Carl Emil June 1907

The Bourgeois Parties and Militarism.

Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. XI No. 6 June 15, 1907, pp. 347-349, from Die Neue Zeit, 27.4.1907;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The debate on the military budget which has just taken place in the Reichstag has again proved that militarism has long since passed the boundaries fixed for it by its own object. It used to be an intrinsic part of the criticism passed on militarism by bourgeois Liberalism, to lay stress on the object of home defence, in face of the boundless overgrowth of militarism, which – quite independently of the strictly military undertakings that bourgeois society expects of it – manifests the tendency to develop without reference to the real object of its existence, which characterises every institution that exists and has become independent. In this struggle to expand over the boundaries set for it by its object of home defence, militarism is aided and abetted by the numerous material interests which, for the aristocrats and big capitalists, are connected with its growth.

It is characteristic of the victory of militarism that even the Liberal bourgeoisie have completely given up even this very strictly limited criticism (for it never amounted to more than that in Germany). The standpoint of Eugen Richter, which limited view was shared by the rest of his party is, to-day, completely abandoned, and his successors no longer dare even to question whether or to what extent military expenditure is necessary. They have (as one of their leaders, the Radical deputy Müller-Meiningen, just now solemnly proclaimed in answer to Bebel) given up their own judgment, and depend solely on that of the military experts. In other words, the bourgeois deputies have given up independent opinion, and now regard themselves as merely an organ for recording the decisions of military circles.

And so the Social-Democratic Party, in its criticism of militarism, stands alone to-day in the German Parliament. But its isolation will not hinder it for an instant from making keen use of this criticism. On the contrary, as it becomes more and more the only party to oppose militarism, it not only continues to wage its old war against the principle of militarism in general; against the military organisation, that involuntary tool of the master class; against its domestic as well as its foreign foe; against the constraint of the barracks, the degradation of man by the soulless drill and its too often accompanying tortures; against the military courts of justice, which are felt to be specially dispensing “class justice”; but it begins also to take up the bourgeois criticism at the point where Liberalism has left it. By this the Social-Democratic Party is acting in the interests of other wide circles of the German people besides those of the proletariat.

Just now the inquiries into the extent of the German land forces are more than usually justified. The strength of the present army was based upon the probability of a war on two fronts, against Russia and France. The Russian-Japanese war and the Russian revolution have, however, clearly demonstrated the weakness of the Russian Army, and have placed Russia in such a position that she cannot for many years to come, think of a war. But Russia’s defeat and military weakness have made no impression in our military circles. This is easily understood, for they would naturally be the last to desire a diminution of the means of power. But it is less easy to understand why the bourgeois parties do not even dare to point out these results. But it remains for the Social-Democracy alone to demand with all energy the reduction of the land forces. We do not, however, merely represent the interest of the German people in opposing an increase of the military expenditure beyond what is necessary for national defence, but also the important interests of German foreign policy. The diminution of armaments would be the best proof of Germany’s love for, and confidence in, peace. It can give this proof, without in the least endangering the security of the country, which (given a reasonable, pacific, and unaggressive policy) was never greater than since the breakdown of the Russian despotism. The irritation which is again flaming up in the press on both sides of the Channel would be deprived of all foundation by so open and courageous a demonstration as a reduction of unnecessary armaments.

We make the same demands in the matter of naval armaments. We have always pointed out the fact that it is economically impossible for Germany to keep up the strongest army, and at the same time a strong navy. The English proposal to put an end to the increase of naval armaments by means of an international agreement (whatever motives may have given rise to it, and whatever its intentions may be) is quite in accordance with the interests of Germany, in so far as these are bound up with a peaceful policy.

But these demands meet with absolutely no sympathy from the political representatives of the German bourgeoisie, although the interest of the whole agrarian, and town-dwelling, middle-class is in this case identical with that of the working class. This is easy to explain. The Parliamentary majority, in which are reckoned also the Liberal representatives of the bourgeoisie, owes its seats to a great extent to the unbridling of the jingo instinct. It was born in a moment of artificially-inspired national excitement, and those means which brought it into existence will be needed to keep it in power. Hence the complete disappearance of all opposition on the part of the bourgeois parties to so-called national demands, hence the support given by them to a vague, inconstant, vacillating foreign policy, even in opposition to their own better judgment, hence the excitation of prejudice, of the jingo instincts, through the conjuring-up of pictures of danger to the empire and the nation if a discreet policy of peace were pursued. The members of the “national” bloc abandon all criticism, all opposition to the boundless growth of militarism, although resistance and not consent, opposition and not mamelukism, would meet the real need of the nation in the present situation. Therefore, a difficult but welcome task is before the Social-Democrats. They must not permit themselves to be confused and intimidated by the arousing of any mere national sentiment. They must take up the fight just where it is offered them by their opponents. Against the national cry of the latter they must set the interests of the proletariat. They must demonstrate the fact that in the question of militarism and foreign policy the interests of the proletariat are identical with that of the overwhelming majority of the nation, that the interest represented by them is at the same time the true national interest. They must prove that even now the only real guarantee of peace is the existence of a strong Social-Democratic Party, which in all countries – though the tactics may be as varied as possible – is united in the inexorable struggle against the expansionist schemes of the bourgeoisie which contain possibilities of violence and war. To the mutual abuse and incitement of the nations by the more or less responsible, more or less conscious tools of the bourgeoisie, they oppose to-day, louder and more enthusiastically than ever, the avowal of the solidarity of the international proletariat.

But this avowal is no mere demonstration, it is at the same time an obligation which helps to direct our policy. It is this consciousness of solidarity which makes us the inexorable enemies of militarism, as an involuntary and therefore very dangerous tool in the hands of the national bourgeoisie, and which gives the basis to our demand that it should be superseded by the democratic system of the militia, which leaves the decision as to peace or war in the hands of the people. We need never fear this decision if we fulfil our duty, and continue to point out the truth and enlighten the people as to their own interests, as unceasingly and inexorably regarding foreign affairs, as we have always done regarding internal affairs – heedless of the calumnies of our opponents – in the true interest of the German people.

(From “Die Neue Zeit,” April 27, 1907).