The Clarion 1900

Breakers Ahead

Written: 22 June 1900 by Wilhelm Liebknecht;
First published: in The Clarion, 21 July 1900, pp. 225-226;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, for 2008.

The events are speaking and pleading for me, and so my task is greatly facilitated. Facts are not only stubborn but also light-throwing things and the hardest skulls cannot resist the logic of facts.

In China, we have now the crop of the South African war. To the silly question, Imperialism or not? has suddenly been substituted the stern question, Empire or not? The British Empire is in question now. The Russians, the Frenchmen, the Japanese, the Germans – they all are having their bloody game now in the Far East, and the English are crippled. They have only their ships where ships are of little use. Their army, the strongest and finest England has ever had, is in South Africa bent on wanton mission of cowardly greediness, trying to destroy the liberty of a small people which by its heroic resistance has gained the admiration of the world, and fighting against all those principles to fight for which and to defend which against the combined despots of the earth has until now constituted the glory of England and of the British Empire.

Crippled in the hour of reckoning and on the eve of that final struggle with Russian Despotism – that is what England owes to the agents of capitalism, who in their criminal folly brought about this infamous war of conquest and robbery. The Empire will have to pay dearly for the orgies of Imperialism.

And now Militarism suddenly becomes a real, an immediate danger. As long as your clever Lord Salisbury could imagine the South African war was an isolated fact, not noticed by the external world, he was an enemy of Conscription, and even a platonic lover of the Swiss Militia system. Now he cannot think, and will not feel so any more. Now England has to be prepared for long and great wars. Even for periods at wars, as we had at the end of the last and the beginning of this century. The disruption of China, or, rather, the Revolution of China, may, and probably will bring wars on a larger scale than the wars following the French Revolution. And in this time of gigantic armies England cannot play her game with such small armies as she had, and as were sufficient in the time of those French wars. Where there were ten thousand then now a hundred thousand are wanted, and a million now where a hundred thousand then. And where are these armies to come from?

From South Africa you have to expect nothing. The Boers would be fools and cowards – and they are neither – if, now when China offers them such wonderful chances, they were not resolved to fight on and to extend the war till England comes to her senses and puts a. stop to the murderous bloodshed – and to the career of the political swindlers now at the helm of the State vessel. And extend the war the Boers can. The guerrilla warfare is just the kind of fighting which suits them best, and where their swiftness, endurance, and shooting power can most effectively be displayed.

The war in South Africa you can, and I hope you will, stop; it is a war cunningly and artificially made by the English Government, and what the English Government did may be undone by the English people. But the war in China you cannot stop. The elementary outbreak there is the necessary, the organic result and consequence of sixty years policy – English and European policy – constant attacks, violence, lying, cheating, robbery, and other misdeeds of every kind. The Chinese would not have been men, I mean beings with human passions, had they continued to suffer silently. And on the giant body of China there is the big ulcer in which the poison and dirt of international world-policy, Weltpolitik, – is collected. It is an international matter and muddle beyond the control of any nation. There is not a single political question fraught with danger and corruption that is not connected somehow, not grown together with this Chinese business, and that will not spurt out, when the Chinese ulcer is cut. The Eastern Question, the Indian question, and heaven knows how many other questions, they are all contained and imprisoned in their Pandora box, cunningly and stupidly constructed by modern Capitalism and Diplomacy.

And England will require soldiers – an army – armies. By voluntary enlistment you will not get enough fighting men. The Conscription will come as sure as fate, unless you insist on the introduction of the Militia system. The critical moment has come. You have to decide quickly, or it is too late.

The choice lies between Conscription and Militia. Either the one or the other. And Conscription means Militarism, submission of the people under military power, the end of Democracy. Militia, on the other hand, means the armament of the people the government by the people.

To my great joy, I see that our friend Quelch, of the Social Democratic Federation, has put his hand on the plough) and has, in an excellent pamphlet, “Social Democracy and the Armed Nations” told the English public what the Militia system is. It makes every citizen a soldier, and leaves the soldier a citizen. The service is for life, as long as the strength lasts; but it is no service that makes the man a serf, or, which is still worse, a machine, as the service of Militarism does. We Germans have the reduced service of two years now. The drill is quite as oppressive and demoralising as it was under the former three years service. The soldier of Militarism has to obey blindly. Our Emperor, who is the highest commander or the Imperial army, has himself more than once emphatically told the soldiers: “If you are commanded to shoot you have to shoot even at father and mother. That is Militarism.

The military education has for its principal aim to separate the soldiers from the people; to instil into them the idea that they are beings of a higher order and caste than the common drudgers without arms and uniforms, and that the highest deed of man is to shoot or maim his fellow-men. The German Magna Carta as framed by Militarism has been condensed into the famous dictum: “A German’s duties and rights are to hold your tongue, to serve as a soldier and to pay the taxes.” Your Magna Charta would speedily be superseded by this were you to get under the iron role of Militarism.

Militarism does not only render the armed man an enemy of his own people; it also renders him unfit for useful work, A man who has led the barracks life for two years is not able any more to exercise his trade; he must work for months, and even for years, before he has recovered his former skill. And in many cases – perhaps in most cases – he will never recover it. One of the greatest difficulties the administration of our States and Municipalities have to struggle with is the great number of soldiers who, after having served a certain time (12 years) as privates and non-commissioned officers, have forgotten their original trade and occupation and claim some public employment, which has been promised as a bait for professional soldiering. As many of them as possible are made policemen, railway officials, postmen, etc.; only the number is so great that it is not possible to find places for all, and those that get no employment are condemned to a most miserable life. This inundation with discharged soldiers has many disadvantages for the public service. It puts into it the military spirit, which shocks so much the foreign traveller, and has given to German police such a bad reputation all over the world – and which, in the judgment of those best qualified for judging, lames and demoralises our railway administration. Certainly our railway officials (conductors, guards, etc.) are honest, punctual, and bent on doing their duty, but the mill of Militarism through which they have passed grinds individuality, destroys personal independence, and exterminates the faculty of self-thinking and self-acting.

Thus we see everywhere the evil effects of Militarism, which poisons our whole public life – and the private life, too – anent which I will only mention the nuisance of our Reserve Lieutenants’ tomfoolery and the anachronistic Duelling Epidemy.

The Militia is free of all this. It knows no military drill, because already in school the boys are prepared for the duty of defending their country; they learn marching, shooting etc., as part of their education. The one month and a half which they have to spend in the barracks does not estrange them from their occupation in life nor from their fellow citizens, who all have gone or will go through the same course of education in the use of arms, and who all are citizens and soldiers at the same time like them. In Switzerland everybody above a certain age has a military charge and a military title and there you may see sitting at the same table the workman or banker’s clerk, who is a colonel, at a the young millowner or banker, who is a lieutenant.

I need not go into details. You will find all you want to know in Quelch’s penny pamphlet.

We Germans know what Militarism is. No nation has suffered or is suffering so much through it. Our schools, once the best in the world, now almost the worst, are ruined by Militarism, which together with its younger sister, Marinism, devours the marrow of the people and our liberty too. In former times our middle-class opposed Militarism, and in the March revolution of 1848, the abolition of standing armies was the universal cry. Since then times have changed. Our middle-class has been frightened by the Red spectre: the Burger, once so liberal and even democratic, bowed before Bismarck, whose dictatorship they hated less than they feared Socialism, and it fell to our lot to do the work, which our Middle class ought to have done. We Socialists in fact are the only party in the German Empire who fight seriously for civil liberty, successively betrayed by all other parties, the “Progressists,” included. And we Socialists are the only party in Germany who fight against Militarism. On our first congress at Nuernberg where in 1868 the foundation stone of our Social Democratic Party was laid, I made a speech against Militarism, and a resolution against it was unanimously adopted, and how many speeches have we, Bebel and I and other comrades, made against Militarism since in the Reichstag and out of it! And not without success. That we have in the course of the last thirty years, from a handful of men, become the strongest party in Germany, comprising in the year 1898 two millions and a quarter of electors, that is, one quarter of the total body of electors, and, the families included, one quarter of the whole German population this wonderful growth is essentially due to the fact that the masses in Germany are disgusted with Militarism and have come to the conviction that we cannot exist as a civilised people if we do not get rid of Militarism. Brave John Morley has understood the dangers of Militarism. He has had the courage of drawing the logical consequences of Liberalism, and has put himself on the side of Socialism against Militarism. His Liberals will not follow him; they will, after some hesitation, bow before Militarism, just as our Libera1s have done, and then he will have to follow the example of our Dr. Johann Jacoby, who began his political career as a Liberal, and finished it as a Socialist, having discovered that the Liberal middle-classes, whose most respected chief he had been for many years, were not able any longer to bear the banner of Liberty, Progress, and Humanity, and that the banner is now in the hands of the Working Class and of the International Social Democracy.

Morley is right. Militarism would be the end of English Liberty and Prosperity; and he will soon find that there is no other means to combat Militarism successfully but Democratic International Socialism.

I can conclude now. The objection that the Militia system would not do for England is not worth a word of refutation There is no essential difference between the English population and the Swiss. And for your colonies and foreign service, common-sense will tell everybody that with a Militia – in the Swiss sense – you will doubtlessly get more volunteers than without. And now to work! Make peace with the Boers! And begin to organise the Militia! No moment is to be lost. You have to decide on your future for many, many years.

Think of the German poet’s (Schiller’s) words:—

Was du der Minute ausgeschlagen,
Bringt keine Ewigkeit zurueck!

(An opportunity thrown away in a minute
May not return in an eternity.)

Berlin, June 22nd, 1900.