Karl Kautsky

England and Germany

(30 April 1910)

England and Germany, Justice, 30th April 1910, p.5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Festival of the First of May is the festival of international solidarity – the solidarity of the proletarians of all countries as against the common enemy, international capitalism. It is thus at once the celebration of war and of peace, of the international class struggle of the proletariat and of the fraternisation of the proletarians of all lands for the maintenance of the world’s peace.

The May-Day Festival is everywhere a celebration of peace. Nowhere is it more necessary for this to be emphasised than in England and Germany, the two countries upon which, more than upon any others, the peace of the world at present depends; whose armaments to-day, more than those of other States, threaten the peace of the world.

The proletariat is in no wise concerned with the antagonism between England and Germany. It is simply an antagonism between their exploiters. And the workers have not the least interest in the naval armaments, for no proletarian – indeed, no real national – interests are involved in the antagonism between England and Germany.

In the great war between Germany and France which broke out forty years ago, the mass of the German people was carried away by the desire for national unity, and the mass of the French people, after the fall of Bonaparte, with the desire to preserve intact the territory of the Republic – to prevent the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine.

Nothing of this kind is to be feared for either of the two nations in a war between England and Germany. It would be only a question of commercial jealousy and of Colonial exploitation, not of national prosperity nor national independence and liberty.

The champions of naval armaments in Germany base their advocacy on the foundation that Germany must be strong on the sea in order to protect its foreign trade, without which its industry cannot exist. On other hand, the defenders of England’s nava1 armaments argue that their country must be stronger at sea than any other, because otherwise in the case of war its supply could be cut off. Besides this, Germany is not a politically free country, and England would run the danger, if it did not maintain its supremacy at sea, of being invaded by Germany and deprived of its liberties.

The Germans and the English who speak in this way are both equally in the wrong. Of course, every war injures trade and industry, but England’s naval power would never be in a position to destroy the foundations of Germany’s already flourishing trade. The utmost it could do would be to injure the shipping interest, but not even during the war could Germany’s trade be kept under, for Germany has so many boundaries which are inaccessible to England’s fleet. But the foundation of the development of Germany’s trade is its the superiority of its industry, and this again depends partly upon the natural advantages of Germany told its geographical position, but, above all, on the education and natural ability of its working-class. Only through Germany’s own ruinous internal policy could its industry and trade be undermined, never through the foreign policy of England, however violent the latter might become.

But there is quite as little cause for England to fear Germany as for Germany to fear England. Great Britain does not need to be the strongest sea-power in order to insure its food supply. An alteration in the present legal status at sea would suffice, by which the stipulations concerning the right of capture and contraband would be regulated so as to abolish the power of confiscating any foodstuff transports by the belligerents. If England only chose, she could secure such a formulation of the right of nations.

As to Germany seizing part of England, or threatening England’s liberties, of that, even in the case of an invasion on the part of Germans, there could be no question. Germany cannot even manage her Poles, and feels them as a thorn in her flesh. The German Government has no desire for more foreign subjects, which constitute for Germany only a source of weakness, not of strength. On the other hand, there is no country which, thanks to its insular position, constitutes so complete and invulnerable an entity as England. Never, since the days of the Roman Caesars, through all the vicissitudes of war, has any part of England been brought under foreign domination. One can only possess Great Britain altogether or not at all.

But to lay hands on the liberties of an independent people is, in the twentieth century, no longer possible. Even forty years ago it could not be done. France was completely crushed by Germany, in spite of which Bismarck and Wilhelm did not attempt to force the monarchy on France. It was just the disastrous war which brought France liberty – the Republic.

And to-day the German Government is hardly any longer able to curb its own people, who are demanding more liberty. From that quarter the English people have nothing to fear for their liberties.

Quite as little, therefore, as in Germany have the Social-Democrats in England any cause to demand, or even to allow, increased armaments. We Social-Democrats in Germany oppose them with all our might. But the difficulty of our work is increased to the utmost extent if there are any Social-Democrats in England who demand armaments for their country. We Social-Democrats in Germany can only combat the armaments of our own country effectually if the same attitude is adopted in England.

Of course the ruling classes in Germany, as in England, are still strong enough to undertake armaments and even wars against the will of our party. But a Government no longer readily risks a war without the enthusiastic support of the people – and that a war with England would meet with the strongest possible opposition on the part of the German people, is to-day a certainty, thanks to the work of enlightenment carried on by the German Social-Democracy.

Thus already to-day our party has become a strong guarantee of peace, and it will be able to do more and more in this direction – if the English Social-Democracy works in the same spirit.

And so let us hope that the celebration of the First of May this year, on both sides of the Channel, engaged in everywhere with the same spirit of universal peace, of war against every kind of jingoism and against all warlike preparations, will constitute a mighty demonstration, so as to oppose to the exploiters and rulers of all countries the united phalanx of the disinherited, exploited and oppressed among all the peoples of the world.


K. Kautsky


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