Karl Liebknecht
Militarism & Anti-Militarism
II. Anti-Militarism

3. Threats to Anti-militarism

On the question of militarism, reaction and capitalism are especially sensitive. They have quite clearly realized that in militarism they are defending their most important position of power against democracy and the working class. They stand in closed ranks against anti-militarism of both kinds – whether it concerns foreign or home affairs. The golden days when anti-militarism was treated in a half-hearted, often harmless and even merciful manner by the courts, spellbound by the use of traditional revolutionary phraseology, must be coming to an end in Belgium and even in France as militarism becomes a serious threat to the anti-proletarian powers. As far as Germany is concerned, let us recall the decree of January 1894 issued by the War Minister von Gossler (and published in the Reichsanzeiger) intended to muzzle the soldiers, to render them deaf and dumb. The non-commissioned officers and privates (not the officers, whose way of thinking can be relied on thanks to their birth and social position) are officially forbidden to engage in any recognizable activity of a revolutionary or Social-Democratic character, or to possess or distribute revolutionary and Social-Democratic publications. They are also forbidden (in order that all evasion or involuntary temptation shall be made impossible) to take part in any meetings, gatherings, festivities or collections of money without previous official sanction. Apart from that – and this is particularly characteristic of the ruthlessness with which militarism pursues its ends and its lack of concern for any feeling of honour and decency among the “fellows” – there is a rule that all members of the army on active service must make an official report if it comes to their notice that revolutionary or Social-Democratic publications are to be found in the barracks or on other military premises. German militarism has thus created for itself a means of protection of an especially criminal kind against the penetration of Social-Democratic or general anti-militarist poison into the active army, even if the actions involved are in themselves quite lawful and in no way constitute an incitement to disobedience, etc. This means of protection in fact goes even beyond the famous Swedish muzzling law. That one person should inform on another, which is everywhere considered a rather nasty practice, is here elevated to an official duty. The soldier who is not an informer is put in prison for disobeying official orders!

The last straw however is that it is explicitly set down in the decree in question that these prohibitions and commands apply also to persons called up for purposes of training or inspection. This of course takes things too far. It is simply impossible to control such persons, to enforce for example that they sever their connections with the trade unions and other so-called revolutionary organizations for the duration of their training or even on the day of the inspection, or that they should for the period in question suspend their subscriptions to the labour papers (a technical impossibility), or even that they should for this period cease to read the forbidden revolutionary literature and banish it from their homes. Nevertheless, a case is known to the author in which a Potsdam court-martial in 1905 sentenced a worker to a long prison term because on the evening of inspection day he had taken part in a trade union meeting. On the other hand another prosecution of a worker in 1904 by the Potsdam criminal court failed. This man had sent to a non-commissioned officer whom he knew a Social-Democratic paper dealing with the bad material situation of such ranks, and in the event he was acquitted.

The vigour with which Gossler’s decree is being applied to the men on active service is proved among other things by reports of soldiers who – in answer to an official inquiry or even as witnesses under oath – had stated their Social-Democratic opinions, with the careful reservation “in civil life”, being condemned by court martial. This is obviously quite illegal and immoral.

We might also recall the case of Colonel Gädke, which is important in many respects. As an officer in the reserve he was deprived of the right of wearing his uniform because, in a discussion on the Serbian royal murder he had said, quite generally, that in certain cases an officer’s duty to his country may come before his duty to his king.

We should note the criminal and police prosecution of the Königsberg Society of Apprentices and Young Workers which took place in the summer of 1906. And, last but not least, there is the secret decree of the Prussian War Minister published in the press at the beginning of October 1906 which is concerned with determining the means and methods as well as the extent of Social-Democratic propaganda against militarism – a decree which at one and the same time of course reflects the fear and the bad conscience of our ruling classes. The anti-Social-Democratic instructions of General von Eichhorn also belong to this category.

This sensitiveness towards anti-militarism is of course as international as capitalism and militarism themselves, and the reaction against anti-militarist activity is everywhere harsh and brutal, as we have already seen in another context.

The Swedish muzzling law against anti-militarist agitation, carried through by the “half-Socialist” Staaff in May 1906, deserves to be more thoroughly described. It was passed without a debate by the first Chamber, but by the second Chamber only after lively discussion, though by an overwhelming majority. It is probably typical, in its form, of the way in which anti-militarism will be “legally” fought in the future. This law considerably increased the normal penalties for serious infringements of public order (for example, for incitement by spoken or written word to criminal actions), raising the maximum penalty from two to four years’ penal servitude! Moreover, it makes the public “approval” in the press of illegal actions and of incitement to break the law or disobey the legal authorities into a crime in itself, and makes it a duty of the military authorities to seize publications whose explicit aim is to undermine the soldiers’ sense of duty and obedience, and to hand them over to the appointed authorities. Finally it gives the commanders of troops the right to forbid the soldiers to attend meetings whenever it can be assumed that statements might be made there which would constitute a threat to discipline. The fruits of this law have already been described.

Meslier [1] is quite right: everywhere reaction declares that the barracks is sacrosanct and inviolable territory, and treats anti-militarism as treason. But what he says of France also applies to Germany even in the present day (though with the reservation implied by our special form of monarchic-bureaucratic-agrarian capitalism): The most violent denunciations of anti-militarism come from the ranks of international capital, which raises its voice in hypocritical defence of “the interest of the fatherland”.

A most interesting proof of this sensitiveness towards anti-militarism – and at the same time of the extent to which militarism abroad has taken second place to militarism at home – is furnished by the remarks of the German Kaiser. His speeches of January 26, 1895, and of March 22, 1901, called for a struggle against the attempts of Socialists to instruct the young. And in 1906, in an interview with the French journalist Gaston Menier, he described anti-militarism as an “international scourge” – especially French anti-militarism, the very anti-militarism which is claimed to be on the point of impairing the capacity for action and attack of the French army, the army of our “hereditary enemy”! Not much more is needed before we see the foundation of an International Anti-anti-militarist League!

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1. Cf. Un côté de la question sociale. Moltke [1*] moreover said in the Reichstag on March 19, 1869: “Let us be happy that we in Germany have an army that obeys. If we look at other lands we see that, instead of being a means of defence against the revolution, the army actually helps to bring it about. I advise you in the strongest terms never to be a party to the army changing its form in our country.”

Additional note

1*. MOLTKE, GRAF VON (1800-1891). Chief of the Prussian and German general staff. Directed operations in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1.

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