Anti-militarism and Revolution

Peter Kropotkin

“Anti-Militarisme et Révolution”, Les Temps Nouveaux, 28 October 1905 and 4 November 1905


A press incident forces me to talk about myself. During my recent brief stay in Paris at Les Temps Nouveaux, we had a lively discussion amongst comrades and friends on antimilitarist propaganda.

Needless to say, I consider propaganda and action against militarism and war in general an absolute necessity. We must make this propaganda and action internationally as much as possible, and within every nation separately.

But I pointed out to friends, we would be on the wrong track, and we would be spreading an idea that is not right in preaching the conscripts strike at times “of war”, and saying that, since the worker has no country, he should be uninterested in the defence of France.

We should not understand our propaganda in a wrong manner. If France is invaded by some military power, the duty of revolutionaries is not to fold their arms and allow the invader free rein. It is to begin the social revolution, and to defend the territory of the revolution, to continue it. The phrase “conscript strike” does not say enough. It has the disadvantage of being silent on the essential purpose of propaganda, and it gives rise to misinterpretations. It says nothing about the revolution, and says nothing about the necessity in which revolutionaries will be placed – that of defending, arms in hand, every inch of the French territory that has carried out the revolution against the bourgeois and imperialist hordes of German, English and perhaps Russian invaders. Are these hordes better than those of Versailles?

This necessity must be recognised even today. We must not deny the possibility of this, as was the done on the eve of 1870. We must prepare the mind of the French people for it. To those who preach respect for the army we must reply: “Only the people revolted against its leaders and exploiters will defend the soil of France. The army – whether it performs miracles of valour – will be heavily outnumbered. Revolution, popular war, war by the peasant who has regained the soil, is the only weapon France can oppose to the coalitions of bourgeoisie, ready to launch their obedient flocks – see the recent speeches by Bebel – against the nation which produced 1793, 1848 and 1871, and which prepares a new, social, revolution.”

* * *

The echo of this conversation reached the Parisian press. The Temps included an article by M. Mille, in which the author gave, via hearsay, some garbled passages of our conversation, and as he left out what I had said about revolution he obviously travestied its meaning. Other journals went further in the same direction.

That is why I sent a letter to the Temps, in which I set out my ideas on militarism. As it has not appeared yet, I am forced to wait until the next issue to reproduce it.


Here is the corrective letter sent by our friend Kropotkin to the newspaper the Temps and which the editor of the major daily newspaper kept in his files – we wonder why? – for more than eight days without publishing it.

Mister Editor

I have just read in your October 19 issue an article by Mr. Mille entitled; Esquisses d’après Nature : Pierre Kropotkine. Allow me to address some inaccuracies.

M. Mille reproduces some remarks from a conversation on antimilitarism which he did not attend but which he heard of in Paris. I am sure he does so with the best of Intentions of being accurate; but, by giving only a few comments from this conversation, he completely distorts its meaning.

Yes, I said:

– I am sixty-two years of age, I am not sentimental towards France, I have been condemned to imprisonment there, I am still subject to an expulsion order… Well, if France were invaded by the Germans, I would regret one thing. It is that with my sixtieth year passed, I would probably not have the strength to pick up a gun to defend it… Not as a soldier of the bourgeoisie, of course, but as a soldier of the Revolution, in the free legions of revolutionaries, similar to those of the Garibaldians and the guerrillas of 1871.

Make the Revolution and race to the frontiers, that is the essence of the opinions I expressed in this conversation, and the sentence I have just quoted and which struck Mr. Mille was the conclusion.

Since you were kind enough to mention my ideas on anti-militarism, you will allow me to clarify them, will you not?

When I see how easily rulers throw people into dreadful wars, undertaken in the interest of the bourgeoisie and since I know with what unpardonable levity the rulers of France – on an insignificant promise made by an English imperialist minister – have recently been on the point of throwing France into a war which it would have come out of, perhaps, with a crushing worse than that of 1871, I understand the necessity of a strenuous antimilitarist propaganda, fearlessly made by workers. And I fully understand that the French workers, the vanguard of the working class of the whole world, should take the initiative, without knowing exactly how far they will be followed by the German workers.

– But, I said, in the conversation which Mr. Mille provided you a passage, the conscripts strike at the moment when war is declared is not the right way. The strike is good for neutral nations. When two States go to war, the workers of the neutral nations should completely refuse all work used to fuel the war. This was the campaign which we had to conduct during the last Russo-Japanese war.

But if the Germans invade France, as they will doubtless do, at the head of a powerful coalition and forcing the hands of the small neighbouring States (Belgium, Switzerland) then the conscripts strike will not suffice. We must do as did the sans-culottes of 1792 when they established in their sections the revolutionary Commune of August 10th, overthrew royalty and the aristocracy, raised the forced levy on the rich, compelled the Legislative to make the first effective decrees on the abolition of feudal rights and recovery by the peasants of communal lands, and marched to defend the soil of France while also continuing the Revolution. This is also what Bakunin and his friends tried to do at Lyon and Marseilles in 1871.

The only effective barrier to oppose a German invasion will be the people’s war, the Revolution. That is what we must anticipate and openly proclaim today.

Yes, I also said that France marched at the forefront of other nations. And that is true. Not as an intellectual, artistic or industrial culture, for in these the leading European nations and the United States are marching together, and if one of them takes the lead in one direction, it is overtaken in another. But France marches at the head of other nations in the path of social revolution. It is because it made 1789-93, because it had 1848, and it planted a milestone in 1871, while Germany has not yet finished abolishing its feudal regime, England made its great revolution just to conquer the political and religious liberty of the individual without demolishing feudal property, and Russia is still in 1788-89.

Under these conditions, a new crushing of France would be a misfortune for civilisation. The triumph of the German centralised military State in 1871 gave Europe thirty years of reaction, and to France it gave the cult of the military, Boulangism, the Dreyfus affair, and the halting – I will say more: the oblivion for thirty years of all the socialist development which was taking place towards the end of the Empire.

It is because I have experienced the social and intellectual reaction of the last thirty years that I think that antimilitarists of all nations should defend every country invaded by a military State and too weak to defend itself; but above all, when it is invaded by a coalition of bourgeois powers which especially hate in the French people its role as vanguard of the social revolution.

Here, sir, are the ideas which I have developed during the conversation which Mr. Mille has engaged your readers.

To finish, allow me to raise some inaccuracies of a personal nature in Mr. Mille’s article.

I am pleased to contradict Mr. Mille in that my wife has not died, and Mr. Mille, if he came to Bromley – only, please, not as a reporter – would find her pretty much such as he saw her at Acton. And, for my part, Mr. Mille not only makes me commit a pretty large error of fact (sentenced to five year’s imprisonment, we served only three), but he also attributes to me in connection with this imprisonment language which I would never have spoken. I ignore the comments that Mr. Mille attributes me concerning reporters: it is too personal.

Thank you in advance, accept, Mister, etc.

Peter Kropotkin