21/12/1915 Germany’s pro-war consensus begins to fray

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Germany’s Social Democrat Party (the SPD) abandoned its longstanding pacifism. The party joins others in backing the war effort, a suspension of normal politics that becomes known as the Burgfrieden (castle peace). Some of socialists were intoxicated by the militarist tide sweeping Europe at the time while others feared government repression should they have protested against the war. Others still feared that conditions for German workers would be worse under rule by the Russian Tsar than the German Kaiser and the country’s semi-democratic system of government.

The SPD’s support for the war remains conditional. The party supports a defensive war against Germany’s enemies and opposes a war of conquest. Yet the war now is hard to portray as a defensive struggle for national survival. There are no enemy forces on German soil but German armies are campaigning in France, Belgium, Russia and Serbia. The reorganisation of territories in the East to suit German economic needs makes it look these territories are effectively being annexed to the Reich. Many of Germany’s socialists begin to wonder if they have been duped into supporting a war of conquest.

Today in the German parliament deputies vote to approve credits to finance the continuing war. Maverick SPD member Karl Liebknecht has previously voted against war credits, almost the only parliamentarian to do so. This time concerns about the war’s aims and progress sees him joined by 19 other SPD deputies. The vote is still carried, with a majority of SPD deputies voting in favour, but it shows that cracks are appearing in Germany’s pro-war consensus.

image source:

Karl Liebknecht (Wikipedia)

8/9/1915 The Zimmerwald conference: socialists meet to oppose the war

In the Swiss town of Zimmerwald anti-war socialists have spent the last three days meeting to discuss how best to oppose the war. The conference has attracted delegates from many different countries, both belligerent and neutral.

Some of the attendees are people in Swiss exile as a way of avoiding conscription in their home country. This appears to be particularly true of the Russian delegates, which includes figures like Grigory Zinoviev, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky from the rival Bolshevik and Menshevik socialist parties.

Notable by his absence is the German socialist Karl Liebknecht. Despite his immunity as a member of the Reichstag, his opposition to the war has seen him drafted into the German army and shipped off to the Eastern Front. Refusing to fight, he has been put to work burying corpses. A message from him is read out to the conference, but his name is not recorded in the minutes, for fear of reprisals against him.

The Zimmerwald delegates are divided into left and very left factions, finding it hard to reach agreement on many issues. They are probably conscious of their current marginalisation in their home countries and their inability to bring the war to an end. But they agree at least to establish a temporary International Socialist Commission in Berne, which will publish the proceedings of the conference and coordinate affairs of the affiliated parties.

image source (International Institute of Socialist History)