#whitefeather diaries

Germans against the war

In 1914 news and information was less readily available than it is now. It was difficult for people such as Howard to know whether many others shared their views – not least because Parliament voted to bring in censorship of the press. In reality, there were opponents of the war not only throughout the United Kingdom but beyond.

Anti-war demonstrations in Germany were bigger than in most other countries, while there were also peace campaigns in France, Russia, Austria, Italy, Belgium and elsewhere. Some opponents of the war were religious pacifists such as Quakers or Mennonites. Many were socialists who believed that the working classes of Europe should unite in resisting war.

After Austria declared war on Serbia, the German Social Democratic Party called for peace. They declared:

Not a single drop of blood from a single German soldier should be sacrificed for the benefit of war-hungry Austrian despots or for commercial interests. Comrades, we call on you to express in immediate mass demonstrations the unshakeable will for the peace of the class-conscious proletariat! Everywhere the ears of despots must ring with: “We want no war! Down with war! Long live brotherly solidarity between peoples!”

As war began, the German syndicalist newspaper Die Einigkeit declared:

We do not recognise the Austrian, the Serb, the Russian, the Italian or the French, etc. We know only brother workers. To prevent this enormity we hold out our hand to the workers of all countries.

When war came, the German Social Democratic Party split over the issue. Some argued that they should support the war to protect Germany from the oppressive Tsarist regime of Russia. Others continued to campaign against it. Clara Zetkin was an anti-war member of the party. Here's an extract from an article she wrote in the newspaper Gleichheit, shortly before the paper was suppressed by the government.

No, a thousand times no. Let us not allow the working masses to forget that the war has been caused by worldwide economic and political complications, and not by ugly and despicable personal qualities in the peoples with which Germany is fighting.

Let us have the courage, when we hear the invectives against “perfidious Albion”, the “degenerate French”, the “barbaric Russians”, etc, to reply by pointing out the ineradicable riches contributed by these peoples to human development, and how they have assisted the fruition of German civilization. The Germans, who have themselves contributed to much towards the international treasury of civilization, ought to be able to exercise justice and veracity in judging other peoples.

The above extracts are quoted in Not Our War: Writings against the First World War, edited by A.W. Zurbrugg (Merlin Press, 2014).

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