Heine’s Germany by Georg Lukacs 1934

Heine’s Germany

Written: 1934
First Published: 1934 as introduction to the Russian edition of Heine’s Germany. A Winter’s Tale, pg. 9-47, Academia Publishing House, Moscow–Leningrad (in Russian)
Source: imwerden.de
Translated by: Anton P

Heine’s largest and most remarkable poem, Germany, written in 1844, completes and crowns his publicistic activity in Parisian exile, between the July revolution of 1830 and the February 1848. In Germany, he reproduces in perfect poetic form all the main motives of his journalism, his struggle for the bourgeois revolution in Germany, his tireless propaganda of the French model: the prototype of the Great Revolution and Napoleon I. This unity of journalism and poetry contains something unexpected only for a narrow-minded bourgeois view of literature. It surprised no one in the era of the revolutionary upsurge of the bourgeoisie. Publicistic activity and artistic narration merge together in Defoe, Voltaire and Diderot. And the first great fighter of the German revolutionary bourgeoisie, Lessing, ends his great struggle against reactionary religious prejudices in Germany–an important stage in the ideological emancipation of the bourgeoisie–with the drama Nathan the Wise. Just as this outstanding drama was, according to the witty remark of Friedrich Schlegel, the last chapter in Lessing’s campaign against the pastor Götze, so Heine’s Germany is the last chapter of his French Affairs and journalistic essays on Germany. And that is precisely why it represents the apogee of Heine’s poetic activity as well.

The poem Germany was created in exceptionally favorable political and personal conditions for Heine. The July Revolution, as is known, had a decisive influence on the development of Heine. The resettlement in Paris was only the latest conclusion from this internal turn. The greatest Romantic poet, as Heine was before the July Revolution, is now growing into the greatest German publicist since the time of Lessing, into the first poet of the modern era, into the greatest revolutionary poet in Germany hitherto. From his beautiful distance, Heine tirelessly preaches to petty-bourgeois, sleepy Germany the example of revolutionary France. From the initial sympathy with Saint-Simonism, he rises to a relatively deep understanding of communism and the labor movement that was not yet associated with it, prophetically foreseeing their inevitable connection in the future. With great knowledge of the matter and rare intuition, he develops the history of bourgeois ideology in Germany, all with the same journalistic and political goal: to extract from this history its revolutionary tendencies and to kill the reactionary-Romantic ones with his annihilating mockery. He was the first in Germany to grasp the revolutionary essence “esoterically” lurking in Hegelian philosophy, thus rising to a height that the radical Young Hegelians did not reach until many years later. (Of course, he did not reach the materialistic overcoming of Hegelian philosophy; in this respect he could never rise above the horizon of the bourgeois revolution.)

For over ten years Heine’s preaching has been the loudest cry in the wilderness. It was not only in Germany that his thoughts were poorly understood, but also the bourgeois-revolutionary émigrés, and above all Ludwig Boerne, took a narrow-minded, petty-bourgeois point of view on these questions. It was not until the 1840s, when Germany finally embarked on the path of capitalist development, that the German bourgeoisie began to speak out more clearly and decisively also in the ideological field. And Heine fell to the lot of great happiness precisely in these decisive years to personally approach and make friends with Marx. Karl Marx, who emigrated from Germany, founds the German-French Yearbooks in Paris, collaborates in the Parisian Vorwärts, all the time in close contact with Heine, who publishes his sharpest satirical poems here. This friendship with Marx inspired Heine to write his best revolutionary poem, The Weavers. And his Germany also undoubtedly owes its extraordinary clarity to this close affinity with Marx, although it is also true that without the rise of the revolutionary wave in Germany at that time, Heine’s poem could never have risen to its magnificent heights.

The struggle against Romanticism is the main problem of this poem. And from this side, it is a continuation of the publicistic activity of Heine, who, as we know, devoted one of his best works to the fight against the Romantic school in Germany. Heine’s struggle against Romanticism has always been a political struggle. In the Romantics, Heine pursues Germany’s reactionary response to the French Revolution and Napoleon; in the Romantics he sees the spiritual avant-garde of the era of the Holy Alliance. But in the 1840s, his struggle against German Romanticism acquired a new and heightened significance. All the reactionary forces of Germany are grouping around the new King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, for the last repulse of the threatening revolution, for the defense of Germany’s rotten reactionary system. The “esoteric” revolutionary core of Hegelian philosophy openly comes out in the Young Hegelians, and therefore Hegelianism, insofar as it does not go straight into the reactionary camp (in the form of its right wing), turns into a persecuted philosophy. If only a few years before most of the departments in German universities were occupied by followers of Hegel, now one repression after another falls upon the Hegelians. Not only the radical Bruno Bauer, but also the moderately liberal Friedrich Theodor Vischer, is subjected to repression, and for the greatest of the bourgeois Young Hegelians, Ludwig Feuerbach, there is no chair in all of Germany. On the other hand, the new regime summons the old Schelling, spiritually dead and completely immersed in reaction, to Berlin to eradicate the “atheistic” ideology of Hegelianism, and he exalts to the skies the historical school of law, Ranke and other reactionary ideological currents. Censorship is getting stricter. The most important newspapers and magazines of the progressive bourgeoisie (the Rhine Gazette, Ruge’s Yearbooks, etc.) are closed. Herwegh is expelled from Prussia. And all these measures of the reaction, preparing for the last desperate battle, are carried out under the flag of Romantic idealism, which has again acquired a political physiognomy. In his excellent satirical poem The Emperor of China, Heine gives a sharp and profound characterization of the Romantic fantasy of Frederick William IV, ruthlessly ridiculing this empty and pompous idealism of the Prussian king:

My father was a dreadful bore,
A good-for-nothing dandy;
But I’m a mighty Emperor,
And love a bumper of brandy.

These glorious draughts all others surpass
In this, their magical power:
As soon as I have drain’d my glass,
All China bursts into flower.

The Middle Kingdom bursts into life,
A blossoming meadow seeming;
A man I wellnigh become, and my wife
Soon gives me signs of teeming.

On every side abundance reigns,
The sick no longer need potions;
Confucius, Court-philosopher, gains
Distinct and positive notions.

The ryebread the soldiers used to eat
Of almond cakes is made now;
The very vagabonds in the street
In silk and satin parade now.

The knightly Order of Mandarins,
Those weak old invalids, daily
Are gaining strength and filling their skins,
And shaking their pigtails gaily.

The great pagoda, faith’s symbol prized,
Is ready for those who’re believing;
The last of the Jews are here baptized,
The Dragon’s order receiving.

The noble Manchoos exclaim, when freed
From the presence of revolution:
“The bastinado is all that we need,
We want no constitution!”

The pupils of Æsculapius perhaps
May tell me that drink’s dissipation;
But I continue to drink my Schnaps,
To benefit the nation.

And so in drinking I persevere;
It tastes like very manna!
My people are happy, and drink their beer
And join in shouting Hosanna!

The struggle against political Romanticism is the main theme of the entire era. All progressive newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and scientific writings of that time are filled with responses to this campaign against the revived Romanticism. It is enough to read the articles of the young Marx in the Rhine Gazette, a particularly remarkable article against the historical school of law, to appreciate the enormous political and ideological significance of this struggle for the preparation of the revolution. And when Marx, during the period of friendship and ideological alliance with Bruno Bauer, propagated the “esoteric” – atheistic and revolutionary – Hegel, they produced a special essay on the criticism of the Romantic theory of art, the Romantic view of the religious essence of art. (To characterize that era, it is not important how great was the personal participation of Marx as the author of this work; it is enough to know that he participated in the preparatory work for it in the most active way.) And we find the same energetic struggle against Romanticism in all the writings of the then radical intelligentsia, especially among all radical Young Hegelians.

However, this critique of Romanticism remains limited and one-sided by representatives of the radical bourgeois intelligentsia; they see in Romanticism only something abstract and reactionary and do not grasp its concrete character, its concrete function in the class struggles of that time. They completely lose sight of the bourgeois character of Romanticism. They stop at superficial symptoms, like a craving for the Middle Ages. The petty-bourgeois radical theoreticians and publicists who fought against Romanticism in the abstract, proceeding from ideological symptoms and not from a class basis, thus torn Romantic ideology from its social background and thus cut off their path to a correct ideological struggle against it. As a result, they were bound to lose sight of the connection between the most important ideological components of the entire movement. If we compare the polemics of the young Marx–even at that stage of his development at which he had not yet reached the materialist reworking of Hegelian dialectics–with the polemics of other theoreticians of that time, we will see that among these latter, Romanticism suddenly appears on the historical stage, as if falling from heaven, while Marx, already in his youthful work on the historical school of law, reveals the connection between Romanticism and the bourgeois ideology of the eighteenth century. On this basis, Marx later gave a masterful characterization of Chateaubriand, “who combines in the most disgusting way the aristocratic skepticism and Voltaireanism of the eighteenth century with the aristocratic sentimentalism and Romanticism of the nineteenth century.” The inability of the petty-bourgeois radical critics of Romanticism to see the historical roots of Romantic ideology leads to the fact that, just as they overlooked the main bourgeois trend in the official Romantic-political reaction, they do not notice the Romantic elements in the bourgeois-liberal ideology in the same way. Yet precisely these Romantic elements are symptoms of the weakness and backwardness of the German bourgeoisie: ideological symptoms in which the seeds of its future class betrayal of the principles of the bourgeois revolution of 1848 are already lurking. The one-sided and isolated struggle against the Romantic ideology of reaction, against its embodiment in the German princes, further leads to obscuring the problems of the class struggle. Engels writes against the petty-bourgeois radical Karl Heinzen that from his struggle against the princes follows “not the necessity of a revolution, but the pious dream of a good prince, of the good Emperor Joseph [...] Heinzen will never be able to transfer to the princes the hatred that the serf has for the landowner, the worker for the employer.” The correct criticism of Romanticism, proceeding from the class foundation, thus plays an important political role in Marx and Engels in the ideological preparation of the revolution of 1848. The limited radicalism in the style of Heinzen, who, in the struggle against Romantic reaction in politics, forgets about the problems of the class struggle, was at that time no less a political danger than the opposite extreme of the “true socialists”, who, in an equally one-sided struggle against the bourgeoisie, lost sight of the political problems of the bourgeois revolution and thus unconsciously supported the Romantic reaction. And, finally, this limited one-sidedness robs the petty-bourgeois critics of Romanticism of any possibility of self-criticism, does not allow them to take a critical view of the Romantic elements in their own thinking. Marx astutely revealed these Romantic elements after the revolution in the most radical of the Young Hegelians, Bruno Bauer.

Heine was a stranger to historical materialism all his life, and therefore his criticism of Romanticism could never rise to the height from which Marx and Engels criticized Romanticism. But his close acquaintance with the class struggles in France, his comparatively wide political and social outlook, combined with a rich and free poetic intuition, bring him in places very close to Marx and Engels in his criticism of Romanticism; in any case, he stands here on a higher level than anyone else in Germany at that time, except Marx and Engels. Heine clearly sees the bourgeois character of Romanticism; he sees that the Middle Ages, which Romanticism supposedly seeks to revive, are in fact only a fantastic mask, under which petty, mean, backward bourgeois German reaction is hidden. In those parts of Germany that are devoted to the legend of Barbarossa – we will have to talk about them in more detail – he speaks on this subject in a sarcastically ironic form with the uttermost political annoyance:

Restore the old Holy Roman Empire,
As it was, whole and immense.
Bring back all its musty junk,
And all its foolish nonsense.

The Middle Ages I’ll endure,
If you bring back the genuine item;
Just rescue us from this bastard state,
And from its farcical system,

From that mongrel chivalry,
Such a nauseating dish
Of Gothic fancies and modern deceit,
That is neither flesh nor fish.

Shut down all the theatres,
And chase their comedians pack,
Who parody the olden days.
O, Emperor, do come back!

But this clarity in Heine still remains only relative. In contrast to Marx and Engels, who in their youthful development grew up as consistent revolutionary democrats into the theoretical founders of the proletarian-revolutionary movement and in the course of this development overcame every bourgeois ideology by substantiating dialectical materialism, in contrast to them, Heine settled on the point of view of the bourgeois revolution. Only from this can one understand his ambivalent and contradictory attitude towards the proletarian revolution. It combines all the progressive tendencies of the bourgeois-revolutionary ideology for the last time in the history of the Western European bourgeoisie. As such an ideologist as the last descendant of Goethe, Hegels and Saint-Simon, he often goes far beyond the limits of the bourgeois revolution and already sees the future emancipation of the working people. But for all that, his basic orientation remains generally bourgeois, his ideal remains a radically and comprehensively carried out bourgeois revolution, a flourishing and strong bourgeois society. Hence his enthusiastic admiration for Napoleon I. The versatility of his idea of this bourgeois revolution, his desire to think through to the end of each of its tendencies often elevates him above the bourgeois outlook. Since he lived and acted later, in a period of much more complex class struggle than his spiritual ancestors, he understood much more deeply than they did the limitations of the bourgeois system and the need to overcome it. But precisely for this reason these tendencies of Heine, which go beyond the limits of the bourgeois system, are in much sharper, more irreconcilable contradiction with his general views than was the case with his great predecessors. When he leaves behind Saint-Simonism and penetrates relatively deeply into the essence of the nascent working-class movement, then, of course, he rises high above the point of view of Saint-Simon, but at the same time deepens and sharpens the contradictions in his own thinking. He really seeks, as Marx once put it, truth “in the muck of contradictions.” These contradictions are so profound and irreconcilable that they even elicit an ideological reversal in Heine during and after the revolution of 1848. The 1848 battle, its historic culmination in the massacre of the Parisian proletariat in June, put an end forever on a world-historical scale to that type of bourgeois-progressive thinking, the last great representative of which was Heine. From this moment begins a sharp demarcation. Bourgeois thinkers, incapable of finally breaking with their class and joining the revolutionary class, the proletariat, migrate, with more or less ideological scruples, to the camp of apologetics. Even if we assume that the mattress grave played a role in Heine’s turn after 1848–we do not think so–it in any case prevented him from making a decisive transition to apologetics; he could remain in his vacillating state, riddled with contradictions, and die as the last progressive ideologist of the bourgeoisie, the singer of its world-historical mission, a soldier in a “lost post in the war of liberation.”

This basic contradiction in the whole personality of Heine determines his attitude to Romanticism. Heine is at the same time the heir of Romanticism and its liquidator. “Despite my campaigns of annihilation against Romanticism,” writes Heine after the revolution of 1848, “I myself have always remained a Romantic, and I have been a Romantic to a greater extent than I myself had thought. Having dealt deadly blows to the taste for Romantic poetry in Germany, I suddenly felt myself an infinite sadness for the blue flower of Romantic dreams, and I grabbed an enchanted lute and sang a song in which I drank in all the captivating excesses, all the charms of moonlight, all the blooming nightingale madness so beloved in the old days. I know it was the last free forest-song of Romanticism and I am its last singer; the old lyric school of the Germans is ending with me, just as a new school, modern German lyric poetry, began with me.” This self-portrait is very successful. It should only be added that we have in Heine not a chronological, as he himself thought, evolution of attitude toward Romanticism, overcoming it and returning to it, but a simultaneous, contradictory, dialectical combination of Romantic tendencies and counder-tendencies towards Romanticism’s final overcoming. Heine is such an image in a deeper sense than he himself thought, the heir and liquidator of Romanticism. In one point alone, Heine misleads in his self-portrait. He is not the initiator of a new flourishing of German lyrics. He is indeed the first great lyric poet of the revolutionary upsurge of the German bourgeoisie. But at the same time, he is also the last great lyric poet of that historical period, the period of the rise of the bourgeois-democratic movement in Germany. As the last representative of a great type doomed to perish after the revolution of 1848, Heine could no longer understand that a new revolutionary upsurge–and thus an upsurge of philosophy and poetry–was only possible henceforth on the part of the proletarian class.

Romanticism was, in Germany even more than in other countries, a protest against pettiness, against the squalor and prosaic nature of modern life. But this protest in Germany was two-faced from the very beginning: it is just as much a protest against the ossification and misery of petty-princely feudal absolutism as it is against the nascent capitalist system. This duplicity is revealed especially clearly in the initial period of Romanticism, with its passionate struggle against the narrow framework of the then German life and especially against the narrowness of marital and sexual morality. Only later does differentiation occur, and the majority of Romantics violently attack the progressive sides of capitalism and begin to glorify the poetry of backwardness, the forest idyll of feudal Germany. But in some, especially in E.T.A. Hoffmann, a different side of Romanticism is clearly visible, and a number of writers of the transitional period, who sought to overcome the reactionary tendencies of the Romantic movement, emphasize this other side more and more vigorously: especially, for example, Immermann, an associate of the young Heine. And in Heine himself this second tendency was always predominant, but nevertheless, as an artist, he also inherited the first Romantic tendency. This was possible because Heine had strong rebellious anti-capitalist tendencies from the very beginning (recall the robbery scene in his youth drama Ratcliffe). This initially albeit timid and confusing anti-capitalist tendency allows him, in protest against the mechanizing oppression of capitalist relations, against the strongly felt, though not understood, consequences of commodity fetishism, to appeal to Romantic nature, to sing of its enchanting charm, without, however, falling into a reactionary attraction to the primitive levels of social life.

The noted contradiction in the question of the popular-national nature, of the democratic nature of Romanticism, is even more profound. Marx once, in his youthful work, called the Middle Ages itself a “democracy of unfreedom”: a confused and contradictory idea of such a democracy is characteristic of all the great romantic critics of capitalism from Linguet to Carlyle. In Germany this duality was especially great. On the one hand, the movement for the abolition of serfdom and the transformation of obsolete state and military institutions that had collapsed in the wars against the revolution and Napoleon was gaining momentum. But, on the other hand, this movement, although under the influence of the French Revolution, at the same time strove for the restoration of long-obsolete forms, which had already been overcome in their time by the petty-princely feudal absolutism of Germany. Because of the apparently reactionary end results of this movement, we must not, however, forget that it itself, for all its ambiguity and obscurity, was still a democratic movement. It was the same in the ideological field. Although the appeal to the spirit of the people, to organic development in all areas of the social life of history, and especially in the field of the doctrine of law and the state, led to the most reactionary consequences (Savigny, etc.), it was nevertheless at first a desire to renew science, poetry and above all language with the help of democratic, and sometimes even plebeian sources. Des Knabens Wunderhom by Arnim and Brentano, collections of fairy tales and linguistic studies by the Brothers Grimm, Schatzkästlein by Hebel, etc., brought a fresh stream into the German language, enriched it from popular democratic sources, and although this was a continuation of the movement begun by Herder, only with Romanticism it did reach a much greater breadth and depth and, at the same time, was an opposition against the linguistic aristocracy of German Classicism. Despite the Romantic-reactionary ideology that accompanied this movement at the beginning and completely subjugated it later, this renewal from below of language, poetic form, images and rhythm was an international democratic movement caused by the French Revolution; this is most clearly evidenced by the fact that we observe similar currents, although greatly modified by national conditions, throughout Europe. The English Classicists scold Keats’ Romanticism for the “philistine” elements of his language, and Victor Hugo, then still a reactionary in politics, glorifies the linguistic revolution in one poem precisely from the point of view of the revolutionary striving for equality in language: “Language is like the estates of 1789. It had nobles and common people. One word was duke and peer of France, the other was a pitiful poor man... Words were stuffed into boxes... I put a red cap on the old dictionary and exclaimed: there are no more words-senators, no more words-philistines... There is no word, to which the idea, still fresh and wet from the azure sky, could not cling in its pure flight.” However, thanks to the works of Paul Lafargue, we know that the social background of this renewal of the language was the penetration of popular speech into literature during the years of the Great Revolution.

Thanks to the backwardness of German capitalism, this movement had a much more “rural” character in Germany than in France and England; for many German poets and scholars, it even takes on the tone of a Romantic polemic against everything urban and bourgeois, against the linguistic content and linguistic form of emerging capitalism. But here, too, one should not forget the duplicity of the Romantic movement. Hostility towards everything urban is directed, on the one hand, against the mustiness and squalor of backward German life, against the enlightened bourgeoisie in degenerate feudal absolutism (the struggle against Nicolai). But at the same time, one must not lose sight of the fact that Romanticism from the very beginning contained in itself–especially in Friedrich Schlegel and Tieck–strongly expressed urban elements, and that E. T. A. Hoffmann, who appeared later, was the first major urban poet of Germany to emerge from spirit of Romanticism.

Heine embraced this movement as a reform of language and poetry in all its breadth and depth. In his critique of Romanticism, he sees more clearly than all its other opponents that the Romantic movement initially sought to absorb and poetically transform all the living elements of the era, but that it failed in its design because it recoiled from its own conclusions, because it approached to them with a reactionary yardstick. Here is what he writes, for example, about the greatest theorist of early Romanticism, Friedrich Schlegel: “He comprehended all the splendors of the past and felt all the torments of the present. But he did not understand the holiness of these torments and their necessity for the future salvation of the world ... Poor Friedrich Schlegel, in the torments of our time he saw not the pangs of birth, but the agony of death, he did not understand why the veil in the temple was torn, why the earth shook and why the rocks split, and in mortal fear he fled under the shadow of the unsteady ruins of the Catholic Church.

The liberation movement against Napoleon I was permeated with the deepest contradiction, in which all the contradictions of Romanticism were concentrated. It was a revolutionary movement, inasmuch as it, for the first time since the Peasants’ War, raised Germany to a nationwide struggle for national unity and independence, one of the main goals of any bourgeois revolution, and because it was compelled to inscribe on its banner, albeit in a confused and indistinct form, the abolition of feudal survivals in Germany (the abolition of serfdom, etc.). But, on the other hand, it was also a reactionary movement, for it became an integral part of the struggle waged by the protagonists of European reaction, Russia and England, against Napoleon I, heir and executor of the Great French Revolution. Marx says of all these movements: “All the wars of independence which have been waged against France bear the stamp of a renaissance combined with reaction.” Because of the later, more and more strikingly reactionary character of this movement, its original duality must not be forgotten. Moreover, all subsequent bourgeois-revolutionary movements for the creation of national unity inevitably had to turn to these sources of Romantic ideology. They had to look for their prototypes and their pathos in the past, to contrast the real humiliation of Germany with its old, medieval greatness. It is on this point that the Romantic movement in the capitalistically-backward countries differs very sharply from the fate of the Romantic movement in the advanced countries. These latter found great progressive moments in their past. In particular, French Romanticism moved very quickly from a forced and artificial glorification of the legitimate monarchy and its medieval traditions to more progressive themes, mainly to the glorification of the great revolution and Napoleon I (cf. in particular the evolution of Victor Hugo). In Germany, as in other backward countries, Romanticism remained chained to the Middle Ages. On this basis, a national legend arose about the emperor Barbarossa, that he did not die at all, but only sleeps with his army in Kyffhaeuser, but that at the appointed hour he would wake up, liberate Germany and inflict a terrible massacre on the enemies of German freedom. It is clear that the vitality and poetic treatment of such legends has a very definite political content. They reflect not only the vagueness of the liberation movement in Germany, but above all the inability of the German bourgeoisie to put an end to the survivals of feudal absolutism with a decisive revolutionary blow.

Heine has been critical of these trends from the very beginning. As a native of the Rhineland, he personally experienced and always enthusiastically welcomed the changes that the occupation of this province by Napoleonic troops had brought with it. His very early cult of Napoleon (The Two Grenadiers) is thus not an imported product, a transfer to Germany of French revolutionary traditions; it arose independently on German soil. But, as the spokesman for the “general civil” revolutionary tendencies in Germany, Heine cannot fight against Romantic nationalism as straightforwardly and resolutely as the proletarian revolutionaries Marx and Engels fought against it, leaving all Romantic tendencies far behind them. Heine cruelly castigates every limited, reactionary anti-French nationalism in Germany. He is the true forerunner of the “Franco-German principle” of Feuerbach and the young Marx. But the Romantic ideology is nevertheless overcome by him only immanently. He destroys the Romantic national legend from within, and does not treat it as something completely alien and hostile. The fact that he is able to convey in his poems all the Romantic charm of this legend shows how deeply he is emotionally connected with it, and the caustic irony with which he immediately destroys it every time only testifies to the inseparability and internal interweaving of these contradictory elements, in which we have above seen the main feature of his character. Heine’s irony is always irony on oneself.

The poetic criticism of the legend of Barbarossa, the Romantic ideal of a renewed Germany, is the main core and climax of the poem Germany. Heine deliberately starts here with old German fairy tales for children and then moves on to the sleeping Barbarossa and his army. And he describes the future liberation of Germany by the sword of Barbarossa with purely Romantic pathos:

Then, he will seize the worthy flag
And cry: “On horses! To war!”
His men will awake and leap from the ground,
With a most frightening roar.

And all will swing upon on their horse,
That’ll stamp their hoofs while neighing.
They’ll ride out into the clattering world,
With all the trumpets blaring.

They’ll ride well, they’ll fight well,
After having slept overtime.
The Emperor’s tribunal will be stern:
Murderers must pay for their crime.

Those treacherous murderers who once
Against our maiden did conspire,
Our dear, wondrous, golden-haired Germany!
“Sun, thou accusing fire!”

Many who, laughing in their castles thought
They’d be safe for the rest of their age,
Won’t escape the Emperor’s rope,
Or the Emperor’s avenging rage.

How lovely my old nurse’s tales ring!
How sweet the dreams they inspire!
My superstitious heart exults:
“Sun, thou accusing fire!”

In the further detailed description of Barbarossa, his troops and his arsenal, the irony that destroys the legend comes through more and more decisively. It reaches its peak in a big conversation with Emperor Barbarossa: the emperor inquires about recent events and Heine tells him in a very characteristic way about the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, from which the good Barbarossa comes, of course, into the greatest indignation and scolds the impudent alien, as treacherous and seditious. Heine responds to this:

When the old man flew into such a rage
And lost all sense of proportion,
My inmost thoughts burst out,
And, I too lost all caution.

“Sir Barbarossa”, I cried out loud,
“You belong to an old fable-kingdom;
Go back to bed, we shall succeed,
Without your help, to gain our freedom.

The republican would scoff at us
If a ghost with sceptre and crown
Marched at the head of our ranks.
There’ll be much laughter in town!

I do not like your flag anymore,
For, in the student’s league of old,
The foolish Germans spoiled my taste
For colours such as red, black and gold.

It would be best if you stayed at home,
In your hall at old Kyffhäuser.
To do without an Emperor,
Upon reflexion, would be wiser.”

But in the preface to Germany, Heine declares that he had no intention of attacking the black-red-gold banner of the bourgeois rebirth of Germany. If he ridicules Barbarossa, student Romanticism, reactionary nationalism, it is only in the name of progress taken in general: against the Romantic fib, he puts forward the revolutionized black-red-and-gold banner, and not the red banner of the proletarian revolution. “Our heart is armored against the reproaches of these gallant lackeys in black-red-gold liveries. I can already hear their beer voices: You insult even our colors, detractor of the fatherland, friend of the French, you want to give them our free Rhine! Take it easy. I will respect and honour your colours when they deserve it, when they are no longer the plaything of some idle or subservient game. Raise the flag of black, red and gold at the peak of German thought, make it the standard of freedom for all humanity, and I will serve it with the blood of my heart.

The militant tendency of the episode with Barbarossa defines the whole poem. Heine builds it stricter than most of his other works, although this is a very free, musical rigor. Light, arrogantly ironic injections, deadly funny images of German life alternate with passionate and energetic attacks on the main aspects of German slavery. But the main poetic motive runs through everything: the acceptance of the Romantic charm of antiquity, with all the charms of moonlight and nightingale languor, and then a mercilessly sharp opening of the real content of this antiquity, the real slavery of Germany. So this poetic journey stretches from the border through Cologne, where the dome of the cathedral rises, which was supposed to become the “Bastille of the spirit”, through the Teutoburg Forest, where “the German nation won among such manure”, to Hamburg, where Heine had spent his youth. Here, in the episode with the goddess of the city of Hamburg, Hammonia, the ironic destruction of Romanticism reaches its monstrous climax. Heine sits and drinks with the goddess, and when “the rum has already hit her head”, she reveals to him her great secret about the inheritance left to her by her ancestor Charlemagne.

The seat he used the day he was crowned
Still exits at the Aachen’s site.
Dear mother inherited the other seat,
The one on which he sat at night. [...]

[...] But, if you go across and lift
The cushion from the chair,
You’ll see a circular hole,
And a pot is hidden there.

This is an enchanted pot, wherein
The magical forces are brewing,
And if you stick your head down the hole,
The future will stand for viewing.

Germany’s future, like waving phantasms,
Will be revealed to your eyes.
But do not shudder, if out of the filth,
Some miasmas will arise! [...]

[...] The things I saw I cannot betray,
For I promised never to tell.
I’m barely permitted to reveal,
O God! What I could smell! [...]

[...] But what followed this prelude, God!
Were such dreadful stenches!
It was as though the dung were swept
From thirty-six sewer trenches.

It is quite natural that Germany continues the line of Heine’s prose works in terms of composition: it is also a series of travel pictures. It is no coincidence that Heine kept returning to this form, it is no accident that it was through it that he could express his worldview with the greatest perfection, while his experiments in epic or dramatic form were always unsuccessful or remained fragmentary. This well-known fact is usually explained in the histories of literature by the “lyrical disposition” of Heine’s personality–an explanation about as profound as Fritz Reuter’s Uncle Bresig saying: “Poverty comes from pauvreté.” Heine’s “lyrical disposition” itself stems from his historical position in the class struggle, from those contradictions that inevitably lay in the general civic-revolutionary point of Heine’s era and which he could not resolve. But no less important role in the genesis of Heine’s “lyricism” was played by the concrete form that this unresolved contradiction took on in Heine, the fact that he tried–and this was his greatness as a poet and fighter–to bring these contradictions to an end. without reconciling them and not worrying about the fact that this will hopelessly destroy the unity of his worldview, the consistency of his position. The great representatives of the national revolutionary point of view, who lived before him, in the epochs of the less developed class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, were still able, precisely because of this underdevelopment of class struggles and its ideological consequences, to express their worldview in great, objective epic or dramatic images. Contradictions affected, of course, here too. But they still did not destroy the very possibility of such creativity. In the same period in which Heine lived, this was no longer possible: contradictions would have destroyed any objective construction. The great poets among the older and younger contemporaries of Heine could create in the field of epic and drama only because these contradictions had reached a much lower ideological level with them than with Heine, whether because of their provincial narrow-mindedness, or thanks to compromises, or as a result of a transition to the side of the reaction. This means that Heine did virtue not from his personal, but from the historical need of his time, when, abandoning vain experiments in the field of a great novel or drama, he settled on the form of “travel essays”, carelessly interconnected lyrical-ironic cycles in verse or prose. For this was the only way to artistically formulate the presence of insoluble contradictions in such a way that not one of the components contradicting each other was apologetically weakened.

This form was also a legacy of Romanticism. But in Romanticism itself, it degenerates more and more as the Romantics go over to the side of reaction, either into an empty frivolous game, or into apologetic humility in the face of polar opposites, thought as some kind of mystical ultimate essences. With Heine, on the other hand, the ironic destruction of inherited forms does not contain, at least in its main tendency, at least at the real heights of his work, nothing frivolous and playful. In any case, his work is essentially serious. He needs a playful form only in order to aptly and from the point of view of his class, correctly portray the insignificance or the destruction of the given content that has already taken place. And Heine’s irony becomes only more profound and more characteristic of his peculiar position because it simultaneously expresses deep sadness, then sentimental sadness about the inevitable death, the inexorable fatal destruction of these contents. The “lyrical” personality of Heine, the playfully disordered form of his works, is thus an adequate expression of his class situation.

True, it should be clear from the foregoing that this class situation conceals a profound contradiction that leaves its imprint on Heine’s entire personality. Heine, on the one hand, is one of the most popular and influential poets and publicists of his time, not only on a German but also on an international scale. But, on the other hand, with all the transparent lightness of his style, with the absolute intelligibility of every phrase he wrote, he is one of the most misunderstood and lonely people of his era. And this is not surprising. The comprehensive and all-encompassing content of his writings was supposed to evoke in the most diverse strata of society, though not the same, but always a lively response; and not only in the most diverse sections of the bourgeoisie, but also in the circles of the proletariat, which was then preparing for the first big class battle, and in its ideologically leading elite. But neither in Germany at that time, nor in France was there such a social stratum, and even such a group of ideologists, that could perceive all of Heine as their own poet. This isolation, with widespread and resounding popularity, was, of course, going to poison Heine and give to his lonely position an expression of playful irony over himself. In the Hamburg episode of Germany, Heine describes an encounter with his mother, a dialogue of risky questions and gracious, ironically evasive answers. This dialogue ends with the following characteristic confession:

“My dear child! What are your views now?
Is your addiction still strong
For political matters?
To which party do you belong?”

The oranges, dear little mother,
Are good; I swallowed their sweet juice
With true delight. On the other hand,
For their peel, I have no use.

This freedom of Heine from various parties and trends in Germany has two sides, very different in their merit. On the one hand, Heine is a most courageous fighter for the revolutionary crushing of old ideologies, and at the same time he is waging the most fierce struggle against the narrow-mindedness of all petty-bourgeois radicals, for the complete preservation of the great ideological heritage, which they were ready to frivolously trample into the mud (Boerne on Goethe and Hegel). But, on the other hand, Heine’s isolation disposed him to too “Machiavellian” promiscuity in providing himself with the means of material and spiritual existence; and here, both in his personal life and in literature, he more than once took steps deeply unworthy of a world-historical figure of his rank (negotiations with Prussia, a subsidy from the July Monarchy, connections with Rothschild, etc.). Marx and Engels, who fully recognized the significance of Heine and supported in every possible way his struggle not only against reactionary Romanticism, but also against limited petty-bourgeois radicalism, at the same time saw very sharply this frivolous side of his nature. Here is what Engels writes, for example, in a letter to Marx: “Old Horace reminds me in places of Heine, who adopted a lot from him and in political matters was in essence the same vile dog. Imagine only this good-natured man who insists that he will not flinch in front of the face of a formidable tyrant, but he himself licks August’s ass. In general, this old dirty trick is also very nice, after all.

We must not cover up or embellish this feature in Heine’s character. Nor can it simply be relegated to the realm of “cognitive psychology” as a small personal weakness of a great man. No, we must understand both the full justification for the harsh comments of Marx and Engels and the fact that what we have before us here is not an accidental phenomenon, but a necessary consequence of Heine’s historical position. But that is precisely why it is inextricably linked with its great historical role. If anyone here deserves severe condemnation, it is only the German bourgeoisie, who doomed their last great poet to such an existence. And the inextricable connection between this trait of Heine and the traits of his true historical greatness is reflected, among other things, in the fact that these “dirty things” of his, despite the large scale of his activity, served him only as a means of securing the necessary freedom of expression of his thoughts. The only way out of this dilemma for him could lie in a real break with his class, in a real affiliation with the proletariat. But Heine did not dare to do this. He died, after all, as the last revolutionary poet of bourgeois democracy. And there is no doubt that Heine, on the whole, was clearly aware of this himself, no matter what fabrications he spread about these personal affairs of his. In Germany, he describes how wolves surround him on his way at night, before whom he must prove the revolutionary purity of his behavior. He concludes his defense with these words:

The sheepskin that I wore at times,
Was only used to keep me warm,
It was no cause for sheep affection,
In any shape or form.

I’m not a sheep, I’m not a dog,
I’m not a councillor at all.
I’ve always remained a wolf, my teeth
Are wolfish, and so is my soul.

I am a wolf, and always will
Howl the way wolves do.
So, count on me and help yourself,
Then God will help you too!