IN FOCUS, 22 October 2012
by Rosa Luxemburg – Socialist Worker
The Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg took up the questions of war and militarism as imperialist rivalries that would explode into the First World War hit a new pitch. The article was first published in the German newspaper Leipziger Volkzeitung on May 6 and 8, 1911.
WHAT IS our task in the question of peace? It does not consist merely in vigorously demonstrating at all times the love of peace of the Social Democrats; but first and foremost our task is to make clear to the masses of people the nature of militarism and sharply and clearly to bring out the differences in principle between the standpoint of the Social Democrats and that of the bourgeois peace enthusiasts.
Wherein does this difference lie? Certainly not merely in the fact that the bourgeois apostles of peace are relying on the influence of fine words, while we do not depend on words alone. Our very points of departure are diametrically opposed: the friends of peace in bourgeois circles believe that world peace and disarmament can be realized within the framework of the present social order, whereas we, who base ourselves on the materialistic conception of history and on scientific socialism, are convinced that militarism can only be abolished from the world with the destruction of the capitalist class state. From this follows the mutual opposition of our tactics in propagating the idea of peace. The bourgeois friends of peace are endeavoring–and from their point of view this is perfectly logical and explicable–to invent all sorts of “practical” projects for gradually restraining militarism, and are naturally inclined to consider every outward apparent sign of a tendency toward peace as the genuine article, to take every expression of the ruling diplomacy in this vein at its word, to exaggerate it into a basis for earnest activity. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, must consider it their duty in this matter, just as in all matters of social criticism, to expose the bourgeois attempts to restrain militarism as pitiful half-measures, and the expressions of such sentiments on the part of the governing circles as diplomatic make-believe, and to oppose the bourgeois claims and pretences with the ruthless analysis of capitalist reality.
From this same standpoint, the tasks of the Social Democrats with regard to the declarations of the kind made by the British government can only be to show up the idea of a partial limitation of armaments, in all its impracticability, as a half-measure, and to endeavor to make it clear to the people that militarism is closely linked up with colonial politics, with tariff politics, and with international politics, and that therefore the present Nations, if they really seriously and honestly wish to call a halt on competitive armaments, would have to begin by disarming in the commercial political field, give up colonial predatory campaigns and the international politics of spheres of influence in all parts of the world–in a word, in their foreign as well as in their domestic politics would have to do the exact contrary of everything which the nature of the present politics of a capitalist class state demands. And thus would be clearly explained what constitutes the kernel of the Social Democratic conception, that militarism in both its forms – as war and as armed peace–is a legitimate child, a logical result of capitalism, which can only be overcome with the destruction of capitalism, and that hence whoever honestly desires world peace and liberation from the tremendous burden of armaments must also desire socialism. Only in this way can real Social Democratic enlightenment and recruiting be carried on in connection with the armaments debate.
This work, however, will be rendered somewhat difficult and the attitude of the Social Democrats will become obscure and vacillating if, by some strange exchange of roles, our party tries on the contrary to convince the bourgeois state that it can quite well limit armaments and bring about peace and that it can do this from its own standpoint, from that of a capitalist class state.
It has until now been the pride and the firm scientific basis of our party, that not only the general lines of our program but also the slogans of our practical everyday policy were not invented out of odds and ends as something desirable, but that in all things we relied on our knowledge of the tendencies of social development and made the objective lines of this development the basis of our attitude. For us, the determining factor until now has not been the possibility from the standpoint of the relation of forces within the state, but the possibility from the standpoint of the tendencies of development of society. The limitation of armaments, the retrenchment of militarism, does not coincide with the further development of international capitalism. Only those who believe in the mitigation and blunting of class antagonisms, and in the checking of the economic anarchy of capitalism, can believe in the possibility of these international conflicts allowing themselves to be slackened, to be mitigated and wiped out. For the international antagonisms of the capitalist states are but the complement of class antagonisms, and the world political anarchy but the reverse side of the anarchic system of production of capitalism. Both can grow only together and be overcome only together. “A little order and peace” is, therefore, just as impossible, just as much a petty-bourgeois utopia, with regard to the capitalist world market as to world politics, and with regard to the limitation of crises as to the limitation of armaments.
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LET US cast a glance at the events of the last 15 years of international development. Where do they show any tendency toward peace, toward disarmament, toward settlement of conflicts by arbitration?
During these 15 years, we had this: in 1895 the war between Japan and China, which is the prelude to the East Asiatic period of imperialism; in 1898 the war between Spain and the United States; in 1899-1902 the British Boer War in South Africa; in 1900 the campaign of the European powers in China; in 1904 the Russo-Japanese War; in 1904-07 the German Herero War in Africa; and then there was also the military intervention of Russia in 1908 in Persia, at the present moment the military intervention of France in Morocco, without mentioning the incessant colonial skirmishes in Asia and in Africa. Hence the bare facts alone show that for 15 years hardly a year has gone by without some war activity.
But more important still is the after effect of these wars. The war with China was followed in Japan by a military reorganization that made it possible 10 years later to undertake the war against Russia and which made Japan the predominant military power in the Pacific. The Boer War resulted in a military reorganization of England, the strengthening of her armed forces on land. The war with Spain inspired the United States to reorganize its navy and moved it to enter colonial politics with imperialist interests in Asia, and thus was created the germ of the antagonism of interests between the United States and Japan in the Pacific. The Chinese campaign was accompanied in Germany by a thorough military reorganization, the great Navy Law of 1900, which marks the beginning of the competition of Germany with England on the sea and the sharpening of the antagonisms between these two nations.
But there is another and extremely important factor besides the social and political awakening of the hinterlands, of the colonies and the “spheres of interest,” to independent life. The revolution in Turkey, in Persia, the revolutionary ferment in China, in India, in Egypt, in Arabia, in Morocco, in Mexico, all these are also starting points of world political antagonisms, tensions, military activities and armaments. It was just during the course of this 15 years that the points of friction in international politics have increased to an unparalleled degree, a number of new states stepped into active struggle on the international stage, all the Great Powers underwent a thorough military reorganization. The antagonisms, in consequence of all these events, have reached an acuteness never known before, and the process is going further and further, since on the one hand the ferment in the Orient is increasing from day to day, and on the other every settlement between the military powers unavoidably becomes the starting point for fresh conflicts. The Reval Entente between Russia, Great Britain and France, which Jaurs hailed as a guarantee for world peace, led to the sharpening of the crisis in the Balkans, accelerated the outbreak of the Turkish Revolution, encouraged Russia to military action in Persia and led to a rapprochement between Turkey and Germany which, in its turn, rendered the Anglo-German antagonisms more acute. The Potsdam agreement resulted in the sharpening of the crisis in China and the Russo-Japanese agreement had the same effect.
Therefore, on a mere reckoning with facts, to refuse to realize that these facts give rise to anything rather than a mitigation of the international conflicts, of any sort of disposition toward world peace, is willfully to close one’s eyes.
In view of all this, how is it possible to speak of tendencies toward peace in bourgeois development that are supposed to neutralize and overcome its tendencies toward war? Wherein are they expressed?
In Sir Edward Grey’s declaration and that of the French Parliament? In the “armament weariness” of the bourgeoisie? But the middle and petty bourgeois sections of the bourgeoisie have always been groaning at the burden of militarism, just as they groan at the devastation of free competition, at the economic crises, at the lack of conscience shown in stock exchange speculations, at the terrorism of the cartels and trusts. The tyranny of the trust magnates in America has even called forth a rebellion of broad masses of the people and a wearisome legal procedure against the trusts on the part of the State authorities. Do the Social Democrats interpret this as a symptom of the beginning of the limitation of trust development, or have they not rather a sympathetic shrug of the shoulders for that petty-bourgeois rebellion and a scornful smile for that State campaign? The “dialectic” of the peace tendency of capitalist development, which was supposed to have cut across its war tendency and to have overcome it, simply confirms the old truth that the roses of capitalist profit-making and class domination also have thorns for the bourgeoisie, which it prefers to wear as long as possible round its suffering head, in spite of all pain and woe, rather than get rid of it along with the head on the advice of the Social Democrats.
To explain this to the masses, ruthlessly to scatter all illusions with regard to attempts made at peace on the part of the bourgeoisie and to declare the proletarian revolution as the first and only step toward world peace–that is the task of the Social Democrats with regard to all disarmament trickeries, whether they are invented in Petersburg, London or Berlin.
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THE UTOPIANISM of the standpoint that expects an era of peace and retrenchment of militarism in the present social order is plainly revealed in the fact that it is having recourse to project making. For it is typical of Utopian strivings that, in order to demonstrate their practicability, they hatch “practical” recipes with the greatest possible details. To this also belongs the project of the “United States of Europe” as a basis for the limitation of international militarism.
“We support all efforts,” said Comrade Ledebour in his speech in the Reichstag on April 3, “which aim at getting rid of the threadbare pretexts for the incessant war armaments. We demand the economic and political union of the European states. I am firmly convinced that, while it is certain to come during the period of Socialism, it can also come to pass before that time, that we will live to see the UNITED STATES OF EUROPE, as confronted at present by the business competition of the United States of America. At least we demand that capitalist society, that capitalist statesmen, in the interests of capitalist development in Europe itself, in order that Europe will later not be completely submerged in world competition, prepare for this union of Europe into the United States of Europe.”
And in the Neue Zeit of April 28, Comrade Kautsky writes:
… For a lasting duration of peace, which banishes the ghost of war forever, there is only one way to-day: the union of the states of European civilization into a league with a common commercial policy, a league parliament, a league government and a league army–the formation of the United States of Europe. Were this to succeed, then a tremendous step would be achieved. Such a United States would possess such a superiority of forces that without any war they could compel all the other nations which do not voluntarily join them to liquidate their armies and give up their fleets. But in that case all necessity for armaments for the new United States themselves would disappear. They would be in a position not only to relinquish all further armaments, give up the standing army and all aggressive weapons on the sea, which we are demanding to-day, but even give up all means of defense, the militia system itself. Thus the era of permanent peace would surely begin.
Plausible as the idea of the United States of Europe as a peace arrangement may seem to some at first glance, it has on closer examination not the least thing in common with the method of thought and the standpoint of social democracy.
As adherents of the materialist conception of history, we have always adopted the standpoint that the modern states as political structures are not artificial products of a creative phantasy, like, for instance, the Duchy of Warsaw of Napoleonic memory, but historical products of economic development. But what economic foundation lies at the bottom of the idea of a European State Federation? Europe, it is true, is a geographical and, within certain limits, an historical cultural conception. But the idea of Europe as an economic unit contradicts capitalist development in two ways. First of all there exist within Europe among the capitalist states–and will so long as these exist–the most violent struggles of competition and antagonisms, and secondly the European States can no longer get along economically without the non-European countries. As suppliers of foodstuffs, raw materials and wares, also as consumers of the same, the other parts of the world are linked in a thousand ways with Europe. At the present stage of development of the world market and of world economy, the conception of Europe as an isolated economic unit is a sterile concoction of the brain. Europe no more forms a special unit within world economy than does Asia or America.
And if the idea of a European union in the economic sense has long been outstripped, this is no less the case in the political sense.
The times when the center of gravity of political development and the crystallizing agent of capitalist contradictions lay on the European continent, are long gone by. Today Europe is only a link in the tangled chain of international connections and contradictions. And what is of decisive significance–European antagonisms themselves no longer play their role on the European continent but in all parts of the world and on all the seas.
Only were one suddenly to lose sight of all these happenings and maneuvers, and to transfer oneself back to the blissful times of the European concert of powers, could one say, for instance, that for 40 years we have had uninterrupted peace. This conception, which considers only events on the European continent, does not notice that the very reason why we have had no war in Europe for decades is the fact that international antagonisms have grown infinitely beyond the narrow confines of the European continent, and that European problems and interests are now fought out on the world seas and in the by-corners of Europe.
Hence the “United States of Europe” is an idea which runs directly counter both economically and politically to the course of development, and which takes absolutely no account of the events of the last quarter of a century.
That an idea so little in accord with the tendency of development can fundamentally offer no progressive solution in spite of all radical disguises is confirmed also by the fate of the slogan of the “United States of Europe.” Every time that bourgeois politicians have championed the idea of Europeanism, of the union of European states, it has been with an open or concealed point directed against the “yellow peril,” the “dark continent,” against the “inferior races,” in short, it has always been an imperialist abortion.
And now if we, as Social Democrats, were to try to fill this old skin with fresh and apparently revolutionary wine, then it must be said that the advantages would not be on our side but on that of the bourgeoisie. Things have their own objective logic. And the solution of the European union within the capitalist social order can objectively, in the economic sense, mean only a tariff war with America, and in the political sense only a colonial race war. The Chinese campaign of the united European regiments, with the World Field Marshal Waldersee at the head, and the gospel of the Hun as our standard–that is the actual and not the fantastic, the only possible expression of the “European State Federation” in the present social order.
First published: Leipziger Volkzeitung, May 6 and 8, 1911. Source: This work was reprinted in a shorter form in Die Internationale, January 1926. A translation of the latter piece was made in The Labour Monthly, July 1926, from which this version is taken. Published online at Marxists Internet Archive.
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