E. Belfort Bax, German Situation I, Justice, 30th September 1915, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).
The manifesto of the Social-Democratic “fraction” in the Reichstag on the question of a peace settlement recently published gives occasion for a review of the situation. This manifesto is a document startling in the light it throws on the moral perversion of official Social-Democracy in Germany. It is a document which no bourgeois jingo need be ashamed of. Worthy of note is it that the time-honoured plank in the foreign policy of German Socialism, the repudiation of the international crime of the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, is thrown overboard. The retention of the annexed French provinces by Germany is demanded by Socialists (save the mark!) in the future peace settlement.
Corruptio optimi pessima! The attitude of the majority of the Reichstag “fraction” certainly affords an apt illustration of the old Latin proverb. Of all vile political figures the renegade Socialist, the “revisionist” ratter, is assuredly the vilest. An honest, straightforward Tory or Liberal one can respect. But how can we regard such “comrades” as David, Koster, Südekum and Heine? We may hope and believe that they will find, when the time comes, little support from the masses of the Social-Democrats of Germany; but the unfortunate fact remains that, for the nonce, they represent, or misrepresent, them to the world at large. As comrade Royer has it in his recent pamphlet barring certain utterances of Karl Liebknecht: “We do not know up to the present of any other denunciation of the crime, I will not say of Germany, but the crime of the Imperial Government of William II.” The moral stupor of the middle and upper classes of Germany; there is only too much reason to fear, has not left the working classes completely unaffected.
One change in German public sentiment within the last two generations is particularly noticeable. Some of us even to-day can remember the distrust and hatred which the German of our youth (Saxon, Thuringian, Würtemberger, Badener, Bavarian) had for Prussia and the Prussians. But since 1871, when all Germany was absorbed by the half-Slav monarchy of the North, care has been taken through the schools and otherwise to obliterate this feeling altogether, and to represent the politically-united Prussians and Germans as one people. (As a matter of fact, the history of Prussia shows that Prussia has throughout sought its own interests at the expense of those of Germany.) In the above, and in other ways, the German has become completely Prussianised. From being politically the vassal of Prussia, he has become intellectually and morally the obedient slave of Prussia.
Few people realise how completely the German peoples are dominated by the Prussian monarchy. The King of Prussia, under the title of German Emperor, is absolute master of the army and navy, customs and taxation, the postal system, and, indirectly, of the educational arrangements throughout Germany. He appoints his own Chancellor and Ministers, irrespective of the German nation. Neither he nor the Prussian civil and military camarilla surrounding him is responsible to the German Parliament (Reichstag), such as it is, which he, as Kaiser, can call together and dissolve at will, and whose legislative action he can veto as he pleases. That the non-Prussian German is occasionally even now roused to his old anti-Prussian feeling has leaked out on several occasions in the course of the present war. But In the main, Prussian discipline, i.e., the slave spirit diffused by Prussia, dominates everything from its centre and breeding-place, the army, up to the Social-Democratic fraction the Reichstag.
It cannot be too often impressed upon the average Englishman that this war is Prussian in its origin, and Prussian in its leadership, waged, if not wholly at least to an appreciable extent, by German slaves in the interests of the king of Prussia and the military Junker class surrounding him.
It is the common thing to abuse our pacifists as pro-Germans, meaning, not that they are concerned for the welfare of the German peoples, but that they wish the Prusso-German Army to win this war. Now I believe the latter to be by no means true of all who may be considered pacifists. The attitude of sincere Socialist pacifists (in contradistinction to some who may be simply disguised agents of the German Government) is partly merely stupid “agin’ the government”-ism, and partly a sincere desire for peace for the moment at any price. Now we all want peace, but most of us insist that it shall be a peace worth having: a peace, in the true sense of the word, honourable! I say in the true sense of the word, for as we all know the word honourable is often used in the sense of bourgeois Chauvinism as meaning something consistent with national prestige so-called, often a very queer sort of article, which Socialists may well disregard.
But what our pacifist friends entirely ignore is the fact that the conditions of this war must condition also the nature of the ensuing peace. They commonly talk as though we had to do with an ordinary war in which two Powers had mutually agreed to fight out a difference as to which there was obviously something to be said on both sides, and which was bring conducted on either side decently and according to the rules of civilised warfare. In this, of course, they are begging the whole question. For most of us who wish victory for the Allies, the latter are fighting against mere common crime – brigandage, piracy, pillage, and murder. It is now clear to every impartial per-roil that we have in the governmental and military circles of Berlin and Potsdam a nest of treacherous criminals of a peculiarly odious type, who will stick at nothing to plunder and destroy neighbouring nations. This much is clear.
The question now arises: How far must the German people be regarded as responsible by aiding and abetting the crimes of their rulers? According to the official version, the whole nation is solid behind its Kaiser and his militant authorities. There are certain indications, however, tending to show that this is not quite true. Take, for instance, the obituary notices in Vorwärts. We find here expressions of grief at once simple, sincere, and dignified, with never a word of the conventional Vaterland fustian On the contrary, one often notices veiled indications of disgust. Vorwärts itself seems to go as far as it dare in its criticisms of current affairs. Then again, even in the hopelessly involved Reichstag fraction there are, it appears, at east thirty members who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Yet again, of the “split” in the Party in the provinces, especially in the south, tidings are constantly leaking out. All of these things are straws indicating a least that the unanimity of the German peoples in endorsing the criminal conduct of their Prussian rulers – and oppressors – is not so absolute as it is officially represented to be.
(To be concluded)
Last updated on 28.5.2007