chapter  XXIX
4 Pages

Germany in Defeat

I saw old men, sturdy men, shedding tears in public at the misfortune of the Fatherland; I saw veterans of 1870 tossing up their arms in speechless bewilderment. All pride and boisterous self-consciousness, so glaringly exhibited in the pre-war years, had suddenly departed. Ichabod. The nation broke down, lost its will and cohesion, and became a plastic mass. The words of Goethe about Germany came to my mind, and how true they were! “ I have,” he complained, “ often been bitterly pained when thinking of the German people, which is so estimable individually and so contemptible collectively.” The official reports from the various fronts had not only done nothing gradually to prepare the nation for the impending catastrophe, but had, down to September, 1918, nourished and maintained the illusion of victory. The defeat came, therefore, upon the great majority o f the people as a terrific blow from some unutterably sinister force, or as a mortal stab in the back by some treacherous elements of the nation itself. It was an instructive lesson in politics to observe this nation

in defeat, and to note the disastrous and deadening effect that an authoritarian government can have even upon a nation celebrated for activity in thought and practical work, There

Germany in Defeat was nobody to lift up the hearts of this broken people, who for over four years of superhuman exertions had withstood a world of adversaries. Any free country, based on the political initiative of its citizens and finding itself in such a predicament, would have brought forward scores of speakers and writers to comfort the nation, to raise its spirits, to revive its courage by recalling its heroism and epic deeds, and investing its defeat with a halo of glory. Nothing of the kind was to be seen in Germany. This is

one of my outstanding impressions of the Great War. The attitude of the Germans in October and November, 1918, filled me with amazement. It considerably lowered my estimation of Germany. I saw that she was domineering in victory and cringing in defeat. It was a lack of real greatness. As a matter of fact, I said as much in a public meeting, attended by a large middle-class audience, held in December, 1918, in the Bairische Brauerei, the Bavarian Brewery, in Berlin-Friedrichshain. I told the meeting: “ England after such a fight and such an end would have exhibited a noble pride in her defeat; she would have presented quite a different spectacle to the world.” The speech was fully reported in the paper of the Berlin Hausbesitzer-Verein, the Berlin houseproperty owners association. The failure of the German middle classes was capped by

that of the German Social Democrats. Unlike the Russian Revolution of November, 1917, in which a small number of men, conscious of their purpose and prepared for its accom­ plishment, began to master the chaos produced by the war, and under strain and stress laid the foundation of a stable order as they understood it, the German Revolution of November, 1918, was nothing but a negative result o f the military breakdown of the old order. The battered inheritance, the derelict sovereignty, which any energetic organization could have picked up, passed automatically into the hands of the German Social Democratic Party, who did not know what

to do with it, and only waited for a propitious moment to get rid of the burden that fate had placed on their shoulders. In their eyes, the war had broken the continuity of evolution. It had created a riddle and a muddle, which could only be disentangled by going back to July, 1914, and taking up the threads at the very spot where they had been broken. That meant, in essence, the restoration of the old industrial

order. The capitalist employers should carry on as before and be masters in factory, mine, and field, while the labouring classes, in possession of full democracy, should dominate Parliament and make the laws. In this sense they commissioned the Jewish jurist, Hugo Preuss, to draft a constitution, later known as the Weimar Constitution, or, in the parlance of the Nazis, the Jew Constitution. The old question as to whether economics controlled politics, or vice versa-a question which is at the bottom of the Marxist interpretation of history, and which was decided by Marx in favour of the economic factorwas completely ignored by the Social Democrats, on whom the military collapse had thrust sovereign power. Friedrich Ebert and his colleagues, burdened with a task

beyond their understanding and volition, were mainly trade union officials. They knew a great deal about social insurance laws, factory legislation, collective agreements, bargaining about labour conditions with the employers, and had some hazy ideas about democracy, inherited from the Revolution of 1848. But they were utterly incapable of any political act for the purpose of securing the political and industrial rights of the working people, though these rights had been guaranteed to them by the Weimar Constitution. Unlike the development in Great Britain, where trade unionism existed before the political Labour movement, and where the trade unions established the Labour Party, it was in Germany the political Labour movement, or Social Democracy, which established the trade unions, and up to 1898 Socialist ideas dominated trade unionism. The trade unionists were up to that time

183 more or less convinced that Labour could only come into its own by a Socialist transformation. With the growing dualism within Social Democracy, which I mentioned in Chapters xi, xxi, and xxiv, and as a result of the rapid rise of Germany into one of the greatest industrial countries, the trade union­ ists gradually became the dominant partner in the Labour movement. They had naturally to fight their way to that position against the old-established Socialist supremacy, and thus came into opposition also to Socialist doctrines. This struggle for power in the Labour movement had to

be argued out in theoretical terms, and led finally to the division of the movement into Reformists and Marxists. The trade unionists were the Reformists or Revisionists, the old Social Democrats the Marxists or Revolutionists. The Reform­ ists came out top, so that the old spirit fell into disrepute. This outcome affected even the old Socialist pioneers, like Bebel, Auer, and others, and contributed a great deal to the contradictions and ambiguities which I mentioned above. The Reformist movement, assisted also by writers like Edward Bernstein, who during their sojourn in London (1887-1901) imbibed Fabianism and spread it in Germany, coincided with the views of the trade unionists. Reformism ousted Marxism. All large views on economics and politics, which Marx gave to the Germans and Russians, all thoughts about a conscious transformation of society, disappeared. Gradualism through constitutional means won the day, but it lost the future of the German labouring masses. They had not been trained to protect their newly won freedom and their constitutional rights.