Th. Rothstein Justice, 28 January 1911

The German Menace
1. Some Preliminary Remarks

Source: Justice, 28 January, 1911, p.4;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I propose, with the permission of the Editor, to dial under the above comprehensive title with some of the aspects of the question which has frequently been discussed in these columns by comrade Hyndman and others, and given rise to considerable controversy in the Party. I propose to do it in the spirit which Hyndman recommended last week – that is, “without prejudice or bitterness,” so far as the tone of my intentions are concerned, though the form may sometimes be polemical, as, indeed, is unavoidable in the present conditions of the discussion. My object will be to convince the members of the Party that comrade Hyndman and, to a lesser extent, comrade Quelch are wrong in the attitude they have assumed on this important subject – wrong both as to the premises and conclusions, and not less from the point of view of the facts of the case than from that of Social Democratic policy. As the subject is very complicated and exceedingly ramified, I cannot promise strict sequence in my articles or avoidance of repetition. At the same time I shall avoid all unnecessary details and technicalities.

The alleged German menace has reference to these islands, to the peace of the world, and to the smaller nationalities. I do not know whether I may venture on such a statement at the very beginning of my inquiry; but it seems to me that, taking the subject of these islands first, the question of a German invasion and conquest of Great Britain has now been effectually disposed of. What Lord Fisher, the then First Sea Lord, stated through the mouth of Mr. Balfour on May 11, 1905, has now been fully endorsed by his successor, Sir Arthur Wilson, in the memorandum under the date of November 19, 1910, which appeared the other day. Their opinion, formed after examining all the circumstances of the case, may be summed up in the concluding words of Sir Arthur Wilson to the effect that “an invasion on even the moderate scale of 70,000 men is practically impossible.” Of course, many politicians, journalists, and Colonels and Generals of the Army disagree with this conclusion. So may some of our own members, who generally refuse to accept the opinions of so-called experts, who, as a rule, like to exaggerate their cases. But it ought to be borne in mind that in this case the two Sea Lords have acted contrary to the accepted rule of the experts, and in these circumstances it seems to me their opinion is worth much more than the contrary one of colonel Repington, or Robert Blatchford, or even Lord Roberts.

This being so, it would be ridiculous to suppose that the Germans have not likewise known from the outset that an invasion and conquest of these islands was an impossibility. Whatever else might be thought of them, even those who do not, in a fit of wild panic, exaggerate their abilities and prowess must acknowledge that they know their business thoroughly, and would not venture upon an undertaking which the best Naval strategists of this country regard as chimerical. I am aware of the instances in history when the confident calculations of the defenders of a country have afterwards proved grievously wrong. But unless we accept the Repingtons and Blatchfords as better Naval strategists than the two men who are by universal consent regarded as the greatest Naval authorities in these islands, I do not know how we can escape from the logical necessity of accepting their views.

I do not wish to add to the opinions of Lord Fisher and Sir Arthur Wilson arguments of my own in support of the same proposition of the impossibility of a German invasion of these islands. I think everyone who has considered the question of a conquest of one civilised country by another in modern times will see the absurdity of the suggestion that the Germans could at any time seize this country and transform it into another Alsace-Lorraine or Poland. Even if an invasion were possible, the retention of these islands would be impossible, and much less so their permanent occupation and subjugation. Those who believe that India or Egypt must, in the long run, throw off the foreign yoke should be the last to accept the possibility that England could be turned into a German possession.

I think, then, the prospect of such a danger will not greatly alarm our members. I think even the most rabid Jingo will soon cease talking about it, and the spectre of the German menace will soon, be reduced to more modest proportions.

But even within the more modest proportions the German “menace” would be sufficiently alarming if it were such as it is commonly represented to be. Germany, it is said, wants war with England. It is preparing for it by constructing a large Navy and by forming alliances on the Continent of Europe. This country has no means of staving off this War except by increasing her Navy to an exceptional extent, some even add
the introduction of conscription), unless, indeed, she is prepared to surrender her position without a fight. It is added, by way of explanation of this alleged course of Germany’s action, that she is being driven on it by the militarist will of the Kaiser and by the ancient Prussian traditions of expansion and domination.

I shall leave for the present the question of German Naval construction and its purpose, as well as the corresponding question on the British side. I shall confine myself at this juncture to the consideration of the alleged motives of German policy as repeatedly described and emphasised in his writings by comrade Hyndman.

I think that a Marxist ought to have been the last person in the world to introduce in an explanation of a grave political crisis such as the present almost warlike tension between this country and Germany factors of at personal or purely moral nature. It is, to my mind, highly unscientific to represent a modern monarch, however powerful and self-willed he may be, as the cause of a crisis which may, and indeed must, according to many, lead to a war. Even Napoleon I was but an instrument of a class, and only carried out a piece of historical necessity. The present Kaiser is not even a Napoleon, and those who are acquainted with the course of German history during the last twenty years will know that he is but the tool of a Court camarilla, and, in a larger and more historical sense, of the class of Junkers and of large capitalists. All his blustering talk of divine mission and world’s politics has its roots, as well as its limits, in the interests and aspirations of those two classes, and unless, and until, it can be proved that the latter are desirous of war, and are leading to it, the alarums and excursions of the Kaiser do not present any danger. Though he has a mind and a will of his own, which, like every individual mind and will, offer certain peculiarities, the power which he possesses to translate his mind and will into action is strictly limited by the mind and will of the classes of which he is the unconscious mouthpiece. A Marxist, if nobody else, ought to understand this, and to dismiss the introduction of the personal factor of the Kaiser as utterly irrelevant.

Not essentially otherwise is the case with the alleged Prussian traditions. Historical traditions have certainly a considerable influence over the character and actions of men, families, and nations; but it is equally certain that this influence is circumscribed by what may in a general sense be termed the conditions of time and place, and is continually modified by them. It would involve a discussion of great length and intricacy were I to undertake the task of finding in what way and to what extent the present economic, political, and social conditions of Germany and of the world at large are auspicious to the working of the old “Prussian traditions.” It seems to me, however, that this should have been the precise task of those who bring forward the argument based on this factor, unless, as in the case of the Kaiser’s will, they are prepared to go the length of detaching it from the domain in which it operates, and constitute it an over-mastering force all by itself. I know that a journalist of the common stamp would be quite capable of such a feat. But a Marxist, I think, ought to see deeper into the “causes of things.”

Besides that, however, what are the “Prussian traditions"? Take any Empire, whether in the modern or in the ancient world, and you will find that all of them have been built up by the same methods of militarism and treachery which, constitute the basis of the so-called Prussian traditions. Are, for instance, the “British” traditions down to the incorporation of the two Boer Republics essentially different? You will, perhaps, point to the example of the self-governing colonies, and compare it with the treatment meted out by Prussia to Alsace-Lorraine. But who does not know that the rights of self-government at present enjoyed by the Dominions have been wrested by them from England by force, and that if England had not yielded in time they would have all been now independent States like the United States of America? On the other hand, ask Ireland what the worth of British traditions is. I think the reply which you will get will not differ materially from that which the Alsatians may give you about the Prussian traditions. England, owing to her geographical situation, has never been in a position to impose her will upon distant parts of her Empire, when those parts were inhabited by civilised peoples. This is her only difference from Prussia, but the “traditions” are precisely the same.

For the rest, the question of the so-called Prussian traditions is closely bound up with the question of “balance of power” and, the treatment of small nationalities, and with this I will deal, in my subsequent articles.