chapter  XXVIII
5 Pages

Berlin During the War

B e fo r e the war, practically all the International Trade Union Federations had their headquarters in Berlin. They had their various translation offices, with native translators, who carried on the correspondence and edited the monthly Bulletins in English, French, and German. At the outbreak of the war, those translators who were nationals of the belligerent enemy countries left Germany; but most of the Bulletins were still being issued in Berlin, the various reports from foreign countries coming in via Holland. The German Trade Union Committee in charge of the International Trade Union work was looking, therefore, for translators, and welcomed me when I offered my services. Besides, various Berlin news agencies were in need of translators for the cuttings from English or French newspapers, which they supplied to the German newspapers. There was, then, plenty of work for me, and I soon brought my family from Cologne and we settled in Berlin. My wife being of German-Nordic race, and myself speaking German, we had no difficulty in adapting ourselves to the new surroundings. It was different with our children; they spoke English only, and were soon known to the neighbouring children as “ Englander,” at that time synony­ mous with anti-German enemy. They were now “ alien enemies” ; but children have a marvellous capacity for linguistic adaptation, and were not long in acquiring the Berliner Cockney German. On rare occasions I was commissioned by German news

agencies to write an article, which they supplied to their clients. In July, 1917, I wrote for a Labour news agency an article under the heading The First Three Years of War, a review of the beginning and progress of the clash of nations. The article was submitted to the Censor, who deleted two

passages, both adversely critical of the strategy of the General Staff. In the first, I pointed out that the withdrawal in the latter part of August, 1914, of over two army corps from the Western front, for the purpose of sending them to East Prussia, was the main cause of the defeat on the Marne; the victory at Tannenberg, of which so much was made, was only a subordinate tactical success, while the failure on the Marne was a strategic defeat. In the second passage, I remarked that the army corps which on September 7, 1914, took Maubeuge ought to have been directed without delay to the First Army under General von Kluck, to cover his extreme right. The Censor asked the news agency to let me know that it was advisable to suspend judgment on the Marne battle, as the General Staff was preparing a monograph on it. The main idea of my article was that German pre-war diplomacy had set the Army a task which was practically superhuman. About six weeks after the publication of the article in the

Labour papers, Herr Kurt Baake, the intermediary between the Labour Press and General Headquarters, met me at Belle-Alliance-Platz (at the comer of Friedrichstrasse) and said: “ I have to convey to you the compliments of General von Ludendorff; he expressed the opinion that your review of the war was the best of the lot.” Herr Baake is a clever man, always in the right place. In the first months of the German Revolution he was secretary to Herr Ebert, first President of the Reich, and is now, I am told, Nazi commissioner in Berlin. The Bolshevik Revolution in November, 1917, and the

subsequent Russo-German peace negotiations, formed, as far as the German working classes were concerned, the turningpoint in the history of the war. They were visibly losing all interest in its prosecution, and grew sullen, or even indifferent, as to its outcome. It was the fear of Russian autocracy which had actuated them to persist in the defence of the Fatherland. Now that Russian Socialists were at the head of that vast empire and offering peace, there was no reason whatever to

continue fighting; and, at the beginning of 1918, a desire to end the war took hold of all those who laboured in the munition factories or who had in other ways been helping the armed forces to come out creditably from the fight. The haughty and ambiguous attitude of the German and Austrian peace negotiators at Brest Litowsk filled many German Socialists with disgust at the Government and with sympathy for Lenin and Trotsky. The Bolshevik Revolution, I may assert without hesitation, extinguished the war spirit of the German proletariat. Big and widespread munition strikes occurred, which the official Labour leaders, like Ebert, Scheidemann, Legien, disapproved of, and attempted by dubious means to suppress. And the authorities were stupid enough to send, as a punitive measure, the strike leaders to the trenches at the Western front, there to spread the disaffection. The Labour Press, at any rate, which unlike the Labour

leaders was in close contact with the masses, cared now very little for foreign Press opinions on the war, and ceased using the newspaper cuttings. Also various International Trade Union Bulletins stopped publication, particularly in 1917, in consequence of the unrestricted U-boat campaign, which strained the bonds of international trade unionism to breakingpoint. Even those fierce and furious onslaughts, unparalleled in vehemence and intrepidity, of the massed German forcesthat forced and organized levee en masse-which began on March 21, 1918, against the British front, and which were at first as successful as those in the autumn of 1917 at Caporetto against the Italians, failed to rouse the Socialist workers from their suUenness. I, on the contrary, followed in those days the war bulletins with nervous trepidation and intense sorrow at the profuse and useless slaughter o f the manhood of the nations. I was quite convinced that Germany had lost the war as far back as June, 1917, when the failure of the unrestricted U-boat campaign became manifest. All fighting

after that failure was senseless on the part of Germany and a mere succession of acts of despair. I hardly cared now to read the papers. The news seemed to me like an epilogue to an incomprehensible tragedy, with the stage full of slain. I stopped newspaper writing and translating, and lopked

for other employment. The preparations of the German Socialists for celebrating, in March, 1918, the centenary of the birth of Karl Marx induced a publisher to commission me to write a volume on the life and teaching of Karl Marx. The writing was accomplished in three months; it appeared at the proper time and proved a great success. It went through four editions, and was subsequently translated into English, Russian, Slavonic, Japanese, French, Spanish, and some Nordic language. The English edition is still in demand; it showed to English readers for the first time the philosophical connection between Hegel and Marx. And from the German original many of its readers learnt for the first time the real meaning of the Hegelian dialectic, of which they used to hear so much in the discussions of the intellectuals. Those of us who had their fingers on the pulse of the

labouring people could feel the approaching revolutionary fever. In July and August, 1918, 1 met soldiers on leave, who told me that there was hardly any fight left among the troops: they said that the hope of victory had faded and that in their opinion it was time to cut the painter. The most serious and unmistakable symptom of the approaching upheaval I wit­ nessed at one of the suburban Berlin railway-stations, where soldiers at the end of their leave were being entrained, in order to return to the Western front, on September 2, 1918. On that day-Sedan Day-traditionally a patriotic festival com­ memorating with military pomp and pageantry the German victory in 1870 over Napoleon III at Sedan-German soldiers sang in French the Marseillaise! Alloris enfants de la Patrie! That meant the end of the Bismarckian Reich. The Govern­ ment of Count Hertling was tottering; but the Social

Democratic leaders spoke in party meetings self-complacently of a ministerial crisis, and of nothing more. They hinted that they were being sounded as to the entrance of some of their more prominent leaders into the Government. Meanwhile a strong revolutionary ferment had begun to

operate upon various strata of the nation throughout Germany.