Karl Liebknecht
Militarism & Anti-Militarism
II. Anti-Militarism

1. Anti-militarism of the Old and the New International

The Communist Manifesto, the most prophetic work in world literature, does not deal specifically with militarism or adequately with its accessory significance. It does, it is true, speak of the uprising “brought about sporadically by the proletarian struggle”, and thus effectively indicates the role played by capitalist militarism vis-à-vis the struggle of the proletariat for freedom. It discusses at greater length the question of international – or rather inter-state – conflicts, and the capitalist policy of expansion (including colonial policy). The latter is regarded as a necessary consequence of capitalist development. It is predicted that national isolation and national contradictions would tend more and more to disappear even under the domination of the bourgeoisie, and that the domination of the proletariat would reduce them still further. One might almost say tat the programme of measures to be taken under the dictatorship of the proletariat contains nothing specifically about militarism. The conquest of political power which is supposed to have already been brought about embraces the “conquest”, that is to say, the overthrow of militarism.

Special declarations about militarism began to appear with the congresses of the International. These declarations however refer exclusively to “militarism against the enemy abroad”, to the position to be taken up with regard to war. The Lausanne Congress of 1867 contained this point on the agenda: “The Peace Congress in Geneva in 1868”. It was decided to work together with the Peace Congress on the either naïve or ironical supposition that this congress would adopt the programme of the International. War was characterized as a consequence of the class struggle.

At the third congress of the International held in Brussels in 1868 a resolution moved by Longuet in the name of a commission was unanimously adopted. It designated the lack of economic balance as the chief and lasting cause of war, stressing that a change can only be brought about by social reform. The labour movement is said to be able to reduce the number of wars by means of agitation and education of the people, and tireless work to this end is laid down as a duty. In case of war a general strike is advised, and the congress expresses its belief that the international solidarity of workers of all lands is strong enough to secure their aid in the war of the peoples against war.

Now the “new” International!

The resolution of the Paris Congress of 1899 is of the greatest interest in this connection. It deals with the standing armies, which it brands as the “negation of every democratic and republican régime”, as the “military expression of the monarchical or oligarchic-capitalist régime”, as a “tool for reactionary coups d’état and social oppression”. It characterizes these armies, together with the aggressive political positions whose tool they are, as the cause and consequence of the system of offensive wars and of the present danger of international conflicts. It repudiates these, both from a military-technical point of view and because of their direct disorganizing and demoralizing properties, hostile to all cultural progress, and also because of the unbearable military burdens which the armies impose on the peoples. It demands the abolition of the standing armies and the introduction of a universal citizen army, while regarding war as an inevitable consequence of capitalism.

This resolution is more thorough than any previous one in its characterization of militarism.

The proceedings of the Brussels Congress in 1891 were also important. Here the question of war, of international militarism, was dealt with exclusively. The Nieuwenhuis [1*] resolution, which described war as the result of the international will of capitalism and as a means of smashing the power of the revolutionary movement, and which demanded that socialists of every land should answer every war with a general strike, was voted down. The Vaillant-Liebknecht resolution, which regards militarism as a necessary consequence of capitalism and peace between peoples as attainable only through the establishment of an international socialist system, was adopted. It calls on the workers to protest, by tireless agitation, against the barbarity of war and against alliances which promote it, and to speed the triumph of socialism by the development of the international organizations of the proletariat. This method of fighting was declared to be the only one capable of preventing the catastrophe of a world war.

The Zurich Congress of 1893 confirmed the Brussels resolution and indicated these ways of fighting against militarism: refusal to vote military credits, incessant protests against the standing armies, tireless agitation in favour of disarmament, support of all organizations which strive after world peace.

The London Congress of 1896 again discussed the two sides of militarism. It indicated as the chief causes of war the economic contradictions into which the ruling classes of the different countries have been forced by the capitalist mode of production. [1] Wars were considered to be acts of the ruling classes in their own interest at the cost of the workers. The struggle against military oppression was seen as a part of the struggle against exploitation, and as a duty of the working class. The conquest of political power, the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, the seizure from the governments of the means of power of the capitalist class, the tools for maintaining the established order [2] – this was fixed as the objective. The standing armies were considered to increase the danger of war and to facilitate the brutal oppression of labour. The immediate demands were: abolition of the standing armies and introduction of a citizen force, together with international courts of arbitration, with the people to decide on questions of peace and war. The resolution concluded that the people could achieve its goal in this connection only after it had secured a decisive influence on legislation, and joined in a system of international socialism.

The Paris Congress of 1900 passed a comprehensive resolution on colonial expansionist politics, and the possibilities of international conflict inherent in the capitalist system. It also condemned the policy of national oppression, bringing together a few especially barbaric examples, and gave special attention to the struggle against militarism. It referred to the decisions of 1889, 1891, 1896, pointed out the international and national danger of imperialist world politics, called upon the proletariat to redouble its efforts in the international struggle against militarism and its world politics, and proposed these practical means: international protest movements, refusal of all military, naval and colonial expenditure, and “the education and organization of the youth with the aim of fighting militarism”.

A survey of these decisions shows a steady growth of practical political insight into militarism abroad, and an ever deeper and more specialized recognition of the causes and dangers of war, as well as the significance of “militarism at home”. As far as the means of fighting militarism are concerned, however, the idea of a general strike against war brought forward in 1868 was far in advance of its time. In the same way, strikes of soldiers as a regular method of fighting against war were rejected by all later congresses – justifiably, in the circumstances. The recognized means of struggle, however, are progressing slowly. The refusal of military expenditure recommended to the proletariat is the only direct political manifestation of power against militarism, but it remains without significant immediate effect. All other proposals remain within the domain of propaganda in favour of changes in the legal position and in favour of future actions. This, of course, as is shown elsewhere, is the only domain more or less open to the proletariat for the moment. Even the refusal of military credits, as a rule, will have to be considered as a means of propaganda of this kind.

The chief difficulty for the moment, especially in Germany, lies in determining the form and method of anti-militarist propaganda. The fact that these have not been more carefully fixed in the congress decisions is due to the different external and internal position of the various countries, and from this point of view it may appear useful and even necessary. We should not, however, forget that the tendency of the decisions is to lay greater and greater weight on anti-militarist propaganda and to make this propaganda more specialized. The Paris decision shows this perfectly clearly. It reflects both the growing self-consciousness of the international proletariat and the growing conviction that it is necessary to set about gaining partial advances against militarism abroad and at home by the use of the class-conscious power of the proletariat.

In conclusion we should mention the circular sent out by the International Socialist Bureau in November 1905 at the suggestion of the French section of the International in connection with the Morocco conflict. It makes no positive proposals for action against the war, but simply states what is self-evident and elementary – that the parties which are affiliated to the Bureau should, in the event of a threatened war, immediately make contact in order to work out and vote upon the means of avoiding or hindering the war.

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1. And not class contradictions! This question is specially dealt with here for the first time.

2. This is not really the object of the conquest of political power, but the essence of the conquest itself – to safeguard by means of organization what has been taken by the proletariat is of course one of the tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Additional note

1*. NIEUWENHUIS, FERDINAND DOMELA (1846-1919). Dutch socialist. Became leader of the Dutch Social-Democrats in 1879, later took up more extreme positions, becoming an avowed anarchist. Played an important part in the 1891 and 1893 congresses of the International, opposing compulsory military service; his positions were rejected by large majorities.

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