Leon Trotsky
War and the International

The War against the West

On his return from his diplomatic trip to Italy, Dr. Südekum wrote in the Vorwärts that the Italian comrades did not sufficiently comprehend the nature of Czarism. We agree with Dr. Südekum that a German can more easily understand the nature of Czarism as he experiences daily, in his own person, the nature of Prussian-German absolutism. The two “natures” are very closely akin to each other.

German absolutism represents a feudal-monarchical organization, resting upon a mighty capitalist foundation, which the development of the last half-century has erected for it. The strength of the German army, as we have learned to know it anew in its present bloody work, consists not alone in the great material and technical resources of the nation, and in the intelligence and precision of the workman-soldier, who had been drilled in the school of industry and his own class organizations. It has its foundations also in its Junker officer caste, with its master class traditions, its oppression of those who are below and its subordination to those who are above. The German army, like the German state, is a feudal-monarchical organization with inexhaustible capitalist resources. The bourgeois scribblers may chatter all they want about the supremacy of the German, the man of duty, over the Frenchman, the man of pleasure; the real difference lies not in the racial qualities, but in the social and political conditions. The standing army, that closed corporation, that self-sufficing state within the state, remains, despite universal military service, a caste organization that in order to thrive must have artificial distinctions of rank and a monarchical top to crown the commanding hierarchy.

In his work, The New Army, Jaurès showed that the only army France could have is one of defence built on the plan of arming every citizen, that is, a democratic army, a militia. The bourgeois French Republic is now paying the penalty for having made her army a counterpoise to her democratic state organization. She created, in Jaurès’ words, “a bastard regime in which antiquated forms clashed with newly developing forms and neutralized each other.” This incongruity between the standing army and the republican regime is the fundamental weakness of the French military system.

The reverse is true of Germany. Germany’s barbarian retrograde political system gives her a great military supremacy. The German bourgeoisie may grumble now and then when the praetorian caste spirit of the officers’ corps leads to outbreaks like that of Zabern. [25] They may make wry faces at the Crown Prince and his slogan, “Give it to them! Give it to them!” The German Social Democracy may inveigh ever so sharply against the systematic personal ill-treatment of the German soldier, which has caused proportionately twice as many suicides in the German barracks as in the barracks of any other country. But for all that, the fact that the German bourgeoisie has absolutely no political character and that the German Socialist party has failed to inspire the proletariat with the revolutionary spirit, has enabled the ruling class to erect the gigantic structure of militarism, and so place the efficient and intelligent German workmen under the command of the Zabern heroes and their slogan, “Give it to them”.

Professor Hans Delbrück seeks the source of Germany’s military strength in the ancient model of Teutoburgerwald [26], and he is perfectly justified.

“The oldest Germanic system of warfare,” he writes, “was based on the retinue of princes, a body of specially selected warriors, and the mass of fighters comprising the entire nation. This is the system we have today also. How vastly different are the methods of fighting now from those of our ancestors in the Teutoburgerwald! We have the technical marvels of modern machine guns. We have the wonderful organization of immense masses of troops, and yet our military system is at bottom the same. The martial spirit is raised to its highest power, developed to its utmost in a body which once was small but now numbers many thousands, a body giving fealty to their War Lord, and by him, as by the princes of old, regarded as his comrades; and under their leadership the whole people, educated by them and disciplined by them. Here we have the secret of the warlike character of the German nation.

The French Major, Driant, looks on at the German Kaiser in his White Cuirassier’s uniform, undoubtedly the most imposing military uniform in the world, and republican by constraint that he is, his heart is filled with a lover’s jealousy. And how the Kaiser spends his time “in the midst of his army, that true family of the Hohenzollerns!” The Major is fascinated.

The feudal caste, whose hour of political and moral decay had struck long ago, found its connection with the nation once more in the fertile soil of imperialism. And this connection with the nation has taken such deep root that the prophecies of Major Driant, written several years ago, have actually come true—prophecies that until now could only have appeared as either the poisonous promptings of a secret Bonapartist, or the drivellings of a lunatic.

“The Kaiser,” he wrote, “is the Commander in Chief... and behind him stands the entire working class of Germany as one man... Bebel’s Social Democrats are in the ranks, their fingers on the trigger, and they too think only of the welfare of the Fatherland. The ten-billion war indemnity that France will have to pay will be a greater help to them than the Socialist chimeras on which they fed the day before.”

Yes, and now they are writing of this future indemnity even in some Social Democratic (!) papers, with open rowdy insolence—an indemnity, however, not of ten billions, but of twenty or thirty billions.

Germany’s victory over France—a deplorable strategic necessity, according to the German Social Democrats—would mean not only the defeat of France’s standing army; it would mean primarily the victory of the feudal-monarchical state over the democratic-republican state.

For the ancient race of Hindenburgs, Moltkes and Klucks, hereditary specialists in mass murder, are just as indispensable a condition of German victory as are the 42-centimeter guns, the last word in human technical skill.

The entire capitalist press is already talking of the unshakable stability of the German Monarchy, strengthened by the War. And German professors, the same who proclaimed Hindenburg a doctor of All the Sciences, are already declaring that political slavery is a higher form of social life.

“The democratic republics, and the so-called monarchies that are under subjection to a parliamentary regime, and all the other beautiful things that were so extolled—what little capacity they have shown to resist the storm!”

These are the things that the German professors are writing now.

It is shameful and humiliating enough to read the expressions of the French Socialists, who had proved themselves too weak to break the alliance of France with Russia or even to prevent the return to three-years’ military service, but who, when the War began, never the less donned their red trousers and set out to free Germany. But we are seized with a feeling of unspeakable indignation on reading the German Socialist party press, which in the language of exalted slaves extols the brave heroic caste of hereditary oppressors for their armed exploits on French territory.

On August 15, 1870, when the victorious German armies were approaching Paris, Engels wrote in a letter to Marx, after describing the confused condition of the French defence:

“Nevertheless, a revolutionary government, if it comes soon, need not despair. But it must leave Paris to its fate, and continue to carry on the war from the South. It is then still possible that such a government may hold out until arms and ammunition are brought and a new army organized with which the enemy can be gradually pushed back to the frontier. That would be the right ending to the war—for both countries to demonstrate that they cannot be conquered.”

And yet there are people who shout like drunken helots, “On to Paris.” And in doing so they have the impudence to invoke the names of Marx and Engels. In what measure are they superior to the thrice despised Russian liberals who crawled on their bellies before his Excellency, the military Commander, who introduced the Russian knout into East Galicia. It is cowardly arrogance—this talk of the purely “strategic” character of the war on the Western front. Who takes any account of it? Certainly not the German ruling classes. They speak the language of conviction and of main force. They call things by their right names. They know what they want and they know how to fight for it.

The Social Democrats tell us that the War is being waged for the cause of national independence. “That is not true,” retorted Herr Arthur Dix.

“Just as the high politics of the last century,” wrote Dix, “owed its specially marked character to the National Idea, so the political-world events of this century stand under the emblem of the Imperialistic Idea. The imperialistic idea that is destined to give the impetus, the scope and the goal to the striving for power of the great.” (Der Weltwirtschaftskrieg, 1914, p. 3).

“It shows gratifying sagacity,” says the same Herr Arthur Dix, “on the part of those who had charge of the military preparations of the war, that the advance of our armies against France and Russia in the very first stage of the War took place precisely where it was most important to keep valuable German mineral wealth free from foreign invasion, and to occupy such portions of the enemy’s territory as would supplement our own underground resources.” (Ibid., p. 38)

The “strategy,” of which the Socialists now speak in devout whispers, really begins its activities with the robbery of mineral wealth.

The Social Democrats tell us that the War is a war of defence. But Herr George Irmer says clearly and distinctly:

“People ought not to be talking as though it were a settled thing that the German nation had come too late for rivalry for world economy and world dominion—that the world has already been divided. Has not the earth been divided over and over again in all epochs of history?” (Los vom englischen Weltjoch, 1914, p. 42.)

The Socialists try to comfort us by telling us that Belgium has only been temporarily crushed and that Germany will soon vacate their Belgian quarters. But Herr Arthur Dix, who knows very well what he wants, and who has the right and the power to want it, writes that what England fears most, and expressly so, is that Germany should have an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.

“For this very reason,” he continues, “we must neither let Belgium go out of our hands, nor must we fail to make sure that the coastline from Ostend to the Somme shall not again fall into the hands of any state which may become a political vassal of England. We must see to it that in some form or other German influence is securely established there.

In the endless battles between Ostend and Dunkirk, sacred “strategy” is now carrying out this programme of the Berlin stock exchange, also.

The Socialists tell us that the War between France and Germany is merely a brief prelude to a lasting alliance between those countries. But here, too, Herr Arthur Dix shows all the cards. According to him, “there is but one answer: to seek to destroy the English world trade, and to deal deadly blows at English national economy.

“The aim for the foreign policy of the German Empire for the next decades is clearly indicated,” Professor Franz von Liszt announces. “‘Protection against England,’ that must be our slogan.” (Ein mitteleuropaischer Staatenverband, 1914, p. 24.)

“We must crush the most treacherous and malicious of our foes,” cries a third. “We must break the tyranny which England exercises over the sea with base self-seeking and shameless contempt of justice and right.”

The War is directed not against Czarism, but primarily against England’s supremacy on the sea.

“It may be said,” Professor Schiehmann confesses, “that no success of ours has given us such joy as the defeat of the English at Maubeuge and St. Quentin on August 28th.”

The German Social Democrats tell us that the chief object of the War is the “settlement with Russia”. But plain, straightforward Herr Rudolf Theuden wants to give Galicia to Russia with North Persia thrown in. Then Russia “would have got enough to be satisfied for many decades to come. We may even make her our friend by it.”

“What ought the War to bring us?” asks Theuden, and then he answers:

The chief payment must be made us by France.... France must give us Belfort, that part of Lorraine which borders on the Moselle, and, in case of stubborn resistance, that part as well which borders the Maas. If we make the Maas and the Moselle German boundaries, the French will some day perhaps wean themselves away from the idea of making the Rhine a French boundary.”

The bourgeois politicians and professors tell us that England is the chief enemy; that Belgium and France are the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean; that the hope of a Russian indemnity is only a Utopian dream, anyway; that Russia would be more useful as friend than as foe; that France will have to pay in land and in gold—and the Vorwärts exhorts the German workers to “hold out until the decisive victory is ours.”

And yet the Vorwärts tells us that the War is being waged for the independence of the German nation, and for the liberation of the Russian people. What does this mean? Of course we must look for ideas, logic and truth where they do not exist. This is simply a case of an ulcer of slavish sentiments bursting open and foul pus crawling over the pages of the working men’s press. It is clear that the oppressed class which proceeds too slowly and inertly on its way toward freedom must in the final hour drag all its hopes and promises through mire and blood, before there arises in its soul the pure, unimpeachable voice—the voice of revolutionary honor.


Zabern: (Saverne) A mining town in Alsace which had not been completely Germanized since annexation (1870), was the scene of friction between the army and the people in 1913. Lt. Baron von Forstner had insulted the French Flag while drilling recruits. The story leaked out and the recruits were arrested on a charge of betraying military secrets. On November 10, 1913, crowds were fired upon by German troops and Forstner called upon them to give miners a hot time.

On November 28, Forstner said he was insulted in the streets and armed troops were sent out against a crowd of women, children and cripples. Martial law was proclaimed, houses searched and the town judge and public prosecutor locked up for the night with 28 others. On December 3, the matter was taken up by the Reichstag, War Minister Falkenheyn refused to disclose the punishment meted out to Forstner. The Reichstag passed a vote of no-confidence on the Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, 293 to 54. On December 19, the Alsatian recruits were sentenced to three weeks for complaining. On January 4, Reuter, the Commanding Officer, and Forstner were acquitted by Court Martial. The Crown Prince congratulated Forstner and urged him “to keep it up ...” Reuter was also awarded the Order of the Red Eagle.


Teutoburgerwald: In the time of Augustus, 9 AD, a Roman legion led by Varus was completely crushed by Herman’s Teutons in the Alpine Teutoburger Forest.