Gregory Zinoviev

Wars – Defensive and Aggressive

(4 August 1916)

Source: New International, Vol.5 No.3, March 1939, pp.81-85.
Written/First Published: 1916 (approximately) in The War and the Crisis in Socialism
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, 18 June 2006.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.

Although this article deals with a subject of burning topical importance, it was written more than 20 years ago by Gregory Zinoviev, first president of the Communist International. We reprint it from the much larger work of which it forms a most important chapter, The War and the Crisis of Socialism, a merciless analysis of the Second International and the World War and of the reasons for the collapse of the official social democracy. The original manuscript, begun by the author in Swiss exile in 1915 and completed in 1916, was prohibited from publication by the Czarist censor. The Russian edition which appeared after the revolution was later suppressed, along with all the other works of Zinoviev, by the Stalin regime. Whatever differences the revolutionary Marxists had with the Zinoviev of his last years, they can subscribe entirely to the unassailable and to this day wholly valid Leninist analysis he made so brilliantly in the work from which the following chapter is taken. – ED.

Part I

IN THE COURSE OF the present war it has become a popular custom of the ruling class to portray the war as if “we” were the defensive side and the enemy the aggressor. This method has gained currency in Germany as well as in all the belligerent countries. And this happens for the purpose of exploiting the democratic traditions of the past epoch in the interest of present-day imperialist policy.

The Defensive War Once and Now

The ideologists and agents of the bourgeoisie know that the division of wars into wars of defense and of aggression in the period of the national movements (about from 1789 to 1871) played a great r61e for the democratically-inclined elements. They calculate quite rightly that the broad mass of the population can be duped most easily if they base themselves on the democratic ideology of times gone by. They know that during the epoch of 1789-1871 the division of wars of defense and of aggression found roots in the democratic masses that defensive wars were deemed to be in the order of things and just in those days, whereas wars of aggression evoked the indignation of the masses and their readiness to fight on the side of the defenders. Only one little detail is necessary for the aim of the bourgeois imperialists to be attained: to carry over the criterion of defensive and aggressive wars to the new epoch, even though this division has now lost all meaning. The bourgeoisie believes so much in this means that it seizes upon it in all states, without regard for the differences in form of government, language, culture, etc. The “technique” of which the German imperialist Ruedorffer spoke has acquired very wide dissemination. The German monarchy, parliamentary England, semi-absolutist Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria – all seize upon the “time-tested means.” All of them, without exception, are allegedly conducting a war of defense.

All are defending themselves! Who then is the aggressor?

We have already said that the criterion of the defensive and aggressive wars has undergone the same change, with the passage of time, as the slogan of “the defense of the fatherland.” The slogan of the “defense of the fatherland,” like the criterion of the “just” war of defense, arose in the epoch of the national wars. At that time the defense of the fatherland meant at the same time the defense of national unity against foreign oppressors, it meant the struggle for the possibilities of developing a superior social order: capitalism, which was to replace feudalism. This defense of the fatherland signifies today, in the imperialistic epoch, the support of finance capital, which claims as its own the army and the rest of the bourgeois state apparatus and seeks to prevent by violence the transition from capitalism to the meanwhile matured higher stage of development, socialism. In the epoch of 1789-1871, the criterion of offensive and defensive wars helped to clarify for the masses where friend stood and where foe, where the oppressor and persecutor and where the defender of social progress. And what does this criterion mean today, in the year 1914? It helps the enemies of social progress deceive the popular masses, to mislead them as to where their common foe stands and where the only possibility of emancipating the peoples lies.

One may be sure that at any European congress of the Powers, the imperialist governments – despite all the antagonisms that separate them – would be unanimously of the view that the criterion of aggressive and defensive wars must absolutely be maintained. And they would be right from their standpoint. Let but all the peoples acknowledge this principle in itself; after that, it should not be very difficult to convince “our own” people that “we” are defending ourselves, while “they” are the aggressors ...

The Concept of Wars of Defense and of Aggression

We have already pointed out that it is necessary to distinguish not only between two epochs, but also between two concepts: the defensive or aggressive war in the historical sense, and the defensive or aggressive war in the diplomatic sense. Let us elucidate this difference in greater detail.

What was understood by defensive and aggressive war in the epoch of national wars? How did the best representatives of democracy apply this criterion? What features were characteristic in determining which of the two species was involved? Did it suffice for country X to declare war upon country Y for country X to be considered the aggressor’s camp and country Y the defender’s? Or: if in the war between X and Y, regardless of who first declared war, the armies of the former applied the strategy of the offensive and the armies of the latter the strategy of the defensive, did that suffice to consider the country X as the aggressor and the country Y as the defender? Or: if both phenomena occurred at the same time, that is, if country X was the first to declare war and in addition her army invaded the land of the adversary, did that suffice to characterize country X as the aggressor?

No! Neither the diplomatic nor the strategical side exhaust the question. Another, much more important factor is decisive: the judgment from the standpoint of the whole historical development. Which of the two camps fought for the establishment of a national state, for the elimination of foreign rule and national dismemberment? Which of the two camps put an end, by this war, to the national movements within the country, in which country was the war preceded by years of national oppression and – as a reaction to it – long years of national struggles? In other words: which of the two camps fought for historical progress? Only in this way could the question be decided. It was not just that state which first declared the war that was conducting a war of aggression ; that might be the case, but again it might not be. That state conducted a war of aggression which, by virtue of the whole situation, of the circumstances of the origin of the war, had to be acknowledged as the one that stood like an obstacle in the way of establishing an independent national-capitalist state. That state conducted a war of aggression which, by means of the war, supported a policy that hampered historical progress in the above-described sense. And contrariwise: that state conducted no defensive war which first received the declaration of war which was first assailed by the adversary – that might be the case, but again it might not be. That state conducted a defensive war which defended historical progress from the attacks of a powerful adversary; which conducted the war for the elimination of semi-feudal atom-ization, for the establishment of a national-capitalist state.

Capitalism represented, in comparison with feudalism, historical progress. In comparison with capitalism, only socialism can be recognized as historical progress. Hence, in the epoch of the national wars, a defensive war could be conducted only when the united national-capitalist state was defended against a feudal or semi-feudal atomization. Today, in the epoch of imperialist wars, when capitalism has reached the stage of its highest unfolding, a war of defense is possible only when a victorious socialist state is being defended against capitalist-imperialist states. ft is in this sense that Fr. Engels wrote in 1882 to Karl Kautsky that he does not rule out defensive wars after the victory of the proletariat, after its conquest of power; those would be wars in which the proletariat would be compelled to protect its socialist achievements against the capitalist states. [1]

Thus we must know how to distinguish between a war of aggression or defense in the historical sense – which is the essential – and a war of aggression or defense in the diplomatic (and strategical) sense – which is of secondary importance. There are cases in which a defensive war in the historical sense is a war of aggression in the diplomatic or strategical sense; and contrariwise. Thus, for example, the wars of the Great French Revolution, of which we spoke in the first chapter. Even though they were often offensive wars in the diplomatic-strategical sense, they can nevertheless be characterized as wars of defense in the historical respect. Their historical significance consisted in this, that they had to defend the conquests of the Great French Revolution against the monarchies of the neighboring countries which endeavored to restore the old regime in France. If revolutionary France had not succeeded in offering resistance to the assault of England, which was already at that time fighting for her colonial predominance, if France had not held out in the wars against counter-revolutionary Austria – she would never have been able to defend and protect the conquests of 1789.

In order to be still clearer, we wish to adduce a few more examples. For the sake of brevity, we wish to employ only two terms from here on: the defensive war in the historical sense and the defensive war in the diplomatic sense.

The Italian War of 1859 as an Example of a Defensive War in the Historical But Not in the Diplomatic Sense

The Italian War of 1859 is the classic example of a national war. It was a typical war of defense, in the historical sense of the word. From the strategic-diplomatic standpoint, on the contrary, things were not so simple. For some time in Italy the national movement against Austrian foreign rule had been growing. After the Crimean War, the situation took on such shape from the diplomatic standpoint that Austria found herself more or less isolated on the international arena. Cavour, the main political leader of Piedmont, had every reason to assume that the given moment was favorable for an Italian war against Austria. He began to arm for the war, strengthened his army, recruited volunteers, etc. At the same time he also prepared a war in the diplomatic sense. He sought an ally and found one in Napoleon III.

Upon Napoleon’s invitation, Cavour rode to him at Plombières for a secret conference, and there they concluded in complete secrecy, without even the knowledge of the governments of the participating countries, an offensive alliance against Austria. Napoleon wanted above all to assure himself in a diplomatic way of Russia’s neutral attitude. At the same time, however, all the necessary steps were taken to strengthen the two armies. All the details were worked out. France set up an army of 200,000 men which Napoleon himself was to command. Piedmont provided an army of 100,000 men. The armies were to unite at a given spot and carry through a given strategy. In case of a partial victory, Napoleon III was to receive Savoy as compensation; in case of a great victory, Nice in addition.

Cavour was so imbued with the desire to plunge into the long-awaited struggle for Italian independence, that he was ready to declare war upon Austria, even though such a challenge would create an unpleasant impression and show the whole world that this war, in diplomatic respects, was a war of aggression on the part of Italy. But Napoleon III acted more cold-bloodedly and prudently. With the aid of all sorts of diplomatic artifices he endeavored to have the declaration of war come from Austria. These dilatory methods of Napoleon III often drove Cavour to desperation. He believed that Louis Napoleon was imperilling the whole affair by his negligence. There was a moment in which it seemed that a diplomatic situation had been created in which war became altogether impossible. In despair, Cavour wanted to put an end to himself. That was the moment when England, on Austria’s request, made the proposal to arbitrate the disputed questions at a congress, but on the condition that Sardinia first disarm, for otherwise the congress could not meet in peace, Napoleon III acted as if he was in agreement. He demanded only – that Austria should also disarm. Austria could not agree, for she knew well enough that all the war preparations had been made in Piedmont and that war must break out sooner or later. Besides, the financial position of Austria was such that she must either start the war immediately, or find herself unable to do it at all. The war budget had reached its peak. After the beginning of the war Austria might put through internal loans under compulsion and suspend a number of payments, and in this way be able to overcome a financial crisis. But by postponing the war, Austria would only be creating new financial difficulties for herself. Thus Austria was compelled to declare war upon Sardinia. She sent the famous ultimatum: disarm within three days. When Cavour received this ultimatum, he was happy, because it signified the war. Cavour was so overjoyed by this ultimatum that he almost fell on the neck of the Austrian ambassador who transmitted the document to him. He cried with joy like a child when his friends congratulated him on the impending war.

Austria, then, was the first to declare war upon Italy in 1859 and it was Austrian regiments who first crossed the enemy frontier. But in diplomatic respects Austria was not the aggressor, for the status quo was highly desirable for Austria; she did not want the war and would gladly have averted it. In diplomatic respects the war was one of aggression on the part of Austria’s adversary. But in the deeper, in the only correct historical sense, it was nevertheless a defensive war for Italy, in which Italian unity, which meant an historical advance, was created and the semi-feudal national and state atomization eliminated.

What was the significance of the diplomatic duel between Napoleon III and Austria? Why was each side so anxious to have the declaration of war come from the other? Naturally, only because the directors of foreign policy wanted to exploit for themselves the impression which the first step makes upon the masses of the population. Every camp is anxious to present the enemy as guilty of the war in the eyes of the people.

Chernychevsky, a contemporary of those events, described the impression of the Austrian ultimatum as follows:

“The impudent ultimatum set all the neutral Powers and the public opinion of all Europe against Austria. Prussia, Russia, England protested against such behavior in the sharpest terms. The periodicals of all Europe were indignant over the senseless insolence of Austria. The French Imperator triumphed: the Austrian cabinet could not have done anything to. please him more. Napoleon’s whole diplomatic tactic was summed up in depicting Austria to Europe as guilty of the war, and now Austria had fulfilled his wish, even exceeeding his hopes.” (Vol.V, Politics)

Farsighted people like Chernychevsky immediately recognized that diplomatically Austria was not guilty of the war. Naturally, the protesting neutral Powers also knew this, but for the broad masses of the people, for the millions, for the “periodicals of all Europe” which shape public opinion, Austria was considered the aggressor even in diplomatic respects.

This is what we learn from the Italian War of 1859. We see here very complicated relationships. Napoleon III stood by the side of Italy – out of quite selfish “compensation interests”. He was as little concerned with national freedom as with the snows of yesteryear. He needed Savoy and Nice, he had to strengthen his authority in order to consolidate his position inside of France. In the Italian War, he appeared as the defender of historical progress – against his will. Similarly, reactionary Russia, by its neutrality, facilitated the Italian struggle against Austrian oppression.

And in spite of that, the War of 1859 was, in historical respects, a just war of defense on the part of Italy, that is, a war in which Cavour and Garibaldi stood on the side of progress and fought for the cause of bourgeois national-state unification against the feudal national and state atomization.

In 1859 Austria – from the historical standpoint – was the aggressor side not because she was first to declare war, not because her armies were the first to cross the enemy’s frontiers. Austria was the aggressor side even though the diplomatic offensive tactic of Cavour and his allies forced Austria to declare war first. Italy (Piedmont) was the defending side in 1859 not because she received the Austrian ultimatum but in spite of the fact that she had provoked this ultimatum.

The historical significance of the war is decisive. The diplomatic preparation of the war plays an entirely secondary role.

A still greater interest in this respect is offered by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, temporally closer to us and in its own way just as classic an example. Let us follow the diplomatic pre-history of this last of the great national wars in Europe! It is worth while dwelling on the details.

The German-French War of 1870-1871 as an Example of a Defensive War from the Historical Standpoint and an Aggressive War from the Diplomatic Standpoint

Marx and Engels predicted that the inevitable result of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 would be a new war. Nevertheless, the War of 1870 came quite unexpectedly to all socialists – and not them alone.

At the beginning of July, 1870, i.e., scarcely two weeks before the outbreak of the war, the French Chamber of Deputies decided to reduce the number of recruits from 100,000 to 90,000. War Minister Lebeuf declared that he was in complete agreement with this reduction in the number of soldiers, for he himself wanted to underscore the pacific aspirations of his ministry. The president of the Council of Ministers, Olivier, declared, upon the interpellation of Deputy Jules Faure, that peace had never been so assured as at that moment, the political horizon was perfectly clear, there was currently no question that might engender any complications. Yet, in those very days, peace was already hanging by a hair. Behind the scenes the final preparations were being made for the war ...

Was the War of 1870-1871, in diplomatic respects, a war of aggression on Prussia’s part and a war of defense on the part of France, or the other way around? Did Bismarck want this war, produce it and prepare it, or was it forced upon him by Napoleon ? This is a question which is greatly disputed down to the present day. A whole series especially of German historians [2] continue even today to deny the fact of the forging of the notorious Ems dispatch by Bismarck.

At all events, in the beginning of the war everybody was of the opinion that the French government was the aggressor, while Prussia was only being forced to defend herself. Bebel tells in his memoirs that Liebknecht and he already suspected at that time that Bismarck was in reality the immediate aggressor: he had been arming for the war for years, and then brought it about; only, he knew how to dress the thing up from the outside in such a way that it looked as if Prussia had been attacked and only forced to defend herself. Yet – says Bebel – they had no proofs at that time which would enable them to make a flat assertion.

If more examples from history were needed to show that the criterion of the aggressive and defensive wars in the narrow, i.e., the diplomatic sense of the term, was useless to the social democracy in the past epoch, the history of the German-French War could serve as a classic example. In estimating the diplomatic causes of the war, there were all sorts of opinions even among people who were intimate fellow-thinkers in all other ideological-political respects. All the circumstances were such that at the moment when the events unfolded it was actually doubtful who had been the immediate aggressor.

What were the circumstances when the war broke out in 1870-1871 ? The basis for the declaration of war was offered by the quite accidentally arisen question of the occupation of the Spanish throne. The throne had been offered to the Hohenzollern Prince Leopold. At first he thrice refused it, then he accepted it. The Prussian King Wilhelm I was completely indifferent to the affair, even hostile at the outset. He wrote to Bismarck that at bottom he was opposed to the enterprise.

But in the circles of the French government there was a desire to make a casus belli out of this candidacy. A Hohenzollern prince on the Spanish throne is a humiliation for France, a threat to French interests – these were the slogans of the French war party.

The affair dragged out for a year. But then the decision neared. Leopold was ready to place himself upon the Spanish throne. A terrific chauvinist frenzy began. Napoleon ordered his Ambassador Benedetti to go to King Wilhelm, who was taking the cure at Ems, and to force from him the commitment that the Hohenzollern prince renounce the Spanish throne. Wilhelm declared that this was a private affair which did not concern him. Benedetti, however, insisted, began to threaten – and the Hohenzollern prince withdrew his candidacy. Accidentally meeting the ambassador, the king joyfully communicated the information to him. Wilhelm added that happily the spectre of a military collision between France and Prussia had now finally disappeared.

But Napoleon and his clique were not satisfied with this. They raised a new demand: Wilhelm must most solemnly guarantee that in the future also he will under no circumstances allow anyone from the House of Hohenzollern to accept the Spanish throne. If Prussia should not give the guarantee, France will know how to defend its interests and not recoil from the most resolute measures. This signified a direct threat of war. Nevertheless Wilhelm granted Ambassador Benedetti an audience again and explained to him very loyally that there was no need of a guarantee and that France could rest quite easy, now that Prince Leopold had renounced the Spanish throne. He permitted Benedetti to use his words in an official communication to the French government.

Benedetti established contact with his government and received the instruction to demand solemn guarantees at all costs. Once more he sought King Wilhelm. The king granted him no audience, but informed him through his adjutant that Leopold’s renouncement of the Spanish throne was final, and that peace was in no way imperilled. All the rest the French ministry could handle with the Prussian cabinet in the usual way.

At the same time, Abeken, on Wilhelm’s instruction, sent a detailed dispatch to Bismarck in which the events of the recent days, the negotiations with Benedetti, etc., were communicated in a wholly peaceful tone. Bismarck was given the right to make this communication public in the press if he should deem it necessary.

When the dispatch arrived from Ems – Bismarck himself recounted later – he was at luncheon with Moltke and Roon. After he had scanned the dispatch, he handed it to his colleagues. When they had read the Ems dispatch, they lost their appetites: they saw that the affair was taking a peaceful turn and that all their hopes for an immediate war were destroyed. Thereupon Bismarck – as he himself recounts – took the telegram from their hands and sat down at a small side-table. Five minutes work – and the dispatch looked quite different. When Bismarck showed it to Moltke and Roon in its revised form, their spirits became cheerful again. “Now it sounds quite different,” opined the taciturn Moltke. “Before it was a chamade, now it’s a fanfare!” And the small but jolly company sat down again at the luncheon table with a new appetite.

Now it was clear that the war would have to come. The provocatively forged Ems dispatch was made public in the press of the entire world and there was a terrific ferment in Napoleon’s circles. On July 19 France declared war on Prussia. The French Chamber of Deputies approved this important decision of the Napoleonic government against the opposition of a small minority.

That is what the external history of the origin of the Franco-Prussian War looked like. Who then was the aggressor from the diplomatic standpoint, and who the defender?

In his exceptionally interesting memoirs, Bismarck insists that France brought about the war. But from the facts which he himself describes it appears clearly and plainly that he, Bismarck, was the one who prepared and brought about the war.

Bismarck tells how on the night after the battle of Sedan he rode out with a group of superior officers to inspect the battlefield. It was very dark. Bismarck did not know all the officers who were in his suite. The talk ran to the causes which had directly brought about the war. Bismarck observed that he was absolutely unable to understand the French, for he had always believed that the candidacy of Prince Leopold for the Spanish throne was agreeable, if anything, to the French. The personal relations of Prince Leopold to the French court had always been excellent. Besides, once on the Spanish throne, he would have had to pursue a Spanish and not a Prussian policy. But since Spain was bounded by France and shared many common interests with her, Spain would have to endeavor to live in peace with her powerful neighbor. Nobody would have been able to demand that Spain take the part of Prussia against France.

Quite unexpectedly for Bismarck, a voice of protest suddenly rang out from the darkness. Among the officers was Prince Leopold himself, and he protested against the assertion that he, the Hohenzollern prince, could have had any sympathies for France.

Bismarck perceived that Prince Leopold had to protest under the given circumstances and he even apologized to him. But from this incident, Bismarck contended, it was perfectly clear that he had no special desire to see Prince Leopold on the Spanish throne.

Perhaps that was indeed the case. The Spanish throne in itself could not hold any particular attraction for Bismarck. But the Spanish episode was very welcome to him as an irreplaceable cause of war. Primarily because it was a cause which offered the possibility of attributing the guilt to the opponent. Bismarck says in his memoirs that he was always of the opinion that victorious wars can be easily justified only when they are forced upon one (or, appear to the people to have been forced upon one, he might have said).

In any case, the incident which Bismarck narrates proves nothing of essential importance to the question. How greatly Bismarck desired the war is to be seen from the fact that – according to his own story – he wanted to retire when it appeared that the Spanish incident would be settled in a peaceful manner. He had already communicated his firm decision to War Minister Roon and to General Moltke. He could not brook such “international insolence” on the part of France! He could not sacrifice his honor and the honor of Prussia for the sake of “politics”. A “retreat” by Prussia in the Spanish conflict would have meant a humiliation.

His resignation was decided upon. He already had it in his pocket. Suddenly a new ray of hope flashed. The Ems dispatch arrived. “Without adding a word” he only “reduced” it and so altered “the wording” that the “difference” in the effect of the abbreviated text ... was not the result of the stronger words, but only of the form, which made the document appear peremptory, whereas in Abeken’s edition it would have appeared only as a fragment of the suspended negotiations which were to be continued in Berlin. (Gedanken und Erinnerungen von Fürst von Bismarck, Vol.II, Chap, on the Ems dispatch.) Only! Nothing more and nothing less ...

The Spanish incident came as a boon to Bismarck also because he hoped (see his memoirs) that Spain would be indignant over the interference of France in her internal affairs and would likewise declare war on France. As is known, this did not happen. “Spain left us in the lurch,” Bismarck observes melancholically.

Bebel tells in his memoirs that the thorough fighting preparedness of the Prussian army at the moment of the war’s outbreak made a deep impression upon him and his friends. This fact opened the eyes of Bebel and his fellow-thinkers as to where the immediate aggressor was to be sought. On the other hand, however, it appeared clearly from many important episodes prior to the declaration of war that the government of Napoleon was calling forth the war. Of the falsifying of the Ems dispatch nobody at that time had the slightest notion. This “official secret” was carefully kept by German diplomacy. It does great honor to the perspicacity of Wilhelm Liebknecht that, as early as 1873, right after the appearance of the official communication of the Prussian General Staff on the Franco-Prussian War, he recognized that the Ems dispatch had been forged and that he attributed this falsification to Bismarck – openly in the press. [3] But at the beginning of the war not even Liebknecht saw all the finesse of Bismarck’s game.

Three decades after these events, Jaurès wrote a whole treatise on the Franco-Prussian War. He was interested least of all, of course, in justifying Bismarck and Bismarckian Prussia. But from his arguments it is clear that a large share of the guilt for the war of 1870-1871 fell upon Bonapartist France. In any case, it is clear that the situation was very complicated and confusing, so that at the moment when the events were unfolding, it was very difficult to ascertain on which side the direct guilt for the war was to be sought.

Since 1867 Bismarck had been intriguing systematically to force France into a war. The Spanish incident was very convenient for him, for it created conditions that enabled him to make it look to the outside world as if France was the immediate aggressor. On the other hand, says Jaurès, Louis Napoleon made spasmodic efforts throughout 1869 to establish an offensive alliance of France-Austria-Italy against Prussia. Austria displayed the greatest irresolution, for it feared to attack Prussia, but was absolutely inclined to conclude a defensive alliance against Prussia. Up to the very eve of the declaration of war in July 1870, Napoleon’s diplomacy was firmly convinced that Austria would actively support France against Prussia.

Bismarck employed all sorts of ruses. Jaurès supposes that Bismarck, Roon and Moltke – while the conflict was developing – intentionally went to the health-resort in order to maintain their alibi before the wide public and to attribute to France with all the greater success the whole guilt for the coming of the war. The French minister de Gramon, in Jaurès’ opinion, behaved like a man who had been thrown into complete confusion. He delivered threatening speeches, he sought to unleash the passions, he made impossible demands. Even after Leopold’s renouncement of the Spanish throne, Benedetti telegraphed de Gramon that further demonstrations on the part of France would inevitably provoke a war. But the Bonapartist ministry continued the policy it had already adopted. It believed that the moment was favorable for an attack upon Prussia.

At the last moment, certain influential members of the Chamber of Deputies sought to stop the war. Thiers declared that it was madness (“c’est une folie”) on the part of the French government. Others joined in with him. But – it was too late. The conflict had gone too far.

Jaurès characterizes the situation as follows: two nets of intrigue had been spun beyond raveling for several years before the war. On the banks of the Seine the war had been just as ardently prepared as on the banks of the Spree. Bismarck proved to be the foxier. Now, after the events, this is clear. But the responsibility for the war falls also upon Bonaparte’s adventuristic government. [4]

Another French socialist (now we cat) say – former socialist), who also never had any particular sympathy for the Germans, Gustav Herve, did not venture as late as 1905 to say with certainty which side had been the aggressor in 1870. “France was the first to declare war,” writes Hervé, “but if it is true that Bismarck, as he himself asserts, falsified the notorious Ems dispatch, it must be acknowledged that the German government bears at least half the responsibility for the declaration of war.” (Gustav Hervé, Leur Patrie, p.135.)

The example of the Franco-Prussian war shows us one thing as plain as day: the formal criterion which is supposed to show who was the first to attack, who was the first to declare war, offers the social democracy no point of departure for establishing its tactic in connection with the war. Had the German social democrats applied only this formal criterion during the Franco-Prussian War, they would have made a multitude of mistakes and would scarcely have fulfilled their duty.

In the strategical-diplomatic respect, Napoleon III began this war. He was the first to declare war, his regiments were the first to cross the frontier. But on the other hand the facts have shown that Bismarck forced him into it by cunning manoeuvres – just as Napoleon III forced Austria into such a step in 1859. At the moment of the event – when the highly complicated situation is considered – even the most advanced men of those days could not correctly recognize the connection of things. From this arose many mistakes. But to appeal to these mistakes, to elevate them to a theory, as the social-chauvinists are now doing – means to muddle the question deliberately.

Formally, considered from the diplomatic standpoint, Napoleon III was guilty of the war. Actually, Bismarck was much guiltier. But the question of who was guilty in the diplomatic respect recedes into the background before the question of the historical significance of this war, which is what is important for the whole world. In the historical respect it was absolutely a question for Germany of a defensive war – and Bismarck’s machinations cannot alter that in the slightest. Bismarck might have been the first to declare war, just as in 1859 Cavour was almost the first to begin the war. Bismarck’s intrigues might have been dirtier than they were in reality. In the historical respect Prussia would nevertheless have been conducting a defensive war. Why? Because for Prussia, as we have already emphasized so often, it was a question of the historically necessitated unification of Germany and of the elimination of feudal atomization. Because Bonapartist France had stood for a long time as a direct hindrance on the road to this unification, because Napoleon III sought absolutely to prevent it. His whole position in Europe was conditioned upon the national atomization of Germany. Even as early as 1866 Napoleon III endeavored, as we saw, to acquire “compensations” on the German side of the Rhine. Napoleon III was now the main enemy who sought to prevent the German unification. A victory over Napoleon III had to result in two important facts. First, the unification of Germany: if successful, a unification from below, on the revolutionary path; if not, then unification from above, through Bismarck. Second, France would be liberated from Bonapartism; with Louis Napoleon, the worst representative of European reaction would be removed.

For this reason – quite independently of who was the instigator of the war from the diplomatic standpoint – it is correct to say that in the historical respect Napoleon was the aggressor and Germany the defender. From this perfectly correct view, many socialists of that time drew the entirely false conclusion that for this reason they must adopt the standpoint of Bismarck, vote for war credits, declare civil peace, become bourgeois patriots, etc. But this conclusion was completely false. Even in national wars the socialists have their specific tasks. Marx and Engels, Liebknecht and Bebel, as we saw in the preceding chapters, gave an example of socialist conduct even in such situations.

(To be continued)

Aug. 4, 1916



1. Kautsky, Sozialismus and Kolonialpolilik, 1907. At the beginning of the epoch of German imperialism, Kautsky turned to Engels with the question of how the English workers stood towards English colonial policy. Engels answered this in a letter of September 12, 1882. As this letter is of great interest, we should like to quote it here in full:

“You ask me what the English workers think of colonial policy. Well, exactly the same that they think of politics in general. There is no workers’ party here, there are only conservatives and liberal radicals and the workers live nice and easy off the world market and colonial monopoly of England. In my opinion, the actual colonies, i.e., the countries settled by the European population, Canada, the Cape, Australia will all become independent; on the other hand, the countries that are merely ruled, settled by natives: India, Algiers, the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish possessions, will be taken over provisionally by the proletariat and be lead to independence as swiftly as possible. How this process will unfold, it is hard to say. India will perhaps make a revolution, even very probably, and since the proletariat which is emancipating itself cannot conduct any colonial wars, it would have to be given full play, which means it would not pass off without all sorts of havoc. But such things are precisely inseparable from all revolutions. The same thing might take place elsewhere, for example, in Algiers and Egypt and it would surely be the best thing for us. We will have enough to do at home. Once Europe has been reorganized, and North America, they will represent such a colossal power and such an example that the semi-civilized countries will be drawn into their wake of their own accord; economic requirements alone will provide that. As to what social and political phases, however, these countries will then have to go through until they likewise arrive at socialist organization, we can today put forward, I believe, only fairly idle hypotheses. One thing however is certain: The victorious proletariat cannot force any blessings upon any foreign people without thereby undermining its own victory. By which of course defensive wars of various kinds are by no means excluded. [What is meant by this are wars of defense of the victorious proletariat against countries which defend capitalism and thereby threaten the socialism of other countries. – G.Z.]

“The affair in Egypt has been contrived by Russian diplomacy. Gladstone is to take Egypt (which he is a long way from having, and if he did have it, a long way from keeping) so that Russia can take Armenia; which, according to Gladstone, would again be the liberation of a Christian land from the Mohammedan yoke. Everything else in the affair is sham, humbug, pretense. Whether this little plan succeeds, will be revealed soon enough.”

The conclusion refers to the occupation of Egypt by the English after the uprising of the Egyptians. A letter by Engels thereon of August 9, 1882 was recently published, in which he warned against judging the Egyptian national movement merely from the sentimental side. From this the conclusion was drawn that Engels had felt special sympathy for the annexation of Egypt by the English. We see here how little this was the case.

2. See, e.g., the presentation of this affairs in the Enzyklopaedie der neusten Geschichte, founded by Wilhelm Herbst, or Die Geschichte des deutschen Reiches, von Wilhelm Maurenbrecher. The same point of view is also defended by Charles Seignobos, Politische Geschichte des neuen Europa. In this work, the German socialists are reproached for having dared to accuse Bismarck of forging the Ems dispatch.

3. See the articles of Liebknecht in Volksstaat, reprinted in his brochure, Die Emser Depesche oder wie Kriege gemacht werden, Nürnberg 1891.

4. See Histoire Socialiste, Vols.VI, XI: La guerre Franco-Allemande par Jean Jaurés, pp.163, 166, 169, 175f., 178f., 102 241, in the chap. Qui est responsible de la guerre? Cf. also the interesting article on Jaurés’ book by van Ravenstejn in the Neue Zeit, 1908, Vol.I, pp.388f.

Last updated: 17.6.2008