The Last War

Peter Kropotkin

“La Derniere Guerre”, Les Temps Nouveaux, 12 June 1897

It is an established fact for Turkey. As we said in our last issue, the war for the annexation of Thessaly was decided upon and paid for in the salons of financiers in London and Paris.

But it is complicated for Greece. There is the Cretan insurrection on the one hand and, on the other, the intervention of the Greek kingdom.

* * *

It is true that in the newspapers of the English Conservative Party and in those of the Triple-Alliance, it is common practice to assert that all the uprisings of the Serbs, Bulgarians, Montenegrins, Armenians and Cretans were artificial movements, bought by Russian rubles.

And, however sad it is to note, it is a fact that in the social-democratic newspapers they have the same language, they follow the same tactics. For that, they make use of any means, and, the other day, it sufficed for that brute Bismarck to hurl that the apostle Paul had already said that the Cretans were liars and thieves for that same biblical argument to be quickly repeated against the Cretans in the columns of a social-democratic newspaper to prevent any sympathy with their insurrection.

* * *

I do not want to seek the causes of this accord now. But what is important to note is that nothing in the very essence of socialism explains this attitude.

First, in all these uprisings of nationalities which were or still are part of the Ottoman Empire there is an economic aspect. For the Serbs, and especially the Bulgarians (as well as the Romanians in 1853-1856), there was the question of serfdom, which existed in Bulgaria until 1878 for the behalf Ottoman landlords. Laveleye has highlighted this fundamental fact in his book on the Balkan peninsula; and we know that up to the present day Bulgarian peasants pay their former Muslim landlords redemption for the abolition of serfdom.

It is very likely that in Crete as well national hatred is complicated by the same land question – as in Ireland – if it is not simply a question of serfdom.

In Armenia, it is indeed the case that the agrarian revolutionary propaganda which was made by some Armenian anarchists amongst Turkish farmers as well as amongst the Armenian peasants – in both languages – found a resonance in the Turkish peasants, in spite of the difference in nationality, as well as amongst the Armenians.

Since there is thus at the bottom an economic question, these uprisings should by now have found sympathy with every sincere socialist, anarchist, unionist or social democrat.

* * *

Furthermore, the revolt of all these nationalities in the East is against the ignominy that each Muslim official (often Armenian, Bulgarian or Greek origin) exercises, as he pleases, towards the population of the Ottoman Empire, especially Christians. Attacks against the life, the person, the modesty of women are the rule.

In addition, every act of personal revolt against these ignominies of the Turkish rulers, and especially every act of collective revolt and more or less general insurrection, is punished by Turkey simply by massacres of entire families, villages, populations.

The soldiery, the police, the Bashi-bazouk or the Kurds receive free rein for massacres, and 30,000 men, women and children in Bulgaria in 1876, 200,000 people in Armenia are massacred after an attempted revolt, as if they were dogs.

It must be a crass ignorance, or to have the bad faith of a Beaconsfield, to deny this fact.

* * *

Thus, the Turkish yoke (of the empire, of course, and not of the Turkish peasants, who everyone depicts with fullest sympathy), the Turkish yoke is not a figure of speech; it is a nightmare that weighs over the ages. It is a constant source of hatred and latent revolt, waiting for the slightest glimmer of hope to become an open rebellion.

This was also the case in Crete. For seventy years rebellion has been constantly there – as in Cuba against Spain, as in Poland against Russia, as in Ireland against England. The least glimmer of hope, the slightest possibility of being supported, or of seeing the Turkish army occupied elsewhere – and rebellion breaks out; bands are formed, the population attacks Turkish forts, the island is in open insurrection.

To treat these insurrections as bribed, in unison with holders of Ottoman funds, is as despicable as saying, for example, that the great insurrections of Poland against Russia in 1799, 1831, and 1863 were paid for by someone.

In 1863, the Poles could count on the support of Napoleon IIII – some probably did. But to dare say that the insurrection was made by Louis Napoleon would be despicable, as it would be despicable to affirm that Chamil was bribed by English money when he took advantage of the Russo-Turkish wars of 1828 and 1853 to try and stir up the Caucasus, and shake off the Russian yoke.

It is the same infamy to assert it about the Armenians. The Armenians could certainly count, in 1895-1896, on support from outside. Some counted, I think, on England, others on Russia – perhaps also on revolutionaries from all countries. But their insurrections sprang from the very force of things – hatreds accumulated for a long time.

The same was true of Crete.

* * *

It is fashionable amongst socialists to say that all these movements do not concern us, that the worker is himself under the yoke and that he does not have to bother himself with others.

First, the yoke of the worker is not comparable to that of oppressed nationalities. If, in addition to the economic yoke that these nationalities are subjected to – ever more brutal still – the European worker was subjected to the yoke suffered by the Armenian, the Cretan, the Pole, and also the Irish, he would have rebelled a long time ago, differently than he rebels today.

If tomorrow ten bosses rape ten female workers in the middle of Paris; if tomorrow they throw the worker – I do not say French or English, but even the German worker – into prison and they cut his throat because he did not want to hand over his daughter to the police officer – and Paris and Berlin would be in full insurrection.

There is something that man cherishes more than bread: it is respect for his personality.

* * *

How then can workers be told that, since they are oppressed themselves, they do not have to be interested in others, oppressed like them and who are in addition forbidden to speak Polish, to wear a green scarf or sing the Emerald Isle [Verte Erin] in the streets of Dublin, or has his throat cut in Turkey when they take away his daughter!

On the contrary, the cause of all the oppressed is dear to the socialist worker.

Doubly dear the cause of the oppressed who revolt against their masters – with or without the element of nationality in addition.

Wherever revolt breaks out, wherever men arm themselves against their exploiters – the other oppressed must be with them. Widen the meaning of their revolt, raise amongst them a flag which represents a higher ideal – without doubt, always! But do not keep quietly aside. Still less decry the revolt because it has not reached the level of the ideal that you think you possess!

* * *

Thus for Crete and all the popular uprisings which we shall yet see – because rebellions, because uprisings, have played such a powerful role in the past to awaken the spirit of revolt and to produce the current socialist movement.

As for the intervention of Greece, that is quite another matter. Here we enter into the intrigues of palaces and diplomats.

Initially, from the very moment when Greece showed that it wished to annex Crete, it was decided in the corridors of the English Parliament that Greece would never have this island.

– But why not, since the inhabitants want it?

– Greece, sir, is bankrupt. It has not been able to pay its share of the Ottoman debt for the annexation of Thessaly. Twice already it has missed the payment of its debt. You understand that we are not going to give it Crete, with the part of the Ottoman debt that would return to the island, when it cannot pay?

That was what was said, affirmed, decided from the beginning, both on the London Stock Exchange and in the corridors of the English Parliament.

The Stock Exchange was unanimous on this point and Salisbury expressed it in his speech: “All our personal sympathies are with the Cretans, but as a minister I am a trusted man (of finance) and I can only fail.” In Parliament there would have been a 300 vote majority against the annexation of Crete by Greece.

* * *

But what has pushed Greece to war?

We were told about the popular fervour – but can we believe it? We know what the demonstrations in the big towns which cry “war!” are worth. We learn today, moreover, that the society Ethnike hetaïria is led by monarchists…

In a people’s war, a thousand men do not desert all at once as they did at Thessaly. And if the war was a popular impulse, Ricciotti Garibaldi, who went there in good faith, would not have telegraphed his brother, Menotti, the following:

– “If possible, do not undertake anything. It would be regrettable that Italian blood was shed again for the comedy that is being played in Greece, to the detriment of the people and of humanity.” (Telegram published by the Messagero, of Rome)

Yes, it was staged. But by whom?

By the king, firstly, to save his dynasty. Unpopular, detested, he made “his war,” like Eugenie.

But would he have launched it if he did not believe it was supported?

This seems very unlikely; and then we wonder: On whom was he counting? Who was pushing him to war?

My opinion – absolutely personal and based on inductions rather than on facts – is that the Greek king was pushed by Italy, which acted on behalf of England. I think that England’s goal was to seize Crete as well as other islands (Chios, Rhodes, etc.) by a swift attack – and to remain there. Greece, defeated, crushed, as it was to be, with an army of fifty thousand men against a hundred thousand Turks – and the Russian know what Turkish troops are worth – England would take possession of these islands, and established itself on the great commercial route of the future – from Salonica to the Suez Canal.

The plan having failed, it is now satisfied with an autonomous principality in Crete, with some relative of the Queen appointed prince. The “plan” will be for later.

What then could socialists do in such a bedlam?

* * *

When Greece launched its troops into the island of Crete, against all the rules of international law, it rendered a service to humanity.

It was an act of rebellion which for the two hundred thousand Cretans who will be freed from Ottoman rule was of immense importance. We only regret that, instead of [Timoleon] Vassos, it was not bands of socialist and revolutionary volunteers who landed on the island. These would have done better.

But from the moment when the Greco-Turkism war started, the role of the revolutionary ended. The whole thing passed into the hands of the brigands of diplomacy.

* * *

However, the Crete revolt is not the last in the series of national revolts. We shall see many more – and hope that socialists of every shade will not let them pass in indifference; that they will see popular uprisings, to which we – especially anarchists – can bring our revolutionary fervour, and whose scope we can broaden.

During the Polish insurrection, two parties were present: the monarchical, landlord, aristocratic, catholic party and revolutionary, popular, anti-landlord party, from which later emerged Dombrowski and Wroblewski of the Commune. The monarchist party was the most numerous, it got the upper hand – and Poland was bled white by the Russian Tsar.

But it is not to say that it will always be the same. We very much hope that in the next revolution in Poland the revolutionary, egalitarian and socialist people will get the upper hand. In any case, we will help with our forces and then who knows whether regenerated Poland will not become one of the strongholds of the social revolution.