The Panamists of Patriotism

Peter Kropotkin

“Les Panamistes du Patriotisme”, Les Temps Nouveaux, 28 January 1899

Previously, it was said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Today, we have discovered better. Patriotism has become the Panama of journalism.

They begin by wearing the Phrygian cap. They throw quasi-anarchist articles in every issue of their journal. They campaign against this or that government. It pays well – for the novelty of the subject. This creates a clientele amongst the workers and the disgruntled of all sorts.

But soon he stops reporting. The workers, delighted with the criticism, ask the journalist to go further: let him follow them in their socialist demands; that he shows a revolutionary programme in deeds – not only in words.

But socialism is poverty. It is a very modest life. A socialist squandered money on the costumes of his lady, for boxes at the Opera, for banquets and the rest would soon be dismissed by the people. And this is what happens to these false brothers. The people quickly turn their backs on them; the circulation of their newspaper falls.

Do you understand the simple terror of the journalist when he is told these terrible words: “The circulation is falling!”

So my journalist hastens to jettison “all those jokes” overboard. He keeps just enough to still preserve a small halo of the former revolutionary – and he becomes patriotic.

* * *

Patriotism, as they understand it, pays. It pays very well, better than Panama stock, or the Sahara railways. They leave these to the fools – the Presidents of the Republic – while the journalist, more cunning, begins to exploit the Panama of patriotism.

It is so simple! The art of producing the patriot is taught in five to six lessons. Easier than the art of riding a bicycle! Buy ten issues of “patriotic, anti-Semitic and anti-Dreyfusard” newspapers and you will learn this art in eight days.

Nothing could be simpler than following the beaten path. In order to be an anarchist or even a social-democrat, you still have to think. You have to produce some sort of programme. You have to be able to say something new, something considered – otherwise you talk nonsense.

For patriotism everything is done, Ideas can be dispensed with: slogans replace them. And these slogans are found forged, a thousand years ago, by other cunning men. You only have to bring the old clichés up to date. It is just the right mash for journalises who lose their teeth and their talent.

* * *

And then it pays! Boy, does it pay! Only read the 15 January column of the jingoistic newspapers. Read the happy thoughts of the patriotic columnists with regard to Figaro. Its clientele, assured in the past, made their mouths water. It is now leaving! It is going to them! Two years ago, the shares of Figaro were sold at 1,075 francs each. As soon as it showed its Dreyfusist inclinations, they fell to 990 francs. And here they are, no longer quoted on the stock exchange, at only 780 francs. “Figaro loses its clientele – win these gentlemen; it is to us that its readers come! That proves that we are in the right!”

That pays – so we have to follow the flow. Pornography would, perhaps, pay better. But it requires talent – so let us be patriots!

Any cretin can be. That is why they had so much fondness for that thief, Katkoff, who through Cyon – the Jewish alliancist – if you please, Boulanger’s friend, taught then the art of enriching themselves by changing the revolutionary mantle for the gaudy clothes of the patriot. We can understand the tears – of envy – they poured over his grave.

* * *

Ah! We know that there are patriots. Whatever we may say and whatever we may do, as long as there are different languages, different civilisations, national songs, varied landscapes, the man who spoke such-and-such a language from childhood, who grew up in the midst of such-and-such a landscape and civilisation, who was lulled [as a baby] to the sound of such-and-such a song, will love this song, this civilisation, this landscape, this language above all other civilisation, language and song.

As long as this civilisation and this language feel oppressed, or that country is under tyranny – he will love it more, with passion.

Yes, certainly, patriotism in this sense exists, even for those without a homeland, the tramp, who despite all his hatred for the oppressors of his native land, loves only more fondly the language, the hills or the mountains, the customs and traditions.

This feeling exists, and it is quite possible that the more a man becomes an internationalist, the more he will love the local individualities which comprise the international family; the more he will seek to develop its local, individual traits. It is the same as anarchy which raises, strengthens the individual instead of forcing all individualities into the same mould.

Yes, there are patriots who love their native country.

It would be shame and a scandal to confuse these people with those – the lovers of their native land with the scoundrels of supposedly patriotic Panamism.

* * *

When you love someone, an actual person or an abstract persona, country or nation – you first respect it. You seek to see it beautiful, respected by the whole world, honoured for all its qualities.

See the patriots of Young Italy in the past! See the Polish or Finish patriots. Read, for example, that admirable book by George Brandes – the great critic of the day – on Poland. Everything in Poland is devoted to love of the country. This love breaks through in every line of their poets, their journalists. Even the international socialists of Poland, more internationalist than so many others, still love their country, even more so than the Polish nationalists.

Creating a beautiful, great, literature full of ideals – that is where their self-esteem is located. Bragging – they despise it. Recognising what great things other nations have done and to show that little Poland, in all its misfortunes, has remained great – that is their ambition. To place it amongst the top ranks [of countries] by its literature, [by] its arts, by popular education, by the energy of its international socialist party, by its noble spirit, by its sons rushing to the international revolution – that is their ideal.

Those are without doubt patriots.

* * *

Well, would it be permissible, after that, to place them alongside the panamists of patriotism in France?

These people who despise the French people and see only one way of raising it up – that of giving it… who? A lump like Boulanger for a master, or a little Bonaparte, or some other Caesar, forged for them with the collusion of the court of Russia!!

These gentlemen who believe that they will manage to overcome a nation as formidable as Germany – by what? By little secrets, by the little papers they steal here and there, by the morons Sandherr, Esterhazy and Henry!! – O the stupidity of half-wits! We must be stupid to follow these high priests of the court martials for a single moment! To believe for an instant that these defenders of the war tribunals see anything than their god – circulation!

A man in love holds above all the dignity of the woman he loves. But these gentlemen who are  petty, despicable, shamefully despicable, to please a Katkoff or a Tsar who holds them in contempt in spite of their platitudes – is that what they would dare call love of their country?

Pimps of love, perhaps! But certainly not patriots of love.