The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 21
THE WORLD-WAR AND THE GERMAN PEOPLE
Since the publication of the Austrian documents the whole world is agreed that the action of the potentates of Germany who launched the war was unspeakably wanton, short-sighted and reckless. Only the moral qualities of the guilty parties are still in dispute. This question is important in judging of the persons, not of the institutions. Whatever the moral verdict may be—after taking cognizance of the German documents, there should not be much dispute about it—it has long been possible to find a political verdict. It condemns the subjection of civil authority to military force and passes sentence on the Monarchy.
We have already remarked in dealing with the Szögyeny case that an idiot as leading statesman is more dangerous for the community than a scoundrel.
No constitution, however elaborately devised, no democracy, no Soviet system, nor any aristocracy, not even one of philosophers on the Platonic model, can prevent scoundrels from getting to the head of the State. But with every kind of constitution, whether of a State, of a political party, a commune, a church, or other organization the leadership of which is entrusted only to men who have won the general confidence of those concerned, a rascal can only get to the top through great services rendered to the community, through the impression he has made by a superior intelligence. It is only in the hereditary Monarchy, which makes the personality of the Supreme Head of the State dependent, not upon the services he renders to the State, but upon the chance accident of birth, that occasionally not only rascals but also dullards or lunatics govern the State.
The Government that brought the war upon us did not, however, act entirely without judgment. However incompetent and ignorant the Imperial Government proved to be in its foreign policy, it showed itself, in the decisive days, master of the art of winning the increasing confidence of the people at home, in the same measure as it lost that of the other nations.
We have seen how determinedly the German Social Democracy stood out against the frivolous challenge of the world-war that lay in the Austrian Ultimatum to Serbia, and how William looked askance at the “Sozis” demonstrations for peace, and promised violent measures against them.
Had the German Social Democracy known that the Austrian Ultimatum had not taken the German Government by surprise, that the latter undoubtedly knew its actual trend, although, perhaps, not its wording, even before its delivery in Belgrade, and that Germany was not the peaceable third party endeavouring to intervene between the ally and her opponents, but the fellow- conspirator of Austria, then our Party—as might have been expected with certainty in view of its attitude at that time—would have turned as sharply against the German Government as it did against the Austrian. Then William would have had either to forgo war or to begin it by locking up every leader of the Social Democracy, i.e., by declaring war simultaneously on the Entente and on the German proletariat. The ruling system would then have been doomed from the outset, while the German nation would have been saved. This menace to the reigning sovereigns of the Empire was recognized by Bethmann-Hollweg from the start, and his efforts were directed much less to the prevention of the war than to the creation of a favourable moral basis for it in Germany. To this he devoted his best attention, his entire acumen. And he succeeded in this task. For this purpose the German people had to be kept in ignorance of all that had actually taken place between Austria and Germany since the Serajevo outrage. It was, indeed, impossible to prevent the growth of a strong indignation against Austria's aggression; but they knew how to preserve their own halo as the peace-lover whose task was handicapped only by a second peculiarity of the German mind, a peculiarity no less laudable than its pacific temper—namely, its unwavering fidelity to a friend even when he has stumbled.
Foreign countries were, of course, mistrustful from the beginning. We have already seen examples of this in the case of French and English statesmen. The Belgian Baron Beyens wrote from Berlin to Brussels on July 26th:
“The existence of a preconcerted plan between Berlin and Vienna is proved in the eyes of my colleagues and myself by the persistence with which the Wilhelmstrasse denies that it had cognizance of the contents of the Austrian Note before Thursday last (July 23rd).”
Even the mistrustful elements, however, had no idea how far this “preconcerted plan” went. The German people themselves were still less critical. Doubt, indeed, arose among their ranks, but, in general, even those who considered William's Government capable of any mischief did not believe it could be so boundlessly stupid as to risk the peace of the world and Germany's future for the sake of Austria's grievances against Serbia.
And whilst, abroad, mistrust against Germany increased in view of her amazing attitude, there arose among the German people a rapidly-growing anger against Russia. For the German Government manipulated most skilfully its intelligence apparatus, which in those days, when Germany was beginning to be cut off from foreign countries, was for the masses in Germany the only source of information regarding foreign policy. A German with no other source of information could not but believe firmly that Germany was working feverishly for peace; that she would succeed in winning over Austria to this view, but that Russia was determined to seize the opportunity to go to war. Thus, in the eyes of the German people Russia finally stood forth as the disturber of peace, the assailant, and France, and ultimately also England, as her criminal accomplices.
How deep this view had taken root is evidenced by the fact that on June 7th, 1915, the King of Bavaria could venture to make the pronouncement already quoted:
“Upon Russia's declaration of war followed that of France!”
And even in our days, in the White Book of June, 1919, the four “independent Germans,” after completing their inspection of the documents, have testified that the war was, for Germany, an “unavoidable war of defence” against Russia (page 44). Now the moment appeared to have arrived, which the German Social Democracy had already had, not infrequently, under consideration, and which (as even the most international of its members unequivocally declared) made it imperative on them to turn against Russia, and, if Russia were supported by France, also against the latter.
About the year 1900 Bebel declared that if it came to war with Russia, “the enemy of all culture and of all the oppressed, not only in her own country, but also the most dangerous enemy of Europe, and especially for us Germans,” he would “shoulder his gun.” He quoted and confirmed this declaration in 1907 at the Party Congress in Essen (Protocol, page 255).
Long before this Frederick Engels had given his views on this question when, in 1891, “the champagne orgy of Kronstadt had gone to the heads of the French bourgeoisie” the Franco-Russian Alliance was initiated, and France appeared to him “ripe for rather excessive follies in Russia's service.” At that time he considered it necessary lest, in case of a war, “any misunderstanding should arise at the last moment between the French and German Socialists,” to make clear to the former “what, according to my conviction, would be the necessary attitude of the latter in face of such a war.”
An article which he published in the “Almanach du parti ouvrier pour 1892” served this purpose.
It was based on the view that neither Germany nor France would provoke the war, for it would devastate both, without any gain whatsoever.
“Russia, on the other hand, protected by her geographical and economic position against the annihilating consequences of a defeat, Russia, official Russia alone can serve her interests in so terrible a war and work directly to that end.... But, in any case, as political affairs stand to-day, the chances are ten to one that at the first cannon shot on the Vistula the French armies march on the Rhine.
“And then Germany fights for her bare existence. ... In such circumstances (if Germany were beaten), what would become of the German Social-Democratic party? So much is certain: neither the Tsar, nor the French bourgeois-republicans, nor the German Government itself, would let slip such a fine opportunity for the crushing of the only Party that is ‘the enemy’ for all three....
“But if the victory of the Russians over Germany means the crushing of German Socialism, what then becomes the duty of the German Socialists in regard to such a prospect? Are they to remain passive in view of events that threaten their destruction?...
“By no means. In the interests of European revolution they are bound to maintain all the positions they have conquered, and not to capitulate either to the external or to the internal enemy. And that can only be done by fighting to the death Russia and all her allies, whoever they may be. Should the French Republic place itself in the service of His Majesty the Tsar and Autocrat of all the Russias, the German Socialists would fight it with grief, but fight it we would.” (Published in German under the title, “Der Sozialismus in Deutschland,” Neue Zeit, X. 2, pages 585, 586.)
These currents of thought were still active in the German Social Democracy in 1914. They were based on the view that the impulse to war could come only from Russia, not from Germany. Ten years after Engels' article I had still named Russia among the European peace-breakers, not Germany. At a later date I would certainly not have repeated this remark. Since then there had taken place, on the one hand, Russia's defeat in the war against Japan, and the Russian Revolution, while, on the other, Germany had started her naval armaments and her active policy in the Mohammedan world.
Russia, with revolution in her midst, had now become less dangerous to the democracy of Europe than the still unshakable, all-powerful German military Monarchy.
And it was no longer at all possible to regard the German or the Austrian Government, the latter of which was ruling without a parliament in 1914, as champions against the Tsarist autocracy.
A revolutionary Russia would have appeared far more dangerous to them than a Tsarist Russia, just as a free Serbia was considered by them as their worst enemy.
Characteristic in this respect are William's marginal notes to a report sent by Pourtalès from Petrograd on July 25th, concerning an interview with Sasonow. Pourtalès writes:
“My reference to the monarchical principle [supposed to be violated by the Serbs.—K.] made little impression upon the Minister. Russia knew, he said, what she owed to the monarchical principle.”
To which William adds:
“No longer, after her fraternization with the French Social-Republic.”
Besides this severe censure, pronounced by the Kaiser on the Russian Tsar for excessive Republican and even “Social-Republican” sympathies, the marginal notes to the Pourtalès' report contain another noteworthy remark, which proves with what levity William still, on July 25th, viewed the war with Russia. Pourtales reports:
“Sasonow exclaimed: ‘If Austria-Hungary devours Serbia we shall go to war with her.’”
To which William retorted:
“Well, go ahead!”
The situation created by the Revolution in Russia and by Germany's world-policy was totally different to that existing in 1891. But the old belief that the war against Russia was the “holy war” of the German Social Democracy was still quick among its ranks, and this belief, in conjunction with the German method of doctoring news, impelled many a good Socialist and Internationalist to vote for the war credits on August 4th, not because he disavowed his principles, but because he believed that this was the best way to apply them.
It would, of course, be an exaggeration to suppose that all in the ranks of the Social Democrats had been actuated by such considerations. Many a one among them had already held strong nationalistic views before the war—nationalistic in contradistinction to national. Under the latter may be understood a championship of the self-determination of one's own people, which respects the self-determination of every other people, and which subordinates national as well as private interests to the common interests of the international proletariat and of humanity. A Nationalist, on the contrary, is one for whom his own nation stands higher than others, who cares more for the enemies of his class among his own countrymen than for his own class among others.
Before the war such elements already existed in the German Social Democracy as, no doubt, in almost every Socialistic party. The war, and before that the incipient bellicose temper of the people, gave at one blow an enormous impetus to nationalism among the Socialist ranks—and that not in Germany alone.
The more a Socialist party becomes a party of the masses, the stronger becomes its nationalism; the more rapid its growth before the war, the less opportunity it had to educate its followers.
Nowhere had it grown by such leaps and bounds as in Germany, where the number of Social Democrat voters increased by a million between 1907 and 1912. How strong the national idea everywhere is the war and its consequences have most clearly shown. For the great untrained masses, however, it easily degenerates into the nationalistic idea, especially when the country is in great danger, unless this idea is paralysed by other closely-connected and powerful factors, e.g., a ruthless policy of Socialist persecution by their own Government.
William had willed such a policy. The fact that the will did not become the deed is, no doubt, to be attributed to Bethmann. It was probably the one sensible thing he did in that time.
In addition to all this, the mass of the thoughtless—and these were recruited from all circles and not least from among the writers and thinkers—welcomed the war with jubilation, because they expected it would be short, and was already as good as won, whilst from Petrograd, on the outbreak of the war, a “morning-after” feeling was reported, and the French took the field in gloomy silence and with clenched teeth.
In a single night the temper of the German people blazed into warlike enthusiasm for the repulse of the national enemy, by whom, they imagined, they were basely attacked and threatened with annihilation.
To all these influences the majority of the German Social Democracy succumbed, and, to a still higher degree, the rest of the people. Had William threatened the “Sozis” with arrest as recently as July 28th, he was able to proclaim on August 1st that he “knew no more parties”—i.e., that they, one and all, had capitulated to him.
So by Bethmann's tactics the great task was accomplished, and the German people were made accomplices in his war-policy, in the sense that they sanctioned it and supported it, up to the military collapse.
It was not, however, the actual policy of William and his Government for which the German people enthusiastically staked life and property, but a policy which in fact did not exist at all, a mere mirage, made plausible by every fraudulent means available down to the ignominious end.
And this is precisely what we most clearly gather from the Foreign Office documents. These show that among the peoples who were sacrificed to William's war-policy the German nation heads the list. The more they incriminate the Hohenzollern régime, the more they exculpate the German people, for they testify most distinctly that the latter had no notion of the actual course of the events that led to war far less than the other nations—while those politicians who from scattered indications had guessed the truth were cut off during the war from every possibility of criticizing events and of enlightening the masses.
But have no other Governments prepared misleading statements concerning the outbreak of the war?
It is not impossible that they have. In Bismarck's well-known phrase, never are so many lies told as before a war, during an election, and after a shoot. And the Tsarist régime has never been exactly regarded as fanatically devoted to the truth. But in 1914 the Governments of the Entente had no reason so to dupe the nations as had those of the Central Powers. For neither France, England, or Russia at that time wanted war, but dreaded it, and justly so, in view of their internal difficulties and inadequate armaments.
In addition, the period of war preparation, which might necessitate untruths and concealment, did not begin for Germany's opponents until July 24th, when they learned of the Austrian Ultimatum, which was the first indication of the danger of war. For the Central Powers the period of concealment, silence, misrepresentation, began already on July 5th. In the period from July 5th to July 23rd, they created, completely undisturbed by foreign countries and without any impelling reason, that groundwork of mendacity upon which the whole conduct of the war was built up.
One can render no greater service to the German people than to expose the lies that led them astray. By this means they are morally exculpated in every respect in the eyes of all the world.
The moral exculpation is, however, counterbalanced by political incrimination.
Misled by the statesmen of the Hohenzollerns and the Habsburgs, the German people were made the willing instrument of their plans, and were thereby placed in a false position. The great majority of the German people felt their solidarity, almost up to the very end of the war, and in many cases down to our days, with those who duped them and led them and all Europe to destruction. The nation was blind to their crimes and misdeeds; it screened them, and it passionately championed their innocence.
So, in spite of its moral blamelessness, it was burdened with the political guilt of the dynasty and its henchmen, and became the object of the fiercest hate and loathing to the whole world, a hatred that imposed upon it, after its defeat, the most terrible of peace terms and treated it as a race of lepers.
He who loves the German people, not only the national German but also the international Socialist and Democrat, to whom every nation is equally dear, must endeavour to deliver it from this terrible ban, to free it from the awful burden laid upon it by the old régime.
This process of the rehabilitation of the German people in international esteem is continually hampered, not only by those who still adhere to the fallen régime, or were even its actual accomplices, but also by politicians who, although they have now recognized how pernicious it was, still cannot make up their minds to see things as they really were.
They believe they are serving the German people by proving its innocence through the exculpation of its former masters. But all they are doing is merely to keep alive the appearance of its guilt, as that of its former rulers becomes more and more notorious from day to day. It is to be hoped that the German and Austrian documents now communicated will make the continuance of this perverse policy as impossible as they must make the return of the military Monarchies of the Hohenzollerns and Habsburgs.
What individual brave and perspicacious German Socialists and pacifists already recognized and openly proclaimed during the war (that the German people was most shamefully duped and deceived by its Government, and that only in this way could it be driven to war) should now at last be acknowledged, unreservedly, without any “if” or “but,” or palliative seeking for guilty parties abroad. This is incumbent on every honest citizen in Germany, who does not swear by the divinity of the Hohenzollerns.
This will be the best means of winning back the trust of the peoples for Germany, and thereby of repressing on the side of the victors that military policy of force, which has become the greatest menace to the peace and freedom of the world.