Books / Digital Text

Socialism and Imperialism

1. Socialism and Its Opponents

The authoritarian-militaristic spirit of the Prussian authoritarian state finds its counterpart and completion in the ideas of German Social Democracy and of German socialism in general. To hasty observation the authoritarian state and Social Democracy appear as irreconcilable opposites between which there is no mediation. It is true that they confronted each other for more than fifty years in blunt hostility. Their relation was not that of political opposition, as occurs between different parties in other nations also; it was complete estrangement and mortal enmity. Between Junkers and bureaucrats on the one hand and Social Democrats on the other hand, even every personal, purely human contact was ruled out; scarcely ever did one side or the other make an attempt to understand its opponent or have a discussion with him.

The irreconcilable hatred of the monarchy and of the Junker class did not concern, however, the social-economic program of the Social Democratic Party. The program of the German Social Democratic Party contains two elements of different origins tied together only loosely. It includes on the one hand all those political demands that liberalism, especially its left wing, represents and also has partly implemented already in most civilized states. This part of the Social Democratic Party program is built on the great political idea of the national state, which wants to dissolve the princely and authoritarian state and turn the subject into a citizen of the state. That the Social Democratic Party has pursued this goal, that it took the banner of democracy from the enfeebled hands of dying German liberalism and alone held it high in the darkest decades of German politics despite all persecutions—that is its great pride and fame, to which it owes the sympathy that the world accords it and that first brought it many of its best men and the masses of the oppressed and of "bourgeois fellow-travelers." The very fact, however, that it was republican and democratic drew onto it the inextinguishable hatred of the Junkers and bureaucrats; that alone brought it into conflict with authorities and courts and made it into an outlawed sect of enemies of the state, despised by all "right-thinking people."

The other component of the program of German Social Democracy was Marxian socialism. The attraction that the slogan about the capitalistic exploitation of the workers and that the promising utopia of a future state exerted on the great masses was the basis of an imposing party and labor-union organization. Many, however, were won over to socialism only through democracy. As the German bourgeoisie, after the annihilating defeats that German liberalism had suffered, submitted unconditionally to the authoritarian state of Bismarck, as, in line with the German protective-tariff policy, the German entrepreneurial class identified itself with the Prussian state, so that militarism and industrialism became politically related concepts for Germany, then the socialist side of the party program absorbed new strength from democratic aspirations. Many refrained from criticizing socialism in order not to harm the cause of democracy. Many became socialists because they were democrats and believed that democracy and socialism were inseparably connected.

In truth, though, close relations exist precisely between socialism1 and the autocratic-authoritarian form of state that correspond to the essence of both.2 For that reason the authoritarian state also did not fight socialist efforts at all as harshly as it confronted all democratic impulses. On the contrary, the Prussian-German authoritarian state evolved strongly toward the side of "social kingship" and would have turned still more toward socialism if the great workers' party of Germany had been ready even before August 1914 to give up its democratic program in exchange for the gradual realization of its socialistic goals.

The sociopolitical doctrine of Prussian militarism can best be recognized in the literary products of the Prussian school of economic policy. Here we find complete harmony established between the ideal of the authoritarian state and that of a far-reaching socialization of large industrial enterprise. Many German social thinkers reject Marxism—not, however, because they reject its goals but because they cannot share its theoretical interpretation of social and economic developments. Marxism, whatever one may say against it, nevertheless has one thing in common with all scientific economics: it recognizes a conformity to law in the historical process and presupposes the causal interconnection of all that happens. German statism could not follow it in this respect because it sees everywhere only marks of the activity of great kings and powerful states. The heroic and teleological interpretation of history seems more obvious to statism than the causal; it knows no economic law; it denies the possibility of economic theory.3 In that respect Marxism is superior to German social-policy doctrine, which has no theoretical basis at all and never has sought to create one. All social problems appear to this school as tasks of state administration and politics, and there is no problem on whose solution it does not venture with a light heart. Always, however, it is the same prescription that it issues: commands and prohibitions as lesser means, state ownership as the great, never-failing means.

Under such circumstances Social Democracy had an easy position. Marxian economic theory, which in Western Europe and America was able to win only a small following and was not able to assert itself alongside the accomplishments of modern economic theory, did not have to suffer much under the criticism of the empirical-realistic and historical school of German economics. The critical work to be done against Marxian economic theory was carried out by the Austrian school, ostracized in Germany, and above all by Böhm-Bawerk.4 Marxism could easily dispose of the Prussian school; it was dangerous to it not as an opponent but as a friend. Social Democracy had to take care to show that social reform such as German social policy strove for could not replace the social revolution and that state ownership in the Prussian sense was not identical with socialization. This demonstration could not succeed, but its failure did not damage Social Democracy. For it was, after all, the party eternally condemned to fruitless opposition, which was always able to make capital for its party position precisely out of the defects of the social-reform and socialization measures.

That Social Democracy became the most powerful party in the German Reich it owes primarily to the democratic part of its program, taken over as the heir of liberalism. That, however, socialism as such also enjoys the greatest sympathy among the German people, so that only isolated voices speak out seriously and in principle against socialization and that even so-called bourgeois parties want to socialize the branches of production that are "ripe" for socialization—that is the result of the propaganda work that statism has performed. Socialist ideas constitute no victory over the Prussian authoritarian state but are its consistent development; their popularity in Germany has been furthered no less by the academic socialism of privy councilors than by the propaganda work of Social Democratic agitators.

Among the German people today, thanks to the views advocated for fifty years by the Prussian school of economic policy, there is no longer even any understanding of what the contrast between liberalism in economic policy and socialism really consists of. That the distinction between the two orientations lies not in the goal but in the means is not clear to many. Even to the antisocialist German, socialism appears as the sole just form of economic organization, assuring the people the most abundant satisfaction of their needs; and if he himself opposes it, he does so in the consciousness of resisting what is best for the common interest, doing so for his own benefit because he feels himself threatened in his rights or privileges. The bureaucrats mostly take this position, which is often enough found, however, among entrepreneurs also. It has long been forgotten in Germany that liberalism also, just as socialism does, recommends its economic system out of concern not for the interests of individuals but for those of all, the great masses. That "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" should he the goal of policy was first maintained by a radical free-trader, Jeremy Bentham. Bentham also carried on his famous struggle against usury laws, for example, not out of concern for the interests of the moneylenders but out of concern for the interests of all.5 The point of departure of all liberalism lies in the thesis of the harmony of rightly understood interests of individuals, of classes, and of peoples. It rejects the basic idea of Mercantilism that the advantage of the one is the disadvantage of the other. That is a principle that may hold true for war and plunder; for economics and trade it does not hold. Therefore liberalism sees no basis for opposition between classes; therefore it is pacifist in relations between peoples. Not because it considers itself called upon to represent the special interests of the possessing classes does it advocate maintenance of private ownership of the means of production, but rather because it sees the economic order resting on private ownership as the system of production and distribution that assures the best and highest material satisfaction for all sections of the people. And just as it calls for free trade at home not out of regard for particular classes but out of regard for the welfare of all, so it demands free trade in international relations not for the sake of foreigners but for the sake of one's own people.

Interventionist economic policy takes another standpoint. It sees irreconcilable antagonisms in relations among states. Marxism, however, has proclaimed the doctrine of class struggle; on the irreconcilable opposition of classes it erects its doctrine and its tactics.

In Germany liberalism was never understood; it never found a base here. Only thus can it be explained that even the opponents of socialism more or less accepted socialist doctrines. That appears most clearly in the position of the opponents of socialism on the problem of the class struggle. Marxian socialism preaches the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Elsewhere this battle cry is opposed by that of the solidarity of interests. Not so in Germany. Here the proletarians are confronted by the bourgeoisie as a class. The united bourgeois parties confront the proletarian party. They do not see that in this way they recognize the argumentation of the Marxists as correct and thereby make their struggle hopeless. He who can adduce in favor of private ownership of the means of production nothing other than that its abolition would harm the rights of the possessors limits the supporters of the antisocialist parties to the nonproletarians. In an industrial state the "proletarians" naturally have numerical superiority over the other classes. If party formation is determined by class membership, then it is clear that the proletarian party must gain victory over the others.

  • 1. In regard to economic policy, socialism and communism are identical; both strive for socialization of the means of production, in contrast with liberalism, which wants on principle to let private ownership even of the means of production continue. The distinction that has recently come into use between socialism and communism is irrelevant with regard to economic policy unless one also foists on the communists the plan of wanting to discontinue private ownership of consumption goods. On centralist and syndicalist socialism (actually, only centralist socialism is true socialism), see below, pp, 195 ff.
  • 2. On the intimate relation between militarism and socialism, cf. Herbert Spencer, loc. cit., vol. 3, p. 712. The imperialistic tendencies of socialism are treated by Seillière, Die Philosophie des Imperialismus, second edition of the German version (Berlin: 1911), vol. 2, pp. 171 ff., vol. 3, pp. 59 ff. Sometimes socialism does not even outwardly deny its intimate relation with militarism. That comes to light especially clearly in those socialistic programs that want to arrange the future state on the model of an army, Examples: wanting to solve the social question by setting up a "food army" or a "worker army" (cf Popper-Lynkeus, Die allegemeine Nährpflicht (Dresden: 1912], pp. 373 ff.; further, Ballod, Der Zukunftsstaat, second edition, [Stuttgart: 1919], pp. 32 ff.). The Communist Manifesto already demands the "establishment of industrial armies." It should be noted that imperialism and socialism go hand in hand in literature and politics. Reference was already made earlier (pp. 94 ff.) to Engels and Rodbertus; one could name Many others, e.g., Carlyle (cf Kemper, "Carlyle als Imperialist," Zeitschrift für Politik, XI, 115 ff.). Australia, which, as the only one among the Anglo-Saxon states, has turned away from liberalism and come closer to socialism than any other country, is the imperialistic state par excellence in its immigration legislation.
  • 3. This spirit of hostility to theoretical investigation has also infected the German Social Democrats. It is characteristic that just as theoretical economics could flourish on German-speaking territory only in Austria, so also the best representatives of German Marxism, Kautsky, Otto Bauer, Hilferding, and Max Adler, come from Austria.
  • 4. It is naturally not intended here to undertake a critical assessment of Marxism. The discussion in this section is intended only to explain the imperialistic tendencies of socialism. Also, enough writings are available anyway to whoever is interested in these problems (e.g., Simkhowitsch, Marxismus versus Sozialismus, translated by Jappe Jena; 1913]).
  • 5. Cf. Bentham, Defence of Usury, second edition (London: 1790), pp. 108 f.
Shield icon library