Gustave Hervé 1906

Preface to “Leur Patrie”

Source: Translated and published in English (1910) under the title “My Country, Right or Wrong.”
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2005;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.

This book against the Country is not the work exclusively personal of an intellectual whom minor professional misfortunes might have embittered against society, or who would like to juggle with abstract ideas out of love for pure logic, or for the vain pleasure of maintaining paradoxes.

It is a true expression of the thought obtaining among an important group of schoolmasters, industrial workers, small shopkeepers, agricultural labourers, and small rural property owners, met in the course of three years of propaganda in the department of l'Yonne.

All of them have been patriots: there was a time when we would have given our lives for the Country, when we would have given our lives almost joyfully in order to retake Alsace-Lorraine.

And to-day, we are anti-patriots; but let us be thoroughly understood.

We do not at all pretend that love of the native village, steeple-patriotism as they call it – which is not at all national patriotism – is not a natural sentiment very firmly implanted in many people : we who hate the existing Countries have retained for the little spot where we were born a kind of filial worship.

Neither have we ever maintained that there are not, throughout the existing nations, fairly noticeable differences of character and temperament such as have been caused by history.

We are convinced, as much as any patriot, that Countries have had their raison d'être at a time; and the best proof of it is that they were born and that they have lived; we even think that their existence, at certain periods and in certain circumstances, may have contributed to the general improvement of our species.

Finally, we perfectly understand that our fathers, the revolutionaries of ‘89 and ‘93, were patriots, and in their stead we would have been patriots just as much as they.

These consideration do not stand in the way of our proclaiming ourselves anti-patriots.

It is our full and complete adhesion to Socialism that has led us to that state of mind.

Patriotism groups men according to their land of origin, as decided by the vicissitudes of history; within every Country, thanks to the patriotic link, rich and poor unite against the foreigner.

Socialism groups men, poor against rich, class against class, without taking into account the differences of race and language, and over and above the frontiers traced by history.

Even between republican patriots, anti-militarists and pacifists like M. Clémenceau, and the International Socialists like ourselves, Socialism fixes a real gulf; the patriots of the republican bourgeoisie attach a capital importance to the political constitution, whilst we, on the contrary, without denying the superiority of the republican over the monarchical form, consider the political differences as secondary when they cover similar economic forms.

Republicans like M. Clémenceau consider the existing political constitution of France as so superior to that of England or Germany, that they would fight tooth and nail to defend it, and with it the French genius which it shelters, and which is as its concrete expression.

We, on the contrary, will only fight to bring about (or to defend when we have got it) a social organisation superior to the others not only in its political form, but in the mode of production and distribution of wealth.

Therefore we will not fight to defend existing Countries; but we will fight when we need to bring about the Socialist regime, or to defend it as soon as we have succeeded in establishing it.

It follows therefrom that the republican patriots admit foreign war, but as a last resort, it is true to say, to defend the existing Country, whereas we admit one war only: the civil war, the social war, the class war, the only war which at the present time, in Twentieth Century Europe, might bring some real profit to the exploited of all countries.

The accusation so often levelled against us, that we find a malicious pleasure in formulating these brutally frank declarations, is unjust – we can and do feel how much they hurt respectable prejudices.

It matters very little to us that our anti-patriotic declarations may be used at forthcoming elections against the Socialist candidates, causing them to lose here and there a few votes; if Socialism wants to progress and to take firm root in the hearts of the masses, it must not rest content with being exclusively (or even chiefly) an electoral and Parliamentary party; at any rate, electoral considerations must not hinder the propaganda of integral Socialism.

That which grieves us much more is that we have to hurt the deepest feelings of a great many honest people to whom patriotism is a religion and a principle of morality.

After all, to found the secular society it has been necessary, and it is still every day necessary, to hurt religious prejudices as respectable as patriotism.

The old society is dying; a new one struggles to be born, and it is not our fault if the latter cannot emerge from the former’s womb except by a painful and dolorous delivery.