The Role of Force in History

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Introductory note from MECW[edit source]

The Role of Force in History was intended for a pamphlet of the same title that Engels planned to write but did not complete. It was to become Chapter 4, a sequel to the three chapters of Anti-Dühring devoted to a critique of the theory of force. Engels planned to elaborate the main ideas of the three chapters mentioned above using German history between 1848 and 1888 as an example and to make a critical analysis of Bismarck’s policies. The work was begun late in 1887 and continued into the first months of 1888 (see Engels’ correspondence with Hermann Schlüter, head of a social-democratic publishing house, present edition, vols 47-48). Engels interrupted work in March 1888 and, most probably, never resumed it.

After Engels’ death, an envelope inscribed “The Theory of Force” was found in his archive. It contained the three chapters from Anti-Dühring, an unfinished manuscript of the fourth chapter of the planned pamphlet, a draft preface to it, a plan of the fourth chapter as a whole and one of its last part, which remained unwritten, as well as chronological notes on the history of Germany of the 1870s and 1880s, specifically excerpts from the book by

C. Bulle, Geschichte der neuesten Zeit, 1815-1885, 2 ed., vols I-IV, Berlin, 1888. The manuscript of the unfinished chapter, the rough draft of the preface and part of the preparatory materials were published by Eduard Bernstein in the Neue Zeit magazine, Vol. 1, Nos. 22-26, 1895-96 under the heading

“Gewalt und Oekonomie bei der Herstellung des neuen Deutschen Reichs”. Preparing the manuscript for publication, Bernstein divided it into sections in his own hand, supplying each with a subtitle invented by himself, marking the notes and actually making his own insertions in Engels’ text. Until recently, several pages (from the words “Alsace had been conquered”, this volume, p. 491 and up to the phrase “Bismark had reached his objective”, this volume, p. 497) were printed according to the Neue Zeit publication. Not long ago, when preparing Vol. 1/31 of MEGA, researchers in the GDR discovered the missing pages in the archive of the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam). In the present edition, this text is for the first time published according to the manuscript, which has made possible a number of corrections (this volume, pp. 493 and 494). In 1896, the work was translated into French and appeared in the Devenir Social, Nos. 6-9, together with the three pertinent chapters from Anti-Dühring. In 1898, this work was published in Russian, in an incomplete form, in St. Petersburg by the Nauchnoye Obozreniye (Scientific Review), No. 5. In 1899, it appeared in Rome in Italian as a separate edition, which completely followed the Neue Zeit.

The work was published in English for the first time in: F. Engels, The Role of Force in History. A study of Bismarck’s policy of blood and iron. Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1967.

Alongside of the manuscript of the fourth chapter of the pamphlet The Role of Force in History, this volume also features the rough draft of its preface and, in the section “From the Preparatory Materials” the plan of Chapter 4 as a whole and the plan of its final section which throws light on the content of the part of the work that remained unfinished.

🔍 See also : Rough Draft of the Preface.
🔍 See also : Plan of Chapter Four.

Chapter One. Why the German bourgeoisie turns to Prussia for national unification[edit source]

Let us now apply our theory to contemporary German history and its use of force, its policy of blood and iron. We shall clearly see from this why the policy of blood and iron was bound to be successful for a time and why it was bound to collapse in the end.

In 1815, the Vienna Congress had partitioned and sold off Europe in a manner which revealed to the whole world the complete ineptitude of the potentates and statesmen. The universal war of the peoples against Napoleon was the reaction of the national feeling of all the peoples which Napoleon had trampled on. In gratitude for this, the princes and diplomats at the Vienna Congress trampled still more contemptuously on that national feeling. The smallest dynasty was more esteemed than the largest nation. Germany and Italy were once again split up into small states, Poland partitioned for the fourth time and Hungary remained enslaved. It cannot even be said that an injustice was committed against the peoples; why did they tolerate it, and why did they greet the Russian Tsar as their liberator?

But this could not go on for long. Since the end of the Middle Ages, history has been working towards a Europe composed of large national states. Only such states are the normal political constitution of the ruling European bourgeoisie and, at the same time, an indispensable precondition for the establishment of harmonious international co-operation between peoples, without which the rule of the proletariat is impossible. To ensure international peace, all avoidable national friction must first be done away with, each people must be independent and master in their own house. With the advance of commerce, agriculture, industry and thereby of the social position of power enjoyed by the bourgeoisie, national feeling rose everywhere and partitioned and oppressed nations demanded unity and independence.

Hence the 1848 revolution was aimed everywhere except in France at satisfying national demands just as much as the demand for freedom. But behind the bourgeoisie, which had been victorious at the first attempt, there already arose everywhere the menacing figure of the proletariat, which had actually won the victory, and which drove the bourgeoisie into the arms of the just defeated enemy — monarchistic, bureaucratic, semi-feudal and military reaction to which the revolution succumbed in 1849. In Hungary, where this was not the case, the Russians invaded and crushed the revolution. Not content with this, the Russian Tsar went to Warsaw, where he sat in judgment as the arbiter of Europe. He appointed his obedient creature Christian of Glücksburg heir to the Danish throne. He humiliated Prussia as it had never been humiliated before, prohibiting it even the slightest craving to exploit the German aspirations for unity and forcing it to re-establish the Federal Diet and submit to Austria. At first sight it seemed that the whole result of the revolution was the establishment in Austria and Prussia of a system of government, constitutional in form, but in the old spirit, and that the Russian Tsar was master of Europe more than ever before.

In reality, however, the revolution had vigorously jostled the bourgeoisie even in the dismembered countries, notably in Germany, out of its old traditional rut. The bourgeoisie had received a share, however modest, of political power, and every political success of the bourgeoisie is used for industrial advance. The “crazy year”, which had fortunately passed, tangibly demonstrated to the bourgeoisie that it now had to put an end to the old lethargy and doziness once and for all. As a result of the Californian and Australian gold rush and other circumstances, an expansion of world trade contacts and a business boom set in as never before — it was a matter of seizing the opportunity and making sure of one’s share. The large-scale industry which had appeared since 1830, and particularly since 1840, on the Rhine, in Saxony, in Silesia, in Berlin and some towns in the south, was now rapidly developed and expanded, cottage industry in rural districts became increasingly widespread, railway construction was accelerated, while the rapidly increasing flow of emigrants which accompanied all this gave rise to a German transatlantic steamship service which required no subsidies. German merchants settled in all overseas trade centres on a wider scale than ever before, handled an ever growing share of world trade and gradually began to offer their services for the sale not only of English, but also of German industrial products.

But the German system of small states with their numerous and varied trade and industrial laws inevitably soon became an unbearable fetter on vigorously growing industry and the trade associated with it. Every few miles a different law governed bills of exchange, there were different trade conditions; everywhere, literally everywhere, there were different sorts of chicanery, bureaucratic and fiscal traps, and often also guild barriers against which even licences were powerless in addition there were many different local settlement laws and residence restrictions which made it impossible for the capitalists to move the labour force at their disposal in sufficient numbers to places where the availability of ore, coal, water power and other favourable natural conditions called for the siting of industrial enterprises. The ability to exploit the massive labour force of the Fatherland without hindrance was the first condition for industrial development, but wherever the patriotic manufacturer gathered workers from all parts, the police and the poor administration opposed the settlement of the new arrivals. All-German civic rights and full freedom of movement for all citizens of the Empire, a uniform body of commercial and industrial law were no longer patriotic fantasies of eccentric students, they had now become vital conditions for industry.

Besides, there were different currencies, different weights and measures in every state, no matter how small, and often there were two or three in a single state. And not a single one of these innumerable kinds of coins, weights and measures was recognised on the world market. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that merchants and manufacturers who traded on the world market or had to compete against imported articles, had, in addition to the many coins, weights and measures, to use also foreign ones; that cotton yarn was reeled in English pounds, silk cloth was produced in metres, foreign bills were issued in pounds sterling, dollars and francs. And how could large credit institutions be set up in these limited currency zones with banknotes here in gulden, there in Prussian talers, next to them in gold talers, “new two-third” talers, bank marks, current marks, the twenty-gulden system, the twenty-four-gulden system, with endless exchange computations and rate fluctuations?

And even if all this was finally overcome, how much effort had been spent on all this friction, how much money and time had been wasted! Finally, in Germany too, people became aware that nowadays time is money.

The fledgling German industry had to stand the test on the world market, it could grow only through export. For this it had to enjoy abroad the protection of international law. The English, French, American merchant could still take somewhat greater liberties abroad than at home. His legation intervened on his behalf, and, if need be, even a few men-of-war. But the German! In the Levant the Austrian at least could rely to some extent on his legation, elsewhere it did not help him much either. But whenever a Prussian merchant in a foreign land complained to his ambassador about an injustice he had suffered, he was almost always told: “Serves you right, what do you want here, why don’t you stay well at home?” The subject of a small state was well and truly deprived of all rights everywhere. Wherever one went, German merchants were under foreign — French, English or American — protection, or else had quickly got themselves naturalised in their new country. Even if their ambassadors had wished to intervene on their behalf, what would have been the use? German ambassadors themselves were treated no better than boot-blacks overseas.

This shows that the call for a united “Fatherland” had a very material background. It was no longer the obscure urge of a member of a Burschenschaft at the Wartburg festival, “where courage and power burned bright in German souls”, and where, as in the song set to a French tune, “the young mars was carried away by a tempestuous striving to go and die fighting for the Fatherland, in order to restore the romantic imperial grandeur of the Middle Ages, while in his older days the tempestuous youth became a common sanctimonious and absolutist vassal of his prince. Neither was it any longer the considerably more down-to-earth call for unity of the lawyers and other bourgeois ideologists of the Hambach festival, who thought they loved freedom and unity for their own sake and did not at all notice that the turning of Germany into a cantonal republic after the Swiss pattern, which the ideal of the least muddled among them amounted to, was just as impossible as the Hohenstaufen Empire of the students mentioned above. No, it was the desire of the practical merchant and industrialist arising out of immediate business needs to sweep away all the historically inherited small state junk which was obstructing the free development of commerce and industry, to abolish all the unnecessary friction the German businessman first had to overcome at home if he wished to enter the world market, and to which all his competitors were superior. German unity had become an economic necessity. And the people who now demanded it knew what they wanted. They had been educated in commerce and for commerce, knew how to drive a bargain and were willing to bargain. They knew that it was necessary to demand a high price but also that it was necessary to reduce it liberally. They sang of the “German Fatherland” including in it Styria, the Tyrol and “Austria rich in honours and victories”, and

From the Maas to the Memel,

From the River Adige to the Belt

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,

Over everything in the world —

but for a payment in cash they were prepared to grant a considerable discount — from 25 to 30 per cent — on that Fatherland that was to become ever greater. Their plan for unification was ready and immediately practicable.

German unity, however, was not a purely German question. Since the Thirty Years’ War, not a single all-German issue had been decided without very perceptible foreign interferences. Frederick II had conquered Silesia in 1740 with the help of the French. The reorganisation of the Holy Roman Empire by decision of the Imperial Deputation in 1803 had literally been dictated by France and Russia. After that, Napoleon had organised Germany to suit his convenience. And finally, at the Vienna Congress, it was again mainly owing to Russia and in the second place to England and France that it was shattered into thirty-six states with over two hundred separate large and small patches of land, and, just as at the 1802-03 Imperial Diet in Regensburg, the German dynasties had veritably assisted in this and made the fragmentation still worse. In addition, some parts of Germany had been, handed over to foreign sovereigns. Thus, Germany was not only powerless and helpless, torn by internal strife, condemned to political, military and even industrial insignificance. What was much worse, France and Russia had by repeated usage acquired a right to the fragmentation of Germany, just as France and Austria arrogated the right to see that Italy remained dismembered. This alleged right was invoked in 1850 by Tsar Nicholas when, refusing in the coarsest manner to allow any change in the constitution without authorisation, he endorsed the restoration of that expression of Germany’s impotence, the Federal Diet.

Germany’s unity therefore had to be won in struggle not only against the princes and other internal enemies, but also against foreign countries. Or else — with help from abroad. What was the situation abroad at that time?

In France, Louis Bonaparte had utilised the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the working class to raise himself with the help of the peasants into the office of President and with the help of the army to the imperial throne. But a new Emperor Napoleon, one placed on the throne by the army within the borders of the France of 1815, was a still-born chimera. The resurrected Napoleonic empire meant the extension of France to the Rhine, the realisation of the hereditary dream of French chauvinism. At first, however, the Rhine was beyond Louis Bonaparte’s reach; every attempt in that direction would have led to a European coalition against France. On the other hand, there was an opportunity to enhance France’s position of power and to win fresh laurels for the army by waging in agreement with almost the whole of Europe a war against Russia, which had made use of the revolutionary period in Western Europe to occupy on the quiet the Danubian principalities and to prepare for a new war of conquest against Turkey. England entered into alliance with France, Austria showed good will towards both, only heroic Prussia kissed the Russian rod which had chastised it only but yesterday, and continued to maintain a pro-Russian neutrality. But neither England nor France wished a serious defeat of the enemy, and the war thus ended in very mild humiliation for Russia and a Russo-French alliance against Austria.

[The Crimean War was an unparalleled, colossal comedy of errors, where one wondered at every new scene: who will be cheated this time? But that comedy took a toll of uncountable wealth and over a million human lives. No sooner had the war begun than Austria invaded the Danubian principalities; the Russians retreated before them. This made a war against Turkey on Russia’s land frontier impossible so long as Austria remained neutral. However, Austria was willing to become an ally in a war on this frontier on condition that the war was waged in all seriousness to restore Poland and permanently push back Russia’s western border. This would also have brought in Prussia, through which Russia was still getting all imports; Russia would have been blockaded by land and by sea and would soon have been defeated. This, however, did not enter the plans of the allies. On the contrary, they were glad to have escaped the danger of a serious war. Palmerston proposed that the theatre of war be transferred to the Crimea — which was what Russia desired — and Louis Napoleon gladly agreed. Here the war could only be a sham one, and so all the protagonists were satisfied. However, Tsar Nicholas took it into his head to wage a serious war and forgot at the same time that this was most favourable country for a sham war but most unfavourable for a serious war. What is Russia’s strength in defence — the immense extent of its territory, sparsely populated, roadless and poor in auxiliary resources — in the event of any Russian offensive war turns against Russia itself, and nowhere more than in the Crimean direction. The South Russian steppes, which were to become the graves of the invaders, became the graves of the Russian armies, whom Nicholas, with brutal and stupid ruthlessness, drove one after another — finally in mid-winter — into Sebastopol. When the last hurriedly recruited, haphazardly equipped and miserably provisioned army lost about two-thirds of its number (whole battalions perished in snowstorms) and the rest was unable to drive the enemy from Russian soil, arrogant, empty-headed Nicholas miserably broke down and poisoned himself. From then on, the war once again became a sham war and peace was soon concluded.]

The Crimean War made France Europe’s leading power and the adventurer Louis Napoleon the greatest man of the day, which, to be sure, does not mean much. However, the Crimean War had not brought France any territorial expansion and was therefore pregnant with a new war, in which Louis Napoleon was to fulfil his true mission, that of “aggrandiser of the empire”. This new war had already been planned during the first one, since Sardinia was allowed to join the alliance of the Western powers as a satellite of imperial France and especially as its outpost against Austria; further preparations were made during the conclusion of peace by Louis Napoleon’s agreement with Russia, who wanted nothing more than to chastise Austria.

Louis Napoleon was now the idol of the European bourgeoisie. Not only because he had “saved society” on December 2, 1851 when he destroyed the political rule of the bourgeoisie, it is true, but only to save its social rule. Not only because he showed that, under favourable circumstances, universal suffrage could be turned into an instrument for the oppression of the masses. Not only because, under his rule, industry and trade and notably speculation and stock exchange machinations advanced to a degree previously unknown. But, first and foremost, because the bourgeoisie saw in him the first “great statesman”, who was flesh of their flesh, and bone of their bone. He was an upstart like every true bourgeois. “A dyed in the wool” Carbonari conspirator in Italy, an artillery officer in Switzerland, a debt-burdened tramp of distinction and special constable in England, yet constantly and everywhere a pretender to the throne, he had prepared himself by his adventurous past and moral failings in all countries for the role of Emperor of the French and ruler of the destinies of Europe, as the exemplary bourgeois, the American, prepares himself by a series of bankruptcies, genuine and fraudulent, for the role of millionaire. As Emperor he not only made politics serve the interests of capitalist profits and stock exchange machinations, but also pursued politics entirely according to the rules of the stock exchange and speculated on the “nationalities principle”. In France’s previous policy the fragmentation of Germany and Italy had been an inalienable fundamental right of France; Louis Napoleon immediately began to sell off that fundamental right bit by bit for so-called compensations. He was ready to help Italy and Germany do away with their fragmentation, provided Germany and Italy paid him for every step towards national union by ceding territory. This not only satisfied French chauvinism and gradually expanded the empire to its 1801 borders but, in addition, restored to France the exclusive role of enlightened power and the liberator of the peoples, and depicted Louis Napoleon as the protector of oppressed nationalities. And the whole enlightened bourgeoisie, enthusiastic for national ideas — because it was deeply interested in the removal of all obstacles to business on the world market — unanimously exulted in this world-liberating enlightenment.

The beginning was made in Italy. Austria had exercised absolute rule there since 1849, and Austria was then the scapegoat for the whole of Europe. The meagre results of the Crimean War were not ascribed to the indecision of the Western powers, which had only wanted a sham war, but to Austria’s irresolute attitude, for which no one had been more to blame than the Western powers themselves. But the advance of the Austrians to the Pruth — in gratitude for Russia’s assistance in Hungary in 1849 -aggrieved Russia so much (although it was precisely that advance which had saved Russia), that it looked with joy upon every attack on Austria. Prussia no longer counted and had already been treated en canaille at the Paris Peace Congress. Thus, the war for the liberation of Italy “up to the Adriatic” was contrived with Russia’s participation, launched in the spring of 1859 and completed in the summer on the Mincio. Austria was not driven out of Italy, Italy was not “free up to the Adriatic” and not united, Sardinia had extended its territory, but France had acquired Savoy and Nice and thus re-established its 1801 frontier with Italy.

However, the Italians were not satisfied with this state of affairs. At that time, manufacture proper was still predominant in Italy, large-scale industry being as yet in its infancy. The working class was far from fully expropriated and proletarianised; in the towns, it still had its own means of production, in rural areas, industrial labour was a side-line occupation of small peasant owners or tenants. The energy of the bourgeoisie had therefore not yet been broken by opposition to a modern class-conscious proletariat. And since the fragmentation of Italy was preserved only as a result of foreign rule by the Austrians, under whose protection the princes carried their misgovernment to the extreme, the big landed nobility and the mass of the townspeople sided with the bourgeoisie as the champion of national independence. However, foreign rule was thrown off, except in Venetia, in 1859; Austria’s further intervention in Italy was made impossible by France and Russia and nobody was afraid of it any longer. In Garibaldi, Italy had a hero of ancient dignity, who was able to work wonders and did work wonders. With a thousand volunteers, he overthrew the entire Kingdom of Naples, in fact united Italy, and tore to pieces the ingenious web of Bonapartist politics. Italy was free and essentially united — though not by Louis Napoleon’s intrigues, but by the revolution.

Since the Italian war, the foreign policy of the Second French Empire was no longer a secret to anybody. The conquerors of the great Napoleon were to be punished — but l'un après l'autre, one after another. Russia and Austria had received their share, Prussia was next in turn. And Prussia was despised more than ever before; its policy during the Italian war had been cowardly and wretched, just as at the time of the Basle Peace in 1795. With its “free-hand policy” it had reached a point when it stood absolutely isolated in Europe, and its neighbours, big and small, anticipated with pleasure the spectacle of its being given a thrashing; its hands were free for one thing only — to cede the left bank of the Rhine to France.

Indeed, in the years immediately following 1859, the conviction grew everywhere, and nowhere more than on the Rhine, that the left bank would irretrievably be lost to France. Not that this was particularly desired, but it was regarded as an inescapable fate, and, to tell the truth, it was not particularly feared. Old memories of French times, which had really brought liberty, were aroused in the peasant and petty bourgeois; among the bourgeoisie, the finance aristocracy, especially in Cologne, was already deeply involved in the machinations of the Parisian Crédit Mobilier and other fraudulent Bonapartist companies and loudly demanded annexation.

[Marx and I repeatedly saw on the spot that this was the general mood on the Rhine at that time. Industrialists on the left bank asked me, inter alia, how their industry would fare under the French customs tariff.]

However, the loss of the left bank of the Rhine would weaken not only Prussia, but Germany too. And Germany was more divided than ever before. There was greater estrangement thari ever between Austria and Prussia owing to Prussia’s neutrality in the Italian war; the brood of small princes cast half scared, half longing looks at Louis Napoleon as protector of a renewed Confederation of the Rhine — such was the position of official Germany. And that at a time when only the united forces of the entire nation were capable of averting the danger of dismemberment.

But how could the forces of the entire nation be united? After the attempts of 1848 — almost all of them hazy — had failed and some of the haze was dispelled precisely because of this, three roads lay open.

The first road was that of genuine unification through the abolition of all individual states, that is, the openly revolutionary road. This road had just led Italy to its goal; the Savoy dynasty had joined the revolution and thereby walked off with the Italian crown. However, our German Savoyans, the Hohenzollerns, and even their most daring Cavours à la Bismarck, were altogether unable to take such a courageous step. The people would have had to do everything themselves — and in a war over the left bank of the Rhine they would have probably been able to do the necessary. The inevitable retreat of the Prussians beyond the Rhine, a protracted war at the fortifications on the Rhine, and the betrayal by the South German princes that would undoubtedly ensue, would have been sufficient to fan up a national movement which would have swept away the entire dynastic system. In that case, Louis Napoleon would have been the first to sheathe the sword. The Second Empire could afford to have opponents only among reactionary states against which it appeared as the continuer of the French revolution, the liberator of the peoples. It was powerless against a people themselves embroiled in revolution, in fact, a victorious German revolution could have provided the impetus for the overthrow of the entire French Empire. That was at best; at worst, if the dynastic princes got the better of the movement, the left bank of the Rhine would be temporarily lost to France, the active and passive betrayal of the dynastic princes would be revealed to the whole world and would create a predicament in which there would be no way out for Germany but that of revolution, the eviction of all the princes, the establishment of a united German republic.

As things stood, this road to the union of Germany could be taken only if Louis Napoleon began a war over the border on. the Rhine. But, for reasons we shall soon explain, this war did not take place. As a result, however, the issue of national union also ceased to be a vital question, one that had to be settled immediately under pain of destruction. For the time being, the nation could wait.

The second road was that of a union under Austrian supremacy. In 1815, Austria had willingly retained the position of a state with a compact, rounded-off territory, which had been imposed on it by the Napoleonic wars. It laid no claim to the former possessions in South Germany which it had ceded. It was content with annexing old and new territories which could be matched geographically and strategically with the remaining nucleus of the monarchy. The separation of German Austria from the rest of Germany, begun by the protective tariffs of Joseph II, aggravated by the police regime of Francis I in Italy, and carried to the extreme by the disintegration of the German empire and by the Confederation of the Rhine, continued for all practical purposes ever after 1815. Metternich built a veritable Chinese Wall between his state and Germany. Tariffs kept out the material, censorship the intellectual products of Germany, the most incredible chicanery with regard to passports limited personal contacts to the barest minimum. The country was protected domestically against any, even the mildest, political stirring by an absolutist tyranny unique even in Germany. Thus, Austria had remained absolutely aloof from Germany’s entire bourgeois-liberal movement. By 1848, at least the intellectual barrier was torn down to a large extent, but the events of that year and their consequences were hardly fitted to bring Austria closer to the rest of Germany. On the contrary, Austria more and more insisted on its independent position as a great power. And thus it happened that, although the Austrian soldiers in the fortresses of the Confederation were liked, while the Prussians were hated and derided, and although Austria was still popular and respected throughout the predominantly Catholic South and West, no one thought seriously of German unification under Austrian supremacy, except perhaps a few princes from the small and medium German states.

Nor could it be otherwise. Austria itself had not wanted it any other way, even though it continued on the quiet to cherish romantic dreams of an empire. The Austrian customs barrier had in time become the only remaining material partition within Germany, and was therefore felt all the more acutely. There was no sense in the independent great power policy if it did not mean a sacrifice of German interests to specifically Austrian, that is, Italian, Hungarian, etc., interests. After, as before the revolution, Austria continued to be the most reactionary state in Germany, the most reluctant to follow modern trends, and, besides, the only remaining specifically Catholic great power. The more the post-March government strove to re-establish the old management of priests and Jesuits, the more impossible became its hegemony over a country which was one to two-thirds Protestant. And, finally, a unification of Germany under Austria was only possible through the breaking-up of Prussia. Although this in itself would have been no calamity for Germany, the breaking-up of Prussia by Austria would have been just as harmful as the breaking-up of Austria by Prussia before the imminent triumph of the revolution in Russia (after which it would become superfluous, because the now redundant Austria would disintegrate of itself).

In short, German unity under Austria’s wing was a romantic dream and proved such when the German princes of the small and medium states assembled in Frankfurt in 1863 to proclaim Francis Joseph of Austria emperor of Germany. The King of Prussia simply did not show up and the emperor comedy was a flop.

There remained the third road: unification under Prussia’s supremacy. And because this road was actually taken, it leads us from the field of speculation onto the more solid, even if rather filthy, ground of practical “Realpolitik”.

Since Frederick II, Prussia had regarded Germany, as also Poland, merely as territory to be conquered, from which one took what one could get, on the understanding, however, that one had to share with others. The division of Germany with foreign countries, notably with France, had been Prussia’s “German mission” since 1740. “Je vais, je cross, jouer votre jeu; si les as me viennent, nous partagerons” (I think I am going to play your game; if I am dealt the aces, we shall share them) — such were Frederick’s parting words to the French ambassador, when he went off to his first war. True to this “German mission”, Prussia betrayed Germany in 1795 when the peace was signed in Basle, agreed in advance (in the Treaty of August 5, 1796) to cede the left bank of the Rhine to France in return for a promise of territorial expansion, and actually collected the reward for its treason against the Empire under a decision of the imperial deputation dictated by Russia and France. Again in 1805, it betrayed Russia and Austria, its allies, when Napoleon held up Hanover to it — a bait it was always willing to swallow, but became so entangled in its own stupid cunning that it was drawn into war with Napoleon after all and received a well-deserved thrashing at Jena. Still under the impression of these blows, Frederick William III was willing, even after the victories of 1813 and 1814, to forego all West German outposts, to confine himself to the possession of North-East Germany, to withdraw, like Austria, as much as possible from Germany — which would have transformed the whole of West Germany into a new Confederation of the Rhine under Russian or French protection. The plan failed: Westphalia and the Rhine Province were forced upon the King against his will, and with them a new “German mission”.

For the time being, it was over with annexations — except for the purchase of some tiny patches of land. At home, the old bureaucratic Junker system gradually began to flourish again; the constitutional promises made to the people in times of great distress were persistently broken. Yet in spite of all that, the bourgeoisie was increasingly in the ascendant in Prussia too, because without industry and trade even the haughty Prussian state was now nothing. Slowly, unwillingly, in homeopathic doses, economic concessions had to be made to the bourgeoisie. In a way, these concessions offered a prospect of support for Prussia’s “German mission": since Prussia, to remove the foreign customs barriers between its two parts, invited the neighbouring German states to form a customs union. Thus came into existence the Customs Union which, up to 1830, had been no more than a pious wish (only Hesse-Darmstadt had joined), but later, as a result of the somewhat quicker rate of political and economic development, joined the greater part of inner Germany economically to Prussia. The non-Prussian coastal regions remained outside the Union even after 1848.

The Customs Union was a major success for Prussia. The fact that it meant a victory over Austrian influence was hardly the crux of the matter. The main thing was that it won over the entire bourgeoisie of the medium and small states to Prussia’s side. With the exception of Saxony, there was no German state whose industry had developed to a degree even approaching Prussia’s, and this was due not only to natural and historical preconditions, but also to its bigger customs area and internal market. The more the Customs Union expanded, and the more it drew small states into this internal market, the more the rising bourgeoisie of these states became used to regarding Prussia as its economic and later also political leader, and the professors danced to the tune of the bourgeoisie. What the Hegelians construed philosophically in Berlin — namely that Prussia was called upon to assume leadership in Germany, Schlosser’s pupils, notably Häusser and Gervinus, demonstrated historically in Heidelberg. This naturally presupposed that Prussia would change its entire political system, that it would fulfil the demands of the ideologists of the bourgeoisie. [The Rheinische Zeitung of 1842 discussed the question of Prussia’s hegemony from this viewpoint. Gervinus told me as early as the summer of 1843 in Ostend: Prussia must assume leadership in Germany, but this presupposes three conditions: Prussia must provide a constitution, grant freedom of the press and pursue a more definite foreign policy.]

All this, however, happened not because there was any special bias in favour of the Prussian state, as was the case, for example, when the Italian bourgeoisie accepted Piedmont as the leading state after it had openly placed itself at the head of the national and constitutional movement. No, it was done reluctantly, the bourgeoisie chose Prussia as the lesser evil, because Austria barred them from its market and because, compared with Austria, Prussia still had a certain bourgeois nature, if only because of its meanness in financial matters. Prussia had two good institutions ahead of other large states: universal conscription and universal compulsory education. It had introduced them in times of desperate need, and in better days had been content with emptying them of their content — dangerous under certain circumstances — by negligently enforcing them and deliberately distorting them. But they continued to exist on paper, and this gave Prussia the possibility some day to unfold the latent potential energy of the masses to a degree unattainable in any other place with the same population. The bourgeoisie reconciled itself to these two institutions: around 1840 it was easy and comparatively cheap for the one-year conscripts, that is, for the sons of the bourgeois, to evade service by bribery, especially as the army itself attached little value to Landwehr officers recruited from merchant and industrial circles. The undoubtedly larger number of people with a certain amount of elementary knowledge still available in Prussia as a result of compulsory education was highly useful for the bourgeoisie; with the advance of large-scale industry it ultimately even became insufficient. [Even during the Kulturkampf days, Rhenish industrialists complained to me that they could not promote otherwise excellent workers to the job of supervisor because of the insufficiency of their knowledge acquired at school. This was particularly true in Catholic regions.] The complaints over the high cost of the two institutions, expressed in heavy taxation, were made predominantly by the petty bourgeoisie; the ascendant bourgeoisie calculated that the annoying, to be sure, but unavoidable expenditure connected with the country’s future position as a great power would be amply compensated by higher profits.

In short, the German bourgeois had no illusions about Prussian kindness. If the idea of Prussian hegemony had become popular with them since 1840, it was only because and insofar as the Prussian bourgeoisie, owing to its quicker economic development, assumed the economic and political leadership of the German bourgeoisie, only because and insofar as the Rottecks and Weickers of the old constitutional South were eclipsed by the Camphausens, Hansemanns and Mildes of the Prussian North, and the lawyers and professors were eclipsed by the merchants and manufacturers. Indeed, in the years just preceding 1848. there had developed among Prussian liberals, especially on the Rhine, a quite different revolutionary atmosphere from that of the cantonalist liberals of the South. At that time there appeared the two best political folk songs since the 16th century, the song about Burgomaster Tschech and the one about the Baroness von Droste-Fischering, whose wantonness appals the now aged people who in 1846 gaily sang:

Has ever man had such hard luck

As our poor Burgomaster Tschech,

He shot at Fatty two paces away

And yet his bullet went astray!

But all this was soon to change. The February revolution was followed by the March days in Vienna and the Berlin revolution of March 18. The bourgeoisie triumphed without having to put up a serious fight, it did not even want the serious fight when it came. The bourgeoisie, which shortly before had flirted with the socialism and communism of the time (notably on the Rhine), suddenly noticed that it had reared not only individual workers, but a working class, a still half-dreaming, it is true, but gradually awakening and, by its innate nature, revolutionary proletariat. This proletariat, which had everywhere won the victory for the bourgeoisie, was already advancing demands, particularly in France, which were incompatible with the entire bourgeois system; in Paris the first terrible struggle between the two classes took place on June 23, 1848, and after a four-day battle the proletariat was defeated. From then on, the mass of the bourgeoisie in the whole of Europe went over to the side of reaction and allied itself with the absolutist bureaucrats, feudals and priests, whom it had just overthrown with the help of the workers, against the enemies of society, those very same workers.

The form this took in Prussia was that the bourgeoisie left in the lurch the representatives it had itself elected and, with concealed or overt glee, sat by and watched them being dispersed by the government in November 1848. True, the Junker-bureaucratic ministry, which now asserted itself in Prussia for nigh on a decade, had to rule according to constitutional forms, but it avenged itself by resorting to a system of petty vexations and obstructions, unprecedented even in Prussia, under which no one suffered more than the bourgeoisie. But the latter had retired penitently into its shell and meekly submitted to the blows and kicks raining down on it as a punishment for its former revolutionary cravings, and gradually learned to think what it later was to express aloud: Yes, to be sure, we are dogs!

Then came the regency. To prove his loyalty to the throne Manteuffel surrounded the heir apparent, the present emperor, with spies, just at Puttkamer now does the editorial office of the Sozialdemokrat. When the heir apparent became regent, Manteuffel, of course, was immediately kicked out and the New Era set in. It was only a change of scenery. The prince regent deigned to allow the bourgeoisie to be liberal again. The bourgeoisie gladly availed themselves of this permission, but they deluded themselves that they were now in full control of the situation and that the Prussian state would have to dance to their tune. That was by no means what was intended by the “authoritative circles”, as they are servilely called. The reorganisation of the army was to be the price the liberal bourgeoisie had to pay for the New Era. The government demanded only the implementation of universal conscription to the extent to which it had been practised around 1816. From the viewpoint of the liberal opposition, absolutely nothing could be said against it that would not at the same time have flown in the face of its own talk about Prussia’s authority and its German mission. But the liberal opposition demanded as a condition for its consent that the term of service be limited by law to two years. In itself this was quite rational, the question was whether it could be enforced, whether the liberal bourgeoisie of the country were prepared to insist on this condition to the end, to risk their property and their lives. The government firmly insisted on a three years’ term of service, the Chamber on two, and a conflict broke out. And with the conflict over the military question, foreign policy once again became decisive for domestic policy too.

We have seen how Prussia, by its stance in the Crimean and Italian wars, forfeited the last remnants of respect it had still enjoyed. That miserable policy could be partially justified by the poor state of its army. Since even before 1848, new taxes could not be imposed or new loans taken out without the consent of the estates, and since no one was willing to assemble the estates for this purpose, there never was enough money for the army, which went to ruin as a result of this boundless niggardliness. The spirit of parade and military drill that had prevailed under Frederick William III did the rest. How helpless this parade army showed itself in 1848 on the battlefields in Denmark can be read in the writings of Count Waldersee. The mobilisation of 1850 was a complete fiasco; there was a shortage of everything, and what was available was mostly useless. True, the voting of funds by the Chambers helped in this respect, the army was shaken out of the old rut, field service replaced parades, at least in most cases. But the numerical strength of the army was still the same as it had been around 1820, while all other great powers, notably France, which now presented the main danger, had substantially increased their armed forces. And yet there was universal conscription in Prussia, on paper every Prussian was a soldier, and while the population had grown from 10 1/2 million (1817) to 17 3/4 million (1858), the scale of the army was insufficient to accommodate and train more than a third of all the men fit for service. The government now demanded an increase in the army’s strength corresponding almost exactly to the population growth since 1817. But the same liberal deputies who had been continually insisting on the government assuming the leadership of Germany, safeguarding its external power, and restoring its prestige among the nations — these same people higgled and haggled and refused to grant anything except on the basis of a two-year term of service. Did they possess the power to accomplish their will, on which they so stubbornly insisted? Did the people, or at least the bourgeoisie, back them, ready for action?

Quite the reverse. The bourgeoisie exulted in their verbal battles with Bismarck but actually organised a movement which, even if unconsciously, was in fact directed against the policy of the majority in the Prussian Chamber. Denmark’s encroachments upon the Holstein constitution and the attempts at a forcible Danification of Schleswig made the German bourgeois indignant. He was used to being bullied by the great powers; but to be kicked by little Denmark, that roused his ire. The National Association was formed; it was precisely the bourgeoisie of the small states that constituted its strength. And the National Association, liberal to the bone as it was, demanded first and foremost national unification under Prussia’s leadership, a liberal Prussia if possible, a Prussia the same as ever if it came to the worst. Getting a move on at long last, doing away with the wretched position of second-rank people the Germans held on the world market, chastising Denmark, showing their teeth to the great powers in Schleswig-Holstein, those were the main demands of the National Association. The demand for Prussian leadership was now free of the vagueness and haziness which had still characterised it up to 1850. It was now known for sure that it meant Austria’s expulsion from Germany, the actual abolition of the sovereignty of small states, and that neither could be achieved without civil war and the division of Germany. But there was no longer any fear of civil war and the division was no more than the conclusion drawn from the Austrian customs restrictions. Germany’s industry and trade had advanced to such a height, the network of German trading firms that spanned the world market had become so extensive and dense, that the proliferation of small states at home and the lack of rights and protection abroad had become intolerable. And while the strongest political organisation the German bourgeoisie had ever had practically gave a vote of no confidence in the Berlin deputies, the latter continued to haggle over the term of service.

Such was the state of affairs when Bismarck decided to intervene actively in foreign politics.

Chapter Two. How Bismarck made Prussia a great power[edit source]

Bismarck is Louis Napoleon translated from the adventurous French pretender to the throne into the Prussian backwoods Junker and member of the German students’ association. Just like Louis Napoleon, Bismarck is a man of great practical judgment and great cunning, a born and sharp businessman, who in different circumstances would have competed on the New York stock exchange with the Vanderbilts and Jay Goulds; indeed, he has not badly succeeded in feathering his nest. But this advanced sense of the practical often goes hand in hand with a corresponding narrowness of outlook, and in this respect Bismarck excels his French predecessor. The latter had himself worked out his “Napoleonic ideas” during his vagabond years — of which they bore the stamp — while Bismarck, as we shall see, never managed to produce even a hint of any political ideas of his own but always combined the ready-made ideas of others to suit his own purposes. However, precisely this narrow-mindedness was his good fortune. Without it he would never have been able to regard the entire history of the world from a specific Prussian point of view; and if in this typically Prussian world outlook of his there had been a rent through which daylight could penetrate, he would have bungled his entire mission and it would have been the end of his glory. True, he was stumped when he had fulfilled, in his own way, his special mission dictated to him from outside, and we shall see what leaps he was forced to make because of his absolute lack of rational ideas and his inability to understand the historical situation he himself had created.

If Louis Napoleon’s past had taught him to show little consideration in the choice of methods, Bismarck learned from the history of Prussian politics, notably from those of the so-called Great Elector and of Frederick II, to have even less regard for scruples, though here he could retain the exalting awareness of having remained true to the traditions of the Fatherland. His business sense taught him to repress his Junker appetites when this was necessary; when no longer necessary, they once again came sharply to the fore; this was, of course, a sign of his decline.

His political method was that of the students’ association, the comically literal interpretation of the students’ beer drinking code designed to get them out of a scrape in their pub, and he used it unceremoniously in the Chamber in respect of the Prussian constitution; all innovations he introduced in diplomacy were borrowed from the students’ association. But if Louis Napoleon often hesitated in decisive moments, as, for example, during the coup d'état in 1851, when Morny positively had to force him to complete what he had begun, or on the eve of the 1870 war, when his uncertainty spoiled his whole position, it must be admitted that this never happened with Bismarck. His willpower never abandoned him, it was much more likely to turn into open brutality. And this, more than anything else, was the secret of his success. All the ruling classes in Germany, the Junkers and the bourgeoisie, had so much lost the last remnants of energy, it had become so much the custom in “educated” Germany to have no will, that the only man among them who really still possessed one became, precisely because of this, the greatest man among them and a tyrant over them all, at whose bidding they were ready to “jump over the stick”, as they themselves call it, against their better judgment and their conscience. True, in the “uneducated” Germany things have not yet reached such a pass; the working people have shown that they possess a will against which even Bismarck’s strong will is unable to prevail.

A brilliant career lay before our Brandenburg Junker, if only he had the courage and sense to help himself to it. Had not Louis Napoleon become the idol of the bourgeoisie precisely because he dispersed their parliament while raising their profits? And did not Bismarck possess the same business talents which the bourgeois admired so much in the false Napoleon? Was he not attracted to his Bleichröder as much as Louis Napoleon to his Fould? Was there not in 1864 a contradiction in Germany between the bourgeois representatives in the Chamber, who, out of stinginess, wanted to reduce the service term, and the bourgeois outside, in the National Association, who demanded national action at any cost, action for which an army was essential? Was it not a contradiction quite similar to the one that existed in France in 1851 between the bourgeois in the Chamber who wanted to keep the power of the President in check and the bourgeois outside who wanted peace and quiet and a strong government, peace and quiet at any cost — a contradiction which Louis Napoleon solved by dispersing the brawlers in parliament and giving peace and quiet to the mass of the bourgeois? Were not things in Germany much more assuredly in favour of a bold move? Had not the plan for the reorganisation been supplied ready-made by the bourgeoisie, and were not the latter themselves calling loudly for an energetic Prussian statesman who would carry out their plan, expel Austria from Germany and unite the small states under Prussia’s supremacy? And if this demanded that the Prussian constitution be treated a bit roughly, that the ideologists in and outside the Chamber be pushed aside according to their deserts, was it not possible to rely on universal suffrage, just as Louis Bonaparte had done? What could be more democratic than to introduce universal suffrage? Had not Louis Napoleon proved that it was absolutely safe — if properly handled? And did not precisely this universal suffrage — offer the means to appeal to the broad mass of the people, to flirt a bit with the emerging social movement, should the bourgeoisie prove refractory?

Bismarck took action. What had to be done was to repeat Louis Napoleon’s coup d'état, to make the real balance of power tangibly clear to the German bourgeoisie, forcibly to dispel their liberal self-delusion, but to carry out their national demands which coincided with Prussia’s aspirations. It was Schleswig-Holstein that first provided a lever for action. As regards foreign policy, the field had been prepared. The Russian Tsar had been won over to Bismarck’s side by the latter’s dirty work against the Polish insurgents in 1863; Louis Napoleon had also been worked on and could justify his indifference, if not his silent abetment, of Bismarck’s plans, with his favourite “nationalities principle”; Palmerston was Prime Minister in England, but he had placed the little Lord John Russell in the Foreign Office — only for the purpose of having him make a laughing-stock of himself. But Austria was Prussia’s rival for supremacy in Germany and precisely in this matter it could not afford to let Prussia outdo it, especially since it had in 1850 and 1851 acted in Schleswig-Holstein as Emperor Nicholas’ henchman more vilely even than Prussia. The situation was therefore extremely favourable. No matter how much Bismarck hated Austria, and how gladly Austria would once again have taken it out of Prussia, there was nothing they could do after the death of Frederick VII of Denmark but take joint action against Denmark — with the tacit consent of Russia and France. Success was assured in advance, so long as Europe remained neutral; it did, the duchies were conquered and ceded under the peace treaty.

In this war, Prussia had pursued an additional purpose — that of testing before the enemy the army it had been training according to new principles since 1850 and had reorganised and strengthened in 1860. It had stood the test beyond all expectations and that in all manner of military situations. The battle at Lyngby in Jutland proved that the needle-gun was far superior to the muzzle-loader and that the Prussians knew how to use it properly, since the rapid firing of 80 Prussians from behind hedgerows turned three times as many Danes to flight. At the same time it had been noticed that the only lesson the Austrians had drawn from the Italian war [1859] and French fighting tactics was that shooting was no good, that a true soldier had to repulse the enemy immediately with his bayonet, and this was borne in mind, for no more welcome enemy tactics could even be desired against the muzzles of the breech-loaders. To give the Austrians the chance of convincing themselves of this in practice at the earliest possible moment, the peace treaty gave over the duchies to the joint sovereignty of Austria and Prussia, thereby creating a purely temporary situation, which was bound to breed conflict after conflict, and which thus left it entirely to Bismarck to decide when he should choose to use such a conflict for his big blow at Austria. Since it was a Prussian political tradition to exploit a favourable situation “ruthlessly to extreme”, in Herr von Sybel’s words, it was self-evident that under the pretext of freeing the Germans from Danish oppression about 200,000 Danes of North Schleswig were annexed to Germany. The one who got nothing was the Duke of Augustenburg, the candidate of the small states and of the German bourgeoisie for the Schleswig-Holstein throne.

Thus Bismarck had carried out the will of the German bourgeoisie in the duchies against their will. He had expelled the Danes and defied the foreign countries, and the latter had not made a move. But no sooner were they liberated than the duchies were treated as conquered territory, not consulted about their wishes and simply temporarily shared out between Austria and Prussia. Prussia had once again become a great power, was no longer the fifth wheel on the European coach, there was good progress in the fulfilment of the bourgeoisie’s national aspirations, but the way chosen was not the liberal way of the bourgeoisie. Thus the Prussian military conflict continued; it even became ever more insoluble. The second scene of Bismarck’s principal state action had to be ushered in.

Chapter Three. Bismarck takes Prussia to the gates of Paris[edit source]

The Danish war had fulfilled part of the national aspirations. Schleswig-Holstein was “liberated”, the Warsaw and London Protocols, in which the great powers had put their seal to Germany’s humiliation by Denmark, had been torn to pieces and thrown at their feet, and they had not uttered a sound. Austria and Prussia were together again, their armies had been victorious shoulder to shoulder, and no potentate any longer thought of encroaching upon German territory. Louis Napoleon’s cravings for the Rhine, which hitherto had been pushed into the background by other business — the Italian revolution, the Polish insurrection, the Danish complications, and finally the Mexican campaign, had no longer any chance of being satisfied. For a conservative Prussian statesman, the world situation left nothing to be desired from the foreign policy point of view. But up to 1871 Bismarck had never been conservative, and was less so now than ever, and the German bourgeoisie was not at all satisfied.

The German bourgeoisie continued to labour under the familiar contradiction. On the one hand, it demanded exclusive political power for itself, i.e., for a ministry elected from among the liberal majority in the Chamber; and such a ministry would have had to wage a ten-year struggle against the old system represented by the crown before its new position of power was finally recognised; hence ten years of internal weakness. On the other hand, it demanded a revolutionary transformation of Germany, which could be effected only by force, that is, only by an actual dictatorship. At the same time, however, the bourgeoisie since 1848 had demonstrated again and again, at every decisive moment, that it did not possess even a trace of the energy needed to accomplish either of these demands, let alone both. In politics there are only two decisive powers: organised state power, the army, and the unorganised, elemental power of the popular masses. Since 1848, the bourgeoisie had forgotten how to appeal to the masses; it feared them even more than it did absolutism. The bourgeoisie by no means had the army at its disposal. But Bismarck had.

In the continuing conflict over the constitution, Bismarck fought the parliamentary demands of the bourgeoisie to the uttermost. But he burned with the desire to carry out its national demands, since they coincided with the innermost strivings of Prussian policy. If he now once more carried out the will of the bourgeoisie against its will, if he made the unification of Germany, in the way it had been formulated by the bourgeoisie, a reality, the conflict would be resolved of itself, and Bismarck would inevitably become the idol of the bourgeoisie as Louis Napoleon, his model, before him.

The bourgeoisie supplied him with the aim, Louis Napoleon with the method of achieving the aim; only the implementation was left to Bismarck.

To place Prussia at the head of Germany, it was necessary not only to expel Austria forcibly from the German Confederation but also to subjugate the small states. In Prussian politics, such a refreshing jolly war of Germans against Germans had been the principal means of territorial expansion since the year dot, no worthy Prussian feared such a thing. Just as little misgiving could be caused by the other principal means: alliance with foreign countries against Germans. The out-and-out support of sentimental Alexander of Russia was certain. Louis Napoleon had never denied Prussia’s Piedmont mission in Germany and was quite willing to make a deal with Bismarck. If he could get what he wanted peacefully, in the form of compensation, so much the better. Besides, he did not need to get the entire left bank of the Rhine at one go, if he received it piecemeal, a strip for every new advance by Prussia, it would be less conspicuous, and yet lead to his goal. In the eyes of the French chauvinists, a square mile on the Rhine was worth the whole of Savoy and Nice. Negotiations were therefore held with Louis Napoleon, and his permission was obtained for Prussia’s expansion and the establishment of a North German Confederation. That he was offered in return a strip of German territory on the Rhine is beyond doubt; in the negotiations with Govone, Bismarck mentioned Rhenish Bavaria and Rhenish Hesse. This he subsequently denied, to be sure. But a diplomat, particularly a Prussian diplomat, has his own views of the limits within which one is justified, and even obliged, to do a little violence to the truth. After all, truth is a woman and therefore, according to Junker ideas, actually likes it. Louis Napoleon was not so stupid as to allow Prussian expansion without a Prussian promise of compensation; Bleichröder would sooner have lent money without interest. But he did not know his Prussians well enough and was anyway cheated in the end. In short, after he had been assured, an alliance was formed with Italy for the “stab in the heart”.

The philistines in various countries were highly indignant over this expression. But quite wrongly. À la guerre comme a la guerre. The expression only proves that Bismarck recognised the German civil war of 1866 for what it was, namely, a revolution, and that he was willing to carry out that revolution with revolutionary methods. And he did. His treatment of the Federal Diet was revolutionary. Instead of submitting to the constitutional decision of the federal authorities, he accused them of violating the federal treaty — a pure pretext — broke up the Confederation, proclaimed a new constitution with a Reichstag elected by revolutionary universal suffrage and finally expelled the Federal Diet from Frankfurt. In Upper Silesia he formed a Hungarian legion under revolutionary General Klapka and other revolutionary officers whose soldiers, Hungarian deserters and prisoners of war, were to fight against their own legitimate commander-in-chief. After the conquest of Bohemia, Bismarck issued a proclamation “To the Population of the Glorious Kingdom of Bohemia”, whose content was likewise a hard slap in the face for legitimist traditions. After peace had already been established, he seized for Prussia all the possessions of three legitimate German federal monarchs and a free City without the slightest qualms of his Christian and legitimist conscience over the fact that these princes who had been expelled were no less rulers “by the grace of God” than the King of Prussia. In short, it was a complete revolution, carried out with revolutionary means. We are naturally the last to reproach him for this. On the contrary, what we reproach him with is that he was not revolutionary enough, that he was no more than a Prussian revolutionary from above, that he began a whole revolution in a position where he was able to carry through only half a revolution, that, once having set out on the course of annexations, he was content with four miserable small states.

And then Napoleon the Little came limping up behind and demanded his reward. During the war he could have taken whatever he wanted on the Rhine, for not only the land, but also the fortresses, were exposed. He hesitated; he expected a protracted war that would wear out both sides; instead, there was a series of quick blows, and Austria was crushed in eight days. At first he demanded what Bismarck had named to General Govone as a possible compensation — Rhenish Bavaria and Rhenish Hesse, including Mainz. But Bismarck could not give that up now, even if he had wanted to. The enormous successes of the war had imposed new obligations on him. At a time when Prussia set itself up as the protector of Germany, it could not sell off Mainz, the key to the Middle Rhine, to a foreign country. Bismarck refused. Louis Napoleon was willing to bargain; he now demanded only Luxemburg, Landau, Saarlouis and the Saarbrücken coal basin. But this too Bismarck no longer could relinquish, the more so as Prussian territory too was claimed. Why had Louis Napoleon not seized it himself at the right moment, when the Prussians were stuck in Bohemia? In short, nothing came of the compensation to France. Bismarck knew this meant a future war with France, but that was exactly what he wanted.

In the peace treaties, Prussia did not exploit the favourable situation as ruthlessly this time as it had usually done in moments of success. There were sound reasons for it. Saxony and Hesse-Darmstadt were included in the new North German Confederation and, if only for this reason, were spared. Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden had to be treated with indulgence, because Bismarck had to sign secret offensive and defensive agreements with them. And Austria — had not Bismarck rendered it a service by smashing the traditional entanglement that tied it to Germany and Italy? Had he not just now secured for it the long-sought position of an independent great power? Had he not actually known better than Austria itself what was good for it when he had defeated it in Bohemia? Did not Austria, if properly handled, have to realise that the geographical position, the mutual entanglement of the two countries made the Germany united by Prussia its essential and natural ally?

Thus it came about that, for the first time in its existence, Prussia was able to surround itself with a halo of generosity, and this because it threw a sprat to catch a salmon.

Not only Austria had been beaten on the Bohemian battlefields — the German bourgeoisie had been beaten as well. Bismarck had shown it that he knew better what was good for it than it knew itself. A continuation of the conflict by the Chamber was out of the question. The liberal pretensions of the bourgeoisie had been buried for a long time to come, but its national demands were receiving fuller satisfaction with every passing day. Bismarck fulfilled its national programme with a speed and accuracy that surprised the bourgeoisie itself, and having proved to it palpably, in corpore vili — on its own vile body — its limpness and listlessness, and thus its complete inability to implement its own programme, he also played the magnanimous towards it and applied to the now actually disarmed Chamber to exempt the government from indemnity for its anti-constitutional rule during the conflict. Touched to tears, it agreed to this now harmless step forward.

Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie was reminded that it too had been defeated at Königgrätz. The constitution of the North German Confederation was modelled on the pattern of the Prussian constitution as authentically interpreted during the conflict. Refusal of taxes was prohibited. The federal Chancellor and his ministers were appointed by the King of Prussia, independently of any parliamentary majority. The army’s independence of parliament, secured by the conflict, was stressed also in respect of the Reichstag. But the members of this Reichstag had the exalting awareness that they had been elected by universal suffrage. They were also reminded of this, and most unpleasantly, by the sight of the two socialists [August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht] sitting among them. For the first time socialist deputies, representatives of the proletariat, appeared in a parliamentary body. This was an ominous sign.

At first all this was unimportant. The thing now was to advance and exploit the new unity of the Empire, at least that of the North, in the interests of the bourgeoisie and thereby to lure the South German bourgeois too into the new Confederation. The constitution of the Confederation took the economically most important legislative relations away from the competency of the individual states and transferred them to the Confederation: common civil law and freedom of movement within the entire Confederation, right of residence, legislation on the crafts, trade, customs tariffs, navigation, coins, weights and measures, railways, waterways, post and telegraphs, patents, banks, all foreign policy, consulates, commercial protection abroad, sanitary police, the penal code, judicial proceedings, etc. Most of these questions were now regulated quickly, and in general liberally, by law. And then, — at long last! — the ugliest abuses of the small state system were abolished, those that, on the one hand, most obstructed capitalist development, and, on the other, the Prussian craving for power. But that was no world-historic achievement, as the bourgeoisie, now turning chauvinistic, trumpeted forth, but a very, very long overdue and imperfect imitation of what the French Revolution had already done seventy years before, and what all other civilised states had introduced long ago. Instead of boasting, it would have been more appropriate to feel ashamed that “highly educated” Germany was the last to do it.

Throughout all this period of the North German Confederation, Bismarck willingly obliged the German bourgeoisie in the economic field and, even in questions affecting the competency of parliament, showed the iron fist only in a velvet glove. This was his best period; at times one could entertain doubts about his peculiarly Prussian narrow-mindedness, his inability to realise that there are in world history other and more powerful forces than armies and diplomatic intrigues relying on them.

Bismarck not only knew that the peace with Austria was pregnant with war with France, he also desired it. This war was to provide the means of perfecting the Prusso-German Empire demanded of him by the German bourgeoisie. [Even before the Austrian war, when Bismarck was interpellated by a minister from a central German state on his demagogic German policy, he replied that, despite all the rhetoric, he would expel Austria from Germany and break up the Confederation. — “And the central states, do you think they will quietly look on?” — “You, the central states, you will do nothing.” — “And what is to become of the Germans then?” — “I shall then lead them to Paris and unite them there.” Told in Paris before the Austrian war by the said minister from the central state and published during that war in the Manchester Guardian by Mrs. Crawford, its Paris correspondent] The attempts gradually to transform the Customs Parliament into a Reichstag and thus to draw the southern states little by little into the North German Confederation were wrecked by the loud call of the South German deputies: No extension of competence! The mood of the governments, which had only recently been defeated on the field of battle, was no more favourable. Only fresh, palpable proof that the Prussians were not only much more powerful than these governments, but also powerful enough to protect them, that is, a new all-German war, could rapidly bring the moment of surrender. Besides, after the victories, it seemed as though the dividing line on the Main, upon which Bismarck and Louis Napoleon had secretly agreed beforehand, had after all been imposed on the Prussians by the latter; in that case, a union with South Germany was a violation of the formally recognised right of the French this time to the fragmentation of Germany, was a casus belli.

In the meantime, Louis Napoleon had to search for a patch of land somewhere near the German border which he could pocket as compensation for Sadowa. When the new North German Confederation was formed, it did not include Luxemburg, now a state in personal union with Holland, but otherwise completely independent. Besides, it was approximately as much Frenchified as Alsace and was far more attracted to France than to Prussia, which it positively hated.

Luxemburg is a striking example of what Germany’s political wretchedness since the Middle Ages had made of the German-French borderlands, the more striking because Luxemburg had until 1866 nominally belonged to Germany. Up to 1830, it had been composed of a French and a German part, but the German part had already at this early stage submitted to superior French culture. The German Emperors of Luxemburg were French in both language and education. Since its incorporation in the Burgundy lands (1440), Luxemburg, like all the other Low Countries, had remained in a purely nominal union with Germany; even admission to the German Confederation in 1815 changed nothing. After 1830, the French part and a substantial portion of the German part were annexed to Belgium. However, in what remained of German Luxemburg, everything continued on a French footing: the courts, the authorities, the Chamber, everything was conducted in French, all public and private documents, all business accounts were kept in French, in secondary schools. the teaching was in French, French was and remained the language of the educated — naturally a French that groaned and panted with the High German sound shift. In short, two languages were spoken in Luxemburg: a Rhenish Franconian popular dialect, and French, while High German remained a foreign tongue. The Prussian garrison in the capital made things worse rather than better. This may be shameful for Germany but it is true. And this voluntary Frenchification of Luxemburg showed the similar processes in Alsace and German Lorraine in their true light.

The King of Holland, the sovereign Duke of Luxemburg, who could well use hard cash, was willing to sell the duchy to Louis Napoleon. The people of Luxemburg would have undoubtedly approved their incorporation into France — the proof was their attitude in the war of 1870. From the standpoint of international law, Prussia could not object, since it had itself brought about Luxemburg’s exclusion from Germany. Its troops were stationed in the capital as the federal garrison of a federal German fortress; as soon as Luxemburg ceased to be a federal fortress, they no longer had any right to be there. Why did they not go home, why could Bismarck not agree to Luxemburg’s annexation?

Simply, because the contradictions in which he had become entangled were now becoming evident. As far as Prussia was concerned, before 1866 Germany was simply territory for annexation, which had to be shared with foreign countries. After 1866, Germany became a Prussian protectorate, which had to be defended against foreign claws. True, in the interests of Prussia, whole parts of Germany had been excluded from the newly founded so-called Germany. But the right of the German nation to its own territory now imposed on the Prussian Crown the duty of preventing the incorporation of these parts of the former federal territory into foreign states, of leaving the door open for their future union with the new Prussian-German state. It was for this reason that Italy had stopped at the Tyrolean border, and that Luxemburg could not be allowed to go over to Louis Napoleon. A truly revolutionary government could declare this openly. Not so the royal Prussian revolutionary, who had finally succeeded in transforming Germany into a “geographic concept” in Metternich’s sense. From the point of view of international law, he had placed himself in the wrong, and the only way he could get out of the difficulty was to use his favourite students’ beerhouse interpretation of international law.

If in so doing he was not simply laughed to scorn, it was only because, in the spring of 1867, Louis Napoleon was not at all ready for a big war. Agreement was reached at the London Conference. The Prussians evacuated Luxemburg, the fortress was demolished, the duchy was declared neutral. The war was again postponed.

Louis Napoleon could not rest content with this. He was willing to tolerate the aggrandisement of Prussia only if he received corresponding compensation on the Rhine. He was willing to content himself with little, he had even reduced that, but he had received nothing, had been cheated of everything. However, a Bonapartist Empire in France could exist only if it shifted the border gradually towards the Rhine and if France — in fact or at least in imagination — remained the arbiter of Europe. The border shift had failed, France’s position as arbiter was already threatened, the Bonapartist press loudly called for revenge for Sadowa — if Louis Napoleon wanted to keep his throne, he had to remain true to his role and to obtain by force what he had not obtained amicably, in spite of services rendered.

So eager war preparations, both diplomatic and military, were begun by both sides. And then the following diplomatic event occurred:

Spain was looking for a candidate for the throne. In March [1869] Benedetti, the French ambassador in Berlin, picked up rumours about claims for the throne advanced by Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern; he was charged by Paris to investigate the matter. Under-Secretary of State von Thile gave him his word of honour that the Prussian Government knew nothing about it. During a visit to Paris, Benedetti learned the Emperor’s opinion: “This candidature is essentially anti-national, the country will not tolerate it, it must be prevented.”

Incidentally, Louis Napoleon showed thereby that he was already down at heel. Indeed, what could have been a better “revenge for Sadowa” than a Prussian Prince on the Spanish throne, the unavoidable annoyances resulting therefrom, Prussian involvement in the internal relations between the Spanish parties, perhaps even a war, a defeat of the dwarfish Prussian navy, in any case a Prussia looking quite grotesque in the eyes of Europe? But Louis Bonaparte could no longer afford this spectacle. His credit was already so much shaken that he was committed to the traditional point of view according to which a German sovereign on the Spanish throne would place France between two fires and was therefore intolerable — a childish point of view after 1830.

So Benedetti visited Bismarck to receive further information and to make France’s point of view clear to him (May 11, 1869). He did not learn anything particularly conclusive from Bismarck. Bismarck, however, did learn from Benedetti what he wanted to find out: that Leopold’s nomination as candidate would mean an immediate war with France. This gave Bismarck the opportunity to have the war break out when it suited him.

In actual fact, Leopold’s candidature emerged once again in July 1870 and immediately led to war, no matter how much Louis Napoleon resisted it. He not only saw that he had walked into a trap, he also knew that his emperorship was at stake, and he had little confidence in the faithfulness of his Bonapartist Brimstone gang, who assured him that everything was ready, up to the last button on the men’s spats, and even less confidence in their military and administrative skill. But the logical consequences of his own past drove him towards destruction; his hesitation itself hastened his doom.

Bismarck, on the other hand, was not only quite ready for action militarily, but this time he actually had the people behind him, who saw only one fact behind the diplomatic lies spread by both sides: namely, that this was a war not only for the Rhine, but for national existence. For the first time since 1813, reserves and the Landwehr once again flocked to the colours, eager and keen to fight. It did not matter how all this had come about, did not matter what piece of the two-thousand-year-old national heritage Bismarck had, off his own back, promised or not promised to Louis Napoleon: the thing was to teach foreign countries once and for all that they were not to interfere in German internal affairs and that it was not Germany’s mission to support Louis Napoleon’s shaky throne by ceding German territory. All class differences vanished in the face of this national upsurge, all cravings of the South German courts for a Confederation of the Rhine, all attempts at a restoration of the expelled monarchs melted away.

Both sides had sought allies. Louis Napoleon had Austria and Denmark for sure, and was pretty certain of Italy. Bismarck had Russia. But Austria, as always, was not ready and could not participate effectively before September 2 — and on September 2 Louis Napoleon was a prisoner of war of the Germans, and Russia had informed Austria that it would attack Austria the moment Austria attacked Prussia. In Italy, however, Louis Napoleon’s double-dealing policy wrought vengeance upon him: he had sought to set national unity in motion, but at the same time to protect the Pope from that same national unity; he had kept Rome occupied with troops he now needed at home but which he could not withdraw without obliging Italy to respect the sovereignty of Rome and the Pope; this in turn prevented Italy from supporting him. Denmark finally got the order from Russia to behave itself.

The rapid blows of the German armies from Spicheren and Wörth to Sedan were more decisive in localising the war than all diplomatic negotiations. Louis Napoleon’s army was defeated in every battle and finally three-quarters of it went to Germany as prisoners of war. This was not the fault of the soldiers, who had fought bravely enough, but of the leaders and the administration. But if, like Louis Napoleon, one had created an empire with the help of a gang of rascals, if this empire had been maintained for eighteen years merely by abandoning France to the exploitation of that gang, if all decisive posts in the state had been filled with people belonging to that very gang and all subordinate posts with their accomplices, then one should not engage in a life-and-death battle if one does not wish to be left in the lurch. The entire edifice of the empire that had been the admiration of European philistines for years crashed in less than five weeks; the revolution of September 4 simply cleared away the rubble, and Bismarck, who had gone to war to found a small German empire, turned out one fine morning to be the founder of a French republic.

According to Bismarck’s own proclamation, the war was waged not against the French people, but against Louis Napoleon. With his fall, all the reasons to wage war thus disappeared. The government of September 4, which was not so naive in other matters, also deluded itself to this effect, and was greatly surprised when Bismarck suddenly showed himself a Prussian Junker.

No one in the world hates the French as much as the Prussian Junkers do. For not only had the hitherto tax-exempled Junker suffered heavily during the chastisement by the French (from 1806 to 1813), which he had brought about by his own arrogance; but, what was much worse, the godless French had so confused the people by their outrageous revolution that the old grandeur of the Junkers had for the most part been laid to rest even in old Prussia, so that year in and year out the poor Junkers had to struggle hard to keep what was left of it, and many of them were already debased to a shabby sponging nobility. For this, revenge had to be taken on France, and the Junker officers in the army under Bismarck’s leadership took care of that. Lists of war contributions exacted by France from Prussia were drawn up and the size of the war contributions imposed on the various towns and departments was calculated accordingly, but naturally taking into account France’s much greater wealth. Foodstuffs, forage, clothes, footwear, etc., were requisitioned with demonstrative ruthlessness. A mayor in the Ardennes who said that he would be unable to make the deliveries was given twenty-five strokes of the cane without further ado, as the Paris government officially proved. The francs-tireurs, who acted in such strict accordance with the Prussian Landsturm Statute of 1813 as if they had made a special study of it, were shot without mercy on the spot. The stories about clocks being sent home are also true, even the Kölnische Zeitung reported it. Only, according to Prussian views, those clocks were not stolen but were ownerless, having been found in abandoned villas near Paris and confiscated for the dear ones at home. Thus, the Junkers under Bismarck’s leadership saw to it that, despite the irreproachable behaviour of the men and many of the officers, the specifically Prussian character of the war was preserved, and that this was driven home to the French, who held the entire army responsible for the mean spitefulness of the Junkers.

And yet it fell to the lot of these same Junkers to render to the French people an honour unequalled in history. When all attempts to make the enemy relieve the siege of Paris had failed, all the French armies had been beaten back. Bourbaki’s last great counter-attack on the German lines of communication had proved abortive, when all Europe’s diplomats had abandoned France to its fate without stirring a finger, emaciated Paris finally had to surrender. The hearts of the Junkers beat faster when they were finally able to enter the godless nest in triumph and take complete vengeance upon the Paris arch-rebels — the complete vengeance which had been denied to them by Alexander of Russia in 1814 and Wellington in 1815; now they could chastise the seat and homeland of the revolution to their hearts’ content.

Paris surrendered, it paid a contribution of 200 millions; the forts were handed over to the Prussians; the garrison laid down its arms before the victors and delivered up its field guns; the cannons on the wall around Paris were taken off their guncarriages; all means of resistance belonging to the state were handed over piece by piece. But the actual defenders of Paris, the National Guard, the armed Parisians, remained untouched, for nobody expected them to give up their arms, either their rifles or their cannons; [It was these cannons, which belonged to the National Guard and not to the state, and had therefore not been handed over to the Prussians, that Thiers ordered on March 18, 1871, to be stolen from the Parisians, thereby bringing about the rebellion that gave rise to the Commune] and so that it would be known to the whole world that the victorious German army had respectfully stopped before the armed people of Paris, the victors did not enter Paris, but were content to be allowed to occupy for three days the Champs Elysées, a public park, protected, guarded and enclosed on all sides by the sentries of the Parisians! No German soldier set foot in Paris City Hall or stepped on the boulevards, and the few that were admitted to the Louvre to admire the art treasures there had to ask for permission, otherwise it would have been a violation of the surrender. France was defeated, Paris starved, but the Parisian people had by their glorious past ensured respect for themselves, so that no victor dared to demand their disarmament, no one had the courage to enter their homes or to desecrate by a triumphal march those streets which had been the battle-ground of so many revolutions. It was as if the upstart German Emperor was taking off his hat before the living revolutionaries of Paris, as once his brother had before the dead March fighters of Berlin, and as if the entire German army stood behind him presenting arms.

But that was the only sacrifice Bismarck had to make. Under the pretext that there was no government in France which could sign a peace treaty with him — which was just as true as it was false both on September 4 and on January 28 — he had exploited his successes in the truly Prussian manner, to the very last drop, and declared himself ready for peace only after France had been completely crushed. In the peace treaty itself, once again according to the good old Prussian custom, he “ruthlessly exploited the favourable situation”. Not only was the unheard-of sum of 5,000 millions in war reparations extorted, but also two provinces, Alsace and German Lorraine, with Metz and Strasbourg were torn away from France and incorporated into Germany. With this annexation, Bismarck appeared for the first time as an independent politician, who was no longer implementing in his own way a programme dictated from outside, but translating into action the products of his own brain, thereby committing his first enormous blunder.

Chapter Four. Why Alsace-Lorraine prefer to be French[edit source]

Alsace had been conquered in the main by France during the Thirty Years’ War. Richelieu had thereby abandoned Henry IV’s sound principle:

“Let the Spanish language belong to the Spaniard, the German to the German, but where French is spoken, that belongs to me.”

In so doing, Richelieu relied on the principle of the natural border on the Rhine, the historical border of old Gaul. This was folly; but the German Empire, which incorporated the French-speaking parts of Lorraine and Belgium and even of the Franche-Comté, had no right to reproach France with annexing German-speaking lands. And even if, in 1681, in peacetime, Louis XIV had seized Strassburg with the help of a pro-French party in the city, it is not for Prussia to be indignant over it, having raped the Free Imperial town of Nuremberg in exactly the same way in 1796, although, to be sure, without having been called by a Prussian party, and without success.

[Louis XIV is reproached with having set loose his “reunion chambers”, in times of peace on German areas which did not belong to him. This is something that could not be said of the Prussians even by those who had the most malicious envy of them. On the contrary. After they had signed a separate peace with France in 1795 in direct violation of the imperial constitution and had rallied their equally renegade small neighbours behind the demarcation line around themselves in the first North German Confederation, they utilised, for attempts to annex territory in Franconia, the tight spot the South German estates of the empire found themselves in as a result of continuing the war alone in alliance with Austria. They set up reunion chambers according to Louis’ pattern in Ansbach and Bayreuth (which were then Prussian), raised claims to a series of neighbouring areas, in comparison with which Louis’ legal pretexts were absolutely convincing; and when the Germans then retreated after a beating and the French moved into Franconia, the Prussian saviours occupied the Nuremberg area, including the suburbs up to the city wall, and tricked the Nuremberg philistines, who were trembling with fear, into signing a treaty (September 2, 1796) which subjected the city to Prussian rule on the condition that Jews would never be allowed within the city walls. Immediately after that, Archduke Charles took the offensive again, beat the French at Würzburg on September 3 and 4, 1796, and the attempt to knock the idea of Prussia’s German mission into the heads of the Nurembergers thus went up in smoke.]

Lorraine was sold off to France in 1735 by Austria under the Peace of Vienna, and in 1766 it definitively became a French possession. For centuries it had belonged to the German Empire only nominally, its dukes were French in every respect and had almost always been allied with France.

Before the French Revolution, there were a great many small domains in the Vosges which behaved in respect to Germany like estates of the empire subject immediately to the emperor, but recognised the sovereignty of France. They derived benefits from this hermaphroditic position, and if the German Empire tolerated it instead of calling these sovereigns to account, it could not complain when France, by virtue of its sovereignty, extended protection to the people of these territories against the expelled princes.

On the whole, before the Revolution, this German territory was practically not Frenchified at all. German remained the school and official language internally, at least in Alsace. The French Government patronised the German provinces, which now, after many years of war devastation, had seen no more enemies on their lands since the early 18th century. The German Empire, perpetually torn by internal wars, was really not in a state to attract the Alsatians back to the maternal bosom; at least they now had peace and quiet, knew how things stood, and the philistines who set the tone accepted the inscrutable ways of the Lord; after all, their fate was not unprecedented: the people of Holstein were also under foreign, Danish, rule.

Then came the French Revolution. What Alsace and Lorraine never dared hope to receive from Germany was given to them by France as a gift. The feudal fetters were smashed. The serf, the peasant liable to statute labour, became a free man, in many cases the free owner of his farmstead and field. In the towns, patrician rule and guild privileges disappeared. The nobility was driven out. In the lands of the small princes and lords, the peasants followed the example of their neighbours and expelled the sovereigns, government chambers and nobility, and declared themselves free French citizens. In no other part of France did the people join the revolution with greater enthusiasm than in the German-speaking part. And when the German Empire now declared war on the revolution, when the Germans, who not only continued to carry their own chains submissively, but also allowed themselves to be used once again to force the old servitude upon the French and to re-impose on the Alsatian peasants the feudal lords they had only just expelled, now it was all over with the Germanism of the people of Alsace and Lorraine, it was then that they learned to hate and despise the Germans; it was then that the Marseillaise was written in Strasbourg, set to music and first sung by the Alsatians, and that the German French, despite their language and their past, fused on hundreds of battlefields in the struggle for the revolution into a single nation with the native French.

Did not the great revolution work the same miracle with the Flemings of Dunkirk, the Celts of Brittany, the Italians of Corsica? And if we complain that this happened also with Germans, does it not show that we have forgotten our entire history, which made this possible? Have we forgotten that the whole left bank of the Rhine, which took only a passive part in the revolution, was pro-French when the Germans again moved in in 1814, and continued to be pro-French up to 1848, when the revolution rehabilitated the Germans in the eyes of the people on the Rhine? Have we forgotten that Heine’s enthusiasm for the French and even his Bonapartism were but the echo of general public feeling on the left bank of the Rhine?

When the allies invaded in 1814 it was precisely in Alsace and German Lorraine that they encountered the most resolute hostility, the most vehement resistance on the part of the people themselves; because here the danger was felt of having to become German again. And yet, at that time, practically only German was spoken there. But when the danger of being torn from France had passed, when an end had been put to the annexationist appetites of the romantic Germanophile chauvinists, the awareness appeared that a closer fusion with France was needed also in respect of the language, and then the Frenchification of schools was introduced, similar to that voluntarily established by the Luxemburgers in their land. Yet the transformation proceeded very slowly; only the present generation of the bourgeoisie is really Frenchified, while the peasants and workers speak German. The position is approximately the same as in Luxemburg: literary German has been ousted by French (except partially in the pulpit), but the German folk dialect has lost ground only at the language border and is used as the popular language to a much greater extent than in most parts of Germany.

Such was the land that Bismarck and the Prussian Junkers, backed by the revival of chauvinistic romanticism which seems inseparable from all German problems, undertook to make German again. The wish to make Strasbourg, the homeland of the Marseillaise, German, was just as absurd as to make Nice, the homeland of Garibaldi, French. But in Nice, Louis Napoleon at least observed decency and put the question of annexation to the vote — and the manoeuvre succeeded. Quite apart from the fact that for very good reasons the Prussians detest such revolutionary measures — never and nowhere has there been an instance when the mass of the people wanted to be annexed to Prussia — it was known only too well that precisely here the entire population was more closely attached to France than were the native French themselves. And thus this arbitrary act was performed by brute force. It was an act of revenge against the French Revolution; one of the parts which had been fused with France precisely as a result of the revolution was torn away.

It is true that militarily there was a purpose behind this annexation. Metz and Strasbourg gave Germany an enormously strong line of defence. So long as Belgium and Switzerland remain neutral a massive French offensive can be begun only on the narrow strip of land between Metz and the Vosges; and besides, Koblenz, Metz, Strasbourg and Mainz form the strongest and biggest quadrangle of fortresses in the world. However, half of this quadrangle of fortresses, as is the case also with the Austrian fortresses in Lombardy, lies in enemy territory and forms citadels there to keep the population down. Moreover, to complete the quadrangle, it was necessary to seize areas beyond the German-language border and to annex a quarter of a million of native Frenchmen as well.

The great strategic advantage is thus the only reason that can justify the annexation. However, can this gain in any way be compared with the harm it wrought?

The Prussian Junker refused to reckon with the great moral disadvantage at which the young German Empire had placed itself by openly and frankly declaring brutal force its guiding principle. Quite the reverse, refractory subjects forcibly kept in check are a necessity for him; they are proof of increased Prussian might; and essentially he has never any others. But he was obliged to reckon with the political consequences of the annexation. And these were clearly apparent. Even before the annexation came into force, Marx loudly drew the world’s attention to it in a circular of the International: The annexation of Alsace and Lorraine makes Russia the arbiter of Europe. And this has been repeated often enough by the Social-Democrats from the rostrum of the Reichstag until the truth of this statement was finally acknowledged by Bismarck himself in his Reichstag speech of February 6, 1888, by his whimpering before the almighty Tsar, the lord of war and peace.

Actually, the situation was clear as daylight. To tear from France two of its fanatically patriotic provinces, meant to push it into the arms of anybody who held out hope for their return and to make it an eternal enemy. However, Bismarck, in this respect a worthy and conscientious representative of the German philistines, demanded that the French renounce Alsace and Lorraine not only constitutionally but also morally, and in addition wanted them to be downright glad that these two parts of revolutionary France “had been returned to the old Fatherland”, of which they simply would not hear. Unfortunately, however, the French did not do so, any more than the Germans morally renounced the left bank of the Rhine during the Napoleonic wars, even though this area had not the slightest longing to return to them at that time. As long as the people of Alsace and Lorraine wish to return to France, it must and will strive to regain them and look for means and, hence, also for allies, to achieve this. And the natural ally against Germany is Russia.

If the two biggest and strongest nations of the Western continent neutralise each other by their hostility, if there is just one bone of contention between them which incites them to fight each other, the advantage lies only with Russia, whose hands are so much the freer; Russia who is all the less hampered by Germany in its cravings for conquest, the more it can count on unconditional support from France. And was it not Bismarck who placed France in a position where it has to beg for Russia’s alliance, where it must willingly abandon Constantinople to Russia, if only the latter promises the return of France’s lost provinces? And if in spite of all that the peace has been kept for seventeen years, is there any other reason than that the Landwehr system introduced in France and Russia requires at least sixteen, and after the most recent German improvements even twenty-five years, to provide the full number of trained age groups? And now that the annexation has for seventeen years been the dominant factor in all European politics, is it not at this moment the main cause of the crisis threatening the continent with war? Remove this single fact and peace is assured!

The Alsatian bourgeois who speaks French with an Upper German accent, that hybrid fop who puts on greater French airs than a Frenchman through and through, who looks down on Goethe and goes into raptures over Racine, who still cannot rid himself of his bad conscience over his secret Germanness and exactly for that reason has to run down everything German, so that he does not even suit the role of a mediator between Germany and France, this Alsatian bourgeois is indeed a despicable fellow, be he a Mulhouse industrialist or a Paris journalist. But what has made him what he is if not the history of Germany over the past three hundred years? And were not until quite recently almost all Germans abroad, especially the merchants, genuine Alsatians, who denied their German origin, who masochistically imposed on themselves the alien nationality of their new homeland and thus voluntarily made themselves certainly no less ridiculous than the Alsatians, who at least are more or less compelled by circumstances to do so? In England, for example, the German merchants who immigrated between 1815 and 1840 had almost without exception become Anglicised, spoke almost exclusively English among themselves, and even today, for example, at the Manchester Stock Exchange, there are old German philistines running around who would give half their wealth if they could pass for true Englishmen. Only in 1848 did a change set in, and since 1870, when even lieutenants of the reserve have been coming to England and Berlin has been sending its contingents here, the former servility is being ousted by a Prussian arrogance which makes us no less ridiculous abroad.

Perhaps the union with Germany has been made more palatable to the Alsatians since 1871? On the contrary. They have been placed under a dictatorship, whereas next door, in France, there was a republic. A pedantical and obtrusive Prussian Landrat system has been introduced, in comparison with which the interference of the notorious French system of prefects, regulated by strict laws, is solid gold. An end has been rapidly put to the last remnants of freedom of the press, right of assembly and association, refractory town councils have been dissolved and German bureaucrats appointed mayors. On the other hand, however, there has been flattery of the “notables”, that is, the thoroughly Frenchified nobles and bourgeois, and their exploiter interests have been protected against the peasants and workers, who, although not well disposed towards Germany, at least spoke German, and formed the only element with which an attempt at reconciliation was possible. And what has been the result? That in February 1887, when the whole of Germany allowed itself to be intimidated and put a majority of the Bismarck cartel in the Reichstag, Alsace and Lorraine elected nothing but staunch Frenchmen and rejected everyone who was suspected of even the mildest pro-German sympathies.

Now, if the Alsatians are as they are, have we the right to be angry over that? Not at all. Their opposition to the annexation is an historical fact, which should not be deleted but explained. And this is the time for us to ask ourselves: how numerous and how colossal were the historical sins Germany committed before such a feeling could assert itself in Alsace? And how must our new German Empire look from the outside if, after seventeen years of re-Germanisation attempts, the Alsatians unanimously tell us: Spare us that? Have we the right to imagine that two successful campaigns and seventeen years of Bismarckian dictatorship suffice to do away with all the effects of three hundred years of ignominious history?

Chapter Five. The social classes of Bismarck’s Germany[edit source]

Bismarck had reached his objective. His new Prussian-German Empire had been publicly proclaimed at Versailles, in Louis XIV’s splendid state hall. France lay defenceless at his feet; defiant Paris, which he himself had not dared touch, had been incited to the Commune uprising by Thiers and then crushed by the soldiers of the former imperial army returning from captivity. All European philistines admired Bismarck as they had admired Louis Napoleon, Bismarck’s model, in the fifties. With Russian help Germany had become the first power in Europe, and all power in Germany was concentrated in the hands of dictator Bismarck. Everything depended now on what he could do with that power. If he had so far carried out the unification plans of the bourgeoisie, even if not by bourgeois, but by Bonapartist methods, this matter was pretty well settled, and he now had to make his own plans, to show what ideas his own head could produce, and these had to find expression in the internal consolidation of the new empire.

German society is composed of big landowners, peasants, bourgeois, petty bourgeois and workers; these can in turn be grouped into three major classes.

Big landed property is in the hands of a few magnates (notably in Silesia) and a large number of middle landowners, most highly concentrated in the old Prussian provinces east of the Elbe. It is these Prussian Junkers who more or less dominate the entire class. They are farmers themselves, inasmuch as they entrust the cultivation of their estates for the most part to managers, and in addition they often own distilleries and beet-sugar refineries. Wherever possible, their landed property is entailed upon the family by right of primogeniture. The younger sons join the army or the civil service, so that an even less wealthy petty nobility made up of officers and civil servants clings to this petty landowning gentry and is supplemented over and above this through the intensive promotion of nobles from among the higher officers and civil servants of bourgeois origin. On the lower fringes of all this bunch of nobles, there naturally emerges a numerically parasitic nobility, a noble Lumpenproletariat, which lives on debts, dubious gambling, pushiness, begging and political espionage. This society in its totality forms the Prussian Junkers and is one of the main pillars of the old Prussian state. However, the landowning core of the Junkers themselves has feet of clay. The duty to live up to its status becomes more and more expensive every day; the support for the younger sons through the lieutenant and assessor stage, the marrying off of daughters, all costs money; and since all these are duties which push all other considerations into the background, it is no wonder that incomes are insufficient, that IOUs have to be signed or even mortgages have to be taken out. In short, Junkers stand always on the brink of the abyss; every misfortune, be it a war, a bad harvest or a commercial crisis, threatens to push them over the brink; and it is therefore no wonder that for well over a hundred years now they have been saved from ruin only by all sorts of state assistance and, in fact, continue to exist only thanks to state assistance. This artificially preserved class is doomed to extinction and no state assistance can keep it alive in the long run. But with it disappears also the old Prussian state.

The peasant is an element that is little active politically. In so far as he himself is a proprietor, he is going ever more to ruin because of the unfavourable production conditions of the allotment peasants, who cannot engage in stock-breeding, having been deprived of the old common Mark or community pasture. As a tenant, his position is even worse. Petty peasant production presupposes a predominantly subsistence economy, the money economy seals its doom. Hence the growing indebtedness, the massive expropriation by mortgage creditors, the recourse to domestic industry, so as just not to be evicted from his native soil. Politically, the peasantry is mainly indifferent or reactionary: on the Rhine it is ultramontane because of its old hatred for the Prussians, in other areas it is particularise or protestant-conservative. Religious feeling still serves this class as an expression of social or political interests.

We have already spoken about the bourgeoisie. From 1848 it experienced an unprecedented economic advance. Germany had increasingly participated in the vast expansion of industry following the 1847 commercial crisis, an expansion brought about by the establishment during that period of ocean steam navigation, the enormous extension of the railways and the discovery of gold in California and Australia. It was precisely the bourgeoisie’s striving for the abolition of the obstructions to trade caused by the system of small states and for a position off the world market equal to that of its foreign competitors that gave the impetus to Bismarck’s revolution. Now that French milliards were flooding Germany, a new period of feverish enterprise opened up before the bourgeoisie, during which it — by a crash on a national German scale — proved for the first time that it had become a big industrial nation. The bourgeoisie was even then the economically most powerful class among the population; the state had to obey its economic interests; the revolution of 1848 had given the state an external constitutional form within which the bourgeoisie could rule also politically and develop its domination. Yet it was still far from actual political domination. In the conflict it had not triumphed over Bismarck; the resolution of the conflict through the revolutionising of Germany from above had also taught it that, for the time being, the executive power was dependent on it, at best, in a very indirect form, that it could neither appoint nor dismiss ministers, nor dispose of the army. Besides, it was cowardly and limp in the face of an energetic executive power, but so were the Junkers, though this was more excusable in the case of the bourgeoisie because of the direct economic antagonism between it and the revolutionary industrial working class. There was no doubt, however, that it gradually had to destroy the Junkers economically, that it was the only propertied class which retained any prospect of a future.

The petty bourgeoisie consisted first of all of remnants of the medieval craftsmen, who had been represented on a larger scale in backward Germany than in the rest of Western Europe; secondly, of the down-and-out bourgeois; and thirdly, of elements of the propertyless population who had risen to be small merchants. With the expansion of large-scale industry, the existence of the entire petty bourgeoisie lost the last remnants of stability; changes of occupation and periodic bankruptcies became the rule. This once so stable class which had been the nucleus of the German philistines fell from its previous contentment, docility, servility, piety and respectability into wild decadence and dissatisfaction with the fate allotted to it by God. The remnants of the craftsmen loudly demanded the restoration of guild privileges, some of the others became mildly democratic men of Progress, some even grew closer to the Social-Democrats and in some instances directly joined the working-class movement.

Finally the workers. The agricultural workers, at least those in the east, still lived in semi-serfdom and could not be taken into account. On the other hand, Social-Democracy had made enormous progress among the urban workers and grew, to the extent that large-scale industry proletarianised the mass of the people and thereby exacerbated the class antagonism between the capitalists and the workers. Even if the Social-Democratic workers were for the time being still divided into two parties fighting each other, since the publication of Marx’s Capital, the fundamental differences between them had nevertheless as good as disappeared. Orthodox Lassalleanism, with its exclusive demand for “producer associations assisted by the state”, was gradually dying away and proved less and less capable of forming the nucleus of a Bonapartist state socialist workers’ party. The. harm wrought in this respect by individual leaders was rectified by the common sense of the masses. The union of the two Social-Democratic tendencies, which was delayed almost exclusively because of questions of personalities, was certain to take place in the near future. But even during the split and despite it, the movement was strong enough to strike fear into the industrial bourgeoisie and to paralyse it in its struggle against the government, which was still independent of it; and after 1848 the German bourgeoisie never rid itself of the Red spectre again.

The class structure underlay the party structure in parliament and in the provincial diets. The large landed estate owners and part of the peasantry formed the mass of the conservatives; the industrial bourgeoisie provided the Right wing of the bourgeois liberals — the National Liberals, while the Left wing comprised the weakened democratic party or so-called Party of Progress, which consisted of petty bourgeois supported by a section of the bourgeoisie and the workers. Finally, the workers had their independent party, the Social-Democrats, which included also some petty bourgeois.

A person in Bismarck’s position and with Bismarck’s past, having a certain understanding of the state of affairs, could not but realise that the Junkers, such as they were, were not a viable class, and that of all the propertied classes only the bourgeoisie could lay claim to a future, and that therefore (disregarding the working class, an understanding of whose historical mission we cannot expect of him) his new empire promised to be all the stabler, the more he succeeded in laying the groundwork for its gradual transition to a modern bourgeois state. Let us not expect of him what was impossible under the circumstances. An immediate transition to a parliamentary government with the decisive power vested in the Reichstag (as in the British House of Commons) was neither possible nor even advisable at that moment; Bismarck’s dictatorship in parliamentary forms must have seemed to him still necessary for the time being; and we do not in the least blame him for allowing it to survive for the moment, we only ask what good it was. And there can be hardly any doubt that paving the way for a system corresponding to the British constitution was the only way which offered the prospect of ensuring a sound basis and quiet internal development for the new empire. By leaving the larger part of the Junkers, who were beyond salvation anyway, to their inevitable doom, it still seemed possible to forge what remained of them with new elements into a class of independent big landowners, which would become only the ornamental élite of the bourgeoisie; a class to which the bourgeoisie, even at the height of its power, would have to grant state representation and with it the most lucrative positions and enormous influence. By granting the bourgeoisie political concessions, which anyway could not be withheld for any length of time (such at least should have been the argument from the standpoint of the propertied classes), by granting it these concessions gradually, and even in small and rare doses, the new empire would at least be steered onto a course which would enable it to catch up with the other, politically far more advanced West-European states, to shake off the last remnants of feudalism and philistine traditions which still held a firm grip on the bureaucracy, and, above all, to stand on its own feet by the time its by no means youthful founders departed this life.

This was not even difficult. Neither the Junkers nor the bourgeoisie possessed even average energy. The Junkers had proved this in the past sixty years, during which the state had constantly done what was best for them despite the opposition of these Don Quixotes. The bourgeoisie, also made malleable by its long prehistory, was still licking the wounds left by the conflict; Bismarck’s successes since then had further broken its power of resistance, and fear of the dangerously growing working-class movement did the rest. Under these circumstances, it would not have been difficult for the man who had put the national aspirations of the bourgeoisie into practice to keep any pace he desired in implementing its political demands, which were in any case very modest on the whole. It was only necessary for him to be clear about the objective.

From the point of view of the propertied classes, this was the only rational way. From the standpoint of the working class, it was obvious that it was already too late to set up bourgeois rule on a lasting basis. Large-scale industry, and with it the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, took shape in Germany at a time when the proletariat could enter the political scene as an independent force almost simultaneously with the bourgeoisie, that is, at a time when the struggle of the two classes has already begun, before the bourgeoisie has conquered exclusive or predominant political power. But even if the time for quiet and firmly founded rule by the bourgeoisie had already passed in Germany, it was still the best policy in 1870, in the interests of the propertied classes in general, to steer towards this bourgeois rule. For only in this way was it possible to abolish the abundant remnants of the times of decaying feudalism which continued to flourish in legislation and administration; only thus was it possible gradually to transplant all the achievements of the Great French Revolution to Germany, in short, to cut off Germany’s overlong old pigtail, and to place it deliberately and irrevocably on the road of modern development, to adapt its political system to its industrial development. When ultimately the unavoidable struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat set in, it would at least proceed under normal circumstances, in which everyone would realise what was at stake, and not in the state of disorder, obscurity, conflicting interests and perplexity we saw in Germany in 1848. The only difference being that this time the perplexity would be exclusively on the side of the propertied classes; the working class knows what it wants.

As things stood in Germany in 1871, a man like Bismarck was indeed compelled to pursue a policy of manoeuvring between the various classes. And to that extent he is not open to reproach. It is only a question of what aim that policy pursued. If, irrespective of the pace, it was aimed consciously and resolutely at the ultimate rule of the bourgeoisie, it was in harmony with historical development as far as this could be possible at all from the standpoint of the propertied classes. If it aimed at preserving the old Prussian state, at gradually Prussianising Germany, it was reactionary and doomed to ultimate failure. But if it only pursued the aim of preserving Bismarck’s rule, it was Bonapartist and bound to meet the same end as all Bonapartism.

Chapter Six. How Bismarck failed to modernise Germany[edit source]

The immediate task was the imperial constitution. The material available was the constitution of the North German Confederation, on the one hand, and the treaties with the South German states, on the other. The factors which were to help Bismarck draw up the imperial constitution were, on the one hand, the dynasties represented in the Federal Council and, on the other, the people represented in the Reichstag. The North German constitution and treaties limited the claims of the dynasties. The people, on the other hand, were entitled to a considerable increase in their share of political power. They had won independence from foreign interference and unification — as far as there could be any talk of unification — on the battlefield; they were also above all called upon to decide what use this independence was to be put to, how this unification would be implemented in detail and how it would be used. And even if the people recognised the legal grounds underlying the North German constitution and treaties, that in no way prevented them from being granted a greater share of power in the new constitution than they had in the old one. The Reichstag was the only body which in reality represented the new “unity”. The greater the voice of the Reichstag and the freer the imperial constitution as compared with the constitutions of the individual provinces, the more the new Empire would have to fuse into one, the more the Bavarian, Saxon and Prussian would have to dissolve into the German.

To anyone who could see further than his nose this should have been obvious. But Bismarck held quite a different opinion. On the contrary, he used the patriotic frenzy unleashed after the war precisely to persuade the majority in the Reichstag to renounce not only an extension but even a clear definition of the rights of the people and to confine itself to a simple reproduction in the imperial constitution of the legal basis underlying the North German constitution and the treaties. All attempts of the small parties to give expression in it to the freedoms of the people were dismissed, including even the proposal of the Catholic Centre to incorporate in it the articles of the Prussian constitution guaranteeing the freedom of the press, of assembly and association and the independence of the Church. The Prussian constitution, twice and thrice pruned as it was, was still more liberal than the imperial constitution. Taxes were voted not yearly, but once and for all, “by law”, so that any refusal of taxes by the Reichstag was out of the question. Thus there was applied to Germany the Prussian doctrine, inconceivable to the non-German constitutional world, according to which the elected assembly had only the right on paper to refuse expenditure, while the government pocketed the revenue in hard cash. While the Reichstag was thus robbed of the most effective means of power and reduced to the humble position of the Prussian chamber smashed up by the revisions of 1849 and 1850, by Manteuffelism, by conflict and by Sadowa the Federal Council, in effect, enjoyed full power, which the old Federal Diet possessed nominally, and enjoyed it in reality, for it had been freed of the fetters that paralysed the Federal Diet. The Federal Council had a decisive voice not only in legislation, alongside the Reichstag; it was also the supreme administrative body, inasmuch as it issued instructions on the implementation of imperial laws, and in addition decides “on shortcomings, which emerge during the implementation of imperial laws...” i.e., on shortcomings, which in other civilised countries can be remedied only by a new law (Article 7, Para. 3, which greatly resembles a legal trap).

Thus, Bismarck sought his main support not in the Reichstag, which represented national union, but in the Federal Council, which represented particularistic disunion. He lacked the courage — he, who set himself up as champion of the national idea — to place himself genuinely at the head of the nation or of its representatives; democracy was to serve him and not he democracy; rather than rely on the people, he relied on underhand dealings behind the scenes, on his ability to scrape together a majority, even if a refractory one, in the Federal Council by means of diplomacy, the stick and the carrot. The pettiness of his conception, the baseness of his view point that is revealed to us here is quite in keeping with the man’s character as we have got to know him so far. Yet, it is surprising that his great successes were unable to make him rise above himself even for a moment.

However, in the prevailing situation, the point was to provide a single firm pivot for the entire imperial constitution, namely, the imperial chancellor. The Federal Council had to be put in a position in which there could be no other responsible executive authority than that of the imperial chancellor and which would exclude the admissibility of responsible imperial ministers. Indeed, every attempt to normalise the imperial administration by setting up a responsible ministry was regarded as an encroachment upon the rights of the Federal Council and encountered insurmountable resistance. As was soon discovered, the constitution was “made to measure” for Bismarck. It was a further step on the road to his absolute personal dictatorship by balancing the parties in the Reichstag and the particularise states in the Federal Council — a further step on the road to Bonapartism.

By the way, it cannot be said that the new imperial constitution — except for certain concessions to Bavaria and Württemberg — was a direct step back. But that is the best that can be said of it. The economic requirements of the bourgeoisie were in the main satisfied, its political claims — inasmuch as it still made any — encountered the same obstructions as during the conflict.

Inasmuch as it still made political claims! For it cannot be denied that with the National Liberals these claims had shrunk to a very modest size and continued to shrink with every passing day. These gentlemen, far from demanding that Bismarck should facilitate their collaboration with himself, were much more concerned with doing his will wherever possible, and quite often also where it was impossible, or should have been impossible. Bismarck despised them and no one can blame him for that — but were his Junkers one iota better or braver?

The next field in which unity of the Empire had to be introduced, the monetary system, was normalised by the currency and banking laws passed between 1873 and 1875. The introduction of gold currency was a considerable step forward; but it was introduced only hesitantly and waveringly and is not firmly established even today. The monetary system adopted — the third of a taler under the name of “mark”, a unit with a decimal division — had been suggested by von Soetbeer at the close of the thirties; the actual unit was the gold twenty-mark piece. By a barely noticeable change in value it could have been made absolutely equivalent either to the British sovereign, or the gold twenty-five franc coin, or the gold U.S. five-dollar piece, and linked to one of the three great currency systems on the world market. Preference was given to a separate currency system, thereby needlessly complicating trade and exchange calculations. The laws on imperial treasury notes and banks limited the fraudulent transactions in securities of small states and their banks and, taking into consideration the crash which had in the meantime occurred, they were marked by a definite timidity, which well became Germany, still inexperienced in this field. But here, too, the economic interests of the bourgeoisie were on the whole adequately looked after.

Finally there came an agreement on uniform laws. The resistance of the central German states to the extension of imperial competency to the material civil law was overcome, but the civil code is still in the making, while the penal code, criminal and civil procedural law, trade laws, the regulations concerning insolvency and the judicial system have been unified everywhere. The abolition of the motley formal and material legal standards in force in the small states was in itself an urgent requirement for ongoing bourgeois development, and this abolition is the chief merit of the new laws — a far greater one than their content.

The English jurist relies on a legal heritage that has preserved a good part of the old German freedoms through the Middle Ages, that does not know the police state, which was nipped in the bud by the two revolutions of the 17th century and has attained its apex in two centuries of uninterrupted development of civic freedom. The French jurist relies on the Great Revolution, which, after the total destruction of feudalism and absolutist police tyranny, translated the economic conditions of life in the newly created modern society into the language of legal standards in the classical code of law proclaimed by Napoleon. But on what legal basis do our German jurists rely? Nothing but the several-century-long process of disintegration of medieval survivals, a passive process mostly spurred on by blows from the outside, and not complete to this day; an economically backward society, which the feudal Junker and the guild master haunt as ghosts looking for a new body; a legal order in which police tyranny — even though the arbitrary justice of the princes disappeared in 1848 — is daily tearing new holes. The fathers of the new imperial legal codes have come from this worst of all bad schools, and their work is quite in keeping with it. Apart from the purely legal aspect, political freedom has fared pretty badly in these codes of law. If the Schöffen courts provide the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie with a means of collaborating in repressing the working class, the state insures itself as much as possible against the danger of renewed bourgeois opposition by curtailing the rights of the jury. The political paragraphs of the penal code are frequently enough as vague and elastic as if they were made to measure for the present imperial court, and the latter for them. That the new legal codes are a step forward in comparison with Prussian common law — today even Stoecker would be unable to concoct something as horrible as that code, even if he were to allow himself to be cut back. But the provinces which had until now lived under French law feel very acutely the difference between the blurred copy and the classic original. It was the defection of the National Liberals from their programme that made possible this strengthening of state power at the expense of civic freedoms, this first actual retrogression.

Mention should also be made of the imperial press law. The penal code had essentially already regulated the material law pertaining to it; the elaboration of identical formal stipulations for the whole Empire and the abolition of the security and stamp duties existing here and there were therefore the main content of the law and at the same time the only progress it achieved.

To enable Prussia once again to prove itself a model state, so-called self-government was introduced there. The aim was to abolish the most objectionable survivals of feudalism and yet, actually, to leave, as far as possible, everything as before. The District Ordinance served this purpose. The manorial police power of the Junkers had become an anachronism. In name — as a feudal privilege — it was abolished, but actually it was reinstituted by the establishment of independent rural districts [Gutsbezirke], within which the landowner either himself acts as rural superintendent [Gutsvorsteher] with the powers of the head of the rural community [Gemeindevorsteher] or appoints this rural superintendent, and was also reinstituted by transferring the entire police power and police jurisdiction of the administrative district [Amtsbezirk] to a district head [Amtsvorsteher], a position held in rural areas almost exclusively by big landowners, of course, who in this way got the rural community under their thumb. The feudal privileges of individuals were abolished, but the absolute power connected with these privileges was handed over to the entire class. By similar conjuring the English big landowners turned into justices of the peace and the masters of the rural administration, the police and the lower courts of justice and thereby secured for themselves under a new, modernised title further enjoyment of all essential positions of authority, which they could not continue to hold under the old feudal form. That, however, is the only similarity between the English and the German “self-government”. I should like to see the British Minister who would dare to propose in Parliament that elected local officials should be approved and that in case an undesired person is elected he be forcibly replaced by an appointee of the state, to propose that there be civil servants vested with the authority of the Prussian Landrats, heads of administrative districts and Oberpräsidents, to propose that the administrative bodies of the state be given the right provided for in the District Ordinance to intervene in the internal affairs of communities, small administrative units and districts and to exclude recourse to law, a thing unheard of in English-speaking countries and in English law, but which we see on almost every page of the District Ordinance. And while the district diets [Kreistag] as well as the provincial diets are still composed in the old feudal manner of representatives of the three estates: the big landowners, towns and rural communities, in England even a highly conservative ministry moves a bill transferring the whole county administration to authorities elected by almost universal suffrage.

The draft of the District Ordinance for the six Eastern provinces (1871) was the first indication that Bismarck did not even think of allowing Prussia to dissolve into Germany, but that, on the contrary, he sought to further strengthen these six provinces — the stronghold of the old Prussianism. Under changed names, the Junkers retained all essential positions of power, while the helots of Germany, the rural workers of these areas — such as farmhands and day labourers — remained in their former de facto serfdom and were admitted to only two public functions: to become soldiers and to serve the Junkers as voting stock during the elections to the Reichstag. The service Bismarck rendered thereby to the revolutionary socialist party is indescribable and deserves the warmest gratitude.

What can be said about the mindlessness of the Junker gentlemen, who, like spoiled children, kicked against the District Ordinance which had been drawn up exclusively in their interest, in the interest of perpetuating their feudal privileges, under a somewhat modernised name? The Prussian House of Lords, or, to be more exact, of Junkers, at first rejected the draft, which had already been delayed for a whole year, and adopted it only after 24 new “Lords” had been nominated peers. Once again the Prussian Junkers proved that they were petty, obdurate, incorrigible reactionaries, unable to form the nucleus of a large independent party which could play an historical role in the life of the nation, as the English big landowners actually do. Thereby they proved their complete lack of sense; Bismarck had only to reveal to the world their equally complete lack of character, and a little pressure, pertinently applied, would transform them into a Bismarck Party sans phrase.

The Kulturkampf was to serve this purpose.

The implementation of the Prussian-German imperial plan should have evoked a counterblow — the amalgamation into a single party of all anti-Prussian elements, which had previously relied on separate development. These motley elements found a common banner in Ultramontanism. The rebellion of sound common sense even among the numerous orthodox Catholics against the new dogma of Papal infallibility, on the one hand, the destruction of the Papal States, and the so-called imprisonment of the Pope in Rome, on the other, forced all the pugnacious forces of Catholicism to rally closer together. Thus even during the war, in the autumn of 1870, the specifically Catholic Party of the Centre was formed in the Prussian Provincial Diet; in the first German Reichstag of 1871 it had only 57 seats, but it grew stronger with every new election until it had over 100 representatives. It was composed of very heterogeneous elements. In Prussia its main strength consisted of the Rhenish small peasants, who still regarded themselves as “Prussians under duress”, then of the Catholic big landowners and peasants of the Westphalian bishoprics of Münster and Paderborn, and of the Catholic Silesians. The second great contingent was provided by the South German Catholics, notably the Bavarians. It was not so much the Catholic religion that formed the Centre Party’s strength, but the fact that it represented the antipathies of the popular masses against everything specifically Prussian, now laying claim to domination over Germany. These antipathies were particularly strong in the Catholic areas; and then there were sympathies with Austria, now expelled from Germany. In harmony with these two popular trends, the Centre was decidedly particularise and federalist.

This essentially anti-Prussian character of the Centre was immediately recognised by the other small Reichstag factions, which were anti-Prussian for local reasons, not, as the Social-Democrats, for national and general reasons. Not only the Catholic Poles and Alsatians, but even the Protestant Guelphs allied themselves closely with the Centre. And even though the bourgeois liberal factions could never fully understand the actual character of the so-called Ultramontanes, they did have an inkling of the true state of affairs when they styled the Centre unpatriotic” and “hostile to the Empire” ...

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