
But this spectacle was expected, by anarchists at any rate. For there never has been, nor is there, any doubt – today’s horrific events reinforce this confidence – that war is permanently gestating within the present social organism and that armed conflict, be it restricted or generalized, colonial or European, that it is the natural consequence and the necessary and fatal outcome of a regime based upon the economic inequality of the citizens, that relies upon the savage antagonism of interests, and that places the world of labor under the narrow, painful dependency on a minority of parasites who hold both political power and economic might.
The war was inevitable; from whatever quarter it came, it simply had to break out. It has not been in vain that the most formidable armaments have been feverishly prepared for during half a century, and that, first of all, the death budgets have swollen every day. By constantly perfecting the war material, by continually gearing all minds and every will towards the best organization of the military machine, one does not work for peace.
Likewise it is naive and puerile, once the causes and the occasions of conflicts have been multiplied, to try to attribute the responsibilities to this or that government. No distinction is possible between offensive wars and defensive wars. In the present conflict, the governments in Berlin and Vienna have justified themselves by producing documents every bit as authentic as those produced by the governments in Paris, London and Petrograd. It is up to whomever on each side will produce the most indisputable and the most telling documents to establish his good faith and to present himself as the immaculate defender of right and liberty, as the champion of civilization.
Civilization? Who stands for that at the moment? Is it the German State with its redoubtable militarism, so powerful that it has stifled every vestige of rebellion? Is it the Russian State, whose only methods of persuasion are the knout, the gibbet and Siberia? Is it the French State, with Biribi, (1) its bloody conquests in Tonkin, Madagascar, Morocco, with the forcible recruitment of black troops; France whose prisons have housed, for years, comrades whose only crime was to have written and spoken out against war? Is it England, that exploits, divides, starves, and oppresses the populations of its huge colonial empire?
No. None of the belligerents has the right to lay claim to civilization, just as none of them is entitled to claim legitimate self-defense.
The truth is that the origin of wars, of the war currently bloodying the plains of Europe, just like all the ones that went before it, exclusively resides in the existence of the State, which is the political form of privilege.
The State is born of military might; it has grown through recourse to military might, and, logically, it is upon military might that it must rely if it is to maintain its omnipotence. Whatever the form it may assume, the State is merely oppression organized for the benefit of a privileged minority. The present conflict offers a striking illustration of this: all forms of the state are embroiled in the present war – absolutism is represented by Russia; absolutism mitigated by parliamentarism, by Germany; a State ruling over peoples of very different races, by Austria; constitutional democracy by England and the democratic republican system by France.
The misfortune of the peoples, who were nevertheless all deeply committed to peace, is that they trusted in the State with its scheming diplomats, in democracy and in the political parties (even the opposition parties, like the parliamentary socialists) to avert war. That trust was deliberately abused and continues to be abused when those in government, with the help of the whole of their press, persuade their respective peoples that this war is a war of liberation.
We are determinedly against any war between peoples, and, in the neutral countries, like Italy, where those in government are seeking once again to push more peoples into the furnace of war, our comrades have opposed, oppose and always will oppose war with every force they possess.
The role of the anarchists in the present tragedy, whatever the place or the situation they find themselves in, is to carry on proclaiming that there is but one war of liberation: the one waged in every country by the oppressed against the oppressors, by the exploited against the exploiters. Our role is to summon the slaves to revolt against their masters.
Anarchist propaganda and anarchist action should set about with perseverance to weaken and disaggregate the various States, to cultivate the spirit of rebellion and act as midwife to the discontent in the peoples and in the armies.
To every soldier from every country convinced that he is fighting for justice and freedom, we must explain that their heroism and their valor will serve only to perpetuate hatred, tyranny and misery.
To the factory workers, we must be a reminder that the rifles they now hold in their hands have been used against them during strikes and legitimate revolts, and will again be deployed against them later to force them to submit to the bosses’ exploitation.
We have to show the peasants that after the war they will once again have to bend beneath the yoke and carry on working their masters’ land and feeding the rich.
All of the outcasts must be shown that they should not lay down their weapons until they have settled scores with their oppressors and taken the land and the factory for their own.
To mothers, sweethearts and daughters, the victims of overwhelming misery and deprivation, let us demonstrate who really bears the responsibility for their grief and for the carnage of their fathers, sons and spouses.
We must take advantage of every stirring of rebellion, every discontent in order to foment insurrection, to organize the revolution to which we look for the ending of all of society’s iniquities.
No loss of heart, even in the face of a calamity such as the present war!
It is in such troubled times, when thousands of men are heroically giving their lives for an idea, that we must show such men the generosity, grandeur and beauty of the anarchist ideal; social justice achieved through the free organization of producers; war and militarism suppressed forever, complete freedom won through the utter demolition of the State and its agencies of coercion.
Long live Anarchy!
Leonard D. Abbott, Alexander Berkman, L. Bertoni, L. Bersani, G. Bernard, A. Bernardo, G. Barrett, E. Boudot, A. Calzitta, Joseph J. Cohen, Henry Combes, Nestor Ciele van Diepen, F.W. Dunn, Ch. Frigerio, Emma Goldman, V. Garcia, Hippolyte Havel, T.H. Keell, Harry Kelly, J. Lemaire, E. Malatesta, A. Marquez, F. Domela Nieuwenhuis, Noel Paravich, E. Recchioni, G. Rijnders, I. Rochtchine, A. Savioli, A. Schapiro, William Shatoff, V.J.C. Schermerhorn, C. Trombetti, P. Vallina, G. Vignati, L. G. Woolf, S. Yanovsky.
London,  February 1915.
We ask the anarchist press of all countries to well reproduce or translate this manifesto, which is published in German, English and French only.
Translation: Jac. Johanson, July 1, 2022.
Source: ‘L’Internationale Anarchiste et la Guerre.’ Londres, Février 1915. (facsimile scan)
1“Biribi is an unofficial term that designates (…) a group of discipline companies and penitentiary establishments that were stationed in North Africa, then a French colony, and intended to receive the refractory or undisciplined soldiers of the French army. In these prisons, the soldiers performed forced labor under a very harsh regime. Its name derives from the game of chance Biribi, imported from Italy to France at the beginning of the 18th Century.” (Wikipedia, French)