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

5. The Need for Special Anti-militarist Propaganda

It is certainly true that militarism bears within itself the germs of its own destruction, and that capitalist culture in its entirety contains many mutually contradictory and destructive elements, not least those tendencies whose basis is scientific, artistic and ethical education and which are responsible for a determined attack on militarism. The subversive effect for example of the Simplizissimus [1*] literature must not be underestimated. [1] The story of Cromwell, the story of the year 1789 in France and that of 1806 in Germany show us how a military system can disintegrate and rot to the point where it destroys itself. It is true that in all violent conflicts between the people and the state power a peculiar psychology of blood becomes active and powerful, a suggestion, a hypnotism of blood, or even – to use Andreyev’s phrase – a blood logic, which may in the space of a moment decisively reverse the balance of forces. But all this has no bearing on the question of the necessity for propaganda, which itself is a part of the organic process of disintegration, and the same holds of all the other manifestations of capitalism and indeed also holds of capitalism itself. Its relevance is restricted to the question of the chances of a successful process of agitation.

The special danger which militarism presents has been explained above. It stands before the proletariat as a robber armed to the teeth, and its ultimatum is not “La bourse ou la vie” (your money or your life), but “La bourse et la vie” (your money and your life) – which goes further than the morality of robbers. Besides the fact that it is a great danger for the future, militarism is an ever present, ever real danger, even when it is not actually on the attack. Not only is it the Moloch of economic life, the vampire of cultural development, the chief agent of falsification in the class struggle, it is also the factor which, explicitly or implicitly, in the last instance regulates the form of the political and economic movement of the proletariat in the class struggle. This in all important respects is indeed determined by militarism in its role as the chief pillar of the brutal might of capitalism. Militarism is crippling our activity. In the disruptive peace before the storm our Party life is becoming sluggish, and parliamentary work overcome by languor and paralysis.

The weakening of militarism requires the investigation of the possibilities of a continuation of peaceful development, or at least of a limitation on the possibilities of violent clashes. It also means above all the restoration to health, the revival of political life and of the Party struggle. The ruthless and systematic struggle against militarism already in itself leads to the revolutionary development and strengthening of the Party, and is a source of the revolutionary spirit.

From all this there follows the necessity, not only of a struggle, but also of a special kind of struggle against militarism. Such a ramified and dangerous structure can only be dealt with by action which is equally ramified, which is energetic, wide-ranging and daring, and which tirelessly pursues militarism into all its hiding-places, always en vedette, on the alert. The dangers presented in the fight against militarism also force one to take action which is more flexible and adaptable than agitation of a general kind. However unpopular this conception was and is in Germany, a number of points must be made which may overcome the attitude of reluctance and dispel such doubts. First, we have a special form of propaganda for women and young people. We also carry out specialized agitation not only among agricultural workers but also in the trade unions for the different trades. Finally, we can point to the successful anti-militarist propaganda conducted in other countries. It is only a matter of time, and probably a very short time, before the fundamental idea expressed in the motion no.114, rejected at Mannheim, is generally recognized.

Such action has also been made into a duty of German Social-Democracy by the well-known and unanimous decision of the International Congress of 1900.

The demand for such special propaganda has absolutely nothing to do with the unhistorical, anarchist conception of militarism. We are quite clearly conscious of the role which militarism plays within capitalism, and of course have not the remotest idea of setting it above or on a level with capitalism, since it is simply an aspect of capitalism – or more correctly, a specially pernicious and dangerous manifestation of capitalism. But our whole agitation against capitalism is directed against these manifestations, in which capitalism takes on a concrete form. We can to a certain extent designate the field of the anti-militarist struggle as a special one; alongside the general political struggle, alongside the trade union struggle, for that matter even alongside the co-operative and educational struggle. To sum up: we are anti-militarists in so far as we are anti-capitalists.

If, from a historical point of view, anti-militarism has everywhere been transformed – in conjunction with the use of troops in civil war, against the internal enemy – from a set of generalities of a rather theoretical nature into a practical movement adapted to contemporary reality, this is no reason to hinder the development of specifically anti-militarist propaganda in lands in which the army has not so far been used in this way, or not within living memory. It has always been the pride of the Social-Democratic movement that it does not wait to be burned before it is wary of the fire, but learns from history, from social science and from the experiences of fraternal parties to take an attitude of foresight and to build on these experiences. They have a clear message to relate as far as anti-militarism is concerned. And the time is ripe.

Table of Contents | Next Section


1. Major-General von Zepelin was concerned with this danger – see the Kreuz-Zeitung, December 23, 1906.

Additional note

1*. SIMPLIZISSIMUS. A satirical German journal, founded in Munich in 1896 by A. Langen and Th. Heine. Hostile to militarism and clericalism, it ridiculed the ruling authorities, and suffered a number of legal trials as a result.

Table of Contents | Next Section