Socialist Unpreparedness
in Germany

(October 1914)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 15 No. 4, October 2014, pp. 245–247.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We do not imagine for a moment that a single German Socialist actually wanted War any more than we believe the English, French and Belgian comrades wanted War. Just the same, now that, in spite of the strong anti-military sentiment of the French Socialists, in spite of the anti-war propaganda of the English movement, above all, in spite of the 4,500,000 voting Social Democrats in Germany, we find the working classes of Europe flying at each other’s throats, it is time that we took stock of ourselves. We must know just how much froth there is upon the beer.

For the last ten years one of the subjects discussed at the International Socialist Congresses has been war and militarism. Year by year the great European powers have been spending larger and ever larger sums upon dreadnoughts, upon standing armies and navies, upon armaments and other munitions of war. Every intelligent European Socialist knew that someday the capitalist class would seek to plunge the working class of Europe into war.

How then did they handle the question of War? We have on file in our office the reports of various international congresses with the speeches made by Socialists of note all over the world, upon the subject of War. We have waded through long harangues of wordy rubbish in which one Great Man has informed a waiting world of his antipathy to war and another Great Man has hurled anathemas at the Gods of Patriotism. We have even found, tucked away, and speedily cut short by the authoritarians of the various countries, an earnest plea from some unofficial and unobtrusive delegate for the discussion of some practical tactic with which the United Socialist parties of Europe might meet any war crisis that should happen to arise.

At the International Socialist Congress held at Copenhagen in 1912 the GENERAL STRIKE was proposed as a measure that might afford the revolutionary working class a weapon sufficiently strong to avert European war. A few earnest delegates, from almost every country represented, sought to awaken the majority of the delegates to the necessity for action endorsing the General Strike as a weapon to prevent War.

William D. Haywood, at that time a member of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America, was the ONLY AMERICAN Socialist who VOTED IN FAVOR of this proposal. The German Socialists were almost unanimous in their ridicule of the General Strike as a weapon in any event whatsoever.

So the matter was referred back to some committee or some sub-committee and buried for another two or three years, as had been done repeatedly in the past.

We have carefully sifted the wheat from the chaff of these international reports. The German delegates with a few notable exceptions refused to consider ANY practical measure for the prevention of war. Here we find the largest body of Socialists in the world, the strongest numerically, permitting its elected delegates to evade the question of WHAT TO DO in a world crisis. And our own delegation was very little in advance of the German comrades.

The Socialist Party in the United States today has proposed no definite tactic to be used to prevent war in our own country. Of course we are all opposed to war. The German comrades were opposed to war and the French and the English. And today they are reluctantly marching to the front to shoot down their comrades beneath the tricolors or the German or English flags.

We do not blame any man for going to the front if he is called out by a score of armed gendarmes ready to shoot him down in case he shows any resistance. We know that many of our European comrades were driven to battle in just this way. The same thing may happen to us in “our” own country tomorrow or next week, if we do not get together and evolve a paralyzing tactic that will mean the collapse of all war bubbles. We blame them only for forging no weapon to avert the crisis.

It is up to us to meet the issue FACE TO FACE today. We must avoid the mistakes of our European comrades – particularly of the German Social Democrats. We must go on record for a General Strike in time of war. The German comrades “protested” before war was declared. They “passed resolutions” and “objected” over their steins. But they had no message ready to hand for their party members when war was actually declared. Nobody knew what to DO except to protest privately. The Social Democracy, 4,500,000 strong, had not the menace of a single weapon to hold over the head of the kaiser. Each and every Social Democrat was opposed to the war but they had no plan for practical united action to prevent it.

The German comrades might look through the voluminous pages of the reports of the International Socialist Congresses for some practical stand taken against war by the German delegates. They would search in vain for any advocacy of a practical preventive tactic.

German Socialist officialdom has always strenuously opposed violence. They have held up their hands in holy horror at the mere suggestion of the destruction of the private property of the German capitalist class. But today German comrades are taking part in the wholesale destruction of the property of French capitalist and peasant alike, of Belgian capitalist and of Belgian peasant.

By continuously dinning into the ears of the German working class a respect for private property, they have robbed the rank and file of all initiative in aggressive action during the present war.

Of the thousands of train loads of soldiers that were rushed to the French and Belgian border when war was declared, we have yet to hear of one train that failed to leave on schedule time, of the wrecking of one railroad, of the blowing up of a single bridge, of the destruction of one car load of ammunition.

Social Democrats, themselves, boast that one man out of every three in the German army, is a Socialist. Four million, five hundred thousand Social Democrats and not one train delayed in rushing troops to murder French and Belgian workingmen! Could impotence go any further?

Remember – we do not question the desires of the German comrades. For years we have pointed with pride to their splendid educational facilities, to their wonderful press, to their unequalled contributions to the literature of scientific Socialism. We have long sat at their feet to learn on questions of Socialist THEORY. Hitherto we may have mistakenly turned to them for light upon questions of revolutionary tactics.

A group of workingmen and women may be actually sweating and oozing Socialist theory but when this theory becomes almost wholly divorced from practical tactics, from practical action, when such theory is absorbed at the expense of result-bringing ACTION, it is so much froth upon the beer. We think it time to precipitate a little of this wonderful knowledge into practical ACTIVITY. Theory that does not crystallize itself into some kind of action has never moved a bag of potatoes. Four million, five hundred thousand German heads full of theory went to WAR against French workingmen. A large number of French heads full of theory went to war against Germany.

The THREAT of rebellious action, of a General Strike in Italy, forced the Italian government to remain neutral in the present war.

Isn’t it time we began to measure our strength in our ACCOMPLISHMENTS rather than by our powers in theoretical argument? Isn’t it about time we began to labor for achievements rather than SEATS in the Reichstag or the Parliament? Or rather should we not measure our strength by the power our elected representatives display, and the power the whole revolutionary army is able to display, in OPPOSING power-mad king and kaiser.

Now is the time for US to co-operate in endorsing a tactic that shall make a repetition of the European tragedy impossible in America.

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Last updated on 31 May 2022