Karl Liebknecht
The Future Belongs to the People

Education in Germany in War Time


March 16th, 1916, 11 o'Clock Morning Session

On the Ministerial Bench: V. Trott zu Solz (Minister of Religion and Education).

The subject of discussion was: The Education and Religion Budget, and as a special topic: The Higher Schools of Prussia.

Taking part in the discussion: Dr. Karl Liebknecht (Social Democrat), Wilderman (Centrum), Frhr. v. Zedlitz (Free Conservative), Minister (Progressive People's Party).

In this discussion Liebknecht exposes the method and system of teaching in the higher schools of Germany and gives full play to his great courage. "The ideal classical education lies in the spirit of independence and humanity," he exclaimed. And, addressing himself to this reactionary parliament, he added: "Your ideal of classical education is 'the ideal of the bayonet, of the bombshell, of poison gas and grenades, which are hurled down on peaceful cities, and the ideal of submarine warfare.' "

He also proves that an educational system cannot be separated from social conditions and demands, along with a reform of the entire school system, particularly that promotion from the primary school to the high school shall not be considered any longer an act of charity but a right to be demanded for every able pupil.

His remarks brought out a cyclone of protest. Liebknecht was twice recalled to the subject and thrice to order, and as the President inquired of the House after the third call to order if it wished to listen to the speaker any longer, the entire house, with the exception of the small group of Social-Democrats, voted that he be denied the floor. In this way they avoided listening to Liebknecht's indictments.


DR. LIEBKNECHT: The real character of capitalistic society is shown in inequality of education, especially the inequality of the Prussian state with its three-class system of voting, in the three-class system of education: primary schools, higher schools, universities. The educational system cannot be separated from social conditions. In order to acquire education, time and economic opportunities are necessary. Education in the capitalistic order of society is not an aim in itself. Utilitarianism dominates our education. The higher schools serve as preparatory institutes for higher official positions, whereas the primary schools teach the fundamentals which serve to make tools for capitalistic society. Social misfortunes come to the surface now more than ever before: overcrowding of the classes, insufficient rooms, scarcity of teachers, frequent change of teachers, undernourishment and overfatigue of the children, and child labor. Especially does undernourishment weaken the health of the proletariat and thus hinder even the limited educational work of the primary school. But more than ever before the primary school is used to-day in order to make firm the position of the ruling classes, to capture the souls of the young proletariat for the ruling class, for Militarism. When we think of all that, we recognize how urgently the proletariat must work for a fundamental reform of the entire school system.

Neglect of youth through the war cannot be denied, exists in spite of all camouflage. There is not enough rain in the heavens to wash away this sin from the bourgeois form of society. Improvement of this condition can be obtained only by sharp criticism. When one sees that, – as happened to people at the Berlin Police Headquarters, – young working girls 16 and 17 years old, who were arrested for some reason, are told: "You should be put against the wall and shot down" ("Hear, hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.) – then it must be recognized that we really do not live in an age where class differences do not exist and where the entire people stands united, but that, on the contrary, dissimilarities are intensified now in the most inciting way. Where is, in face of this fact, the sensitive German nature about which there is so much discussion here?

Very desirable would be statistics as to how few children of the proletariat on account of existing institutions have obtained opportunity to reach a higher school education; then the unimportance of these few will be recognized, when compared with the millions and millions to whom the road to all the splendor and magnificence which the human spirit can receive, is closed. The amendments proposed (he refers to amendments which will make it easier for able pupils of the primary school to attend the higher schools in larger numbers than had been the case; another amendment introduced by Dr. Porsch (Centrum) proposed that the so-called Rektorat-Schools, which are for procuring a higher education for moneyless pupils, should be supported – S. Z.), are merely patchwork experiment, because what is proposed will be to the advantage only of the poor bourgeosie, but not of the proletariat. Don't you really sense what it means, when they try to make the pathway to higher education an act of grace, whereas in reality it is an original human right? The mass of the people will feel that instead of their rights there is given to them Bettelsuppen (coarse soup made of black bread). Certainly only to such proletarian children will those privileges be accorded, whose souls, which make them independent, are already broken, who are robbed of their class consciousness and who become accessories of capitalist society. And at the same time these laughable experiments are presented to the people with a self-sufficiency which makes it possible for them to recognize very well the insincerity of the ruling classes. In closing educational opportunities we see a brutal waste of spiritual energies, a waste of human strength in the treadmill of mechanical labor, the denial of human economy. It is as plain as law that the children of the proletariat are held down by darkness of the soul. Touching is the description of Dante who walks with Virgil through the forest of the spirits which have not sinned, but have suffered because they did not receive baptism; to-day it is because they are deprived of money! ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Considering the magnitude of the World War you and also the Christian parties do not think of saving these starving ones, damned by Capitalism. You try to give an impression that something is being done.

By these Amendments you try to give an impression of wishing to throw open the road to education to the people also, but that is because Capitalism requires educated soldiers. You similarly replace the human losses in the war by giving commissions to non-commissioned officers because the dregs of the proletariat are required for service. The tendencies of the amendment show how necessary it is to destroy the demagogism and the deceit which took form in them. (President Graf Schwerin-Löwitz calls the speaker to order.) After their experiences in war time the proletariat will not allow itself to be duped.

Assemblyman v. d. Osten said, that the uniform system of education leads towards differentiation. But the truth is that capitalism makes the great mass of the people uniform in the most brutal way and differentiates the people only in classes, and makes impossible the real differentiation among the classes of the people and through the whole people. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.)

Assemblyman Oelze spoke here yesterday in glowing terms of education, science and ideals. But instruction in history has been for a long time systematically used to inculcate certain political sentiments in the pupils. The higher schools especially have been for years places to exercise this practice and in these higher schools hatred against England was systematically developed, which seed has now sprouted in such glorious fashion. The propaganda of the Navy Society in the higher schools demonstrates strikingly the whole spirit of the system of teaching. The world's history has been ad usum delphim turned into a political fiction. Not political truth, not objective knowledge, but the opposite are the main features of what you teach. In German teaching the soul of youth should have a chance to develop freely. But what are the themes put to our children? They are set to write patriotic editorials, and certain phases of war patriotism are taught them. In that way we sow the seeds of falsehood. This procedure following advice from above is a cancerous disease for the entire school system. You will not obtain any advantages, even among the students of the higher schools who come from the bourgeois class. This most awkward method of strengthening your class rule will work against you.

And instruction in religion? By means of the most skillful dialect and by pedagogical methods was bridged over the chasm between religion and war, between Christianity and mass-murder. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) The curtain of the temple is torn. But what spiritual embarrassment comes to our children, when they hear of the Lord, who is the Lord of all people, that is, – if I may use this word in this connection, – an international God, a God of the entire humanity, when this God of charity is claimed by each nation for itself and for the war! I asked my child, who had to learn the catechism by heart (instruction in religion is obligatory in Prussia. S. Z.), if the teacher always said: "Love thy neighbor as thyself!" The child answered: "No, we should not love the Russians, Frenchmen and Englishmen!" (Hear, hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.) How is that reconcilable? The most beautiful pedagogy is that which reacts not through words, but through vision and good example. But what shall children who are instructed in religion say to the occurrences of the present? Here religion naturally cannot become, as Christianity demands, an element penetrating the entire life and determining each action, but something entirely different. From this contrast you cannot escape and least of all when not the religion of brotherly love but that of Baal is the religion of the world and when even the children understand that in this war the main point is the interest of capitalist society.

One can pray again and again and still remain an inciter of war. To-day an attempt is made to influence the children of the working people toward the conception of life of the ruling class, of the capitalist class, of the class of exploiters (shouts from the right part of the House) toward the conception of life of war and mass killing. And how is higher education inculcated in the occupied territories? When the first school was reopened in Belgrade, a paper published there by the Austrians stated that Servia committed a great sin when it fought against Austria. (He could not go any further.)

PRESIDENT GRAF SCHWERIN-LÖWITZ: The Servian schools have nothing to do with the Budget. I recall you to the subject.

LIEBKNECHT (continuing): The higher schools are also used as practical helpers in the service of the present war. A systematic propaganda is conducted in them for the war loans, and gold is collected in them. This militarization of the schools has been characterized even by some parts of the bourgeoisie, as a questionable act. In the schools they have already started to educate the human beings up to being war machines. The schools are converted into training stables for the war. The physical upbuilding of the youth is encouraged now to attract new material for the Moloch, Militarism. Strengthening especially human health has thus as its aim the destruction of human life. I do not want to examine here how war psychology can reconcile itself to the foundations of our entire education.

Now I can speak only about the higher schools. Mr. Oelze demanded yesterday that Militarism should be introduced to greater extent in the higher schools, that Militarism should be the all-prevailing spirit. He (Mr. Oelze) defined Militarism as complete subordination to discipline. According to our conception Militarism means the opposite of imposed discipline. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) Moreover, the military spirit has penetrated the school system to such a high degree that I don't know what else is left for Mr. Oelze to ask for. In committee it was said also in the bourgeois section that unilateral military education leads to brutalizing the youth. But that does not frighten you, when your holy of holies, Militarism, is helped. You want liberty only for the ruling classes and oppression for the great masses. ("Very true!" from the Soc.-Dem.) You abhor the free mind because it will mean the twilight of the gods of the ruling classes. Classical education of to-day is only a parody on real classic education. Classics surely do not consist in driving home languages and some other knowledge of facts, but their essence is the spirit of humanism, the spirit of independence, of clear vision, of criticism, of everything which is felt to be harmful. This is the real freedom of the spirit. The ideal of the bayonet, of the bombshell, of poison gas and grenades which are hurled down on peaceful cities, the ideal of submarine warfare, that is something quite different. (Uneasiness and laughter from the Right parties of the House.) This is the truth which I oppose to your endeavors to mask the reality of things. According to an edict of Governor von Schwerin of Frankfort-a-O., it was ordered that the feeling for general fraternization, for the brotherhood of the people, for the international peace enthusiasm should be stamped out. ("Hear, hear!" from the Soc.-Dem.) Our enemies' deeds of shame against the Germans must not be excused, but only hatred and revolt must be aroused from those acts. We declare that to be a misuse of the schools of the worst kind. That is your spirit of humanism. Mr. V. Canyre spoke about softening the bones of ideas (osteomalacia), against which such a propaganda must work in the school. But if it is true that the duty to tell the truth is the aim of all education, then something entirely different must be taught. In school must be taught, how this war arose, not only that the abominable murder of Sarajevo was an incident to inspire horror, but also the fact that the crime of Sarajevo was looked upon in many circles as a gift from Heaven, serving them as a war pretext. (He could not continue. The parties of the Right side of the House broke out in cat-calls which became louder and louder. The Assemblymen had raised themselves from their seats in great excitement and left the room with continual shouts: "Put him out, put him out." Assemblyman Liebknecht shouts to them: "Go out! You flee before the truth, you can't hear the truth!")

PRESIDENT GRAF SCHWERIN-LÖWITZ (who has rung the bell for a long time in vain): I call you to order for the second time, and I call your attention to the fact that in case you are called to order for a third time I shall ask the House if it wishes to listen to you further.

ASSEMBLYMAN LIEBKNECHT: I have told you only what I heard with my own ears.

The aim of humanistic education is that of complete freedom, a high, ideal aim. Out of this spirit, great pedagogues such as Pestalozzi demanded the unity of the school system. The school of to-day serves only purposes of expediency. This is true also of the universities. The spirit of Militarism corrodes the foundation of our entire educational system. Art and science also are restrained (President Graf Schwerin-Löwitz: Please speak about the higher institutions of learning.) The same phenomenon can be noticed also in the higher school system. While it is the task of primary schools to make the youth of the proletariat tools for the capitalistic order of society, it is the task of the higher schools to prepare the youth of the ruling classes for the great work which they have to perform in present society. In the discussion of the question of the admission of foreigners to the schools, Mr. v. Savingy declared in the committee meeting that the admission of foreigners to German schools before (this war) was in order to gain sympathy in foreign countries and in that way to obtain indirectly political and economic advantages. This is true German idealism which comes to light here.

On the same level can be placed the present instruction about the conditions in the Orient in the higher schools. It is being taught to greater effect than before. Thus the higher schools also are converted into an instrument of propaganda for economic purposes, which are back of this war.

This war, which has destroyed so much, has also destroyed the last vestige of the bourgeois ideal of education, and to the surface came the viewpoint of the pure utilitarianism in education. The technical quality of teaching is also very much damaged by the war. Just as the Thirty Years' War acted in ravaging and destroying in the educational field, the present war is acting. (Assemblyman Hoffman, Soc.-Dem.: "Very true!") The new method in teaching history is a sign of barbarism, a sign of the fight to death being fought by the educational ideal of the bourgeoisie. I spoke before about the poem of Schiller in which it is said: "Only a miracle can carry you into the beautiful wonderland." To the proletariat, for the unsaved souls, this word cannot be applied. No miracle and no blessing from above can bring the proletariat into the wonderland, in which all the treasures and magnificence of the human soul are to be found. And when Dante's world-epic speaks about those unsaved souls who live without hope and longing, that is also not true of the proletariat. It does not live without hopes, but full of confidence. But the liberation of the working class cannot come from such motions as put by you to-day.

PRESIDENT SCHWERIN-LÖWITZ: I call you to the question for the second time and call your attention to the consequences which may occur according to the rule of business.

ASSEMBLYMAN LIEBKNECHT: I speak about the motion, about the chance of those who are well off to attend high schools and colleges. This spiritual liberation can also be the deed of the working class and it is our duty to say to the working class also on this occasion: To action! Those in the trenches, as well as those here at home, should put down their arms and turn against the common enemy, which takes from them light and air (great disturbance on the right side of the House).

PRESIDENT GRAF SCHWERIN-LÖWITZ: I call you to order for the third time and ask herewith whether the House wishes to hear the speaker any further. (Stormy applause at the right. The Assemblymen are rushing with great speed into the House. Only the Social-Democrats vote to listen further to the speaker. Assemblyman Liebknecht leaves the speaker's desk amid stormy shouts from the Assemblymen of the Right. Assemblyman Adolf Hoffman (addressing himself to the right side of the House): "When it comes to yelling, you are the masters."

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