Liberals And Reasonable Men
( Originally Published 1917 )
I HAVE already expressed a belief that Germany will not be forced to make peace because of a revolution, and that sufficient food will be somehow found to carry the population during at least another year of war.
What then offers a prospect of reasonable peace, supposing, of course, that the Germans fail in the submarine blockade of England and that the crumbling up of Russia does not release from the East frontier soldiers enough to break the lines of the British and French in France?
I think that it is only by an evolution of Germany her-self toward liberalism that the world will be given such guarantees of future peace as will justify the termination of this war.
There is, properly speaking, no great liberal party in the political arena in Germany. As I have said, the Reichstag is divided roughly into Conservatives, Roman Catholics, or Centrum, and Social Democrats. The so-called National Liberal party has in this war shown itself a branch of the Conservative party, and on some issues as bitter, as conservative, as the Junkers themselves. Herr Bassermann and Herr Stresemann have not shown themselves leaders of liberal thought, nor has their leadership been such as to inspire confidence in their political sagacity.
It was Stresemann who on May thirtieth, 1916, said in the Reichstag referring to President Wilson as a peace-maker, "We thrust the hand of Wilson aside." On the day following, the day on which the President announced to Congress the breaking of diplomatic relations, news of that break had not yet arrived in Berlin and Herr Stresemann on that peaceful Sunday morning was en-gaged in making a speech to the members of the National Liberal party in which he told them that as a result of his careful study of the American situation, of his careful researches into American character and politics, he could assure them that America would never break with Germany. As he concluded his speech and sat down amid the applause of his admirers, a German who had been sitting in the back of the room rose and read from the noon paper, the "B. Z.," a despatch from Holland giving the news that America had broken relations with Germany. The political skill and foresight of Herr Stresemann may be judged from the above incident.
The Socialists, or Social Democrats, more properly speaking, have shown themselves in opposition to the monarchical form of government in Germany. This has put them politically, militarily and socially beyond the pale.
After a successful French attack in the Champagne, I heard it said of a German woman, whose husband was thought to be killed, that her rage and despair had been so great that she had said she would become a Social Democrat; and her expression was repeated as showing to what lengths grief had driven her. This girl was the wife of an ordinary clerk working in Berlin.
The Social Democrats are not given offices, are not given titles: they never join the class of "Rat," and they cannot hope to become officers of the army. Did not Lieutenant Forstner, the notorious centre of the Zabern Affair, promise a reward to the first one of his men who in case of trouble should shoot one "of those damn Social Democrats"?
There is, therefore, no refuge at present politically, for the reasonable men of liberal inclinations; and it is these liberal men who must themselves create a liberal party: a party, membership in which will not entail a loss of business, a loss of prospects of promotion and social degradation.
There are many such men in Germany to-day; perhaps some of the conservative Socialists will join such a party, and there are men in the government itself whose habits of mind and thought are not incompatible with member-ship in a liberal organisation. The Chancellor himself is, perhaps, at heart a Liberal. He comes of a banking family in Frankfort and while there stands before his name the "von" which means nobility, and while he owns a country estate, the whole turn of his thought is towards a philosophical liberalism. Zimmermann, the Foreign Secretary, although the mental excitement caused by his elevation to the Foreign Office at a time of stress, made him go over to the advocates of ruthless submarine war,. lock, stock and barrel, is nevertheless at heart a Liberal and violently opposed to a system which draws the leaders of the country from only one aristocratic class. Dr. Solf, the Imperial Colonial Minister, while devoted to the Emperor and his family is a man so reasonable in his views, so indulgent of the views of others, and indulgent without weakness, that he would make an ideal leader of a liberalised Germany. The great bankers, merchants and manufacturers, although they appreciate the luscious dividends that they have received during the peaceful years since 187o, nevertheless feel under their skins the ignominy of living in a country where a class exists by birth, a class not even tactful enough to conceal its ancient contempt for all those who soil their hands by business or trade.
In fact such a party is a necessity for Germany as a buffer against the extreme Social Democrats.
At the close of the war the soldiers who have fought in the mud of the trenches for three years will most insistently demand a redistricting of the Reichstag and an abolition of the inadequate circle voting of Prussia. And when manhood suffrage comes in Prussia and when the industrial population of Germany gets that representation in the Reichstag out of which they have been brazenly cheated for so many years, it may well be that a great liberal party will be the only defence of private property against the assault of an enraged and justly revengeful social democracy.
The workingmen of Germany have been fooled for a long time. They constitute that class of which President Lincoln spoke, "You can fool some of the people all of the time"; and the middle class of manufacturers, merchants, etc. have acquiesced in the system because of the profits that they have made.
The difficulty of making peace with Germany, as at present constituted, is that the whole world feels that peace made with its present government would not be lasting; that such a peace would mean the detachment of some of the Allies from the present world alliance against Germany; preparation by Germany, in the light of her needs as disclosed by this war; and the declaration of a new war in which there would be no battle of the Marne to turn back the tide of German world conquest.
For a long time before this war, radicals in Great Britain pinned a great faith to the Socialist party of Germany. How little that faith was justified appeared in July and August of 1914 when the Socialist party tamely voted credits for the war; a war declared by the Emperor on' the mere statement that it was a defensive war; declared because it was alleged that certain invasions of German territory, never since substantiated, had taken place.
The Socialist party is divided. It is a great pity that the world cannot deal with men of the type of Scheidemann, who, in other democracies, would appear so con servative as to be almost reactionary. But Scheidemann and his friends, while they have, in their attempted' negotiations with the Socialists of other countries, the present protection of the Imperial Government, will have no hand in dictating terms of peace so long as that government is in existence. They are being used in an effort to divide the Allies.
As President Wilson said in his message to Russia of May twenty-sixth, 1917: "The war has begun to go against Germany, and, in their desperate desire to escape the inevitable ultimate defeat, those who are in authority in Germany are using every possible instrumentality, are making use even of the influence of the groups and par-ties among their own subjects to whom they have never been just or fair or even tolerant to promote a propaganda on both sides of the sea which will preserve for them their influence at home and their power abroad, to the undoing of the very men they are using."
There is an impression abroad that the Social Democratic party of Germany, usually known abroad as the Socialist party, partakes of at least some of the characteristics of a great liberal party. This is far from being the case. By their acts, if not by their express declarations, they have shown themselves as opposed to the monarchical form of government and their leaders are charged with having declared themselves openly in favour of free love and against religion. The Roman Catholic Church recognises in Social Democracy its greatest enemy, and has made great efforts to counteract its advance by fostering a sort of Roman Catholic trades-union for a religious body of Socialists. The Social Democrat in Germany is almost an outcast. Although one-third of the members of the Reichstag belong to this party, its members are never called to hold office in the government; and the attitude of the whole of the governing class, of all the professors, school-teachers, priests of both Protestant and Roman Catholic religions of the prosperous middle classes, is that of violent opposition to the doctrines of Social Democracy. The world must entertain no illusion that the Social Democratic leaders speak for Germany.
If the industrial populations had their fair share of representation in the Reichstag they might perhaps even con. trol that body. But, as I have time and again reiterated, the Reichstag has only the power of public opinion; and the Germany of to-day is ruled by officials appointed from above downwards. All of these officials in Germany must be added to the other classes that I have mentioned. There are more officials there than in any other country in the world. As they owe their very existence to the government, they must not only serve that government, but also make the enemies of that government their own. Therefore, they and the circle of their connections are opponents of the Social Democrats.
All this shows how difficult it is at present for the men of reasonable and liberal views, who do not wish to declare themselves against both religion and morality, to find a political refuge.
The Chancellor, himself a liberal at heart, as I have said, has declared that there must be changes in Germany. It is perhaps within the bounds of probability that a great new liberal party will be formed to which I have referred, composed of the more conservative Social Democrats, of the remains of the National Liberal and Progressive parties and of the more liberal of the Conservatives. The important question is then whether the Roman Catholic party or Centrum will voluntarily dissolve and its members cease to seek election merely as representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is perhaps too much to expect that the Centrum party, as a whole and as at present constituted, will declare for liberalism and parliamentary government and for a fair redistricting of the divisions in Germany which elect members to the Reichstag, but there are many wise and far-seeing men in this party; and its leaders, Dr. Spahn and Erzberger, are fearless and able men.
For some years a movement has been going on in the Centrum party looking to this end. Many members believed that the time had come when it was no longer necessary that the Roman Catholics in order to safeguard their religious liberties continue the political existence of the Centrum, and attempts were made to bring about this change. It was decided adversely, however, by the Roman Catholics. But the question is not dead. Voluntary dissolution of the Centrum as a Roman Catholic party would immediately bring about a creation of a true liberal party to which all Germans could belong without a loss of social prestige, without becoming declared enemies of the monarchy and without declaring themselves against religion and morality.
At the Congress which will meet after the war it will be easy for the nations of the world to deal with the representatives of a liberal Germany, with representatives of a government still monarchical in form, but possessed of either a constitution like that of the United States or ruled by a parliamentary government. I believe that the tendency of German liberalism is towards the easiest transition, that of making the Chancellor and his ministers responsible to the Reichstag and bound to resign after a vote of want of confidence by that body.
At the time of the Zabern Affair, Scheidemann claimed that the resignation of the Chancellor must logically follow a vote of want of confidence; and it was von Bethmann-Hollweg who refused to resign, saying that he was responsible to the Emperor alone. It requires no violent change to bring about this establishment of parliamentary government, and, if the members of the Reichstag should be elected from districts fairly constituted, the world would then be dealing with a liberalised Germany, and a Germany which has become liberalised without any violent change in the form of its government.
Of course, coincident with this parliamentary reform, the vicious circle system of voting in Prussia must end.
This change to a government by a responsible ministry can be accomplished under the constitution of the German Empire by a mere majority vote of the Reichstag and a vote in the Bundesrat, in which less than fourteen votes are against the proposed change in the constitution. This means that the consent of the Emperor as Prussian King must be obtained; and that of a number of the rulers of the German States.
In the reasonable liberalisation of Germany, if it comes, Theodor Wolff and his father-in-Iaw, Mosse, will play leading parts. The great newspaper, the Tageblatt, which Mosse owns and Wolff edits, has through-out the war been a beacon light at once of reason and of patriotism. And other great newspapers will take the same enlightened course.
I am truly sorry for Georg Bernhard the talented editor of the Vossiche Zeitung, who, a Liberal and a Jew, wears the livery of Junkerdom, I am sure to his great distaste.
After I left Germany the Vossiche Zeitung made the most ridiculous charges against me, such as that I issued American passports to British subjects. The newspaper might as well have solemnly charged that. I sent notes to the Foreign Office in sealed envelopes. Having charge of British interests, I could not issue British passports to British citizens allowed to leave Germany, but, according to universal custom in similar cases and the express . consent of the Imperial Foreign Office, I gave these returning British, American passports superstamped with the words "British subject." A mare's nest, truly!
The fall of von Bethmann-Hollweg was a triumph of kitchen intrigue and of Junkerism. I believe that he is a liberal at heart, that it was against his best judgment that the ruthless submarine war was resumed, the pledges of the Sussex Note broken and Germany involved in war with America. If he had resigned, rather than consent to the resumption of U-boat war, he would have stood out as a great Liberal rallying point and probably have re-turned to a more real power than he ever possessed. But half because of a desire to retain office, half because of a mistaken loyalty to the Emperor, he remained in office at the sacrifice of his opinions; and when he laid down that office no title of Prince or even of Count waited him as a parting gift. In his retirement he will read the lines of Schiller a favourite quotation in Germany "Der Mohr hat seine Schuldigkeit gethan, der Mohr kann gehen." "The Moor has done his work, the Moor can go." And in his old age he will exclaim, as Shakespeare makes the great Chancellor of Henry the Eighth ex-claim, "Oh Cromwell, Cromwell! Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my King, He would not, in mine age, have left me naked to mine enemies." But this God is not the private War God of the Prussians with whom they believe they have a gentlemen's working agreement, but the God of Christianity, of humanity and of all mankind.
It would have been easier for Germany to make peace with von Bethmann-Hollweg at the helm. The whole world knows him and honours him for his honesty.
Helfferich remained as Vice-Chancellor and Minister of the Interior: a powerful, and agile intellect, a man, I am sure, opposed to militarism. Reasonable in his views, one can sit at the council table with him and arrive at compromises and results, but his intense patriotism and surpassing ability make him an opponent to be feared.
Kuhlmann has the Foreign Office. Far more wily than Zimmermann, he will continue to strive to embroil us with Japan and Mexico, but he will not be caught. Second in command in London, he reported then that England would enter the war. The rumours scattered broadcast, as he took office, to the effect that he was opposed to ruthless U-boat war were but evidences of a more skilful hand in a campaign to predispose the world in his favour and, therefore, to assist him in any negotiations he might have on the carpet. Beware of the wily Kuhlmann !
Baiting the Chancellor is the favourite sport of German political life. No sooner does the Kaiser name a Chancellor than hundreds of little politicians, Reichstag members, editors, reporters and female intriguers try to drive him from office. When von Bethmann-Hollweg showed an inclination towards Liberalism, and advocated a juster electoral system for Prussia, the Junkers, the military and the upholders of the caste system joined their forces to those of the usual intriguers; and it was only a question of time until the Chancellor's official head fell in the basket.
His successor is a Prussian bureaucrat. No further description is necessary.
Of course no nation will permit itself to be reformed from without. The position of the world in arms with reference to Germany is simply this. It is impossible to make peace with Germany as at present constituted, because that peace will be but a truce, a short breathing space before the German military autocrats again send the sons of Germany to death in the trenches for the advancement of the System and the personal glory and ad-vantage of stuffy old generals and prancing princes.
The world does not believe that a free Germany will needlessly make war, believe in war for war's sake or take up the profession of arms as a national industry.
The choice lies with the German people. And how admirably has our great President shown that people that we war not with them but with the autocracy which has led them into the shambles of dishonour.