The Role of Force in History, Engels 1887

Chapter Three

The Danish war had fulfilled part of the national aspirations. Schleswig-Holstein was “liberated”, the Warsaw and London Protocols, in which the great powers had put their seal to Germany’s humiliation by Denmark, had been torn to pieces and thrown at their feet, and they had not uttered a sound. Austria and Prussia were together again, their armies had been victorious shoulder to shoulder, and no potentate any longer thought of encroaching upon German territory. Louis Napoleon’s cravings for the Rhine, which hitherto had been pushed into the background by other business — the Italian revolution, the Polish insurrection, the Danish complications, and finally the Mexican campaign, had no longer any chance of being satisfied. For a conservative Prussian statesman, the world situation left nothing to be desired from the foreign policy point of view. But up to 1871 Bismarck had never been conservative, and was less so now than ever, and the German bourgeoisie was not at all satisfied.

The German bourgeoisie continued to labour under the familiar contradiction. On the one hand, it demanded exclusive political power for itself, i.e., for a ministry elected from among the liberal majority in the Chamber; and such a ministry would have had to wage a ten-year struggle against the old system represented by the crown before its new position of power was finally recognised; hence ten years of internal weakness. On the other hand, it demanded a revolutionary transformation of Germany, which could be effected only by force, that is, only by an actual dictatorship. At the same time, however, the bourgeoisie since 1848 had demonstrated again and again, at every decisive moment, that it did not possess even a trace of the energy needed to accomplish either of these demands, let alone both. In politics there are only two decisive powers: organised state power, the army, and the unorganised, elemental power of the popular masses. Since 1848, the bourgeoisie had forgotten how to appeal to the masses; it feared them even more than it did absolutism. The bourgeoisie by no means had the army at its disposal. But Bismarck had.

In the continuing conflict over the constitution, Bismarck fought the parliamentary demands of the bourgeoisie to the uttermost. But he burned with the desire to carry out its national demands, since they coincided with the innermost strivings of Prussian policy. If he now once more carried out the will of the bourgeoisie against its will, if he made the unification of Germany, in the way it had been formulated by the bourgeoisie, a reality, the conflict would be resolved of itself, and Bismarck would inevitably become the idol of the bourgeoisie as Louis Napoleon, his model, before him.

The bourgeoisie supplied him with the aim, Louis Napoleon with the method of achieving the aim; only the implementation was left to Bismarck.

To place Prussia at the head of Germany, it was necessary not only to expel Austria forcibly from the German Confederation but also to subjugate the small states. In Prussian politics, such a refreshing jolly war of Germans against Germans had been the principal means of territorial expansion since the year dot, no worthy Prussian feared such a thing. Just as little misgiving could be caused by the other principal means: alliance with foreign countries against Germans. The out-and-out support of sentimental Alexander of Russia was certain. Louis Napoleon had never denied Prussia’s Piedmont mission in Germany and was quite willing to make a deal with Bismarck. If he could get what he wanted peacefully, in the form of compensation, so much the better. Besides, he did not need to get the entire left bank of the Rhine at one go, if he received it piecemeal, a strip for every new advance by Prussia, it would be less conspicuous, and yet lead to his goal. In the eyes of the French chauvinists, a square mile on the Rhine was worth the whole of Savoy and Nice. Negotiations were therefore held with Louis Napoleon, and his permission was obtained for Prussia’s expansion and the establishment of a North German Confederation. That he was offered in return a strip of German territory on the Rhine is beyond doubt; in the negotiations with Govone, Bismarck mentioned Rhenish Bavaria and Rhenish Hesse. This he subsequently denied, to be sure. But a diplomat, particularly a Prussian diplomat, has his own views of the limits within which one is justified, and even obliged, to do a little violence to the truth. After all, truth is a woman and therefore, according to Junker ideas, actually likes it. Louis Napoleon was not so stupid as to allow Prussian expansion without a Prussian promise of compensation; Bleichröder would sooner have lent money without interest. But he did not know his Prussians well enough and was anyway cheated in the end. In short, after he had been assured, an alliance was formed with Italy for the “stab in the heart”.

The philistines in various countries were highly indignant over this expression. But quite wrongly. À la guerre comme a la guerre. The expression only proves that Bismarck recognised the German civil war of 1866 for what it was, namely, a revolution, and that he was willing to carry out that revolution with revolutionary methods. And he did. His treatment of the Federal Diet was revolutionary. Instead of submitting to the constitutional decision of the federal authorities, he accused them of violating the federal treaty — a pure pretext — broke up the Confederation, proclaimed a new constitution with a Reichstag elected by revolutionary universal suffrage and finally expelled the Federal Diet from Frankfurt. In Upper Silesia he formed a Hungarian legion under revolutionary General Klapka and other revolutionary officers whose soldiers, Hungarian deserters and prisoners of war, were to fight against their own legitimate commander-in-chief. After the conquest of Bohemia, Bismarck issued a proclamation “To the Population of the Glorious Kingdom of Bohemia”, whose content was likewise a hard slap in the face for legitimist traditions. After peace had already been established, he seized for Prussia all the possessions of three legitimate German federal monarchs and a free City without the slightest qualms of his Christian and legitimist conscience over the fact that these princes who had been expelled were no less rulers “by the grace of God” than the King of Prussia. In short, it was a complete revolution, carried out with revolutionary means. We are naturally the last to reproach him for this. On the contrary, what we reproach him with is that he was not revolutionary enough, that he was no more than a Prussian revolutionary from above, that he began a whole revolution in a position where he was able to carry through only half a revolution, that, once having set out on the course of annexations, he was content with four miserable small states.

And then Napoleon the Little came limping up behind and demanded his reward. During the war he could have taken whatever he wanted on the Rhine, for not only the land, but also the fortresses, were exposed. He hesitated; he expected a protracted war that would wear out both sides; instead, there was a series of quick blows, and Austria was crushed in eight days. At first he demanded what Bismarck had named to General Govone as a possible compensation — Rhenish Bavaria and Rhenish Hesse, including Mainz. But Bismarck could not give that up now, even if he had wanted to. The enormous successes of the war had imposed new obligations on him. At a time when Prussia set itself up as the protector of Germany, it could not sell off Mainz, the key to the Middle Rhine, to a foreign country. Bismarck refused. Louis Napoleon was willing to bargain; he now demanded only Luxemburg, Landau, Saarlouis and the Saarbrücken coal basin. But this too Bismarck no longer could relinquish, the more so as Prussian territory too was claimed. Why had Louis Napoleon not seized it himself at the right moment, when the Prussians were stuck in Bohemia? In short, nothing came of the compensation to France. Bismarck knew this meant a future war with France, but that was exactly what he wanted.

In the peace treaties, Prussia did not exploit the favourable situation as ruthlessly this time as it had usually done in moments of success. There were sound reasons for it. Saxony and Hesse-Darmstadt were included in the new North German Confederation and, if only for this reason, were spared. Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden had to be treated with indulgence, because Bismarck had to sign secret offensive and defensive agreements with them. And Austria — had not Bismarck rendered it a service by smashing the traditional entanglement that tied it to Germany and Italy? Had he not just now secured for it the long-sought position of an independent great power? Had he not actually known better than Austria itself what was good for it when he had defeated it in Bohemia? Did not Austria, if properly handled, have to realise that the geographical position, the mutual entanglement of the two countries made the Germany united by Prussia its essential and natural ally?

Thus it came about that, for the first time in its existence, Prussia was able to surround itself with a halo of generosity, and this because it threw a sprat to catch a salmon.

Not only Austria had been beaten on the Bohemian battlefields — the German bourgeoisie had been beaten as well. Bismarck had shown it that he knew better what was good for it than it knew itself. A continuation of the conflict by the Chamber was out of the question. The liberal pretensions of the bourgeoisie had been buried for a long time to come, but its national demands were receiving fuller satisfaction with every passing day. Bismarck fulfilled its national programme with a speed and accuracy that surprised the bourgeoisie itself, and having proved to it palpably, in corpore vili — on its own vile body — its limpness and listlessness, and thus its complete inability to implement its own programme, he also played the magnanimous towards it and applied to the now actually disarmed Chamber to exempt the government from indemnity for its anti-constitutional rule during the conflict. Touched to tears, it agreed to this now harmless step forward.

Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie was reminded that it too had been defeated at Königgrätz. The constitution of the North German Confederation was modelled on the pattern of the Prussian constitution as authentically interpreted during the conflict. Refusal of taxes was prohibited. The federal Chancellor and his ministers were appointed by the King of Prussia, independently of any parliamentary majority. The army’s independence of parliament, secured by the conflict, was stressed also in respect of the Reichstag. But the members of this Reichstag had the exalting awareness that they had been elected by universal suffrage. They were also reminded of this, and most unpleasantly, by the sight of the two socialists [August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht] sitting among them. For the first time socialist deputies, representatives of the proletariat, appeared in a parliamentary body. This was an ominous sign.

At first all this was unimportant. The thing now was to advance and exploit the new unity of the Empire, at least that of the North, in the interests of the bourgeoisie and thereby to lure the South German bourgeois too into the new Confederation. The constitution of the Confederation took the economically most important legislative relations away from the competency of the individual states and transferred them to the Confederation: common civil law and freedom of movement within the entire Confederation, right of residence, legislation on the crafts, trade, customs tariffs, navigation, coins, weights and measures, railways, waterways, post and telegraphs, patents, banks, all foreign policy, consulates, commercial protection abroad, sanitary police, the penal code, judicial proceedings, etc. Most of these questions were now regulated quickly, and in general liberally, by law. And then, — at long last! — the ugliest abuses of the small state system were abolished, those that, on the one hand, most obstructed capitalist development, and, on the other, the Prussian craving for power. But that was no world-historic achievement, as the bourgeoisie, now turning chauvinistic, trumpeted forth, but a very, very long overdue and imperfect imitation of what the French Revolution had already done seventy years before, and what all other civilised states had introduced long ago. Instead of boasting, it would have been more appropriate to feel ashamed that “highly educated” Germany was the last to do it.

Throughout all this period of the North German Confederation, Bismarck willingly obliged the German bourgeoisie in the economic field and, even in questions affecting the competency of parliament, showed the iron fist only in a velvet glove. This was his best period; at times one could entertain doubts about his peculiarly Prussian narrow-mindedness, his inability to realise that there are in world history other and more powerful forces than armies and diplomatic intrigues relying on them.

Bismarck not only knew that the peace with Austria was pregnant with war with France, he also desired it. This war was to provide the means of perfecting the Prusso-German Empire demanded of him by the German bourgeoisie. [Even before the Austrian war, when Bismarck was interpellated by a minister from a central German state on his demagogic German policy, he replied that, despite all the rhetoric, he would expel Austria from Germany and break up the Confederation. — “And the central states, do you think they will quietly look on?” — “You, the central states, you will do nothing.” — “And what is to become of the Germans then?” — “I shall then lead them to Paris and unite them there.” Told in Paris before the Austrian war by the said minister from the central state and published during that war in the Manchester Guardian by Mrs. Crawford, its Paris correspondent] The attempts gradually to transform the Customs Parliament into a Reichstag and thus to draw the southern states little by little into the North German Confederation were wrecked by the loud call of the South German deputies: No extension of competence! The mood of the governments, which had only recently been defeated on the field of battle, was no more favourable. Only fresh, palpable proof that the Prussians were not only much more powerful than these governments, but also powerful enough to protect them, that is, a new all-German war, could rapidly bring the moment of surrender. Besides, after the victories, it seemed as though the dividing line on the Main, upon which Bismarck and Louis Napoleon had secretly agreed beforehand, had after all been imposed on the Prussians by the latter; in that case, a union with South Germany was a violation of the formally recognised right of the French this time to the fragmentation of Germany, was a casus belli.

In the meantime, Louis Napoleon had to search for a patch of land somewhere near the German border which he could pocket as compensation for Sadowa. When the new North German Confederation was formed, it did not include Luxemburg, now a state in personal union with Holland, but otherwise completely independent. Besides, it was approximately as much Frenchified as Alsace and was far more attracted to France than to Prussia, which it positively hated.

Luxemburg is a striking example of what Germany’s political wretchedness since the Middle Ages had made of the German-French borderlands, the more striking because Luxemburg had until 1866 nominally belonged to Germany. Up to 1830, it had been composed of a French and a German part, but the German part had already at this early stage submitted to superior French culture. The German Emperors of Luxemburg were French in both language and education. Since its incorporation in the Burgundy lands (1440), Luxemburg, like all the other Low Countries, had remained in a purely nominal union with Germany; even admission to the German Confederation in 1815 changed nothing. After 1830, the French part and a substantial portion of the German part were annexed to Belgium. However, in what remained of German Luxemburg, everything continued on a French footing: the courts, the authorities, the Chamber, everything was conducted in French, all public and private documents, all business accounts were kept in French, in secondary schools. the teaching was in French, French was and remained the language of the educated — naturally a French that groaned and panted with the High German sound shift. In short, two languages were spoken in Luxemburg: a Rhenish Franconian popular dialect, and French, while High German remained a foreign tongue. The Prussian garrison in the capital made things worse rather than better. This may be shameful for Germany but it is true. And this voluntary Frenchification of Luxemburg showed the similar processes in Alsace and German Lorraine in their true light.

The King of Holland, the sovereign Duke of Luxemburg, who could well use hard cash, was willing to sell the duchy to Louis Napoleon. The people of Luxemburg would have undoubtedly approved their incorporation into France — the proof was their attitude in the war of 1870. From the standpoint of international law, Prussia could not object, since it had itself brought about Luxemburg’s exclusion from Germany. Its troops were stationed in the capital as the federal garrison of a federal German fortress; as soon as Luxemburg ceased to be a federal fortress, they no longer had any right to be there. Why did they not go home, why could Bismarck not agree to Luxemburg’s annexation?

Simply, because the contradictions in which he had become entangled were now becoming evident. As far as Prussia was concerned, before 1866 Germany was simply territory for annexation, which had to be shared with foreign countries. After 1866, Germany became a Prussian protectorate, which had to be defended against foreign claws. True, in the interests of Prussia, whole parts of Germany had been excluded from the newly founded so-called Germany. But the right of the German nation to its own territory now imposed on the Prussian Crown the duty of preventing the incorporation of these parts of the former federal territory into foreign states, of leaving the door open for their future union with the new Prussian-German state. It was for this reason that Italy had stopped at the Tyrolean border, and that Luxemburg could not be allowed to go over to Louis Napoleon. A truly revolutionary government could declare this openly. Not so the royal Prussian revolutionary, who had finally succeeded in transforming Germany into a “geographic concept” in Metternich’s sense. From the point of view of international law, he had placed himself in the wrong, and the only way he could get out of the difficulty was to use his favourite students’ beerhouse interpretation of international law.

If in so doing he was not simply laughed to scorn, it was only because, in the spring of 1867, Louis Napoleon was not at all ready for a big war. Agreement was reached at the London Conference. The Prussians evacuated Luxemburg, the fortress was demolished, the duchy was declared neutral. The war was again postponed.

Louis Napoleon could not rest content with this. He was willing to tolerate the aggrandisement of Prussia only if he received corresponding compensation on the Rhine. He was willing to content himself with little, he had even reduced that, but he had received nothing, had been cheated of everything. However, a Bonapartist Empire in France could exist only if it shifted the border gradually towards the Rhine and if France — in fact or at least in imagination — remained the arbiter of Europe. The border shift had failed, France’s position as arbiter was already threatened, the Bonapartist press loudly called for revenge for Sadowa — if Louis Napoleon wanted to keep his throne, he had to remain true to his role and to obtain by force what he had not obtained amicably, in spite of services rendered.

So eager war preparations, both diplomatic and military, were begun by both sides. And then the following diplomatic event occurred:

Spain was looking for a candidate for the throne. In March [1869] Benedetti, the French ambassador in Berlin, picked up rumours about claims for the throne advanced by Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern; he was charged by Paris to investigate the matter. Under-Secretary of State von Thile gave him his word of honour that the Prussian Government knew nothing about it. During a visit to Paris, Benedetti learned the Emperor’s opinion: “This candidature is essentially anti-national, the country will not tolerate it, it must be prevented.”

Incidentally, Louis Napoleon showed thereby that he was already down at heel. Indeed, what could have been a better “revenge for Sadowa” than a Prussian Prince on the Spanish throne, the unavoidable annoyances resulting therefrom, Prussian involvement in the internal relations between the Spanish parties, perhaps even a war, a defeat of the dwarfish Prussian navy, in any case a Prussia looking quite grotesque in the eyes of Europe? But Louis Bonaparte could no longer afford this spectacle. His credit was already so much shaken that he was committed to the traditional point of view according to which a German sovereign on the Spanish throne would place France between two fires and was therefore intolerable — a childish point of view after 1830.

So Benedetti visited Bismarck to receive further information and to make France’s point of view clear to him (May 11, 1869). He did not learn anything particularly conclusive from Bismarck. Bismarck, however, did learn from Benedetti what he wanted to find out: that Leopold’s nomination as candidate would mean an immediate war with France. This gave Bismarck the opportunity to have the war break out when it suited him.

In actual fact, Leopold’s candidature emerged once again in July 1870 and immediately led to war, no matter how much Louis Napoleon resisted it. He not only saw that he had walked into a trap, he also knew that his emperorship was at stake, and he had little confidence in the faithfulness of his Bonapartist Brimstone gang, who assured him that everything was ready, up to the last button on the men’s spats, and even less confidence in their military and administrative skill. But the logical consequences of his own past drove him towards destruction; his hesitation itself hastened his doom.

Bismarck, on the other hand, was not only quite ready for action militarily, but this time he actually had the people behind him, who saw only one fact behind the diplomatic lies spread by both sides: namely, that this was a war not only for the Rhine, but for national existence. For the first time since 1813, reserves and the Landwehr once again flocked to the colours, eager and keen to fight. It did not matter how all this had come about, did not matter what piece of the two-thousand-year-old national heritage Bismarck had, off his own back, promised or not promised to Louis Napoleon: the thing was to teach foreign countries once and for all that they were not to interfere in German internal affairs and that it was not Germany’s mission to support Louis Napoleon’s shaky throne by ceding German territory. All class differences vanished in the face of this national upsurge, all cravings of the South German courts for a Confederation of the Rhine, all attempts at a restoration of the expelled monarchs melted away.

Both sides had sought allies. Louis Napoleon had Austria and Denmark for sure, and was pretty certain of Italy. Bismarck had Russia. But Austria, as always, was not ready and could not participate effectively before September 2 — and on September 2 Louis Napoleon was a prisoner of war of the Germans, and Russia had informed Austria that it would attack Austria the moment Austria attacked Prussia. In Italy, however, Louis Napoleon’s double-dealing policy wrought vengeance upon him: he had sought to set national unity in motion, but at the same time to protect the Pope from that same national unity; he had kept Rome occupied with troops he now needed at home but which he could not withdraw without obliging Italy to respect the sovereignty of Rome and the Pope; this in turn prevented Italy from supporting him. Denmark finally got the order from Russia to behave itself.

The rapid blows of the German armies from Spicheren and Wörth to Sedan were more decisive in localising the war than all diplomatic negotiations. Louis Napoleon’s army was defeated in every battle and finally three-quarters of it went to Germany as prisoners of war. This was not the fault of the soldiers, who had fought bravely enough, but of the leaders and the administration. But if, like Louis Napoleon, one had created an empire with the help of a gang of rascals, if this empire had been maintained for eighteen years merely by abandoning France to the exploitation of that gang, if all decisive posts in the state had been filled with people belonging to that very gang and all subordinate posts with their accomplices, then one should not engage in a life-and-death battle if one does not wish to be left in the lurch. The entire edifice of the empire that had been the admiration of European philistines for years crashed in less than five weeks; the revolution of September 4 simply cleared away the rubble, and Bismarck, who had gone to war to found a small German empire, turned out one fine morning to be the founder of a French republic.

According to Bismarck’s own proclamation, the war was waged not against the French people, but against Louis Napoleon. With his fall, all the reasons to wage war thus disappeared. The government of September 4, which was not so naive in other matters, also deluded itself to this effect, and was greatly surprised when Bismarck suddenly showed himself a Prussian Junker.

No one in the world hates the French as much as the Prussian Junkers do. For not only had the hitherto tax-exempled Junker suffered heavily during the chastisement by the French (from 1806 to 1813), which he had brought about by his own arrogance; but, what was much worse, the godless French had so confused the people by their outrageous revolution that the old grandeur of the Junkers had for the most part been laid to rest even in old Prussia, so that year in and year out the poor Junkers had to struggle hard to keep what was left of it, and many of them were already debased to a shabby sponging nobility. For this, revenge had to be taken on France, and the Junker officers in the army under Bismarck’s leadership took care of that. Lists of war contributions exacted by France from Prussia were drawn up and the size of the war contributions imposed on the various towns and departments was calculated accordingly, but naturally taking into account France’s much greater wealth. Foodstuffs, forage, clothes, footwear, etc., were requisitioned with demonstrative ruthlessness. A mayor in the Ardennes who said that he would be unable to make the deliveries was given twenty-five strokes of the cane without further ado, as the Paris government officially proved. The francs-tireurs, who acted in such strict accordance with the Prussian Landsturm Statute of 1813 as if they had made a special study of it, were shot without mercy on the spot. The stories about clocks being sent home are also true, even the Kölnische Zeitung reported it. Only, according to Prussian views, those clocks were not stolen but were ownerless, having been found in abandoned villas near Paris and confiscated for the dear ones at home. Thus, the Junkers under Bismarck’s leadership saw to it that, despite the irreproachable behaviour of the men and many of the officers, the specifically Prussian character of the war was preserved, and that this was driven home to the French, who held the entire army responsible for the mean spitefulness of the Junkers.

And yet it fell to the lot of these same Junkers to render to the French people an honour unequalled in history. When all attempts to make the enemy relieve the siege of Paris had failed, all the French armies had been beaten back. Bourbaki’s last great counter-attack on the German lines of communication had proved abortive, when all Europe’s diplomats had abandoned France to its fate without stirring a finger, emaciated Paris finally had to surrender. The hearts of the Junkers beat faster when they were finally able to enter the godless nest in triumph and take complete vengeance upon the Paris arch-rebels — the complete vengeance which had been denied to them by Alexander of Russia in 1814 and Wellington in 1815; now they could chastise the seat and homeland of the revolution to their hearts’ content.

Paris surrendered, it paid a contribution of 200 millions; the forts were handed over to the Prussians; the garrison laid down its arms before the victors and delivered up its field guns; the cannons on the wall around Paris were taken off their guncarriages; all means of resistance belonging to the state were handed over piece by piece. But the actual defenders of Paris, the National Guard, the armed Parisians, remained untouched, for nobody expected them to give up their arms, either their rifles or their cannons; [It was these cannons, which belonged to the National Guard and not to the state, and had therefore not been handed over to the Prussians, that Thiers ordered on March 18, 1871, to be stolen from the Parisians, thereby bringing about the rebellion that gave rise to the Commune] and so that it would be known to the whole world that the victorious German army had respectfully stopped before the armed people of Paris, the victors did not enter Paris, but were content to be allowed to occupy for three days the Champs Elysées, a public park, protected, guarded and enclosed on all sides by the sentries of the Parisians! No German soldier set foot in Paris City Hall or stepped on the boulevards, and the few that were admitted to the Louvre to admire the art treasures there had to ask for permission, otherwise it would have been a violation of the surrender. France was defeated, Paris starved, but the Parisian people had by their glorious past ensured respect for themselves, so that no victor dared to demand their disarmament, no one had the courage to enter their homes or to desecrate by a triumphal march those streets which had been the battle-ground of so many revolutions. It was as if the upstart German Emperor was taking off his hat before the living revolutionaries of Paris, as once his brother had before the dead March fighters of Berlin, and as if the entire German army stood behind him presenting arms.

But that was the only sacrifice Bismarck had to make. Under the pretext that there was no government in France which could sign a peace treaty with him — which was just as true as it was false both on September 4 and on January 28 — he had exploited his successes in the truly Prussian manner, to the very last drop, and declared himself ready for peace only after France had been completely crushed. In the peace treaty itself, once again according to the good old Prussian custom, he “ruthlessly exploited the favourable situation”. Not only was the unheard-of sum of 5,000 millions in war reparations extorted, but also two provinces, Alsace and German Lorraine, with Metz and Strasbourg were torn away from France and incorporated into Germany. With this annexation, Bismarck appeared for the first time as an independent politician, who was no longer implementing in his own way a programme dictated from outside, but translating into action the products of his own brain, thereby committing his first enormous blunder.