Bryan Caplan  

"Socialists Won Over By War"

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On June 6, 1915, the New York Times ran a fascinating story on the socialist response to World War I.  A few highlights:
Karl Kautsky, editor of Die Neue Zeit, and probably the most influential Socialist in Germany today, attempts to reconcile the action of French and German Socialists in supporting the war by claiming that both are right, that war is wrong, and that internationalism can exist just the same.  In October he wrote in part as follows:
One may dispute who is the attacker and who is attacked, or which threatens Europe more... one thing is clear; every people and the proletariat of every people has a pressing interest in this; to prevent the enemy of the country from coming over the frontier... From this follows also the further duty of the Social Democracy of every country to regard the war exclusively as a defensive war, to set up as its goal only protection from the enemy, not his "punishment" or diminishment.
Mr. Walling's comment on this somewhat labored piece of sophistry is summary:
The mere fact that two groups of people - for example, the French and German Socialists - hold the same theory, though they necessarily apply it in such a way as a to reach the opposite conclusions, is thus held by Kautsky to show that they are fundamentally in accord.  The intelligent, well-informed leaders of the French and German Socialists are urging their followers to kill one another; still, we are reminded they agree in theory.
 Then there's the first mention of Mussolini in the history of the NYT:
[S]ocialism in Italy had been anything but a brake for pro-war tendencies.  When it seemed possible that Italy would fight with Germany and Austria, the Socialist Party issued a manifesto threatening immediate revolution, not as a protest against war, but against war with France.  Mussolini, the director of the Avanti, founded an independent paper when his views became too strong, in which he advocated war against Germany and Austria.

But most of this anti-Austrian sentiment, says Mr. Walling, emanated from the Socialist Reform Party...
 The strangest passage of all:
The Socialists of the United States accord with the German Socialists in their peace demands.  American Socialists apparently see no reason why Germany should make any concessions, why we should indemnify Belgium, or why Alsace-Lorraine should be granted autonomy.
But considering the German roots of socialism, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Left Outside writes:

There is the revolutionary defeatism of Russian Socialists remember. They did pull out of WWI as soon as they gained power in 1917 sacrificing huge swathes of land, not sure how many lives that saved at the time, but a few I suppose.

Mark Brady writes:

But see F. L. Carsten's War against War: British and German Radical Movements in the First World War (London: Batsford; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982) for socialist opposition to the war.

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