The International Workingmen's Association
The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party
between the end of January and February 12, 1865;
First published: as a separate pamphlet in 1865;
Written by Engels to substantiate the tactics of the German working class in the so-called constitutional conflicts between the Prussian Government and the bourgeois-liberal majority of the Provincial Diet which, in February 1960, refused to confirm the army reorganization project proposed by War Minister von Roon. However, the Government son managed to secure allocations from the Provincial Diet to "maintain the army ready for action" which in fact meant the beginning of the planned reorganization. When, in March 1862, the liberal majority of the Chamber of Deputies refused to endorse military expenses and demanded a ministry responsible to the Provincial Diet, the Government dissolved the Diet and announced new elections. At the end of September 1862, the Bismarck Ministry was formed. In October, it again dissolved the Provincial Diet and began to carry out the military reform without the sanction of the Diet. The conflict was settled only in 1866 when, after Prussia's victory over Austria, the Prussian bourgeoisie capitulated to Bismarck.
At first, Engels agreed to write an article on the Prussian military reform for Der Social-Demokrat, but the newspaper's kowtowing before the Bismarck Government made him give up his intention. After consulting Marx, he decided to have his working published as a separate pamphlet, He began writing it late in January 1865, and finished most of it before February 9. Then he sent the manuscript to Marx for review, After making a number of improvements in it on his friend's recommendation, Engels sent the manuscript to the Hamburg publisher Meissner on February 12 and informed Marx about this on the following day.
The pamphlet was published in Hamburg at the end of February 1865 and caused widespread comment in Germany. Its publication was announced in many workers' and democratic newspapers. Wilhelm Liebknecht arranged for it to be discussed in several workers' associations in Berlin. Extracts from the pamphlet appeared in the Social-Democratic press at various times: in the Barmer Zeitung, No. 57, March 8, 1865; Der Social-Demokrat, No. 71, March 25, 1866; the Sozialedemokratische Monatsschrift, Nos. 10-11, November 30, 1890 and the Berliner Volks-Tribüne, No. 1, March 1, 1891. (From the Collected Works)
Until now the debate on the military question has merely been conducted between the government and the feudal party on the one hand, and the liberal and radical bourgeoisie on the other. Now, as the crisis approaches, it is time for the workers' party to make its position known too.
In attempting a critique of the military situation in question, we can only proceed from the actual condition facing us. As long as present conditions persist in Germany and Europe we cannot expect the Prussian government to act with any other interests in mind than those of Prussia herself. No more can we seriously expect the bourgeois opposition to proceed from any other standpoint than that of its own bourgeois interests.
The workers' party, which in all questions at issue between reaction and bourgeoisie stands outside the actual conflict, enjoys the advantage of being able to treat such questions quite cold-bloodedly and impartially. It alone can treat them scientifically, historically, as though they were already in the past, anatomically, as though they were already corpses.
After the attempts at mobilisation in 1850 and 1859, there can be but one verdict on the condition of the Prussian army under the old system. Since 1815 the absolute monarchy had been bound by a public promise: not to raise new taxes, nor to float loans without obtaining prior approval from the future representative assembly of the country. It was impossible to break this promise no loan had the smallest chance of success without such approval. The general system of taxation was however so organised that the increase in yield quite failed to keep pace with the growth of the country's wealth. Absolutism was poor, poor indeed, and the extraordinary expenditure consequent upon the storms of 1830 was enough to oblige it to practice the utmost economy. Hence the introduction of two-year military service, and hence a system of economy in all branches of military administration which reduced the equipment to be held in readiness for mobilisation to the very lowest level, with regard both to quantity and quality. Despite this, Prussia's position as a great power was to be maintained to this end the first field army needed to be as strong as possible at the outbreak of a war and therefore also included the first levy of the Landwehr. The necessity for mobilisation at the very first threat of war was thereby ensured and with it the collapse of the whole edifice. This duly occurred in 1850, resulting in a complete and utter fiasco for Prussia.
In 1850 only the material shortcomings of the system became evident; the whole affair was over before the adverse effects on morale could emerge. The funds the Chambers had approved were used to alleviate the material shortcomings as far as possible. As far as possible; for under no circumstances will it be possible to hold materiel in such a state of readiness as would within 14 days see the called-up reserves and after 14 days the whole of the first levy of the Landwehr fully equipped for battle. It should not be forgotten that while the soldiers of the line represented the recruitment of 3 years at most, the reserve and the first levy together represented 9 years' recruitment, and that for every 3 soldiers of the line in battle order therefore, at least 7 called-up men had to be equipped in 4 weeks. Then came the Italian war of 1859 and with it another general mobilisation. On this occasion too a goodly number of material shortcomings were still evident, but they paled into insignificance beside the adverse effects the system had on morale, which were only uncovered now that the state of mobilisation was prolonged. Undeniably the Landwehr had been neglected; its battalion-cadres for the most part simply did not exist and had first to be built up; of the existing officers many were unfit for service in the field. But even if all this had not been so, the fact still remained that the officers could not be other than quite estranged from their men, particularly regarding their military ability, and that this military ability was in most cases insufficient for battalions with such officers to be sent with confidence against seasoned troops. If the Landwehr officers gave an excellent account of themselves in the Danish war, one should not forget that there is a great difference between a battalion which has 4/5 officers of the line and 1/5 Landwehr officers, and the reverse. But there was a further point that was decisive. As might have been realised beforehand, it became obvious at once that the Landwehr can certainly be used to fight, especially in defence of their own country, but under no circumstances can they be used for a show of force. The Landwehr is a defensive institution which only lends itself to offensive warfare after repelling an invasion, as in 1814 and 1815. A levy consisting for the most part of married men aged from 26 to 32 cannot be stationed idly at the frontiers for months whilst letters from home come in daily telling of the hardship suffered by their wives and children; for the support given to the families of the men called out also proved to be woefully inadequate. Then there was the fact that the men did not know whom they had to fight, the French or the Austrians — neither of whom had at that time injured Prussia in any way. How could such troops, demoralised by months of inactivity, be expected to attack highly organised and battle-hardened armies?
That a change was inevitable is obvious. In the prevailing circumstances, Prussia's first field army needed to be more strongly organised. How was this achieved?
The 36 regiments of conscripted infantry of the Landwehr were allowed to continue in existence for the time being, but were gradually transformed into new regiments of the line. Little by little the cavalry and artillery were also expanded until they achieved equivalent strength to the reinforced infantry; and finally the siege-artillery was detached from the field artillery, which was an improvement in any event, especially for Prussia. In a nutshell, the infantry was doubled and the cavalry and artillery expanded by about one half. In order to maintain this increased standing army, it was proposed to extend the period of service in the line from 5 years to 7 — 3 years with the colours (in the case of the infantry), 4 in the reserve; on the other hand, liability for the second levy of the Landwehr was to be cut by 4 years; and finally annual recruitment was to be increased from the previous figure of 40,000 to 63,000. In the meantime, the Landwehr was completely neglected.
The increased battalions, squadrons and batteries thus decreed corresponded almost exactly to the increase in Prussia's population from 10 million in 1815 to 18 million in 1861; since Prussia's wealth has meanwhile grown faster than her population, and since the other major European states have strengthened their armies to a much greater degree since 1815, such an increase in the number of cadres was undoubtedly not excessive. At the same time, of all the obligations borne by conscripts, the proposal added only to those of the youngest age-groups — the liability to serve in the reserve — but reduced liability for Landwehr-service for the oldest age-groups by twice as much and in fact almost totally did away with the second levy, the first levy more or less taking over the function the second formerly had.
On the other hand, the following objections could be made to the plan:
Universal conscription — incidentally the sole democratic institution existing in Prussia, albeit only on paper — marks such an enormous advance on all previous forms of military organisation that, having once existed, even if its implementation left much to be desired, it cannot again be permanently reversed. An army today must be based on one of the two clearly defined systems: either the recruitment of volunteers — which is antiquated and only possible in exceptional cases such as England — or universal conscription. All conscriptive systems and ballots 33 are after all no more than very imperfect forms of the latter. The basic idea behind the Prussian law of 1814 is that every citizen who is physically capable of bearing arms thereby has the obligation to do so personally in defence of his country, during his years of military fitness; this basic idea is far superior to the principle of purchasing substitutes which we find in every other country having a conscriptive system, and having existed for fifty years it will undoubtedly not succumb to the bourgeoisie's burning desire for the introduction of the "trade in human flesh", as the French call it.
However once we accept that the Prussian military system is founded on universal, compulsory service without substitution, the only way it can be further improved without its own spirit being breached is for its basic principle to be put increasingly into practice. Let us consider how things stand in that respect.
40,000 conscripts for 10 million inhabitants in 1815 makes 4 per thousand. 63,000 conscripts for 18 million inhabitants in 1861 makes 3 1/2 per thousand. This represents a deterioration, although it is an improvement compared with the position prior to 1859 when only 2 2/9 per thousand were conscripted. Merely to restore the 1815 percentage, 72,000 men would have to be conscripted. (We shall see that every year approximately this number of men or more do indeed enter the army.) But is the fighting potential of the Prussian people exhausted if 4 per 1,000 of the population are recruited each year?
The Darmstadt Aligemeine Militär-Zeitung has time and again shown from the statistics of the middle states that in Germany a full half of the young men presenting themselves for recruitment are fit for service. Now according to the Zeitschrift des preussischen statistischen Bureaus (March 1864) the number of young men registering in 1861 was 227,005.  This would make 113,500 recruits fit for service each year. Of these we will discount 6,500 as not available or morally incapable, which still leaves us with 107,000. Why do only 63,000 of these, or at most 72,000-75,000 actually serve?
In the 1863 session, the Minister for War, von Roon, presented  the following analysis of the 1861 levy to the Military Commission of the Assembly:
|Total population (1858 census)||17,758,823|
|Twenty-year-olds liable for military service class of 1861||217,438|
|Men liable for military service carried over from previous years, pending final decision||348,364|
|2. Moved to other districts and required to register for service there||82,216|
|3. Failed to register without being excused||10,960|
|4. Enlisted as 3-year volunteers||5,025|
|5. Entitled to serve as l-year volunteers||14,811|
|6. Theologians, deferred or exempted||1,638|
|7. Liable for naval service||299|
|8. Struck off as morally unfit||596|
|9. Rejected by the Regional Commission as manifestedly unfit||2,489|
|10. Rejected by the Regional Commission as permanently unfit||15,238|
|11. Transferred to the Supplementary Reserve|
|a) Below 5 foot after three musters||8,998|
|b) Below 5 foot 1~/4 inches after three musters||9,553|
|c) Temporarily unfit after three musters||46,761|
|d) By reason of domestic circumstances after three musters||4,213|
|e) Available after five musters||291||69,816|
|12. Allocated to the Service Corps, not including those recruited for the Service Corps||6,774|
|13. Deferred for one year:|
|a) Temporarily unfit||219,136|
|b) By reason of domestic circumstances||10,013|
|c) By reason of loss of civil rights and under investigation||1,087||230,236|
|Remainder available for recruitment||69,934|
|Remainder still available||10,475|
However imperfect these statistics are, however much they confuse the whole issue under every heading from 1 to 13 by amalgamating the men from the class of 1861 and those from the two previous classes who are still available, they do nevertheless contain some very valuable admissions.
59,459 men were conscripted. 5,025 enlisted as 3-year volunteers. 14,811 were entitled to serve for one year; as it is common knowledge that the authorities are not so punctilious about the fitness of the one-year volunteers because they cost nothing, we may assume that at least half of them, that is, 7,400, did actually enlist. That is a very low estimate; the class of men who qualify for one-year service in any case consists chiefly of people fit for service; those who are unfit at the outset do not even go to the trouble of qualifying. But let us assume 7,400. By this count a total of 71,884 men entered the army in 1861.
Let us take this further. 1,638 men were deferred or exempted as theologians. Why theologians should be too grand to serve is incomprehensible. On the contrary, a year's army service, living in the open air, and contact with the outside world can only benefit them. So without more ado we will recruit them; 1/3 of the total number for the current year, with 3/4 unfit, still leaves 139 men to be included.
18,551 men were rejected for not being of sufficient stature. Note: not rejected for service altogether but "passed to the reserve". Therefore, in the event of war they should serve after all. They are only excused parade-service in peace-time, being insufficiently imposing for that. It is thus admitted that these short men are quite good enough for service, and it is intended to use them even in emergencies. The fact that these short men can be quite good soldiers is demonstrated by the French army, which includes men down to 4 feet 8 inches. We therefore have no hesitation in counting them in with the military resources of the country. The above figure merely includes those who were finally rejected after three musters as being too short; it is thus a number that recurs each year. We will discount half of them as unfit for other reasons and we are then left with 9,275 little fellows whom a capable officer would no doubt soon knock into splendid soldiers.
Then we find 6,774 allocated to the Service Corps, not including the men recruited for the Service Corps. The Service Corps is however also part of the army, and there is no evident reason why these men should not spend the short six-month period of service with the Service Corps, which would be of benefit both to them and to the Service Corps.
We thus have:
|Men actually serving||71,884|
|Men who are fit but not tall enough||9,275|
|Men allocated to the Service Corps||6,774|
who on the admission of von Roon's own statistics could join the army each year if universal conscription were seriously implemented.
Now let us examine those who are unfit.
|Deferred for one year as temporarily unfit||219,136||men|
|Transferred to the reserve after three musters as ditto||46,761||"|
|Struck off as permanently unfit only||17,727||"|
so that the men permanently unfit on account of real physical defects do not even constitute 7% of all the group rejected as unfit and not even 4% of the total number of men appearing annually before the Recruitment Commissions. Almost 17% of the temporarily unfit are transferred each year to the reserve after three musters. These men are thus 23 years old, men at an age when the body's constitution is already beginning to settle down. We are surely not being too optimistic if we assume that of these a third will be quite fit for service by the time they are 25; that makes 15,587 men. The least that may be demanded of these men is that for two years they should serve in the infantry for three months each year, in order to receive at least basic training. This would be the equivalent of an addition of 3,897 men to the peace-time army.
However the whole way in which recruits are medically examined in Prussia has taken a peculiar turn. There were always more recruits than could be enlisted, and yet no one wanted to abandon the appearance of universal conscription. What could have been more convenient than to select the desired number of the best men and to declare the rest unfit on some pretext or other? In these circumstances, which, it should be noted, have obtained in Prussia since 1815 and still obtain today, the concept of unfitness has been extended there quite beyond normal usage, a fact that can best be demonstrated by comparison with the middle states. There, where there is the possibility of buying out and selection by ballot, there was no reason to declare more people unfit than really were unfit. Conditions are the same as in Prussia; in some states, e.g., Saxony, even worse because the percentage of the industrial population is higher there. Now as we have said, it has been demonstrated time and time again in the Allgemeine Militär-Zeitung that in the middle states fully one half of the men registering for service are fit, and that must also be so in Prussia. As soon as a war breaks out in earnest, the notion of fitness will undergo drastic revision in Prussia, and the authorities. will then discover, too late, to their cost, how many fit men have been allowed to slip away.
Now comes the most wonderful part of all. Of the 565,802 men liable for service about whom a decision has to be reached, we find:
|Moved to other districts or required to register for service there||82,216||"|
|Failed to register without being excused||10,960||"|
So for all Prussia's much vaunted system of controls — and anyone who has ever been liable for the army in Prussia knows what that means — a full 27% of men liable for service disappear each year. How is that possible? And what has become of the 82,216 men who are struck off the list because they have "moved to other districts or required to register for service there"? Does one only need to move from Berlin to Potsdam these days in order to escape liability for service? We will assume that here — after all, even Homer nods off at times — the officials have simply blundered in their statistics, that is, that these 82,216 figure twice in the grand total of 565,802: firstly in their native district and secondly in the district to which they have migrated. This point really ought to be clarified — the Military Commission of the Chamber has the best opportunity of doing so — since if the number of men really liable for military service is reduced to 483,586 this would have a significant effect on all the percentages. Let us meanwhile assume that such is the case: there still remain 66,730 men who disappear into thin air every year and neither the Prussian system of controls nor the police manages to get them into uniform. This represents nearly 14% of those liable for service. The implication of this is that all the restrictions on freedom of movement which are imposed in Prussia on the pretext of controlling those liable for military service, are totally superfluous. It is well known that real emigration from Prussia is very small and bears no comparison with the number of missing recruits. Nor do these men, numbering almost 67,000, all emigrate. The majority of them either never leave the country or go abroad only for a short time. Indeed all the measures designed to prevent evasion of military duty are quite ineffective and at best an incitement to emigration. The overwhelming majority of young people cannot emigrate in any case. All that is needed is to insist strictly and without mercy that men who have avoided recruitment should make up the time afterwards, and then the whole rigmarole of harassment and paperwork would be unnecessary and there would be more recruits than previously.
In order to be quite certain of our position, we shall by the way only take as proven those facts which emerge from Herr von Roon's own statistics: in other words that not counting the one-year volunteers, 85,000 young men can be recruited each year. Now the strength of the present peace-time army is approximately 210,000 men. If the period of service is two years, 85,000 men per year together will make 170,000 men, to which must be added officers, non-commissioned officers and re-enlisted soldiers, some 25,000-35,000 men, making a total of 195,000 to 205,000 men, or 202,000 to 212,000 men including the one-year volunteers. With two-year service for the infantry and foot-artillery (we shall deal with the cavalry later), even taking the government's own figures, the total strength of the reorganised army could be brought up to its full peace-time level. If universal conscription were really implemented, with two-year service there would very probably be 30,000 more men; it would therefore be possible to release some of the men after just 1 or 1 I/2 years, to avoid exceeding the figure of 200,000 to 210,000 men. As a reward for keenness, such early release would be of more use to the army as a whole than an extra six months' service.
War-time strength would then be as follows:
The reorganisation plan envisages 4 years' annual intake of 63,000 men, which makes 252,000 reservists. 3 years' annual intake of 85,000 men produce 255,000 reservists. This is surely just as good as the reorganisation plan. (As it is here only a question of the relative numbers, it makes no difference that we are here completely ignoring the reduction in the year-groups serving in the reserve.)
It is in this that the weakness of the reorganisation plan resides.
Whilst in appearance reverting to the original concept of universal conscription, which cannot of course function without a large army-reserve in the form of a Landwehr, it in fact executes an about-turn in the direction of the Franco-Austrian cadre-system, and thereby introduces an element of uncertainty into the Prussian military system which cannot fail to have the direct consequences. The two systems cannot be mixed, one cannot have the advantages of both systems at the same time. It is undeniable and has never been disputed that a cadre-system with a long period of service and liability for immediate mobilisation confers great advantages at the outbreak of war. The men know each other better; even those on leave, and leave is mostly only granted for short periods at a time, regard themselves as soldiers throughout their leave and are constantly ready to be called to the colours at a moment's notice, which the Prussian reservists are certainly not; consequently battalions are necessarily a great deal steadier when they come under fire for the first time. Against this it may be argued that, if one considers this system best one might just as well adopt the English system of ten years' service with the colours; that the French undoubtedly gained far more from their Algerian campaigns and the wars in the Crimea and Italy than from long service; and finally that by this system only some of the men fit to bear arms can be trained, in other words by no means all of the nation's potential is exploited. Furthermore, experience shows that the German soldier readily accustoms himself to being under fire, and three hard-fought and at least partially successful engagements do as much for an otherwise good battalion as a whole year of extra service. For a state such as Prussia the cadre-system is an impossibility. With the cadre-system, Prussia could attain an army of 300,000 to 400,000 men at the very most with a peace-time strength of 200,000 men. But if she is to maintain herself as a Great Power, she requires as many as this simply to move the first field army out, in other words, for any serious war, she needs 500,000 to 600,000 men, including fortress garrisons, reinforcements, etc. If the 18 million Prussians are to put forward in time of war an army approaching the numbers of the 35 million French, 34 million Austrians and 60 million Russians, this can only be done by universal conscription, a short but intensive period of service and a comparatively long period of liability for the Landwehr. With this system inevitably some of the immediate striking-power and even battle-worthiness of the troops at the outbreak of war will have to be sacrificed; the state and its policies will become neutral and defensive in character; but we ought also to remember that the attacking élan of the cadre-system led from Jena to Tilsit and the defensive modesty of the Landwehr system with universal conscription led from the Katzbach to Paris. This therefore means: Either a conscriptive system involving substitution with 7-8 year service, of which about half would be with the colours, and then no subsequent liability for Landwehr service; or alternatively universal conscription with 5 or at the most 6 year service, of which two would be with the colours, and then liability for Landwehr service, as in Prussia or Switzerland. But for the mass of the people first to have the burden of a conscriptive system and then additionally that of the Landwehr system is more than any European nation can take, not even the Turks, who in their military barbarism are still prepared to endure the most. A large number of trained men with short service and long-term liability for recall, or a small number with long service and a short period of liability for recall — that is the question; but the choice has to be either one or the other.
William Napier, who naturally declares the British soldier to be the best in the world, says in his History of the Peninsular War that after three years' service the British infantryman is fully trained in every respect.  Now it should be realised that the elements constituting the British army at the beginning of this century were the lowest from which an army can possibly be formed. The British army today comprises vastly superior elements, but even these are still infinitely worse, both morally and intellectually, than the elements that make up the Prussian army. And is it suggested that what those British officers achieved in three years with such riff-raff should not be attainable in two years in Prussia, where the raw material for recruitment is so exceptionally receptive to education and in some cases already so highly educated, and is at the outset morally sound?
It is true that soldiers today have more to learn. But that has never been seriously used as an argument against two-year service. The argument always used has been the cultivation of true military spirit, which is said only to emerge in the third year. If. these gentlemen were to be perfectly honest and if we discount the increased battalion effectiveness which was conceded above, this is far more of a political issue than a military one. True military spirit is intended to prove itself in face of the enemy within rather than abroad. It has never been our experience that the individual Prussian soldier learnt anything in his third year except boredom and how to extort schnaps from the recruits and tell bad jokes about his superiors. If the majority of our officers had served as privates or non-commissioned officers even for a year, this could not possibly have escaped their notice. — Experience shows that "true military spirit", insofar as it is a political quality, very rapidly goes to the dogs, never to be revived. Military virtues remain, even after two years' service.
Two years' service is thus perfectly adequate to train our soldiers for infantry duty. Since the field-artillery was detached from the siege-artillery, the same is true of the foot-artillery; any individual difficulties that may emerge here can be overcome either by further division of labour, or else by simplification of the field-artillery's equipment, which is desirable in any case. The enrolment of a larger number of re-enlisted soldiers would similarly raise no problems, but it is particularly in the Prussian army that this category of men is most unwelcome if they are not fitted to be non-commissioned officers — what a condemnation of long service! Only in the siege-artillery, with their great variety of equipment, and in the engineers, with their multiplicity of trades, which of course can never be kept entirely apart, will intelligent re-enlisted soldiers be valuable and yet a rarity. The mounted artillery will require the same length of service as the cavalry.
With regard to the cavalry, men born into the saddle need only a short period of service, whilst for those trained to it long service is indispensable. As we have few men born into the saddle, we undoubtedly need the four-year period of service envisaged by the reorganisation plan. The only form of warfare proper to mounted troops is the massed attack with drawn swords, for the execution of which extreme courage and complete confidence of the men in each other are necessary. The men must therefore know that they can rely on each other and on their commanders. This requires long service. But cavalry is useless if the rider has no confidence in his horse; the man must of course be able to ride, and long service is also necessary for him to be able to ensure control over his horse — i.e., more or less any horse which is assigned to him. In this branch of the service, re-enlisted soldiers are highly desirable, and the more like real mercenaries they are, the better, provided they enjoy the trade. We shall be criticised by members of the opposition on the grounds that this would mean a cavalry made up exclusively of mercenaries who would lend themselves to any coup d'état. We would reply: that may well be. But in present conditions the cavalry will always be reactionary (think of the Baden dragoons in 1849), just as the artillery will always be liberal. That is in the nature of things. A few re-enlisted soldiers more or less will make no difference. And cavalry is useless on the barricades anyway; and it is the barricades in the big cities, and especially the attitude of the infantry and artillery towards them, which nowadays decide the outcome of any coup d'état.
However, besides increasing the number of re-enlisted soldiers, there are also other means of strengthening the striking power and inner cohesion of a short-service army, such as for instance training camps, which the Minister for War, von Roon, himself described as a way of compensating for the reduction in the length of service. Then there is also the rational organisation of training, with regard to which a great deal remains to be done in Prussia The whole superstitious notion that if you have short service it has to be compensated for by exaggerated precision on the parade-ground, "clockwork" drilling and ridiculously high leg-lift — "swinging from the hip" to kick nature in the teeth — this whole superstitious notion is based on nothing but exaggeration. The Prussian army has repeated this to itself so often that it has finally become an article of faith. What is gained by men thumping their rifles so violently against their shoulders when doing rifle drill that they almost fan over and a most unmilitary shudder, such as is seen in no other army, passes along the whole rank? Finally, improved physical education of youth must be regarded as counter-balancing the reduction in service — and in the most fundamental way. But it will then also be necessary to make quite certain that something really is done. It is true that in every village school parallel and horizontal bars have been set up, but our poor schoolmasters have little idea of what to do with them. At least one retired non-commissioned officer qualified as a gymnastics teacher should be placed in every district and given charge of physical education; care should be taken to see that young people at school are taught over a period of time to march in formation, to move as a platoon and as a company, and to understand the appropriate commands. In 6-8 years this will pay abundant dividends — there will be more recruits and they will be stronger.
In this critique of the reorganisation plan we have, as we said, confined ourselves solely to the military and political facts of the situation as it is. Among them is the assumption that in present circumstances the legal stipulation of two years' service for infantry and foot-artillery was the maximum reduction in the term of service feasible. We are even of the opinion that a state such as Prussia would commit a blunder of the greatest magnitude — regardless of which party was in power — if it further reduced the normal term of service at the present moment. As long as we have the French army on the one side, the Russian on the other and the possibility of a combined attack by both at the same time, we need troops who will not have to learn the fundamentals of the art of war when they first face the enemy. We therefore totally discount the fantastic notion of a militia army with as it were no term of service at all; for a country of 18 million inhabitants and very exposed frontiers, such an idea is impossible today, and even if circumstances were different, it would not be possible in this form.
Taking all this into account: could an Assembly having Prussia's interests at heart accept the basic features of the reorganisation plan? Our opinion, which is based on military and political factors, is that to strengthen the cadres in the manner in which this was done, to increase the peace-time army to 180,000-200,000 men, to relegate the first levy of the Landwehr to the main army reserve or the second field army-cum-fortress garrisons, was acceptable on condition that universal conscription was strictly implemented, that a two-year term of service with the colours, three with the reserve and up to the 36th birthday with the Landwehr, was fixed by law and, finally, that the cadres of the first levy of the Landwehr were re-established. Were these conditions obtainable? Only few people who have followed the debates will deny that this was possible in the "New Era" and perhaps even after that.
So what attitude did the bourgeois opposition adopt?
The Prussian bourgeoisie, which, as the most advanced section of the whole German bourgeoisie, has a right here to be taken as representative of that whole class, is setting a term to its political existence, thanks to a lack of courage which is without parallel in the history even of that pusillanimous class and which is only excused to some extent by contemporary international events. In March and April 1848 it had the whip-hand; but hardly did the first independent stirrings of the working class begin when the bourgeoisie at once took fright and hastily retreated to shelter behind the self-same bureaucracy and the self-same feudal aristocracy which it had but a moment before conquered with the aid of the workers. The Manteuffel era was the inevitable consequence. At last came the "New Era" — which the bourgeois opposition had done nothing to bring about. This unexpected piece of good fortune turned the heads of the bourgeoisie. It quite forgot the position it had created for itself by its repeated revisions of the constitution, its subordination to the bureaucracy and the feudal aristocracy (even to the extent of restoring the feudal Provincial and District Estates 43) and its constant retreats from one position to the next. It now believed it had the whip-hand again, and quite forgot that it had itself restored all the powers hostile to it, which, subsequently reinvigorated, held the real power in the state in their possession, just as before 1848. Then the reorganisation of the army went off in its midst like a bombshell.
There are only two ways in which the bourgeoisie can gain political power for itself. Since it is an army of officers without any soldiers and can only acquire these soldiers from the ranks of the workers, it must either ensure that the workers are its allies, or it must buy political power piecemeal from the powers opposing it from above, in particular from the monarchy. The history of the English and French bourgeoisie shows that there is no other way.
But the Prussian bourgeoisie had lost all its enthusiasm — and what is more quite without reason — for forming a sincere alliance with the workers. In 1848 the German workers' party, then still at a rudimentary stage of development and organisation, was prepared to do the bourgeoisie's work for it at a very modest price, but the latter was more afraid of the slightest independent stirring of the proletariat than it was of the feudal aristocracy and the bureaucracy. Peace bought at the price of servitude appeared more desirable to it than even the mere prospect of a freedom-struggle. From that time on, this holy fear of the workers had become a habit with the bourgeoisie, until finally Herr Schulze-Delitzsch began his savings-box campaign. The purpose of this was to show the workers that there could be no greater happiness for them than to be exploited industrially by the bourgeoisie for the rest of their lives, and even for generations to come, and indeed, that they should themselves contribute to this exploitation by themselves supplementing their income through all manner of industrial associations, thereby enabling the capitalists to reduce their wages. But although no doubt the industrial bourgeoisie is the most uneducated of the classes that constitute the German nation, apart from the junior cavalry officers, such a campaign had from the outset no prospect of lasting success with such an intellectually advanced people as the Germans. The more intelligent of the bourgeoisie themselves could not fail to perceive that nothing could come of this, and the alliance with the workers collapsed once more.
Which left bargaining with the government for political power, to be paid for in cash — from the pockets of the people, naturally. The bourgeoisie's real power in the state consisted only in the right to approve taxation, and even that was much hedged about with ifs and buts. This, then, is where the lever needed to be applied, and a class so skilled in bargaining could surely not fail to be at an advantage here.
But no. The bourgeois opposition in Prussia — in complete contrast especially to the classical bourgeoisie of England in the 17th and 18th centuries — saw the situation like this: they would bargain for power without paying any money for it.
Simply from the bourgeois point of view and taking full account of the circumstances in which the reorganisation of the army was put forward, what policy ought the bourgeois opposition to have adopted now? If it appraised its own strength correctly, it could not have been unaware that having only just risen again from its humiliation at the hands of Manteuffel — and indeed without exerting itself to that end in the slightest — it was certainly powerless to prevent the plan being put into actual practice, a process which was in fact initiated. It could not be unaware that with every session that passed fruitlessly, the new, actually existing arrangement would be harder to abolish; that with each passing year the government would therefore offer less in exchange for the Chamber's approval. It could not be unaware that it was very far from being able to appoint and dismiss ministers, and that the longer the conflict lasted, therefore, the fewer would be the ministers it faced who would be inclined to compromise. Finally, it could not be unaware that it was above all in its own interest not to push the matter to the extreme. For at that stage in the development of the German workers, a serious conflict with the government could not fail to give rise to an independent workers' movement and thereby in the extreme case present it once again with the dilemma: either an alliance with the workers, but this time under far less favourable conditions than in 1848, or alternatively to go on bended knees before the government and confess: pater, peccavi! ["Father. I have sinned!" — Luke 15:21.]
The liberal and progressist bourgeoisie ought consequently to have subjected the reorganisation of the army and the necessarily concomitant increase in peace-time strength to a cool and objective examination, in which case they would probably have come to approximately the same conclusions as we ourselves. In so doing they should not have forgotten that after all they could not prevent the provisional introduction of the new system and could only delay its eventual consolidation, as long as the plan contained so many correct and useful elements. Above all therefore they ought to have taken good care not to adopt from the outset a' directly hostile attitude to reorganisation; they ought on the contrary to have used this reorganisation and the finance that needed to be approved for it to obtain for themselves as much reimbursement from the "New Era" as possible, to convert the 9 or 10 million in dew taxation into as much political power for themselves as possible.
And there were certainly enough things to be done in that regard! There was all Manteuffel's legislation concerning the press and the right of association; there were all the powers accorded to the police and bureaucracy which had been taken over unchanged from the absolute monarchy; the emasculation of the courts by disputing their competence; the Provincial and District Estates; above all, the way in which the constitution was interpreted under Manteuffel, which needed to be countered by a new constitutional practice; the attrition of local self-government in the towns by the bureaucracy; and a hundred and one other things for which any other bourgeoisie in the same situation would gladly have paid a tax-increase of 1/2 Taler per head of population and all of which they could have obtained if they had proceeded with a modicum of skill. But the bourgeois opposition thought otherwise. As far as freedom of the press, association and assembly were concerned Manteuffel's laws had hit upon precisely that degree of freedom under which the bourgeoisie felt comfortable. It could demonstrate gently against the government without let or hindrance; any increase in freedom would have brought less advantage to it than to the workers, and rather than give the workers freedom for an independent movement, the bourgeoisie preferred to submit to a little more coercion on the part of the government. Precisely the same thing applied to the limitation of the powers enjoyed by the police and bureaucracy. The bourgeoisie believed that with the "New Era" ministry it had already got the better of the bureaucracy, and it approved of this bureaucracy keeping a free hand to deal with the workers. It quite forgot that the bureaucracy was far stronger and more vigorous than any ministry that might be well disposed towards the bourgeoisie. And then it imagined that with the fall of Manteuffel the millennium had arrived for the bourgeoisie and that all that was left to do was to reap the ripe harvest of bourgeois hegemony, without paying a penny for it.
But what about all the finance that would have to be approved, when those few years after 1848 had cost so much money, so increased the national debt and raised taxation to such heights? — Gentlemen, you are the representatives of the youngest constitutional state in the world, and you do not know that constitutional government is the most expensive form of government in the world? Almost more expensive than Bonapartism even, which — apres moi le déluge ["After me the deluge" — attributed to Louis XV and Mme. Pompadour] — pays off old debts by constantly incurring new ones and thus mortgages a century's resources in ten years? The golden days of limited absolutism, whose memory still haunts you, are gone forever.
But what about the clauses in the constitution relating to the continued levying of taxes once they have been approved? — Everyone knows how coy the "New Era" was about asking for money. It would not have been a great loss to have included the costs of reorganisation in the budget, in exchange for a cast-iron guarantee of concessions. It was a question of approving new taxation to cover these costs. Here was an opportunity for being miserly, and for that no better ministry could have been hoped for than that of the "New Era". You would have retained the whip-hand insofar as you had previously held it, and you would have won new instruments of power in other areas.
But would one not have strengthened reaction if one had doubled the army which is its chief weapon? — This is an issue where the progressist bourgeoisie runs into indissoluble conflict with itself. It asks of Prussia that it should play the part of the Piedmont of Germany. This requires a strong army with striking-power. It has a "New Era" ministry which secretly shares the same ideas, the best ministry which in the circumstances it can have. It denies this ministry army reinforcements. — Day after day, from morn till night, it talks about nothing but the glory of Prussia, the greatness of Prussia, the growth of Prussia's power; but it denies the Prussian army reinforcements which would only be of the same order as those which the other great powers have themselves introduced since 1814. — What is the reason for all this? The reason is that it is afraid these reinforcements might benefit only reaction, might revive the decayed officer-aristocracy and in general give the feudal and bureaucratic-absolutist party the power to inter all constitutional government with a coup d'état.
Admittedly, the progressist bourgeoisie was right not to strengthen reaction, and the army was the surest bastion of reaction. But was there ever a better opportunity to bring the army under the control of the Chamber than this very reorganisation, proposed by the ministry most well-disposed towards the bourgeoisie that Prussia had ever experienced in peaceful times? As soon as the reinforcement of the army had been declared approved on certain conditions, was not this the precise moment in which to try to settle the matter of the cadet-schools, the preferential treatment of the aristocracy and all the other grievances, and to obtain guarantees which would give the officer-corps a more bourgeois character? The "New Era" was clear about one thing only: that the reinforcement of the army had to be pushed through. The devious paths and subterfuges by which it carried reorganisation through proved more than anything its bad conscience and its fear of the deputies. This opportunity needed to be seized with both hands; such a chance for the bourgeoisie could not be expected again in a hundred years. What might not be extracted from this ministry, in point of detail, if the progressist bourgeoisie viewed the situation not as misers but as great speculators!
And then what about the practical consequences of reorganisation on the officer-corps itself! Officers had to be found for twice the number of battalions. The. cadet-schools became totally inadequate. There had never been such liberality before in peace-time; lieutenant's commissions were positively offered as bounty to students, probationary lawyers and all educated young men. Anyone seeing the Prussian army again after reorganisation found the officer-corps unrecognisable. We say this not from hearsay but from our own observation. That dialect peculiar to lieutenants had been pushed into the background, the younger officers spoke their natural mother-tongue, they were by no means members of an exclusive caste but more than at any time since 1815 represented all educated classes and all provinces in the state. Here, then, the force of events had enabled this position to be won; it was now just a matter of maintaining and making full use of it. Instead, all this was ignored and talked away by the progressist bourgeoisie, as though all these officers were aristocratic cadets. And yet since 1815 there had never been more bourgeois officers in Prussia than at that very moment.
And incidentally we would attribute the gallant conduct of the Prussian officers before the enemy in the Schleswig-Holstein war chiefly to this infusion of new blood. The old class of junior officers by themselves would not have dared to act so often on their own responsibility. In this connection the government is right in saying that reorganisation had an important influence on the "panache" of these successes; in what other respect reorganisation struck terror into the hearts of the Danes is not apparent to us.
Finally, the main point: would reinforcement of the peace-time army facilitate a coup d'état? — It is perfectly true that armies are the instrument by which coups d'état are effected, and that any reinforcement of an army therefore also increases the feasibility of a coup d'état. But the strength of army required by a great power is not determined by the greater or lesser likelihood of a coup d'état but by the size of the armies of the other great powers. In for a penny, in for a pound. If one accepts a mandate as a Prussian deputy, if one emblazons the Greatness of Prussia and Her Power in Europe on one's escutcheon, then one must also agree to the means being procured without which there can be no question of Prussia's greatness and power. If these means cannot be procured without facilitating a coup d'état, so much the worse for these gentlemen of Progress. Had they not conducted themselves in such an absurdly cowardly and clumsy fashion in 1848, the era of coups d'état would probably have been long past. In the circumstances obtaining, however, they have no choice but finally to accept the reinforcement of the army in one form or another after all and to keep their anxieties about coups d'état to themselves.
However, there are yet other aspects to the matter. Firstly, it would always have been more advisable to negotiate approval of the means for a coup d'état with a "New Era" ministry than with a ministry headed by Bismarck. Secondly, it is self-evident that every further step towards the real implementation of universal conscription makes the Prussian army a less fitting instrument for a coup d'état. As soon as the demand for self-government and the necessity of the struggle against all recalcitrant elements had once penetrated the whole mass of the people, even 20-21-year-old young men would inevitably have been caught up in the movement, and even under feudal and absolutist officers, they would necessarily have lent themselves less and less readily to the making of a coup d'état. The further the political education of the country progresses, the more intractable will become the mood of the called-up conscripts. Even the present struggle between the government and bourgeoisie must already have provided testimony of this.
Thirdly, the two-year term of service sufficiently outweighs the increase in the army. To the extent that reinforcement of the army increases the government's material capacity for coups d'état, to that extent will the two-year term of service lessen its moral capacity to do so. In the third year of service the continual inculcation of absolutist doctrines and the habit of obedience may bear some immediate fruit among the soldiers, and for the duration of their service. In the third year of service, when the individual soldier has scarcely anything more of a military nature to learn, our compulsory conscript already begins somewhat to resemble the long-serving soldier of the Franco-Austrian system. He acquires some of the characteristics of the professional soldier and as such is always far more compliant than the younger soldier. The retirement of the men in their third year of service would undoubtedly compensate for the recruitment of 60,000 to 80,000 extra men, from the point of view of a coup d'état.
But there is yet another point, which is crucial. We would not deny that circumstances might arise — we know our bourgeoisie too well for that — in which a coup d'état might nevertheless be possible, even without mobilisation and simply using the standing peace-time army. However that is unlikely. In order to carry out a large-scale coup, it will almost always be necessary to mobilise. And this is what will tip the balance. The Prussian peace-time army may in certain circumstances become a mere tool in the government's hands, for domestic use; the Prussian war-time army would certainly never do so. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity of seeing a battalion first on its peace-time footing and then on a war footing will be familiar with the enormous difference in the whole attitude of the men, in their collective character. The men who had joined the army as little more than boys now return to it as men; they bring with them a fund of self-respect, self-confidence, solidity and character which benefits the whole battalion. The relationship of men to officers and officers to men is at once different. Militarily the battalion is substantially stronger for this, but politically it becomes — for absolutist purposes — totally untrustworthy. This could be seen even during the entry to Schleswig, where to the great astonishment of English newspaper-correspondents Prussian soldiers everywhere openly took part in political demonstrations and fearlessly expressed their by no means orthodox views. And this result — the political decomposition of the mobilised army for absolutist purposes — we chiefly owe to the Manteuffel period and to the "Newest" Era. In 1848 the situation was still quite different.
And that is in fact one of the most positive aspects of the Prussian military system, both before and after reorganisation: that with this military system Prussia can neither wage an unpopular war nor carry out a coup d'état which has any prospect of permanence. For even if the peace-time army did allow itself to be used for a small coup d'état, then the first mobilisation and the first threat of war would suffice to call all these "achievements" in question once more. Without the ratification of the war-time army the heroic deeds of the peace-time army against the "enemy within" would be merely of temporary significance; and the longer this ratification takes, the harder it will be to obtain. Reactionary papers have stated that the "army", as opposed to parliament, truly represents the people. By this they meant of course only the officers. If it should ever happen that the gentlemen of the Krenz-Zeitung were to carry out a coup d'état, for which they would need the mobilised army, these people's representatives would give them the shock of their lives, they may be sure of that.
Ultimately however that is not the main safeguard against a coup d'état either. That is to be found in the fact that no coup d'état can enable a government to convene a Chamber which will approve new taxation and loans for it; and that, even if it did manage to find a Chamber willing to do so, no banker in Europe would give it credit on the basis of resolutions passed by such a Chamber. In most European states the position would be different. But it so happens that, since the promises made in 1815-48 and the many futile manoeuvres aimed at raising money from then up until 1848, it is generally accepted that no one may lend Prussia a penny without the legal and unimpeachable approval of the Chamber. Even Herr Raphael von Erlanger, who after all did lend money to the American Confederates, would scarcely entrust cash to a government that had come to power in Prussia through a coup d'état. Prussia owes this simply and solely to the narrow-mindedness of absolutism.
And this is where the strength of the bourgeoisie lies: that if the government gets into financial difficulties — which sooner or later it is bound to do — it is itself obliged to turn to the bourgeoisie for money, and this time not to the political representatives of the bourgeoisie who are ultimately aware that they exist to provide money, but to the great financiers, who would like a profitable transaction with the government, who measure the creditworthiness of a government by the same token as they would any private individual and are quite indifferent to the question of whether the Prussian state needs more soldiers or less. These gentlemen only discount bills of exchange which bear three signatures, and if one has only been signed by the Upper House, in addition to the government, and riot by the House of Deputies, or by a House of Deputies consisting of puppets, they regard this as unsound practice and decline the deal.
It is at this point that the military question ends and the constitutional question begins. It is immaterial by what errors and complications the bourgeois opposition is now forced into the following position: it must fight the military question through to the end, or it will lose the remnants of political power it still possesses. The government has already called in question its whole right to approve budgets. But if the government sooner or later nevertheless has to make its peace with the Chamber, is not the best policy in this situation simply to remain adamant until that moment arrives?
Now that the conflict has in fact been taken to these lengths — the answer can only be yes. The possibility of coming to an agreement on an acceptable basis with this government is more than doubtful. By overestimating its own strength, the bourgeoisie has got itself into the situation of having to use this military question as a test-case to see whether it is the decisive force in the state or nothing at all. If it wins, it will simultaneously acquire the power of appointing and dismissing ministers, such as the English Lower House possesses. If it is vanquished, it will never again achieve any kind of significance by constitutional means.
But no one familiar with our German bourgeoisie will expect such perseverance from it. The courage of the bourgeoisie in political matters is always exactly proportional to the importance that it enjoys in the civil society of the country in question. In Germany the social power of the bourgeoisie is far less than in England and even in France; it has neither allied itself with the old aristocracy as in England, nor destroyed it with the help of the peasants and workers as in France. The feudal aristocracy in Germany is still a power, a power hostile to the bourgeoisie and, what is more, allied to government. Factory industry, the basis of all social power of the modern bourgeoisie, is far less developed in Germany than in France and England, enormous though its progress has been since 1848. The colossal accumulations of capital that frequently occur in individual classes in England and even France are rarer in Germany. This is the reason for the petty-bourgeois character of our bourgeoisie as a whole. The circumstances in which it lives and the range of thought of which it is capable are of a petty kind; is it surprising that its whole mentality is equally petty! How could it be expected to find the courage to fight an issue through to the bitter end? The Prussian bourgeoisie knows very well how dependent it is on the government for its own industrial activity. Concessions 5" and administrative checks weigh down on it like a bad dream. The government can make difficulties for it in any new enterprise, and nowhere more so than in the political sphere! In the course of the dispute over the military question, the bourgeois Chamber can only adopt a negative stance, it is driven purely on to the defensive; meanwhile the government moves over to the attack, interprets the constitution in its own way, disciplines liberal officials, annuls liberal municipal elections, sets all the wheels of bureaucratic power in motion to impress on the bourgeoisie its status as subjects; in fact overruns one line of defence after another and thus conquers for itself a position such as even Manteuffel did not have. Meanwhile the unbudgeted spending of money and levying of taxes quietly continues, and the reorganisation of the army gains new strength with every year of its existence. In short, the prospect of an eventual victory for the bourgeoisie takes on a more revolutionary character with each passing year, and the government's tactical victories in every field, as they multiply day by day, increasingly assume the form of fait accomplis. On top of this there is a workers' movement completely independent of bourgeoisie and government alike, which compels the bourgeoisie either to make the most ominous concessions to the workers, or to face up to having to act without the workers at the decisive moment. Can the Prussian bourgeoisie be expected in these circumstances to have the courage to remain adamant, come what may? It would have to have changed remarkably for the better since 1848 — by its own lights — and the yearning for compromise which has found expression daily in the sighs of the Party of Progress since the opening of this session, is not an auspicious sign. We fear that on this occasion too the bourgeoisie will have no scruples in betraying its own cause.
"What attitude then does the workers' party adopt towards this reorganisation of the army and the ensuing conflict between government and bourgeois opposition?"
For its political activity to develop fully, the working class needs a far wider arena than is offered by the separate states of today's, fragmented Germany. Particularism will hamper the free movement of the proletariat, but its existence will never be justified and will never merit serious consideration. The German proletariat will never have any truck with Imperial Constitutions, Prussian hegemonies, tripartite systems and the like, unless it be to sweep them away; it is indifferent to the question of how many soldiers the Prussian state needs in order to prolong its vegetable existence as a great power. Whether reorganisation means some slight increase to the military burden or not, will make little difference to the working class as a class. On the other hand it certainly cannot remain indifferent to the question of whether or not universal conscription is fully implemented. The more workers who are trained in the use of weapons the better. Universal conscription is the necessary and natural corollary of universal suffrage; it puts the voters in the position of being able to enforce their decisions gun in hand against any attempt at a coup d'état
The only aspect of army reorganisation in Prussia which is of interest to the German working class is the increasingly thorough Implementation of universal conscription.
More important is the question: what attitude should the workers' party adopt to the ensuing conflict between government and Chamber.
The modern worker, the proletarian, is a product of the great industrial revolution which has totally revolutionised the whole mode of production in all civilised countries, first in industry and subsequently in agriculture too, especially in the last hundred years, and as a result of it only two classes are still involved in production: the class of capitalists, who are in possession of the tools of labour, raw materials and means of subsistence, and the class of workers who possess neither the tools of labour, nor raw materials, nor food, but must first buy the latter from the capitalists with their labour. The modern proletarian therefore only has direct dealings with one class of society, which is hostile to him and exploits him: the class of capitalists, the bourgeoisie. In countries where this industrial revolution is complete, as in England, the worker really does have dealings only with capitalists, for even on the land the large tenant-farmer is nothing other than a capitalist; the aristocrat, who merely lives off the rent from his estates, has no points of social contact with the workers at all.
It is different in countries where this industrial revolution is only now taking place, such as in Germany. Here there are still numerous social elements which have survived from former feudal and post-feudal conditions, and which, if we may so express ourselves, cloud the solution (medium) that is society and deny the social condition of Germany that simple, clear, classical character which distinguishes England's stage of development. Here, in an atmosphere of daily modernisation, and amongst thoroughly modern capitalists and workers, we find the most wonderful antediluvian fossils alive and active: feudal lords, seignorial courts; country squires, birching, central government officials, local government officials, craft corporations, conflicts of authority, bureaucracy with penal powers, etc. And we find that in the struggle for political power all these living fossils are banding themselves together against the bourgeoisie, whose property makes it the most powerful class of the new epoch and who is demanding that the former should surrender political power to it in the 'name of the new epoch.
Apart from the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the large industry of today also gives rise to a kind of intermediate class between the two, the petty bourgeoisie. This consists partly of the relics of the former semi-medieval burghers and partly of workers who have risen somewhat in the world. Its function consists less in the production than in the distribution of goods; the retail trade is its main activity. Whilst the old burghers were the most stable class in society, the modern petty bourgeoisie is the most changeable; bankruptcy has become one of its institutions. With its slender capital it shares the status of the bourgeoisie, but by the insecurity of its livelihood it shares that of the proletariat. Its political position is as contradictory as its social being; in general however "pure democracy" is its most proper expression. Its political vocation is to encourage the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the relics of the old society and especially against its own weakness and cowardice, and to help win those freedoms — freedom of the press, freedom of association and assembly, universal suffrage, local self-government — without which, despite its bourgeois character, a timid bourgeoisie can manage passably well but without which the workers can never win their emancipation.
In the course of the struggle between the relics of the old antediluvian society and the bourgeoisie, sooner or later the time always comes when both combatants turn to the proletariat and seek its support. This moment usually coincides with the first stirrings of the working class itself. The feudal and bureaucratic representatives of the declining society appeal to the workers to join them in attacking the blood-suckers, the capitalists, the sole foes of the worker; the bourgeoisie make it clear to the workers that they jointly represent the new social era and therefore have a common interest at least with regard to the declining, old form of society. At about this time the working class then gradually becomes aware that it is a class in its own right with its own interests and its own independent future; and that gives rise to the question, which has forced itself upon their attention in England, in France and in Germany successively: what attitude should the workers' party adopt towards the combatants?
Above all this will depend on what kind of aims the workers' party, i.e., that part of the working class which has become aware of its common class interests, is striving for in the interests of that class.
It seems that the most advanced workers in Germany are demanding the emancipation of the workers from the capitalists by the transfer of state capital to associations of workers, so that production can be organised, without capitalists, for general account; and as a means to the achievement of this end: the conquest of political power by universal direct suffrage.
This much is now clear: neither the feudal-bureaucratic party, which for the sake of brevity is customarily referred to as reaction, nor the liberal-radical bourgeois party, will be inclined to concede these demands of their own volition. But the proletariat will become a power from the moment when an independent workers' party is formed, and a power has to be reckoned with. Both warring parties know this and will at the appropriate moment therefore tend to make apparent or real concessions to the workers. From which side can the workers wring the greatest concessions?
The mere existence of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is a thorn in the flesh of the reactionary party. Its power is based on suppressing or at least obstructing present-day social development. Otherwise all the possessing classes will gradually be transformed into capitalists and all the oppressed classes into proletarians, and in the process the reactionary party will disappear of its own accord. To be consistent, reaction will indeed attempt to dispose of the proletariat, however not by proceeding to association but by turning the present-day proletarians back into guild-journeymen or restoring them to a state of complete or semi- peasant serfdom. Is such a restoration in the interest of our proletarians? Do they wish to return to the paternal discipline of the guild-master and "his lordship", if such were possible? Surely not. For it is only when the working class became divorced from all these sham possessions and sham privileges of former times and the naked conflict between capital and labour became apparent that the very existence of a single great working class with common interests, a workers' movement and a workers' party became possible at all. And what is more, it. is simply impossible to turn back the clock of history in this way. The steam-engines, the mechanical spinning and weaving looms, the steam-ploughs and threshing machines, the railways and electric telegraphs and the steam-presses of the present day do not permit such an absurd backward step, on the contrary, they are gradually and remorselessly destroying all the relics of feudal and guild conditions and are reducing all the petty social contradictions surviving from former times to the one contradiction of world-historical significance: that between capital and labour.
The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, has no other historical function than to proliferate in every field the aforesaid gigantic forces of production and means of communication in present-day society and intensify them to the utmost; to use their credit institutions to take over the means of production handed down from former times as well, landed property in particular; to operate every branch of production by modern means; to destroy all relics of feudal forms of production and feudal conditions and thus reduce the whole of society to the simple contradiction that exists between a class of capitalists and a class of unpropertied workers. As these contradictions between classes in society are simplified, so the power of the bourgeoisie grows, but at the same time the proletariat's power, class-consciousness and potential for victory grow even more; it is only this increase in the power of the bourgeoisie that gradually enables the proletariat to become the majority, the dominant majority in the state, as it already is in England, but by no means yet in Germany, where in the country peasants of every kind and in the towns small craftsmen and shopkeepers, etc., are still outnumbering it.
Hence: every victory by reaction impedes social development and inevitably delays the time when the workers will be victorious. Every victory by the bourgeoisie over reaction on the other hand is at the same time in one sense a victory for the workers, contributes to the final downfall of capitalist rule and brings the moment closer when the workers will defeat the bourgeoisie.
Let us compare the position of the German workers' party in 1848 and now. There are in Germany still plenty of veterans-who were involved in the initial stages of founding a German workers' party before '848, and who after the revolution helped develop it for as long as the conditions of the time permitted. They all know the trouble it took, even in those agitated times, to set up a workers' movement, to keep it going and to get rid of reactionary guild-minded elements, and how a few years later the whole movement went back to sleep. If a workers' movement has now sprung up as it were of its own accord, what is the explanation? It is that since 1848 large-scale bourgeois industry has made unprecedented advances in Germany, because it has eliminated a great number of small craftsmen and other intermediaries between worker and capitalist, has brought a great number of workers into direct conflict with the capitalists, and in short has created a significant proletariat where previously one did not exist or did so only on a small scale. This development of industry has made a workers' party and workers' movement a necessity.
That is not to say that there may not be times when it appears advisable to reaction to make concessions to the workers. But these concessions are always of a very particular kind. They are never of a political nature. Feudal-bureaucratic reaction will neither extend the franchise nor grant freedom of the press, association and assembly, nor restrict the power of the bureaucracy. The concessions which it does make are always aimed directly against the bourgeoisie, and are such as do not increase the political power of the workers at all. Thus in England the ten-hour law for factory-workers was passed against the wishes of the manufacturers. Thus in Prussia the strict observance of the regulations concerning working hours in the factories — which exist at present only on paper — and in addition the right of association for workers, etc., could be demanded from the government and possibly obtained. But it is clear that all these concessions on the part of reaction are obtained without anything being offered in return by the workers, and rightly so, for simply by aggravating the bourgeoisie reaction has gained its ends, and the workers owe it no debt of gratitude, nor do they ever express any.
But there is another form of reaction which has enjoyed much success in recent times and is becoming highly fashionable in certain circles; 'this is the form nowadays called Bonapartism. Bonapartism is the necessary form of state in a country where the working class, at a high level of its development in the towns but numerically inferior to the small peasants in rural areas, has been defeated in a great revolutionary struggle by the capitalist class, the petty bourgeoisie and the army. When the Parisian workers were defeated in the titanic struggle of June 1848 in France, the bourgeoisie had at the same time totally exhausted itself in this victory. It was aware it could not afford a second such victory. It continued to rule in name, but it was too weak to govern. Control was assumed by the army, the real victor, basing itself on the class from which it preferred to draw its recruits, the small peasants, who wanted peace from the rioters in the towns. The form this rule took was of course military despotism, its natural leader the hereditary heir to the latter, Louis Bonaparte.
As far as both workers and capitalists are concerned, Bonapartism is characterised by the fact that it prevents them coming to blows with each other. In other words, it protects the bourgeoisie from any violent attacks by the workers, encourages a little gentle skirmishing between the two classes and furthermore deprives both alike of the faintest trace of political power. No freedom of association, no freedom of assembly, no freedom of the press; universal suffrage under such bureaucratic pressure that election of the opposition is almost impossible; police-control of a kind that had previously been unknown even in police-ridden France. Besides which, sections of the bourgeoisie and of the workers are simply bought; the former by colossal credit-swindles, by which the money of the small capitalists is attracted into the pockets of the big ones; the latter by colossal state construction-schemes which concentrate an artificial, imperial proletariat dependent on the government in the big towns alongside the natural, independent proletariat. Finally, national pride is flattered by apparently heroic wars, which are however always conducted with the approval of the high authorities of Europe against the general scapegoat of the day and only on such conditions as ensure victory from the outset.
The most that such a government can do either for the workers or for the bourgeoisie is to allow them to recuperate from the struggle, to allow industry to develop strongly — other circumstances being favourable — to allow the elements of a new and more violent struggle to evolve therefore, and to allow this struggle to erupt as soon as the need for such recuperation has passed. It would be the absolute height of folly to expect any more for the workers from a government which exists simply and solely for the purpose of holding the workers in check as far as the bourgeoisie is concerned.
Let us now turn to the specific issue we have before us. What can reaction in Prussia offer the workers' party?
Can this reaction offer the working class a real share of political power? — Definitely not. Firstly no reactionary government has ever done so in recent history, either in England or in France. Secondly, the present struggle in Prussia is concerned precisely with whether the government is to unite all real power in itself or to share it with parliament. And the government will certainly not use every means available to it to wrest power from the bourgeoisie, merely to make a present of that power to the proletariat!
The feudal aristocracy and the bureaucracy can retain their real power in Prussia even without parliamentary representation. Their traditional position at the court, in the army and in the civil service guarantees them this power. They may even not want any special representation, since after all there can be no question in Prussia nowadays of permanent chambers of the nobility and bureaucracy such as existed under Manteuffel. They would therefore dearly like to consign parliament and all its trappings to oblivion.
On the other hand the bourgeoisie and workers can only exercise real, organised, political power through parliamentary representation; and such parliamentary representation is valueless unless it has a voice and a share in making decisions, in other words, unless it holds the "purse-strings". That however is precisely what Bismarck on his own admission is trying to prevent. We ask: is it in the interests of the workers that this parliament should be robbed of all power, this parliament which they themselves hope to enter by winning universal direct suffrage and in which they hope one day to form the majority? Is it in their interests to set all the wheels of agitation in motion in order to enter an assembly whose words ultimately carry no weight? Surely not.
But what if the government were to overturn the present electoral law and decree universal direct suffrage? Yes, if! If the government were to carry out such a Bonapartist trick and the workers swallowed it, they would thereby from the start have acknowledged the government's right to suspend universal direct suffrage again by a new edict whenever it thought fit, and what would all this universal direct suffrage be worth then?
If the government decreed universal direct suffrage, it would from the outset hedge it about with so many ifs and buts that it would in fact not be universal direct suffrage at all any more.
And regarding universal direct suffrage itself, one has only to go to France to realise what tame elections it can give rise to, if one has only a large and ignorant rural population, a well-organised bureaucracy, a well-regimented press, associations sufficiently kept down by the police and no political meetings at all. How many workers' representatives does universal direct suffrage send to the French chamber, then? And yet the French proletariat has the advantage over the German of far greater concentration and longer experience of struggle and organisation.
Which brings us to yet another point. In Germany the rural population is twice the size of the urban population, i.e., 2/3 earn their living from agriculture and 1/3 from industry. And since in Germany the big landowner is the rule and the small peasant with his strips the exception, put another way that means: if 1/3 of the workers are at the beck and call of the capitalists, 2/3 are at the beck and call of the feudal lords. Let those who never stop railing at the capitalists but never utter a word in anger against the feudalists take that to heart! 55 The feudalists exploit twice as many workers in Germany as the bourgeoisie; in Germany they are just as directly opposed to the workers as the capitalists. But that is by no means all. The patriarchal economic system estates generates a hereditary dependence on the old feudal of the rural day labourer or cottager on "his lordship" which makes it far more difficult for the agricultural proletarian to enter the urban workers' movement. The clergy, the systematic obscurantism in the country, the bad schooling and the remoteness of the people from the world at large do the rest. The agricultural proletariat is the section of the working class which has most difficulty in understanding its own interests and its own social situation and is the last to do so, in other words, it is the section which remains the longest as an unconscious tool in the hands of the privileged class which is exploiting it. And which class is that? Not the bourgeoisie, in Germany, but the feudal aristocracy. Now even in France, where after all virtually all the peasants are free and own their land and where the feudal aristocracy has long been deprived of all political power, universal suffrage has not put workers into the Chamber but has almost totally excluded them from it. What would be the consequence of universal suffrage in Germany, where the feudal aristocracy is still a real social and political power and where there are two agricultural day labourers for every industrial worker? The battle against feudal and bureaucratic reaction — for the two are inseparable in our country — is in Germany identical with the struggle for the intellectual and political emancipation of the rural proletariat — and until such time as the rural proletariat is also swept along into the movement, the urban proletariat cannot and will not achieve anything at all in Germany and universal direct suffrage will not be a weapon for the proletariat but a snare.
Perhaps this exceptionally candid but necessary analysis will encourage the feudalists to espouse the cause of universal direct suffrage. So much the better.
Or do we imagine that the government is only stultifying the press, the right of association and the right of assembly, as far as the bourgeois opposition is concerned (if indeed/there is much left to be stultified in present conditions) in order to make a present of a free press and free rights of association and assembly to the workers? Is not the workers' movement in fact calmly continuing on its own untroubled way?
But that is precisely the crux of the matter. The government knows, and the bourgeoisie knows too, that the whole German workers' movement today is only tolerated, only survives, for as long as the government chooses. For as long as it serves the government's purpose for this movement to exist and for the bourgeois opposition to be faced with new, independent opponents, thus long Will it tolerate this movement. From the moment that this movement turns the workers into an independent force and thereby becomes a danger to the government, there will be an abrupt end to it all. The whole manner in which the men-of-Progress agitation in the press, associations and assemblies has been put down, should serve as a warning to the workers. The same laws, edicts and measures which were applied in that case, can be applied against them at any time and deal a lethal blow to their agitation; and the· will be so applied as soon as this agitation becomes dangerous. It is of the greatest importance that the workers should be clear about this point, and do not fall prey to the same illusion as the bourgeoisie in the "New Era", when they were similarly only tolerated but imagined they were already in the saddle. And if anyone should imagine the present. government would free the press, the right of association and the right of assembly from their present fetters, he is clearly among those to whom there is no point in talking. And unless there is freedom of the press, the right of association and the right of assembly, no workers' movement is possible.
The present government in Prussia is not so naive as to be likely to cut its own throat. And if it should ever happen that reaction were to throw a few sham political concessions to the German proletariat as a bait — then let us hope the German proletariat will answer with the proud words of the old Lay of Hildebrand:
"Mit gêrú scal man geba infâhan, ort widar orte."
With the spear one should accept gifts, point against point.
Concerning the social concessions which reaction could offer to the workers — reduction of working hours in the factories, improved operation of the factory acts, the right of association, etc. — experience in every country has shown that reaction makes such propositions without the workers having to offer the slightest thing in return. Reaction needs the workers, but the workers do not need reaction. Therefore as long as the workers insist on these points in their own independent agitation, they can rest assured that the moment will come when reactionary elements will make the same demands merely in order to provoke the bourgeoisie and in this way the workers will make gains over the bourgeoisie, without owing reaction any debt of gratitude.
But if the workers' party can expect nothing from reaction except small concessions which will come to it anyway without it needing to go begging for them — what then can it expect from the bourgeois opposition?
We have seen that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat-are both progeny of a new era and that in their social function both are striving to eliminate the remnants of the bric-a-brac left over from earlier times. It is true that there is a most serious conflict to be settled between them, but this conflict can only be fought out when they are facing each other alone. Only by jettisoning the old lumber can the "decks be cleared for battle" — except that this time the battle will be fought not between two ships but on board the one ship, between officers and crew.
The bourgeoisie cannot win political power for itself nor give this political power constitutional and legal forms without at the same time putting weapons into the hands of the proletariat. As distinct from the old Estates, distinguished by birth, it must proclaim human rights, as distinct from the guilds, it must proclaim freedom of trade and industry, as distinct from the tutelage of the bureaucracy, it must proclaim freedom and self-government. To be consistent, it must therefore demand universal, direct suffrage, freedom of the press, association and assembly and the suspension of all special laws directed against individual classes of the population. And there is nothing else that the proletariat needs to demand from it. It cannot require that the bourgeoisie should cease to be a bourgeoisie, but it certainly can require that it practices its own principles consistently. But the proletariat will thereby also acquire all the weapons it needs for its ultimate victory. With freedom of the press and the right of assembly and association it will win universal suffrage, and with universal, direct suffrage, in conjunction with the above tools of agitation, it will win everything else.
It is therefore in the interests of the workers to support the bourgeoisie in its struggle against all reactionary elements, as long as it remains true to itself. Every gain which the bourgeoisie extracts from reaction, eventually benefits the working class, if that condition is fulfilled. And the German workers were quite correct in their instinctive appreciation of this. Everywhere, in every German state, they have quite rightly voted for the most radical candidates who had any prospect of getting in.
But what if the bourgeoisie is untrue to itself and betrays its own class interests, together with the principles these imply?
Then there are two paths left to the workers!
Either to drive the bourgeoisie on against its will and compel it as far as possible to extend the suffrage, to grant freedom of the press, association and assembly and thereby to create an arena for the proletariat in which it can move freely and organise. This is what the English workers have done since the Reform Bill of 1832 and the French workers since the July Revolution of 1830, furthering their own development and organisation precisely through and with this movement, whose immediate aims were purely bourgeois in nature, more than by any other method. There will always be cases like this, for with its lack of political courage the bourgeoisie everywhere will occasionally be untrue to itself.
Or alternatively, the workers might withdraw entirely from the bourgeois movement and leave the bourgeoisie to its fate. This was what happened in England, France and Germany after the failure of the European workers' movement from 1848 to 1850. It can only happen after violent and temporarily fruitless exertions, after which the class needs to rest. It cannot happen when the working class is in a healthy condition, for it would be the equivalent of total political abdication, and a class which is courageous by nature, a class which has nothing to lose and everything to gain, is incapable of that in the long term.
Even if the worst came to the worst and the bourgeoisie was to scurry under the skirts of reaction for fear of the workers, and appeal to the power of . those elements hostile to itself for protection against them — even then the workers' party would have no choice but, notwithstanding the bourgeoisie, to continue its campaign for bourgeois freedom, freedom of the press and rights of assembly and association which the bourgeoisie had betrayed. Without these freedoms it will be unable to move freely itself; in this struggle it is fighting to establish the environment necessary for its existence, for the air it needs to breathe.
We are taking it for granted that in all these eventualities the workers' party will not play the part of a mere appendage to the bourgeoisie but of an independent party quite distinct from it. It will remind the bourgeoisie at every opportunity that the class interests of the workers are directly opposed to those of the; capitalists and that the workers are aware of this. It will retain control of and further develop its own organisation as distinct. from the party organisation of the bourgeoisie, and will only negotiate with the latter as one power with another. In this way it will secure for itself a position commanding respect, educate the individual workers about their class interests and when the next revolutionary storm comes — and these storms now recur as regularly as trade crises and equinoctial storms — it will be ready to act.
The policy of the workers' party in the Prussian constitutional conflict emerges therefore self-evidently:
above all to preserve the organisation of the workers' party as far as present conditions permit;
to drive the Party of Progress on to make real progress, as far as possible; to compel it to make its own programme more radical and to keep to it; to chide it and ridicule it mercilessly for all its inconsistencies and weaknesses;
to let the military question itself go the way that it will, in the knowledge that the workers' party will one day also carry out its own German "army-reorganisation";
but to reply to the hypocritical enticements of reaction with the words:
"With the spear one should accept gifts, point against point."