H.M. Hyndman and E. Belfort Bax

Socialism, Materialism, and the War

(December 1914)

H.M. Hyndman & E. Belfort Bax, Socialism, Materialism & the War, English Review, XIX, December 1914, pp.52-69.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

So remarkable has been the growth of Socialism in all civilised countries, and even in uneducated England, during the last thirty years that the attitude of the International Socialist Party in this unprecedented crisis is of considerable interest to the world at large as well as to Socialists themselves. We admit that the influence exerted by the Socialists to prevent, or limit the extension, of the war has been lamentably small. But it is equally certain that their enemies and their friends alike expected too much of them in this respect. Their failure by no means justifies the Editor of this Review in writing of the Collapse of Socialism. In France, in Belgium, and in Great Britain Socialism is certainly stronger than it was before the war began, being much more in touch with the mass of national feeling and tending to secure advantages of a practical description for the people, which could not have been obtained before. In Germany, no doubt, the representatives of Social-Democracy in the Reichstag did not take the course anticipated from their record. The majority supported the militarist party by voting for armaments at the commencement of the war, when, in the interest of Socialism generally, they should at least have abstained altogether. Moreover, when war had begun, they apparently acquiesced in the attack on Belgium with hardly any protest.

Bitter, however, as is the animosity at the present time on both sides of the North Sea, it is unquestionable that Social-Democrats did good service to the cause of peace in the past. But their successes were still more impressive to others than they were to themselves. The huge vote of between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 men over twenty-five years of age, growing steadily at General Election after General Election; the round million of weekly subscribers to the party funds; the ninety daily self-supporting Social Democratic newspapers; and the admirable organisation of the party as a whole – misled the world outside Germany (including Ministers for Foreign Affairs) into the belief that Socialists could do much more to preserve peace than proved in fact at all possible.

The old leaders of the German Socialist party never at any time made this mistake. They knew that they could not stop, nor even postpone, war, when the dominant caste had resolved upon making it. Bebel, Liebknecht, Singer, and others told one of the signatories of this article, a few years ago, that it was impossible for Social-Democrats to check mobilisation, or to avert hostilities, whether the campaign was directed against France, or England, or Russia. The utmost they could do would be to enter a formal and vigorous protest – a very dangerous matter for the protesters. A definite refusal to obey the call to arms would be dealt with in such a manner as to throw back Socialism for a generation. Open resistance was out of the question. This opinion of the most influential German Socialists was published in England more than once, and never contradicted by them. But their statement was scarcely needed to show the truth. If the Social-Democrats had been able to stop war, obviously they were strong enough to take control in peace.

Still, for forty-four years, they did what they could. They protested against the war of 1870, and their leaders were imprisoned in consequence; they strove their utmost to prevent the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine; they resisted the military fury of the Junkers, as they denounced their reactionary finance; they voted every year for the reduction of the expenditure on armaments and attacked the policy of menace at all their meetings. Quite recently, also, Karl Liebknecht, following in the footsteps of his great father (himself imprisoned times out of number) was incarcerated for exposing the infamies of Prussian militarist discipline. In this patriotic but dangerous work he was boldly seconded by the fiery Rosa Luxembourg, who has just been sent to prison for doing so. Throughout, the party denounced war upon France as a crime against civilisation. The less we can excuse the panic which seized the majority of their Parliament men, when threatened by Russia, the more credit we should give to their previous efforts; and still more should we applaud those like Karl Liebknecht, Mehring, Ledebour, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxembourg, and Bernstein, who have remained true to the faith.

The rank and file of the party, after betrayal by their representatives, had no means of expressing their opinions. But, had Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel been living, we believe that fully half the members of the Social-Democracy would have declared that their views on aggressive warfare were unchanged. If there was no danger of this, why was all Germany kept so carefully in the dark as to the objects and the progress of the war? Why have lies been the current coin of German officialism throughout? It is not necessary to conceal the truth from a nation that is eager for war! But war once entered upon with ruthless energy, it was almost impossible for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of objectors to make their voices heard. Recall what occurred in Great Britain only fifteen years ago. Although it is probable that a majority of the inhabitants of this island were opposed to the war waged on behalf of international millionaires against the South African Republics, matters were so contrived by the English aggressors that those who publicly opposed that criminal and costly policy – we speak from personal experience – did so at serious risk to life and limb. It is far worse in Germany to-day, where the Prussian Junkers have absolute mastery, with martial law at their command.

Social-Democrats of all nationalities are necessarily vehement advocates of peace between the peoples. They know that there is no real economic antagonism between the workers of the world. Race, religion, greed of gain obscure the true interests of the producers. Social-Democrats are, however, essentially Inter-Nationalists; meaning thereby that they strive for universal understanding among nations to their common advantage. They are not in principle Anti-Nationalists; for that would imply them to be necessarily indifferent to national independence, because capitalism oppresses all alike. They recognise the right of every nationality to safeguard its own independence, or has always been with the conquered against the conquerors, with the small powers against the great, with the weak against the strong. Moreover, at International Congress after International Congress, side by side with declarations in favour of peace, a resolution has been carried unanimously by the assembled delegates in favour of a National Democratic Citizen Force (or Armed Nation) to ensure effective national defence. Assuredly, therefore, Socialists cannot be honestly denounced either as peace-at-any-price men, or as Chauvinists. They oppose aggression, they resist attack, they help on emancipation. The action of Vaillant, Guesde, Sembat, Vandervelde, Anseele, Plechanoff, Pablo Iglesias, Charles Edward Russell, Herron, Walling, and many English Socialists may be fairly set off against the temporary backsliding of the weaker brethren in Berlin, who could not, as their forerunners did, distinguish between a war of militarist aggression and a war of democratic defence.

To class Marx with Treitschke, Bernhardi, and the rest of the fire-eaters and professors is ludicrous. Marx, and with him Engels, was the most powerful opponent in Europe of all that German Prussianised militarism stands for. He loathed it and all its works, as he showed in his writings, in his conversation and by his actions. Engels, a more impulsive man than Marx, actually wanted to go over and render what aid he could to the French in the war of 1870, and Marx only dissuaded him by urging that his action would be misunderstood by the French themselves. Marx and Engels were strongly opposed to any policy which aimed at giving Germany, as organised in their day, a dominant position in Europe. More than this, they attacked the influence of Prussia and Prussian methods as directly injurious to Germany itself, and as tending to crush down the real greatness of the German people. In practical politics of the day these great men may have made their mistakes; but it is an outrage upon their memory to accuse them of having anything in common with the infuriate military and professorial fulminists of to-day.

True, Socialists work towards the period when, in a wider sphere, all nationalities will be absorbed as separate entities into the great Co-operative Commonwealth of Socialist Humanity – just as in the past, tribes, ceasing to fight among themselves, were combined into a Confederation of Tribes or a People; Cities, abandoning their internecine warfare, expanded into a Province; and Provinces, within whose borders peace became the rule, consolidated themselves into the modern Nation-State. Though, also, armaments intended for use by one nation against another may be unavoidable in the competitive profit-making and commercial system of our day, with the attendant race hatreds inherited from the past, these antagonistic elements will disappear in the general co-operation of internationally-organised industry and the universal peace of tomorrow. But the basic antagonisms to be resolved, before this ideal of the future can be realised, are the economic and class struggles, within each and every nation, mainly due to the system of production itself: not to the persistent efforts of each nation in turn for expansion, or domination, at the expense of other nations.

This great and terrible war has been forced upon the world by Prussian militarist ambition; but this does not mean that Germany must be counted out in the progress of Socialism. Far from it. Notwithstanding her frightful mistakes, Germany, by reason of the superior education of her people, has probably advanced farther towards the solution of the problem of social revolution and social reconstruction than any other country. France gained her solid Republic by the German overthrow of the French Empire. It is within the bounds of possibility that Germany may attain to a still higher and more beneficial transformation when finally defeated by the Allies. “Revisionism” most certainly will not arrest the approaching change. Its influence has been greatly exaggerated as we could easily demonstrate. It is enough to say here that the leader of that clever but unsuccessful sect of mild progressives has himself, not only abjured his errors, but as a patriotic German sees no hope for the uplifting of his country save in the defeat of Prussian policy.

We cannot leave this part of the subject without a word about that fear of Russia which, as we ourselves believe, has so greatly obscured the real issue from German Socialists. This it is which led to their condonation of the attack on Belgium. Bad, but intelligible. The danger of the Russian advance is admitted by nearly all the Socialist parties in Europe. Scandinavia and Southern Europe feel this as much as Germany. Teutons, in particular, cannot view with calmness the possible advent of an era of Slav conquest and Slav assimilation under Muscovite control. To them, Russia is the advanced guard of Asia in Europe. The line of Slavonic, or Asiatic, progress was sweeping forward even in peace. In Austria, whole districts which, but a few years ago, were completely German in population, in language and in name, are now Slavonic in every respect. The process went steadily on. But Germans, being Germans, failed to understand that the immediate danger of themselves to other nations, handled as they were by Prussian Junkers, loomed larger and seemed more directly hateful than the success of Russia allied with England and France. Muscovite Czarism may be warded off. The Prussian Goth is at the gate.


Any serious consideration of the views of the great war taken by Socialists generally can scarcely fail to lead to an examination of the theories which may affect their judgment on this most important matter. Speaking broadly, Socialists at the present time are, in certain countries, divided into two camps. The minority favour the extreme doctrinaire dogma that all wars in modern times arise out of capitalism and capitalist antagonism, and that, therefore, Socialists should take no part in them whatever, even when national freedom and national independence are at stake. The majority, on the other hand, contend, and act upon the contention, that by no means all modern wars are capitalist wars, or due to capitalist antagonism, and that, even if they were, capitalism plus foreign militarist domination, or racial repression, is worse than domestic capitalism by itself. The former opinion is in opposition to the decisions of International Socialist Congresses: the latter is in accordance with them. The great Peace Congress held at Basle just before the Balkan uprisings made an imposing declaration in favour of universal peace. The workers of the world, as already said, have really no antagonistic interests, if they understand their true position, and without their aid no war can be carried on. Sound as this may be in the abstract, when war once breaks out, working men are quite ready to take sides, as we see, and to fight to a finish like other classes; and many an ardent pacifist in Great Britain yesterday is an ardent recruit or recruiting agent to-day. Nevertheless, though it is useless and even harmful to preach peace when there is no peace, Socialism will have a good deal to say when this war is over. It has made more progress in this island during the past twelve weeks than it did in the previous twelve years.

It is worth while, therefore, to study the exposition of scientific Socialism known as the materialist interpretation of history of which we hear so much nowadays on both sides of the Atlantic. That this conception influences a growing number of thinkers is apparent. We give the theory below, in the words of its chief promulgator, Karl Marx. Marx, apart from his analysis of capitalist production, which still holds the field in political economy, systematised, and provided a philosophic and historic groundwork for, the ideas popularly expounded years before he came to the front by the English Chartist leaders and the principal French agitators. These ideas comprised the class war, social antagonisms based upon economics, etc. It is his name, therefore, that is generally associated with the theory which he thus formulates himself:

“In the social production of the environment of their life, human beings enter into certain necessary relations of production which are independent of their will, and correspond to a determinate stage of development of their material and productive forces. The totality of these relations of production form the economic structure of the society, the real basis upon which a judicial and political superstructure raises itself, and to which determinate forms of social consciousness correspond. The mode of production of the material life of society conditions the socio-political and intellectual life process generally. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into contradiction with the existing relations of production, or, to speak in judicial language, with the conditions of property holding, under which they have hitherto worked. When this is the case, the forms of development proper to the productive forces become suddenly transformed into fetters for these forces. An epoch of social revolution is then entered upon. With the transformation of the economic basis, the whole immense superstructure sooner or later undergoes a complete bouleversement. In considering such revolutions as these, one must always distinguish between the material revolution in the economic conditions of production, and the judicial, political, religious, artistic or philosophical – in short, the ideological form, in which mankind becomes aware of the conflict and under which it is fought out. Just as little as one can judge an individual by what he thinks of himself can we judge such a period of revolution from its own consciousness alone. On the contrary, we must rather explain this consciousness by the contradictions obtaining in the material life of the time, in the conflict existing between the social forms of production and the social relations of production. A social formation never passes away before all the productive forces immanent within it have had time to develop themselves; and new and higher relations of production never establish themselves before the material conditions of their existence have already been formed within the womb of the old society. Hence mankind only sets itself tasks that it can accomplish, for if we consider the matter carefully we shall find that the problem to be solved never arises except where the material conditions of its solution are already present, or at least where they are already in process of realising themselves. In their broader outlines, oriental, classical, feudal, and modern modes of production may be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last of the antagonistic forms of the social progress of production, antagonistic, not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of an antagonism arising out of the social conditions underlying the life of individuals. These are created by the productive forces developing themselves within the womb of bourgeois society, which forces create at the same time the material conditions for the resolution of the antagonism thus created. With the present social formation, therefore, the introductory period of the history of human society is closed.”

Now, it is obvious, if we accept this as a complete summary of human development, that mankind in society is thereby reduced to a collection of merely sentient automata, unconsciously dominated, from generation to generation, by economic circumstances, outside of their own cognition or control. Moreover, used in this sense, the word and the conception “materialist” or (perhaps better) “economic” assumes the attributes of a God, or First Cause. And, indeed, some of Marx’s followers are quite content to ascribe to it such a power. That is to say, the materialist, which for them means the economic, factor devours all other factors in the long history of man in society, and proceeds onwards and upwards of its own motion and volition. Progress is assumed as one of the properties inherent in matter, giving forth of itself an impulse towards the modification of human environment. Hence all individual, as well as all social, improvement, becomes virtually automatic.

The mental or psychologic factor is thus wholly eliminated. The inevitable rules society inevitably. Consciousness is nothing more than determination of the object of consciousness (i.e., of its own object!). The social advance is no more than an effort of highly organised matter to reach an unseen goal, in which effort mankind renders blind assistance as a vitalised material agent. How or why progress rather than stagnation or retrogression should result from such uninfluenced material evolution, no attempt is made to explain.

There must, we suppose, be some charm to certain minds in this crushing down of active mentality. The simplicity of the theory is itself a perfect joy to searchers after the universal formula – the philosopher’s stone – for the transmutation into certainty of all that is knowable. This key opens up, lays bare, and explains every period of history in its innermost detail. The adjustment, also, of apparently irreconcilable historic developments to the theory, wholly regardless of more obvious reasons for what has taken place, possesses an attraction for the devotees of this materialist cult of abstraction, which transcends even the believer’s delight in tracing “the finger of God” in every incident of life. Save that men of genuine ability, such as Karl Kautsky, the late Paul Lafargue, Morris Hillquit, and a few others, including from another side Robert Blatchford, accept this human automatism as a material revelation, it would not be worth while to expose the shortcomings of Marx’s brilliant and pregnant generalisation, when pushed to extremes.

What Marx overlooked, in the passage quoted, is that one factor of a complex synthesis cannot constitute reality: least of all can one aspect of one factor do so. The total material conditions, omitting the mental factor, are as purely abstract as the mind itself divorced from its material expression is abstract. Still more does the economic element by itself, severed from the other material conditions, become an abstraction: being, indeed, an abstraction of an abstraction. In the domain of social psychology, family and tribal feeling, internal and external perception, mental combinations, imagination, etc., all have their influence.

The last-named psychologic factor, in particular, often works in direct antagonism to material interests, both individual and social. The crudest superstitions have very greatly influenced human action, in many ways and in various directions. Even the profound belief in what, to the average modern mind, is an absurdity, such as “the Second Advent” of the Christ which, by no possible perversion of ideas can be attributed to the economic forms, or the economic development, of the time, had a powerful influence upon the actions, as well as upon the teachings, of the early Christians. The hope of another world, with its sempiternal happiness for disembodied spirits, brought about an indifference to this world with its material needs. This is common to all supernatural religions, when really believed in. Similar, and almost as widely spread, popular delusions, which also had no bearing whatsoever upon the material side of social life, produced very serious effects upon men in society – effects which extended over whole continents, and lasted for long periods.

Many historic situations, also, cannot possibly be explained by the comparatively simple formula of economic antagonisms, and the struggle of classes thence resulting. Granting that these class-struggles themselves were wholly due to the purely economic factor (of itself a very large concession), there were other desperate conflicts going on simultaneously, or successively, which had nothing at all to do with class warfare. The antagonisms of race, of religion, of custom, and so on, have brought about some of the most terrible conflagrations the world has ever seen. History bristles with illustrations of this truth. Can there be anything more absurd than to try to prove that the early movements of Mohammedanism, or Peter the Hermit’s Crusade are traceable, either directly or indirectly, to the economics of the time? The attempt falls through of its own fatuity. Nevertheless, the long-drawn conflict extending over centuries which resulted from the growing power of the more recent Asiatic creed, Mohammedanism, and the furious assaults upon it of the older Asiatic religion, Christianity, greatly affected the future of the race. That economic interests arose out of and followed the initial religious antagonism may be true; but this does not in the least weaken the original contention: namely, that the antagonism was mainly psychologic and not economic. The Social-Democratic movement is itself a refutation of the purely materialistic theory; inasmuch as Germany, where economic conditions are less developed than in England or America, nevertheless, owing to psychologic causes, has organised that movement much more vigorously and capably than either of the other two countries. [1]

All wars are no more of necessity economic wars than all internal national conflicts are of necessity class struggles.

This is as true of modern wars as of the wars of history, and is particularly applicable to the greatest war the world has ever seen in which we, as a nation, are taking part to-day. That many wars of our time have been waged in the interest, real or supposed, of the capitalist class does not admit of dispute. Such wars are, in fact, so numerous that only the eager desire to make the economic theory universally valid could induce the fanatics of materialistic monism to insist upon bringing the present war within the limits of the same category. The wars in China, Burmah, South Africa, Morocco, Tonquin, Cochin China, Madagascar, Manchuria, Korea, Cuba, Tripoli, and the Philippines were undoubtedly all of them capitalist wars in the strict sense: wars, that is to say, whose primary object was to obtain an extension of trade and commerce, or to ensure the expansion of some financial scheme. On the other hand, the wars of emancipation, such as those of Italy and Hungary and the Balkan Principalities, cannot be brought under this head; nor can the wars of Germany against Austria and France.

The war between Great Britain, France, Russia, Servia, etc., against Germany and Austria-Hungary is likewise not a capitalist war in its origin.


The rise of Prussia to its present position of domination over Germany, and lately even over Austria, has, of course, been due to militarism. The history of Frederick the Great and his wars, in which he made defeats as fruitful as other generals made victories, shows that clearly enough; and, when Prussia had recovered from Jena and Auerstadt, the tale was taken up by the reorganised army which, after Leipzig and Waterloo, became the most powerful engine of war on the continent of Europe. Nearly fifty years elapsed, however, before the successful campaigns of 1864, 1866, and 1870, against Denmark, Austria, and France, proved that the Prussian military system still preserved the organisation and impetus given to it by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and that the lessons of thorough unscrupulousness in diplomacy, taught by the ablest of the Hohenzollerns, had not been lost upon Bismarck. From 1871 onwards, Prussianised Germany, by far the best-educated, and industrially and commercially the most progressive, country in Europe, with the enormous advantage of her central position, was, consciously and unconsciously, making ready for her next advance. The policy of a good understanding with Russia, maintained for many years, to such an extent that, in foreign affairs, Berlin and St. Petersburg were almost one city, enabled Germany to feel secure against France, while she was devoting herself to the extension of her rural and urban powers of production. Never at any time did she neglect to keep her army in a posture of offence. All can now see the meaning of this.

Militarism is in no sense necessarily economic. But the strength of Germany for war was rapidly increased by her success in peace. From the date of the great financial crisis of 1874, and the consequent reorganisation of her entire banking system, Germany entered upon that determined and well-thought-out attempt to attain pre-eminence in the trade and commerce of the world of which we have not yet seen the end. From 1878, when the German High Commissioner, von Rouleaux, stigmatised the exhibits of his countrymen as “cheap and nasty,” special efforts were made to use the excellent education and admirable powers of organisation of Germany in this field. The Government rendered official and financial help in both agriculture and manufacture. Scientific training, good and cheap before, was made cheaper and better each year. Railways were used not to foster foreign competition, as in Great Britain, by excessive rates of home freight, but to give the greatest possible advantage to German industry in every department. In more than one rural district, the railways were worked at an apparent loss, in order to foster home production, from which the nation derived far greater advantage than such apparent sacrifice entailed. The same system of State help was extended to shipping until the great German liners, one of which, indeed, was actually subsidised by England, were more than holding their own with the oldest and most celebrated British companies.

Protection, alike in agriculture and in manufacture, bound the whole Empire together in essentially Imperial bonds. Right or wrong in theory – which it is not here necessary to discuss – there can be no doubt whatever that this policy entirely changed the face of Germany, and rendered her our most formidable competitor in every market. Emigration, which had been proceeding on a vast scale, almost entirely ceased. The savings banks were overflowing with deposits. The position of the workers was greatly improved. Not only were German Colonies secured in Africa and Asia, which were more trouble than they were worth, but very profitable commerce with our own Colonies and Dependencies was growing by leaps and bounds, at the expense of the out-of-date but self-satisfied commercialists of Old England. Hence arose a trade rivalry, against which we could not hope to contend successfully in the long run, except by a complete revolution in our methods of education and business, to which neither the Government nor the dominant class would consent.

This remarkable advance in Germany, also, was accompanied by the establishment of a system of banking, specially directed to the expansion of national industry and commerce, a system which was clever enough to use French accumulations, borrowed at a low rate of interest, through the German Jews who so largely controlled French financial institutions, in order still further to extend their own trade. It was an admirably organised attempt to conquer the world-market for commodities, in which the Government, the Banks, the Manufacturers and the Ship-owners all worked for the common cause. Meanwhile, both French and English financiers carefully played the game of their business opponents, and the great English Banks devoted their attention chiefly to fostering speculation on the Stock Exchange – a policy of which the Germans took advantage, just before the outbreak of war, to an extent not by any means as yet fully understood.

Thus, at the beginning of the present year, in spite of the withdrawal, since the Agadir affair, of very large amounts of French capital from the German market, Germany had attained to such a position that only the United States stood on a higher plane in regard to its future in the world of competitive commerce. And this great and increasing economic strength was, for war purposes, at the disposal of the Prussian militarists, if they succeeded in getting the upper hand in politics and foreign affairs.

The only party in Germany which was deeply interested in making war was this same Junker party and its militarist friends. They constituted the last military caste, as a caste, left in the world. They were being threatened on two sides. On the one hand, the great capitalists, with whom the Kaiser was more friendly than he was towards the Junkers, were gaining influence and power, aided by the State, in every direction. Fiscal protection against agricultural imports and control over the army did not compensate them for being thus supplanted at Court and in political influence. Every year that passed made their position, as they thought, more insecure. Hence their endeavour to make their power felt in every household, and their growing determination to impress their superiority upon the mass of the people by almost unendurable arrogance and brutality, alike to soldiers under their command and to civilians who at any time might be at their mercy. Militarist policy only waited its opportunity to push ahead with vigour, and, in its desire to obtain for itself in the name of Germany (as its ablest writers admitted) the leadership and the domination of Europe, nothing was omitted from the necessary preparations which science could suggest or which material organisation could provide. The incident of military ruffianism at Zabern, which horrified Europe, but left Prussia unmoved, was but a fair example of the tendency in one direction; the secretly-built howitzers for the destruction of Belgian and French forts was a manifestation of the other. Only war was needed to give full outlet to both. [2]

And war became the more necessary from the Junker point of view on account of that astounding growth of German Social-Democracy to which we have already made reference. For German Social-Democracy, though in direct antagonism to German Capitalism, was even more menacing, or so it was thought, to German Militarism, and for that reason could rely to some extent upon support from the German lower middle-class and even from the great German capitalists. Neither of these sections had any love for the Junkers and their military caste, nor had they any desire for war. In fact, as quite probably the Kaiser himself and his more sober advisers saw clearly, Germany was gaining so much and so rapidly by her quiet but unceasing progress in peace that she could not possibly hope to obtain more by war without encountering desperate risks. Therefore, capitalists and people were at first dragged into hostilities by the military caste, whose policy had been systematically advocated among the “intellectuals” by the university professors for at least fifty years. This, consequently, is not a carefully-prepared war of capitalist aggression against rival capitalists. It is the final effort of Prussian Militarism to retain its predominance at home by conquest and annexation abroad. The Junkers were losing ground: war might enable them to recover what they had lost and a great deal more. Therefore, foreign war was deliberately engineered in order to save the domestic situation. Hence the intrigues of this Camarilla around the Kaiser and his family, as well as in every capital in Europe: hence the constant and at last successful efforts to embroil Austria and Russia against their will in the trouble arising out of the Serajevo assassination: hence the sudden attack upon Belgium as a preliminary to the crushing of France: hence also the miscalculation about the attitude of England which the Junkers could not understand.

To the amazement of all foreign Socialists the German Social-Democrats supported the militarists, who were their worst enemies. Why? “Russia the enemy” was substituted for “England the enemy” – the cry since 1878 – and Social-Democrats, like other Germans, were misled. Unfortunately, too, the English capitalist newspapers played into the hands of the German Chauvinists all over the Fatherland by starting an agitation, immediately on the outbreak of war, for “the capture of German trade”; as if sheer capitalist greed on our side, and not the outrage upon Belgian neutrality, the attempt to immolate France, or even the necessity for defending the independence of Great Britain herself, was the real reason why this nation declared war upon Germany. The truth being, of course, that the capitalist class in Great Britain, native and foreign, was strongly on the side of peace. The grim irony of the thing is almost unprecedented in history.

Peace favoured the commercial expansion of Germany. Peace favoured the racial growth of the Slavs with Russia behind them. Peace favoured the consolidation and permanence of the French Republic. Peace favoured the general policy of Great Britain. Yet war was forced upon the world by the fear and the ambition of the only purely militarist and reactionary system left in Europe. Outside Germany, even the most rigid conscription does not engender a military caste of the nature it has created there. Prussianised Germany, as represented by the Junkers, with Austria-Hungary trailing at her heels, was becoming more militarist every day.

Victory for such a power would inevitably bring about a long set-back, not only to Socialism in Germany, but to democracy all over Europe. For that democracy, as well as Socialism, will be attacked and repressed if the Prusso-German army wins is apparent from what is already to seen in Germany itself. Prussia, the headquarters of Junkerdom and militarism, bristles with reaction. Her political system and methods of election are entirely behind the times. So far, also, notwithstanding the great and growing power of Social-Democracy in Berlin and throughout Prussia, it has been found impossible to introduce reforms. Not only so, but reaction has gained ground in the South. In Saxony, where Social-Democracy had made most effective use of universal suffrage, that democratic right had actually been taken away from the people, and no effective protest was made by Social-Democrats against this high-handed action of the reactionary minority. As the Social-Democrat poll mounted up, at General Election after General Election, the Junkers openly threatened to suppress universal suffrage throughout the Empire in the same way. Should they win in war they will carry out this policy in peace, and the countries they conquer, annex, or put under tutelage will be subjected in like manner to the rule of the sabre. Culture is only useful in the minds of the Junkers in so far as it enables them to dominate and oppress. Triumphant abroad, they will be the despots of Central and Western Europe.

Happily, this misfortune seems unlikely to befall humanity and civilisation, including Germany herself. Prussianised Germany to-day like Napoleonic France of a century ago has raised against herself the most formidable combination the world has ever seen. Yet we have all had a narrow escape from at least her temporary success. The conspiracy against the independence and general freedom of all her neighbours was conducted with masterly ability and good fortune, up to the point when the tide was turned back on the Marne. German calculations were by no means so rash as some of us are now apt to imagine. If by far the greatest danger of modern times seems to be slowly passing away, this is due to the fact that her own policy has forced her enemies to fight with unheard-of resolution and patriotism. Let us hope that the defeat of Prussian militarism, to which we may confidently look forward at an earlier or later date, will be accompanied by the uprising of all that is really noblest in the German people, who have been made its dupes, its tools, and its victims. On the side of the Allies there is no ruthless hatred against Germany – though that the wrongs done by her soldiery must be duly paid for is a sad consequence of the hideous Attilism which has disgraced her campaign – but when the war is over, that a new and greater Germany may again take a leading place in the ranks of great nations striving for human progress is the sincere desire of not a few of those who have been compelled for years past most vigorously to denounce and oppose her as a standing menace to Europe.




1. An even more striking instance is the advance of social democracy in Finland. Here is a poor and very sparsely inhabited country, whose chief industries, tar and papermaking, only employ a very small number of the working population. The majority of Finns are peasants or farmers; yet for the last seven years the social democratic vote has steadily increased, until its representatives comprise very nearly half of the whole elected assembly. Further, the majority of this vote is polled by the agricultural workers of Finland – peasants from remote farms and forests – living, under the most primitive conditions, upon a harsh and barren soil.

2. Endeavours have been made of late, in more than one quarter, to confuse the exceptional militarist caste in Prussia with the military staffs and officers in Great Britain and other European countries. The difference both politically, socially, and militarily is very great. Nowhere, not even in Austria, where the power of the aristocracy over the army is quite bad enough, have the prejudices of a hereditary caste been so greatly strengthened and rendered so intolerable, by the irresponsible arrogance of military command, as in Prussia, and, through Prussia, in Germany.


Last updated on 28.5.2007