Fritz Oerter: Violence or non-violence?

Before the horrors of the First World War and the violence unleashed by the new, post-war German republic against the revolution of 1919-20, the anarchist-syndicalist Fritz Oerter made an impassioned defence of what he called “non-violent socialism”.

If for some on the “left”, including anarchists, this is a “disastrous theory”, Oerter’s 1920 pamphlet Violence or Non-violence? merits far greater consideration than such scorn implies.

Distinguishing between “violence” and “power”, Oerter argues that the former is not only incompatible with socialism – for it is the fundamental instrument of political and economic oppression under capitalism –, it also creates and shapes subjectivities that quickly resort to violence in any situation of frustrated desires, both politically and beyond.

For Oerter, violence is a poison that threatens to permeate any society, at all levels, if it becomes habitual. And for Oerter, it had become a habit. Indeed, it was so much so that the working classes themselves and their supposed political representatives could only imagine freedom from exploitation as resulting from the violent appropriation of state power from the capitalists. But at the same time, this very same habit engendered a culture of violence which rendered the working classes susceptible to political manipulation from above. Violence comes to be perceived as politically and socially cleansing. It does not take a great deal of imagination to see how such a culture would feed German fascism.

If socialism is meaningful as a political project, it is because it identifies justice and equality and peace as one. These cannot be served with the instruments of injustice and inequality, of which violence is an intrinsic part.

In opposition to political “violence”, Oerter espouses economic “power”, that is, it is the task of the working classes to withdraw or retreat from capitalist labour, to refuse to contribute to the reproduction of capitalist social relations, creating alternative economic-social relations. What Oerter understands by power is the potentiality to live autonomously, in freedom and equality. “Power”, in this sense, is not domination, but the capacity to create social life collectively. And for Oerter, this would only be possible in a generalised culture of non-violent solidarity.

Oerter recognised that his destituent socialism – the expression is not his – would provoke a violent response from the ruling classes. He believed however that such violence would only create further conditions for the spread of socialism. And this, some would say, perhaps even many, is naive.

But then Oerter’s naivety is that of someone who believed that justice was possible, but that it depended on a passion, an enthusiasm for justice, born by a story of universal emancipation that he called “non-violent socialism”.

The cynical “left” of our time seems to have fallen back on “national” solutions, with patinas of social-democracy, or even more radical forms of autarky, imagining a freedom of splendid isolation. Both are illusory. Against nationalist and centralising sovereignty, Oerter opposed federalism and against political oppression, he opposed economic solidarity, what Pierre-Joseph Proudhon imagined under the concept of mutualism and what Peter Kropotkin called mutual aid. If we take the concepts of the economy and the working class as broadly as possible, then we are given a picture of socialism in which everyone jointly cares for our common home.

If we may criticise Oerter for anything, it is perhaps in his belief, however implicit, in moral progress. He could not fathom a paralyzing pessimism and even in the darkest of moments, some kind of hope remains.

He wrote, in this regard, that when “an epoch allows itself to wallow in violent and bloody practices, a moment of saturation, an aversion, a sudden disruption of the spirit, occurs, turning it in another direction, sometimes the opposite. We have the right to hope that this disruption will also occur in our epoch.” We can excuse the use of the expression here of “the right to hope” and endeavour to consider the meaning of these words a little further.

In the brilliant documentary film The Faces of War, dedicated to the effort of two visual artists Edik Boghosian and Areg Balayan to register and condemn the violence of war – in this case, among Armenians who were wounded in the recent, multiple military confrontations between Armenia and Azerbaijan –, two testimonials perhaps allow us to understand Oerter’s “hope”.

This war awakened me. As a human being, you have no value there. You’re not recognised as a specialist, as Areg, the father of a family. In other words, all the attributes that characterise you gradually start disappearing. And this continues until you are completely empty, just like when you were born. You become nothing. If it hadn’t happened, I mean, if you hadn’t become nothing, you wouldn’t even understand that …, that too much nothing is everything. I am grateful that I experienced that nothingness and I touched it with the tip of my nose, which had the highest price.

Based on my own experience, I keep saying that war is a bit better than peace. Wherever I say this, it disturbs people. But when I explain what I mean, that say: That’s true. … I see it this way: Doesn’t war bring out the best in people? You wouldn’t give a glass of water to a dying person in times of peace. Because you’re suspicious of others, you don’t want the stranger to harm you. You pretend to be blind and walk ahead. You share your piece of bread with a stranger in war time. So, what now? Is war worse than peace?

Perhaps Oerter’s hope lies in this, that in the darkest moments of human experience, we discover that we are nothing, that all of us are nothing, like newborn children, and that in this shared fragility, we turn to each other as equals.


Violence or non-violence? (1920)[1]

Fritz Oerter

The essence of violence and its means

Each person knows violence in two ways, passively and actively. One experiences it when it is suffered, but also when it is exercised. If I accept some pressure or a constraint from outside and therefore feel myself forced to commit certain acts or certain actions that I did not originally intend, I submit to a violence that dominates me from the outside and which compels me in what I do and equally in what I abstain from doing. However, if it is I myself who exercise pressure or a constraint on someone else with the aim that they do what they would not do or do not do, and what they would abstain from doing willingly and freely, it would be me who exercises violence.

To suffer violence or to be oneself violent can become a habit. And today, it has become a habit. This corresponds to the shortcomings of the human being which are that those who suffer the greatest violence are also those who have a greater tendency to exercise violence against another. A human being is humiliated when they suffer violence, but they lower themselves even further when they exercise it. And this contention can be generalised. It is undoubtedly humiliating that human beings remain under the yoke of domination by custom, even when they could easily liberate themselves and even when the whip that forced them to bear the humiliation of the vanquished no longer exists. There is however no humiliation when they prefer to suffer violence, and even death, rather than to act against their convictions or to allow themselves to be carried away by villainous actions. It is on the contrary rather honourable.

The terms “violence” and “power” are often confused, however they do not mean the same thing. In everyday language, superficially and loosely, these terms are not adequately distinguished. 

“Power” is something that animates our spirit, something that makes our convictions shift and influences our emotions such that we move towards the “power” of our own will, while violence demands followers and an unwilling obedience.

Epochs are more or less violent, but everyone who has exercised violence has encountered resistance. Devoured by their passion, they have increased their pressure, while evidently, against it, violent resistance has in the same way intensified. What called for a new increase in violence, with the other side promptly responding to it – until the exhaustion of the two enemies, after excesses and abominable exactions. It is, in a way, a perpetual movement, that is a mechanism that reproduces its own driving force.

Currently, the furore of the diabolical mechanism seems to be reaching its summit. The Jews once worshipped a golden calf; today, people fetishise the machine of violence – however disturbing – that carries within it destruction and death.

It is possible to distinguish between direct and indirect violence.

The first includes bladed weapons, missile weapons and firearms, as well as all of the instruments which human beings use to attack, hit, wound and exterminate their fellows.

By indirect violence – no less cruel –, we understand persecutions, imprisonment, ostracism, wage dumping, etc., in sum, all of the acts that can intimidate the conscience, annihilate courage and silence human beings. All state institutions are designed to oppress since capitalism, which governs through the intermediary of the state, is an executioner of peoples, the incarnation of death and of violence in all of its most abject forms: the courts of law and the Church, school and education, the police and the army; all of the institutions that serve not life and fraternal community, but violence. Capitalism destroys all that has been gained through community and the aspiration towards justice that is inseparable from equality. It severs all ties and divides human beings, it practices armed robbery, it enslaves and deceives.

The war unleashed by the capitalists for the pursuit of their global expansion and the brutality of the repression which they have demonstrated during the revolution [Germany 1918-1919], which they joyfully crushed, confirmed the level of savagery and cruelty of which they were capable. They only know destruction and, furthermore, display an unbelievable foolishness by inflicting enormous damage on their own system.

It should be possible to imagine that a human life is something sacred. However, today, the life of the individual is more threatened, more in perdition, more put to the test than in all preceding epochs. Never have human beings been so bitter, so ferocious and so mad against their fellows than during the First World War and the professed revolution that followed; never have they caused each other such appalling and incommensurable suffering; never has there reigned, as a consequence, so much illness, poverty, misery and famine: the assistants of death; the latter has never be so sovereign as today.

Yet it would be too simple and too unjust to look for those responsible for the violence exclusively among the elites of society, among the sovereigns, the wealthy, the holders of power. The system of violence has poisoned everything; and the world of the worker has been equally gravely stricken by the poison. There is then the desire to return the evil against those who inflicted it on the working class. However, it is not only against capitalism – the political and economic enemy – that one rebels against. Arms are often also taken up against – and this must be said, sadly! – one’s very brother, one’s comrade.

And in private life, what happens? Well, there those who display indignation during a political meeting against the violence of the ruling classes and who, as often occurs, return home to beat their wives and children.

Before the war, violence already reigned, of course, but it was not so widespread; alongside it, the influences of culture and a peaceful life could be deployed. Today, violence exercises its power in the interior of each person in two ways: it oppresses and, at the same time, makes the oppressed and oppressor. A monstrous nightmare has invaded the whole of society.

Centralism and nationalism

After the troubles of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), there begins in Europe the construction of authoritarian nation-states. This development was certainly interrupted for a time by the French Revolution, which was able at times to express cosmopolitan tendencies. Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie in power knew how to become even more centralist and nationalist than the older feudalism, while at the same time developing the spirit of capitalism which spread throughout the whole of Europe.

The development of nation-states, which set out on an ever more rigorous centralisation, was pursued during the 19th century until the establishment of the six great European powers – England, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy – who had the pretension to decide the destiny of the world. The smaller states were absorbed by the larger ones, or they were obliged to bind themselves to them, while losing their federative character.

A feverish cupidity was the most visible mark of capitalism. The development of the capitalist states described above did not unfold without frequent tensions and without violent shocks. Meanwhile, however, other great capitalist states were born elsewhere, states which also wanted to exercise their influence. Parallel to industrialisation, the concentration of military and political force also increased. The rapacious cupidity that constitutes the essence of capitalism pushed the different states to permanently expand their ascendancy over the world, claiming greater and greater outlets, appropriating more and more spheres of profit and cultivating competition between them. It is thus the age of imperialism, that is, the tendency to dominate the entire planet. This mad cupidity and violence which led the capitalist states and the coalitions of states to the First World War – and which so overwhelmed Europe – are therefore in no way comparable to the historical epoch [before the advent of centralised states] of the migration of peoples. This violence engendered excesses rarely seen on earth before, illustrating the full cruelty of the Ancient Testament’s “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, which contrasts so strangely with the conciliatory and non-violent tendencies of the New Testament.

Throughout the First World War, on both sides, millions and millions of men accepted to use machines of violence and instruments of death, wounding and killing each other. Millions of peaceful beings, who during their lives had never had the thought to do evil, transformed themselves, on the order of governments, into bloodthirsty brutes committing countless terrifying and unimaginable acts. With what result? The vanquished suffer their defeat, the vanquisher, their victory; and European society, which before the war was tied by numerous relations of reciprocity and good neighbourliness, was emptied of all its blood.

Of course, those who suffered the most from the war and its consequences were the labouring classes who, incomprehensibly, allowed themselves to be wielded by both sides as instruments of violence, when socialist beliefs were dominant on one side and the other. There is a great bitterness in the obligation to say this, but we hope that the socialist proletariat of Europe will never allow itself again to be harnessed to the chariot of international war by capitalist governments, by these funereal forces; that they not permit themselves, on either side, to put into motion the cursed chariot again.

Violence does not only play a role in foreign politics, but also in domestic politics. Whoever wishes to take political power must want and construct, in some sense, a kind of militarism. A state’s political power can only be taken by violence and held by violence. Consequently, centralism and violence are bound to each other.

In the different European countries, socialism steered workers uniquely towards political struggle and constructed its organisations according to a statist model, that is, centralist. It should therefore not be surprising that in working class milieus the faith in violence remains ever present. Many believe that no concrete goal can be reached without violence. After this war, where violence weighed so heavily and where the spirit no longer counted for anything, in a world still in arms and in which blood continues to flow freely, such confusion is comprehensible. It is therefore now necessary to work towards a better understanding, to say that it is not centralisation – still always extolled in a disturbing way by nationalism and still always devastating for all internationalists –, but federalism, which is the characteristic par excellence of the workers struggle. Furthermore, it must be affirmed that it is not political power, but economic power, that will be the goal sought for by revolutionary workers. This goal can only be attained by economic struggle and not by violence.

These claims, which we hope will quickly become the shared knowledge of the world’s proletariat, are not however here stated so as to diminish the brave individuals who risked their lives in the violent revolutionary struggles of the past. Their motivations were noble and just, even as they followed from a failure of reasoning which we no longer share. We only hope that today’s militants have the same courage and the same audacity in the economic and direct actions of the future, for there as well, the spirit of resistance will face hard demands.

The madness of violence

Even if at first sight it is not possible to completely escape all and every form of violence, our words for the future will nevertheless be clear: We, at least, will no longer exercise violence, neither in war, nor in the course of a revolution, nor during the moments of political or economic peace. No agent provocateur, no informer, but equally, no constraint or pressure from on high or from below will oblige us to take up arms against anyone who, like us, has a human face.

War is nothing but a confrontation between states under the worst of conditions. We are adversaries of the stupidity of armed struggle, as we are the adversaries of militarism and war. The abominable experiences of the First World War have reinforced us in these convictions. And, now, should we stop halfway and justify class war when we condemn war between nations? Is it reasonable, on a terrain that is theirs and which they know better than we – capital’s war –, to be distracted from our path by our adversaries? Should we take up arms which they know how to use better than we do, since they have trained with them for such a long time? It is a mistake to think that that which reinforces the adversary will reinforce us as well.

Whether violence comes from below or from on high, in either case, its victory will always result in the same thing, a violent dictatorship.

In the confrontation between different violent organisations, the best armed, the most disciplined and the best coordinated, will always triumph. In most cases, that will be the dominant class which has available to it a well trained army and better weaponry. However, if by surprise or by an exceptional stroke of luck a revolutionary party triumphs, that will not mean that it truly has power. One should not deceive oneself: the revolutionary spirit can never be replaced by the organisation of violence.             

Culture and solidarity are two inseparable values; violence’s only effect is to destroy and undermine culture. No one will recognise any cultural expression during periods of devastation and war. On the contrary, the high grounds of human culture have always shown, in daily life, social dispositions generative of peace. Beware a culture where the soldierly brute, symbol of the law of the strongest and of violence, prevails over the bearers of the spirit of solidarity, hunted by their predators! In fighting – regardless of the goal –, the armed combatant endeavours first and foremost to suppress and annihilate the adversary. The use of arms, the permanent exercise of combat and insecurity, together they all lead soldiers in the long run and even among the best of them to brutishness and to a taste for cruelty. At the end of combat, a soldier has forgotten the aim of his struggle, even if the initial intention was social. The abuse of arms belongs to the very essence and system of violence.

It must always be thought that the bullet of a red soldier is as stupid as the bullet of a white soldier. Socialism cannot be constructed by means of a machine gun. A culture rendered fragile cannot be fortified by violence; another, of better quality, can also not be created through violence; and the deep significance of the cultural movement of humanity has as its goal to increasingly neutralise human violence and reach out towards the resolution of conflicts by dialogue until complete peace is attained. Those who, like Alexander the Great, want to resolve matters by the sword will be sorely disappointed.

Law and right

In order to maintain indefinitely its reign of violence, capitalism shelters under the institution of laws by means of a battery of legal articles and clauses which no one is permitted to violate or break without thereby being ensnared by them.

Since time immemorial, human beings have created usages as well as rules, adapted to their changing conditions of life, with the aim of facilitating their relations of exchange. Human beings accordingly transformed themselves by means of conventions forever being polished over time. However, from the time social contradictions between peoples gained form, when a rift between those who possess and those who have nothing, between the privileged and the disadvantaged, was institutionalised, these customs and laws became institutions of violence. Equality and justice are synonymous terms. Without equality, there is no justice, and the inverse. But, here then, it is a matter of trying to perpetuate unjust conditions, conditions that humanity should already have freed itself from. From this perspective, justice must be re-evaluated.  The worker and the dispossessed are no longer the creatures of custom and usage; they are but things to be abused by a legislation which is foreign to them.

Injustice is despised, even when it shows itself in the form of an honourable custom. Any form of violence which holds us in an indignant dependency, even when attired in the robes of the law, is repulsive. The basis of the law is social equality and when the latter is not fulfilled, there can only be privilege on the one side and constraints and violence on the other. No one wishes to be abused by the law or by illegality, nor does anyone wish to suffer coercion at the hands of an individual or a class.

Laws in fact constrain, deprive and rob the needy of protection such that they are obliged to suffer all of the brutality of a violent domination and a shameful dispossession. Other laws, worse still, corrupt morality and conscience, leading some to commit acts of violence against their fellows. For those who have suffered, there is also the facile temptation of violence when they may become masters in turn; violence against those who at that moment are inferior. This may occur against military and civilian prisoners without protection, against defeated enemies, against all of those who are under the protection of educational institutions or who need care, against any dependent person, whoever they might be. To remain firm in such conditions and not allow oneself to be instrumentalised by brutal autocrats can only be esteemed.

Partisans of non-violence are often criticised for their respect and their fear of the law, an attitude that will determine their behaviour. This is false. Those who only obey the law, those who would only condemn violence when it comes from below and who would consider the violence of the capitalists within the framework of the law entirely acceptable, are not coherent militants of non-violence. Nevertheless, for those who will want to truly go to the root of the great evil of our epoch, they will have to develop the interior strength necessary for civil disobedience against a law that obliges them to act in a manner contrary to their conviction, their conscience and their free will.

Political power and economic power

Another criticism made of the proponents of a non-violent socialism is the affirmation that they want to disarm the workers and in this manner hand them over to the indulgencies or to the hostilities of their oppressors. These accusations are often put forward by those who still adhere to the idea that political power must first be seized to realise socialism. This pursuit of power assumes that it will be possible to install socialism from above.  As for us, we no longer believe in that nonsense; we affirm rather that as with each house, the house of socialism cannot be built except by beginning with the foundations, from below. Furthermore, we believe that socialism is firstly a matter of moral quality and global economy instead of a political problem stripped of any ethics and, consequently, with all of its violence. We therefore have no thought of taking political power because it would only serve to put in place a state-capitalism or a state-socialism; the name for such a construction matters little. We are not then going to become enthusiastic for something that has nothing to do with socialism as we understand it.

To construct a true free socialism, it is essentially necessary to sustain a spirit of community and social justice by solidarity and collective actions with the aim of putting into place an independent economic power, the real basis of socialism. The liberation of the proletariat does not depend on a violent uprising, but on the growth and convergence of solidarity that will lead to the capacity to take mass economic actions. The proletariat remains without defence and without power if it is not pervaded by a spirit of collectivity and solidarity. And they are defenceless and powerless if they witness without any reaction, indifferently, to the assassination of their brothers. The violence of the oppressors can only be met by the active solidarity of the oppressed.

The domination and the consecration of the capitalists, their system of power and their violent institutions, all of this is only possible to the extent that workers accept to collaborate and to work for capitalists’ profit. This triumph will shatter when the workers, united, will refuse to work for capitalism, acting together according to their own will. The economic power of the workers can be so powerfully effective and irresistible that they can happily do without the exercise of brutal violence.  Workers must only learn to practice solidarity based strikes, general strikes, boycotts, sabotage and the so many other means of direct action, without faltering.

The First World War taught us where the senseless search for always greater profits can take us. It has shown us the desire of capitalism to exercise more and more violence, a desire frustrated at never having enough goods, a desire for always wanting more. Socialism must destroy this power by always multiplying the number of those who will refuse to continue to work for capitalism. To reach this goal, more and more people must join together. The maintenance of processes of labour only profits capitalism and contributes to its perpetuation by increasing its violence and impeding the advent of socialism.

The efforts of socialism however cannot only be destructive; they must also be at the same time constructive and foundational. During any strike and, in general, during any proletarian action, efforts must also be made to wrench away smaller or larger spaces from capitalism – all the better if they are numerous – and to organise them in a socialist way. In this sense, labour exchanges and labour tribunals which have embraced socialism could be very useful.[2]

Nature belongs to everyone. It must of course be cared for, cultivated, worked before it will give of its fruits and riches. But it is an injustice when some, who resting upon their property titles and with the aid of the law, prevent others from acceding to the land and its products. They deprive others of the possibility of earning their keep themselves. This injustice resides in the owner’s, in the possessor’s or entrepreneur’s, belief that they have the right to live from the labour of another while it would be reasonable for each worker to be able to live fully from the fruits of their work.

It is therefore ridiculous to say that those who by striking refuse to work and to collaborate with capitalism also exercise violence. It is said that the general strike also involves constraint and violence. Yet that is completely false. If I avoid violence and the exploitation of the privileged, where is my violence? The worst that a capitalist will be constrained to do is to have to go and work to earn their living, that is, they will find themselves in a situation that is neither better nor worse than mine. No one has the right to be a parasite.

It is evident that the bourgeoisie, as soon as it understands that the method of the non-violent socialists is dangerous for its power, will immediately intervene with energetic means. For fear of losing their power, it will not step back from any act of brutality. With what furore were the first Christians decimated, with what cruelty were the first Anabaptists who preached justice and non-violence massacred? For the partisans of non-violent socialism, no punishment and no persecution will be spared. The leaders of the movement will be thrown into prison or psychiatric hospitals; they will be shot by firing squad or for trying to escape.

The consequence will be that the spirit of this movement will become more powerful, that the number of its members will not cease to grow and that these last will become ever more determined.

Socialism without domination   

The anarchist idea of a society without domination and without state laws seeks the evolution of human beings such that they are capable of living together peacefully, helping each other, and without being influenced or pushed to do violence or by an external constraint. The moral conscience of human beings should in this way be elevated to the point that power and the desire to act for social justice are impregnated in the heart and mind of each person. It was once thought that anarchism and violence are but one, even when certain anarchists already expressed peaceful ideas. Today, those desperate to commit an irreparable act which they know will change nothing in the state of society are few. But that it will lead to their wished for death is certain, so strong is their disgust with life. Such acts, the sole responsibility of those who commit them, are still comprehensible in our time, but we consider them neither recommendable nor worthy of being imitated.

Anarchism and socialism without domination are identical. However, the socialism that is presented to us by the socialist parties is frozen and congealed. It possesses neither freshness nor life, and it reaches neither the heart nor the mind of workers. How else can one explain that some workers allow themselves to be manipulated against others? That munitions and weapons are produced that will be used against other workers? That the military will be sent to met out death to striking miners? That newspapers are composed and printed where workers are insulted in the most disgraceful manner? That prisons and barracks, etc., are still built? The project of non-violence will obviously not be attained all at once; nevertheless, we must work towards it with all of our strength.

The superior morality of non-violence

If chaos is the destiny of humanity, the practice of violence will be clearly understood. Yet we believe that the meaning of life is constructed by overcoming suffering by a continuous increase in harmony and perfection. For us, therefore, non-violence is not a utopia, but a necessity of life. An overly closed or confined education of the mind does not sufficiently protect against the desire for violence. And it can be verified that an intelligence without affectivity and without a generous morality leads to madness. The First World War, along with the massacres committed during the [German] revolution, has shown the dimension of folly of which 20th century man is still capable.

Whoever calls upon violence turns towards the darkest impulses of the human being: they awaken in it the ferocious beast. The call to active solidarity can, by contrast, move its sensibility for others and its community sentiment. Whoever does not let themselves be carried away in this direction, made enthusiastic by it, merits our indifference. They know no passion. Because socialism signifies peace, non-violence, an impulse towards the human being and towards justice, It cannot be reached by means of war. And the struggle with instruments of war does not prepare the ground for a harmonious and peaceful life. Such a struggle renders human beings unfit to live collectively in peace.

Non-violent socialists are criticised for not understanding the human being and its incorrigible inclination towards violence. But then, either we believe that an amelioration, a possible harmony between human beings, is conceivable and that we are thus justified in working in this direction by our example and by active socialism, or we deny the possibility of a moral and spiritual elevation of human beings. In this last case, all of our militant work, past and future, will be superfluous and vain! But no one is a pessimist to this extent, for if we abandoned the faith in the development of humanity, where does our courage to continue to live come from?

Certainly, the progress of the spirit is too slow for those who are impatient, for the impetuous and the enthusiasts that we are. This progress does not follow in the same movement the development of technology. This should not however lead us so much to violence and to prefer a false over a true change. It should motivate us to labour still more arduously for the “extension of the spirit”. Those who aspire to the highest level of ethics should march ahead, refusing all forms of violence. Their example will instil enthusiasm and it will be a lesson, until even the last partisans of violence are assimilated to criminals and moral cannibals whose company will be avoided as one avoids the plague.

There seems to be in the world physical metabolic laws and spiritual metabolic laws. When an epoch allows itself to wallow in violent and bloody practices, a moment of saturation, an aversion, a sudden disruption of the spirit, occurs, turning it in another direction, sometimes the opposite. We have the right to hope that this disruption will also occur in our epoch. A profound revulsion with all of the widely distributed war literature already seems to point in that direction.

A new epoch, a new world, demands new moral customs. All values must shift, topple. Socialist workers will recognise that they cannot count on violence as the means for their liberation. They cannot deliver themselves from the powerful by an even greater violence. They will not reach their objectives except by means of the greatest solidarity and economic direct action. 

[1] Our translation of Fritz Oerter’s essay is from the recent French language addition, itself a translation of the original German text, to which we do not have access. See: Fritz Oerter, Violence ou non-violence? La folie très raisonnable d’un ouvrier syndicaliste libtertaire. Lyon : Atelier de création libertaire, 2015.

[2] The French history of labour exchanges – bourses de travail – have a very significant radical tradition, inspired by mutualism – popularised in the work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon – and going onto influence the countries revolutionary syndicalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. See Fernand Pelloutier’s History of the bourses du travail at

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