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Militarism and Anti-Militarism

(March 1974)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.67, March 1974, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Militarism and Anti-Militarism
Karl Liebknecht
Rivers Press, Cambridge £3.25 (hard cover), £ 1.00 (paperback)
Dover Books, £1.00 (paperback).

IT IS EASY to see why this work, first published in 1907, earned Karl Liebknecht an 18 month prison sentence for high treason. It was a clarion call to international social democracy and especially the international Young Socialist movement to take up and intensify the struggle against capitalist militarism so rampant in the years before the first World War. Every page of this book bears witness to its author’s revolutionary commitment and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately Liebknecht’s theoretical abilities did not match his capacity for revolutionary action. The great weakness of this, his major theoretical work, is the absence of any concrete analysis of the interconnections between militarism, imperialism and the state, ie the absence of precisely the synthesis that Lenin was to make the cornerstone of the Communist International. As a result there is a certain shakiness and lack of clarity in the handling of important questions such as the possibility of wars of national defence and the attitude of social democracy to patriotism. And at times Liebknecht falls into outright errors. For example:

‘In Europe itself there is admittedly something of a tendency for certain causes of war to be eliminated: the probability of war breaking out in Europe is decreasing.’


‘A time may of course come when the division of the world is so far advanced that one may expect the formation of a trust governing all possible colonial possessions by the colony-owning states, that is to say, the elimination of colonial competition between the states.’

Nor is any of this helped by Liebknecht’s rather poor and imprecise style.

Of course these criticisms are not intended to suggest that the book is without value. In addition to its basically sound message on the anti-proletarian nature of capitalist militarism it contains much useful empirical information on the state of the socialist movement at the beginning of the century. Indeed no book by a figure such as Liebknecht could fail to be of interest to students of the movement’s history.

As far as the two editions are concerned, there is little to choose between them. Nuances of translation are unlikely to be of great significance in a work of this kind. The Rivers Press edition has a longer, neo-Stalinist introduction by Philip S. Foner.

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