The Role of Force in History, Engels 1887
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.