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Resistance To War

Resistance To War
by Andrew Flood

Although you wouldn't know it from the media, anti-war demonstrations have been growing in size right across the world. But the number attending the demonstrations are still only a fraction of those who oppose the war, perhaps because many believe there is nothing we can do. This is because the history of successful resistance to war has been deeply buried by the ruling class.

The most obvious example of this is the First World War. The war ended in 1918 not because of a military defeat of one side or another. The generals would have been happy enough to spend another couple of years killing millions to achieve this. It ended because the various armies and peoples of Europe took action against the war.

Most people know that Russia left the war in 1917 because of the Russian revolution. A key factor in this revolution was that the workers and peasants of Russia had turned against the war and their own ruling class. What is not so widely known is that also in 1917 there were enormous mutinies in the French armies in Europe and smaller but still significant ones in the British army.

The key mutiny that ended the war was the rising of the sailors of the German fleet at Kiel in 1918. In a desperate last bid to change the balance of the war the High Command ordered the mostly undamaged fleet to sea. But the sailors underground organisations which included anarchist sailors were prepared for this. They responded by electing councils, taking over their ships and the surrounding ports and barracks. This sparked off a wave of military mutinies and working class strikes that panicked the ruling classes of not just Germany but all of Europe into sitting down and drawing up a peace treaty.

Probably the most militant rising in an imperialist country against an imperialist war in the 'third world' was the 'Tragic Week' which began on Monday 26 July 1909 in Catalonia (the North Eastern region of the Spanish state). The union, Solidarad Obrero (Workers Solidarity), led by a committee of anarchists and socialists, called a general strike against the call-up of the mainly working class army reservists for the colonial war in Morocco. "By Tuesday, workers were in control of Barcelona, troop trains had been halted, trams overturned, communications cut and barricades erected. By Thursday, fighting broke out with government forces, and over 150 workers were killed in the street fighting.

The reservists were embittered by disastrous previous colonial campaigns in Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, but the Tragic Week must be understood as an anti-imperialist uprising situated within a long tradition of anarchist anti-imperialism in Spain. The "refusal of the Catalonian reservists to serve in the war against the Riff mountaineers of Morocco," "one of the most significant" events of modern times, reflected the common perception that the war was fought purely in the interests of the Riff mine-owners, and that conscription was "a deliberate act of class warfare and exploitation from the centre."

In 1911, the newly founded, anarcho-syndicalist, National Confederation of Labour (CNT), successor to Solidarad Obrero, marked its birth with a general strike on the 16 September in support of two demands: defence of the strikers at Bilbao and opposition to the war in Morocco."*

Mutinies were rarer in the Second World War because many ordinary people accepted that this was a war against fascism. However there were small mutinies in the British army and RAF, in which there was anarchist involvement, when towards the end of the war, they were deployed in Greece to put down the communist dominated partisan movement there.

In an article published in the Armed Forces Journal (June 7, 1971), Marine Colonel Robert Heinl, wrote: "Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non commissioned officers..". By 1972 roughly 300 anti-war and anti-military newspapers, with names like Harass the Brass, All Hands Abandon Ship and Star Spangled Bummer had been put out by members of the US military. **

At the start of a war the national governments often receive a huge boost in popularity, in particular when the war is perceived as just. But as the war goes on and both the reality of war and the real agenda behind it is revealed the mood can change. War is a time when the state seeks to mobilise the people, in uniform and out behind its agenda. We need to help turn this mobilisation around and direct it at the real enemies.

Andrew Flood

* Quote from Lucien van der Walt in article at