Lenin, Trotsky, Einstein Among Voices Opposing War.

Famed Physicist Sees No Quick End to It.

Special to The Great War Project.

(5-7 September) The anti-war movement in Europe is growing.

In the face of all the slaughter, death, and destruction, finally a movement – small to be sure – is beginning to have its voice heard.

“From the wings,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “the anti-war movement continued to agitate for an end to the war.”

On the 5th of September a century ago, the International Socialist Conference convenes at Zimmerwald in Switzerland. It attracts some extraordinary personalities. Among them Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolshevik party.

Russian Bolshevik leader Vladiimir Lenin.

Russian Bolshevik leader Vladiimir Lenin.


Russian Menshevik leader Leon Trotsky.

Also Leon Trotsky, leader of the Russian Menshevik party. “The conference issued a manifesto demanding immediate peace,” reports Gilbert. The Russians push the conference further to support “more revolutionary goals, civil war ‘between the classes’ throughout Europe.”

The Zimmerwald conference is held on the same day the air war against Britain intensifies. “On market day,” reports Gilbert, when civilians gather outdoors, the Germans launch an air raid on Luneville in France. Forty-eight civilians are killed, another fifty injured.

On September 7th, a German Zeppelin drops bombs on the City of London, igniting large fires. The next night, another German air raid. This time among the casualties, the bombs hit two motor buses, killing 22.

These attacks, as they spread far from the battlefields of Europe, ignite a horror in the minds of many.

“The very idea,” writes historian Adam Hochschild, “that explosives could be dropped through the clouds onto homes, farms, streets, and schools seemed to represent an unprecedented level of savagery.”

“No one was emotionally prepared for it, not even soldiers back from the front. An officer who took a woman to the theater found himself back at war when a bomb landed nearby.”

The people of London, facing two air attacks during these days, demand an anti-aircraft defense system. Almost immediately, the British deploy one 75-millimeter auto-cannon. It is just the beginning, and thirty more anti-aircraft cannon prove very effective against the slow-moving Zeppelins.

Artist rendering of German Zeppelin attack on London.

Artist rendering of German Zeppelin attack on London.

Despite these attacks, the attendees at the Zimmerwald conference in Switzerland call for “an immediate peace.” During the same time period, renowned physicist Albert Einstein, by now well-known for his opposition to the war, travels to Switzerland for a visit with a friend and French anti-war activist, Roman Rolland.

Gilbert reports:

“Einstein was not hopeful of a speedy end to the war.”

According to Rolland’s diary recollections about his talks with Einstein, the recent German victories over the Russians, “have revived German arrogance and appetite.”

Rolland writes:

“Greedy seems to Einstein the word that best characterizes the Germans.

Their power drive, their admiration of, and belief in, force, their firm determination to conquer and annex territories are everywhere apparent.”

Albert Einstein, circa 1915.

Albert Einstein, circa 1915.

Ironically, Einstein reports, the German civilian government wishes to leave Belgium, much of which the German army has occupied since the beginning of the war in 1914. But in response, German officers threaten revolt.

“The big banks, industries,and corporations are all-powerful; they expect to be repaid for the sacrifices they have made.”

Einstein is more sympathetic to the German Kaiser, whom he describes as “merely the tool” of big business and the officer corp.

Wilhelm “is decent, weak and in despair,” Einstein tells Rolland, “over a war which he never wanted and into which he was forced because he was so very easy to manipulate.”