Karl Liebknecht




We now proceed to a special investigation of the means and effects of militarism, taking as a paradigm the Prusso-German bureaucratic, feudal and capitalist militarism, that worst form of capitalist militarism, that state above the state.

Though it is true that modern militarism is but an institution of our capitalist society, it is none the less true that it is an institution which has almost succeeded in becoming an independent institution; an end in itself.

In order to fulfil its purpose militarism must turn the army into a handy, docile, effective tool. It must raise its equipment to the highest possible perfection and, on the other hand, as the army is not composed of machines, but of men, being a kind of living machinery, it must inspire the army with the proper "spirit."

The first part of the problem is ultimately a question of finance, which will be dealt with later. We shall deal with the second part first.

The question presents three aspects. Militarism seeks to create and promote the military spirit above all and in the first line in the active army itself; secondly in those portions of the population furnishing the reserves of the army in case of mobilization; finally in all the other parts of the population that are of importance for militaristic and anti-militaristic purposes.


That proper "military spirit," also called "patriotic spirit" and, in Prussia-Germany, "loyalty to the king," signifies in short a constant readiness to pitch into the exterior or the interior enemy whenever commanded to do so. Taken by itself the most suitable condition for its production is a state of complete stupidity, or at least as low an intelligence as possible which enables one to drive the mass as a herd of cattle in whatever direction is demanded by the interest of the "existing order." The avowal of the Prussian war minister, von Einem, who said that he liked a soldier loyal to his king, even he were a bad shot, better than a less loyal one however good a shot he might be, certainly came from the depth of the soul of this representative of German militarism. But here militarism finds itself in a bad quandary. The handling of arms, strategy and tactics demand of the modern soldier not a small measure of intelligence and cause the more intelligent soldier also to be the more efficient, cæteris paribus. For that reason alone militarism would no longer be able to do anything with a merely stupid mass of men. Moreover, capitalism could not use such a stupid mass, as the great mass of the people, especially the great mass of the proletariat, have to perform economic functions requiring intelligence. To be able to exploit, to secure the highest possible rate of profit -- the task of its life which it cannot escape -- capitalism is compelled by a tragical fate to foster systematically and to a large extent among its slaves the same intelligence which, as it knows quite well, must bring death and annihilation to capitalism. All the attempts to guide the ship of capitalism by skilful tacking, by a cunning cooperation of church and school, safely between the Scylla of too low an intelligence which would be too great an impediment to exploitation and would make the proletarian even unfit as a beast of burden, and the Charybdis of an education which revolutionizes the minds of the exploited, enabling them to grasp their class-interests in their entirety and necessarily bringing destruction to capitalism, must end in dreary and hopeless failure. It is only the East Elbian (42) farmhands (who still may be, as was once said, the most stupid workers indeed and the best workers -- for the junkers, be it noted) who largely furnish militarism with human material that can be commanded in herds without trouble, purely like slaves, but can be used to advantage in the army only with care and within certain limits, on account of an intelligence which is even too low for militarism.

Our best soldiers are Social Democrats, is a much quoted expression. It shows the difficulty of the task of imbuing the conscript army with the proper military spirit. As the mere unquestioning and slavish (43) obedience does no longer suffice and is also no longer possible, militarism must seek to dominate the will of its human material by a roundabout way in order to create its shooting automata. It must bend the will by working upon the men's mind and soul or by force, it must decoy its pupils or coerce them. The proper 'spirit" needed by militarism for its purpose against the foreign enemy consists of a crazy jingoism, narrow-mindedness and arrogance, the spirit it needs for its purposes against the enemy at home is that of a lack of understanding or even hatred of every kind of progress, every enterprise and movement even distantly endangering the rule of the actually dominating class. It is in that direction that militarism, when moulding the character of its charges by its milder means, must turn the mind and sentiments of those soldiers whose class-interest removes them entirely from the sphere of jingoism and makes them see in every step in advance, including the overthrow of the existing order of society itself, the only reasonable goal to be aimed at. We do not deny that with the proletarian of military age class consciousness is usually not yet firmly rooted, though he generally greatly surpasses the bourgeois youth of the same age in independence of character and political understanding.

It is an extremely bold and cunning system, this system of moulding a soldier's intellect and feeling, which attempts to supplant the class division according to social status by a class-division according to ages, to create a special class of proletarians of the ages from 20 to 22, whose thinking and feeling are directly opposed to the thinking and feeling of the proletarians of a different age.

In the first place the proletarian in uniform must be separated locally, sharply and without any consideration, from members of his class and his own family. That purpose is attained by removing him from his home district, which has been accomplished systematically especially in Germany, and above all by shutting him up in barracks.(44) One might almost describe the system as a copy of the jesuitical method of education, a counter-part of the monastic institutions.

In the next place that segregation must be kept up as long a time as possible, a tendency which, as the military necessity of the long period of training has long since disappeared, is thwarted by untoward financial consequences. It was substantially that circumstance to which we owe the in troduction of the two-years' military service in 1892.

Finally, the time thus gained must be utilized as skilfully as possible to capture the souls of the young men. Various means are employed for that purpose.

All human weaknesses and senses must be appealed to to serve the system of military education, exactly as is done in the church. Ambition and vanity are stimulated, the soldier's coat is represented as the most distinguished of all coats, the soldier's honor is lauded as being of special excellence, and the soldier's status is trumpeted forth as the most important and distinguished and is indeed endowed with many privileges.(45) The love of finery is appealed to by turning the uniform, contrary to its purely military purpose, into a gay masquerade dress, to comply with the coarse tastes of those lower classes who are to be fascinated. All kinds of little glittering marks of distinction, marks of honor, cords for proficiency in shooting, etc., serve to satisfy the same low instinct, the love for finery and swagger. Many a soldier has had his woes soothed by the regimental band to which, next to the glittering gew-gaw of the uniforms and the pompous military ostentation, is due the greatest part of that unreserved popularity which our "magnificent war army" can amply boast of among children, fools, servant girls and the riff-raff. Whoever has but once seen the notorious public attending the parades and the crowds following the mounting of the Berlin palace guard must be clear on that point. It is sufficiently known that the popularity of the military uniform thus actually created among certain portions of the civilian population, is a factor of considerable importance to allure the uneducated elements of the army.

The lower the mentality of the soldiers, the lower their social condition, the better is the effect of all these means, for such elements are not only more easily deceived by tinsel and finery on account of their weak faculty of discernment, but to them the difference between the level of their former civilian existence and their military position also appears to be particularly great and striking. (One need only think of an American negro or an East Prussian agricultural slave suddenly invested with the "most distinguished coat.) There is thus a tragical conflict going on, in as much as those means have less effect with the intelligent industrial proletarian for whom they are intended in the first line, than with those elements that need hardly be influenced in that direction, for the present at least, since they furnish without them a sufficiently docile military raw material. However those means may in their case, too, contribute to the preservation of the "spirit'' approved of by militarism. The same purpose is served by regimental festivals, the celebration of the Emperor's birthday, and other contrivances.

When everything has been done to get the soldier into the mood of drunkenness, as it were, to narcotize his soul, to inflame his feelings and imagination, his reason must be worked upon systematically. The daily military school lesson begins in which it is sought to drum into the soldier a childish, distorted view of the world, properly trimmed up for the purposes of militarism. This instruction, too, which is mostly given by entirely incapable and uneducated people, has no effect whatever on the more intelligent industrial proletarians, who are quite often much more intelligent than their instructors. It is an experiment on an unsuitable material, an arrow rebounding on him that shot it. That has only lately been proved, in a controversy with General Liebert about the anti-socialist instruction of soldiers, by The Post and Max Lorenz, with the acumen generated by the capitalist competition for profits.

To produce the necessary pliability and tractableness of will pipe-clay service, the discipline of the barracks, the canonization of the officer's (46) and non-commissioned officer's (47) coat, which in many respects appears to be truly sacrosanct and legibas solutus, have to do service, in short, discipline and control which bind the soldier as in fetters of steel in regard to all he does and thinks, on duty and off duty. Each and every one is ruthlessly bent, pulled and stretched in all directions in such a manner that the strongest back runs danger of being broken in bits and either bends or breaks.(48)

The zealous fostering of the "church" spirit, which was explicitly demanded as a special aim of military education in a resolution submitted to the budget commission of the Reichstag in the month of February, 1892, and then voted down (without prejudice, by the way), is another method of the kind to complete the work of military oppression and enslavement.

Military instruction and ecclesiastical influence are at one and the same time methods of kind persuasion and compulsion, but the latter mostly only in a carefully veiled fonn of application.

The most attractive bait that is employed to make up and fill the important standing formations of the army is the system of reengagement of men whose time has expired, who are given a chance to earn premiums as non-commissioned officers (49) and are promised employment in the civil service after they leave the army.(50) It is a most cunningly devised and dangerous institution which also infects our whole public life with the militaristic virus, as will be shown further on.

The whip of militarism, the method by which it forces men to obey, reveals itself above all in the disciplinary system,(51) in the military penal law with its ferocious threats for the slightest resistance against the so-called military spirit, in the military judiciary with its semi-mediaeval procedure, with its habit of meting out the most inhuman and barbaric punishments for the slightest insubordination and its mild treatment of the transgressions committed by superiors against their subordinates, with its habit of juggling away, almost on principle, the soldier's right of self-defence against his superiors. Nothing can arouse more bitter feeling against militarism and nothing can at the same time be more instructive than a simple perusal of the articles of war and the records of the military penal cases.

The disciplinary beatings (ragging) to which the officers of English grenadier guard regiments are wont to regale each other with a laudable democratic zeal deserve to be mentioned as a curiosity.

This chapter also includes the maltreatment of soldiers, which will be specially dealt with on a later occasion. It forms, it is true, not a legal, but in practice perhaps the most effective, of all violent disciplinary methods of militarism.

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.(52)

That all those methods of alluring, disciplining and coercing the soldier partake of the nature of a weapon in the class-struggle is made evident by the institution of the one-year volunteer. [Young men with high-school education, which in Germany can hardly be attained by youths belonging to the working class, have the privilege of serving but one year instead of two, paying for their food, lodgings, uniform, etc.] The bourgeois offspring, destined to become an officer of the reserves, is generally above the suspicion of harboring anti-capitalist, anti-militarist or subversive ideas of any description. Consequently he is not sent out of his home district, he need not live in the barracks, nor is he obliged to attend the military school- or the church, and he is even spared a large part of the pipe-clay drill. Of course, if he falls into the clutches of discipline and the military penal law, it is exceptional and usually with harmless results, and the habitual oppressors of the soldiers, though they frequently nourish a hatred against all "educated people," only rarely venture to lay hands on him. The education of officers furnishes a second striking proof for this thesis.

Of exceptional importance for the discipline of an army is the coöperation of masses of men which does away with the initiative of the individual to a large extent. In the army each individual is chained to all the rest like a galley slave, and is almost incapable of acting with freedom. The combined force of the hundreds of thousands forming the army prevents him with an overwhelming power from making the slightest movement of his own volition. All the parts of this tremendous organism, or rather of this tremendous machinery are not only subject to the suggestive influence of the word of command, but also to a separate hypnotism, a mass suggestion whose influence, however, would be impotent on an army composed of enlightened and resolute opponents of militarism.

The two tasks of militarism, as will be seen, do not at all harmonize 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. As a "watch-dog of capital" the soldier does not require any initiative, he is not even allowed to possess it, if his qualification as a suicide is not to be destroyed. In short, war against the foreign foe requires men; war against the foe at home, slaves, machines. And as regards equipment and clothes the gaudy uniforms, the glittering buttons and helmets, the flags, the parades, the cavalry charges and all the rest of the nonsense can not be dispensed with for producing the spirit necessary for the battle against the interior enemy, though in a war against the exterior enemy all these things would positively bring about a calamity; they are simply impossible.(53) That tragical conflict, the numerous aspects of which can not be dealt with exhaustively in this book, has not been comprehended by the well-intentioned critics of our militarism, who in their simplicity only use the standard applicable to a system of training for war.

That antagonism of interests within militarism itself, that self-contradiction from which it suffers, has the tendency of becoming more and more acute. Which of the two opposing sets of interest gets the upper hand depends at a given time on the relation existing between the tension in home and foreign politics. Here we see clearly a potential self-destruction of militarism.

When the war against the interior enemy, in case of an armed revolution, puts such great demands on military art that dressed-up slaves and machines no longer suffice to fight him down the last hour of the violent domination of the minority, of capitalistic oligarchy will also have struck. It is of sufficient importance for us to note that the described military spirit as such confuses and leads astray the proletarian class-consciousness and that militarism, by infecting our whole public life, serves capitalism with that spirit in all other directions, apart from the purely military, for instance, by creating and promoting proletarian docility in face of economic, social and political exploitation and by thwarting as much as possible the struggle for the liberation of the working class. We shall have to deal with this later on.


Militarism also seeks to influence those persons who do not yet or who no longer belong to the active army, to as large an extent, for as long a period and as strongly as possible. It attempts to accomplish its purpose in the first place by arrogating to itself the greatest possible authority over those persons, for instance, by a system of control, by largely extending the military jurisdiction, the procedure by the military courts of honor (which is even employed against retired officers) and even the competence of the military command. This method is characterized with particular clearness in the muster of the reserve. soldiers, when the men called up are placed under military jurisdiction, which is claimed by the military authorities to last for the whole day, though it is manifestly against the law, there is not the slightest ground for establishing such a right, it is a simple usurpation. In this connection mention must further be made of the cadet corps and veterans, associations with their semi-official or semimilitary organization, their aping of the military get-up, fiddle-faddle and junketings. A chief part in that department of militaristic activity is played by the mischievous reserve-officer system, which carries the military caste spirit into the civilian society and perpetuates that spirit and, which is still more important, places the higher officials of the state and communal civil administration, as well as those of the law and educational system, almost without an exception under military discipline, subjecting them to the militaristic spirit, to the whole militaristic view of life, and thus stifling in them in advance any inconvenient impulse of opposition that might possibly arise even in their official minds.(54) By these means the tractableness of the civil executive is secured, an object reached in regard to the subalterns and lower officials by means of the systems giving preference to the claims of former military persons to public posts. Provision is thus made that class justice and the class educational system shall bear their proper military stamp and that self government (55) shall be kept back with a firm hand. Also worthy of mention is the order that officers, whether in active service or not, must not do any literary work, which, alongside the highly instructive Gädke (56) case, is the most conclusive symptom of the reckless desire of militarism for intellectual subjection and the centralized supervision of everything within its reach, and also indicates its tendency continually to extend its sphere of influence, legally or illegally, its desire for unlimited growth, its unlimited appetite for power.


An even more important result of the militaristic hunger for expansion than the mischievous reserve-officer system is the nuisance of the military claimant system in public employment, which, besides the purely military purpose mentioned, serves in no less a degree the purpose of sending into all the branches~of the state and municipal administration a band of always faithful and enthusiastic representatives and propagandists of the militarist tic spirit. By this method it is intended at the same time to insure the trustworthiness and loyalty of the bureaucracy serving capitalism, and to spread among the mass of the people who are particularly in need of education the "right," "state conserving" way of thinking. That "educational" purpose of the system was avowed with touching unanimity and frankness by Chancellor Caprivi and the representatives of the ruling classes in the Reichstag debates on the premiums for non-commissioned officers, in February, 1891. Thus, after the corporal had to leave the teacher's desk, the conservative ideal of our popular educational system has fortunately arrived again by a devious route at the non-commissioned officer.(57)

True, the educational results are very meagre ones. The poor fellows with their military claims for subordinate positions are too badly paid. After all, even a German non-commissioned officer is not to be had indefinitely for a pittance and the honor of serving the King of Prussia.(58) It is the eternal problem of buying up the revolution !

In this connection it should be mentioned that the same methods which are employed to arouse and to keep alive the military enthusiasm of the soldiers themselves, as, for instance, all the display and pomp, likewise influence the non-military population, i.e., those elements 'from whose ranks the army is recruited, who form its background, who have to bear its expense and who are in "danger" of falling a prey to the interior foe. The British secretary for war, Mr. Haldane, proved himself an apt pupil on his Prussian visit in the fall of ~906, when he learned that. He expressed the thought that a valuable secondary effect of militarism was that it educated the people in sobermindedness and faithfulness to duty by ' bringing them into closer contact with the army and war preparations.

Militarism possesses still another means, but one of quite a different kind, to spread its spirit, viz., in its character as a consumer and producer and in its influence over great industrial undertakings of the state which are of strategical importance.

Quite a host of manufacturers, tradesmen and merchants, with their employees, live by the army, people who take part in the production and the transportation of all commodities necessary for its equipment, lodging and maintenance, and of all articles of consumption needed by the soldiers. These beneficiaries of the army often positively determine the character of the whole public life of a place, especially in small garrison towns, and the most powerful among them rule like princes over large communities and play the first fiddle in their state and in the empire. They owe their influence to militarism which allows itself to be fleeced and bamboozled by them with astonishing patience, and return thanks (one good turn deserves another) by becoming its most fervent propagandists, for which part they are, of course, already cut out by their capitalist interests. Who does not know the names of Krupp, Stumm, Ehrhardt, Löwe, Wörmann, Tippelskirch, Nobel, Powder Trust, etc. -- Who has not heard of Krupp's usurious rates for armor plate, of the Tippelskirch profits with the bribes appertaining to them, of the exorbitant freight and demurrage charges of Wörmann, the net 100 and 150 percent. profit of the Powder Trust which lightened the purse of the German Empire by many a million? In Austria the frauds of the army contractors have been especially sensational. And every campaign means for that parasitic crowd (not only in Russia) a golden fraudulent harvest. These mighty gentlemen, as was said before, repay militarism like true Christians for allowing them to rob it, or rather the people. They pour out the holy ghost of militarism over "their" workers and all that are dependent on them, and conduct a relentless war against the forces of revolution. Of course, neither the workmen nor the great majority of the small army contractors have a real material interest in the army. The countries that have no standing army are certainly not inferior in general well-being and prosperity of commerce and industry to the countries possessing a standing army, and the persons employed in the branches of military production certainly would not be worse off economically if there were no army. But as a rule they do not see beyond their nose and submit only too readily to the strong militaristic influence, so that an oppositional propaganda meets with great difficulties.

As an employer in great industrial undertakings (such as military store-houses, canning factories, clothing factories, remount-depots, arms and munition factories, navy yards, etc.) militarism does not only willingly and exclusively hand over its employees (on October 31, 1904, there were altogether 54,723 persons employed in industrial establishments owned by the administration of the German army and navy) to all reactionary patriotic demagogues, as, for example, the imperial anti-socialist union, it also attempts to permeate them systematically and ruthlessly with the patriotic militaristic spirit, by bestowing titles and decorations on them, arranging for them festivals in the manner of the veterans' associations, promising them impossible pensions, by outlawing the trade union and introducing into its shops a veritable barracks discipline. Among the government work-shops the shops of the military administration present the hardest problem in the campaign for the enlightenment of the proletariat. There is naturally a limit to the influence exercised by the forces hostile to the labor movement, and it can hardly be that the administration of the army still cherishes any illusions in view of the Social Democratic successes, especially among the workers at the imperial navy yards. The very childish threat to close down the military shops in case the Social Democratic vote among the workers should in crease, a threat employed at Spandau during the election of 1903, can impede the spreading of class-consciousness as little as any other threat, so long as militarism by giving its workers niggardly proletarian pay makes them over to the Social Democracy. One need but recall the frequent wage movements in the royal factories, the numerous conflicts of the men employed there with the military administration, conflicts which often assume an animated form, in order to overcome one's pessimism in regard to these workers.

The railroads, the postal and telegraphic services are institutions of decisive strategical importance, not only for the war against the exterior, but also for the war against the interior enemy. Those indispensable strategical factors can be made useless for militarism by a strike, which would lead to a complete paralysis of the military organism. It is therefore quite natural that militarism should earnestly strive to imbue with its spirit the minds of the officials and workmen be. longing to the staffs of those industries of communication and the factories connected with them (railroad-shops, car factories, etc.). The unscrupulous manner in which this purpose is being pursued is not only demonstrated by the system of military claimants for civil employment, previously described, but also by the fact that in several states those employees have been placed under the military law, it is further shown by their political condition, in the militarist countries where they have been deprived of the right of combination either by administrative procedure (as in Ger many and France) or by special laws (as in Italy, Holland, and also Russia). Naturally, we do not deny that apart from those military interests the capitalist state guards its general interests in preventing its employees in those industries of communication from being captured by its enemies. Those efforts, too, will necessarily be fruitless in the long run, however great the difficulties they prepare for the labor movement. They fail on account of inadequate wages, on account of the positively proletarian mode of existence of the employees of the communication systems.


Militarism thus appears in the first place in the army itself, then as a system reaching beyond the army and embracing all of society in a net of militaristic and semi-militaristic institutions (such as the control system, the prohibition of literary activity, court of honor, the reserve-officer system, the provision for time-expired non-commissioned officers, the militarization of the whole bureaucratic apparatus [due above all to the mischievous reserve-officer system and the military claimants for public positions], cadet corps, veterans' associations, etc.), further as a system of saturating the whole private and public life of our people with the military spirit for which purpose the church, the schools, and a certain venal art' as well as the press, a despicable literary crowd and the social prestige, with which our "splendid war army" is ever being surrounded as by a halo, cooperate in a tenacious and cunning fashion. By the side of the Catholic Church militarism represents the acme of Machiavellism in the world's history and the most Machiavellian among all the Machiavellian institutions of capitalism.

The exploit of the Köpenick cobbler-captain, previously mentioned, may be regarded as a compendium of that whole militaristic art of education and its results, the most sublime of which is the veritable canonization of the officer's coat by the whole bourgeois society. In an examination, lasting six hours, to which this jail-bird subjected a sample of our army, our bureaucratic apparatus and the allegiance of the Prussian subject, all these probationers passed with such great honors that even their teachers were speechless with astonishment at that quintessence of their pedagogy. No Gessler's hat has ever found such willing submission and self-humiliation as the cap of the immortal Captain of Köpenick, no holy coat of Trèves has ever been worshipped so religiously as his unit form. That classical satire whose enormous effectiveness consists in its having hunted to death militarism's own pedagogic principles, ought to hunt to death militarism amidst the scornful laughter of the world if -- yes, if that same bourgeois society, which in regard to militarism now finds itself for the moment in the position of the sorcerer's apt prentice who evoked the spirits but could not get rid of them, did not need militarism as badly as its daily bread and the air it breathes. The same old tragical conflict. Capitalism and its powerful major-domo, militarism, do not love each other at all, but rather fear and hate each other, for which they have many a reason; they look upon each other (for the major-domo has acquired sufficient independence) only as a necessary evil, for which again they have many a reason. The lesson of Köpenick which bourgeois society can not turn to its profit will therefore only remain a convincing argument for anti-militarist propaganda, for the Social Democracy which flourishes all the more the more militarism pushes its principles to their extreme conclusions.

What the Captain of Köpenick means for militarism in the domain of practical swindling, the inimitable Gustav Tuch was for it in the domain of honest theorizing, towards the end of the eighties. In his bulky volume, "The Expanded German Military State in its Social Significance," he sketched a future society of which the all illuminating, warming, directing central sun is militarism, its heart and soul, the only true "national and civilized socialism", where the whole state is trans. formed into the image of the barracks, the barracks being grammar school, high-school and a factory for producing patriotic spirit, the army an all comprising organization of strike-breakers. That ecstatic hallucination about the millennium of militarism was indeed mere methodical madness, but the very fact that it was a methodical madness, which imagined the militaristic aims and methods apart from all checks and carried them to their extreme conclusions, lends to it a symptomatic significance.

At least in one sphere of prime importance militarism, as will be shown more conclusively later on, is to-day already the central sun around which move the solar systems of class legislation, bureaucracy, police rule, class-justice and the clericalism of all denominations. It is the ultimate, some times recondite, sometimes patent regulator of all class politics, all tactics of the class-struggle, not only for the capitalist classes, but also for the proletariat, in regard to its economic organization no less than in regard to its political organization.

Chapter Four. Concerning Some Cardinal Sins of Militarism

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