Militarism in Asia: The Obligations of European Workers

by M. P. T. Acharya 
translated from the German by Smaran Dayal
[view as .pdf]

Originally printed in Der Syndikalist, No. 31, August 2, 19301

We extract the following remarks from a comprehensive article by an Indian comrade:2 
The idea of a systematic style of militarism is essentially a modern, Western idea. After the war, it increasingly proliferated among government circles in the Eastern countries as well. Fortunately, the introduction of militarism on a European scale was too expensive for it to have been fully implemented in the East. As a result, even mighty England could not recruit more than 2.5 million soldiers in India during the war, of which only a small percentage actually went to the front. India has a population of 320 million!

One must distinguish between countries in Asia with Western-style militarism and those with an “independent” style of militarism. The former is the militarism of colonial imperialism. Among these we must also include Russian colonial imperialism in Central Asia and the Caucuses—keeping in mind the Chinese areas bordering on Siberia. There is no difference between this [Russian] and Western imperialism other than the fact that the countries colonized by Russia directly border the motherland. 

In the absence of statistics it is difficult to establish what percentage of their revenues the governments of Turkey, Persia, Egypt, Afghanistan, etc. spend for military purposes. Agnes Smedley recently wrote in Indian newspapers that the Nanking government spent ninety percent of its revenue for military purposes—in so doing, it has already burdened its peasantry for a generation to come; no wonder that large provinces are time and again beset by famine. The costly militarism of the Bolsheviks has a similar effect.

India is a typical example of foreign militarism.

Seventy percent of all revenue is spent on the army—only two percent for education and five percent for healthcare.3

It is natural, therefore, that ninety percent of farmers have been indebted for generations and cannot cultivate their fields. Herein lies the justification for the farmer revolts proclaimed by Gandhi.4 The farmers of Indochina and Annam5 as well as Indonesia appear to be following this example—in the latter cases battling French and Dutch imperialism. This farmer revolt consists in their refusal to pay the land tax and must be seen as a prototypically antimilitarist movement, which ought to be emulated by the rest of the Eastern peasantries. 

Prospects for a successful antimilitarist struggle are excellent around the whole world, above all in Asia. Which is why the great powers are making a frantic effort to reduce their own expenditures on militarism and to cut back their armaments—even though they are faced with the necessity of arming themselves for war with one another and plunging the whole world into another bloodbath.

Whereas Asia, particularly in the colonial countries and the so-called independent countries, is battling militarism, we nonetheless have a sad fact to register on the other side: The oppressed workers of Europe, who are so proud of their political knowledge and experience, profess only a purely platonic relation to antimilitarism. 

In no way do they make a conscious effort to destroy the bankrupt and antisocial militarist state order because they are far too entangled in state politics and bereft of any genuine social perspective. 

The European workers believe in something like a “social” politics, which they take to mean an approximation of socialism. But politics, in the sense of involvement in the life of states and their apparatuses of power, leads to wars and therefore to militarism. The workers, in their political confusion, betray themselves and thereby also forgo fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses, who, without socialist theories, are struggling against militarism in Asia and Africa. Meanwhile, these workers in America and Europe, at the behest of their so-called workers’ parties, wait for socialism and fail to take action against the militarism of their exploiters in the Far East, in Africa, and South America because the struggle of the peasant masses there in the colonial and semi-colonial countries is allegedly not a socialist struggle. Indeed, the workers are even called on to directly support domestic and colonial capitalism and militarism and do so out of the belief that this development will bring them closer to socialism. In the meantime, workers in the mother countries are themselves required to suffer and die…

Right now, Western capitalists are investing enormous amounts of money for the purposes of war, primarily in Asia, and China in particular. A loan given to a government that is waging or preparing for war is tantamount to a direct investment in war. The workers of the West go unpaid for overtime work carried out in expectation of a slow death by starvation in order thereby to strengthen the competitiveness of their exploiters’ products on the world market. However, making the accumulated profits of weaker governments available for purposes of war also proves to be extraordinarily profitable.

Thus loans are given in order to achieve power and influence and thereby opportunities for exploitation. But all of that is only possible when workers in the capitalist countries voluntarily pay the toll of their drudgery and support the plans of their exploiters. 

Is this what socialism is supposed to mean? We can undoubtedly speak of a crisis in the development of socialist ideas and of socialism per se, even of Bolshevism. 

The British regime in India has been financially bankrupt for a long time and, despite enormous tax increases, is incapable of covering its military expenditures. It maintains 130,000 soldiers in India, of which 60,000 are Whites. Every English soldier receives £5 per month, the sergeants more, and the Indian soldiers naturally only receive between half a pound or £1 per month for their loyalty, since millions of starving people in India don’t even earn so much as a portion of that. The British soldier, however, only operates at the rear-guard, above all in order to gun down his own comrades at the front-line should they become fractious. All artillery, tanks, and airplanes are operated exclusively by British soldiers. 

The British government in England must rustle up the funds to maintain this militarist system and English capitalists would rather part with their capital for these purposes than for the employment of workers in their own country, who are unemployed by the millions. 

This depresses the wages of those still working—and every reduction of their earnings reduces consumption and in turn production—even without economization. Such is the state of things in a mighty colonial empire such as England, whose example other countries are called on to follow as a model of prosperity and civilization. 

It is not only English workers who suffer and not only the English capitalists who reap profits as a result of colonial militarism, but this also applies to workers on the continent and their exploiters. The continental capitalists attempt to produce armaments at cheaper prices and with greater profits when a revolution in India or a civil war in China provide them occasion to. It was only recently that a Hamburg newspaper wrote about how weapons had been shipped from there to India. But Indian revolutionaries cannot buy weapons because the English government prevents this and the Gandhi “movement” treads a different path for which no weapons are needed. British, continental, and American workers suffer under this system—not to speak of the ethical and moral corruption that is a consequence of this state of affairs. 

Even though Europe’s socialists talk day in, day out about class struggle on an international basis, they do not fight on the side of the enslaved farmers of India and other Eastern countries, but instead condone wage reductions as well as the production of armaments, because they are scared of otherwise losing their livelihood

If the workers of England and Europe had a real sense of their own interests, they would refuse the production of armaments and move towards a general strike against the capitalist attacks on Asian, African, and South American farmers and workers. 

It is precisely through these means that they would be fighting for themselves, for socialism, and against war. To struggle against capitalism, militarism, and imperialism abroad, one has to begin the struggle in one’s own country against those who, in one way or another, band together with these forces. That is the lesson that the politically confused European workers must learn from the great struggle against European imperialism and militarism that is underway in Asia.


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  1. This translation has benefitted immensely from Lauren K. Wolfe and Joe Keady’s feedback. I am grateful to Ole Birk Laursen for sourcing this article. For a collection of M.P.T. Acharya’s English-lan-guage essays, see the volume of his writings edited by Laursen, We Are Anarchists: Essays on Anarchism, Pacifism, and the Indian Independence Movement, 1923-1953 (AK Press, 2019).
  2. This is an editorial remark by the editors of Der Syndikalist.
  3. All emphases are reproduced here as in the original.
  4. Acharya is referring to the various Satyagraha (or passive resistance) revolts of farmers led by Gandhi, beginning with the Champaran Satyagraha in the Champaran district of Bihar in 1917. In his autobiography, Gandhi called this Satyagraha India’s “first direct object-lesson in Civil Disobedience.” (M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography, or The Story of My Experiments with Truth: A Critical Edition, trans. Mahadev Desai, ed. Tridip Suhrud, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 640.)
  5. Trung Kỳ, present-day Central Vietnam