British Anarchism Succumbs to War Fever

‘The Volunteers’, woodcut on paper by Käthe Kollwitz (1921–2)

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that we’ve published a lot of posts listing readings looking at various aspects of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It should be pretty clear from the readings we’ve published and the commentaries we’ve written accompanying each of these posts that we’re anti-imperialists.

Regular readers of these posts will also have noted that to date, hardly any of the readings we’ve featured have been written from an anarchist perspective. To put it bluntly, as anti-imperialists, we’ve found very little from the anarchist movement that remotely chimes with our perspectives.

There are however, exceptions to this. The post by Alex Alder we feature below is one honourable exception. It was first publish by and has subsequently be re-published by the Anarchist Communist Group. have published a number of pieces on the conflict which can be accessed here: Russia-Ukraine war. These pieces don’t always chime with each other and there are times where they contradict each other. So, fair play to for publishing this particular piece…

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A polemic against the wave of militarism seen across the anarchist movement in Britain since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Author – Alex Alder

Everyone is against war in the abstract – even the arms industry executives can tell themselves that they are merely providing for defence and global order, deterring war in doing so. But when war breaks out the sentiment is made irrelevant. Peace-loving or not, war is here, and you are either with your nation, your people, or against them. Peace will come with victory. In any case, your side is the righteous cause, because you fight for freedom and justice, for democracy and stability, because your enemy were the aggressors, and tyrants and devils to boot. The bloodshed is so easily sanctified.

Anarchism cuts right through such mystification. We say it as we see it: the workers of different nations are sent to slaughter each other in the interests of their rulers. Anti-militarism is a core principle of anarchism. We understand armies to be a violent force underwriting political authority (or those who would conquer it). We point to the role of military force in suppressing uprisings and strikes at home, while imposing national interests, enforcing capitalist markets, and ruling colonies abroad. Military research and production is a highly profitable investment of private capital and public funds, not least as a subsidised source of technological development (for the purposes of social control and generating profit). We consider how the military system of strict hierarchy and discipline, alongside its culture of chauvinism and othering, breaks down the human character and reshapes it to the needs of those in command.

So how is it that today the anarchist movement in Britain (and elsewhere) is supporting one nation’s military against another, ideologically justifying and materially provisioning the Ukrainian war effort? Are we seeing something altogether new that would lead us to question and revise our principles? No. We are seeing the same tragedy brought upon the people of the region as we have seen time after time. Our anti-militarist, internationalist, and revolutionary perspective is as vital as ever. At this present stage, the struggle for liberation is caught in the no-man’s-land between imperialist invasion on the one side, and national defence (backed by an opposing imperialism) on the other. To seek purpose in either trench would be just more fuel in the furnace of capitalist warfare; it would mean allegiance to the state against anarchy.

National Defence and Anti-Imperialism

From the long-standing anarchist paper Freedom and anarcho-communist Anarchist Federation (AFed), to the anarchist “scene” around antifascist and other activist groups, war fever is rife. At first this involved cheerleading for the so-called ‘Anti-authoritarian Platoon’, a unit of the Territorial Defence made up of anarchists and antifascists, among others. Participation in military structures was explained by the need to defend themselves, and softened by a narrative of independent popular resistance. But the reality was quite different. The Territorial Defence Forces are the reserve force of the Ukrainian military, subject to its command structure. There is no question of autonomy. A member of the Anti-authoritarian Platoon observed that in their unit “there [was] normal military hierarchy with section commanders and platoon commander subordinate to higher military officers.” Other anarchists and antifascists joined the regular army. Rhetoric aside, this means collaboration in the national defence by joining the state military, one way or another.

That some people choose to join or support the military defence of the nation in which they reside when threatened by imperialist domination is understandable and I do not judge anyone making such difficult choices. But it is not anarchism – it is not compatible with anarchist ideas or practices. No one lives up to their ideals in everything they do, but these compromises and contradictions should be accepted as such, not assimilated into our theory and practice such that in turn our movement is assimilated into the society of capital and state.

You can read the rest of this piece here

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