Neither East Nor West

Neither east nor west

In the next installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss how in the aftermath of the Second World War, confronted by the “cold war” between the United States and the Soviet Union, anarchists attempted to maintain an independent position that refused any compromise with either power block. Marie Louise Berneri’s slogan, “Neither East Nor West,” was clearly meant to echo the 19th century anarchist battle cry, “Neither God Nor Master.” One of the more interesting attempts to mark out an independent path for anarchist movements was made by the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation, which developed a conception of an interlocking network of organizations that anticipated the notion of “horizontal federations” articulated by Colin Ward and other anarchists in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian anarchist movement was crushed by the Stalinists when they turned Bulgaria into a Soviet client state.

anarchist communism

Neither East Nor West

After the Second World War, despite the “Cold War” between the Soviet Union and the United States, anarchists sought to keep alive their libertarian vision of a free and equal society in which every individual is able to flourish. Marie Louise Berneri coined the phrase, “Neither East nor West,” signifying anarchist opposition to all power blocs (Volume Two, Selection 10). Anarchists continued to oppose colonialism and the imperialist expansion of the Soviet and American empires (Volume Two, Selections 8, 9, 28, 29 & 31).

Due to their opposition to both dominant power blocs, during the Cold War organized anarchist movements faced almost insurmountable obstacles, similar to the situation faced by the Spanish anarchists during the Revolution and Civil War. In Bulgaria, there was a significant pre-war anarchist communist movement which reemerged briefly after the defeat of Nazi Germany, but which was quickly suppressed by their Soviet “liberators.” The Bulgarian anarchists repudiated fascism as an “attempt to restore absolutism [and] autocracy… with the aim of defending the economic and spiritual dominance of the privileged classes.” They rejected “political democracy” (representative government) because “its social foundations [are] based on the centralized State and capitalism,” resulting in “chaos, contradictions and crime.” As for State socialism, “it leads to State capitalism—the most monstrous form of economic exploitation and oppression, and of total domination of social and individual freedom” (Volume Two, Selection 7).

The program of the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation is noteworthy today for its emphasis on anarchist federalism as “a dense and complex network” of village communities, regional communes, productive enterprises, trade unions, distribution networks and consumer organizations that would be “grouped in a general confederation of exchange and consumption for satisfying the needs of all inhabitants” (Volume Two, Selection 7). Such network forms of organization mark an advance over the “inverse pyramid” structure that had long been advocated by anarcho-syndicalists, which was much more prone to being transformed into a more conventional, hierarchical form of organization during times of crisis, as in Spain. By the early 1950s, many anarcho-syndicalists were advocating similar horizontal networks based on factory councils and community assemblies, resembling a “honeycomb,” as Philip Sansom put it, in which “all the cells are of equal importance and fit into each other,” instead of control being “maintained from the centre” (Volume Two, Selection 58).

Within their own organizations, the Bulgarian anarchist communists advocated a form of consensus decision-making. However, while “the decision of the majority is not binding on the minority,” in practice “the minority generally rallies to the decision of the majority,” after the majority has had an opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of its position. Thus, while the minority was not bound to follow the decisions of the majority, the majority was not prevented from acting in accordance with its own views, such that the minority could not assume de facto authority over the majority by refusing to agree with the majority decision, as sometimes happens under other forms of consensus decision-making. The Bulgarian anarchist communists recognized that in broader based mass organizations that were not specifically anarchist in orientation, majority rule would generally prevail, but even then “the minority may be freed from the obligation to apply a general decision, on condition that it does not prevent the execution of such a decision” (Volume Two, Selection 7). In this regard, their position is remarkably similar to that of contemporary advocates of participatory democracy, such as Carole Pateman (1985: 159-162; see also Graham, 1996), and anarchist advocates of various forms of direct democracy (Volume Three, Chapter 2).

Robert Graham

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Anarchism at the Beginning of the Second World War

English anarchist anti-war cartoon (1945)

English anarchist anti-war cartoon (1945)

In this installment from “the Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist responses to the death and destruction wrought by the Second World War.

Anti-Militarist Poster

Anti-Militarist Poster

Facing the War

At the beginning of the Second World War, a group of anarchists in Geneva wrote that it is “an indispensable right, without which all other rights are mere illusions”, that “no one should be required to kill others or to expose themselves to being killed.” For them, the “worst form of disorder is not anarchy,” as critics of anarchism claim, “but war, which is the highest expression of authority” (Volume Two, Selection 3). That expression of authority was to result in the loss of tens of millions of lives in Europe and Asia during the next six years, culminating in the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. As Marie Louise Berneri remarked, anarchist acts of violence pale in comparison. A single bombing raid “kills more men, women and children than have been killed in the whole history, true or invented, of anarchist bombs.” When Italian anarchists tried to assassinate Mussolini, they were denounced as terrorists, but when “whole cities” are rubbed “off the map” as part of the war effort, reducing “whole populations to starvation, with its resulting scourge of epidemics and disease all over the world,” the workers “are asked to rejoice in this wholesale destruction from which there is no escaping” (Volume Two, Selection 4).

When anarchists resort to violence, they are held criminally responsible, and their beliefs denounced as the cause. When government forces engage in the wholesale destruction of war, no one (at least among the victors) is held responsible, belief in authority is not seen as the cause, and the very nation states which brought about the conflict are supposed to bring, as Marie Louise Berneri remarked, “peace and order… with their bombs” (Volume Two, Selection 4).

In response to the comments of a U.S. Army sergeant surveying a bombed out area in Germany that in “modern war there are crimes not criminals… Murder has been mechanized and rendered impersonal,” Paul Goodman wrote that “it is ridiculous to say that the crime cannot be imputed or that any one commits it without intent or in ignorance… The steps [the individual] takes to habituation and unconsciousness are crimes which entail every subsequent evil of enslavement and mass-murder” (Volume Two, Selection 11).

Alex Comfort noted that modern bureaucratic societies “have removed at least one of the most important bars to delinquent action by legislators and their executive, in the creation of a legislature which can enact its fantasies without witnessing their effects, and an executive which abdicates all responsibility for what it does in response to superior orders.” The “individual citizen contributes to [this] chiefly by obedience and lack of conscious or effective protest” (Volume Two, Selection 26). Comfort argued that the individual, by making “himself sufficiently numerous and combative,” can render the modern state impotent “by his withdrawal from delinquent attitudes,” undermining “the social support they receive” and the power of the authorities “whose policies are imposed upon society only through [individual] acquiescence or co-operation” (Volume Two, Selection 26).

At the beginning of the war, Emma Goldman had written that the “State and the political and economic institutions it supports can exist only by fashioning the individual to their particular purpose; training him to respect ‘law and order’; teaching him obedience, submission and unquestioning faith in the wisdom and justice of government; above all, loyal service and complete self-sacrifice when the State commands it, as in war.” For her, “true liberation, individual and collective, lies in [the individual’s] emancipation from authority and from belief in it” (Volume Two, Selection 2).

Herbert Read held a similar position, but focused on the role of modern education in creating a submissive populace, much had Francisco Ferrer before him (Volume One, Selection 65). Through the education system, “everything personal, everything which is the expression of individual perceptions and feelings, is either neglected, or subordinated to some conception of normality, of social convention, of correctness.” Read therefore advocated libertarian education, emphasizing the creative process and “education through art” (1943), arguing that it “is only in so far as we liberate” children, “shoots not yet stunted or distorted by an environment of hatred and injustice, that we can expect to make any enduring change in society” (Volume Two, Selection 36).

Paul Goodman described the school system as “compulsory mis-education” (1964), which perpetuated a society in which youth are “growing up absurd” (1960). His friend Ivan Illich was later to advocate “deschooling society” as a way of combating the commodification of social life, where everything, and everybody, becomes a commodity to be consumed (Volume Two, Selection 73). By the 1960s and 1970s, people were again experimenting in libertarian education (Volume Two, Selection 46), something which anarchists had been advocating since the time of William Godwin.

Robert Graham

Paul Goodman quote-humankind-is-innocent-loving-and-creative-you-dig-it-s-the-bureaucracies-that-create-paul-goodman-37-35-71

Against Intervention in Syria: An Anarchist Perspective

us-syria-strike-.si

As the United States prepares to take military action in Syria, one is reminded of Marie Louise Berneri’s comments, reproduced in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, regarding the allied bombing of Italy during World War Two. An anarchist exile from Mussolini’s fascist Italy, Berneri was nevertheless very much opposed to the allied bombing, by which Italy would be “liberated” by blowing its people and infrastructure to pieces. She noted that the Italian workers were fighting against fascism, just as many people today are fighting against the Assad regime in Syria, writing that:

“The Italian workers have shown that, in spite of twenty years of fascist oppression, they knew better where their class interests lay. They have refused to be willing tools in the hands of the bosses. They have gone on strike, have sabotaged war industry, have cut telephone wires and disorganized transport. What is the answer of Democratic Britain to their struggle against fascism? Bombing and more bombing. The Allies have asked the Italian people to weaken Mussolini’s war machine, and we now take advantage of their weakness to bomb them to bits.”

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Below, I reproduce a recent interview between Joshua Stephens and Syrian blogger and activist, Nader Atassi. One of the themes of the interview is the need to go beyond seeing the conflict in Syria in binary terms (Assad/Russia v. Islamists/USA), much as Berneri argued in the aftermath of World War Two, at the start of the Cold War, “Neither East Nor West!”

syria-protest-facebook

Syrian Anarchist Challenges the Rebel-Regime Binary View of Resistance

Introduction by Joshua Stephens

As the US intensifies its push for military intervention in Syria, virtually the only narrative available swings from the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad to the role of Islamist elements within the resistance. Further, where dissent with the US position appears, much of it hinges on the contradiction of providing support for Al Qaeda-linked entities seeking to topple the regime, as though they represent the only countervailing force to the existing dictatorship. But as Jay Cassano recently wrote for tech magazine Fast Company, the network of unarmed, democratic resistance to Assad’s regime is rich and varied, representing a vast web of local political initiatives, arts-based coalitions, human rights organizations, nonviolence groups and more (the Syria Nonviolence Movement created an online, interactive map to demonstrate this intricate network of connections. http://www.fastcolabs.com/3016532/this-interactive-infographic-shows-the-depth-of-the-syrian-resistance).

Meanwhile, the writing and dispatches of Syrian anarchists have been enormously influential in other Arab struggles, with anarchists tortured to death in Assad’s prisons memorialized in the writings of Palestinians, and at demonstrations for Palestinian political prisoners held in Israel. Two key features of this unfolding [of events] warrant close attention: the manner in which anarchists in the Arab world are increasingly staging critiques and interventions that upend the contradictions held up as justification for US foreign policy, and the ongoing conversations between anti-authoritarian movements in the Arab world that bypass and remain unmediated by Western reference points. Whether Syrian anarchists’ insistence on self-determination as a central organizing principle can withstand the immediate reality of violence or the leverage of foreign interests remains an open question.

Nader Atassi is a Syrian political researcher and writer originally from Homs, currently living between the United States and Beirut. He runs the blog Darth Nader, reflecting on events within the Syrian revolution. I talked him into chatting about its anarchist traces, and the prospect of US intervention.

Syrian Students Protest the Situations in Gaza and Syria

Syrian Students Protest the Situations in Gaza and Syria

J.S.: Anarchists have been both active in and writing from the Syrian revolution since the get-go. Do you have any sense of what sort of activity was happening prior? Were there influential threads that generated a Syrian articulation of anarchism?

N.A.: Due to the authoritarian nature of the Syrian regime, there was always very little space to operate before the revolution began. However, in terms of anarchism in the Arab world, many of the most prominent voices were Syrian. Despite there being no organizing that was explicitly “anarchist,” Syrian bloggers and writers with anarchist influences were becoming increasingly prominent in the “scene” in the last decade or so. Mazen Kamalmaz is a Syrian anarchist who has written a lot over the last few years. His writings contain a lot of anarchist theory applied to contemporary situations, and he was a prominent voice in Arab anarchism long before the uprising began. He’s written a good deal in Arabic, and recently gave a talk in a cafe in Cairo titled “What is Anarchism?”

In terms of organizing, the situation was different however. In the tough political landscape of an authoritarian regime, many had to get creative and exploit openings they saw in order to organize any type of movement, and this led to a de facto decentralized mode of organizing. For example, student movements erupted in Syrian universities during the second Palestinian intifada and the Iraq War. This was a type of popular discontent that the regime tolerated. Marches were organized to protest the Iraq War, or in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada. Although many members of the mukhabarat infiltrated those movements and monitored them closely, this was a purely spontaneous eruption on the part of the students. And although the students were well aware how closely they were being watched (apparently, mukhabarat used to follow the marches with a notepad, writing down what slogans were being chanted and being written on signs), they used this little political space they were given to operate in order to gradually address domestic issues within the regime-sanctioned protests about foreign issues.

One of the most daring episodes I’ve heard of is when students at Aleppo University, in a protest against the Iraq War, raised signs with the slogan “No to the Emergency Law” (Syria has been under Emergency Law since 1963). Such actions were unheard of at the time. Many of the students who spontaneously emerged as charismatic organizers from within those protests before the uprising began disappearing very early on in the current uprising. The regime was wary of those activist networks that were created as a result of those previous movements and thus immediately cracked down on those peaceful activists that it knew may be a threat to them (and at the same time, it became more lenient with the jihadi networks, releasing hundreds of them from prison in late 2011).

Aleppo University, as it so happens, has a very well-known student movement in favour of the uprising, so much so that it has been dubbed “University of the Revolution.” The regime would later target the university, killing many students in the School of Architecture.

Freedom for the Syrians

Freedom for the Syrians

J.S.: You recently wrote on your blog about possible US intervention as a sort of corollary to Iranian and Russian intervention on behalf of Assad, and Islamist intervention in revolutionary movements. Much as with Egypt recently, anarchists seem something of signature voice against two unsatisfactory poles within mainstream coverage – a voice preoccupied with self-determination. Is that a fair understanding?

N.A.: Yes, I believe it is, but I would clarify a few things, as well. In the case of Syria, there are many who fit that description; not only anarchists, but Trotskyists, Marxists, leftists, and even some liberals. Also, this iteration of self-determination is based on autonomy and decentralization, not Wilsonian notions of “one people” with some kind of nationalist, centralized self-determination. It is about Syrians being able to determine their own destinies not in the nationalist sense, but in the micro-political sense. So for example, Syrian self-determination doesn’t mean one track which all the Syrians follow, but each person determining their own track, without others interfering. So Syrian Kurds, for example, also have the right to full self-determination in this conception, rather than forcing them into an arbitrary Syrian identity and saying that all the people that fall under this identity have one destiny.

And when we talk about parties, such as the regime, but also its foreign allies, and the jihadis who are against Syrian self-determination – this is not because there is one narrative of Syrian self-determination and jihadis are against it. Rather, they want to impose their own narrative on everyone else. The regime works and has always worked against Syrian self-determination because it holds all political power and refuses to share it. The Islamists work against Syrian self-determination not by virtue of them being Islamists (which is why a lot of liberals oppose them), but because they have a vision of how society should function, and want to forcefully impose that on others whether those people consent to it or not. This is against Syrian self-determination, as well. The allies of the Assad regime, Iran, Russia and various foreign militias, are against Syrian self-determination because they are determined to prop up this regime due to the fact that they’ve decided their geopolitical interests supersede Syrians deciding their destiny for themselves.

So yes, the mainstream coverage always tries to portray people as belonging to some kind of binary. But the Syrian revolution erupted as people demanding self-determination from the one party that was denying it to them: the regime of Bashar al Assad. As time passed, other actors came onto the scene who also denied Syrians their self-determination, even some who fought against the regime. But the position was never simply to be against the regime for the sake of being against the regime, just as I presume that in Egypt, our comrades’ position is not being against the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] for the sake of being against the Ikhwan. The regime took self-determination away from the people, and any removal of the regime that results in replacing it with someone else who will dominate Syrians should not be seen as a success. As in Egypt, when the Ikhwan came to power, those who considered them an affront to the revolution, even if they weren’t felool [Mubarak loyalists], kept repeating the slogan “al thawra mustamera” [“the revolution continues”]. So too will it be in Syria if, after the regime is gone, a party comes to power that also denies Syrians their right to determine their own destiny.

darth nader

J.S.: When I interviewed Mohammed Bamyeh this year, he talked about Syria as a really interesting example of anarchism being a driving methodology on the ground. He pointed out that when one hears about organization within the Syrian revolution, one hears about committees and forms that are quite horizontal and autonomous. His suggestion seems borne out by what people like Budour Hassan have brought to light, documenting the life and work of Omar Aziz. Do you see that influence in what your comrades are doing and reporting?

N.A.: Yes, this comes back to how anarchism should be seen as a set of practices rather than an ideology. Much of the organizing within the Syrian uprising has had an anarchistic approach, even if not explicit. There is the work that the martyr Omar Aziz contributed to the emergence of the local councils, which Tahrir-ICN and Budour Hassan have documented very well. Essentially these councils were conceived by Aziz as organizations where self-governance and mutual aid could flourish. I believe Omar’s vision did breathe life into the way local councils operate, although it is worth noting that the councils have stopped short of self-governance, opting instead for focusing on media and aid efforts. But they still operate based on principles of mutual aid, cooperation and consensus.

The city of Yabroud, halfway between Damascus and Homs, is the Syrian uprising’s commune. Also a model of sectarian coexistence, with a large Christian population living in the city, Yabroud has become a model of autonomy and self-governance in Syria. After the regime security forces withdrew from Yabroud in order for Assad to concentrate elsewhere, residents stepped in to fill the vacuum, declaring “we are now organizing all the aspects of the city life by ourselves.” From decorating the city to renaming the school “Freedom School,” Yabroud is certainly what many Syrians, myself included, hope life after Assad will look like. Other areas controlled by reactionary jihadis paint a potentially grimmer picture of the future, but nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that there are alternatives. There’s also a hardcore network of activists located all over the country, but mainly in Damascus, called the “Syrian Revolutionary Youth.” They’re a secretive organization, and they hold extremely daring protests, oftentimes in the very center of regime-controlled Damascus, wearing masks and carrying signs and flags of the Syrian revolution – often accompanied with Kurdish flags (another taboo in Syria).

In the city of Darayya in the suburbs of Damascus, where the regime has waged a vicious battle ever since it fell to rebels in November 2012, some residents have decided to come together and create a newspaper in the midst of all the fighting, called Enab Baladi (meaning Local Grapes, as Darayya is famous for its grapes). Their paper focuses both on what is happening locally in Darayya and what is happening in the rest of Syria. It’s printed and distributed for free throughout the city. [The] principles [of] self-governance, autonomy, mutual aid and cooperation are present in a lot of the organizations within the uprising. The organizations that operate according to some of those principles obviously don’t comprise the totality of the uprising. There are reactionary elements, sectarian elements, imperialist elements. But we’ve heard about that a lot, haven’t we? There are people doing great work based on sound principles who deserve our support.

Enab Baladi

Enab Baladi

J.S.: How do you think US intervention would ultimately affect the makeup or dynamics of the revolution?

N.A.: I think, in general, intervention has affected the uprising very negatively, and I think US intervention won’t be any different. But I think how this specific intervention will ultimately affect the makeup or dynamics of the revolution depends on the specific scope of the US strikes. If the US strikes the way they are saying they are going to, that is, “punitive,” “limited,” “surgical,” “symbolic” strikes, then this won’t leave any significant changes on the battlefield. It may, however, give the Assad regime a propaganda victory, as then it can claim that it was “steadfast against US imperialism.” Dictators who survive wars against them have a tendency to declare victories simply on the basis of surviving, even if in reality they were on the losing side. After Saddam Hussein was driven out of Kuwait by the US, Saudi Arabia and others, he remained in power for 12 more years, 12 years that were filled with propaganda about how Saddam remained steadfast during “the mother of all battles.”

If the strikes end up being tougher than what is currently being discussed, for one reason or another, and they do make a significant change on the battlefield, or do significantly weaken the Assad regime, then I think the potential negative effects will be different. I think this will lead to a future Syrians won’t have a hand in determining. The US may not like Assad, but they have many times expressed that they believe that regime institutions should remain intact in order to ensure stability in a future Syria. In short, as many have noted, the US wants “Assadism without Assad.” They want the regime without the figure of Assad, just like what they got in Egypt, when Mubarak stepped down but the “deep state” of the military remained, and just like what happened in Yemen where the US negotiated for the president to step down but for everything to remain largely the same. The problem with this is Syrians chanted, “The People Demand the Downfall of the Regime,” not just Assad. There is consensus across the board, from US to Russia to Iran, that no matter what happens in Syria, regime institutions should remain intact. The same institutions that were built by the dictatorship. The same institutions that plundered Syria and provoked the popular discontent that started this uprising. The same institutions that are merely the remnants of French colonialism. Everyone in Syria knows that the US’s preferred candidates for leadership roles in any future Syria are those Syrians who were part of the regime and then defected: Ba’athist bureaucrats turned neoliberal technocrats turned “defectors.” These are the people the US would have rule Syria.

Syrians have already sacrificed so much. They have paid the highest price for their demands. I don’t want all that to go to waste. In the haste to get rid of Assad, the symbol of the regime, I hope the regime is not preserved. Syria deserves better than a bunch of ragtag institutions and a bureaucracy built by dictators who wished to keep the Syrian people under control and pacified. There should be no reason to preserve institutions that have participated in the looting of the country and the killing of the people. And knowing that that’s what the US desires for Syria, I reject any direct involvement by the US. If the US wants to help, it can start by using diplomacy to talk to Russia and Iran and convince them to stop the war so that Syrians themselves can determine what is the next course of action. But US intervening directly is outsiders determining the next stage for Syrians, something I believe should be rejected.

J.S.: What can folks outside of Syria do to provide support?

N.A.: For people outside, it’s tough. In terms of material support, there’s very little that can be done. The only thing that I can think of that’s possible on a large scale is discursive/intellectual support. The left has been very hostile to the Syrian uprising, treating the worst elements of anti-regime activity as if they are the only elements of it, and accepting regime narratives at face value. What I’d ask people to do is to help set that record straight and show that there are elements of the Syrian uprising that are worth supporting. Help break that harmful binary that the decision is between Assad or Al Qaeda, or Assad and US imperialism. Be fair to the history and sacrifices of the Syrian people by giving an accurate account. Perhaps it’s too late, and the hegemonic narratives are too powerful in the present to overcome. But if people start now, maybe the history books can at least be fair.

Syrian Anarcha-Feminist Movement

Syrian Anarcha-Feminist Movement

The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1944-1958)

In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, subtitled The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977), I document the remarkable resurgence of anarchist ideas and action following the tragic defeat of the Spanish anarchists in the Spanish Revolution and Civil War,  and the mass carnage of the Second World War. I have now created a special webpage with additional writings from many of the people who were responsible for that resurgence. Herbert Read, Marie Louise Berneri, Paul Goodman, David Wieck, Daniel Guérin, Alex Comfort and the Noir et Rouge group in France were among those who made anarchism relevant again, despite its critics’ attempts to consign it to the dustbin of history.

The Emergence of the New Anarchism: Marie Louise Berneri

In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, subtitled The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977), I included three selections from Marie Louise Berneri (1918-1949), the talented anarchist journalist and writer. Berneri was born in Italy, one of the daughters of Camillo Berneri and Giovanna Berneri, prominent anarchists at the forefront of the struggle against fascism. They were forced to flee Italy in 1926. Marie Louise went to university in France, where she worked with Louis Mercier Vega (I included excerpts from Mercier Vega’s 1970 essay, “Yesterday’s Society and Today’s,” in Volume Two as Selections 45 & 66). In May 1937, Camillo Berneri was murdered in Spain, probably by Stalinist agents. Marie Louise ended up in England, where she campaigned on behalf of the Spanish anarchists and helped revitalize the English anarchist movement. She wrote prolifically for the English anarchist papers, Spain and the World, then War Commentary, then Freedom. After her untimely death in 1949, a collection of her articles was published under the title, Neither East Nor West (1952), emphasizing the anarchist rejection of the false Cold War dichotomy posed by the ideologists of the capitalist West and the Communist East, and the need for an anarchist alternative. The following excerpts are from her 1944 essay, “By Fire and Sword,” later included in the chapter in Neither East Nor West on the “price of war,” from which I reproduced additional extracts in Volume Two of the Anarchism anthology as Selection 4. I also included in Volume Two of Anarchism – The Emergence of the New Anarchism, excerpts from her study of literary utopias, Journey Through Utopia (1949), as Selection 15, and her 1945 article, “Wilhelm Reich and the Sexual Revolution,” as Selection 75.

THE PRICE OF WAR: BY FIRE AND SWORD

Paris 1944

IN THE PREFACE to the Baedeker for Paris and its surroundings, published in 1881, one finds a description of the “most deplorable recent disasters caused by the fiendish proceedings of the Communists during the second ‘reign of Terror,’ 20th-28th May, 1871.” According to the writer, “Within that week of horrors no fewer than twenty-two important public buildings and monuments were wholly or partly destroyed, and a similar fate overtook seven railway stations, the four principal public parks and gardens, and hundreds of dwelling- houses and other buildings.”

If Baron Karl Baedeker would have had to write a preface to a guide to Paris in the years which will follow the present war he would probably have had to record far more “fiendish” proceedings on the parts of the retreating German army and the victorious bulldozing, all-levelling armies of “liberation”. There will be a difference, however; the scars that Paris, like the other French towns of Caen, Cherbourg and many more will wear will be noble scars of which the French people will be asked to be proud, and it is doubtful if they will receive slighting references, such as those levelled at the Commune, by the generations of guide-writers to come.

It is the privilege of revolutions that the acts of violence to which they give rise have always received the utmost publicity in newspapers, history books, novels, plays, films… and even travellers’ books. The horrors of war are forgotten or are glorified for the benefit of tourists, like the ruins of Verdun. But everything conspires to keep alive in people’s minds the acts of violence which have taken place during revolutions. Ask any French schoolboy what was the most bloody period in the history of France and he will most probably mention the period of the Terror during the French Revolution. A few thousand people were killed during that period, a small number compared with the Napoleonic wars; an infinitesimal figure compared with the casualties in the war of 1914-1918. Yet the French school boy will know all about the horrors of the French Revolution, the killing of priests and nobles, the death in captivity of Louis the Sixteenth’s heir and the beheading of Marie-Antoinette. But he will know nothing about the million dead of the First World War and the hundreds of thousands of children who died of starvation and disease as a result of it.

Revolutions spell wholesale murder and destruction not only to schoolchildren. How many times have experienced socialist politicians and learned Fabian professors advocated submission and compromise with the ruling class by waving the spectre of bloody revolution in front of the misguided masses? It was with tears in his eyes that Leon Blum asked the French people not to intervene in the Spanish revolution. It was in order to “spare lives” that he watched one of the most splendid revolutionary movements suffocated and allowed the Fascist powers to gain military experience to fight a world war. Of course, when the present war started, Leon Blum forgot all his sensitive love for humanity and urged French people to go to the massacre. As everyone knows revolutions are bloody affairs but to die wholesale for the motherland is called supreme and sublime sacrifice, so that in these cases death does not really count.

One can easily prophesy that after this war there will still be those people to talk about the horrors of the Commune and of the shooting of fascists, capitalists and priests in Spain. But the bombing of Hamburg, Paris and London; the bombardment of Caen; the sinking of troopships; the death in the skies of thousands of young men; the starvation and pestilence devastating scores of countries: these will all be classified as necessary evils, unavoidable curses which humanity must be proud to endure. Revolutionists once again will be considered bloodthirsty fellows who had better be kept locked up and if the choice between war and revolution again presents itself, Christians, socialists and communists no doubt will, on humanitarian grounds, again choose war.