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It has been objected that the last days before the outbreak of war should not alone be considered in deciding the question as to where the guilt lies. We must, it is said, go further back, in order to discover how the contending elements were formed. In doing this, we shall find that imperialism, and the movement for extension of territory, characterized all the Great Powers, and not Germany alone.

Very true; but this movement of extension does not wholly explain the world-war, the peculiarity of which is that all the Great Powers and several of the smaller ones took part in it, and that all the world united itself against Germany. To show how this came about is the problem we have to deal with. The mere word “imperialism” does not take us any further.

The uprise of imperialism at the close of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century is marked by the fact that, far and wide, the Great Powers began to come into conflict with each other. First we had France with Italy, and then with England; America with Spain, and also with England; England with the Boers, with whom all the world sympathized; and, finally, Russia with Japan, behind whom England stood.

During that period Germany was the least affected by these international conflicts, which sometimes broke out in war.

Germany had, indeed, in 1871, committed the great mistake of tearing Alsace and Lorraine against their will from France, and thus driving France into the arms of Russia. The French passion for revanche, for reunion with their disruptured and enslaved brethren, began, in the course of time, to take a milder form; all the more as the prospects of the French in a war with Germany grew ever worse; for the population of France remained almost stationary, while that of Germany rapidly increased, and on this account alone the latter gained a constantly growing superiority over France. In 1866 the territory of what became later the German Empire numbered forty million inhabitants; that of France thirty-eight millions. In 1870 if France had had to do, as she hoped, with Prussia alone, her enemy would have numbered only twenty-four millions. But in 1910 the population of France was only thirty-nine millions, as against sixty-five millions in Germany.

Hence the alarm of France at the thought of a war with the overpowering strength of Germany—an alarm still evident in the conditions of the Peace of Versailles. Hence, also, the need of the alliance with Russia.

Through the hostility which prevailed between Germany and France, Russia, after 1871, felt herself in the position of arbitrator between the two, and therefore master of the whole of continental Europe. Trusting in that position, Russia ventured in 1877 to make war on Turkey, and found in the end that she was only checked in the exploitation of her victory by England and Austria. In the Berlin Congress of 1878 Bismarck had to decide between these Powers and Russia. He made himself independent of the Tsar and supported Austria and England.

From that date Russia turned away from Germany and established ever closer relations with France, so that Bismarck, in spite of his strong Russian sympathies, was ever more directed towards Austria. With Austria, in 1882, he associated Italy as an ally, when the French occupied Tunis, and thus deeply wounded the Italian imperialists who had been casting their eyes on that country.

England remained in “splendid isolation” outside of both combinations, but rather inclining to the Triple Alliance than towards the Russo-French Entente. Differences had arisen with France in connection with African aspirations (Morocco and more particularly Egypt, with the Sudan). In regard to Russia, her old hostility over the question of Turkey, and particularly of India, was continually finding fresh nourishment. On the other hand, England was always on friendly terms with Austria and Italy, and stood in no pronounced opposition to Germany, whose leader, Bismarck, had inflamed England's conflicts with Russia on the one hand, and with France on the other, in order to play between them the rôle of arbitrator and of the tertius gaudens. This was not, from the moral point of view, a very lofty policy, but it was a most fruitful one for the economic prosperity of Germany. It spared Germany all wars, at the very period of the uprise of imperialism, and enabled her to enlarge her industry, her commerce, and also her colonial possessions, by exploiting, without taking part in them, the imperialistic conflicts of the other Powers.

Thus we see that even in an epoch of imperialism it was possible for a Great Power to pursue another than a warlike policy. It is true that such a policy demanded statesmen with some stuff in their heads and with sufficient independence to assert themselves against those interested in an imperialistic policy of force. Nor were the latter more wanting in Germany than elsewhere; they were, in fact, strengthened by the success of the peace policy. The fabulous upgrowth of Germany in the economic sphere at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century provided the means for powerful military armaments, and it created a class of force-loving industrial magnates, particularly in the iron industry. With these associated themselves those old partisans of the policy of force, the Junkers, and the greater part of the intellectuals, who were professionally engaged to proclaim the warlike glory of the Hohenzollerns and to inoculate the whole youth of Germany with the virus of megalomania.

Bismarck's successor, Caprivi, pursued the old policy of maintaining peace amid all the imperialistic conflicts of the surrounding world. But when Prince Bülow, in 1897, became at first Foreign Minister, afterwards (1900) Chancellor, and with him Tirpitz became Chief of the Admiralty, we saw a completely new orientation of our foreign policy—the transition to a world-policy, which meant, if it meant anything at all, the establishment of the German domination of the world.

In the measure in which these tendencies came more and more into the light, they produced also a complete alteration in the attitude of the world towards Germany. Formerly the world was imperialistically divided, and Germany, on the principle, divide et impera, was the most powerful factor in it; henceforth all mutual opposition among the various States was absorbed in the one great mass of opposition to Germany, who seemed to threaten all of them.

The beginning of this fateful change in German world-policy is to be found in the Navy Bill of 1897, which led to the competition in armaments with England, and which was only comprehensible on the supposition that its ultimate goal was the overthrow of England's supremacy at sea. And, in fact, this has been often enough avowed by pan-German organs and politicians as the task of German naval preparations.

In this way public opinion in England was intensely excited against Germany.

England won the dominion of the seas in the time of the Napoleonic wars, and no Power has since undertaken to challenge it. Shortly after the Peace of Vienna this dominion had markedly changed its character. During the first decades of the nineteenth century England was still in large measure an agrarian country, which could support its own population, if need were. Far different was the case a little later. As the most industrialized of all countries, England saw herself compelled to rely, more than any other territory, not merely for raw materials but for food, on abundant imports from oversea.

Even in 1850, England, Wales and Scotland alone, not including Ireland, had a rural population as numerous as that of the towns. In the year 1911 the town population of England and Wales amounted to 78 per cent., in Scotland to 75 per cent., of the total inhabitants of the country.

In the eighteenth century England was a corn-exporting country. Even during the early part of the nineteenth century its home production in corn nearly covered the home demand. In the decade 1811–1820 the yearly average import of wheat was only 400,000 quarters. In 1850 an import of nearly 4,000,000 quarters was required. This was increased tenfold by 1909, while the home production was only 7,000,000. Shortly before the war fully 84 per cent. of the wheat needed in England was imported from other lands.

But this whole import was carried by sea. This meant that in case of war England would be delivered over to starvation so soon as her supremacy at sea was gone. This supremacy, which at the beginning of the nineteenth century was hardly more than a means for the extension and preservation of her colonial empire—imperialistic objects, to speak in modern language—became ever a more and more indispensable condition for the maintenance of her national independence. Supremacy at sea became for the British people not only an imperialistic but a democratic demand; at least pending a general disarmament and abolition of all warfare—pacifist objects which, precisely because of the dangers attaching to war, became very popular with the English populace, not Socialists alone but also Liberals. Since the idea of supremacy at sea made its way not only into imperialistic but also into democratic sections of the people, it took on a very liberal complexion. It was not Protectionist nor Monopolist, but had Free-Trade affinities, according to the principle of the Open Door.

Thus England contrived during the whole of the nineteenth century that no other Power should cast a threatening glance upon her naval supremacy. Germany alone began this threatening policy, at the close of the nineteenth century, when England's supremacy was demanded, as a matter of life and death, far more imperatively than in the time of Napoleon I.

Anyone who knows England and the English must be aware that the German naval programme was alone sufficient to bring round ever increasing sections of the English population to the notion that Germany must at any cost be made to put a stop to her naval preparations, even through a war, if not otherwise—a war which, thanks to Germany's former policy, also threatened to array against her Russia and France.

Herr von Bülow, who inaugurated this fatal policy, himself confesses that it threatened Germany with war. In his book on “The Policy of Germany” which appeared in 1916, he writes:

“During the first ten years after the introduction of the Navy Bill of 1897 and the beginning of our ship-building, an English policy, pursued with relentless determination, would no doubt have been in a position forcibly to prevent the development of Germany as a Naval Power, and to make us incapable of doing harm before our claws, in naval matters, were grown.... And in the eighteenth month of the war the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ confirms the view that when it had come to a settlement by force of arms England had sorrowfully to perceive that, in spite of all her schemes of encirclement, she had missed the right moment when she could have reduced her dreaded competitor to insignificance.”—Page 40.

So the naval policy was undertaken at the peril of inciting England to war with Germany. If it did not at once come to that, it was no fault of German policy; it was the restraint of England, which, instead of violently striking down the threatening foe in war, preferred the so-called “encirclement” policy, that is to say, the promotion of that isolation of Germany which her own world-policy had brought about.

The lamentable effects of the equally senseless and provocative naval policy of Germany were intensified by her obstinate sabotage of all attempts at an international understanding as to a general limitation of armaments, and at the settling of international conflicts by peaceful methods through courts of arbitration.

This was clear even at the first Hague Conference of 1899, which was concerned with the above objects.

“It was just at the time when the Hague Conference was sitting that the German Kaiser made his speech at Wiesbaden, in which he declared that a ‘well-ground sword’ was the best guarantee of peace.”[1]

At this Conference the German delegate could not be got to vote for obligatory arbitration even in cases of demands for compensation or of juridical controversies. Even these insignificant limitations of the settlement of international conflicts by force were wrecked on the opposition of Germany, which, later on, rejected all attempts to arrive at a limitation of armaments.

What wonder that hatred of Germany spread throughout the world, not only among the rival Imperial Powers, but also among the champions of international peace and freedom!

The rôle which Tsarism had hitherto played as the worst enemy of the European democracy now fell more and more to the German military monarchy. A more senseless policy could hardly have been conceived. It stood condemned not only from the point of view of international Socialism, but also from that of any Imperialism which should try to take account of the existing position of forces. A reasonable imperialistic policy for Germany would never have been such as to call forth simultaneously the enmity both of Russia and of England, the two Powers which, with Germany, dominated Europe. It must, on the one hand, to gain its ends against Russia and her ally, France, have enlisted the support of England, which meant, above all, the abandonment of her naval competition. And this would have meant, in accordance with the character of English policy, the triumph of the principle of the Open Door throughout the whole world—a principle which offered the most brilliant prospects to German industry.

But this would not, indeed, have been a policy after the hearts of the ironmasters, monopolists and militarists. The grand object of these was extension at the cost of England. In that case, however, it was necessary to come to an understanding with Russia. Germany, in alliance with Russia and thus more fully ensured against danger from France, might with an easy mind have taken up the naval competition with England. In case of war the English could do Germany no great harm. They might occupy her colonies, suppress her ocean-trade, but could not starve her out. Germany, on the contrary, with the help of Russia on land, would have been able to wreck the foundations of England's world-position and to achieve what Napoleon I. had in other wars in vain endeavoured to effect, namely, the occupation of Egypt and an advance on India.

It was sheer insanity to attempt the overthrow of England, not in union with Russia, but in war with with Russia, France, and with the whole world.

  1. Fried: “Handbook of the Peace Movement,” p. 171.