Germany - The System
( Originally Published 1917 )
PEOPLE of other countries have been wondering why it is that the German government is able so easily to impose its will upon the German people. I have set out in another chapter, in detail, the political system from which you have seen that the Reichstag is nothing but a debating society; that the Prussians do not really have universal suffrage but, by reason of the vicious circle system of voting, the elective franchise remains in the hands of the few; and that the government of the country through the Landrate, Regierungsprasidenten and Oberprasidenten is a central system from above downwards and not the election of the rulers by the people; and, in the chapter on militarism and Zabern, I have told by what means the control of the army is kept in the hands of the class of nobles.
These are not the only means by which the system controls the country. These alone would not suffice. From the time when he is four years old, the German is disciplined and taught that his government is the only good and effective form. The teachers in the schools are all government paid and teach the children only the principles desired by the rulers of the German people.. There are no Saturday holidays in the German schools and their summer holidays are for only three to five weeks. You never see gangs of small boys in Germany. Their games and their walks are superintended by their teachers who are always inculcating in them reverence and awe for the military heroes of the past and present. On Saturday night the German boy is turned over by the State paid school teacher to the State paid pastor who adds divine authority to the principles of reverence for the German system.
There is a real system of caste in Germany. For instance, I was playing tennis one day with a man and, while dressing afterwards, I asked him what he was. He answered that he was a Kaufmann, or merchant. For the German this answer was enough. It placed him in the merchant class. I asked him what sort of a Kaufmann he was. He then told me he was president of a large electrical company. Of course, with us he would have answered first that he was president of the electrical company, but being a German he simply disclosed his caste without going into details. It is a curious thing on the registers of guests in a German summer resort to see Mrs. Manufactory Proprietor Schultze registered with Mrs. Landrat Schwartz and Mrs. Second Lieutenant von Bing. Of course, there is no doubt as to the relative social positions of Mrs. Manufactory-Proprietor Schultze and Mrs. Second Lieutenant von Bing. Mrs. Manufactory-Proprietor Schultze may have a steam yacht and a tiara, an opera box and ten million marks. She may be an old lady noted for her works of charity. Her husband may have made discoveries of enormous value to the human race, but she will always be compelled to take her place behind Mrs. Second Lieutenant von Bing, even if the latter is only seventeen years old.
Of course, occasionally, officers of the army and navy condescend to marry into the merchant: caste, and if a girl has a choice of three equally attractive young men, one a doctor, earning ten thousand dollars a year; one a manufacturer, earning the same amount; and one an army officer with a "von" before his name and three thousand dollars a year, there is no hesitation on her part: she takes the noble and the army officer.
For years all the highest official positions of the government have been held by members of the Prussian noble class, and when Zimmermann, of a substantial family in East Prussia, but not of noble birth, was made Foreign Minister, the most intense surprise was exhibited all over Germany at this innovation.
One of the most successful ways of disciplining the people is by the Rat system. Rat means councillor, and is a title of honour given to any one who has attained a certain measure of success or standing in his chosen business or profession. For instance, a business man is made a commerce Rat; a lawyer, a justice Rat; a doctor, a sanitary Rat; an architect or builder, a building Rat; a keeper of the archives, an archive Rat; and so on. They are created in this way: first, a man becomes a plain Rat, then, later on, he becomes a secret Rat or privy councillor; still later, a court secret Rat and, later still, a wirklicher, or really and truly secret court Rat to which may be added the title of Excellency, which puts the man who has attained this absolutely at the head of the Rat ladder.
But see the insidious working of the system. By German custom the woman always carries the husband's title. The wife of a successful builder is known as Mrs. Really Truly Secret Court Building Rat and her social precedence over the other women depends entirely upon her husband's position in the Rat class. Titles of nobility alone do not count when they come in contact with a high government position. Now if a lawyer gets to be about forty years old and is not some sort of a Rat, his wife begins to nag him and his friends and relations look at him with suspicion. There must be something in his life which prevents his obtaining the coveted distinction and if there is anything in a man's past, if he has shown at any time any spirit of opposition to the government, as disclosed by the police registers, which are kept written up to date about every German citizen, then he has no chance of obtaining any of these distinctions which make up so much of the social life of Germany. It is a means by which the government keeps a far tighter hold on the intellectual part of its population than if they were threatened with torture and the stake. The Social Democrats, who, of course, have declared themselves against the existing system of government and in favour of a republic, can receive no distinctions from the government because they dared to lift their voices and their pens in criticism of the existing order. For them there is the fear of the law. Convictions for the crime of Lèse-Majesté are of almost daily occurrence and, at the opening of the war, an amnesty was granted in many of these cases, the mintistry of war withdrawing many prosecutions against poor devils waiting their trial in jail because they had dared to speak disrespectfully of the army. The following quotation from a German book, written since the war, shows very clearly that this state of affairs existed: "In the beneficent atmosphere of general amnesty came the news that the Minister of War had withdrawn pending prosecutions against newspapers on account of their intsuits to the army or its members." (Dr. J. Jastrow, "Im Kriegszustand.")
Besides the Rat system and the military system, there exists the enormous mass of Prussian officials. In a country where so many things are under government control these officials are almost immeasurably more numerous than in other countries. In Prussia, for example, all the railways are government-owned, with the exception of one road about sixty miles long and a few small branch roads. This army of officials are retainers of the government, and not only, of course, themselves refrain from criticising the system, but also use their influence upon the members of their own family and all with whom they come in contact. They are subject to trial in special secret courts and one of them who dared in any way to criticise the existing system would not for long remain a member of it. Of course, the members of the Reichstag have the privilege of free speech without responsibility, and there are occasional Socialists, who know that they have nothing to expect from the government, who dare to speak in criticism.
All the newspapers are subject to control as in no other country. In the first place their proprietors are subject to the influence of the Rat system as is every other German, and the newspaper proprietor, whose sons perhaps enter the army, whose daughters may be married to naval officers or officials, and who seeks for his sons promotion as judge, state's attorney, etc., has to be very careful that the utterances of his newspaper do not pre-vent his promotion in the social scale or interfere with the career of his family and relations.
Since the war while a preventive censure does not exist in Germany nevertheless a newspaper may be suppressed at will; a fearful punishment for a newspaper, which, by being suppressed for, say, five days or a week, has its business affairs thrown into the utmost confusion and suffers an enormous direct loss.
Many of the larger newspapers are either owned or influenced by concerns like the Krupps'. For instance, during this war, all news coming from Germany to other countries has been furnished by either the Over-Seas or Trans-Ocean service, both news agencies in which the Krupps are large stockholders. The smaller newspapers are influenced directly by the government.
In the Middle Ages there was often declared a sort of truce to prevent fighting in a city, which was called the Burgfrieden or "peace of the city," and, at the beginning of this war, all political parties were supposed to declare a sort of Burgfrieden and not try to obtain any political advantage.
There was, therefore, intense indignation among the Social Democrats of Germany when it was discovered, in the spring of 1916, that the Minister of the Interior was making arrangements to send out news service to be furnished free to the smaller newspapers, and that he was engaged in instructing the various Landrate and other officials of the Interior Department how effectively to use this machinery in order to gull the people to the advantage of the government, and to keep them in ignorance of anything which might tend to turn them against the system.
Besides the Rat system there is, of course, the system of decorations. Countless orders and decorations are given in Germany. At the head is the Order of the Black Eagle ; there are the Order of the Red Eagle, the Prussian Order of the Crown, the orders, "Pour le Mérite," the Order of the House of Hohenzollern, and many othters, and in each of the twenty-five States there are also orders, distinctions and decorations. These orders in turn are divided into numerous classes. For instance, a man can have the Red Eagle order of the first, second, third or fourth class, and these may be complicated with a laurel crown, with an oak crown, with swords and with stars, etc. Even domestic servants, who have served a long time in one family, receive orders; and faithful postmen and other officials who have never appeared on' the police books for having made statements against the government or the army are sure of receiving some sort of order.
Once a year in Berlin a great festival is held called the Ordensfest, when all who hold orders or decorations of any kind are invited to a great banquet. The butler, who has served for twenty-five years, there rubs shoulders with the diplomat who has received a Black Eagle for adding a colony to the German Empire, and the faithful cook may be seated near an officer who has obtained "Pour le Merite" for sinking an enemy warship. All this in one sense is democratic, but in its effect it tends to induce the plain people to be satisfied with a piece of ribbon instead of the right to vote, and to make them upholders of a system by which they are deprived of any opportunity to make a real advance in life.
This system is the most complete that has ever existed in any country, because it has drawn so many of the in-habitants of the country into its meshes. Practically, the industrial workers of the great towns and the stupid peas-ants in the country are the only people in Germany left out of its net.
I had a shooting place very near Berlin, in fact I could reach it in three quarters of an hour by motor from the Embassy door, and there I had an opportunity of studyting the conditions of life of the peasant class.
Germany is still a country of great proprietors. Lands maybe held there by a tenure which was abolished in Great Britain hundreds of years ago. In Great Britain, property may 'only be tied up under fixed conditions during the lives of certain chosen people, in being at the death of the testator. In the State of New York, property may only be tied up during the lives of two persons, in being at the death of the person making the will, and for twenty-one years (the minority of an infant) thereafter. But in the Central Empires, property still may be tied up for an indefinite period under the feudal system, so that great estates, no matter how extravagant the life tenant may be, are not sold and do not come into the market for division among the people.
For instance, today there exist estates in the Central Empires which must pass from oldest son to oldest san indefinitely and, failing that, to the next in line, and so on; and conditions have even been annexed by which children cannot inherit if their father has married a woman not of a stated number of quarterings of nobility. There is a Prince holding great estates in Hungary. He is a bachelor and if he desires his children to inherit these estates there are only thirteen girls in the world whom he can marry, according to the terms of the instrument by which some distant ancestor founded this inheritance.
This vicious system has prevented extensive peasant proprietorship. The government, however, to a certain extent, has encouraged peasant proprietorship, but only with very small parcels of land; and it would be an unusual thing in Germany, especially in Prussia, to find a peasant owning more than twenty or thirty acres of land, most of the land being held by the peasants in such small quantities that after working their own lands they have time left to work the lands of the adjoining landed proprietor at a very small wage.
All the titles of the nobility are not confined to the oldest son. The "Pocketbook of Counts," published by the same firm which publishes the "Almanac de Gotha,' contains the counts of Austria, Germany and Hungary together, showing in this way the intimate personal relation between the noble families of these three countries, All the sons of a count are counts, and so on, ad infinitum. Thus in Hungary there are probably seventy Counts Szecheny and about the same number of Zichy, etc. Some of the German noble families are not far behind. In fact it may be said that almost any person, in what is known as "society" in the Central Empires, has a title of some sort. The prefix "von" shows that the person is a noble and is often coupled with names of people who have no title. By custom in Germany, a "von" when he goes abroad is allowed to call himself Baran. But in Germany he could not do so. These noble families in the Central Empires, by the system of Majorat which I have described, hold large landed estates, and naturally exert a great influence upon their labourers. As a rule the system of tenant fanning does not exist; that is, estates are not leased to small farmers as was the custom in Ireland and is still in Great Britain, but estates are worked as great agricultural enterprises under superintendents appointed by the proprietor. This system, impossible in America or even in Great Britain, is possible in the Central Empires where the villages are full of peasants who, not so many generations ago, were serfs attached to the land and who lived in wholesome fear of the landed proprietors.
This is the first method by which influence is exercised on the population. There is also the restricted franchise or "circle voting" which gives the control of the franchise to a few rich proprietors.
As a rule, the oldest son enters the army as an officer and may continue, but if he has not displayed any special aptitude for the military profession he retires and manages his estate. These estates are calculated by their proprietors to give at least four per cent interest income on the value of the land. Many younger sons after a short term of service in the army, usually as officers and not as Einjahriger leave the army and enter diplomacy or some other branch of the government service. The offices of judge, district attorney, etc., not being elective, this career as well as that leading to the position of Landrat and over-president of a province is open to those who, because they belong to old Prussian landed families, find favour in the eyes of the government. Much is heard in Germany and out of Germany of the Prussian Squire or Junker.
There is no leisure class among the Junkers. They are all workers, patriotic, honest and devoted to the Emperor and the Fatherland. If it is possible that government by one class is to be suffered, then the Prussian Junkers have proved themselves more fit for rule than any class in all history. Their virtues are Spartan, their minds narrow but incorruptible, and their bravery and patriotism undoubted. One can but admire them and their stern virtues. This class, largely because of its poverty and its constant occupation, does not travel; nor does the casual tourist or health seeker in Germany come in contact with these men. The Junkers will fight hard to keep their privileges, and the throne will fight hard for the Junkers because they are the greatest supporters of the Hohenzollerns.
The workingmen in the cities are hard workers and probably work longer and get less out of life than any workingmen in the world. The laws so much admired and made ostensibly for their protection, such as insurance against unemployment, sickness, injury, old age, etc., are in reality skilful measures which bind them to the soil as effectively as the serfs of the Middle Ages were bound to their masters' estates.
I have had letters from workingmen who have worked in America begging me for a steerage fare to America, saying that their insurance payments were so large that they could not save money out of their wages. Of course, after having made these payments for some years, the workingman naturally hesitates to emigrate and so lose all the premiums he has paid to the State. In peace times a skilled mechanic in Germany received less than two dollars a day, for which he was compelled to work at least ten hours. Agricultural labourers in the Central Empires are poorly paid. The women do much of the work done here by men. For instance, once when staying at a noble-man's estate in Hungary, I noticed that the gardeners were all women, and, on inquiring how much they received, I was told they were paid about twenty cents a day. The women in the farming districts of Germany are worked harder than the cattle. In summer time they are out in the fields at five or six in the morning and do not return until eight or later at night. For this work they are sometimes paid as high as forty-eight cents a day in harvest time. Nevertheless, these small wages tempt many Russians to Germany during the harvest season. At the outbreak of the war there were perhaps fifty thousand Russians employed in Germany; men, women and girls. These the Germans retained in a sort of slavery to work the fields. I spoke to one Polish girl who was working on an estate over which I had shooting rights, near Berlin. She told me that at the commencement of the war she and her family were working in Germany and that since the war they all desired to return to Poland but that the Germans would not permit it.
This hard working of women in agricultural pursuits tends to stupefy and brutalise the rural population and keeps them in a condition of subjection to the Prussian Church and the Prussian system, and in readiness for war. Both Prussian Junkers and the German manufacturers look with favour upon the employment of so many women in farm work because the greater the number of the labourers, the smaller their wages throughout the country.
When I first came to Germany I, of course, was filled with the ideas that prevailed in America that the German workingman had an easy time. My mind was filled with pictures of the German workingmen sitting with their families at tables, drinking beer and listening to classical music. After I had spent some time in Germany, I found that the reason that the German workingmen sat about the tables was because they were to tired to do anything else.
I sincerely hope that after the war the workingmen of this country will induce delegates of their German brothers to make a tour of America. For when the German workingmen see how much better off the Americans are, they will return to Germany and demand shorter hours and higher wages ; and the American will not be brought into competition with labour slaves such as the German workingmen of the period before the war.
As one goes through the streets of Berlin there are no evidences of poverty to be seen; but over fifty-five per cent of the families in Berlin are families living in one room.
The Germans are taken care of and educated very much in the same way that the authorities here look after the inmates of a poor-house or penitentiary. Such a thing as a German railway conductor rising to be president of the road is an impossibility in Germany; and the list of self-made men is small indeed, by that I mean men who have risen from the ranks of the workingmen.
The Socialists, representing the element opposed to the Conservatives, elect a few members to the Prussian Lower House and about one-third of the members to the Reichstag, but otherwise have no part whatever in the government. No Socialist would have any chance whatever if he set out to enter the government service with the ambition of becoming a district attorney or judge. Jews have not much chance in the government service. A few exceptions have been made. At one time Dernburg, who carried on the propaganda in America during the first year of the war, and who is a Jew, was appointed Colonial Minister of the Empire.
In my opinion, the liberalisation of Prussia has been halted by the fact that there has been no party of protest except that of the Socialists, and the Socialists, because they have, in effect, demanded abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic as part of their programme, have been unable to do anything in the obtaining of the reforms.
Up to the beginning of the war there was great dissatisfaction. The people were irritated by certain direct taxes such as the tax upon matches, and because every Protestant in Prussia was compelled to pay a tax for the support of the church, unless he made a declaration that he was an atheist.
The only class in Germany which knows something of the outside world is the Kaufmann class. Prussian nobles of the ruling class are not travellers. They are always busy with the army and navy, government employments or their estates; and, as a rule, too poor to travel. The poor, of course, do not travel, and the Kaufmann, although he learns much in his travels in other countries to make him dissatisfied with the small opportunity which he has in a political way in Germany, is satisfied to let things stand because of the enormous profits which he makes through the low wages and long hours of the German workingman.
Lawyers and judges amount to little in Germany and we do not find there a class of political lawyers who, in republics, always seem to get the management of affairs in their own hands.