Karl Kautsky 1907
Source: Social Democrat, Vol. 11, No. 9, 15 Sept 1907, pp. 488-497;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In view of the existing relations between England and German, and the circumstances in which our comrades Karl Kautsky and Georg Ledebour were invited to visit this country, the following report of Kautsky’s speech at St. James’s Hall on October 14 will be of more than ordinary interest.
After expressing his appreciation of the heartiness of his welcome, Kautsky said:
We see in the working class of England our elder brother, our protagonist, who has shown us the way we have to go, who was the first to develop those methods of political and economical struggle which were afterwards accepted by the whole international working-class movement. Owenism, Chartism, Trade Unionism have, each in a different manner, showed to the workers of the world the way which we afterwards took with such happy results.
But it is not only the past of the British workman that fills us with respect, with sympathy, with enthusiasm. We rejoice in seeing in our days the rise of Socialist feeling and of independent political action among the British working class. We are proud and happy to witness their successful struggles and their victories over both parties of the ruling classes. Your struggles were like ours. When to-day I encountered the British police Cossacks on the Embankment, I could almost fancy myself in Berlin. The German workmen feel themselves united with their British comrades like two battalions of the same army, who march under the same banner, who fight the same enemy and win the same victories. We feel united with you in the great war against unemployment, which you wage to-day with so much determination and courage, and so we are united with you in the war that the international Socialist movement is waging to-day on behalf of peace.
A very serious but at the same time a very queer situation is that of the peace of the world to-day. Everybody wants peace, everybody professes to be a lover of peace, everybody cries for peace and the more we hear of it, the greater the general uneasiness, the more we see peace endangered. Indeed; that is a situation full of inconsistency and contradiction, but we must not suppose that those discrepancies were sheer folly or wickedness. They are the necessary outcome of the social situation of our ruling classes.
In every class of human society a mode of thinking and feeling prevails peculiar to it, and quite different from the mode of thinking and feeling of other classes. This mode is the logical outcome of the principle on which rests the existence of the class, a principle which is determined by the economic structure of society.
The principle upon which depends the existence of the workingman, is solidarity. The interests of all wage-workers lie in the same direction. No workman ever loses by his fellow workman getting higher wages and reduced hours of labour. He can only win by it, as his own wages and hours of labour are in close connection with the wages and hours of labour of his comrades. One may imagine that there exists no solidarity, for example, between British and Russian workmen, who undersell the former on the labour market. But in reality that underselling is the very reason why the British workmen have the greatest interest in seeing in Russia wages raised, and hours of labour reduced. Therefore, the victory of the Russian revolution is of the utmost importance for the working-class of England, not only from an ethical, but equally also from a practical point of view.
The solidarity of the working-class finds no limits in the frontiers of the different countries that were erected in previous centuries. The more the working-class of any country becomes politically independent of the other classes, the more it becomes conscious of its international solidarity, the more it discards and combats every sort oŁ race hatred and national hostility, the more it becomes the determined champion of peace in the world.
Quite differently stands the matter with the ruling classes, whose mind is dominated by capitalist interests. As we all know, capital strives not for higher wages but for higher profits. That is its ruling passion. For the capitalist class as a whole there is only one way to raise profits. That is by increasing the exploitation of labour, by increasing the hours of work, by reducing wages. The necessary outcome of this antagonism is the war of classes that is being waged in every capitalist society. But the hunger for profits creates other wars, too.
For the capitalist as an individual there is yet another way to increase his profits, to wit, at the expense of his fellow-capitalists. There is always a keen struggle among the capitalists for the share of each in the aggregate profits that the whole class has taken from the working class. Each of the robbers fights the other robbers to get as much as possible from the common spoils. Not solidarity but competition is therefore the principle on which is based the capitalistic spirit. The more capitalism develops, the keener the competition among capitalists, the more exasperated their struggle for profit, the more they hate each other and fight against each other with all the means at their disposal. But the same development tends to make the single capitalist more and more powerless. He will be crushed unless he combines with other capitalists. The times are over when capitalism was identical with individualists. In the times of trustification capitalism becomes identical with combination and organisation, but combination not for the purpose of a peaceful understanding, but, on the contrary, for enlarging the means of competition, of commercial war, to drive the weaker rivals out of the market, to monopolise the market, to dictate the prices to the consumers.
This state of things cannot fail to react on the relations of the nations and to poison them. In former days it seemed as if England was to become the workshop of the world and the other countries the furnishers of its raw materials and the buyers of its manufactures. But that is long ago. To-day every country tries to become its own workshop and to sell manufactures on the great market of the world, and the industrial progress of some of those countries is more rapid than that of England itself.
The keener the competition of the different nations on the universal market, the more bitter their animosity towards each other, the greater their mutual distrust, their mutual hostility. But just as with the single capitalist, so the single nation loses in the course of this development the ability to stand alone against the growing competition. Even the strongest cannot remain any longer in splendid isolation. But no more than the industrial trusts are the alliances of the nations tokens of a growing sentiment of social peace. Each of them is only a powerful weapon against a powerful common enemy.
This growing distrust and hostility is not due to some peculiar malice or wickedness of some person or nation ; it is found in every capitalistic nation and is the natural outcome of growing capitalism. It must grow in the ruling classes as long as capitalism is growing, and so it must endanger the peace of the world to an ever-increasing degree. If it does not lead to war it leads to growing armaments that become an intolerable burden for the nations, as intolerable and pernicious in the long run as war itself, and ultimately leading to war.
But that is only one side of the international spirit of our ruling classes. The same evolution of capitalism that creates a growing distrust and hostility among nations, tends to make war more pernicious for capitalism itself. The capitalist class does not mind destruction and bloodshed if it gains by them, as it has shown by many commercial and colonial wars of the last three centuries. The British capitalists have money enough to throw away for the bloodstained Czar, but none for the starving unemployed of their own nation, and as shown for example, to-day the Jewish capitalists of Europe are supporting with their money the Jew-baiting hangman of all the Russias. So the capitalist would not mind war were there anything to be gained by it. But to-day capital has much more to lose than to pain by a war, it endangers by it the very foundations of its own existence.
The more capitalism develops, the more complicated a piece of machinery it becomes, machinery, extending over the whole world, with innumerable wheels, that are moving one another and in which the stopping of one stops all the rest. And at the same time, as we have seen, the growing hostility among nations tends to the forming of alliances among them, alliances not for the purpose of peace but of war, alliances that will not make peace universal, but war universal. If there should be war between two European Powers to-day the system of alliances will make it a war of all the great nations of Europe, nay, a war of the whole world.
Never was capitalism by any disturbances so easily affected as to-day, never was universal peace more necessary to it than to-day, and never has war tended more to be universal than to-day.
So the next war will not only lead to a tremendous squandering of money and material, to a terrible butchering of the flower of the nations – all that capitalism would welcome if profit were to be made out of it. But the next European war means a general break-down of capitalist enterprise, a general bankruptcy all over the world.
And the end of the war? It threatens with utter annihilation not only the conquered but the conqueror as well. In a European war the parties will be nearly equal. The French, for example, would be this time much better prepared than they were under Napoleon III, and they would not fight alone. None of the belligerents may expect to wage a war like the Germans in 1870 and the Japanese a few years ago, where only victories were on one side and only defeats on the other. It will be a long desperate struggle, fought to complete exhaustion of all parties concerned, a war like that of the Roses in this country. It may last only as man), months as the war between York and Lancaster lasted years, but its termination will see a much worse breakdown of the ruling classes than those feudal wars led to.
To-day we find in every capitalist nation a strong working class which cannot be satisfied in the existing society. Whenever it becomes conscious of its social position it aims at the overthrow of the existing state of society, that is to say, it becomes a revolutionary party. War must help immensely the growth and power of that party.
War may at the beginning foment jingoism, but in the long run it must exasperate the great mass of the people. It will drive it to despair, it will thereby excite the revolutionary spirit in the nation, will make revolutionary Socialism a tremendous and irresistible force. And at the same time it reduces the moral and material forces of the ruling classes who are responsible for the war and its abominable distress; it compels the rulers to squander their moral credit and their material means. So the war that will begin with the bankruptcy of a large number of individual capitalists will end in the bankruptcy of the whole capitalist system – in social revolution.
In such a manner ended the Franco-German war of 1871, in the rising of the Commune of Paris. It was only the rising of a single city, and was therefore crushed. But three years ago we saw the rising of a whole nation against its rulers at the end of the Russo-Japanese war. That rising too has up till now not been the success we wished. Russia is an agrarian nation. Its industrial workers fought splendidly the battle of the revolution, but their numbers were too small to conquer alone, and their natural allies, the peasants, the great mass of the people, were in general too dull and too slow for quick revolutionary action.
But much stronger than in Russia are the Socialist parties in Western Europe. Socialism may very likely win a decisive battle in the uprising that will surely follow a European war, at least on the Continent. I cannot speak here for England, that you know better than I do, but I am sure in England too the sufferings of a great war will immensely increase the ranks of the Labour Party, make it more revolutionary in its aims, its ways and means, and it is not impossible that through the war it may become at last the supreme political power in the kingdom.
Some of you may perhaps think such ideas to be only the wild dreams of a hare-brained Marxist. But you may be sure, if not the workmen, the ruling classes know very well what a real danger for them social revolution is, and they act upon that knowledge. There is no more powerful support to European peace than the fear of the social revolution. The champions of the Paris Commune of 1871, and of the revolution in Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw in l905 and 1906 have done much more for the cause of peace than all the meetings of kings and emperors, all the peace congresses of middle-class politicians, and all the Hague conferences put together.
The fear of the revolution is the great obstacle to war. But it is no obstacle to the development of capitalism, and with it of the growing hostility among the ruling classes of the different nations. And so we have the queer spectacle of the ruling classes, while crying for peace preparing for war. And the louder they cry for peace the more energetically they prepare for war.
I think there is no ruler of any great European nation who would like war. They all fear it with all their heart. But they are all busy creating situations which make it more and more difficult to preserve peace. There never were so many peace demonstrations as in the last few years, and never during the last thirty years were we so near to a European war as just now.
There is only one power that works consistently for the cause of peace, and this power is the various parties of the working classes. They strive for peace not only by creating with their growing strength the growing fear of social revolution, but they strive for it also by disseminating among the masses of the people the spirit of international solidarity. That spirit becomes a powerful pillar of peace. It is a desperate undertaking to-day to begin war without the consent of the masses of the people. Who wants war must begin with diffusing the spirit of jingoism. The rise of jingoism is one of the greatest dangers for the nnaintenance of peace. Now there is no greater obstacle to jingoism than Socialism. It is especially the Socialist press whose wide circulation is indispensable for an effective fight with jingoism. In that connection our press is more important even than the winning, of seats in Parliament. Speeches in Parliament leave an influence on the population only if extensively and correctly reproduced by the press, and it is impossible to deliver a speech every day in Parliament. The daily press speaks every day to its readers, and is for the masses the only regular source of information.
Now, the German Social-Democratic Party is in that respect in the happy position of being able to work most effectively for the cause of peace and for promoting international solidarity by the wide circulation of its press. Our party has in Germany not less than 71 daily papers in all the big towns of the Fatherland, and together they sell every day more than one million copies, which are read by at least three or four millions of readers. These papers are discussed in every workshop, in every public-house and club of the great towns where workmen meet. I may add that the trade unions of Germany have a weekly press with about the same circulation, the paper of the mechanics and engineers alone with 350,000 copies; carpenters, 150,000; masons, 200,000; miners, 115,000; textiles, 110,000. The daily papers appear only in the industrial centres, but the weeklies go into the small towns also. So nearly the whole working class of Germany, with few exceptions, is under the influence of the Socialist press, and it is therefore impossible in Germany to infuse the great masses of the industrial workers with jingoism. All the lies of the yellow press about foreign countries are promptly refuted in our press and cannot take root in the industrial population. Unfortunately- we have not the same influence on the shopkeepers and the peasantry. But it would be a very foolish thing to go to war with only the consent of shopkeepers and peasants and against the determined will of the industrial working class. At any rate you may be sure, the German working class will do everything it is able to do to prevent the growing up of any warlike disposition in our country. We strive for peace with all our power, not because we are afraid of war but because we hate war. That is the difference between the peaceful tendency of workmen and capitalists, The former hate war, the capitalists fear war. The working class is that class of society that has less reason than any other class to be afraid of war. It is true that in the beginning the burden of war will fall heavily on the shoulders of the working class, but in the long run war promises to accelerate their emancipation from slavery. Nevertheless the working class detests war. They are sure to win their emancipation in any case whether war comes or not, and they think the atrocities of war are too high a price to be paid for the acceleration of their emancipation. They abhor the idea that workmen should kill their comrades of other nations, who are their best friends, at the bidding of their Governments – those Governments that are their worst enemies. The strength of the labouring class is the only solid guarantee of peace in our times. The rule of the labouring class – Socialism – will be the era of eternal peace. Who works for the working class, who works for Socialism, works for the cause of peace too. Who desires to work effectively for the cause of peace must work for the strengthening of the labouring class, for the victory of Socialism. The downfall of capitalism is the only means to secure the abolition of everything that is abominable in the present state of civilisation, the misery of unemployment as well as of overwork, of crime and of prostitution. The worst of all those abominations is the war of civilised nations, is the organised butchery of millions of men, performed with all those tremendous implements which the science of our century has created. Relentless war upon that criminal folly, the war of our days, and relentless war upon capitalism, the father of that and many other criminal follies; the most energetic and ruthless fighting against capitalism--that is the only way to secure to mankind an age of peace and freedom and happiness for all.