Guy A. Aldred Archive

Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism
Chapter 18
Militarism and the General Strike

Written: 1940.
Source: PDF Scans from; OCR'ing and editing from
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021

Liebknecht--Nieuwenhuis Debate

At the congress of Brussels, in 1891, Domela Nieuwenhuis, on behalf of the Dutch Socialist Party, proposed that the Socialists of all countries should answer the proposal for war by an appeal to the peoples to proclaim a general strike.

KARL LIEBKNECHT, on behalf of the majority, opposed this proposal on the ground that this was Utopian and failed to reach the economic sources of the evil. He supported a proposal to conduct incessant propaganda against militarism and capitalism, with a view to developing the international organization of the proletariat, and throwing the responsibility of the world war upon the ruling class.

There were proposals for provoking, in case of war, the strike and military insurrection. They were made by delegates whose countries did not bear the crushing weight of militarism borne by the nations having an absolute military regime.

The project had been submitted to the effect that in all countries May Day should be celebrated not only as a Labor Celebration Day, but also as one of the fraternity of peoples.

Socialist Congress could not take on that subject, the attitude of a bourgeois philanthrophic congress. There was a war which was ever present-—the class war--and the war between peoples was but an aspect of it. The enemy of the German worker was not the French citizen, but the German bourgeois. On the contrary the French proletarian was his ally. The German bourgeoisie would like disarmament, but they needed an enormous permanent army to resist the German proletariat.

A war, compared to which that of 1870, would be but child's play, was menacing the world, and might put civilization back for a century. The proletariat must prevent it by an incessant propaganda, in order to save the world from that fearful catastrophy, by assuring the triumph of Socialism. The only guarantee against the disasters of militarism resided in the Socialist organization.

DOMELA NIEUWENHUIS replied to Liebknecht by pointing out that it was easy to obtain unanimity. All that was necessary was to introduce a proposal put down in terms that were very vague. The Pope could accept if it one word were altered, that of Socialism into Christianity. The last sentence of the resolution threw upon the ruling class, before humanity and history, the responsibility of future wars. Rulers could not be moved by such a platitudinous protest. The resolution threw the same responsibility upon the laboring class. It reminded one of two urchins quarreling, and each blaming the other while spectators laughed at their expense.

Chauvinism must be rejected everywhere, as also any distinction between offensive and defensive wars. Diplomats, if they wished it could declare any war upon which they had decided.

Passive resistance was most efficacious. For instance, Napoleon's whole energy did not succeed in breaking the resistance of the Polbrokers who refused to serve in the army. When a rifle was put into their hands they dropped it. At last they had to be relegated to the ambulances.

It must not be forgotten that Governments had a much more ferocious hatred against Socialists than they had against one another, even when they were at war. Socialists must not kill one another for the Governments. By refusing to fight, Socialists risked being put to death, whereas if they went to battle they were sure either to kill or to be killed.

Working men had begun to think. Yet their sons still entered the armies. The result was that the ruling classes already felt their powers shaking. It must be said frankly that civil war between proletariat and bourgeoisie was to be preferred to war between nations. The decision of war ought not to be in the hands of the Governments. It should rest with the peoples. For they would not have war.

It was necessary to struggle against militarism, which was one of the means capitalism used for maintaining its supremacy. Capitalism but sustained itself by bayonets. When the wielders of the bayonets became intelligent the bourgeois order became lost. Frederick the Great said that if his soldiers had thought, not one of them would have remained in the ranks.

The triumph of the proletariat would mean universal peace. By showing courage, energy, and perseverance, Socialists could prevent war from ever breaking out again. Governments, when they declared war, committed a revolutionary act. The peoples. had the right, and were in duty bound, to answer such declaration by revolution.

LIEBKNECHT, answering on behalf of the German delegation recalled that Nieuwenhuis had asserted that the Pope could accept the proposed resolution if the word Socialism in it was replaced by the word Christianity. It was news to him that the Pope had pronounced for the class war.

The Dutch delegate had declared the German resolution to be a tissue of phrases. There were no phrases in that resolution. But if phrasing was the pronunciation of big words, containing no realizable ideas, Nieuwenhuis's proposal of the general strike in opposition to a declaration of war was phraseology.

The revolution of which the Dutch speaker had spoken so much, was not something to be announced. When the people really wanted it, they would accomplish it. It was the same with many different things which one executed under the pressure of necessity, but did not predict in advance.

Domela Nieuwenhuis had remarked that at the moment of the declaration of war, peoples had to he encouraged to the military strike.

Nieuwenhuis had forgotten that those who would make that appeal would have no time to execute their object for they would be taken and shot before they could act. Nieuwenhuis's proposal was, therefore, utopian in character because it was impossible of realization.

The attacks directed by Nieuwenhuis against German Socialists were unjust. They were no more stained with Chauvinism than the Socialists of other lands. They had proved this in diverse circumstances.

In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian war, German Social Democrats had combated the war at the price of their liberty and their lives. Constantly they had sacrificed themselves for the cause of Socialism, and had proved that they, leader and rank and file, knew how to stiffer for their convictions.

Domela Nieuwenhuis had spoken of Chauvinism. But Nieuwenhuis had been a Chauvin. In 1870, German Social Demo- crats had tried to stop the war. Several of them were compromised and imprisoned. Under these circumstances, a Dutch journal, edited by Domela Nieuwenhuis, violently attacked them and indulged in some most detestable Chauvinism. The speaker had shown that the Dutch resolution was unacceptable and absurd. The congress would do its duty by accepting the German proposal.

NIEUWENHUIS stated that there were Chauvinists among the German Social Democracy. He had not accused all German Socialists of being Chauvins. All Socialist parties had endured persecution and sufferings for the cause of the people. It was not necessary for the German Socialists to extoll the sacrifices which they had suffered for their convictions. Comrades should not glorify themselves at meetings, but should content themselves with the knowledge that they had done their duty. He recommended the workers of the different countries to oppose to the declaration of war the proclamation of a general strike, pending the regulation of wars by international arbitration. He invited members of parliament to introduce bills reducing the budgets of war.