Anarchism, militarism and the lessons of the First World War
Matthew S. Adams
As his political thinking matured against the backdrop of the Spanish Revolution and the post-war decades that seemed to herald 'the long-expected death of the capitalist system', Herbert Read began to reassess his involvement in the First World War. What emerged was an anarchistic reading of his military life that offered a novel model of socialist militarism, one that looked to small-group 'fidelity' as an abiding lesson of the war, rather than the power of collectivism. Read argued that he remained committed to the 'broad basic principles of socialism', and noted that his anarchism developed during the war years. He also argued that fidelity was a 'social virtue', and was thereby 'inculcated, not by precept, but by example and habit'. The bonds of reciprocity and mutual support that made life in combat endurable could similarly under-pin a society organised horizontally, but in neither situation would they exist without conscious nurturing.
Anti-militarism is today an unquestioned mainstay of anarchism. This book presents a systematic analysis of anarchist responses to the First World War. It examines the interventionist debate between Peter Kropotkin and Errico Malatesta which split the anarchist movement in 1914. The controversy revolved around conflicting interpretations of the shared ideas of internationalism and anti-militarism. The book analyses the debates conducted in European and American movements about class, nationalism, pacifism and cultural resistance. Just as Kropotkin's position was coherent with his anarchist beliefs, it was also a product of his rejection of the main assumptions of the peace politics of his day. Malatesta's dispute with Kropotkin provides a focus for the anti-interventionist campaigns he fought internationally. Contributions discuss the justness of war, non-violence and pacifism, anti-colonialism, pro-feminist perspectives on war and the potency of myths about the war and revolution for the reframing of radical politics in the 1920s and beyond. The collaboration between the Swiss-based anarchists and the Indian nationalists suggests that Bertoni's group was not impervious to collaboration with groups whose ideological tenets may have been in tension with the ideology of anarchism. During the First World War, American anarchists emphasised the positive, constructive aspects of revolutionary violence by aestheticising it as an outgrowth of individual creativity. Divisions about the war and the experience of being caught on the wrong side of the Bolshevik Revolution encouraged anarchists to reaffirm their deeply-held rejection of vanguard socialism and develop new strategies on anti-war activities.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book looks closely at the bitter dispute over intervention between two of European anarchism's most important figures, both marooned in British exile, Peter Kropotkin and Errico Malatesta, which split the global anarchist movement in 1914. It examines the politics of internationalism and anti-militarism in order to explain this division and consider how it contributed to the reshaping of post-war anarchist politics. The book shows how the combination of war and revolution brought well-honed anarchist conceptions of violence, state power and mutual aid into sharp relief, stimulating new approaches to resistance, transformation and social relationships that were shaped by anti-militarism. Antimilitarists were divided in their ethical responses to war. Some linked anti-militarism to pacifism while others, like Karl Liebknecht, called for the creation of a citizen army.