Karl Kautsky

Preparations for Peace

(October 1914)

Karl Kautsky, Preparations for peace, Justice, 1st October 1914, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Under the above heading Karl Kautsky recently published an article in the Neue Zeit, of which the following is a summary:–

War is carried on, not to gain a victory, but to obtain an advantageous peace. Even those who think that war has its uses in the life of peoples only call a war a happy one which becomes the means of bringing about a better and more peaceful condition than obtained before. Any war which left things in a worse condition would be unanimously considered a misfortune. On the other hand, those, too, who decidedly oppose war, once it has broken out would have to strive that it should end in an advantageous peace.

An “Advantageous Peace”

But, then, what is advantageous? “What to one is an owl is to another a nightingale.” One thing, however, would be generally admitted. For the masses that peace is advantageous which promises to be of long duration, and does not in any way interfere with the peaceful intercourse between the peoples.

A peace which only amounted to a truce would be absolutely injurious. It would be used by each nation to accumulate fresh armaments. Any economic healing of the wounds made by the war would be rendered impossible.

A peace gives the best promise of lasting when its results lie in the direction of historic development. Results which go against the course of this development are found, on the contrary, to be a source of permanent isolation, and do not allow the peoples to return to a state of rest.

The independence of peoples – that is, democracy – lies in the direction of historic development. This democracy was represented a hundred years ago principally by the bourgeoisie and Liberalism. To-day it is represented by the proletariat and Social-Democracy, in each case a growing, developing class.

States Based on Nations

Democracy can only find its best expression in a State which consists of one nation, speaking one language. Modern production brings the people ever into closer touch with each other. The more the inner divisions fall away, the more all the members of the State speak the same language, the more intensively can economic, intellectual, and political life proceed. And within this method of production is arising the co-operation of the lower classes intellectual and political life, which means additional strength to every nation. In a national State both these tendencies combine and strengthen one another. In a State of various nationalities they come into hostile collision with each other, and have a paralysing effect on the economic and political process, all the stronger as development progresses.

It would therefore be a sad backward step if any of the great national States which are at war were to use a victory in order to annex foreign territory, and thus become a nationality State instead of a national State. That would be a great misfortune, not only for the defeated, but for the victors. Such action would also be an injury to the independence of nations, and each of the nations involved have sworn that they only wanted to protect their own independence and integrity.

Freedom from Foreign Rule

That is not to say that any changes in the map of Europe would contradict this principle. Where nations are now under foreign rule, the overthrow of such rule would be beneficial in the above manner. If, for instance, Russia being defeated, the inhabitants of Poland, the East Sea Provinces and Finland were to claim the right to manage their own affairs without external coercion, that would be quite in accord with the laws of democracy. The same would apple to Egyptand Persia.

It is also of paramount importance to all nations that when the war comes to an end the causes which produced it should end likewise. A local conflict between Austria and Servia would not have been able to set the whole world on fire in a moment if the armament competition had not already divided Europe into two hostile camps. To put an end to this state of things should be easier after the near. Probably the defeated nations will be compelled to disarm, and this will indirectly affect also the armaments of their antagonists.

Compulsory Disarmament

In this compulsory disarmament of the defeated, it must be our business as Social-Democrats to protest against any humiliating degrading forms that it may assume. But the thing itself is most earnestly to be desired. Social-Democrats in all countries will support disarmament, and the diminution in the menace from their neighbours’ armament, will give them a firm basis in so doing.

A third point to be considered is that of commercial treaties. The existing treaties will be destroyed through the war, and new ones will be concluded. Under the pressure of war much hitherto unattainable may become attainable. It is possible that the victor may find it in his interest to force free trade, or something approaching it, on the defeated nations. Or several nations may constitute themselves into a Zollverein. This would mean progress if it were not used as a means of drawing free-trade countries into a protected area, which latter must be fought against.

Social-Democracy for Peace

It would be premature to speculate now regarding possible displacements of power and their consequences. We cannot “divide the bear’s skin before it is killed” But this much can be said now: In every country the Social-Democracy will certainly be the first Party to demand the conclusion of peace, and will always work in the direction of moderation.

What success we shall meet with depends on conditions which cannot be reckoned with to-day. It is not the people who decide on peace, any more than on war. Still, even absolutist States must reckon with a strongly expressed public opinion.

Among the ruling classes themselves the greatest differences often exist regarding the terms of peace. In cases where the decision is in the balance, consideration for the people may have some weight even where at other times the people are not even consulted.


Last updated on 5.11.2004