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Three Titans

Susan Green

As Far Back as 1906, Karl Liebknecht
Wrote an Eloquent Socialist Warning
Against Capitalist Militarism:

Modern Militarism Which
“Arms the People Against Itself ...”

(27 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 4, 27 January 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The number of employees of the War and Navy Departments give a measure of the growth of peacetime militarism in this country. Army and Navy desk workers in Washington number 850,000, as against a mere 43,000 – one-twentieth – federal employees for all national housing and federal works agencies.

We might say that the appointment of General Marshall as Secretary of State strengthens the fusion between American imperialism and its indispensable mate, militarism, though this latest appointment only highlights similar unions between imperialism and militarism. For generals fill ambassadorships and other government posts.

So we see in the United States, where such things just couldn’t happen, the colossus of militarism spreading its vicious tentacles. Against the background of the living menace of militarism in the last stronghold of capitalist democracy, a reading of Karl Liebknecht’s little book entitled Militarism is instructive. This book is based on a revised lecture delivered by Liebknecht at a conference of young people in Germany way back in 1906 – for which lecture, by the way, the author was found guilty of treason and thrown into prison. Though four decades old and directed primarily against German militarism which Liebknecht fought tooth and nail all his life, the lecture has that historic sweep and penetration which puts it down as a classic for study in understanding capitalist militarism, of any time and any country.

“Militarism,” said Liebknecht, “is not specifically a capitalistic institution. It is, on the contrary, an institution peculiar and essential to all societies divided in classes, of which capitalist society is the last. It is true that capitalism develops, like every other society divided in classes, a kind of militarism peculiar to itself ...”

Liebknecht pointed out that especially suited to the capitalist stage of development, is the army based on universal military service. Of this Mr. Truman and others seem well aware today. The most dangerous plan of the ruling class is to indoctrinate the youth in the spirit of militarism. When President Truman asked Congress for a universal military training law, he revealed its true purpose in his usual blundering, but blunt way. “I don’t like to think of it as a universal military training program. I want it to be a universal training program, giving our young people a background in disciplinary approach ...”

So youth, at the impressionable age of eighteen, is to be put under the tutelage of army officers to be trained “in the disciplinary approach” – and Liebknecht knew what such an army is. Such an army, he said, “constituted by the people, is not an army of the people but an army against the people, or becomes increasingly converted into such a one.”

Stressing further the anti-people’s character of the so-called people’s army, is this forceful passage:

“This is modern militarism, which attempts nothing less than squaring the circle, which arms the people against the people itself; which, by trying with all means to force upon social division an artificial division according to ages, makes bold to turn the workman into an oppressor and an enemy, into a murderer of members of his own class and his friends, of his parents, sisters, brothers and children, into a murderer of his own past and future; which pretends to be democratic and despotic, enlightened and mechanical, popular and anti-popular at the same time.”

In another section of the book, Liebknecht’s use of the phrase “Militarism for Abroad” strikes a most familiar chord today. Who says that American militarism today is to be turned against the American people? Doesn’t everyone understand that it is strictly for “abroad,” to “defend the nation,” and, above all, to prevent another war? This lying argument of the ruling classes is as old as Methuselah and was used by the German junkers no less than by all other imperialists.

The chapter on Means and Effects describing how Prusso-German bureaucratic, feudal and capitalist militarism built and maintained itself, reveals parallel methods employed right now in this country. The appeals to ambition and vanity, the glorification of soldiering, so-called special privileges, enticements for re-enlistment, the military disciplinary system, substitution of jingoism for thinking, loud opposition to any progressive idea – “Thus they attempt to tame men as they tame animals. Thus the recruits are drugged, confused, flattered, bribed, oppressed, imprisoned, polished and beaten; thus one grain is added to the other and mixed and kneaded to furnish the mortar for the immense edifice of the army; thus one stone is laid upon the other in a well calculated fashion to form a bulwark against the forces of subversion.”

However, modern militarism – with its two-fold function of preparing for foreign war and also for suppressing labor – is in a quandary. Liebknecht posed the contradiction, more true today with the complicated instruments of war, than in his day. “The two tasks of militarism, as will be seen, do not at all harmonise always in the department of military education, but are often at cross-purposes. That is not only true of training, but also in regard to equipment. War training demands ever more imperatively a continuously growing measure of initiative on the part of the soldier.” However, on the home front, “As a ‘watch-dog of capital’ the soldier does not require any initiative, he is not even allowed to possess it ... In short, war against the foreign foe requires men; war against the foe at home, slaves, machines.”

Aside from the indoctrination directly for the army, militarism influences the entire civilian population in many ways, subtle and obvious. For instance, a large military establishment entails huge orders from which private enterprise, in many fields, derives boom business. Around the military forms a specialinterest group whose pockets are lined by it. These elements defend the military regime and spread propaganda for it. Among the facts that can be cited to underscore the spread of militarism throughout American life, is that more and more schools of higher learning depend for research, in whole or in part, on Army or Navy funds. Thus is cemented the tie between militarism and education, science, and so-called culture.

Still, militarism is by no means an unmitigated boon to capitalists, though capitalism cannot function without it. The expense of maintaining the colossus worries the monarchs of money. The military budgets of 1906 were as mole hills compared to the almost fifteen billions proposed by Mr. Truman – a proposal that forty per cent of peacetime government expenditures be used for war preparation. At the same time, the capitalist politicians are under pressure to reduce the taxes paid by capitalists. Quite a dilemma. Liebknecht pointed out that much of the financial burden is shifted to those least able to carry it, as witness the twenty per cent pay-as-you-go tax on wages taken out of every American worker’s pay envelope today.

In the everyday life of the, workers militarism spells unfair competition to their labor. In Liebknecht’s day the junkers used “soldiers to help with the harvest” just as they were used in “free” America during the war. The military in the shameful role of scabs and strikebreakers has gone with capitalist militarism from its inception. As militarism takes stronger hold of civilian life, the custom will be more common in this country. Furthermore, the military spirit and methods will be turned against militant workers in a revolutionary party who engage in revolutionary action. In Liebknecht’s words “To do away with militarism or to weaken it as much as possible is thus a question of vital importance in waging the struggle for political emancipation ...”

The struggle against capitalist militarism is the working class struggle against capitalism itself.

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Last updated: 29 November 2020