But czarism! In the first moments of the war this was undoubtedly the factor that decided the position of our party. In its declaration, the social democratic group had given the slogan: against czarism! And out of this the socialist press has made a fight for European culture.
The Frankfurter Volksstimme wrote on July 31:
“The German social democracy has always hated czardom as the bloody guardian of European reaction: from the time that Marx and Engels followed, with far-seeing eyes, every movement of this barbarian government, down to the present day, where its prisons are filled with political prisoners, and yet it trembles before every labour movement. The time has come when we must square accounts with these terrible scoundrels, under the German flag of war.”
The Pfälzische Post of Ludwighafen wrote on the same day:
“This is a principle that was first established by our August Bebel. This is the struggle of civilisation against barbarism, and in this struggle the proletariat will do its share.”
The Münchener Post of August 1:
“When it comes to defending our country against the bloody czardom we will not be made citizens of the second class.”
The Halle Volksblatt wrote on August 5:
“If this is so, if we have been attacked by Russia, and everything seems to corroborate this statement – then the social democracy, as a matter of course, must vote in favour of all means of defence. With all our strength we must fight to drive czarism from our country!”
And on August 18:
“Now that the die is cast in favour of the sword, it is not only the duty of national defence and national existence that puts the weapon into our hands as into the hands of every German, but also the realisation that in the enemy whom we are fighting in the east we are striking a blow at the foe of all culture and all progress ... The overthrow of Russia is synonymous with the victory of freedom in Europe.”
On August 5, the Braunschweiger Volksfreund wrote:
“The irresistible force of military preparation drives everything before it. But the class-conscious labour movement obeys, not an outside force, but its own conviction, when it defends the ground upon which it stands from attack in the east.”
The Essener Arbeiterzeitung cried out on August 3:
“If this country is threatened by Russia’s determination, then the social democrats, since the fight is against Russian blood – czarism, against the perpetrator of a million crimes against freedom and culture, will allow none to excel them in the fulfilment of their duty, in their willingness to sacrifice. Down with czarism! Down with the home of barbarism! Let that be our slogan!”
Similarly the Bielefelder Volkswacht writes on August 4:
“ Everywhere the same cry: against Russian despotism and faithlessness.”
The Elberfeld party organ on August 5:
“All Western Europe is vitally interested in the extermination of rotten murderous czarism. But this human interest is crushed by the greed of England and France to cheek the profits that have been made possible by German capital.”
The Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne:
“Do your duty, friends, wherever fate may place you. You are fighting for the civilisation of Europe, for the independence of your fatherland, for your own welfare.”
The Schleswig-Holstein Volkszeitung of August 7 writes:
“Of course we are living in an age of capitalism. Of course we will continue to have class struggles after the great war is over. But these class struggles will be fought out in a freer state, they will be far more confined to the economic field than before. In the future the treatment of socialists as outcasts, as citizens of the second class, as politically rightless will be impossible, once the czardom of Russia has vanished.”
On August 11, the Hamburger Echo cried:
“We are fighting to defend ourselves not so much against England and France as against czarism. But this war we carry on with the greatest enthusiasm, for it is the war for civilisation.”
And the Lübeck party organ declared, as late as September 4:
“If European liberty is saved, then Europe will have German arms to thank for it Our fight is a fight against the worst enemy of all liberty and all democracy.”
Thus the chorus of the German party press sounded and resounded.
In the beginning of the war the German government accepted the proffered assistance. Nonchalantly it fastened the laurels of the liberator of European culture to its helmet. Yes, it endeavoured to carry through the role of the “liberator of nations,” though often with visible discomfort and rather awkward grace. It flattered the Poles and the Jews in Russia, and egged one nation on against the other, using the policies that had proven so successful in their colonial warfare, where again and again they played up one chief against the other. And the social democrats followed each leap and bound of German imperialism with remarkable agility. While the Reichstag group covered up every shameful outrage with a discrete silence, the social democratic press filled the air with jubilant melodies, rejoicing in the liberty that “German riflebutts” had brought to the poor victims of czarism.
Even the theoretical organ of the party, Neue Zeit, wrote on the twenty-eighth of August:
“The border population of the ‘little father’s’ realm greeted the coming of the German troops with cries of joy. For these Poles and Jews have but one conception of their fatherland, that of corruption and rule by the knout. Poor devils, really fatherlandless creatures, these downtrodden subjects of bloody Nicholas. Even should they desire to do so, they could find nothing to defend but their chains. And so they live and toil, hoping and longing that German rifles, carried by German men, will crush the whole czarist system ... A clear and definite purpose still lives in the German working class, though the thunder of a world war is crashing over its head. It will defend itself from the allies of Russian barbarism in the west to bring about an honorable peace. It will give to the task of destroying czarism the last breath of man and beast.”
After the social democratic group had stamped the war as a war of defence for the German nation and European culture, the social democratic press proceeded to hail it as the “saviour of the oppressed nations.” Hindenburg became the executor of Marx and Engels.
The memory of our party has played it a shabby trick. It forgot all its principles, its pledges, the decision of international congresses just at the moment when they should have found their application. And to its great misfortune, it remembered the heritage of Karl Marx and dug it out of the dust of passing years at the very moment when it could serve only to decorate Prussian militarism, for whose destruction Karl Marx was willing to sacrifice “the last breath of man and beast.” Long forgotten chords that were sounded by Marx in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung against the vassal state of Nicholas I, during the German March Revolution of 1848, suddenly reawakened in the ears of the German social democracy in the year of Our Lord 1914, and called them to arms arm in arm with Prussian junkerdom, against the Russia of the Great Revolution of 1905.
This is where a revision should have been made; the slogans of the March Revolution should have been brought into accord with the historical experiences of the last seventy years.
In 1848 Russian czarism was, in truth, “the guardian of European reaction.” The product of Russian social conditions, firmly rooted in its medieval, agricultural state, absolutism was the protector and at the same time the mighty director of monarchical reaction. This was weakened, particularly in Germany where a system of small states still obtained. As late as 1851 it was possible for Nicholas I to assure Berlin through the Prussian consul von Rochow “that he would, indeed, have been pleased to see the revolution destroyed by the roots when General von Wrangel advanced upon Berlin in November, 1848.” At another time, in a warning to Manteuffel, the mar stated, “that he relied upon the imperial ministry, under the leadership of His Highness, to defend the rights of the crown against the chambers, and give to the principles of conservatism their due.” It was possible for the same Nicholas I to bestow the Order of Alexander Nevski on a Prussian ministerial president in recognition of his “constant efforts to preserve legal order in Prussia.”
The Crimean War worked a noticeable change in this respect. It ended with the military and therefore with the political bankruptcy of the old system. Russian absolutism was forced to grant reforms, to modernise its rule, to adjust itself to capitalist conditions. In so doing, it gave its little finger to the devil who already holds it firmly by the arm, and will eventually get it altogether. The Crimean War was, by the way, an instructive example of the kind of liberation that can be brought to a downtrodden people “at the point of a gun.” The military overthrow at Sedan brought France its republic. But this republic was not the gift of the Bismarck soldiery. Prussia, at that time as today, can give to other peoples nothing but its own junker rule. Republican France was the ripe fruit of inner social struggles and of the three revolutions that had preceded it. The crash at Sevastopol was in effect similar to that of Jena. But because there was no revolutionary movement in Russia, it led to the outward renovation and reaffirmation of the old regime.
But the reforms that opened the road for capitalist development in Russia during the sixties were possible only with the money of a capitalist system. This money was furnished by Western European capital. It came from Germany and France, and has created a new relationship that has lasted down to the present day. Russian absolutism is now subsidised by the western European bourgeoisie No longer does the Russian ruble “roll in diplomatic chambers” as Prince William. of Prussia bitterly complained in 1854, “Into the very chambers of the king.” On the contrary, German and French money is rolling to Petersburg to feed a regime that would long ago have breathed its last without this life-giving juice. Russian czarism is today no longer the product of Russian conditions; its root lies in the capitalist conditions of Western Europe. And the relationship is shifting from decade to decade. In the same measure as the old root of Russian absolutism in Russia itself is being destroyed, the new, West European root is growing stronger and stronger. Besides lending their financial support, Germany and France, since 1870, have been vying with each other to lend Russia their political support as well. As revolutionary forces arise from the womb of the Russian people itself to fight against Russian absolutism, they meet with an ever growing resistance in Western Europe, which stands ready to lend to threatened czarism its moral and political support. So when, in the beginning of the eighties the older Russian socialist movement severely shook the czarist government and partly destroyed its authority within and without, Bismarck made his treaty with Russia and strengthened its position in international politics.
Capitalist development, tenderly nurtured by czarism with its own hands, finally bore fruit: in the nineties the revolutionary movement of the Russian proletariat began. The erstwhile “guardian of reaction!’ was forced to grant a meaningless constitution, to seek a new protector from the rising flood in its own country. And it found this protector – in Germany. The Germany of Buelow must pay the debt of gratitude that the Prussia of Wrangel and Manteuffel had incurred. Relations were completely reversed. Russian support against the revolution in Germany is superseded by German aid against the revolution in Russia. Spies, outrages, betrayals – a demagogic agitation, like that which blessed the times of the Holy Alliance, was unleashed in Germany against the fighters for the cause of Russian freedom, and followed to the very doorsteps of the Russian Revolution. In the Königsberg trial of 1904 this wave of persecution was at its height. This trial threw a scathing light upon a whole historical development since 1848 and showed the complete change of relations between Russian absolutism and European reaction. “Tua res agitur” [Your problem is being attended to!] cried a Prussian minister of justice to the ruling classes of Germany, pointing to the tottering foundation of the czarist regime. “The establishment of a democratic republic in Russia would strongly influence Germany,” declared First District Attorney Schulze in Königsberg. “When my neighbour’s home burns my own is also in danger.” And his assistant Casper also emphasised: “It is naturally not indifferent to Germany’s public interests whether this bulwark of absolutism stands or falls. Certainly the flames of a revolutionary movement may easily spring over into Germany ...”
The revolution was overthrown, but the very causes that led to its temporary downfall are valuable in a discussion of the position taken by the German social democracy in this war. That the Russian uprising in 1905-06 was unsuccessful in spite of its unequalled expenditure of revolutionary force, its clearness of purpose and tenacity can be ascribed to two distinct causes. The one lies in the inner character of the revolution itself, in its enormous historical program, in the mass of economic and political problems that it was forced to face. Some of them, for instance, the agrarian problem, cannot possibly be solved within capitalist society. There was the difficulty furthermore of creating a class state for the supremacy of the modern bourgeoisie against the counter-revolutionary opposition of the bourgeoisie as a whole. To the onlooker it would seem that the Russian Revolution was doomed to failure because it was a proletarian revolution with bourgeois duties and problems, or if you wish, a bourgeois revolution waged by socialist proletarian methods, a crash of two generations amid lightning and thunder, the fruit of the delayed industrial development of class conditions in Russia and their over-ripeness in Western Europe. From this point of view its downfall in 1906 signifies not its bankruptcy, but the natural closing of the first chapter, upon which the second must follow with the inevitability of a natural law.
The second cause was of external nature; it lay in Western Europe. European reaction once more hastened to help its endangered protege; not with lead and bullets, although “German guns” were in German fists even in 1905 and only waited for a signal from Petersburg to attack the neighbouring Poles. Europe rendered an assistance that was equally valuable: financial subsidy and political alliances were arranged to help czarism in Russia. French money paid for the armed forces that broke down the Russian Revolution; from Germany came the moral and political support that helped the Russian government to clamber out from the depths of shame into which Japanese torpedoes and Russian proletarian fists had thrust it. In 1910, in Potsdam, official Germany received Russian czarism with open arms. The reception of the blood-stained monarch at the gates of the German capital was not only the German blessing for the throttling of Persia, but above all for the hangman’s work of the Russian counter-revolution. It was the official banquet of German and European “Kultur” over what they believed to be the grave of the Russian Revolution.
And strange! At that time, when this challenging feast upon the grave of the Russian Revolution was held in its own home, the German social democracy remained silent, and had completely forgotten “the heritage of our masters” from 1848. At that time, when the hangman was received in Potsdam, not a sound, not a protest, not an article vetoed this expression of solidarity with the Russian counter-revolution. Only since this war has begun, since the police permits it, the smallest party organ intoxicates itself with bloodthirsty attacks upon the hangman of Russian liberty. Yet nothing could have disclosed more clearly than did this triumphal tour of the czar in 1910 that the oppressed Russian proletariat was the victim, not only of domestic reaction, but of Western European reaction as well. Their fight, like that of the March revolutionists of 1848, was against reaction, not only in their own country, but against its guardians in all other European countries.
After the inhuman crusades of the counter-revolution had somewhat subsided, the revolutionary ferment in the Russian proletariat once more became active. The flood began to rise and to boil. Economic strikes in Russia, according to the official reports, involved 46,623 workers and 256,386 days in 1910; 96,730 workers and 768,556 days in 1911; and 89,771 workers and 1,214,881 days in the first five months of 1912. Political mass strikes, protests and demonstrations comprised 1,005,000 workers in 1912, 1,272,000 in 1913. In 1914 the flood rose higher and higher. On January 22, the anniversary of the beginning of the revolution, there was a demonstration mass strike of 200,000 workers. As in the days before the revolution of 1905, the flame broke out in June, in the Caucasus. In Baku, 40,000 workers were on a general strike. The flames leaped over to Petersburg. On the seventeenth of June 80,000 workers in Petersburg laid down their tools, on the twentieth of July, 200,000 were out; July 23 the general strike movement was spreading out all over Russia, barricades were being built, the revolution was on its way. A few more months and it would have come, its flags fluttering in the wind. A few more years, and perhaps the whole world political constellation would have been changed. imperialism perhaps would have received a firm check on its mad impulse.
But German reaction checked the revolutionary movement. From Berlin and Vienna came declarations of war, and the Russian Revolution was buried beneath its wreckage. “German guns” are shattering, not czarism, but its most dangerous enemy. The hopefully fluttering flag of the revolution sank down amid a wild whirlpool of war. But it sank honourably, and it will rise again out of the horrible massacre, in spite of “German guns,” in spite of victory or defeat for Russia on the battlefields.
The national revolts in Russia which the Germans tried to foster, too, were unsuccessful. The Russian provinces were evidently less inclined to fall for the bait of Hindenburg’s cohorts than the German social democracy. The Jews, practical people that they are, were able to count on their fingers that “German fists” which have been unable to overthrow their own Prussian reaction, can hardly be expected to smash Russian absolutism. The Poles, exposed to the triple-headed war, were not in a position to answer their “liberators” in audible language. But they will have remembered that Polish children were taught to say the Lord’s prayer in the German language with bloody welts on their backs, will not have forgotten the liberality of Prussian anti-Polish laws. All of them, Poles, Jews and Russians, had no difficulty in understanding that the “German gun,” when it descends upon their heads, brings not liberty, but death.
To couple the legend of Russian liberation with its Marxian heritage is worse than a poor joke on the part of the German social democracy. It is a crime. To Marx, the Russian revolution was a turning point in the history of the world. Every political and historical perspective was made dependent upon the one consideration, “provided the Russian revolution has not already broken out.” Marx believed in the Russian revolution and expected it even at a time when Russia was only a state of vassals. When the war broke out the Russian Revolution had occurred. Its first attempt had not been victorious; but it could not be ignored; it is on the order of the day. And yet our German social democrats came with “German guns,” declaring the Russian Revolution null and void, struck it from the pages of history. In 1848 Marx spoke from the German barricades; in Russia there was a hopeless reaction. In 1914 Russia was in the throes of a revolution; while its German “liberators” were cowed by the fists of Prussian junkerdom.
But the liberating mission of the German armies was only an episode. German imperialism soon raised its uncomfortable mask and turned openly against France and England. Here, too, it was supported valiantly by a large number of the party papers. They ceased railing against the bloody czar, and held up “perfidious Albion” and its merchant soul to the public disdain. They set out to free Europe, no longer from Russian absolutism, but from English naval supremacy. The hopeless confusion in which the party had become entangled found a drastic illustration in the desperate attempt made by the more thoughtful portion of our party press to meet this new change of front. In vain they tried to force the war back into its original channels, to nail it down to the “heritage of our masters” – that is, to the myth that they, the social democracy, had themselves created. “With heavy heart I have been forced to mobilise the army against a neighbour at whose side I have fought on so many battlefields. With honest sorrow I saw a friendship, truly served by Germany, break.” That was simple, open, honest. But when the rhetoric of the first weeks of war backed down before the lapidary language of imperialism, the German social democracy lost its only plausible excuse.
Last updated on: 16.12.2008