Karl Liebknecht
Militarism & Antimilitarism


A few weeks ago Die Grenzboten reported a conversation between Bismarck [1*] and Professor Dr Otto Kämmel which took place in October 1892, and in which Bismarck, the “Hero of the Century”, himself tore off the mask of constitutionalism in his very own cynical style. Among other things, he said:

In Rome, whoever put himself outside of the law was banished, aqua et igne interdictus; in the Middle Ages he was said to be outlawed. Social-Democracy ought to be treated in a similar way: it should be deprived of its political rights, of its right to participate in elections. I would have gone that far. The Social-Democratic problem is in fact a military problem. Social-Democracy is being treated with an extraordinary lack of serious attention at present. It is now attempting – with success – to win over the non-commissioned officers. In Hamburg a large part of the troops already consists of Social-Democrats, since the local people have the right to join only the local battalions. What if these troops should one day refuse to obey the Kaiser and to fire on their fathers and brothers? Would we then be forced to mobilize the Hanover and Mecklenburg regiments against Hamburg? In that case we should have something like the Paris Commune on our hands. The Kaiser then took fright. He told me that he did not want one day to be called the “Kartätschenprinz” – the shrapnel prince – like his grandfather, and did not want to wade up to his ankles in blood’ at the very beginning of his reign. At the time I told him: “Your Majesty will have to go in much deeper if you draw back now!”

“The Social-Democratic problem is a military problem.” This is the whole point; it says more and goes much deeper than von Massow’ s cry of distress: “Our only hope is the bayonets and cannons of our soldiers.” [1] “The Social-Democratic problem is a military problem. That is the keynote of all the tunes sung by the firebrands. Anyone who had not yet been convinced by the earlier indiscretions of Bismarck and Puttkamer, by the speech to the Alexander regiment [2*], by the Hamburger Nachrichten and the thoroughbred Junker, von Oldenburg-Januschau, would have had his eyes opened by the Hohenlohe-Delbruck revelations which were corroborated around the end of the year through the county court judge Kulemann, and by the cruel words of Bisrnarck cited above.

The Social-Democratic problem – in so far as it is a political problem – is in the last resort a military problem. This should be a constant reminder to Social-Democracy and a tactical principle of the first rank.

The enemy at home, Social-Democracy, is “more dangerous than the enemy abroad, because it poisons the soul of our people and wrests the weapons from our hands before we have even lifted them.” This is how the Kreuz-Zeitung of January 21, 1907, proclaimed the sovereignty of class interests over national interests in an electoral struggle which was waged “under the banner of nationalism”! And this electoral struggle was carried on in the face of an ever-increasing menace to electoral and trade-union rights, and of “Bonaparte’s sword”, which Prince Bülow [3*] waved around the heads of the German Social-Democrats in his New Year’s Eve letter in order to frighten them; it was carried on in the face of a class struggle raised to white heat. [2] Only someone who was blind and deaf could deny that these signs, as well as many others, indicate the approach of a storm or even of a hurricane.

The problem of the struggle against “militarism at home” has therefore taken on an importance of a most pressing kind.

The elections of 1907 were, however, also fought on the national question, on the colonial question, and over chauvinism and imperialism. And they showed how miserably weak, in spite of all this, was the resistance of the German people to the pseudo-patriotic rat-traps laid by these contemptible business patriots. They taught us what pompous demagogy can be pressed into use by the government, by the ruling classes and by the whole howling pack of “patriots” whenever “things most holy” are concerned. These elections provided the proletariat with some necessary enlightenment, causing it to question its own role and teaching it about the relation of social and political forces. They educated it, and freed it from the unfortunate “habit of victory”; and they excited a welcome force resulting in a deepening of the proletarian movement and of our understanding of the psychology of the masses with regard to national campaigns. Certainly the causes of our so-called setback, which was actually not a setback and puzzled the victors more than the vanquished, were manifold; but there is no doubt that precisely those sections of the proletariat which are contaminated and influenced by militarism, which are already at the mercy of government terrorism – for example, the state workers and junior officials – have formed an especially firm obstacle to the extension of Social-Democratic influence.

This also raises sharply, as far as the German labour movement is concerned, the question of anti-militarism and the question of the youth movement and of the education of young people, and ensures that these points will receive more attention in future.


The following work is the elaboration of a paper read by the author on September 30, 1906, to the first conference of the German Young Socialist League in Mannheim. It does not pretend to offer something new; it is simply intended to be a compilation of material which is already known or even commonplace. Nor does it claim to be exhaustive. The author has attempted, as far as he is able, to collect the disconnected material scattered throughout the newspapers and periodicals. Thanks above all to our Belgian comrade de Man it has been possible to provide at least a brief account of the and-militarist and youth movement in the most important countries.

If here and there errors have crept in, they should be excused on account of the difficulty of coping with the material, but also on account of the frequent unreliability of the sources, which are often even contradictory.

In the realm of militarism things are in constant flux at the present time, so that, for example, the information given below on the French and English military reforms will certainly soon be overtaken by events.

That is even more true of anti-militarism and the proletarian youth movement, the newest manifestations of the proletarian struggle for freedom, which are everywhere developing quickly, and making pleasing headway in spite of setbacks. Since this work was set up in type it has been learned that the Finnish Young Socialist Societies held their first congress in Tammerfors on December 8 and 9, 1906, where a Young Workers’ League was founded which will be attached to the Finnish Labour Party and whose special task, apart from the education of the young workers in class-consciousness, will be the struggle against militarism in all its aspects.

People will be inclined to complain that the theoretical basis of our work is too slight and the historical depth not sufficient. Against this it ought to be said that the pamphlet has a topical political task, that of promoting anti-militarist thought.

Many people again will be unhappy with the accumulation of countless, often apparently unimportant details, especially in connection with the history of the Young Socialist movement and of and-militarism. This dissatisfaction may be justified. The author, however, stoned from the assumption that it is first of all through details that one is able to gain a living insight into the upward and downward movement in organizational development and into the invention and modification of tactical principles, and to put them to use in the desired manner – the more so since it is precisely details which present the main difficulty in anti-militarist agitation and organization.

Dr Karl Liebknecht
February 11, 1907

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1. See Arendt’s Deutsches Wochenblatt, middle of November 1896, and the Sozialdemokratische Partei-Correspondenz, year II, no.4.

2. On the evening of the second ballot (February 5, 1907) troops of the Berlin garrison were provided with live cartridges and held ready to march. It is known that on June 25, 1905, the last time the second ballot was held, the Pioneers appeared in Spandau in the Schönwalder Strasse in order to “bring to their senses” the workers excited by the election result.

Additional notes by the translator

1*. BISMARCK, GRAF VON (1815-1898). Minister President of Prussia from 1862, he was responsible for the political direction of the creation of the German Empire, of which he was effectively founder and first Chancellor. Based his strength for many years on the National Liberal Party, during which period he initiated the so-called Kulturkampf against the Catholic Centre. Later moved away from and attacked the National Liberals, without being able to replace them as a political support. Fell in 1896, soon after the accession of the new Kaiser, Wilhelm II.

2*. ALEXANDER REGIMENT SPEECH. The speech of Wilhelm II to the Kaiser Alexander Regiment on March 28, 1901, containing the words: “You are ... so to speak the bodyguard of the King of Prussia, and you must always be ready, day and night, to put your life at risk, to spill your blood for your king! ... If it should happen that the city rises up against its rulers, the regiment must punish this improper conduct of the people towards its king with the bayonet.”

3*. BÜLOW, PRINCE VON (1849-1929). Imperial Chancellor from 1900 to 1909, succeeding Hohenlohe. Resigned in 1909 after pressure from Conservative and Centre Parties, and was replaced by Bethmann-Hollweg.

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