IV. Concerning Some Cardinal Sins of Militarism

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The militarists are not all dull-witted. That is proven by the extremely clever educational system they have introduced. With noteworthy skill they rely upon mass psychology. The army of Fredericks composed of mercenaries and the scum of the population, had to be kept together for its mechanical tasks by pipe-clay drill and thrashings. That is no longer possible in an army formed on the basis of a civic duty and placing much greater demands upon the individual. This was clearly recognized at once by men like Scharnhorst and Gneisenau,[1] whose army reorganization began with the proclamation of the "freedom of the back." Yet, bad treatment, brutal insults, beatings and all kinds of cruel maltreatment belong also to the stock-in-trade of our present system of military education.

The attitude of military circles toward the maltreatment of soldiers is naturally not determined by considerations of ethics, civilization, humanity, justice, Christianity and other fine things, but purely by jesuitical expedients. The hidden danger which that maltreatment constitutes for the discipline and the "spirit" of the army itself[2] has not even to-day been generally recognized.[3] The ragging of new recruits and recalcitrants by the older men, the brutal barracks jokes and vulgar language of all kind, and the fairly frequent knocks and blows and hazing, are heartily apt proved without scruple and are even positively considered necessary by the majority of non-commissioned officers and even officers, who, estranged from and hostile to the people, have been trained to become the most narrow-minded petty despots. The fight against those outrages therefore meets almost at the outset, with an all but insuperable passive resistance. Privately, but not publicly, one may hear daily how superiors describe the desire for decent treatment of the "fellows" as a symptom of a silly humanitarian soft-headedness. Military service is a rude business. But even where they have thoroughly recognized the hidden dangers of disciplinary maltreatments they find themselves again in face of one of those disagreeable alternatives at which a system based on brute force and setting itself against the natural development must always arrive, and several of which we have already pointed out. For those maltreatments are indeed (as we shall show more conclusively) indispensable auxiliaries of the external drill which capitalist militarism, (for which the inward voluntary discipline is an unattainable goal), can not dispense with for want of a better method. We repeat that they are considered, not officially, it is true, but semi-officially, in spite of all the scruples and regrets we hear expressed, not as a legal, but as an indispensable means of military education.

But apart from military scruples, our militarists suffer from a bad conscience since they have been caught at their game, i.e., since the relentless Social Democratic criticism of the army institutions began and large portions of the middle-class commenced to disavow that military morality. With a gnashing of teeth militarism had to acknowledge that it was not simply devised and commanded by the supreme war lord, but that it depends, especially in regard to its material existence, on the popular representative body on which it looks with such scornful disdain --on the Reichstag which includes even representatives of the "mob"; in short, that it depends on the "rabble" and that under cover of their immunity the people's representatives in the Reichstag pitilessly exposed its nakedness again and again. In sullen rage it saw itself obliged to maintain the good mood of those plebeians, those Reichstag fellows, that despised and derided "public opinion." The problem was, not to put to too hard a test the devout belief in militarism possessed by the bourgeoisie who, as a rule, were ready to grant all possible military demands but who, especially in times of financial troubles, were not rarely apt to kick against the pricks, moreover, things had to be made easier for the bourgeoisie when the latter were dealing with their voters, largely anti-militarists, because of their social position, and ready to embrace Social Democracy when they recognize their class interests. Such weapons as were likely to be most effective had to be withheld or snatched from Social Democratic propagandists, so militarism had recourse to the tactics of hushing-up and concealment. The procedure of the military courts was secret, not a ray penetrated that darkness, and if one succeeded in penetrating it things were denied, disputed and extenuated with might and main. But the torch of Social Democracy sent its light farther and farther, even to behind the barracks walls and through the bars of the military prisons and fortresses. The military debates that took place in the German Reichstag in the eighties and nineties of the last century constitute a tenacious and passionate fight for the recognition of the fact that the atrocities of the barracks are not rare and isolated phenomena but regular, extraordinarily frequent, organic, constitutional occurrences, as it were, in military life. In that fight effective service was rendered by the publicity of the procedure of military courts in other countries, proving that military maltreatment is a regular attribute of militarism, even of republican militarism in France, even of Belgian militarism, even in a growing degree of the Swiss militia militarism.

The impression created by the army orders of Prince George of Saxony (of June 8, 1891 ), which were published by the Vorwarts at the beginning of 1892, and by the orders of the Bavarian war minister( December 13, 1891 ), and by the Reichstag debates, which lasted from February 15 to 17, 1892, was mainly responsible for the effect which the Social Democratic criticism exercised. After the usual "due considerations,, and scufflings the reform of our procedure in military trials was brought about in 1898 with a great amount of painful exertion. True, the reformed procedure still permitted the courts to a large extent to exclude the public and thus to cover the terrible secrets of the barracks with the cloak of Christian charity, but it succeeded (in spite of all the orders which almost suggested the most sweeping use of the powers of excluding the public and in spite of the much discussed disciplining of the judges in the Bilse case) in bringing down such a hail of appalling cases of maltreatment upon the heads of the public that all objections against the Social Democratic criticism were simply swept away, and the existence of the maltreatment of soldiers as a settled institution of "state-conserving" militarism was acknowledged almost everywhere, however reluctantly. More or less honestly the authorities attempted to grapple with this repelling institution which proved of too great an advantage to the socialist propaganda, and though they did not believe in any substantial success, they yet wanted to arouse the impression of dislike for the institution and readiness to try their best to abolish it. They began to hunt down with a certain amount of severity those guilty of maltreating soldiers, but militarism has after all a greater interest in maintaining military discipline, in training the people in arms to be docile fighters in the struggle against their own international and national interests than in attacking the maltreatment of soldiers. It is instructive to compare the sentences passed upon the basest tormentors of soldiers with those pronounced almost daily upon soldiers for often quite petty offences against their superiors, or for of fences committed in a state of excitement or intoxication by soldiers against their superiors. For the soldier there is a blood-thirsty, Draconic punishment for the smallest sin against the holy ghost of militarism; for the other offender there is, in spite of all, a relatively mild indulgence and understanding. Thus the campaign of the military courts against the maltreatment of soldiers, conducted parallel with a campaign to throttle every vestige of an impulse on the part of the subordinate to exhibit a consciousness of self-dependence or equality, naturally fails of practical result. The whole story is told by the case of the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Meiningen who had sufficient courage to call upon the men themselves to assist in the campaign against maltreatment so as to be able to attack the evil more energetically than ever before at the root. He was, however, soon forced to quit the army on account of this bold step. The incident brightly illuminates the whole uselessness and hopelessness of the official campaign against the maltreatment of soldiers.

The little book written by our comrade Rudolf Krafft, a former officer of the Bavarian army, on "The Victims of the Barracks" treats valuable material with the expert knowledge that can only come from inside information. Regular compilations of trials for maltreating soldiers (or sailors), made by the Socialist press at certain intervals, furnish a positively overwhelming mass of material which has unfortunately not yet been edited. An important and thankful task is awaiting some one.

Being fundamentally opposed to militarism we have no delusions about it. Scharnhorst, in his "Order Concerning Military Punishments," writes: "Experience teaches that recruits can be taught the drill without beating them. An officer to whom this may appear impossible lacks the necessary faculty of instruction or has no clear idea of training." Of course, theoretically he is right, but practically he is far in advance of the times. The maltreatment of soldiers springs from the very essence of capitalist militarism. A large proportion of the men is intellectually, a still larger proportion physically, not equal to the military requirements, especially not equal to those of the parade drill. The number of the young men having a view of life that is dangerous and hostile to militarism, who enter the army increases continually. The problem is to tear that soul out of those "fellows," as it were, and replace it by a new patriotic soul, loyal to the king. Even the most skilful pedagogue finds it impossible to solve all those problems, let alone the land of teachers available to militarism, which must in this respect, too, be more economical than it would like to be.

The militaristic pedagogues have but a precarious subsistence. They depend entirely on the good will, on the arbitrariness of their superior, and must expect every minute to be thrown out of employment if they do not accomplish their chief task, that of forming the soldier in the image of militarism -- an excellent expedient to make the whole apparatus of the military hierarchy extremely pliant in the hands of the supreme command. It goes without saying that such superiors drill their men with a nervous lack of consideration, that they soon come to the point where they use force. instead of persuasion and example, and that such force, owing to the absolute power which the superior has over the life and death of his subordinate who has to submit to him unconditionally, is finally applied in the shape of maltreaments. All this is a natural and, humanly speaking, necessary concatenation in which the new Japanese militarism, too, has promptly got entangled. It is another dilemma of militarism.

The causes of such maltreatments are not to be met with everywhere in a uniform degree. It is above all the degree of popular education which exercises a strongly modifying influence, and it is not surprising that even French colonial militarism forms in this respect a favorable contrast to the Prussian-German home militarism.

It is exactly in this form of exercising disciplinary power, and just in that necessity by which it arises out of the system, that we Socialists find an excellent weapon with which to combat militarism fundamentally and most successfully, arousing against it an ever growing portion of the people and carrying class-consciousness into groups that otherwise could not yet be reached or could only be reached with much greater difficulty. The maltreatment of soldiers and military class-justice, one of the most provoking phenomena of capitalist barbarism, are not only dangerously undermining military discipline, they are also the most effective weapons in the war for the liberation of the proletariat. That sin of capitalism turns against capitalism itself in two ways. However much the sinner may repent, honestly in helpless contrition, or in the style of the fox in the fable, those weapons can not be taken away from us; for though he appears in sackcloth and ashes the sinner is irreclaimable.



  1. The men that reorganized the entire Prussian army system after the Prussian army had been shattered at Jena by Napoleon, in 1806. [TRANSLATOR.]
  2. In Manteuffel's sensible command of April 18, 1885, we read: "Insults attack the sense of honor and kill it, and the officer who insults his subordinates undermines his own position; for there is no dependence on the loyalty or bravery of him who allows himself to be insulted." . . . "In a word -- as the subordinates are treated by their superiors, from the general to the lieutenant thus they are."
  3. A slight indication is furnished by the mass of deserters and men liable to military service who disobeyed orders to join the army. No less than 15,000 German deserters perished in the French colonial army during the first thirty years of the existence of the "splendid German Empire," whilst the bloody battle of Vionville in the Franco-German War resulted in only I6,000 men being killed and wounded.

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