About Revolutionaries and Armies | The anarchist library
Until the end of the 19and century, in a number of the largest and most influential powers, the army had been a kind of hard work where an ordinary man, a soldier, could count only on his survival. Powers, privileges and career opportunities were in the hands of commanders, treating soldiers as supplies. The only exceptions being the forces of the countries in which the revolution had won.
Thus, volunteers entered the army of the first French Republic en masse, for ideological reasons. The military patriotism of the time gave the once disenfranchised French people the opportunity to make an independent decision and count on its fruits.
The old empires had only been able to attract the favors of the patriates around the 20and century, but far from all social groups. The German Empire could count, for example, on patriotic high school students, ready to rush towards the fatherland in the trenches. In the Russian Empire, students of military schools died joyfully for their faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland. The ideological heir to the Empire — the White Movement — and all so-called “Voluntaria”.
The 20th century revolutions that destroyed the old order in continental Europe made true military patriotism possible. After 20 years, every schoolboy and every hard worker in Nazi Germany could count on the elation of his soldier’s coat disguise. From now on, the soldier is no longer a despised piece of meat, which must burn for the monarchy, but an honorary accomplice of the social project.
It is characteristic that fascist and revolutionary armies have much in common in their ideology and aesthetics. Here and there, ordinary soldiers, accompanied by futuristic ideas, were right to imagine themselves, if not supermen, then at least men of the highest level.
The same, but less radical, processes took place in the armies of older states. Thus, at the start of the Second World War, volunteerism and the notion of civic duty had permeated the military ideology of the United States and Great Britain. In today’s world, involuntary participation in the armed forces of developed countries is an exception, and most wars are fought with the highest motivation of the parties’ personnel.
The old ideas of military duty as the highest act of senseless patriotism and the desire of soldiers to disperse at the first opportunity are now a thing of the past. Of course, this cannot be said for everyone when talking about the armies of developing countries.
For example, in the modern Ukrainian army all military epochs are present. In the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine there are both volunteers and patriots, as well as professionals and careerists, and conscripts mobilized against their will. There are cases of both high military motivation and complete demoralization and desertion. More than once the Ukrainian servicemen perished, knowing that they had nothing to hope for, and more than once ran towards the enemy to surrender.
Ukrainian military ideology in its state and civilian versions is very heterogeneous and can seduce each category of the population in its own way. The liberals see the army as a chance to defend the achievements of the revolution, the nationalists — to affirm the self-determination of the Ukrainians, etc. Leftists also have their own interest in the ranks of the army – those who have remained faithful to the ideals of freedom and the class approach in political analysis, and have not chosen the side of Russian imperial militarism in the terror of the “fascist junta” and “imperialist conspiracy.”
Those who saw in the failure of the bourgeois revolution of Maidan the opportunity to rescue society from the clutches of post-Soviet “nepotistic capitalism”, devouring the state and corruption, consider the armed resistance of Russian aggression, military and partisan training, participation in reserve parts of the army as a means of standing in this war on the side of progress.
There are also anarchists involved, despite the stereotypical image of scum unsuited to military discipline. Historically, anarchists have always opposed armies and wars. But it must be understood that at the time of the formation of anarchist ideas, the armies were the servants of the empires, which fought for the ambitions of their elite. Soldiers recruited from the poorer strata of society were oppressed threefold: as disenfranchised and exploited workers, as representatives of colonized peoples, and as cannon fodder. But there were exceptions – the wars of national liberation (for example, Italian), which had wide support among anarchists.
The uprising of the Paris Commune, which had regular forces, and the civil war in the former Russian Empire had already occurred with the most active participation of the anarchists, who acted as one of the leading forces. The Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine was relevant to anarchist goals and values - a military organization in its own right, despite all the Soviet stereotypes about a drunken mob of marines and bandits.
Then there was the Spanish Civil War, where tens of thousands rose up for the protection of the anarchist order in a number of regions. There were anarchists in World War II and in the ranks of the French Resistance.
The logical conclusion is that anarchists are not against military organization, but against the goals set by the aggressor state, the imperial state and the humiliating elements of military discipline that are still present in the armies of almost all country of the world.
The anarchist military ideal is volunteerism, the training of troops on a territorial basis, the defensive and/or liberating principle of their work, mutual trust and respect between soldiers and commanders, the general awareness of the objectives, the risks and consequences of military operations.
However, the anarchists are ready to accept the faults of the army if they act on the side of the weak and oppressed (a word for those who believe in fairy tales: the armies of the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, surpassing in finesse the military equipment and the regularity of its supply of the Ukrainian army, are neither weak nor liberating).
The history of anarchism is full of militaristic moods and participation in armed conflicts. However, after the First World War, the attitude of anarchists towards war seriously changed. A number of ideologues who rightly regard the past armed crisis as an infernal meat grinder, have come to the conclusion that wars should be abandoned because, according to Max Nettlau, “people’s most anti-social and anti-anarchic actions”. The same author, frightened us with the horrors of future conflicts, even more cruel and deadly, “which will be carried out with the help of poisonous gases and the mass extermination of the population”, came to deny the participation of anarchists in the war on principle.
Nettlau saw in the motivation of the military, even anarchists, exclusively patriotism and work for the state. His anti-war doctrinal text “What anarchists should do in case of war”, written in 1931, although denying the performance on the side of the strong, still did not foresee the confrontation with fascism, when the Spanish anarchists began so “ treacherously” support the Republic against the far-right rebels of Francisco Franco. The outcome of the Second World War, which proved the harmfulness of the pacifist policy that allowed the crimes of the Third Reich and its allies to occur, proved that the motive for participation in a war can be much broader. that patriotic and state.
The new conflicts do not fit into the usual doctrinal framework of anarchist rejection of war. In the 20th century, wars ceased to be a contest of empires, not very different from each other. Since then, armed conflicts have evolved in the direction of a confrontation between legal systems, worldviews and social projects.
The vulgar anarchist anti-war agenda, equating the Kurdish liberation nationalism of Rozhava with the cannibalistic ferocity of the Islamic State, is a stark example of a misunderstanding of what is happening in the world. Much the same can be said of the attitude of many anarchists to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, in which they saw “the interests of the oligarchic elites”, and not an imperial attempt to suppress social and political development in the Ancient colony.
Ukraine is not the best country in the world, but in the face of the lack of freedom, repression and obscurantism of the prison state called the Russian Federation, it becomes clear that there is something to protect in this war.
How is it that at 21st century, have anarchists fallen into the idea that war is not a given thing to deal with, but a kind of metaphysical category or a “delusional” choice in a role-playing game? Why did the anarchists of imperialist states, waging war for the retention of oppressed peoples, not take their side?
How can anarchists in all countries of the world hope for a liberating revolution if they are not able to oppose, in any form, armies ready to pounce on the collapsing neighboring state? ? Revolutionaries must keep this in mind and whenever they make a decision about insurrection, ask themselves: “What did we do not to be strangled, like newborn kittens?”