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Opposition within the SPD (June 19, 1915)

Although the early days of fighting were accompanied by the impression of popular unity, the consensus in favor of the war was fragile from the start, vulnerable to pressures from both the right and the left. The Socialists’ decision to support the war in 1914 was by no means unanimous. And by 1915, prominent Socialists had begun to express serious reservations. Within the ranks of the SPD, supporters of the war clashed with opponents of it, causing the party to split in 1917. Here, Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, and Hugo Haase appeal to their SPD colleagues to oppose the government’s and certain conservatives’ aggressive annexationist plans.

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Leipzig, June 19, 1915

The Order of the Day

The hour of decision has arrived. German Social Democracy confronts a question that is of the greatest importance to the destiny of the German people and the future of the civilized world.

During the past few weeks, prominent personalities and influential groups have been giving voice to demands – if anything in even more radical form – for which certain sectors of the press, as well as organizations to which no particular importance had been attached, have systematically stirred up support. Programs are being drawn up that put the stamp of a war of conquest on the present war. It is still fresh in everyone’s memory that the President of the Prussian House of Lords, Wedel-Piesdorf, declared during the session on March 15, 1915: Germany is now the victor:

“And if we desired nothing more than to repel the attack by our enemies, I believe that it would not be at all difficult to obtain peace quickly. However, Germany cannot be satisfied with such a peace. After the frightful sacrifices that we have borne in men and material, we must demand more. We can sheathe our sword only once Germany has obtained guarantees that our neighbors will not again attack us in similar fashion.”

During the session of the Reichstag on May 29, 1915, Count von Westarp, the spokesman of the Conservative Party, and Schiffer, the spokesman of the National Liberal Party, bluntly announced annexationist demands. Westarp appealed to a declaration by the German Chancellor a day earlier, to the effect that Germany must establish all possible “real guarantees and assurances” that none of its enemies, “whether alone or in combination,” dare undertake another armed assault. The federal government has not repudiated this interpretation of the Chancellor’s words.

It has further become known that six large economic associations, led by the big-business Central League of German Industrialists and the militant agrarian organization, the Agrarian League, both of which have determined the direction of German policy so often in the past, presented a petition to the Chancellor on May 20, 1915, in which they demanded that Germany obtain a great colonial empire, a sufficient indemnity, and annexations in Europe, which, in the west alone, would force more than ten million people – over seven million Belgians and more than three million Frenchmen – under German rule. How they envisage this tyranny is clear from a sentence in the petition that specifies that government and administration in the annexed countries be so arranged that “the inhabitants have no influence on the destiny of the German Empire.” In other words, these forcefully annexed peoples are to be deprived of their political rights and kept impotent. The petition also demands that all possessions that secure economic and social influence “be transferred into German hands” – in the west this means ownership in particular of all great industrial enterprises, and in the east it means ownership of medium and large landed estates.

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