Karl Kautsky 1912

War and Revolution

Source: Le Socialisme November 2, 1912;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor.

It’s not a question of knowing if the international solidarity of the modern proletariat is irreconcilably opposed to every warlike shock between two European states. The entire International is as one in condemning any war that might grow out of the current Balkan crisis. For all of us, without distinction of nationality or tendency, a war of this kind appears to be the most frightful crime, and to ward it off we must use all the means and all the forces that are at our disposal and are susceptible of producing results.

But this should not make us forget the fact that wars have always been powerful locomotives of world history and, at the present time, a European war would occur in a situation where it could fulfill this function to a considerable degree. A war imposes upon sovereigns and rulers the most serious obligations; any political power not up to this task finds its certain fall in the war. In the external struggles of nations we have more than once seen forces that appear rotted and unable to live that, in internal national struggles, still offered the appearance of solidity and vitality.

But the sole effect of the war and its consequences is not only the ruin of the out-of-date and surpassed elements. By this very ruin, it also forces the new element, the element of progress, to a premature test of its forces, which it is not yet up to. For the last half-century every great war on the part of a European power has been followed by a revolution, which has been followed in its turn by a counter-revolution — in France in 1871 as well as Russia in 1906. The Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 was also followed by an explosion of terrorism which had absolutism’s back to the wall, but which was snuffed-out by reaction in 1881.

The first symptoms of a world war that are currently appearing constitute a threat to the proletariat’s desire for peace; for its élan révolutionnaire they constitute a promise, but also a warning. The terrible days that seem to be before us could carry us forward in our path towards the democratization and the socialization of capitalist society; but by bloody defeats it can just as well profoundly shake for many years to come the forces of the proletariat, if our Party doesn’t show itself to be up to the level of the enormous task incumbent upon it.

The Socialist Party today has not only the pressing obligation to put everything in action for the maintenance of peace between states, but also that of concentrating as much as possible and measuring its forces if it doesn’t succeed in realizing this maintenance of the peace. Above all, in accordance with our forces, it’s a matter of preserving intact and extending our two means of action: organization, political as well as trade-union, and the confidence that the working people place in us as the only defenders of its interests.

More than ever it is a matter of putting behind us all the subjects of internal divergence and demonstrating our intimate cohesion. More than ever, it’s a matter of avoiding all adventures and all experiments that could weaken our Party’s diverse means of action before the historical situation demands of us the deployment of all of our forces to hold our positions.

The enormous demands that the war would impose on us, if it should become inevitable, would impose upon our audacity as well as our self-mastery, on our enthusiasm as well as our sang-froid. But the fruits the final results would bring to the proletariat would also be enormous, if the means of action of socialism are then strong enough to show themselves equal to the demands.

The future alone can show us success. Our obligation is to prepare as much as possible by energetically activating the work of our organization, and in tirelessly carrying out propaganda against war and its ultimate cause: capitalist thirst for profit.