August Bebel 1905
Source: Social Democrat, Vol. 9. no. 8, 15 Aug 1905, pp. 491-493;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
This was from a symposium on Patriotism and War that the Social Democrat ran at this time partly provoked by discussions over attitudes to take to the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05
AUGUST BEBEL, leader of the German Social-Democratic Party in the Reichstag, writes as follows :-
1st. What do we mean by patriotism?
That every nation which has its own language, its own customs, its own civilisation, and its history has the right of developing in its own way, and of governing itself. The man is a patriot who tries to obtain for the nation to which he belongs by his birth, his language, and his customs, without hurting or injuring any other nation, the highest civilisation in the interest of all. If he follows this ideal, without any idea of self-interest, and without helping the governing class, but in the interest of all, he is working for the highest ideal open to any man.
2nd. What do we mean by internationalism?
Not the suppression of nationalities, not the violent fusion of nations, but the upholding and the progress of pacific relations of civilisation among nations. Side by side with the national civilisation of a nation, there exists all international civilisation in which each nation participates in the measure of its moral and intellectual development. Our business relations, our scientific, artistic and literary activity, the exchange of inventions and discoveries are the principal characteristics of this international effort. Internationalism tends to make these relations more and more close by the entering into of commercial agreements, of maritime conventions, of treaties of alliance, by the exchange of all the resources of civilisation, by international laws for the protection of the “workers, by the development of international law, by the equalisation of rights and duties of foreigners and native-born subjects, by the progress of humanitarian effort among all nations, by the solution of differences between nations by an international court of arbitration.
This internationalism compels Socialists to fight constantly against the lust of conquest, the hostile isolation of nations, the tariff-wars, the bellicose naval and military armaments, because all this tends to increase national prejudice, and threatens constant war.
The aim of all international action should be a world-parliament, in which should sit representatives of all civilised nations, and which should regulate all international relations, making them more and more close.
Patriotism and Internationalism are not necessarily antagonistic, but supplement each other, marking towards a more and more perfect civilisation.
3rd. Therefore we see that Socialists should always work in that direction, whether in meetings, in the press, or in parliaments.
If opposition between nations cannot disappear at once, they must work to decrease it gradually.
4th. The duty of Socialists in case of war cannot he defined in one phrase. Socialists are still everywhere in a minority, both among nations and in parliaments. The foreign affairs of States are not directed by them, and their duty is to try and influence them in the direction which I have indicated above. But if, in spite of than, a war breaks out, they must examine its causes. If their own government is the aggressor, they must refuse to vote supplies, and fight against it by all possible means. If their own government is attacked, then they cannot refuse their help. For in a war it is the government which suffers least and the people which suffers most.
If the war becomes a war of conquest, as in 1870, after Sedan, Socialists must oppose all conquest.
When, in 1870, the Franco-German War broke out, Liebknecht and myself did not vote when supplies were asked for the war, because we knew that this war was a necessary consequence of the policy of Bismarck, to which we were opposed, and we were convinced that the candidature of a Hohenzollern prince to the Spanish throne was only a pretext invented by Bismarck to force Napoleon to declare a war which the German Chancellor ardently desired. On the other hand, we thought that if we voted against supplies we should appear to approve the Napoleonic policy.
But when the peace we hoped for was not agreed to after Sedan, and war went on because Alsace-Lorraine was wanted by Bismarck, then not only did we, as Socialists, oppose the continuation of the war, but in the Reichstag we unanimously voted against the credits which were asked for in order to continue the war. It was then proposed to seize some French territory which had, it is true, been formerly German, and where the majority still spoke German. But for more than a century the culture and the life of that people were French, and if the inhabitants had been consulted they would doubtless unanimously have desired to remain French. Each nation or part of a nation should he allowed to decide its own destinies. As a rule, it happens that the conquered nation remains in the conquering nation though not assimilating with them. The best example of this is the division of Poland. Though the last partition of Poland took place nearly 110 years ago, the aspirations of the Polish nations towards national independence, in the three conquering nations, are stronger than ever. An energetic nation, which has been injured in its language, in its civilisation, and therefore in its material interests, will always try to recover its national independence, because that alone guarantees the originality of its civilisation. Exceptions like that of Republican and Democratic Switzerland, where Germans, Frenchmen, and Italians live side by side at peace, simply confirms the rule. For in Switzerland no nation is dominated or oppressed by another. On the other hand, in Austria, where there is almost absolute rule, all the nationalities are fighting one against the other, because each one wishes to rule, and the reactionary government only goes on owing to this quarrel of nationalities. If this is correct, it follows that if a war leads to a nation losing part of its territory or being oppressed by another nation, Socialists should, in spite of their hatred of war, devote their strength to the defence of the fatherland, if their national existence is threatened. Let us take the following example. If Germany were to attack France, in order to acquire territory (though it is only fair to say that no one wishes to do this), not only should we refuse to vote supplies, but we should think it quite right that all our French comrades should help in thrusting back the German invader.
The normal development of the Socialist movement must be based certainly on the independence of a country. As long as a nation is oppressed, its members will not advocate the class-war, or will only do so in a modified form.
I think that I have shown what should be the policy pursued nationally and internationally by Socialists, and how they should act in time of war.