Difference between revisions of "I. The Nature and Significance of Militarism"
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Latest revision as of 23:20, 7 July 2009
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
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.
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 possessionof 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,
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
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
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.
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;
it is almost lacking in the case of the proletarian revolution.
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 sixAs if I had legs four and twenty."
Are not their powers mine a-plenty?
I journey on and am a mighty man
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,
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 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 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.
- "In the social production of their life men enter certain necessary economic relations which are independent of their will, conditions of productions corresponding to a certain stage of the development of their material forces of production." MARX.
- To the arms, properly speaking, to munition and defensive implements of all kinds, including lighting arrangements, to fortresses and war vessels, are added, for instance, the military means of communication (horses, wagons, bicycles, construction of roads and bridges, inland navigation, railroads, automobiles, telegraphy, wireless telegraphy, telephones), not forgetting the telescope, air-ships, photography and war dogs.
- The Italian development in the XVth century is also of the greatest interest in this connection and allures the investigator into absorbing studies. It confirms throughout our fundamental conception. Cf. Burckhardt, "Kultur der Renaissance in Italien," 9th edition.
- This also applies to the Russian revolution (of 1905) in first stage. A characteristic instance, among innumerable others, is the armed rising in Moscow in December, 1905, the astonishing tenacity of which finds an explanation in the cooperation of the mass of the urban population with the fighting revolutionaries who, by the way, were not numerous. The tactics of the urban guerilla method, splendidly developed in Moscow, will be epochal.
- The working together in factories, etc., and the living together in the "working-class neighborhood" have however to be taken into account.
- Cf. Burckhardt, I, p. 22.
- Resolutions adopted at a conference of German princes and their representatives at Carlsbad, in 1819. These resolutions concerned stringent police measures against the so-called demagogues, especially professors and students who had the temerity to remind the German princes of their promises to grant constitutions to their peoples, promises made when the princes were in great trouble. Those police persecutions lasted for a whole generation and found innumerable victims among the democratic elements of Germany. The period is generally described as the demagogue chase. -- TRANSLATOR.
- Metternich, the Austrian statesman, was the head of German and European reaction. This evil genius of Germany dominated the affairs of Germany until 1848, when he tremblingly fled to London before the infuriated people of Vienna. -- TRANSLATOR.