What to do?

Peter Kropotkin

“Qόe Faire?”, Le Rιvoltι: Organe Communiste-Anarchiste, 8 January 1887

What if war breaks out in the spring? What can we do – we workers? We anarchists and revolutionary socialists?

Fold our arms? Do nothing? – No, a thousand times no!

If we could induce a general strike against the war; if hundreds of thousands of soldiers in France, in Germany, in Italy, refused, by common agreement, to obey the brigands who govern them – certainly, that would be marvellous!

But – for this it was necessary to act in this sense as early as the war of 1870. It was necessary to work to establish international understanding across borders against the orders of the bourgeois, in spite of laws. It has not been done – for whatever reason. Let us not complain, let us just state the fact. It would be too late to do the work at this moment.

The workers will obey the orders of their masters; they will kill each other to enrich the exploiters. It is incredibly painful to witness – but it is so.

What to do, though?


Issue manifestos? Protest against the invasion? Appeal to the German workers? Oppose the ideas of international brotherhood to the narrow spirit of the German State, to selfish patriotism, to chauvinism? – Alright, let us do that. Let us write manifestoes, let us launch into the world these great ideas for which the French proletariat has always fought. When it proclaimed the Republic or the Commune, it aimed at the emancipation of the world.

Yes, let us do it. But let us not attach to pieces of paper more importance than they deserve. Paper will remain paper, while acts are needed.


Yes acts! And their programme has already been drawn up by the European proletariat, during the great awakening of 1868 to 1871.

– “What, have you come to talk to us about the homeland?” the Viennese workers wrote in 1868. – “We are exploited workers, always deceived, always oppressed by you; and all workers, whatever nationality they belong to – exploited and oppressed proletarians of the whole world – are our brothers. And all bourgeois – our oppressors, our rulers, our exploiters – are our enemies.”

French or German – the bourgeois is the enemy. This is the programme drawn up by our predecessors. The French bourgeois is doubly an enemy, because it is to the French bourgeois that we owe the invasion, and it is again with the German bourgeois that they reach an understanding against the French people. They already did it in 1871, they would do the same in 1887.

The bourgeois – that is the enemy. And it is by overthrowing it, by removing its wealth and its power – by expropriating it – that we will overcome the German bayonets. Not otherwise.

It is by driving the lord from the land and the bourgeois from the factory and administration; by restoring the land to the peasant, the factory to the worker and freedom for all; by raising the banner of the Social Revolution, that we will overcome the foreign invasion.

Paris – a communist Commune, that is the only bulwark we can oppose to the German batteries.

Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux – communist Communes – that is the only centre from which will arise the forces capable of driving the Prussian soldier from French territory and at the same time disarming the French army – a docile instrument of oppression in the hands of the bourgeois.

The countryside in revolt – the countryside taking the land that has been stolen from it since 1789 – that is the only barrier we can oppose to foreign invaders.

Let only three large cities rise at the approach of German soldiers. Let them burn the paperwork of the banks, let them loudly proclaim in all the villages that henceforth mortgages are abolished and that the cities will no longer send bailiffs into the countryside to force the peasant to pay his creditors. Let the peasant know that he has to choose between “The Social [Revolution]” or the yoke of the banker and the lord restored by the Prussians – and he will no longer go to meet the German armies to offer them bread and wine after having refused them to the French soldier, as he did in 1871.

Let a Paris-Commune , let a Lyon-Commune proclaim the Social [Revolution] within their walls. Let housing be free in the Commune and let bread, as long as there is some, be for all. Let each worker know that by defending his Commune he is defending the future, for his children and the emancipation of the European proletariat; that he fights for the Revolution so long called for by his hopes. Let him know that in dying for his Commune, he dies for the emancipation of the human race, for Equality and Liberty for all – and the Prussian guns will be paralysed as they were in 1791. They will turn against the German kings and bourgeois.

France undergoing the Social Revolution – that is what can stop the conquerors of the European coalition.[1]

Without the Revolution, oppression, servitude, going back two centuries, the triumph of the State, of reaction.

With the Revolution – it will be liberation of the country. It will be the triumph of civilisation; it will be the torch of the Social Revolution thrown into the enemies’ camp and setting the whole world ablaze.


This is the task before us.

Do not rely on anyone for that. Do not rely, please, on politicians. These will do nothing: they will hand us over bound hand and foot to the enemy.

Let us rely on ourselves and no one else. We are not many; we have the Truth on our side, and with it as our ally, our voice will be heard. Let us be True and Just – and the masses will be with us.

This is our historic task. We must accomplish it.

End Notes

[1] A reference to what became known as the War of the First Coalition which was a set of wars that several European States fought between 1792 and 1797 against the French Republic, aiming to end the revolution and restore the monarchy. (Translator)