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

6. Anti-militarism in Germany and German Social-Democracy

The programme of German Social-Democracy, together with that of international socialism (at least of the Marxist school), sets as its object the “seizure of political power” – that is, the abolition of the social domination of the capitalist oligarchy over the proletariat and its temporary substitution by democratic-proletarian rule. This includes, as a major point, the abolition of capitalist militarism, the most important element of the power of the capitalist oligarchy.

The minimum programme deals with the question of militarism in a special manner, and sets out the special tasks and goals to be worked for. It thus meets all principled objections to a special anti-militarist propaganda form. It demands: “Universal training in the use of arms. A citizen army in place of a standing army. The people to decide on questions of war and peace. Settlement of international disputes by arbitration.” It thus repudiates for the present and foreseeable future the unmistakably utopian standpoint which is directed not simply against militarism but against every kind of preparation for war, not simply against capitalist and reactionary wars but on principle against participation in any war, which not only fights against war but tries quite unrealistically to deny the real possibilities of war and their consequences. German Social-Democracy, like the overwhelming majority of the foreign parties, even the French Party, is not anti-patriotic (like Hervé [1*]) or anti-national (Kropotkin [2*]), but rather indifferent to patriotism in accordance with its class position.

As a party of the proletariat Social-Democracy is of course without dispute the unconditional enemy, the enemy sans phrase of the violence shown by militarism at home. To destroy it root and branch is one of its most important tasks.

What has been done in Germany so far to carry out the decision of the Paris Congress of 1900?

The attempt to develop special anti-militarist propaganda in Germany has been resisted by influential leaders of the movement, who say that there is no Social-Democratic Party in the whole world which fights militarism as hard as German Social-Democracy. There is much truth in this. Ever since the German Reich has existed ruthless and tireless criticism has been levelled by the German Social-Democrats in parliament and in the press against militarism, the whole of its content and its harmful effects. It has collected material to indict militarism, enough to build a gigantic funeral pyre, and has waged the struggle against militarism as part of its general agitation with great energy and tenacity. In this respect our Party needs neither defence nor praise. Its deeds speak for themselves. Nevertheless, there is more to be done.

We by no means deny that the struggle waged against militarism has met with great success and that the form of the struggle has been well adapted to the goal. Nor do we deny that this kind of struggle will remain useful, and even indispensable, in the future, and bring more successes. But that does not settle the question. It does not resolve the problem of the education of young people, which is the most important part of the fight against militarism.

It is of course true that our general agitation opens people’s eyes, and every anti-capitalist and Social-Democrat is per se an excellent and reliable anti-militarist. The anti-militarist side of our general educational work leaves no doubt on this point. But to whom is our general agitation directed? It is and was rightly and necessarily designed for the adult man and woman worker. But we want to win over not only the adult workers, but also the children of the proletariat, the working-class youth. For the working-class youth is the working class-to-be, he is the future of the proletariat. “He who has the youth, has the future.”

At this point someone will retort: He who has the parents has the children of these parents, he has the youth! In any case it would be a wretched Social-Democrat who did not try his best to fill his children with the Social-Democratic spirit, and bring them up as Social-Democrats. It may be that the influence of the parents – together with the influence of the economic, social and political conditions under which the working-class youth grows up, but which, though the most important and obvious means of agitation and enlightenment, cannot be influenced by Party activity and must therefore be disregarded here – can easily overcome all the cunning of the attempts of reaction and capitalism to capture the child’s mind. But this fact clearly does not refute our point. One cannot settle things so easily. In fact it is precisely a careful examination of the above trend of thought which shows where the failing in our present agitation lies, a failing which is growing continually more serious and urgently demands a solution.

“Every Social-Democrat brings up his children as Social-Democrats.” But only to the best of his ability. This is the basis of the first important failing. How many people have a general understanding of how to teach, even if they have the time and inclination, and how many Social-Democratic workers, even if they have the best of intentions, have the necessary leisure and the necessary knowledge to educate their children? And in how many cases do the women and other politically backward members of the family rather unfortunately constitute a serious counterweight to whatever educational influence the class-conscious father may possess? If the Party wants to do its duty properly it must go into every nook and corner to help with home education. What is required is general educational and especially agitational work among young people, which must have an anti-militarist aspect.

But further: how many proletarians are really educated in Social-Democracy, educated to the point where they themselves can educate others on the fundamental principles of the standpoint and goals of the movement? How many workers are there in time of peace so ready for sacrifice and so tireless that they are even willing to undertake, to the best of their ability, the tough, painful, continuous hourly and daily work of education? And apart from those who are a quarter or half-educated, and the lukewarm who form an enormous mass: what a huge number of workers are total strangers to Social-Democracy! Here is a great field full of the best hopes of the working-class, almost incalculable in its potential, whose cultivation must not at any cost wait upon the conversion of the backward sections of the adult proletariat. It is of course easier to influence the children of politically educated parents, but this does not mean that it is not possible, indeed a duty, to set to work also on the more difficult section of the proletarian youth.

The need for agitation among young people is therefore beyond doubt. And since this agitation must operate with fundamentally different methods – in accordance with its object, that is, with the different conditions of life, the different level of understanding, the different interests and the different character of young people – it follows that it must be of a special character, that it must take a special place alongside the general work of agitation, and that it would be sensible to put it, at least to a certain degree, in the hands of special organizations. Our agitational work, with the growth in its volume and the increase in the Party’s tasks, and at a time when the decisive struggles are drawing ever nearer, has become so extraordinarily extensive and complex that the need for it to be divided up becomes more pressing – a division of labour of whose relative, but only relative, difficulties we are not by any means ignorant.

And now we can go even further. Within the framework of agitational work among young people, anti-militarist agitation fills a quite special and peculiar role. It must appeal to circles which are often not accessible to the attempts of Social-Democracy to educate young people; it must stretch out much further than the general attempts at education can normally do in order to take in those sections of working-class youth which do not attend the workers’ educational schools, courses and lectures, or read the general literature for young people. It must also appeal to those young workers who, as they grow older, can no longer be reached by these general educational efforts. The proper domain of this agitation is in fact young people between the ages of 17 and 21! It will have a more agitational character than that of general education. Its forms will also be different, at least to some extent. It is also, because of its rather dangerous character, best not to couple it with these general attempts. On the one hand, it might make the general work more difficult than is necessary and even bring it into discredit. On the other hand the division will ensure that the dangers facing specifically anti-militarist agitation are reduced to the minimum since things will be directed by comrades who have been familiarized with all the pitfalls. And finally, the anti-militarist material (ill-treatment of soldiers, military justice, etc.) is so colossal and scattered that even here division of labour and specialization are required if the best possible use is to be made of the available matter. And not only does this matter need to be put to us; but also collected, sifted and worked over.

The last argument shows quite clearly that anti-militarist agitation, even among adults, can gain a great deal through specialization.

The opportunity for work is obviously there, for rewarding work in plenty!

What successes have so far been achieved by the old methods in the development of anti-militarism in Germany?

It is true that a large part of the German army is already “red”. A mere glance at the party groupings within the German nation shows this to be the case. And it was this obvious fact which caused the famous chief of the Imperial League, Lieutenant-General von Liebert, to take up his pen and write the well-known and amusing book The Development of Social-Democracy and its Influence on the German Army – a book now held in contempt because of its fatalism even by the Social-Democratic renegade Max Lorenz who, in accordance with his job, is now out to burn what he previously lauded. The same developments induced General von Eichhorn to introduce anti-Social-Democratic instruction in the army in the autumn of 1906. [1] It is true that in the 1903 Reichstag election nearly one-third of the German electorate (male German subjects over 25) voted for Social-Democracy. It may also be true that, in general and at least for the time being, it has a stronger following among the young than among the old. But it is nevertheless debatable whether this proportion holds good for the age group from 20 to 22. We should be quite clear on these points: that these young people do not at all belong to the elements who are firm in their convictions, and that there is all the world of difference between voting for Social-Democracy, being a Social-Democrat, and being ready to face all the personal risks involved in anti-militarist activity in the army. The “psychological” factors, the “suggestion” and “blood logic” mentioned above may be powerful agents in the destruction of military discipline, but it cannot be seriously suggested that even a third of the army has reached such a position as far as ideas and morale are concerned, nor that military intervention by the right in the form of violent unconstitutional action – a coup d’état – directed against the so-called internal enemy, the labour movement, would be impossible or even difficult.

Matters are undoubtedly more difficult for militarism when it comes to mobilizing the reserve and militia, especially for war. Indeed, a military correspondent of Vorwärts pointed out in October 1906 that among the members of those bodies who would be called up in case of war – who would then make up some four-fifths of the army – at least one million could be considered as unreliable from the point of view of militarism. But even on this point we have to take up a critical attitude and not forget that mass suggestion on militarist lines or mass psychosis and the methods of suggestion employed by the military authorities are capable of knocking a big hole in the above calculation.

What has been achieved in these fields has been achieved by means of the general propaganda carried out in the labour movement. German Social-Democracy has as yet hardly done any specialized work on conscripts. We know of nothing suitable which has been published in this line, apart from the well-known Handbook for Conscripts and the leaflet issued by the Party executive in the summer of 1906. And both these publications deal only with the legal position of those in the army. True though it is that history is on our side, it is not true that everything happens of its own accord. This kind of quietism and fatalism is a big mistake from the point of view of historical materialism and fatal as far as agitation is concerned, and can only be countered by agitational activity and by specifically anti-militarist activity in particular. Anti-militarist propaganda in Germany must be very quickly and energetically improved.

The South German Young Guards have courageously taken on the task of providing a political solution to the problem. This is of course only a beginning, but it will – it must – soon find powerful support, if only to nip in the bud the anarchist anti-militarism which is starting to take root in Germany. [2]

We repeat: is German Social-Democracy, the German labour movement, the nucleus and elite (as it likes to be called) of the new International, going to avoid tackling this problem – whether out of prudence or of over-confidence – until it is too late? Will it delay until it is forced to act by a dozen German equivalents of the murder at Fourmies, will it remain unarmed until the time when its strength and tactics are stretched to the limit by a world war or an intervention in Russia [3], for which it will then have to bear the responsibility?

And finally: have the German workers not been sufficiently alerted by the police massacres of their class comrades, which might also be said to come into the domain of anti-militarist propaganda?

However this may be, German Social-Democracy can no longer ignore the fact that, as far as militarism is concerned, the watchword is: si vis pacem, para bellum! Begin as early as possible with anti-militarist propaganda, in order that the dangers which militarism holds for the working class can be reduced to a minimum in advance!

The specially difficult character of this propaganda in Germany should really be no reason for it to be postponed. On the contrary, it is a good reason for it to be speeded up.

The German proletariat is ready enough now, and the general political situation at home under which it groans makes it even more vital for us to act.

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1. Cf. Sozialdemokratische Partei-Correspondenz, December 8, 1906.

2. Cf. the monthly supplement to the Freier Arbeiter, Antimilitarismus, which has been appearing for some time.

3. The improbability of such a thing is beyond doubt, but it has not become more improbable in consequence of Prince Bülow’s [3*] speech in the German Reichstag on November 14, 1906.

Additional notes

1*. HERVÉ, GUSTAVE (1871-1944). A university teacher, he was forced to leave his post as a consequence of legal proceedings arising out of his anti-militarist opinions. Founded the paper La Guerre sociale. Later became an ardent patriot, left the Socialist Party in 1916, supported Clemenceau. In 1927 created the fascist National Socialist Party in France.

2*. KROPOTKIN, PRINCE (1842-1921). Russian revolutionist, and a so-called scientific anarchist. Welcomed the First War, believing it would destroy the obsolete nation-state form. Hostile to the Bolshevik revolution.

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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