The Clarion 1900

Beware of Imperialism and Militarism

Written: 14 March 1900 by Wilhelm Liebknecht;
First published: in The Clarion, 24 March 1900, pp. 89-90;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, for 2008.

This stirring appeal from the veteran of European Socialism, was written in reply to a letter in which I had represented to him my point of the present state of English public feeling. – A.M.T.

What I think about the present war.

I have written in several English papers, and I shall not repeat what is known. But the English people, you tell me, are in danger of Imperialism and Militarism. And that is a thing I know by experience, and on this question I owe you my opinion, gained by hard experience.

I am now, for a short holiday living in Italy – a paradise by the grace of nature, and inhabited by an intelligent, sober, and industrious people – a people with the memory of a most glorious past, and all faculties for a not less glorious present – and Italy is ruined, impoverished, and driven from the path of modern civilisation by Imperialism and Militarism.

I am by birth a German, and, as every good Socialist and Internationalist, I have always tried to fulfil the national duties towards my country. I am a good patriot, if patriotism means to work and fight for the liberty and welfare of my country. Well, in this my fight I have always against me the two great enemies of progress and civilisation – Militarism, and Imperialism. Militarism and Imperialism they are ruining Germany as they are ruining Italy. Germany, once the land with the best schools, has now perhaps the worst schools in all Europe – schools, it is true, which must be visited by all children, and in which all children learn a little reading and writing-but schools in which instead of truth the most stupid superstition is preached, schools by which independent thinking is forbidden and suppressed, manhood broken, and blind obedience to the authorities that be taught. Instead of educating men our schools have the aim to educate subjects, slaves, soldiers, – soldiers ready at the command from above to shoot father, mother, sisters, and brethren. And look at our Universities. High schools (Hochschulen) they are called, and in reality they are low schools of lowest senility and Byzantinism. Take Berlin. Dr. Schwenninger, a person guilty of, and by the courts of law condemned to prison for, a disgraceful and infamous act, was) about sixteen years ago, made professor of that that University of Germany at the bidding of Prince Bismarck, and most of the professors protested in earnest or resigned his professorship. Dr. Schwenninger is to this day professor of the University of Berlin. And now another picture! A few days ago my friend, Dr. Ardur one of our best men of science in the young generation, an excellent teacher, who for years had been Privatdocent, that is, Lecturer, at the University, loved by his Kaiser, esteemed by all men of real science – a. few days ago he was removed from the University at the bidding of the Government. And why? Because he is a Socialist and a Freethinker. In other words, because he is truly a, man of science and at the same time a man of character who has the courage to draw the logical consequences of science.

These are the fruits of Militarism and Imperialism.

Look at Italy, look at Germany, you Englishmen, before you throw yourselves into the arms of Militarism and Imperialism. Think what Militarism and Imperialism means!

It means that your young men must sacrifice and lose two years of their life – for being in barracks, doing no useful work, learning nothing but becoming a murdering machine, a tool without thought, without will, that is losing the time of life. And for two years at the least Militarism requires that because in less time a man cannot be changed into a machine, a tool!

Think. Every man fit for military service is taken from his work for two years, and at that time of life when man works best. Two years of work of the best workers robbed to the Nation! What an immense loss of capital, of national Wealth! And to Englishmen, I need not tell, that the greater the sum of national Work, the greater is the sum of national Wealth, and of national Strength and Power.

A fleet you must have as long as there exist Conqueror-states like Russia. A fleet you must have, and you can have without ruining yourself. A fleet and a big army – that is too much, even for a nation as rich as yours. However, the expenses are not the worst.

Militarism and Imperialism does not only mean impoverishing the nation, it means enslaving it. With a big army like ours there is no guarantee of Liberty and Right. The Government that has

a big army has the means of imposing its will on the people and it is in human nature that men who have the power to domineer, will domineer.

Look at Italy and look at Germany! Whatever the people wish and want the Government does not care for it; it has its big army, and the people have to do what the Government wants.

Militarism and Imperialism mean that the man who is not a soldier is a man only of second order. First the soldier then the citizen.

Look at Italy, and at Germany, A citizen walks through the streets. In some way or the other he excites the anger of a soldier. The soldier arrests the citizen – he has the right to do it. The citizen resists. The soldier shoots the citizen, as the hunter shoots the hare – shoots him, kills him in the open street. He has the right to do it. He is even praised by his superior for doing his duty. That is Militarism! That is Imperialism!

Look at Italy, look at Germany!

W. Liebknecht.
San Remo, 14/3, 1900.