III. Means and Effects of Militarism

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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[1] 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[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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[5] and non-commissioned officer's[6] 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.[7]

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[8] and are promised employment in the civil service after they leave the army.[9] 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,[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.

  1. A word coined in Germany to describe those parts of Prussia situated east of the river Elbe, the home of the Prussian junkers. [TRANSLATOR.]
  2. "Kadavergehorsam" (the obedience of the corpse) is the expressive word used in the German original. [TRANSLATOR.]
  3. A dangerous method from a sanitary point of view, which in France, for instance, is leading to a very extensive infection of the people with tuberculosis and syphilis. The French army shows from five to seven times more cases of tuberculosis than the German army. In a few decades, exclaims a warning voice in France, France will be decimated if the barracks system be not abolished. young men. Various means are employed for that purpose.
  4. We need only point to the intentioned helplessness of the police in face of disorderly soldiers, and especially officers. The reader is further referred to the privilege of the soldiery to march in processions of unending lengths through the cities and thus to disturb traffic greatly without rhyme or reason -- to satisfy, of course, the demands of military æsthetics. The acme of the ridiculous conceit of this carefully reared craziness was seen some years ago in Berlin when the fire brigade, hastening to a fire, was simply stopped by a military column that crossed its route and that felt no inclination to have its beautiful and majestic order deranged. It is true, this was condemned later on.
  5. These are indeed strange saints! The reader may remember the Bilse case of the month of November, 1903, the many small garrisons" after the Forbach model, the gambling and champagne decrees, the officers' dueling practices (that fine fleur of the officers' honor), the stabbings of Brüsewitz and the shooting propensities of Hüssener, the Ruhstrat affair and that of the "harmless," the novels of Bilse and Beyerlein depicting the life of the officers with photographic truth, "First-class People" by Schlicht (Count Baudissin), the scandals about Jesko von Puttkamer and, last but not least, that about Prince Arenberg which also belongs to this category. The French "Little Garrison," Verdun, raised much dust in the fall of 1900. In the eyes of the worshippers of the uniform all these things are of course mostly considered as mere "amiable, piquant weaknesses" of the worshipped saint, who is, however, very particular about people confessing the Christian creed. Naturally, we find here, too, that international solidarity of the noblest and best. An interesting case is the ragging practice of the officers of the English grenadier guard regiments, which were exposed at the beginning of 1903.
  6. The German non-commissioned officer has been called the "representative of God on earth."
  7. The most shocking proof is furnished by the statistics of suicides among soldiers. Those suicides of soldiers are another international phenomenon. According to official "statistics" one soldier among 3,700 committed suicide in Germany in I90I; in Austria, one among 920 In the I0th Austrian army corps 80 soldiers and 12 officers committed suicide in I901, 127 others became insane and left as invalids in consequence of self-mutilation and maltreatment. In the same period 400 men deserted and 725 were condemned to hard labor or close arrest. In Austria, of course, the conflict of nationalities greatly contributes to aggravate the situation.
  8. This premium system, with a maximum of 1000 marks was introduced for the whole of Germany in I89I, after having been in existence before that time in Saxony and Württemberg and after having had a forerunner in the empire in the "non-recurrent extra-pay." It is also met with elsewhere; in France, however, where the amounts are much higher (up to 4,000 francs), it has been employed with little success. The schools for non-commissioned officers are also a case in point.
  9. The speech made by Chancellor Caprivi (Bismarck's successor) in the Reichstag, on February 27, 1891, is the classical confession of a noble capitalist-militarist soul of its troubles and anxieties, its hopes and aims and the methods adopted in the pursuit of those aims. It throws wide open a window through which we can have a good look at the most secret parts of that soul. The speech begins with the statement that the government refrained from re-introducing the expired anti-socialist law [by which Bismarck had sought to fight down socialism during the preceding dozen years or so -- TRANSLATOR] only on the understanding that all possible measures be resorted to in order to cut the ground from under the feet of the Social Democracy and engage in a struggle with it; one of those measures (clearly a substitute for the anti-socialist law) was to consist of the premiums for non-commissioned officers in conjunction with the "Zivilversorgungsschein" (a warrant entitling the holder to a place in a civil office). Caprivi continued: "The demands made on non-commissioned officers increase on account of the growing education of the nation. A superior can fill his position only if he feels superior to the men entrusted to his charge.... "The maintenance of discipline has in itself become more difficult, and it becomes harder still when we have to take up the struggle with the Social Democracy; I mean by this not the struggle by means of shooting and bayoneting. My memory goes back to the year 1848. Conditions were far better at that time, for the ideas had then not arisen through long years of propaganda; they cropped up suddenly and the old non-commissioned officers had a much easier task in dealing with the men than they have now in dealing with the Social Democracy. (Quite right! on the benches of the parties of the Right.) And, touching upon the most extreme case, we want far better non-commissioned officers in street fighting against the Social Democracy than in fighting against the enemy. When facing the enemy the troops can be filled with enthusiasm and willingness to sacrifice by means of patriotism and other lofty sentiments. Street fighting and all that is connected with it is not calculated to raise the self-reliance of the troops, who always feel that they are facing their countrymen." . .. "The non-commissioned officers can retain their ascendancy only if we seek to raise their status. The allied governments [this is the official title of the German federal government -- TRANSLATOR] desire to raise the level of the class of the non-commissioned officers." He went on to say that it was necessary to create a "class of people" who were "bound to the state with every fibre of their existence." This is likewise a fine description of the psychology of the elite troops.
  10. Arrest combined with the deprivation of food, bed and light; extra-drill, etc.; the barbaric "tying up" in war-time. The Austrian practice of "binding hand and foot" and "tying up," the Belgian cachots, the international naval cat-o'-ninetails and similar devices are well known. Less well remembered are perhaps the atrocious instruments of torture employed in the French disciplinary sections, even against "political" refractory elements -- the poucettes, the menottes and the crapaudine (see the pamphlet, "Les bagnes militaires," published in 1902 by the Fédération socialiste autonome de Cher, a speech by Breton in the French Chamber, with illustrations; Georges Darien, "Biribiri," (the collective name of all military disciplinary institutions in North Africa), Dubois-Desaulle, "Sous la casagne," both published in Paris by Stock. Material about the compagnies de discipline, pénitenciers and the travaux forces (penal companies, penitentiaries and hard labor) in the French Foreign Legion and the victims of these institutions can be found in Däumig's article in the Neue Zeit, vol. 99-100, p. 365, and especially p. 369. At this writing energetic attempts are being made to suppress the "biribiri," (Debates of the French Chamber, December 8 and 10, 1906).
  11. The military results of these educational methods are dealt with elsewhere. We must also point out their moral results, which induce the bourgeois, the anarchist and semianarchist opponents of militarism to let themselves be carried away by an indignation breathing an uncommon passion and delivered with a verbose pathos. "The army is the school of crime" (Anatole France); "drunkenness, sexual immorality and hypocrisy, that is what life in the barracks teaches" (Prof. Richet). According to the "Manuel du soldat" the time of military service is an "apprenticeship in brutality and vulgarity"; "a school of debauchery"; it leads to "moral cowardice, submission and slavish fearfulness." Indeed, one can scarcely imagine certain military festivals without the patriotic drunkenness, which is of course "upholding the state." Consult the Leipeiger Volkszeitung, of December I, 1906 about "the drinking and rioting festivals" of the veterans' associations (words used by Pastor César). The sanitary results are likewise anything but gratifying. Concerning the French army, see p. 64, note 3; the sanitary state of the standing armies of England and America, those democratic countries, is downright terrible; the death rate is far higher in those countries than in Germany. Cf. Surgeon-General R. M. O'Reilly's report of 1906 with regard to dysentery and alcoholism.
  12. We naturally include in the battle against the interior enemy the fight carried on against the spirit of international solidarity which is opposed to "militarism for abroad."

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