V. I.   Lenin


Published: Za Pravdu No. 47, November 29, 1913. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the Za Pravdu text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 513-515.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

Sometimes “incidents” occur in politics when the nature of a certain order of things is revealed, as it were, suddenly, and with extraordinary power and clarity in connection with some relatively minor happening.

Zabern is a small town in Alsace. Over forty years ago Alsace was severed from France by the victorious Prussians (with only one party in Germany, the Social-Democratic Party, emphatically protesting). For over forty years the French population of Alsace has been forcibly “Germanised” and “driven” by every possible form of pressure into the royal Prussian, drill-sergeant, bureaucratic discipline that is called “German culture”. But the Alsatians have been retorting to all this with their hymn of protest: “You have taken our Alsace and our Lorraine, you may Germanise our field, but, never, never, never will you capture our hearts.”

One day a Prussian aristocrat, a young officer named Forstner brought things to a climax. He grossly insulted the Alsatian people (he used the word Wackes, a coarse term of abuse). The German Purishkeviches had used this sort of language in barracks a million times without causing any trouble, but the million and first time—the fat was in the fire!

The pent-up anger of decades against tyranny, nagging and insult, against decades of forced Prussianisation, burst out on the surface. It was not a revolt of French culture against German culture. The Dreyfus case[1] showed that there is as much crude militarism capable of every kind of savagery, barbarism, violence and crime in France as in any other country. No, this was not a revolt of French   culture against German culture, but the revolt of the democracy fostered by a number of French revolutions against absolutism.

The unrest of the population, their resentment against the Prussian officers, the jeers hurled at these officers by the proud, freedom-loving French crowd, the rage of the Prussian militarists, the arbitrary arrests and assaults on people in the street—all this gave rise in Zabern (and later throughout Alsace) to “anarchy”, as the bourgeois news papers call it. The landowning, “Octobrist”, clerical, German Reichstag, by an overwhelming majority, passed a resolution against the Imperial German Government.

Anarchy” is a silly catchword. It presupposes that there has been and still is in Germany an “established” civil, legal system which, on the instigation of the devil, has been violated. The catchword “anarchy” is impregnated through and through with the spirit of official, university German “scholarship” (with apologies to real scholarship), the scholarship that cringes before the landowners and the militarists, and sings the praises of the exceptional “rule of law” in Germany.

The Zabern incident showed that Marx was right when, nearly forty years ago, he described the German political system as a “military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms”.[2] Marx’s appraisal of the real nature of the German “constitution” was a hundred thousand times more profound than those of hundreds of bourgeois professors, priests and publicists who sang the praises of the “legal state”. They all bowed and scraped in face of the successes and triumphs of the German rulers of the day. In appraising the class nature of politics, Marx was not guided by the “zigzag” of events, but by the entire experience of international democracy and of the international working-class movement.

It was not “anarchy” that “burst out” in Zabern; it was the true nature of the German regime, the sabre rule of the Prussian semi-feudal landowners that was aggravated and came to the surface. If the German bourgeoisie had possessed a sense of honour, if it had possessed brains and a conscience, if it had believed what it said, if its deeds were not in contradiction to its words, in short, if it were not a bourgeoisie   confronting millions of socialist proletarians, the Zabern “incident” would have been “incidental” to the bourgeoisie’s becoming republican. As it is, the whole affair will be confined to platonic protests by bourgeois politicians—in parliament.

But things will not stop there outside parliament. The mood of the petty-bourgeois masses in Germany has been and is undergoing a change. Conditions have changed, the economic situation has changed, all the props of the “peaceful” rule of the aristocratic Prussian sabre have been under mined. Whether the bourgeoisie likes it or not, events are sweeping it towards a profound political crisis.

The time when the “German Michael” slumbered peace fully under the guardianship of the Prussian Purishkeviches, while the course of Germany’s capitalist development was exceptionally favourable, has gone. The general, fundamental collapse is irresistibly maturing and approaching....


[1] The Dreyfus case—the trial in 1894 of Dreyfus, a Jewish General Staff officer who was falsely accused of espionage and high treason; the trial was staged for provocative purposes by French reactionary militarists. A Court Martial sentenced Dreyfus to imprisonment for life. The strong public movement for a review of the case led to a sharp conflict between republican and monarchist forces in France. Dreyfus was acquitted in 1906.

Lenin described the Dreyfus case as “one of the many thousands of fraudulent tricks of the reactionary military caste”.

[2] See K. Marx and F. Engels, “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 33.

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