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British and German Workers Demonstrate for Peace[1]

V. I. Lenin

As is well known, in Britain and Germany a chauvinist campaign has long been conducted by the bourgeois press, especially the gutter press, in which these countries are in cited against each other. Competition in the world market between British and German capitalists is becoming more and more bitter. Britain's former supremacy and her undivided ascendancy in the world market, have become a thing of the past. Germany is one of the capitalist countries that are developing particularly rapidly, and her manufactures are seeking markets abroad on an ever-growing scale. The struggle for colonies and the conflict of commercial interests have in capitalist society become one of the main causes of war. It is therefore not surprising that the capitalists of both countries consider war between Britain and Germany inevitable, and the military men on both sides deem it quite desirable. The British jingoes want to undermine the strength of a dangerous rival by smashing Germany's sea power while it is still immeasurably weaker than Britain's. The German Junkers and generals, headed by that Bourbon, Wilhelm II, are spoiling for a fight with Britain, hoping to be able to use their numerical superiority in land forces, and hoping that the clamour of military victories will stifle the growing discontent of the working masses and prevent the aggravation of the class struggle in Germany.

The British and German workers decided to come out publicly against the growing war danger. For a long time the labour press in both countries had been waging an unremitting struggle against chauvinism and militarism. But what was required now was some more imposing expression of the will of the working class than through the organs of the press. The British workers decided to send a delegation to Berlin to attend a grand demonstration that would declare the joint determination of the proletariat of both countries to wage war on war.

The demonstration took place in Berlin on Sunday, September 20 (7, old style). This time the British workers' representatives were able to address the proletariat of Berlin without let or hindrance. Two years before, when J. Jaurès had wanted to speak to the German workers on behalf of the French working class at a Social-Democratic mass meeting in Berlin to protest against the bourgeois jingoes, the German Government banned him. This time it did not venture to eject the delegates of the British proletariat.

A mammoth rally of working men was held in one of Berlin's biggest halls. About 5,000 people immediately packed the place, and an overflow of many thousands occupied the surrounding grounds and the street. Stewards wearing red armbands kept order. Comrade Legien, the well-known leader of the German trade unions (called "free", i. e., actually Social-Democratic unions), greeted the British delegation on behalf of the entire politically and industrially organised working class of Germany. He said that fifty years ago French and British workers had demonstrated on behalf of peace. At that time those pioneer socialists were not backed by the organised masses. Today Britain and Germany together had an army of 4 1/3 million organised workers. It was on behalf of this army that the British delegates and the Berlin rally now spoke, declaring that the decision of war or peace lay in the hands of the working class.

In his speech in reply, the British workers' delegate Maddison condemned the jingo slander campaign conducted by the bourgeoisie, and handed over an Address from the Workers of Britain to the Workers of Germany, signed by 3,000 workmen. Among the signatories, he said, were representatives of both trends in the British labour movement (i.e., both Social-Democrats and adherents of the Independent Labour Party, who do not yet hold any consistent socialist point of view). The Address pointed out that wars serve the interests of the propertied classes. The masses of the workers bear all the burdens of war. The propertied classes derive benefit from national calamities. Let the workers unite to fight militarism, to ensure peace!

After other British delegates and a representative of the German Social-Democratic Party, Richard Fischer, had spoken, the meeting closed with the unanimous adoption of a resolution branding the "selfish and short-sighted policy of the ruling and exploiting classes" and expressing readiness to act in accordance with the resolution of the International Congress in Stuttgart, i. e., to fight war by all ways and means. The meeting broke up in an orderly manner amidst the singing of the workers' Marseillaise. There were no street demonstrations. The Berlin police and local military authorities were disappointed. It is characteristic of the regime in Germany that the most peaceful demonstration of the workers had to have a police and military demonstration to accompany it. The Berlin garrison was mobilised. Detachments of troops were stationed in different parts of the city in accordance with a strict plan, mostly in such a way that their hiding-places and numbers could not be easily detected. Police units patrolled the streets and squares in the vicinity of the meeting hail, particularly the road leading from there to the royal palace. The latter was ringed with police in plain clothes and troops concealed in house yards. An intricate system of police pickets was organised; groups of policemen loitered at street corners; police officers were detailed to all "important" spots; police cyclists acted as scouts and kept the military authorities informed on every step the "enemy" made; bridges and canal crossings were put under triple guard. "They stood watch over the threatened monarchy," sarcastically wrote Vorwärts[2], commenting on all these measures taken by the government of Wilhelm II.

It was a rehearsal, we add for our part. Wilhelm II and the German bourgeoisie were rehearsing military combat with an insurgent proletariat. Such rehearsals are undoubtedly and in any case useful to both the masses of workers and to the soldiers. ???????? (it will be a success!), as the French workers' song says. Repeated rehearsals are leading, maybe very slowly as yet, but very surely, to the great historical climax.


[1] This article was written by Lenin in connection with a workers' meeting held in Berlin on September 7(20), 1908, to protest against the growing menace of war. The article was intended for issue No. 36 of the newspaper Proletary, but was not published.

[2] Vorwärts—the central organ of the German Social-Democrats. It began to appear in 1876 and was edited, among others, by Wilhelm Liebknecht. Engels made use of its columns for fighting all manifestations of opportunism. From the middle of the nineties, after the death of Engels, Vorwärts began regularly to carry articles of the opportunists, who predominated in German Social-Democracy and in the Second International.

Written: Written before October 3(16), 1908
Published: First published in 1933 in Lenin Miscellany XXV.
Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 210-212.

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