I. The Nature and Significance of Militarism

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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.

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