Karl Liebknecht



Militarism! There are few catch-words which are so frequently used to-day. There is scarcely another one which signifies something so complex, many-sided, Protean, or expresses a phenomenon so interesting and significant in its origin and nature, its means and effects a phenomenon so deeply rooted in the very nature of societies divided in classes, and which yet can adopt such extraordinarily multifarious shapes in societies of equal structure, all according to the physical, political, social, and economic conditions of states and territories.

Militarism is one of the most important and energetic manifestations of the life of most social orders, because it exhibits in the strongest, most concentrated, exclusive manner the national, cultural, and class instinct of self-preservation, that most powerful of all instincts.

A history of militarism, carried out with fundamental thoroughness, would comprise the very essence of the history of human development, lay bare its main-springs; and an investigation of capitalistic militarism would bring to light the most deeply hidden and delicate root-fibres of capitalism. Again, the history of militarism would be the history of the strained relations and jealousies between nations and states, arising from their desires for political and social power or economic advantage; at the same time it would be the history of class-struggles within nations and states for the same objects.

This is not even an attempt to write such a history; only some universal historical facts will be pointed out.


In the last analysis the superiority of physical force is the decisive factor in social domination. In its social aspect such physical force does not appear as the greater bodily strength of some individuals, it rather presupposes the equality of bodily strength of men, taken in the average, superiority thus resting purely: with the majority. Such a numerical relation does not necessarily correspond with the numerical relationship existing between groups of people having interests opposed to each other. Inasmuch as not everybody knows his own real interests, especially not his fundamental interests, and inasmuch as not everybody knows and recognizes the interests of his class as his own individual interests, it is materially determined by the extensive and intensive development of class-consciousness, which in its turn depends upon the mental and moral stage of evolution reached by a class. Again, that mental and moral stage of evolution is determined by the economic position of the various groups of interests (classes), whilst the social and political condition presents itself rather as a consequence as a consequence, it is true, which also has strong reactions as an expression of social domination.

The purely economic superiority also helps to cause directly a shifting and confusing of that numerical relation, inasmuch as economic pressure not only influences the mental and moral stage of development and therefore the ability to recognize class-interest, but also produces a tendency to act in opposition to a class-interest which is more or less recognized. That also the political machinery provides that class in whose hands it is with further means of domination with which to "correct" that numerical relationship in favor of the ruling group of interests is shown by four institutions well known to all police, law courts, schools, and church, which latter must also be reckoned among these institutions which the political machinery creates in its legislative function in order to exploit them for the application of the law and administrative purposes. The first two act chiefly by means of threats, deterrents and force, the school makes it its business to stop as effectively as possible the channels through which class-consciousness might find a way to hearts and brains, the church has a most effective way in providing men with blinkers, arousing their desires for a make-believe heavenly bliss and exploiting their fear of an infernal chamber of torture.

But not even the numerical relation thus altered can be considered as deciding the form of social domination. An armed man multiplies his physical power by means of his weapon. The extent of such multiplication depends upon the development of armament, including fortification and strategy, the forms of which result mainly from the development of armaments. The intellectual and economic superiority of one group of interests to another transforms itself directly, in consequence of the armament or better armament of the superior class, into a physical superiority and thus creates the possibility of a class-conscious majority being completely dominated by a class-conscious minority.

Though class-division is determined by economic conditions the relative political power of the classes is only in the first line determined by the economic condition of the various classes, in the second line by numerous intellectual, moral and physical means of exercising power, which in their turn pass into the hands of the ruling economic class by reason of its economic position. All these methods of exercising power can not influence the continued existence of classes, as that existence is safeguarded by a situation which is independent of them and which by necessity forces and maintains certain classes (even if these form a majority) in economic dependence on other classes, which may be a small minority, without the class-struggle or any means of political power being able to change it.(1)

The class-struggle can thus only be a struggle to develop class-consciousness, including a readiness for revolutionary action and sacrifice in the interest of the class, among its members, and a struggle for obtaining those means of power which are important for creating or suppressing class-consciousness, as well as those bodily and intellectual means of power the possession of which signifies a multiplication of physical force.

All this makes it clear what an important rôle the development of armament plays in social struggles. It decides whether it is not, or no longer, an economic necessity that a minority should continue, at least for a time, to rule over a majority against the will of the latter by military action, that "most concentrated political action." Apart from class-division the evolution of the forms of domination is actually everywhere closely bound up with the development of armament. As long as virtually everybody, even those in the most disadvantageous economic position, can procure arms of essentially equal value under practically the same difficulties, democracy, the reign of the majority principle, will as a rule be the political form of the society. That ought to be true even in societies divided in economic classes if only that one condition mattered. But in the natural course of development class-division, the result of economic evolution, runs parallel with the development of arms (including fortification and strategy), the manufacture of arms becoming thereby more and more a special skilful profession, and, as class rule corresponds as a rule with the economic superiority of one class, and the improvement in the manufacture of armament makes it continually more difficult and expensive to produce arms,(2) the manufacture of arms becomes gradually a monopoly of the ruling economic class, whereby that physical basis of democracy is done away with. And then we begin to hear the word: Possess and you are in the right. Even when a class possessing the political means of power loses its economic ascendancy it can at least for a time maintain its political rule.

It need scarcely be explained here that it is thus not only the form and nature of political domination which is partly conditioned by the development of armament, but also the form and nature of the prevailing class-struggles.

However, it is not sufficient that all citizens are equally armed and carry their arms in order to safeguard the continued existence of the rule of democracy, for the equal distribution of arms does not exclude the possibility, as the events in Switzerland have proved, that such distribution is abolished by a majority which is becoming a. minority, or even by a minority which is organized in a better, more efficient manner. The equal arming of the whole population can only endure and not be done away with when the production of arms can be carried on universally.

In his curious utopia, "The Coming Race," Bulwer described in an ingenious way the democratizing part which the development 'of armament can play. He imagines a stage of scientific development at which every citizen, provided with an easily procurable little staff charged with a mysterious force similar to electricity, is able at any moment to produce the most destructive effects. Indeed, we may expect science, the easy mastering of the most tremendous natural forces by man, to reach such a stage, however distant that time may be, at which the application of the science of murder on the battlefield will become an impossibility because it would mean the self-destruction of the human race, and at which the exploitation of scientific progress is transformed again as it were from a plutocratic into a democratic, universally human possibility.


In the lowest civilizations where class-division is unknown, arms, as a rule, serve as implements of labor. They serve for the acquisition of food (for the chase, for digging roots), also as a protection against wild animals, as a defence against hostile tribes and for attacking the latter. They are of such primitive nature that everybody can procure them easily at any time (stones and sticks, spears with flint heads, bows, etc.). The same is true of the means of defence. As there is not yet any division of labor worth mentioning, except for the most primitive of all divisions of labor, that between man and woman, all members of the community performing approximately the same social function exercised by their respective sexes, thus, as there do not yet exist any economic or political forms of domination armament cannot be the prop of such forms of domination within the community. Even if forms of domination existed arms could not support them. With armament in its primitive stage of development only democratic forms of rule are possible.

In those lowest civilizations arms can at most be used within the community for settling individual conflicts, but a change takes place as soon as class-division and the art of manufacturing arms develop. The original communism of the lower agricultural peoples with their gynarchy (rule of women) knows no social, and therefore as a rule, also no political domination of classes. In general, militarism can not develop; external complications, it is true, force such peoples to be prepared for war and produce temporarily even military despotism, a very frequent phenomenon with pastoral peoples on account of the warlike situations they encounter and because they regularly divide in classes at an earlier time.

We next remind the reader of the constitution of the Greek and Roman armies in which they find, according to class-division, a purely military hierarchy, organized on the basis of class, the armament of each file depending upon the class to which the soldier belonged. Let the reader also remember the armies of the feudal knights, with their following of much worse armed and protected squires who, according to Patrice Laroque, played rather the part of assistants to the combatants than that of combatants. The reason why the rulers in those times allowed and even brought about the arming of the lower orders is to be sought much less in the small degree of general security which the state could offer to the interests of the individual which it recognized (a want of security which thus made the arming of all necessary in a certain sense), than in the necessity of arming the nation or state for attack and defence against the foreign foe as well as was possible. The difference in the armament of the various classes of society assured at all times the possibility of employing the science of arms for the maintenance or the establishment of rule. The Roman slave wars exhibit this side of the question in a remarkable light.

The subject is also strongly illuminated by the German Peasants' War and the wars of the German cities. Among the chief direct causes of the unhappy outcome of the German Peasants' War must be reckoned the better military equipment of the clerico-feudal armies. However, the wars carried on by the cities in the XIVth century against those very armies were successful, not only because the art of making fire-arms was in an extraordinarily undeveloped stage as compared with the time of the Peasants' War of 1525, but above all because of the great economic power of the cities.

As locally organized social spheres of interest, they concentrated the members of those spheres, without any appreciable admixture of elements with different interests, in a narrow space; again, on account of their construction the cities occupied at the outset a tactical position of about the same importance as the feudal lords possessed, as Church and Emperor had in their castles and fortresses (this is likewise an element of military art -- fortification); and, finally, the cities were themselves the chief producers of arms. Their citizens were indeed the superior representatives of the technical arts which annihilated the army of the knights.(3)

Particular attention must be paid to a result of the study of the Peasants' War and the wars of the cities, namely, to the importance of the various social classes living either in local separation or locally mixed. Where class-division corresponds with local division the class-struggle is facilitated, not only because class-consciousness is promoted thereby, but also because, from a purely technical point of view, the military concentration of the members of a class, as well as the production and the supply of arms are made easier. That happy local grouping of classes has favored all bourgeois revolutions; (4) it is almost lacking in the case of the proletarian revolution.(5)

The armies of mercenaries, which existed up to our own time, exhibit, like the question of armament, the direct transformation of economic power into physical power according to the Mephistophelian prescription:

"If I can purchase stallions six
Are not their powers mine a-plenty?
I journey on and am a mighty man
As if I had legs four and twenty."

Together with the further maxim, divide et impera, it is also being followed in establishing the so-called élite of an army. On the other hand, the example of the Italian condottieri, like that of the prætorian guards of earlier times, plainly demonstrates how much political power can be wielded through the possession of arms, military practice and the art of strategy. The mercenary boldly seized the crowns of princes, tossed them hither and thither, and became the natural candidate for the highest power in the; state,(6) a phenomenon repeatedly witnessed in times of excitement and war when military power is readily manipulated by individuals, even in our own age, e. g., Napoleon and his generals, also -- Boulanger!

The history of the German "Wars of Liberation" furnishes important information about the influence of the external political situation on the development of armies and militarism. When, after the pitiful failure of the wars of the Coalition against the French Revolution, the feudal a armies of Frederick the Great had been crushed as in a mortar by the citizen army of France in 1806, the helpless German governments confronted the alternative either to surrender unconditionally to the Corsican conqueror or to vanquish him with his own weapon, with a citizen army, constituted by the general arming of the people. Their instinct of self-preservation and the spontaneous impulse of the people forced them to choose the second path. Then began that great period of the democratization of Germany, especially Prussia, brought about by external pressure, a period in which the political, social and economic strains in the interior were temporarily alleviated. Money and enthusiastic fighters for liberty were wanted. The human being increased in value. His social function as a creator of values and presumptive payer of taxes and his natural physical quality as the embodiment of strength, intelligence and enthusiasm gained a decisive importance, and caused his value to rise, as is ever the case in times of general peril, whilst the influence of class-differentiation diminished. The Prussian people had "learned to suppress all strife under the long endured foreign yoke," to use the jargon of the military weekly gazette. As has so often been the case, the financial and military questions played a revolutionary part. Many economic, social and political obstacles were removed. Industry and commerce, financially of chief importance, were promoted as far as it was possible with the peddling democratic spirit of Prussia-Germany. Even political liberties were introduced or at least promised. The people rose in arms, the storm burst forth, the army of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the army of the general arming of the people chased the "hereditary enemy" across the Rhine in the great Wars of Liberation, and prepared a miserable end for the world conqueror who had undermined the France of the Great Revolution, though that army was not even the democratic institution Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had wanted to create. The German people, like the Moor in "Fiesco," having done their duty, duly received the "thanks of the House of the Habsburgs." The Carlsbad resolutions (7) followed the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, and after the pressure from without had been removed and all the demons of reaction had been let loose again on the people, one of the most important measures of the Metternich (8) system of perjured and accursed memory, was the destruction of the democratic army of the Wars of Liberation. The highly civilized regions of Germany might have been ripe for that army, but it collapsed abruptly, together with nearly all the fine things the great popular rising had brought, under the leaden weight of the junker barbarism, having its seat east of the Elbe.

A superficial glance at the development of armies shows the strong dependence of the constitution and size of an army not merely on social organization, but also, and in far greater measure, on the development of armament. The revolutionizing effect which, for instance, the invention of fire-arms had in that direction is one of the most conspicuous facts in the history of war.

Chapter Two. Capitalistic Militarism

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