The Psychology of Socialism

Book 3: Socialism As Affected By Race
Chapter 1: Socialism in Germany

Gustave Le Bon

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1. The theoretical bases of Socialism in Germany :-The scientific forms of German Socialism-Difference between the fundamental principles of German and Latin Socialism-Latin rationalism, and the evolutionist conception of the world-Starting from different fundamental principles, German and Latin Socialism arrive at practically identical conclusions. 2. The modern evolution of Socialism in Germany :-The artificial means by which Germany has arrived at a Socialist concept identical with that of the Latin races-Transformations produced in the German mind by the universal military régime -- The progressive absorption by the State in Germany-The present transformation of Socialism in Germany-The old theories abandoned-German Socialism tends to assume an anodyne form.


IT is in Germany that Socialism has to-day made the greatest strides, above all among the middle and upper classes. The history of Socialism in Germany is altogether beyond the scope of this volume, and if I devote a few pages to it, I do so only because the evolution of Socialism in Germany might, at the first view, seem to contradict my theory of the strict relation which exists between the social conceptions of a nation and the mind of that nation. Between the minds of France and of Germany there are assuredly profound differences, and

(105) yet the Socialists of the two countries arrive at identical conceptions.

Before inquiring why the theorists of two so different C races should arrive at conclusions so similar, let us first observe in what manner the German methods of reasoning differ from those of the Latin theorists.

The Germans, after having been for a long time é inspired by French ideas, are now inspiring these ideas in their turn. Their provisional pontiff, for they change him often, is to-day Karl Marx. His task has principally consisted in attempting to give a scientific shape to very old and common ideas, borrowed, as a brilliant economist, M. Paul Deschanel, has very well shown, from French and English writers. This leaning towards a scientific spirit is a characteristic quality of the German Socialists, and entirely significant of the national mind. Far from regarding Socialism, as do their Latin equivalents, as an arbitrary organisation, able to establish and enforce itself here, there, and everywhere, they see in it only the inevitable development of economic evolution, and they profess an utter disdain of the geometrical constructions of our revolutionary rationalism. They teach that there are no more permanent economic laws than permanent natural laws, but only transitory forms. " Economic ideas are by no means logical ideas, but historical ideas." The value of social institutions is entirely relative, never absolute. Collectivism is a phase of evolution into which all societies, by the mere fact of modern economic evolution, must of necessity enter.

This evolutionist conception of the world is certainly as far removed as possible from the rationalism of the Latins, which, after the fashion of out fathers of the Revolution, wishes to destroy absolutely and absolutely to reconstruct society.


Although they have set out from different principles, in which may be found the fundamental characteristics of the two races, both German Socialists and Latin Socialists arrive exactly at the same conclusions--reconstruct society by making the State absorb it. The first desire to effect this reconstruction in the name of evolution, of which, they maintain, it is the consequence. The second wish to effect a demolition, in the name of reason. But the societies of the future appear to them in identical forms. Both profess the same hatred of private enterprise and capital, the same indifference towards liberty, the same craving for forming people into brigades, and for ruling them with an iron discipline. Both demand the destruction of the modern State ; but both would reconstruct it, immediately, under another name, with an administration which would differ from the modern State only in its possession of more extensive powers.


State Socialism is, among the Latin peoples, as I shall presently show, a consequence of their past ; of century on century of centralisation, and the progressive development of the central power. Among the Germans it is not precisely this ; they have been led to a conception of the duty of the State identical with that entertained by the Latin peoples by certain artificial factors. With them, this conception is the result of the transformation of character and conditions of life which has been effected during a century by the extension of the universal military régime. This by the more enlightened of the German writers, notably by Ziegler, has been perfectly recognised. The only means by which the mind, or at least the customs

(107) and the conduct of a nation, can be modified, is a rigid military discipline. It is the only means against which the individual is powerless to struggle. It makes him part of an hierarchy, and prohibits all sentiments of enterprise and independence. He may severely criticise its dogmas, but how can he dispute the orders of a chief who has the right of life and death over his subalterns, and can reply to the most humble observation by imprisonment ?

So long as it has not been universal, the military régime has constituted an admirable means of tyranny and conquest. It has been the strength of all the nations who have succeeded in developing it; none could have subsisted without it. But the present age has introduced universal military service. Instead of acting, as formerly, on a very small portion of the nation, it acts on the entire mind of the nation. One may study best its effects in countries where, as in Germany, it has reached its highest development. No discipline, not even of the convent, more completely sacrifices the individual to the community; none more nearly approaches the social type dreamed of by the Socialists. Prussian martinetry, in one century, has transformed Germany, and adapted her admirably to submit to State Socialism. I recommend those of our young professors who are in search of subjects a little less commonplace than those which too often content them to a study of the transformations effected, during the nineteenth century, in the social and political ideals of Germany, by the application of compulsory and universal military service.

Modern Germany, ruled by the Prussian monarchy, is not the product of the slow evolution of history ; its present unity was affected only by force of arms, after the Prussian victories over France and Austria. A large number of small kingdoms, formerly very prosperous,

(108) were suddenly united by Prussia, under a power practically absolute. It established, on the ruins of local and provincial life, a powerful centralisation, recalling that in France under Louis Quatorze and Napoleon. Such régime of centralisation must infallibly produce, before long, the effects which it everywhere has produced ; the destruction of local life, above all of intellectual life ; the destruction of private enterprise ; the progressive absorption of all functions by the State. History shows us that these great military monarchies prosper only when they have eminent men at their heads, and as these eminent men are rare they never prosper for very long.

The absorption of functions by the State has been the more easy in Germany, in that the Prussian monarchy, having acquired a great prestige by its successful wars, is able to exercise a power almost absolute, which is not the case in those countries whose Governments, destroyed by frequent revolutions, find many obstacles to the exercise of power. Germany to-day is the great centre of authoritativeness, and will not much longer be the home of any liberty whatever.

One readily understands how Socialism, which demands the wider and wider extension of the intervention of the State, should have found in Germany a soil excellently prepared. Its development could not have been displeasing to the government of a nation so hierarchical, so enregimented, as modern Germany. For a long time, accordingly, the Socialists were regarded with a very benevolent eye. They were protégés of Bismarck at first, and might have continued so, had they not finally become troublesome to the Government by a very maladroit opposition.

Since then they have slot been considered ; and as the German Empire is a military monarchy, very well able, despite its constitutional form, to become an absolute

(109) monarchy, the Socialists have been treated in an energetic and summary manner. In two years only, from 1894 to 1896, according to the Worwartz, the courts have inflicted on the Socialists, in press or political cases, penalties to the total sum of 226 years of imprisonment, and £1 z 2,000 in fines.

Whether it be that such radical proceedings have made the Socialists reflect, or simply that the gradual enslavement of the mind produced by a severe and universal military rule has made its imprint on the already very practical and highly disciplined mind of the German people, it is certain that to-day Socialism among the Germans is beginning to assume a very mild form. It is becoming opportunist, is establishing itself on an exclusively parliamentary footing, and renounces the immediate triumph of its principles.

The extinction of the capitalist classes and the suppression of monopoly no longer appears more than a theoretic ideal, whose realisation must be very distant. German Socialism teaches to-day that " as bourgeois society was not created in a day, it cannot be destroyed in a day." More and more it is tending towards union with the democratic movement in favour of the amelioration of the working classes, of which the most practical and surely the most useful result has been the development of co-operative associations of workmen.

I fear, therefore, that we must renounce the hope I have elsewhere expressed-the hope that the Germans might be the first to undergo the instructive experience of Socialism. Evidently they prefer to leave this task to the Latin races.

Moreover, it is not only in practice that the German Socialists are becoming more docile. Their theorists, formerly so absolute, so unbridled, are gradually abandoning the essential points of their doctrines. Collectivism

(110) itself, so powerful for so long, is now regarded as a somewhat frail and played-out Utopia, without real interest, though good enough perhaps for the thick-headed public. The German mind was undoubtedly too scientific and too practical not to see, finally, the singular poverty of the doctrine for which our French Socialists still preserve such a religious respect.

It is interesting to note the easy and rapid evolution of German Socialism, not only in the details of its theories, but in their most fundamental parts. For example Schultze Delitsch, who at one time possessed much influence, used to attach a great importance to the cooperative movement, which he thought of value "to habituate the people to rely on their own initiative for the bettering of their condition." Lasalle and all his followers have always upheld, on the contrary, that "what the people required above all was a more extensive recourse to the assistance of the State."

The doctrine of Schultze Delitsch represents the very negation of Socialism, unless we give the word the very vague and very general sense of the amelioration of the conditions of existence of the greater number. This doctrine is by no means honoured in Germany to-day. The appeal to individual initiative, on the contrary, is a characteristic of the peoples we are now going to consider.


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