Bellicose Militarism and the Anti-Militarist Tactics of Social-Democracy
|Written||23 July 1908|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 191-201.
The diplomats are in a flurry. There is a shower of “Notes”, “Reports”, “Statements”; ministers whisper behind the backs of the crowned puppets who, champagne-glasses in hand, are “working for peace”. But their “subjects” know perfectly well that when crows flock together there must be a smell of carrion about. And the Conservative Earl Cromer in formed the British Parliament that we were living in times when national (?) interests were involved, and passions were excited, and there was a risk, and more than a risk, that a collision would take place, however pacific (!) the intentions of rulers may be.
Plenty of inflammable material has accumulated in recent times, and it is steadily growing. The revolution in Persia threatens to upset all the barriers or “spheres of influence” set up there by the European powers. The constitutional movement in Turkey threatens to snatch that private estate from the claws of the preying wolves of European capitalism; and looming large and threatening are old “questions” which have now become acute—those of Macedonia, Central Asia, the Far East, etc.
But with the present network of open and secret treaties, agreements, etc., it is sufficient for some “power” to get the slightest of flicks for “the spark to burst into flame”.
And the more menacingly the governments rattle their sabres one against the other, the more ruthlessly do they crush the anti-militarist movement at home. The persecutions of anti-militarist,s are growing extensively and intensively. The “Radical-Socialist” Ministry of Clemenceau-Briand acts no less violently than the Junker-Conservative Ministry of Billow. The dissolution of the “youth organisations” throughout Germany, following the introduction of the new law on unions and assemblies, which prohibits persons under the age of 20 from attending political meetings, has made anti—militarist agitation in Germany extremely difficult.
As a result, the dispute about the anti-militarist tactics of the socialists, which had died down since the Stuttgart Congress, is being revived again in the Party press.
At first sight it is a strange thing. When the question is so obviously important, when militarism is so patently and starkly harmful for the proletariat, it would be difficult to find another question on which such hesitation and con fusion reign among the Western socialists as in the arguments on anti-militarist tactics.
The fundamental premises for a correct solution of this problem have long ago been established quite firmly, and do not arouse any dispute. Modern militarism is the result of capitalism. In both its forms it is t.he “vital expression” of capitalism.—as a military force used by the capitalist states in their external conflicts ("Militarismus nach aussen”, as the Germans say) and as a weapon in the hands of the ruling classes for suppressing every kind of movement, economic and political, of the proletariat ("Militarismus nach innen”). A number of International Congresses (Paris 1889, Brussels 1891, Zurich 1893 and finally Stuttgart 1907) provided a perfect expression of this view in their resolutions. The Stuttgart resolution establishes this link between militarism and capitalism most circumstantially, although in keeping with the agenda ("International Conflicts”) the Stuttgart Congress was more concerned with that aspect of militarism which the Germans call “external” ("Militarismus nach aussen”). Here is the relevant passage in this resolution: “Wars between capitalist states are usually the result of their competition on the world market, since each state strives not only to assure itself of a sphere of export, but also to conquer new regions, and the principal part in this is played by the enslavement of other peoples and countries. These wars then arise from the continuous armaments produced by militarism, which is the principal implement of class domination of the bourgeoisie and of the political subjugation of the working class.
“A favourable soil for wars are, nationalist prejudices, which are systematically cultivated in the civilised countries in the interests of the ruling classes, with the object of diverting the proletarian masses from their own class objectives arid making them forget the duty of international class solidarity.
“Thus wars are rooted in the very essence of capitalism; they will end only when the capitalist system ceases to exist, or when the immensity of human and financial sacrifice caused by the development of military technique, and the indignation which armaments arouse in the people, lead to the elimination of the system.
“The working class, which is the principal supplier of soldiers, and which bears the brunt of the material sacrifices, is in particular the natural enemy of wars, because wars contradict the aim it pursues, namely, the creation of an economic system founded on socialist principles, which in practice will give effect to the solidarity of peoples....”
Thus the principle which connects militarism and capitalism is firmly established among socialists, and on this point there are no differences. Bat the recognition of this link does not of itself concretely determine the anti-militarist tactics of the socialists: it does not solve the practical problem of how to fight the burden of militarism and how to prevent wars. And it is in the answers to these questions that a considerable divergence of views is to be found among socialists. At the Stuttgart Congress these differences’ were very marked.
At one pole are German Social-Democrats like Vollmar. Since militarism is the offspring of capitalism, they argue, since wars are a necessary concomitant of capitalist development, there is no need for any special anti-militarist activity. That exactly is what Vollmar declared at the Essen Party Congress. On the question of how Social-Democrats should behave if war is declared, the majority of the German Social-Democrats, headed by Bebel and Vollmar, hold rigidly to the view that the Social-Democrats must defend their country against aggression, and that they are bound to take part in a “defensive” war. This proposition led Vollmar to declare at Stuttgart that “all our love for humanity cannot prevent us being good Germans”, while the Social-Democratic deputy Noske proclaimed in the Reichstag that., in the event of war against Germany, “t.he Social-Democrats will not lag behind the bourgeois parties and will shoulder their rifles”. From this Noske had to make only one more step to declare that “we want Germany to be armed as much as possible”.
At the other pole is the small group of supporters of Hervé. The proletariat has no fatherland, they argue. Hence all wars are in the interests of the capitalists. Hence the proletariat must combat every war. The proletariat must meet every declaration of war with a military strike and an up rising. This must be the main purpose of anti-militarist propaganda. At Stuttgart Hervé therefore proposed the following draft resolution: “The Congress calls for every declaration of war, whencesoever it may come, being met with a military strike and an uprising.”
Such are the two “extreme” positions on this question in the ranks of the Western socialists. “Like the sun in a drop of water”, there are reflected in them the two diseases which still cause harm to the activity of the socialist proletariat in the West—opportunist tendencies on the one hand and anarchist phrase-mongering on the other.
First of all, a few remarks about patriotism. That “working men have no country” was really said in the Communist Manifesto. That the attitude of Vollmar, Noske and Co. strikes at this basic principle of international socialism is also true. But it does not follow from this that Hervé and his followers are right in asserting that it is of no concern to the proletariat in what country it lives—in monarchical Germany, republican France or despotic Turkey. The fatherland, i.e., the given political, cultural and social environment, is a most powerful factor in the class struggle of the proletariat; and if Vollmar is wrong when he lays down some kind of “truly German” attitude of the proletariat to the fatherland”, Hervé is just as wrong when he takes up an unforgivably uncritical attitude on such an important factor in the struggle of the proletariat for emancipation. The proletariat cannot he indifferent to the political, social and cultural conditions of its struggle; consequently it cannot be indifferent to the destinies of its country. But the destinies of the country interest it only to the extent that they affect its class struggle, and not in virtue of some bourgeois “patriotism”, quite indecent on the lips of a Social- Democrat.
More complicated is the other question, namely, the attitude to militarism and war. At the very first glance it is obvious that Hervé is unforgivably confusing these two questions, and forgetting the causal connection between war and capitalism. By adopting Hervé’s tactics, the proletariat would condemn itself to fruitless activity: it would use up all its fighting preparedness (the reference is to insurrection) in the struggle against the effect (war) and allow the cause (capitalism) to remain.
The anarchist mode of thought is displayed in full measure here. Blind faith in the miracle-working power of all direct action ; the wrenching of this “direct action” out of its general social and political context, without the slightest analysis of the latter: in short the “arbitrarily mechanical interpretation of social phenomena” (as Karl Liebknecht put it) is obvious.
Hervé’s plan is “very simple”: on the day war is declared the socialist soldiers desert, while the reservists declare a strike and stay in their homes. But “the strike of the reservists is not passive resistance: the working class would soon go over to open resistance, to insurrection, and the latter would have all the greater chance of ending in triumph because the army on active service would he at the frontiers” (G. Hervé, Leur Patrie).
Such is this “effective, direct and practical plan”; and Hervé, confident of its success, proposes that a military strike and insurrection should be the reply to every declaration of war.
It will be clear from this that the question here is not whether the proletariat is able, when it finds such a course desirable, to reply with a strike and insurrection to a declaration of war. The point at issue is whether the proletariat should be bound by an obligation to reply with an insurrection to every war. To decide the question in the latter sense means to take away from the proletariat the choice of the moment for a decisive battle, and to hand it over to its enemies. It is not the proletariat which chooses the moment of struggle in accordance with its own interests, when its general socialist consciousness stands at a high level, when its organisation is strong, when t.he occasion is appropriate, etc. No, the bourgeois governments would he able to provoke it to an insurrection even when the conditions for it were unfavourable, for example, by declaring a war specially calculated to arouse patriotic and chauvinist feelings among wide sections of the population and thus isolate the insurgent proletariat. It should be borne in mind, moreover, that the bourgeoisie which, from monarchist Germany to republican France and democratic Switzerland, persecutes anti- militarist activity with such ruthlessness in peace-time, would descend with the utmost fury on any attempt at a military strike in the event of war, when war-time laws, declarations of martial law, courts martial, etc., are in force.
Kautsky was right when he said of Hervé’s idea: “The idea of a military strike sprang from ’good’ motives, it is noble and full of heroism, but it is heroic folly.”
The proletariat, if it finds it expedient and suitable, may reply with a military strike to a declaration of war. It may, among other means of achieving a social revolution, also have recourse to a military strike. But to commit itself to this “tactical recipe” is not in the interests of the proletariat.
And that precisely was the reply given to this debatable question by the Stuttgart International Congress.
But if the views of the Hervéists are “heroic folly” the attitude of Vollmar, Noske and those who think like them on the “Right wing” is opportunist cowardice. Since militarism is the offspring of capitalism, and will fall with it— they argued at Stuttgart and still more at Essen—no special anti-militarist agitation is needed: it should not exist. But a radical solution of the labour question and the women’s question, for example—was the reply given them at Stuttgart—is also impossible while the capitalist system exists; in spite of that, we fight for labour legislation, for extending the civil rights of women, etc. Special anti-militarist propaganda must be carried on all the more energetically be cause cases of. interference in the struggle between labour and capital on the part of the military forces are becoming more frequent; and because the importance of militarism not only in the present struggle of the proletariat, but also in the future, at the time of the social revolution, is becoming more and more obvious.
Special anti-militarist, propaganda has behind it not only the evidence .of principle but also extensive historical experience. Belgium is ahead of other countries in this respect. The Belgian Labour Party, apart.from its general propaganda of anti-militarist ideas, has organised groups of socialist youth under the title of Jeunes Gardes (Young Guards). Groups in one and the same area constitute an Area Federation, and all the Area Federations in turn form a National Federation, headed by a “Chief Council”. The newspapers of the “Young Guards” (La jeunesse—c’est l’avenir, De Caserne, De Loteling, etc.) circulate in tens of thousands of copies! The strongest is the Walloon Federation, which has 62 local groups with 10,000 members; in all there are at present 121 local groups of the 1’Young Guards”.
In addition to agitation in print, t.here is intensive verbal agitation. In January and September (the months of t.he call-up) public meetings and processions are held in the main towns of Belgium. Outside the town halls, in the open air, socialist speakers explain to the recruits the meaning of militarism. The Chief Council of the “Young Guards” has a Complaints Committee, the duty of which is to gather in formation about all acts of injustice committed in the bar racks. This information, under the heading “From the Army”, is daily published in Le Peuple, the central organ of the party. Anti-militarist propaganda does not halt at the threshold of the barracks, and socialist soldiers form propaganda groups within the army. At the present time there are about 15 such groups (“soldiers’ unions”).
Following the. Belgian model, with varying intensity and forms of organisation, anti-militarist propaganda goes on in France, Switzerland, Austria and other countries.
Thus specially anti-militarist activity is not only specially necessary but practically expedient and fruitful. Therefore, since Vollmar opposed it, pointing out the impossible police conditions prevailing in Germany and the danger of it leading to party organisations being broken up, the question reduced itself to the factual analysis of conditions in this particular country. But this was a question of fact and not of principle. Though here, too, there was justice in Jaurès’s remark that the German Social-Democrats, who in their youth, in the difficult years of the Anti-Socialist Laws, stood up against the iron hand of Prince Bismarck, could now, with their incomparably greater numbers and strength, not fear persecution at the hands of their present rulers. But Vollmar is all the more wrong when he tries to fall back on the argument that special anti-militarist propaganda is inexpedient in principle.
No less opportunistic is the conviction of Vollmar and those who think like him that the Social-Democrats are bound to take part in a defensive war. Kautsky’s brilliant criticism made hay of these views. Kautsky pointed out that it was often quite impossible to make out—especially at times of patriotic excitement—whether a particular war has been brought about with defensive or aggressive aims (the example Kautsky gave was: was Japan attacking or defending herself at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War?). Social-Democrats would be entangled in a net of diplomatic negotiations if they took into their heads to determine their attitude to a war by this criterion. Social-Democrats may find them selves even in a position to demand offensive wars. In 1848 (it would not hurt the Hervéists to remember this too) Marx and Engels thought a war of Germany against Russia to be necessary. Later they strove to influence public. opinion in Britain in favour of a war with Russia. Kautsky, by the way, puts forward the following hypothetical example: “Assuming,” he says, “that the revolutionary movement in Russia is victorious, and the effects of this victory, in France, lead to power passing into the hands of the proletariat; let us assume, on the other hand, that a coalition of European monarchs is formed against the new Russia. Would inter national Social-Democracy begin protesting if the French Republic then came to the aid of Russia?” (K. Kautsky, Our Views on Patriotism and War.)
It is obvious that on this question (just as in discussing “patriotism”) it is not the defensive or offensive character of the war, but the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat, or—to put it better—the interests of the inter national movement of the proletariat—that represent the sole criterion for considering and deciding the attitude of the Social-Democrats to any particular event in international relations.
The lengths to which opportunism can go in such questions too is shown by a recent statement of Jaurès. Expressing his views on the international situation in a German bourgeois-liberal newspaper, he defends the alliance of France and Britain with Russia against the charge of non-peaceful intentions, and treats that alliance as a “guarantee of peace”; he welcomes the fact that “we have now lived to see an alliance of Britain and Russia, two old-standing enemies”.
Rosa Luxemburg has given a magnificent assessment of such a view, and a warm retort to Jaurès, in her “Open Letter” to him in the last issue of Neue Zeit.
Rosa Luxemburg begins by pointing out that to talk of an alliance between “Russia” and “Britain” means “talking in the language of bourgeois politicians”, because the interests of the capitalist states and the interests of the proletariat in foreign policy are opposed to one another, and one can not speak of a harmony of interests in the sphere of foreign relations. If militarism is the offspring of capitalism, then wars too cannot be abolished by the intrigues of rulers and diplomats; and the task of socialists is not to awaken illusions on this score, but on the contrary constantly to expose the hypocrisy and impotence of diplomatic “peaceful démarches”.
But the main point of the “Open Letter” is the assessment of Britain’s and France’s alliance with Russia which Jaurès so extols. The European bourgeoisie has given tsarism a chance to repel the revolutionary onset. “Now, in an attempt to turn its temporary victory over the revolution into a final one, absolutism is having recourse first and foremost to the tried method of all shaken despotisms—successes in foreign policy.” All alliances with Russia now mean “a holy alliance between the bourgeoisie of Western Europe and Russian counter-revolution, the suppressors and executioners of Russian and Polish fighters for liberty. Such alliances mean the strengthening of the most bloody reaction, not only inside Russia, but in international relations as well.... Therefore the most elementary obligation of socialists and proletarians in all countries is to oppose with all their might an alliance wit.h counter-revolutionary Russia”.
Rosa Luxemburg asks Jaurès: “How are we to explain to ourselves that you will strive ’most energetically’ to make the government of the bloody executioners of the Russian revolution and the insurrection in Persia an influential factor in European politics, and make the gallows in Russia pillars of international peace—you, who once uttered a brilliant speech in the French Parliament against the loan to Russia; you, who only a few weeks ago printed in your paper L’Humanité a fiery appeal to public opinion against the bloody work of the military tribunals in Russian Poland? How can one reconcile your plans for peace, which rely on the Franco-Russian and Anglo-Russian alliances, with the recent protest of the French Parliamentary Socialist Party and the Administrative Commission of the National Council of the Socialist Party against President Fall i&res’ visit to Russia—a protest which you signed, and which in passionate terms defends the interests of the Russian revolution? If the President of the French Republic cares to quote your conceptions of the international situation, he will reply to your protest that he who approves the end must approve the means; he who considers alliance with tsarist Russia as the harmony of international peace must accept everything that strengthens that alliance and leads to friendship.
“What would you have said if once upon a time in Germany, in Russia or in Britain there had appeared socialists and revolutionaries who in the ‘interests of peace’ had re commended an alliance with the government of the Restoration, or the government of Thiers and Jules Favre, and had vested such an alliance with their moral authority?!"
This letter speaks for itself, and Russian Social-Democrats can only send their greetings to Comrade Rosa Luxemburg for this her protest and for her defence of the Russian revolution before the international proletariat.
- See Lenin’s article “The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart” (present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 75-81 and 82-93).
- These words are in French in the original: action directé.—Ed.
- Youth Is the Future, The Barracks, The Recruit.—Ed.
- An interesting feature among the French is the practice known as “The Soldier’s Half-penny”. Every week the worker pays one son to the secretary of his union. The money collected in this way is sent to the soldiers “as a reminder that, even in soldier’s clothes, they belong to the exploited class, and that in no circumstances should they forget this”. —Lenin